He shook his head slowly. "If I had thought that, Anne, I should not have told you a moment ago that you were wonderful," he said.
Few women would have been content to let it go at that. It is the prerogative of woman to expect more than a crumb, and, if it is not forthcoming from others, to gratify the appetite by feeding confidently upon herself. In this instance, Anne might have indulged herself in the comfort of a few tremulous words of self-justification, and even though they drew nothing in exchange, she would at least have had the pleasure of uttering them, and the additional satisfaction of knowing that he would have to listen to them, whether or no. But she was far too intelligent for that. Her good sense overcame the feminine craving; she surprised him by holding her tongue.
He waited for a second or two and then said: "Good-bye. I shall drop in to-morrow to see George."
She held out her hand. "He swears by you," she said, with a smile.
For the first time in more than a year, their hands touched. Up to this moment there had not been the remotest evidence of an inclination on the part of either to bridge the chasm that lay between them. The handclasp was firm but perfunctory. She had herself under perfect control. It is of importance to note, however, that later on she pressed her hand to her lips, and that there were many times during the day when she looked at it as if it were something unreal and apart from her own physical being.
"Thank heaven he doesn't feel toward me as he did last week," he said fervently. "I shall never get over that awful moment. I shall never forget the look of despair that—"
"I know," she interrupted. "I saw it too. But it is gone now, so why make a ghost of it? Don't let it haunt you, Braden."
"It is easy to say that I shouldn't let it—"
"If you are going to begin your life's work by admitting that you are thin-skinned, you'll not get very far, my friend," she said seriously. "Good-bye."
She smiled faintly as she turned away. He was never quite sure whether it was encouragement or mockery that lay in her dark eyes when she favoured him with that parting glance. He stood motionless until she disappeared through the door that opened into the room where George was lying; his eyes followed her slender, graceful figure until she was gone from sight. His thoughts leaped backward to the time when he had held that lovely, throbbing, responsive body close in his arms, to the time when he had kissed those, sensitive lips and had found warmth and passion in them, to the time when he had drunk in the delicate perfume of her hair and the seductive fragrance of her body. That same slender, adorable body had been pressed close to his, and he had trembled under the enchantment it held.
He went away plagued and puzzled by an annoying question that kept on repeating itself without answer; was it in his power now to rouse the old flame in her blood, to revive the tender fires that once consumed her senses when he caressed her? Would she be proof against him if he set out to reconquer? She seemed so serene, so sure of herself. Was it a pose or had love really died within her?
By no means the least important of the happenings in Simmy's house was the short but decisive contest that took place between Lutie and Mrs. Tresslyn. They met first in the sick-room, and the shock was entirely one- sided. It was George's mother who sustained it. She had not expected to find the despised "outcast" there. For once her admirable self-control was near to being shattered. If she had been permitted to exercise the right of speech at that crucial moment, she would have committed the irretrievable error of denouncing the brazen creature in the presence of disinterested persons. Afterwards she thanked her lucky stars for the circumstances which compelled her to remain angrily passive, for she was soon to realise what such an outburst would have brought upon her head.
She took it out on Anne, as if Anne were wholly to blame for the outrage. Anne had the temerity,—the insolence, Mrs. Tresslyn called it,—to advise her to make the best of a situation that could not be helped. She held forth at some length for her daughter's benefit about "common decency," and was further shocked by Anne's complacency.
"I think she's behaving with uncommon decency," said Anne. "It isn't every one who would turn the other cheek like this. Let her alone. She's the best thing that can happen to George."
"My dear!" exclaimed Mrs. Tresslyn, aghast. "Of course, I shall not come to this apartment while she is here. That is out of the question."
"Inasmuch as Lutie was here first and means to stay, I am afraid you will have to reconsider that decision, mother,—provided you want to be near George."
"Did you speak of her as 'Lutie'?" demanded Mrs. Tresslyn, staring.
"I don't know what else to call her," said Anne.
"Simeon Dodge will appreciate my feelings,—my position—"
"Simmy is very much on her side, so I'd advise you to steer clear of him," said Anne impatiently. "Now, mother dear, don't upset things here. Don't make a fuss. Don't—"
"A fuss?" cried her mother, trying hard not to believe her ears.
"Don't make it any harder for poor old Simmy. He is in for a rough time of it. Tresslyns everywhere! It isn't a lovely prospect, you know. He will be fed up with us before—And, mother, don't overlook the fact that George is very ill. He may not pull through. He—"
"Of course he will get well. He's as strong as an ox. Don't be silly."
The next day she and Lutie met in the library and had it out,—briefly, as I said before, but with astounding clarity. Mrs. Tresslyn swept into the library at four in the afternoon, coming direct from her home, where, as she afterwards felt called upon to explain in self-defence, the telephone was aggravatingly out of order,—and that was why she hadn't called up to inquire!—(It is so often the case when one really wants to use the stupid thing!) She was on the point of entering the sick-room when Lutie came up from behind.
"I'm afraid you can't go in just now, Mrs. Tresslyn," she said, firmly and yet courteously.
George's mother started as if stung. "Oh!" she exclaimed, and her tone was so declaratory that it was not necessary to add the unspoken—"it's you, is it?"
"He is asleep," said Lutie gently. "They won't even allow me to go in."
This was too much for Mrs. Tresslyn. She transfixed the slight, tired-eyed young woman with a look that would have chilled any one else to the bone—the high-bred look that never fails to put the lowly in their places.
"Indeed," she said, with infinite irony in her voice. "This is Miss Carnahan, I believe?" She lifted her lorgnon as a further aid to inspection.
"I am the person you have always spoken of as Miss Carnahan," said Lutie calmly. Throughout the brief period in which she had been legally the wife of George Tresslyn, Lutie was never anything but Miss Carnahan to her mother-in-law. Mrs. Tresslyn very carefully forbore giving her daughter- in-law a respectable name. "I was afraid you might have forgotten me."
"You will forgive me if I confess that I have tried very hard to forget you, Miss Carnahan," said the older woman.
"It isn't my fault that you haven't been able to do so," said Lutie. "Please! you are not to go in." Mrs. Tresslyn's hand was turning the door- knob.
"I fear you are forgetting who I am," said she coldly.
"Oh, I know you're his mother, and all that," said Lutie, breathlessly. "I do not question your right to be with your son. That isn't the point. The nurse has ordered your daughter and me out of the room for awhile. It is the first wink of sleep he has had in heaven knows how long. So you cannot go in and disturb him, Mrs. Tresslyn."
Mrs. Tresslyn's hand fell away from the knob. For a moment she regarded the tense, agitated girl in silence.
"Has it occurred to you to feel—if you can feel at all—that you may not be wanted here, Miss Carnahan?" she said, deliberately cruel. She towered above her adversary.
"Will you be kind enough to come away from the door?" said Lutie, wholly unimpressed. "It isn't very thick, and the sound of voices may penetrate—"
"Upon my soul!" exclaimed Mrs. Tresslyn, staring. "Do you presume to—"
"Not quite so loud, if you please. Come over here if you want to talk to me, Mrs. Tresslyn. Nurse's orders, not mine. I don't in the least mind what you say to me, or what you call me, or anything, but I do entreat you to think of George."
Greatly to her own surprise, Mrs. Tresslyn moved away from the door, and, blaming herself inwardly for the physical treachery that impelled her to do so, sat down abruptly in a chair on the opposite side of the room, quite as far removed from the door as even Lutie could have desired.
Lutie did not sit down. She came over and stood before the woman who had once driven her out. Her face was white and her eyes were heavy from loss of sleep, but her voice was as clear and sharp as a bell.
"We may as well understand each other, Mrs. Tresslyn," she said quietly. "Or, perhaps I'd better say that you may as well understand me. I still believe myself to be George's wife. A South Dakota divorce may be all right so far as the law is concerned, but it will not amount to that"—she snapped her fingers—"when George and I conclude to set it aside. I went out to that God-forsaken little town and stayed there for nearly a year, eating my heart out until I realised that it wasn't at all appetising. I lived up to my bargain, however. I made it my place of residence and I got my decree. I tore that hateful piece of paper up last night before I came here. You paid me thirty thousand dollars to give George up, and he allowed you to do it. Now I have just this to say, Mrs. Tresslyn: if George gets well, and I pray to God that he may, I am going back to him, and I don't care whether we go through the form of marrying all over again or not. He is my husband. I am his wife. There never was an honest cause for divorce in our case. He wasn't as brave as I'd have liked him to be in those days, but neither was I. If I had been as brave as I am now, George wouldn't be lying in there a wreck and a failure. You may take it into your head to ask why I am here. Well, now you know. I'm here to take care of my husband."
Mrs. Tresslyn's steady, uncompromising gaze never left the face of the speaker. When Lutie paused after that final declaration, she waited a moment for her to resume.
"There is, of course," said she levelly, "the possibility that my son may not get well."
Lutie's eyes narrowed. "You mean that you'd rather see him die than—"
"Miss Carnahan, I am compelled to speak brutally to you. I paid you to give up my son. You took the money I proffered and the divorce I arranged for. You agreed to—"
"Just a moment, please. I took the money and—and got out in order to give George a chance to marry some one else and be happy. That was what you wanted, and what you promised me. You promised me that if I gave him up he would find some one else more worthy, that he would forget me and be happy, and that I would be forgotten inside of six months. Well, none of these things has happened. He hasn't found any one else, he still loves me, and he isn't happy. I am going back on my bargain, Mrs. Tresslyn, because you haven't carried out your part of it. If you think it was easy for me to give him up when I did, you are very much mistaken. But that wouldn't interest you, so I'll say no more about it. We'll come down to the present, if you don't mind, and see where we stand; George needs me now, but no more than he has needed me all along. I intend to stick to him like a leech from this time on, Mrs. Tresslyn. You had your chance to make your kind of a man out of him, and I guess you'll admit that you failed. Well, I'm going to begin where you were content to leave off. You treated me like a dog, and God knows you've treated George but little better, although perhaps you didn't know what you were doing to him. He is down and out. You didn't expect things to turn out as they have. You thought I'd be the one to go to the devil. Now I'll put it up to you squarely. I still have the thirty thousand you gave me. It is nicely invested. I have lived comfortably on the income. A few years ago I sold George to you for that amount. Well, I'll buy him back from you to-morrow."
"Buy my son from me?" gasped Mrs. Tresslyn.
"You made it a business proposition three years ago, so I'll do the same now. I want to be fair and square with you. I'm going to take him back in any event, but I shall be a great deal better satisfied if you will let me pay for him."
Mrs. Tresslyn had recovered herself by this time. She gave the younger woman a frosty smile.
"And I suppose you will expect to get him at a considerably reduced price," she said sarcastically, "in view of the fact that he is damaged goods."
"You shall have back every penny, Mrs. Tresslyn," said Lutie, with dignity.
"How ingenuous you are. Do you really believe that I will sell my son to you?"
"I sold him to you," said the other, stubbornly.
Mrs. Tresslyn arose. "I think we would better bring this interview to an end, Miss Carnahan. I shall spare you the opinion I have formed of you in—"
"Just as you please, Mrs. Tresslyn," said Lutie calmly. "We'll consider the matter closed. George comes back to me at my own price. I—"
"My son shall never marry you!" burst out Mrs. Tresslyn, furiously.
Lutie smiled. "It's good to see you mad, Mrs. Tresslyn. It proves that you are like other people, after all. Give yourself a chance, and you'll find it just as easy to be glad as it is to be mad, now that you've let go of yourself a little bit."
"You are insufferable! Be good enough to stand aside. I am going in to my son. He—"
"If you are so vitally interested in him, how does it happen that you wait until four o'clock in the afternoon to come around to inquire about him? I've been here on the job since last night—and so has your daughter. But you? Where have you been all this time, Mrs. Tresslyn?"
"God in heaven!" gasped Mrs. Tresslyn, otherwise speechless.
"If I had a son I'd be with him day and night at—"
"The telephone was out of order," began Mrs. Tresslyn before she could produce the power to check the impulse to justify herself in the eyes of this brazen tormentor.
"Indeed?" said Lutie politely.
"My son shall never marry you," repeated the other, helplessly.
"Well," began Lutie slowly, a bright spot in each cheek, "all I have to say is that he will be extremely unfair to your grandchildren, Mrs. Tresslyn, if he doesn't."
A ground-floor window in an apartment building in Madison Avenue, north of Fifty-ninth street, displayed in calm black lettering the name "Dr. Braden L. Thorpe, M.D." On the panel of a door just inside the main entrance there was a bit of gold-leaf information to the effect that office hours were from 9 to 10 A.M. and from 2 to 4 P.M. There was a reception room and a consultation room in the suite. The one was quite as cheerless and uninviting as any other reception room of its kind, and the other possessed as many of the strange, terrifying and more or less misunderstood devices for the prolongation of uncertainty in the minds of the uneasy. During office-hours there was also a doctor there. Nothing was missing from this properly placarded and admirably equipped office,—nothing at all except the patients!
About the time that George Tresslyn fared forth into the world again, Thorpe hung out his shingle and sat himself down under his own gates to wait for the unwary. But no one came. The lame, the halt and even the blind had visions that were not to be dissipated by anything so trivial as a neat little sign in an office window. The name of Braden Thorpe was on the lips of every one. It was mentioned, not with horror or disgust, but as one speaks of the exalted genius whose cure for tuberculosis has failed, or of the man who found the North Pole by advertising in the newspapers, or of the books of Henry James. He was a person to steer clear of, that was all.
Every newspaper in the country discussed him editorially, paragraphically, and as an article of news. For weeks after the death of Templeton Thorpe and the publication of his will, not a day passed in which Braden Thorpe's outlandish assault upon civilisation failed to receive its country-wide attention in the press. And when editorial writers, medical sharps, legal experts and grateful reporters failed to avail themselves of the full measure of space set apart for their gluttony, ubiquitous "Constant Reader" rushed into print under many aliases and enjoyed himself as never before.
In the face of all this uproar, brought about by the posthumous utterance of old Templeton Thorpe, Braden had the courage,—or the temerity, if that is a truer word,—to put his name in a window and invite further attention to himself.
The world, without going into the matter any deeper than it usually does, assumed that he who entered the office of Dr. Thorpe would never come out of it alive!
The fact that Thorpe advocated something that could not conceivably become a reality short of two centuries made no impression on the world and his family. Dr. Thorpe believed that it was best to put sufferers out of their misery, and that was all there was to be said about the matter so far as Mr. Citizen was concerned.
It would appear, therefore, that all of Templeton Thorpe's ideas, hopes and plans concerning the future of his grandson were to be shattered by his own lack of judgment and foresight. Without intending to do so he had deprived the young man of all that had been given him in the way of education, training and character. Young Thorpe might have lived down or surmounted the prejudice that his own revolutionary utterances created, but he could never overcome the stupendous obstacle that now lay in his path.
If Mr. Thorpe had hoped to create, or believed sincerely that it was possible to create, a force capable of overpowering the natural instincts of man, he had set for himself a task that could have but one result so far as the present was concerned, and it was in the present that Braden Thorpe lived, very far removed from the future that Mr. Thorpe appeared to be seeing from a point close by as he lay on his death-bed. He had completely destroyed the present usefulness of his grandson. He had put a blight upon him, and now he was sleeping peacefully where mockery could not reach him nor reason hold him to account.
The letter that the old man left for his grandson's guidance was an affectionate apology, very skilfully worded, for having, in a way, left the bulk of his fortune to the natural heir instead of to the great, consuming public. True, he did not put this in so many words, but it was obvious to the young man, if not to others who saw and read, that he was very clear in his mind as to the real purport and intention of the clause covering the foundation. He was careful to avoid the slightest expression that might have been seized upon by the young man as evidence of treachery on his part in view of the solemn promise he had made to leave to him no portion of his estate. On the surface, this letter was a simple, direct appeal to Braden to abide by the terms of the will, and to consider the trust as sacred in spite of the absence of restrictions. To Braden, there was but one real meaning to the will: the property was his to have, hold or dispose of as he saw fit. He was at liberty either to use every dollar of it in carrying out the expressed sentiments of the testator, or to sit back luxuriously and console himself with the thought that nothing was really expected of him.
The Foundation that received such wide-spread notice, and brought down upon his head, not the wrath but the ridicule of his fellow beings, was not to serve in any sense as a memorial to the man who provided the money with which the work was to be carried on. As a matter of fact, old Templeton Thorpe took very good care to stipulate plainly that it was not to be employed to any such end. He forbade the use of his name in any capacity except as one of the supporters of the movement. The whole world rose up at first and heaped anathemas on the name of Templeton Thorpe, and then, swiftly recovering its amiable tolerance of fools, forgot the dead and took its pleasure in "steering clear of the man who was left to hold the bag of gold," as some of the paragraphers would have it.
The people forgot old Templeton, and they also became a bit hazy about the cardinal principle of the Foundation, much as they forget other disasters, but they did not forget to look upon Braden Thorpe as a menace to mankind.
And so it was that after two months of waiting, he closed his office for the summer and disappeared from the city. He had not treated a solitary patient, nor had he been called in consultation by a single surgeon of his acquaintance, although many of them professed friendship for and confidence in him.
Six weeks later Simmy Dodge located his friend in a small coast town in Maine, practically out of the reach of tourists and not at all accessible to motorists. He had taken board and lodging with a needy villager who was still honest, and there he sat and brooded over the curse that his own intelligence had laid upon him. He had been there for a month or more before he lifted his head, figuratively speaking, to look at the world again,—and he found it still bright and sparkling despite his desire to have it otherwise in order that he might be recompensed for his mood. Then it was that he wrote to Simmy Dodge, asking him to sell the furnishings and appliances in his office, sublet the rooms, and send to him as soon as possible the proceeds of the sale. He confessed frankly and in his straightforward way that he was hard up and needed the money!
Now, it should be remembered that Braden Thorpe had very little means of his own, a small income from his mother's estate being all that he possessed. He had been dependent upon his grandfather up to the day he died. Years had been spent in preparing him for the personal achievements that were to make him famous and rich by his own hand. Splendid ability and unquestioned earning power were the result of Templeton Thorpe's faith in the last of his race. But nothing was to come of it. His ability remained but his earning power was gone. He was like a splendid engine from which the motive power has been shut off.
For weeks after leaving New York he had seen the world blackly through eyes that grasped no perspective. But he was young, he was made of the flesh that fights, and the spirit that will not down. He looked up from the black view that had held his attention so long, and smiled. It was not a gay smile but one in which there was defiant humour. After all, why shouldn't he smile? These villagers smiled cheerfully, and what had they in their narrow lives to cause them to see the world brightly? He was no worse off than they. If they could be content to live outside the world, why shouldn't he be as they? He was big and strong and young. The fellows who went out to sea in the fishing boats were no stronger, no better than he. He could do the things that they were doing, and they sang while they went to and from their work.
It was the reviving spirit in him that opened his eyes to the lowly joys surrounding him. He found himself thinking with surprising interest that he could do what these men were doing and do it well, and after all what more can be expected of a man than that he should do some one thing well? He did not realise at the time that this small, mean ambition to surpass these bold fishermen was nothing less than the resurrection of dead hopes.
And so, when Simmy Dodge walked in upon him one day, expecting to find a beaten, discouraged skulker, he was confronted by a sun-browned, bare- armed, bright-eyed warrior whose smile was that of the man who never laughs,—the grim smile of him who thinks.
The lines in his face had deepened under the influence of sun and wind; there was a new, almost unnatural ruggedness about the man Simmy had seen less than two months before. The cheeks had the appearance of being sunken and there was an even firmer look to the strong chin and jaws than in the so recent past. Simmy looked at this new, hardy face and wondered whether two months in the rough world would do as much in proportion for his own self-despised countenance.
Thorpe had been up since five o'clock in the morning. For two weeks he had started off every morning at that hour with his landlord for the timberlands above the town, where they spent the day hewing out the sills and beams for a new boat-house. Unskilled at such labor, his duties were not those of the practised workman, but rather those of the "handy man" upon whom falls the most arduous tasks as a rule. Thorpe's sinews were strained to the utmost in handling the long, unwieldy trunks of the fallen trees; his hands were blistered and his legs bruised, but the splendid muscles were no longer sore, nor was he so fatigued at day's-end that he could have "dropped in his tracks" right joyfully,—as he had felt like doing in the first week of his toiling.
"Well, I'll be jiggered," said Simmy, still holding Thorpe's hand as he backed away from him the better to take in this new and strange creature in overalls. Thorpe and his grizzled host had just come down from the woods with a load of pine logs, and had found the trim, immaculate little New Yorker waiting for them at the breakwater, directed thither by the housewife in the winding lane that was called High Street. "By the way, is your name Thorpe?" he added quizzically.
"Yep," said the graduate of three great universities, gripping the little man's hand a trifle harder. "All that is left of me is named Thorpe, Simmy."
"Have you—hired out as a—Good Lord, Brady, you're not as hard up as all that, are you?" Simmy's face was bleak with concern.
"I'm doing it for the fun of the thing," said Thorpe. "Next week I'm going out with the boats. I say, Simmy, have you a cigarette about your person? I haven't had a—"
Half an hour later, Simmy was seated in the cool little front porch with its screen of vines, the scent of the sea filling his sensitive nostrils, and he was drinking buttermilk.
"Now, see here, Brady, it's all damned tommyrot," he was saying,—and he had said something of the kind several times before in the course of their earnest conversation. "There's just one course open to you, and that's the right one. You've got to come back to New York and look people in the eye and tell 'em to go to Gehenna if they don't like what you're doing. You can't go on living like this, no matter how much you love it now. You're not cut out for this sort of thing. Lordy, if I was as big and brutal looking as you are at this minute I'd stand up for myself against—"
"But you will not understand," repeated Thorpe doggedly. "If my attainments, as you call them, are to be of no value to me in helping mankind, what is there left for me to do but this? Didn't I have enough of it in those horrible two months down there to prove to me that they hate me? They—"
"You weren't so thin skinned as all this when you were writing those inspired articles of yours, were you? Confound you, Brady, you invited all of this, you brought it down upon your head with all that nonsense about—why, it was you who converted old Templeton Thorpe and here you are running away like a 'white-head.' Haven't you any back-bone?"
"That's all very well, Simmy, but of what value is a back-bone in a case like mine? If I had ten back-bones I couldn't compel people to come to me for treatment or advice. They are afraid of me. I am a doctor, a surgeon, a friend to all men. But if they will not believe that I am their friend, how can I be of service to them?"
"You'll get patients, and plenty of 'em too, if you'll just hang on and wait. They'll come to know that you wouldn't kill a cockroach if you could help it. You'll—what's the matter?" He broke off suddenly with this sharp question. A marked pallor had come over Thorpe's sunburnt face.
"Nothing—nothing at all," muttered the other. "The heat up there in the woods—"
"You must look out for that, old boy," said Simmy anxiously. "Go slow. You're only a city feller, as they'd say up here. What a God-forsaken place it is! Not more than two hundred miles from Boston and yet I was a whole day getting here."
"It is peaceful, Simmy," said Thorpe.
"I grant you that, by Jove. A fellow could walk in the middle of the street here for a solid year without being hit by an automobile. But as I was saying, you can make a place for yourself—"
"I should starve, old fellow. You forget that I am a poor man."
"Rats! You've got twenty-five thousand dollars a year, if you'll only be sensible. There isn't another man in the United States who would be as finicky about it as you are, no matter how full of ideals and principles he may be stuffed."
Thorpe looked up suddenly. His jaw was set hard and firm once more. "Don't you know what people would say about me if I were to operate and the patient died?—as some of them do, you know. They would say that I did it deliberately. I couldn't afford to lose in a single instance, Simmy. I couldn't take the chance that other surgeons are compelled to take in a great many cases. One failure would be sufficient. One—"
"See here, you've just got to look at things squarely, Braden. You owe something to your grandfather if not to yourself. He left all that money for a certain, definite purpose. You can't chuck it. You've got to come to taw. You say that he took this means of leaving the money to you, that the trust thing is all piffle, and all that sort of thing. Well, suppose that it is true, what kind of a fool would you be to turn up your nose at six million dollars? There are all kinds of ways of looking at it. In the first place, he didn't leave it to you outright. It is a trust, or a foundation, and it has a definite end in view. You are the sole trustee, that's the point on which you elect to stick. You are to be allowed to handle this vast fortune as your judgment dictates, as a trustee, mind you. You forget that he fixed your real position rather clearly when he stipulated that you were to have a salary of twenty-five thousand dollars a year, and fees as a trustee. That doesn't look as though he left it to you without strings, does it?"
For an hour they argued the great question. Simmy did not pretend that he accepted Braden's theories; in fact, he pronounced them shocking. Still, he contended, that was neither here nor there. Braden believed in them, and it wasn't any affair of his, after all.
"I don't believe it is right for man to try to do God's work," said he, in explaining his objections. "But it doesn't matter what I think about it, old chap, so don't mind me."
"Can't you understand, Simmy, that I advocate a simple, direct means of relieving the—"
"Sure, I understand," broke in Simmy agreeably.
"Does God send the soldiers into battle, does he send the condemned man to the gallows? Man does that, doesn't he? If it is God's work to drop a small child into a boiling vat by accident, and if He fails to kill that child at once, why shouldn't it be the work of man to complete the job as quickly as possible? We shoot down the soldiers. Is that God's work? We hang the murderer. Is that God's work? Emperors and kings conduct their wars in the name of God and thousands of God's creatures go down to death. Do you believe that God approves of this slaughter of the strong and hardy? God doesn't send the man to the gallows nor the soldier to the fighting line. Man does that, and he does it because he has the power to do it, and he lives serene in the consolation that the great, good God will not hold him to account for what he has done. We legalise the killing of the strong; but not for humane reasons. Why shouldn't we legalise the killing of the weak for humane reasons? It may interest you to know, Simmy, that we men have more merciful ways of ending life than God Himself directs. Why prolong life when it means agony that cannot be ended except by the death that so certainly waits a few days or weeks beyond—"
"How can you be sure that a man is going to die? Doctors very frequently say that a person has no chance whatever, and then the fellow fools 'em and gets well."
"I am not speaking of such cases. I only speak of the cases where there can be no doubt. There are such cases, you see. I would let Death take its toll, just as it has always done, and I would fight for my patient until the last breath was gone from his body. Two weeks ago a child was gored by a bull back here in the country. It was disembowelled. That child lived for many hours,—and suffered. That's what I mean, in substance. I too believe in the old maxim,—'while there's life there's hope.' That is the foundation on which our profession is built. A while ago you spoke of the extremely aged as possible victims of my theories. I suppose you meant to ask me if I would include them in my list. God forbid! To me there is nothing more beautiful than a happy, healthy, contented old age. We love our old people. If we love them we do not think of them as old. We want them to live,—just as I shall want to live, and you, Simmy. And we want them to die when their time comes, by God's hand not man's, for God does give them a peaceful, glorious end. But we don't want them to suffer, any more than we would want the young to suffer, I loved my grandfather. Death was a great boon to him. He wanted to die. But all old men do not want to die. They—"
"We're not getting anywhere with this kind of talk," interrupted Simmy. "The sum and substance is this: you would put it in the power of a few men to destroy human life on the representation of a few doctors. If these doctors said—"
"And why not? We put it into the power of twelve men to send a man to the gallows on the testimony of witnesses who may be lying like thieves. We take the testimony of doctors as experts in our big murder trials. If we believe some of them we hang the man because they say he is sane. On the other hand we frequently acquit the guilty man if they say he's insane."
Simmy squinted a half-closed eye, calculatingly, judicially. "My dear fellow, the insane asylums in this country to-day hold any number of reasonably sane inmates, sent there by commissions which perhaps unintentionally followed out the plans of designing persons who were actuated solely by selfish and avaricious motives. Control of great properties falls into the hands of conspiring relatives simply because it happened to be an easy matter to get some one snugly into a madhouse." He said no more. Braden was allowed to draw his own conclusions.
"Oh, I dare say people will go on putting obstacles out of their way till the end of time," said he coolly. "If I covet your wife or your ass or your money-bags I put poison in your tea and you very obligingly die, and all that the law can do is to send me after you as soon as the lawyers have got through with me. That is no argument, Simmy. That sort of thing will go on forever."
Finally Thorpe settled back in his chair resignedly, worn out by the persistent argument of his tormentor.
"Well, suppose that I agree with all you say,—what then? Suppose that I take up my burden, as you say I should, and set out to bring the world around to my way of thinking, where am I to begin and how?"
Simmy contrived to suppress the sigh of relief that rose to his lips. This was making headway, after all. Things looked brighter.
"My dear fellow, it will take you a good many years to even make a beginning. You can't go right smack up against the world and say: 'Here, you, look sharp! I'm going to hit you in the eye.' In the first place, you will have to convince the world that you are a great, big man in your profession. You will have to cure ten thousand people before you can make the world believe that you are anybody at all. Then people will listen to you and what you say will have some effect. You can't do anything now. Twenty years from now, when you are at the top of your profession, you will be in a position to do something. But in the meantime you will have to make people understand that you can cure 'em if anybody can, so that when you say you can't cure 'em, they'll know it's final. I'm not asking you to renounce your ideas. You can even go on talking about them and writing to the newspapers and all that sort of thing, if you want to, but you've got to build up a reputation for yourself before you can begin to make use of all this money along the lines laid down for you. But first of all you must make people say that in spite of your theories you are a practical benefactor and not a plain, ordinary crank. Go on sowing the seed if you will, and then when the time comes found a college in which your principles may be safely and properly taught, and then see what people will say."
"It sounds very simple, the way you put it," said Thorpe, with a smile.
"There is no other way, my friend," said Simmy earnestly.
Thorpe was silent for a long time, staring out over the dark waters of the bay. The sun had slipped down behind the ridge of hills to the south and west, and the once bright sea was now cold and sinister and unsmiling. The boats were stealing in from its unfriendly wastes.
"I had not thought of it in that light, Simmy," he said at length. "My grandfather said it might take two hundred years."
"Incidentally," said Simmy, shrewdly, "your grandfather knew what he was about when he put in the provision that you were to have twenty-five thousand dollars a year as a salary, so to speak. He was a far-seeing man. He knew that you would have a hard, uphill struggle before you got on your feet to stay. He may even have calculated on a lifetime, my friend. That's why he put in the twenty-five. He probably realised that you'd be too idiotic to use the money except as a means to bring about the millennium, and so he said to himself 'I'll have to do something to keep the damn' fool from starving.' You needn't have any scruples about taking your pay, old boy. You've got to live, you know. I think I've got the old gentleman's idea pretty—"
"Well, let's drop the subject for to-night, Simmy," said Thorpe, coming to his feet. His chin was up and his shoulders thrown back as he breathed deeply and fully of the new life that seemed to spring up mysteriously from nowhere. "You'll spend the night with me. There is a spare bed and you'll—"
"Isn't there a Ritz in the place?" inquired Simmy, scarcely able to conceal his joy.
"Not so that you can notice it," replied Thorpe gaily. He walked to the edge of the porch and drank in more of that strange, puzzling air that came from vast distances and filled his lungs as they had never been filled before.
Simmy watched him narrowly in the failing light. After a moment he sank back comfortably in the old rocking chair and smiled as a cat might smile in contemplating a captive mouse. The rest would be easy. Thorpe would go back with him. That was all that he wanted, and perhaps more than he expected. As for old Templeton Thorpe's "foundation," he did not give it a moment's thought. Time would attend to that. Time would kill it, so what was the use worrying. He prided himself on having done the job very neatly,—and he was smart enough to let the matter rest.
"What is the news in town?" asked Braden, turning suddenly. There was a new ring in his voice. He was eager for news of the town!
"Well," said Simmy naively, "there is so much to tell I don't believe I could get it all out before dinner."
"We call it supper, Simmy."
"It's all the same to me," said Simmy.
And after supper he told him the news as they walked out along the breakwater.
Anne Thorpe was in Europe. She closed the house as soon as George was able to go to work, and went away without any definite notion as to the length of her stay abroad.
"She's terribly upset over having to live in that old house down there," said Simmy, "and I don't blame her. It's full of ghosts, good and bad. It has always been her idea to buy a big house farther up town. In fact, that was one of the things on which she had set her heart. I don't mind telling you that I'm trying to find some way in which she can chuck the old house down there without losing anything. She wants to give it away, but I won't listen to that. It's worth a hundred thousand if it's worth a nickel. So she closed the place, dismissed the servants and—"
"'Gad, my grandfather wouldn't like that," said Braden. "He was fond of Murray and Wade and—"
"Murray has bought a saloon in Sixth Avenue and talks of going into politics. Old Wade absolutely refused to allow Anne to close up the house. He has received his legacy and turned it over to me for investment. Confound him, when I had him down to the office afterwards he as much as told me that he didn't want to be bothered with the business, and actually complained because I had taken him away from his work at that hour of the day. Anne had to leave him there as caretaker. I understand he is all alone in the house."
"Anne is in Europe, eh? That's good," said Thorpe, more to himself than to his companion.
"Never saw her looking more beautiful than the day she sailed," said Simmy, peering hard in the darkness at the other's face. "She hasn't had much happiness, Brady."
"Umph!" was the only response, but it was sufficient to turn Simmy off into other channels.
"I suppose you know that George and Lutie are married again."
"Good! I'm glad to hear it," said Thorpe, with enthusiasm.
"Married two weeks after George went to work in that big bank note company's plant. I got the job for him. He starts at the bottom, of course, but that's the right way for a chap like George to begin. He'll have to make good before he can go up an inch in the business. Fifteen a week. But he'll go up, Brady. He'll make good with Lutie to push from behind. Awful blow to Mrs. Tresslyn, however. He's a sort of clerk and has to wear sleeve papers and an eye-shade. I shall never forget the day that Lutie bought him back." Simmy chuckled.
"Bought him back?"
"Yes. She plunked thirty thousand down on the table in my office in front of Mrs. Tresslyn and said 'I sha'n't need a receipt, Mrs. Tresslyn. George is receipt enough for me.' I'd never seen Mrs. Tresslyn blush before, but she blushed then, my boy. Got as red as fire. Then she rose up in her dignity and said she wouldn't take the money. How was her son to live, she said, if Lutie deprived him of his visible means of support? Lutie replied that if George was strong enough to carry the washing back and forth from the customers', she'd manage to support him by taking in dirty linen. Then Mrs. Tresslyn broke down. Damme, Brady, it brought tears to my eyes. You don't know how affecting it is to see a high and mighty person like Mrs. Tresslyn humble herself like that. She didn't cry. I was the only one who cried, curse me for a silly ass. She just simply said that Lutie was the best and bravest girl in the world and that she was sorry for all that she had done to hurt her. And she asked Lutie to forgive her. Then Lutie put her arm around her and called her an old dear. I didn't see any more on account of the infernal tears. But Lutie wouldn't take back the money. She said that it didn't belong to her and that she couldn't look George in the face if she kept it. So that's how it stands. She and George have a tiny little apartment 'way up town,—three rooms, I believe, and so far she hasn't taken in anybody's washing. Anne wants to refund the money to Lutie, but doesn't know how to go about it. She—er—sort of left it to me to find the way. Lordy, I seem to get all of the tough jobs."
"You are a brick, Simmy," said Thorpe, laying his arm across the little man's shoulders.
"Heigh-ho!" sighed Simmy. Later on, as they returned through the fog that was settling down about them, he inquired: "By the way, will you be ready to start back with me to-morrow?"
"Lord love you, no," cried Thorpe. "I've agreed, to help old man Stingley with the boat house. I'll come down in three weeks, Simmy."
"Lordy, Lordy!" groaned Simmy, dejectedly. "Three weeks in this God- forsaken place? I'll die, Brady."
"You? What are you talking about?"
"Why, you don't suppose I'm going back without you, do you?"
Anne Thorpe remained in Europe for a year, returning to New York shortly before the breaking out of the Great War. She went to the Ritz, where she took an apartment. A day or two after her arrival in the city, she sent for Wade.
"Wade," she said, as the old valet stood smirking before her in the little sitting-room, "I have decided not to re-open the house. I shall never re- open it. I do not intend to live there."
The man turned a sickly green. His voice shook a little. "Are—are you going to close it—for good,—madam?"
"I sent for you this morning to inquire if you are willing to continue living there as caretaker until—"
"You may depend on me, Mrs. Thorpe, to—" he broke in eagerly.
"—until I make up my mind what to do with the property," she concluded.
He hesitated, clearing his throat. "I beg pardon for mentioning it, ma'am, but the will said that you would have to live in the house and that you may not sell it or do anything—"
"I know," she interrupted shortly. "I sha'n't sell the house, of course. On the other hand, I do not intend to live in it. I don't care what becomes of it, Wade."
"It's worth a great deal of money," he ventured.
She was not interested. "But so am I," she said curtly. "By the way, how have you fared, Wade? You do not look as though you have made the best of your own good fortune. Are you not a trifle thinner?"
The man looked down at the rug. "I am quite well, thank you. A little older, of course,—that's all. I haven't had a sick day in years."
"Why do you stay on in service? You have means of your own,—quite a handy fortune, I should say. I cannot understand your willingness, to coop yourself up in that big old house, when you might be out seeing something of life, enjoying your money and—you are a very strange person, Wade."
He favoured her with his twisted smile. "We can't all be alike, madam," he said. "Besides, I couldn't see very much of life with my small pot of gold. I shall always stick to my habit, I suppose, of earning my daily bread."
"I see. Then I may depend upon you to remain in charge of the house? Whenever you are ready to give it up, pray do not hesitate to come to me. I will release you, of course."
"I may possibly live to be ninety," he said, encouragingly.
She stared. "You mean—that you will stay on until you die?"
"Seeing that you cannot legally sell the house,—and you will not live in it,—I hope to be of service to you to the end of my days, madam. Have you considered the possibility of some one setting up a claim to the property on account of your—er—violation of the terms of the will?"
"I should be very happy if some one were to do so, Wade," she replied with a smile. "I should not oppose the claim. Unfortunately there is no one to take the step. There are no disgruntled relatives."
"Ahem! Mr. Braden, of course, might—er—be regarded as a—"
"Dr. Thorpe will not set up a claim, Wade. You need not be disturbed."
"There is no one else, of course," said he, with a deep breath of relief.
"No one. I can't even give it away. I shall go on paying taxes on it all my life, I daresay. And repairs and—"
"Repairs won't be necessary, ma'am, unless you have a complaining tenant. I shall manage to keep the place in good order."
"Are your wages satisfactory, Wade?"
"Quite, madam." Sometimes he remembered not to say "ma'am."
"And your food, your own personal comforts, your—"
"Don't worry about me, madam. I make out very well."
"And you are all alone there? All alone in that dark, grim old house? Oh, how terribly lonely it must be. I—" she shivered slightly.
"I have a scrub-woman in twice a month, and Murray comes to see me once in awhile. I read a great deal."
"And your meals?"
"I get my own breakfast, and go down to Sixth Avenue for my luncheons and dinners. There is an excellent little restaurant quite near, you see,—conducted by a very estimable Southern lady in reduced circumstances. Her husband is a Northerner, however, and she doesn't see a great deal of him. I understand he is a person of very uncertain habits. They say he gambles. Her daughter assists her with the business. She—but, I beg pardon; you would not be interested in them."
"I am glad that you are contented, Wade. We will consider the matter settled, and you will go on as heretofore. You may always find me here, if you desire to communicate with me at any time."
Wade looked around the room. Anne's maid had come in and was employed in restoring a quantity of flowers to the boxes in which they had been delivered. There were roses and violets and orchids in profusion.
Mrs. Thorpe took note of his interest. "You will be interested to hear, Wade, that my sister-in-law is expecting a little baby very soon. I am taking the flowers up to her flat."
"A baby," said Wade softly. "That will be fine, madam."
After Wade's departure, Anne ordered a taxi, and, with the half dozen boxes of flowers piled up in front of her, set out for George's home. On the way up through the park she experienced a strange sense of exaltation, a curious sort of tribute to her own lack of selfishness in the matter of the flowers. This feeling of self-exaltation was so pleasing to her, so full of promise for further demands upon her newly discovered nature, that she found herself wondering why she had allowed herself to be cheated out of so much that was agreeable during all the years of her life! She was now sincerely in earnest in her desire to be kind and gentle and generous toward others. She convinced herself of that in more ways than one. In the first place, she enjoyed thinking first of the comforts of others, and secondly of herself. That in itself was most surprising to her. Up to a year or two ago she would have deprived herself of nothing unless there was some personal satisfaction to be had from the act, such as the consciousness that the object of her kindness envied her the power to give, or that she could pity herself for having been obliged to give without return. Now she found joy in doing the things she once abhorred,—the unnecessary things, as she had been pleased to describe them.
She loved Lutie,—and that surprised her more than anything else. She did not know it, but she was absorbing strength of purpose, independence, and sincerity from this staunch little woman who was George's wife. She would have cried out against the charge that Lutie had become an Influence! It was all right for Lutie to have an influence on the character of George, but—the thought of anything nearer home than that never entered her head.
As a peculiar—and not especially commendable—example of her present state of unselfishness, she stopped for luncheon with her pretty little sister- in-law, and either forgot or calmly ignored the fact that she had promised Percy Wintermill and his sister to lunch with them at Sherry's. And later on, when Percy complained over the telephone she apologised with perfect humility,—surprising him even more than she surprised herself. She did not, however, feel called upon to explain to him that she had transferred his orchids to Lutie's living-room. That was another proof of her consideration for others. She knew that Percy's feelings would have been hurt.
Lutie was radiantly happy. Her baby was coming in a fortnight.
"You shall have the very best doctor in New York," said Anne, caressing the fair, tousled head. Her own heart was full.
"We're going to have Braden Thorpe," said Lutie.
Anne started. "But he is not—What you want, Lutie, is a specialist. Braden is—"
"He's good enough for me," said Lutie serenely. Possibly she was astonished by the sudden, impulsive kiss that Anne bestowed upon her, and the more fervent embrace that followed.
That afternoon Anne received many callers. Her home-coming meant a great deal to the friends who had lost sight of her during the period of preparation that began, quite naturally, with her marriage to Templeton Thorpe, and was now to bear its results. She would take her place once more in the set to which she belonged as a Tresslyn.
Alas, for the memory of old Templeton Thorpe, her one-time intimates in society were already speaking of her,—absently, of course,—as Anne Tresslyn. The newspapers might continue to allude to her as the beautiful Mrs. Thorpe, but that was as far as it would go. Polite society would not be deceived. It would not deny her the respectability of marriage, to be sure, but on the other hand, it wouldn't think of her as having been married to old Mr. Thorpe. It might occasionally give a thought or two to the money that had once been Mr. Thorpe's, and it might go so far as to pity Anne because she had been stupid or ill-advised in the matter of a much-discussed ante-nuptial arrangement, but nothing could alter the fact that she had never ceased being a Tresslyn, and that there was infinite justice in the restoration of at least one of the Tresslyns to a state of affluence. It remains to be seen whether Society's estimate of her was right or wrong.
Her mother came in for half an hour, and admitted that the baby would be a good thing for poor George.
"I am rather glad it is coming," she said. "I shall know what to do with that hateful money she forced me to take back."
"What do you mean, mother?"
Mrs. Tresslyn lifted her lorgnon. "Have you forgotten, my dear?"
"Of course I haven't. But what do you mean?"
"It is perfectly simple, Anne. I mean that as soon as this baby comes I shall settle the whole of that thirty thousand dollars upon it, and have it off my mind forever. Heaven knows it has plagued me to—"
"You—but, mother, can you afford to do anything so—"
"My dear, it may interest you to know that your mother possesses a great deal of that abomination known as pride. I have not spent so much as a penny of Lutie Car—of my daughter-in-law's money. You look surprised. Have you been thinking so ill of me as that? Did you believe that I—"
Anne threw her arms about her mother's neck, and kissed her rapturously.
"I see you did believe it of me," said Mrs. Tresslyn drily. Then she kissed her daughter in return. "I haven't been able to look my daughter- in-law in the face since she virtually threw all that money back into mine. I've been almost distracted trying to think of a way to force it back upon her, so that I might be at peace with myself. This baby will open the way. It will simplify everything. It shall be worth thirty thousand dollars in its own right the day it is born."
Anne was beaming. "And on that same day, mother dear, I will replace the amount that you turn over to—"
"You will do nothing of the kind," said Mrs. Tresslyn sharply. "I am not doing this thing because I am kind-hearted, affectionate, or even remorseful. I shall do it because it pleases me, and not for the sake of pleasing any one else. Now we'll drop the subject. I do hope, however, that if George doesn't take the trouble to telephone me within a reasonable time after his child comes into the world—say within a day or two—I hope you will do so."
"Really, mother, you are a very wonderful person," said Anne, rather wide- eyed.
"No more wonderful, my dear, than Lutie Carnahan, if you will pause for a moment to think of what she did."
"She is very proud, and very happy," said Anne dubiously. "She and George may refuse to accept this—"
"My dear Anne," interrupted her mother calmly, "pray let me remind you that Lutie is no fool. And now, tell me something about your plans. Where are you going for the summer?"
"That depends entirely on where my nephew wants to spend the heated term," said Anne brightly. "I shall take him and Lutie into the country with me."
Mrs. Tresslyn winced. "It doesn't sound quite so terrible as grandson, at any rate," she remarked, considering the first sentence only.
"I do hope it will be a boy," mused Anne.
"I believe I could love her if she gave us a boy," said the other. "I am beginning to feel that we need more men in the family."
One of the last to drop in during the afternoon to welcome Anne back to the fold was the imposing and more or less redoubtable Mrs. Wintermill, head of the exclusive family to which Percy belonged. Percy's father was still alive but he was a business man, and as such he met his family as he would any other liability: when necessary.
Mrs. Wintermill's first remark after saying that she was glad to see Anne looking so well was obviously the result of a quick and searching glance around the room.
"Isn't Percy here?" she inquired.
Anne had just had an uncomfortable half minute on the telephone with Percy. "Not unless he is hiding behind that couch over there, Mrs. Wintermill," she said airily. "He is coming up later, I believe."
"I was to meet him here," said Mrs. Wintermill, above flippancy. "Is it five o'clock?"
"No," said Anne. Mrs. Wintermill smiled again. She was puzzled a little by the somewhat convulsive gurgle that burst from Anne's lips. "I beg your pardon. I just happened to think of something." She turned away to say good-bye to the last of her remaining visitors,—two middle-aged ladies who had not made her acquaintance until after her marriage to Templeton Thorpe and therefore were not by way of knowing Mrs. Wintermill without the aid of opera-glasses. "Do come and see me again."
"Who are they?" demanded Mrs. Wintermill before the servant had time to close the door behind the departing ones. She did not go to the trouble of speaking in an undertone.
"Old friends of Mr. Thorpe's," said Anne. "Washington Square people. More tea, Ludwig. How well you are looking, Mrs. Wintermill. So good of you to come."
"We wanted to be among the first—if not the very first—to welcome you home, Jane. Percy said to me this morning before he left for the office: 'Mother, you must run in and see Jane Tresslyn to-day.' Ahem! Dear me, I seem to have got into the habit of dropping things every time I move. Thanks, dear. Ahem! As I was saying, I said to Percy this morning: 'I must run in and see Jane Tresslyn to-day.' And Percy said that he would meet me here and go on to the—Do you remember the Fenns? The Rumsey Fenns?"
"Oh, yes. I've been away only a year, you know, Mrs. Wintermill."
"It seems ages. Well, the Fenns are having something or other for a French woman,—or a man, I'm not quite sure,—who is trying to introduce a new tuberculosis serum over here. I shouldn't be the least bit surprised to see it publicly injected into Mr. Fenn, who, I am told, has everything his wife wants him to have. My daughter was saying only a day or two ago that Rumsey Fenn,—we don't know them very well, of course,—naturally, we wouldn't, you know—er—what was I saying? Ah, yes; Percy declared that the city would be something like itself once more, now that you've come home, Jennie. I beg your pardon;—which is it that you prefer? I've quite forgotten. Jennie or Jane?"
"It doesn't in the least matter, Mrs. Wintermill," said Anne amiably. "There isn't much choice."
"How is your mother?"
"Quite well, thank you. And how is Mr. Wintermill?"
"As I was saying, Mrs. Fenn dances beautifully. Percy,—he's really quite silly about dancing,—Percy says she's the best he knows. I do not pretend to dance all of the new ones myself, but—Did you inquire about Mr. Wintermill? He's doing it, too, as they say in the song. By the way, I should have asked before: how is your mother? I haven't seen her in weeks. Good heavens!" The good lady actually turned pale. "It was your husband who died, wasn't it? Not your—but, of course, not. What a relief. You say she's well?"
"You barely missed her. She was here this afternoon."
"So sorry. It is good to have you with us again, Kate. How pretty you are. Do you like the Ritz?"
A bell-boy delivered a huge basket of roses at the door at this juncture. Mrs. Wintermill eyed them sharply as Ludwig paused for instructions. Anne languidly picked up the detached envelope and looked at the card it contained.
"Put it on the piano, Ludwig," she said. "They are from Eddie Townshield," she announced, kindly relieving her visitor's curiosity.
"Really," said Mrs. Wintermill. She sent a very searching glance around the room once more. This time she was not looking for Percy, but for Percy's tribute. She was annoyed with Percy. What did he mean by not sending flowers to Anne Tresslyn? In her anger she got the name right. "Orchids are Percy's favourites, Anne. He never sends anything but orchids. He—"
"He sent me some gorgeous orchids this morning," said Anne.
Mrs. Wintermill looked again, even squinting her eyes. "I suppose they aren't very hardy at this time of the year. I've noticed they perish—"
"Oh, these were exceedingly robust," interrupted Anne. "They'll live for days." Her visitor gave it up, sinking back with a faint sigh. "I've had millions of roses and orchids and violets since I landed. Every one has been so nice."
Mrs. Wintermill sat up a little straighter in her chair. "New York men are rather punctilious about such things," she ventured. It was an inquiry.
"Captain Poindexter, Dickie Fowless, Herb. Vandervelt,—oh, I can't remember all of them. The room looked like Thorley's this morning."
Mrs. Wintermill could not stand it any longer. "What have you done with them, my dear?"
Anne enjoyed being veracious. "I took a whole truckload up to my sister- in-law. She's going to have a baby."
Her visitor stiffened. "I was not aware that you had a sister-in-law. Mr. Thorpe was especially free from relatives."
"Oh, this is George's wife. Dear little Lutie Carnahan, don't you know? She's adorable."
"Oh!" oozed from the other's lips. "I—I think I do recall the fact that George was married while in college. It is very nice of you to share your flowers with her. I loathed them, however, when Percy and Elaine were coming. It must be after five, isn't it?"
"Two minutes after," said Anne.
"I thought so. I wonder what has become of—Oh, by the way, Jane, Percy was saying the other day that Eddie Townshield has really been thrown over by that silly little Egburt girl. He was frightfully gone on her, you know. You wouldn't know her. She came out after you went into retirement. That's rather good, isn't it? Retirement! I must tell that to Percy. He thinks I haven't a grain of humour, my dear. It bores him, I fancy, because he is so witty himself. And heaven knows he doesn't get it from his father. That reminds me, have you heard that Captain Poindexter is about to be dismissed from the army on account of that affair with Mrs. Coles last winter? The government is very strict about—Ah, perhaps that is Percy now."
But it was not Percy,—only a boy with a telegram.
"Will you pardon me?" said Anne, and tore open the envelope. "Why, it's from Percy."
"From—dear me, what is it, Anne? Has anything happened—"
"Just a word to say that he will be fifteen or twenty minutes late," said Anne drily.
"He is the most thoughtful boy in—But as I was saying, Herbie Vandervelt's affair with Anita Coles was the talk of the town last winter. Every one says that he will not marry her even though Coles divorces her. How I hate that in men. They are not all that sort, thank God. I suppose the business in connection with the estate has been settled, hasn't it? As I recall it, the will was a very simple one, aside from that ridiculous provision that shocked every one so much. I think you made a great mistake in not contesting it, Annie. Percy says that it wouldn't have stood in any court. By the way, have you seen Braden Thorpe?" She eyed her hostess rather narrowly.
"No," was the reply. "It hasn't been necessary, you know. Mr. Dodge attended to everything. My duties as executrix were trifling. My report, or whatever you call it, was ready months ago."
"And all that money? I mean, the money that went to Braden. What of that?"
"It did not go to Braden, Mrs. Wintermill," said Anne levelly. "It is in trust."
Mrs. Wintermill smiled. "Oh, nothing will come of that," she said. "Percy says that you could bet your boots that Braden would have contested if things had been the other way round."
"I'm sure I don't know," said Anne briefly.
"I hear that he is hanging on in spite of what the world says about him, trying to get a practice. Percy sees him quite frequently. He's really sorry for him. When Percy likes a person nothing in the world can turn him against—why, he would lend him money as long as his own lasted. He—"
"Has Braden borrowed money from Percy?" demanded Anne quickly.
"I did not say that he had, my dear," said the other reprovingly. "I merely said that he would lend it to him in any amount if he asked for it. Of course, Braden would probably go to Simmy Dodge in case of—they are almost inseparable, you know. Simmy has been quite a brick, sticking to him like this. My dear,"—leaning a little closer and lowering her voice on Ludwig's account,—"do you know that the poor fellow didn't have a patient for nearly six months? People wouldn't go near him. I hear that he has been doing better of late. I think it was Percy who said that he had operated successfully on a man who had gall stones. Oh, yes, I quite forgot that Percy says he has twenty-five thousand dollars a year as wages for acting as trustee. I fancy he doesn't hesitate to use it to the best advantage. As long as he has that, I dare say he will not starve or go naked."
Receiving no response from Anne, she took courage and playfully shook her finger at the young woman. "Wasn't there some ridiculous talk of an adolescent engagement a few years ago? How queer nature is! I can't imagine you even being interested in him. So soggy and emotionless, and you so full of life and verve and—Still they say he is completely wrapped up in his profession, such as it is. I've always said that a daughter of mine should never marry a doctor. As a matter of fact, a doctor never should marry. No woman should be subjected to the life that a doctor's wife has to lead. In the first place, if he is any good at all in his profession, he can't afford to give her any time or thought, and then there is always the danger one runs from women patients. You never could be quite sure that everything was all right, don't you know. Besides, I've always had a horror of the infectious diseases they may be carrying around in their—why, think of small-pox and diphtheria and scarlet fever! Those diseases—"
"My dear Mrs. Wintermill," interrupted Anne, with a smile, "I am not thinking of marrying a doctor."
"Of course you are not," said Mrs. Wintermill promptly. "I wasn't thinking of that. I—"
"Besides, there is a lot of difference between a surgeon and a regular practitioner. Surgeons do not treat small-pox and that sort of thing. You couldn't object to a surgeon, could you?" She spoke very sweetly and without a trace of ridicule in her manner.
"I have a horror of surgeons," said the other, catching at her purse as it once more started to slip from her capacious lap. She got it in time. "Blood on their hands every time they earn a fee. No, thank you. I am not a sanguinary person."
All of which leads up to the belated announcement that Mrs. Wintermill was extremely desirous of having the beautiful and wealthy widow of Templeton Thorpe for a daughter-in-law.
"I suppose you know that James,—but naturally you wouldn't know, having just landed, my dear Jane. You haven't seen Braden Thorpe, so it isn't likely that you could have heard. I fancy he isn't saying much about it, in any event. The world is too eager to rake up things against him in view of his extraordinary ideas on—"
"You were speaking of James, but what James, Mrs. Wintermill?" interrupted Anne, sensing.
Mrs. Wintermill lowered her voice. "Inasmuch as you are rather closely related to Braden by marriage, you will be interested to know that he is to perform a very serious operation upon James Marraville." There was no mistaking the awe in her voice.
"The great James Marraville," said Mrs. Wintermill, suddenly passing her handkerchief over her brow. "He is said to be in a hopeless condition," she added, pronouncing the words slowly.
"I—I had not heard of it, Mrs. Wintermill," murmured Anne, going cold to the very marrow.
"Every one has given him up. It is terrible. A few days ago he sent for Braden Thorpe and—well, it was announced in the papers that there will be an operation to-morrow or the next day. Of course, he cannot survive it. That is admitted by every one. Mr. Wintermill went over to see him last night. He was really shocked to find Mr. Marraville quite cheerful and—contented. I fancy you know what that means."
"And Braden is going to operate?" said Anne slowly.
"No one else will undertake it, of course," said the other, something like a triumphant note in her voice.
"What a wonderful thing it would be for Braden if he were to succeed," cried Anne, battling against her own sickening conviction. "Think what it would mean if he were to save the life of a man so important as James Marraville,—one of the most talked-of men in the country. It would—"
"But he will not save the man's life," said Mrs. Wintermill significantly. "I do not believe that Marraville himself expects that." She hesitated for an instant. "It is really dreadful that Braden should have achieved so much notoriety on account of—I beg your pardon!"
Anne had arisen and was standing over her visitor in an attitude at once menacing and theatric. The old lady blinked and caught her breath.
"If you are trying to make me believe, Mrs. Wintermill, that Braden would consent to—But, why should I insult him by attempting to defend him when no defence is necessary? I know him well enough to say that he would not operate on James Marraville for all the money in the world unless he believed that there was a chance to pull him through." She spoke rapidly and rather too intensely for Mrs. Wintermill's peace of mind.
"That is just what Percy says," stammered the older woman hastily. "He believes in Braden. He says it's all tommyrot about Marraville paying him to put him out of his misery. My dear, I don't believe there is a more loyal creature on earth than Percy Wintermill. He—"
Percy was announced at that instant. He came quickly into the room and, failing utterly to see his mother, went up to Anne and inquired what the deuce had happened to prevent her coming to luncheon, and why she didn't have the grace to let him know, and what did she take him for, anyway.
"Elaine and I stood around over there for an hour,—an hour, do you get that?—biting everything but food, and—"
"I'm awfully sorry, Percy," said Anne calmly. "I wouldn't offend Elaine for the world. She's—"
"Elaine? What about me? Elaine took it as a joke, confound her,—but I didn't. Now see here, Anne, old girl, you know I'm not in the habit of being—"
"Here is your mother, Percy," interrupted Anne coldly.
"Hello! You still waiting for me, mother? I say, what do you think Anne's been doing to your angel child? Forgetting that he's on earth, that's all. Now, where were you, Anne, and what's the racket? I'm not in the habit of being—"
"I forgot all about it, Percy," confessed Anne deliberately. She was conscious of a sadly unfeminine longing to see just how Percy's nose could look under certain conditions. "I couldn't say that to you over the phone, however,—could I?"
"Anne's sister-in-law is expecting a baby," put in Mrs. Wintermill fatuously. This would never do! Percy ought to know better than to say such things to Anne. What on earth had got into him? Except for the foregoing effort, however, she was quite speechless.
"What's that got to do with it?" demanded Percy, chucking his gloves toward the piano. He faced Anne once more, prepared to insist on full satisfaction. The look in her eyes, however, caused him to refrain from pursuing his tactics. He smiled in a sickly fashion and said, after a moment devoted to reconstruction: "But, never mind, Anne; I was only having a little fun bullying you. That's a man's privilege, don't you know. We'll try it again to-morrow, if you say so."
"I have an engagement," said Anne briefly. The next instant she smiled. "Next week perhaps, if you will allow me the privilege of forgetting again."
"Oh, I say!" said Percy, blinking his eyes. How was he to take that sort of talk? He didn't know. And for fear that he might say the wrong thing if he attempted to respond to her humour, he turned to his mother and remarked: "Don't wait for me, mother. Run along, do. I'm going to stop for a chat with Anne."
As Mrs. Wintermill went out she met Simmy Dodge in the hall.
"Would you mind, Simmy dear, coming down to the automobile with me?" she said quickly. "I—I think I feel a bit faint."
"I'll drive home with you, if you like," said the good Simmy, solicitously.
She saw by the evening papers that the operation on Marraville was to take place the next day. That night she slept but little. When her maid roused her from the slumber that came long after the sun was up, she immediately called for the morning papers. In her heart she was hoping, almost praying that they would report the death of James Marraville during the night. Then, as she read with burning eyes, she found herself hoping against hope that the old man would, at the last moment, refuse to undergo the operation, or that some member of his family would protest. But even as she hoped, she knew that there would be no objection on the part of either Marraville or his children. He was an old man, he was fatally ill, he was through with life. There would be no obstacle placed in the way of Death. His time had come and there was no one to ask for a respite. He would die under the knife and every one would be convinced that it was for the best. As she sat up in bed, staring before her with bleak, unseeing eyes, she had an inward vision of this rich man's family counting in advance the profits of the day's business! Braden Thorpe was to be the only victim. He was to be the one to suffer. Two big tears grew in her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. She had never loved Braden Thorpe as she loved him now.
She knew that he was moved by honest intentions. That he confidently believed he could preserve this man's life she would not for an instant doubt. But why had he agreed to undertake the feat that other men had declared was useless, the work that other men had said to be absolutely unnecessary? A faint ray of comfort rested on the possibility that these great surgeons, appreciating, the wide-spread interest that naturally would attend the fate of so great a man as James Marraville, were loth to face certain failure, but even that comfort was destroyed by an intelligence that argued for these surgeons instead of against them. They had said that the case was hopeless. They were honest men. They had the courage to say: "This man must die. It is God's work, not ours," and had turned away. They were big men; they would not operate just for the sake of operating. And when they admitted that it was useless they were convincing the world that they were honourable men. Therefore,—she almost ground her pretty teeth at the thought of it,—old Marraville and his family had turned to Braden Thorpe as one without honour or conscience!
She had never been entirely free from the notion that her husband's death was the result of premeditated action on the part of his grandson, but in that instance there was more than professional zeal in the heart of the surgeon: there was love and pity and gentleness in the heart of Braden Thorpe when he obeyed the command of the dying man. If he were to come to her now, or at any time, with the confession that he had deliberately ended the suffering of the man he loved, she would have put her hand in his and looked him in the eye while she spoke her words of commendation. Templeton Thorpe had the right to appeal to him in his hour of hopelessness, but this other man—this mighty Marraville!—what right had he to demand the sacrifice? She had witnessed the suffering of Templeton Thorpe, she had prayed for death to relieve him; he had called upon her to be merciful, and she had denied him. She wondered if James Marraville had turned to those nearest and dearest to him with the cry for mercy. She wondered if the little pellets had been left at his bedside. She knew the extent of his agony, and yet she had no pity for him. He was not asking for mercy at the hands of a man who loved him and who could not deny him. He was demanding something for which he was willing to pay, not with love and gratitude, but with money. Would he look up into Braden's eyes and say, "God bless you," when the end was at hand?
Moved by a sudden irresistible impulse she flung reserve aside and decided to make an appeal to Braden. She would go to him and plead with him to spare himself instead of this rich old man. She would go down on her knees to him, she would humble and humiliate herself, she would cry out her unwanted love to him....
At nine o'clock she was at his office. He was gone for the day, the little placard on the door informed her. Gone for the day! In her desperation she called Simmy Dodge on the telephone. He would tell her what to do. But Simmy's man told her that his master had just gone away in the motor with Dr. Thorpe,—for a long ride into the country. Scarcely knowing what she did she hurried on to Lutie's apartment, far uptown.
"What on earth is the matter, Anne?" cried the gay little wife as her sister-in-law stalked into the tiny drawing-room and threw herself dejectedly upon a couch. Lutie was properly alarmed and sympathetic.
It was what Anne needed. She unburdened herself.
"But," said Lutie cheerfully, "supposing he should save the old codger's life, what then? Why do you look at the black side of the thing? While there's life, there's hope. You don't imagine for an instant that Dr. Thorpe is going into this big job with an idea of losing his patient, do you?"
Anne's eyes brightened. A wave of relief surged into her heart.
"Oh, Lutie, Lutie, do you really believe that Braden thinks he can save him?"
Lutie's eyes opened very wide. "What in heaven's name are you saying? You don't suppose he's thinking of anything else, do you?" A queer, sinking sensation assailed her suddenly. She remembered. She knew what was in Anne's mind. "Oh, I see! You—" she checked the words in time. An instant later her ready tongue saved the situation. "You don't seem to understand what a golden opportunity this is for Braden. Here is a case that every newspaper in the country is talking about. It's the chance of a lifetime. He'll do his best, let me tell you that. If Mr. Marraville dies, it won't be Braden's fault. You see, he's just beginning to build up a practice. He's had a few unimportant cases and he's—well, he's just beginning to realise that pluck and perseverance will do 'most anything for a fellow. Now, here comes James Marraville, willing to take a chance with him—because it's the only chance left, I'll admit,—and you can bet your last dollar, Anne, that Braden isn't going to make a philanthropic job of it."
"But if he fails, Lutie,—if he fails don't you see what the papers will say? They will crush him to—"
"Why should they? Bigger men than he have failed, haven't they?"
"But it will ruin Braden forever. It will be the end of all his hopes, all his ambitions. This will convict him as no other—"
"Now, don't get excited, dear," cautioned the other gently. "You're working yourself into an awful state. I think I understand, Anne. You poor old girl!"
"I want you to know, Lutie. I want some one to know what he is to me, in spite of everything."
Then Lutie sat down beside her and, after deliberately pulling the pins from her visitor's hat, tossed it aimlessly in the direction of a near-by chair,—failing to hit it by several feet,—and drew the smooth, troubled head down upon her shoulder.
"Stay and have luncheon with George and me," she said, after a half hour of confidences. "It will do you good. I'll not breathe a word of what you've said to me,—not even to old George. He's getting so nervous nowadays that he comes home to lunch and telephones three or four times a day. It's an awful strain on him. He doesn't eat a thing, poor dear. I'm really quite worried about him. Take a little snooze here on the sofa, Anne. You must be worn out. I'll cover you up—"
The door-bell rang.
Lutie started and her jaw fell. "Good gracious! That's—that's Dr. Thorpe now. He is the only one who comes up without being announced from downstairs. Oh, dear! What shall I—Don't you think you'd better see him, Anne?"
Anne had arisen. A warm flush had come into her pale cheeks. She was breathing quickly and her eyes were bright.
"I will see him, Lutie. Would you mind leaving us alone together for a while? I must make sure of one thing. Then I'll be satisfied."
Lutie regarded her keenly for a moment. "Just remember that you can't afford to make a fool of yourself," she said curtly, and went to the door. A most extraordinary thought entered Anne's mind, a distinct thought among many that were confused: Lutie ought to have a parlour-maid, and she would make it her business to see that she had one at once. Poor, plucky little thing! And then the door was opened and Thorpe walked into the room.
"Well, how are we this morning?" he inquired cheerily, clasping Lutie's hand. "Fine, I see. I happened to be passing with Simmy and thought I'd run in and see—" His gaze fell upon the tall, motionless figure on the opposite side of the room, and the words died on his lips.
"It's Anne," said Lutie fatuously.
For a moment there was not a sound or a movement in the little room. The man was staring over Lutie's head at the slim, elegant figure in the modish spring gown,—it was something smart and trig, he knew, and it was not black. Then he advanced with his hand extended.
"I am glad to see you back, Anne. I heard you had returned." Their hands met in a brief clasp. His face was grave, and a queer pallor had taken the place of the warm glow of an instant before.