"Three days ago," she said, and that was all. Her throat was tight and dry. He had not taken his eyes from hers. She felt them burning into her own, and somehow it hurt,—she knew not why.
"Well, it's good to see you," he mumbled, finding no other words. He pulled himself together with an effort. He had not expected to see her here. He had dreamed of her during the night just past. "Simmy is waiting down below in the car. I just dropped in for a moment. Can't keep him waiting, Lutie, so I'll—"
"Won't you spare me a few moments, Braden?" said Anne steadily. "There is something that I must say to you. To-morrow will not do. It must be now."
He looked concerned. "Has anything serious—"
"Nothing—yet," she broke in, anticipating his question.
"Sit down, Braden," said Lutie cheerfully. "I'll make myself scarce. I see you are down for a big job to-day. Good boy! I told you they'd come your way if you waited long enough. It is a big job, isn't it?"
"Ra-ther," said he, smiling. "I daresay it will make or break me."
"I should think you'd be frightfully nervous."
"Well, I'm not, strange to say. On the contrary, I'm as fit as a fiddle."
"When do you—perform this operation?" Anne asked, as Lutie left the room.
"This afternoon. He has a superstition about it. Doesn't want it done until after banking hours. Queerest idea I've ever known." He spoke in quick, jerky sentences.
She held her breath for an instant, and then cried out imploringly: "I don't want you to do it, Braden,—I don't want you to do it. If not for my sake, then for your own you must refuse to go on with it."
He looked straight into her troubled, frightened eyes. "I suppose you are like the rest of them: you think I'm going to kill him, eh?" His voice was low and bitter.
She winced, half closing her eyes as if a blow had been aimed at them. "Oh, don't say that! How horrible it sounds when you—speak it."
He could see that she was trembling, and suddenly experienced an odd feeling of contentment. He had seen it in her eyes once more: the love that had never faltered although dragged in the dirt, discredited and betrayed. She still loved him, and he was glad to know it. He could gloat over it.
"I am not afraid to speak it, as you say," he said curtly. Then he pitied her. "I'm sorry, Anne. I shouldn't have said it. I think I understand what you mean. It's good of you to care. But I am going ahead with it, just the same." His jaw was set in the old, resolute way.
"Do you know what they will say if you—fail?" Her voice was husky.
"Yes, I know. I also know why they finally came to me. They haven't any hope. They believe that I may—well, at least I will not say that, Anne. Down in their hearts they all hope,—but it isn't the kind of hope that usually precedes an operation. No one has dared to suggest to me that I put him out of his misery, but that's what they're expecting,—all of them. But they are going to be disappointed. I do not owe anything to James Marraville. He is nothing to me. I do not love him as I loved my grandfather."
He spoke slowly, with grave deliberation; there was not the slightest doubt that he intended her to accept this veiled explanation of his present attitude as a confession that he had taken his grandfather's life.
She was silent. She understood. He went on, more hurriedly:
"I can only say to you, Anne, that my grandfather might have gone on living for a few weeks or even months. Well, there is no reason why Marraville shouldn't go on living for awhile. Do you see what I mean? He shall not die to-day if I can help it. He will hang on for weeks, not permanently relieved but at least comforted in the belief that his case isn't hopeless. I shall do my best." He smiled sardonically. "The operation will be called a success, and he will merely go on dying instead of having it all over with."
She closed her eyes. "Oh, how cruel it is," she murmured. "How cruel it is, after all."
"He will curse me for failing to do my duty," said he grimly. "The world will probably say that I am a benefactor to the human race, after all, and I will be called a great man because I allow him a few more weeks of agony. I may fail, of course. He may not survive the day. But no one will be justified in saying that I did not do my best to tide him over for a few weeks or months. And what a travesty it will be if I do succeed! Every one except James Marraville will praise me to the skies. My job will be done, but he will have it all to do over again,—this business of dying."
She held out her hand. Her eyes had filled with tears.
"God be with you, Braden." He took her hand in his, and for a moment looked into the swimming eyes.
"You understand everything now, don't you, Anne?" he inquired. His face was very white and serious. He released her hand.
"Yes," she answered; "I understand everything. I am glad that you have told me. It—it makes no difference; I want you to understand that, Braden."
It seemed to her that he would never speak. He was regarding her thoughtfully, evidently weighing his next words with great care.
"Three doctors know," he said at last. "They must never find out that you know."
Her eyes flashed through the tears. "I am not afraid to have the world know," she said quickly.
He shook his head, smiling sadly.
"But I am," he said. It was a long time before she grasped the full significance of this surprising admission. When, hours afterward, she came to realise all that it meant she knew that he was not thinking of himself when he said that he was afraid. He was thinking of her; he had thought of her from the first. Now she could only look puzzled and incredulous. It was not like him to be afraid of consequences.
"If you are afraid," she demanded quickly, "why do you invite peril this afternoon? The chances are against you, Braden. Give it up. Tell them you cannot—"
"This afternoon?" he broke in, rather violently. "Good God, Anne, I'm not afraid of what is going to happen this afternoon. Marraville isn't going to die to-day, poor wretch. I can't afford to let him die." He almost snarled the words. "I have told these people that if I fail to take him through this business to-day, I'll accept no pay. That is understood. The newspapers will be so informed in case of failure. You are shocked. Well, it isn't as bad as it sounds. I am in deadly earnest in this matter. It is my one great chance. It means more to me to save James Marraville's life than it means to him. I'm sorry for him, but he has to go on living, just the same. Thank you for being interested. Don't worry about it. I—"
"The evening papers will tell me how it turns out," she said dully. "I shall pray for you, Braden."
He turned on her savagely. "Don't do that!" he almost shouted. "I don't want your support. I—" Other words surged to his lips but he held them back. She drew back as if he had struck her a blow in the face. "I—I beg your pardon," he muttered, and then strode across the room to thump violently on the door to Lutie's bed-chamber. "Come out! I'm going. Can't keep the nation waiting, you know."
Two minutes later Anne and Lutie were alone. The former, inwardly shaken despite an outward appearance of composure, declined to remain for luncheon, as she had done the day before. Her interest in Lutie and her affairs was lost in the contemplation of a reviving sense of self- gratification, long dormant but never quite unconscious. She had recovered almost instantly from the shock produced by his violent command, and where dismay had been there was now a warm, grateful rush of exultation. She suspected the meaning of that sudden, fierce lapse into rudeness. Her heart throbbed painfully, but with joyous relief. It was not rudeness on his part; on the contrary he was paying tribute to her. He was dismayed by the feelings he found himself unable to conquer. The outburst was the result of a swift realisation that she still had the power to move him in spite of all his mighty resolves, in spite even of the contempt he had for her.
She walked to the Ritz. It was a long distance from George's home, but she went about it gladly in preference to the hurried, pent-up journey down by taxi or stage. She wanted to be free and unhampered. She wanted to think, to analyse, to speculate on what would happen next. For the present she was content to glory in the fact that he had unwittingly betrayed himself.
She was near the Plaza before the one great, insurmountable obstacle arose in her mind to confound her joyous calculations. What would it all come to, after all? She could never be more to him than she was at this instant, for between them lay the truth about the death of Templeton Thorpe,—and Templeton Thorpe was her husband. Her exaltation was short- lived. The joy went out of her soul. The future looked to be even more barren than before the kindly hope sprang up to wave its golden prospects before her deluded eyes.
He would never look at the situation from her point of view. Even though he found himself powerless to resist the love that was regaining strength enough to batter down the wall of prejudice her marriage had created in his mind, there would still stand between them his conviction that it would be an act of vileness to claim or even covet the wife of the man whose life he had taken, not in anger or reprisal but in honest devotion.
Anne was not callous or unfeeling in her readiness to disregard what he might be expected to call the ethics of the case. She very sensibly looked at the question as one in which the conscience had no part, for the simple reason that there was no guilty motive to harass it. If his conscience was clear,—and it most certainly was,—there could be no sound reason for him to deny himself the right to reclaim that which belonged to him by all the laws of nature. On her part there was not the slightest feeling of revulsion. She did not look upon his act as a barrier. Her own act in betraying him was far more of a barrier than this simple thing that he had done. She had believed it to be insurmountable. She had long ago accepted as final the belief that he despised her and would go on doing so to the end. And now, in the last hour, there had been a revelation. He still loved her. His scorn, his contempt, his disgust were not equal to the task of subduing the emotion that lived in spite of all of them. But this other thing! This thing that he would call decency!
All through the afternoon his savage, discordant cry: "Don't do that!" rang in her ears. She thrilled and crumpled in turn. The blood ran hot once more in her veins. As she looked back over the past year it seemed to her that her blood had been cold and sluggish. But now it was warm again and tingling. Even the desolating thought that her discovery would yield no profit failed to check the riotous, grateful warmth that raced through her body from crown to toe. Despair had its innings, but there was always compensation in the return of a joy that would not acknowledge itself beaten. Joy enough to feel that he could not help loving her! Joy to feel that he was hungry too! No matter what happened now she would know that she had not lost all of him.
After a while she found herself actually enjoying the prospect of certain failure on Braden's part in the case of Marraville. Reviled and excoriated beyond endurance, he would take refuge in the haven that she alone could open to him. He would come to her and she would go with him, freely and gladly, into new places where he could start all over again and—But even as she conjured up this sacrificial picture, this false plaisance, her cheeks grew hot with shame. The real good that was in Anne Tresslyn leaped into revolt. She hated herself for the thought; she could have cursed herself. What manner of love was this that could think of self alone? What of him? What of the man she loved?
She denied herself to callers. At half-past five she called up the hospital and inquired how Mr. Marraville was getting along. She had a horrid feeling that the voice at the other end would say that he was dead. She found a vast relief in the polite but customary "doing very nicely" reply that came languidly over the wires. Anne was not by way of knowing that the telephone operators in the hospitals would say very cheerfully that "Mr. Washington is doing very nicely," if one were to call up to inquire into the condition of the Father of his Country! An "extra" at six o'clock announced that the operation had taken place and that Mr. Marraville had survived it, although it was too soon to,—and so on and so forth.
Then she called Simmy Dodge up on the telephone. Simmy would know if anybody knew. And with her customary cleverness and foresightedness she called him up at the hospital.
After a long delay Simmy's cheery voice came singing—or rather it was barking—into her ear. This had been the greatest day in the life of Simeon Dodge. From early morn he had gone about in a state of optimistic unrest. He was more excited than he had ever been in his life before,—and yet he was beatifically serene. His brow was unclouded, his eyes sparkled and his voice rang with all the confidence of extreme felicity. There was no question in Simmy's mind as to the outcome. Braden would pull the old gentleman through, sure as anything. Absolutely sure, that's what Simmy was, and he told other people so.
"Fine as silk!" he shouted back in answer to Anne's low, suppressed inquiry. "Never anything like it, Anne, old girl. One of the young doctors told me—"
"Has he come out of the ether, Simmy?"
"Is he conscious? Has the ether—"
"I can't say as to that," said Simmy cheerfully. "He's been back in his room since five o'clock. That's—let's see what time is it now? Six- fourteen. Nearly an hour and a quarter. They all say—"
"Have you see Braden?"
"Sure. He's fagged out, poor chap. Strain something awful. Good Lord, I wonder what it must have been to him when it came so precious near to putting me out of business. I thought I was dying at half-past four. I never expected to live to see Mr. Marraville out of the operating-room. Had to take something for medicinal purposes. I knew all along that Braden could do the job like a—"
"Where is he now?"
"Last I heard of him he was back in his room with the house doctor and—"
"I mean Braden."
"What are you sore about, Anne?" complained Simmy. Her voice had sounded rather querulous to him. "I thought you meant the patient. Brady is up there, too, I guess. Sh! I can't say anything more. A lot of reporters, are coming this way."
The morning papers announced that James Marraville had passed a comfortable night and that not only Dr. Thorpe but other physicians who were attending him expressed the confident opinion that if he continued to gain throughout the day and if nothing unforeseen occurred there was no reason why he should not recover. He had rallied from the anaesthetic, his heart was good, and there was no temperature. Members of the family were extremely hopeful. His two sons-in-law—who were spokesmen for the other members of the family—were united in the opinion that Dr. Thorpe had performed a miracle. Dr. Thorpe, himself, declined to be interviewed. He referred the newspaper men to the other surgeons and physicians who were interested in the case.
There was an underlying note of dismay, rather deftly obscured, in all of the newspaper accounts, however. Not one of them appeared to have recovered from the surprise that had thrown all of their plans out of order. They had counted on James Marraville's death and had prepared themselves accordingly. There were leading editorials in every office, and columns of obituary matter; and there were far from vague allusions to the young doctor who performed the operation. And here was the man alive! It was really more shocking than if he had died, as he was expected to do. It is no wonder, therefore, that the first accounts were almost entirely without mention of the doctor who had upset all of their calculations. He hadn't lived up to the requirements. The worst of it all was that Mr. Marraville's failure to expire on the operating table forever deprived them of the privilege of saying, invidiously, that young Doctor Thorpe had been called in as the last resort. It would take them a day or two, no doubt, to adjust themselves to the new situation, and then, if the millionaire was still showing signs of surviving, they would burst forth into praise of the marvellous young surgeon who had startled the entire world by his performance!
In the meantime, there was still a chance that Mr. Marraville might die, so it was better to hesitate and be on the safe side.
James Marraville called Thorpe a coward and a poltroon. This was a week after the operation. They were alone in the room. For days his wondering, questioning eyes had sought those of the man on whom he had depended for everlasting peace, and always there had been a look of reproach in them. Not in words, but still plainly, he was asking why he still lived, why this man had not done the thing that was expected of him. Every one about him was talking of the marvellous, incredible result of the operation; every one was looking cheerful and saying that he would "soon be as good as new." And all the while he was lying there, weak and beaten, wondering why they lied to him, and why Man as well as God had been so cruel to him. He was not deceived. He knew that he had it all to live over again. He knew what they meant when they said that it had been very successful! And so, one day, in all the bitterness of his soul, he cursed the man who had given him a few more months to live.
But there were other men and women who did not want to die. They wanted very dearly to live, and they had been afraid to risk an operation. Now that the world was tumbling over itself to proclaim the greatness of the surgeon who had saved James Marraville's life, the faint-hearted of all degrees flowed in a stream up to his doors and implored him to name his own price.... So goes the world....
The other doctors knew, and Braden knew, and most thoroughly of all James Marraville knew, that while the operation was a wonderful feat in surgery, it might just as well have remained undone. The young doctor simply had done all that was in the power of man to do for a fellow creature. He had cheated Death out of an easy victory, but Death would come again and sit down beside James Marraville to wait for another day.
Down near Washington Square, Wade blinked his eyes and shook his head, and always re-read the reports from the sick-room. He was puzzled and sometimes there was a faraway look in his eyes.
* * * * *
Lutie's baby came. He came long after midnight, and if he had been given the power at birth to take intelligent notice of things, he would have been vastly astonished to hear that his grandmother had been sitting up in an adjoining room with her son and daughter, anxiously, even fearfully, awaiting his advent into the world. And he would have been further astonished and perhaps distressed if any one had told him that his granny cried a little over him, and refused to go to her own home until she was quite sure that his little mother was all right. Moreover, he would have been gravely impressed by the presence of the celebrated Dr. Thorpe, and the extraordinary agony of that great big tall man who cowered and shivered and who wouldn't even look at him because he had eyes and thought for no one but the little mother. Older and wiser persons would have revealed considerable interest in the certificate of deposit that his grandmother laid on the bed beside him. He was quite a rich little boy without knowing it. Thirty thousand dollars is not to be sneezed at, and it would be highly unjust to say that it was a sneeze that sent his grandmother, his aunt and his father into hysterics of alarm.
They called him Carnahan Tresslyn. He represented a distinct phase in the regeneration of a proud and haughty family.
A few weeks later Anne took a house up among the hills of Westchester County, and moved Lutie and the baby out into the country. It did not occur to her to think that she was making a personal sacrifice in going up there to spend the hot months.
Percy Wintermill informed her one day that he was going to ask her to marry him when the proper time arrived. It would be the third time, he reminded her. He was being forehanded, that was all,—declaring himself in advance of all others and thereby securing, as he put it, the privilege of priority. She was not very much moved by the preparation of Percy. In fact, she treated the matter with considerable impatience.
"Really, you know, Percy," she said, "I'm getting rather fed up with refusing you. I'm sure I've done it more than three times. Why don't you ask some girl who will have you?"
"That's just the point," said he frankly. "If I asked some girl who would have me, she'd take me, and then where would you come in? I don't want any one but you, Anne, and—"
"Sorry, Perce, but it's no use," said she briefly.
"Well, I haven't asked you yet," he reminded her. After some minutes, spent by him in rumination and by her in wondering why she didn't send him away, he inquired, quite casually: "Anybody else in mind, old girl?" She merely stared at him. "Hope it isn't Brady Thorpe," he went on. "He's one of my best friends. I'd hate to think that I'd have to—"
"Go home, Percy," she said. "I'm going out,—and I'm late already. Thanks for the orchids. Don't bother to send any more. It's just a waste of money, old fellow. I sha'n't marry you. I sha'n't marry any one except the man with whom I fall desperately, horribly in love,—and I'm not going to fall in love with you, so run away."
"You weren't in love with old man Thorpe, were you?" he demanded, flushing angrily.
"I haven't the right to be offended by that beastly remark, Percy," she said quietly; "and yet I don't think you ought to have said it to me."
"It was meant only to remind you that it won't be necessary for you to fall desperately, horribly in love with me," he explained, and was suddenly conscious of being very uncomfortable for the first time in his life. He did not like the expression in her eyes.
Her shoulders drooped a little. "It isn't very comforting to feel that any one of my would-be husbands could be satisfied to get along without being loved by me. No doubt I shall be asked by others besides you, Percy. I hope you do not voice the sentiments of all the rest of them."
"I'm sorry I said it," he said, and seemed a little bewildered immediately afterwards. He really couldn't make himself out. He went away a few minutes later, vaguely convinced that perhaps it wouldn't be worth while to ask her, after all. This was a new, strange Anne, and it would hurt to be refused by her. He had never thought of it in just that way—before.
"So that is the price they put upon me, is it?" Anne said to herself. She was regarding herself rather humbly in the mirror as she pinned on her hat. "I am still expected to marry without loving the man who takes me. It isn't to be exacted of me. Don't they credit me with a capacity for loving? What do they think I am? What do they think my blood is made of, and the flesh on my bones? Do they think that because I am beautiful I can love no one but myself? Don't they think I'm human? How can any one look at me without feeling that I'd rather love than be loved? The poor fools! Any woman can be loved. What we all want more than anything else is to love. And I love—I do love! And I am beloved. And all the rest of my life I shall love; I shall gloat over the fact that I love; I shall love, love, love with all that there is in me, all that there is in my body and my soul. The poor fools."
And all that was in her body and her soul was prepared to give itself to the man who loved her. She wanted him to have her for his own. She pitied him even more than she pitied herself.
Anne had no illusions concerning herself. Mawkish sentimentality had no place in her character. She was straightforward and above board with herself, and she would not cheapen herself in her own eyes. Another woman might have gone down on her knees, whimpering a cry for forgiveness, but not Anne Tresslyn. She would ask him to forgive her but she would not lie to herself by prostrating her body at his feet. There was firm, noble stuff in Anne Tresslyn. It was born in her to know that the woman who goes down on her knees before her man never quite rises to her full height again. She will always be in the position of wondering whether she stayed on her knees long enough to please him. The thought had never entered Anne's head to look anywhere but straight into Braden's eyes. She was not afraid to have him see that she was honest! He could see that she had no lies to tell him. And she was as sorry for him as she was for herself....
She saw him often during the days of Lutie's convalescence, but never alone. There was considerable comfort for her in the thought that he made a distinct point of not being alone with her. One day she said to him:
"I have my car outside, Braden. Shall I run you over to St. Luke's?"
It was a test. She knew that he was going to the hospital, and intended to take the elevated down to 110th Street. His smile puzzled her.
"No, thank you." Then, after a moment, he added: "If people saw me driving about in a prosperous looking touring-car they'd be justified in thinking that my fees are exorbitant, and I should lose more than I'd gain."
She flushed slightly. "By the same argument they might think you were picking up germs in the elevated or the subway."
"I shun the subway," he said.
Anne looked straight into his eyes and said—to herself: "I love you." He must have sensed the unspoken words, for his eyes hardened.
"Moreover, Anne, I shouldn't think it would be necessary for me to remind you that—" he hesitated, for he suddenly realised that he was about to hurt her, and it was not what he wanted to do—"that there are other and better reasons why—"
He stopped there, and never completed the sentence. She was still looking into his eyes and was still saying to herself: "I love you." It was as if a gentle current of electricity played upon every nerve in his body. He quivered under the touch of something sweet and mysterious. Exaltation was his response to the magnetic wave that carried her unspoken words into his heart. She had not uttered a sound and yet he heard the words. How many times had she cried those delicious words into his ear while he held her close in his arms? How many times had she looked at him like this while actually speaking the words aloud in answer to his appeal?
They were standing but a few feet apart. He could take a step forward and she would be in his arms,—that glorious, adorable, ineffably feminine creation,—in his arms,—in his arms,—
It was she who broke the spell. Her voice sounded far off—and exhausted, as if it came from her lips without breath behind it.
"It will always be just the same, Braden," she said, and he knew that it was an acknowledgment of his unfinished reminder. She was promising him something.
He took a firm grip on himself. "I'm glad that you see things as they are, Anne. Now, I must be off. Thanks just the same for—"
"Oh, don't mention it," she said carelessly. "I'm glad that you see things too as they are, Braden." She held out her hand. There was no restraint in her manner. "I'm sorry, Braden. Things might have been so different. I'm sorry."
"Good God!" he burst out. "If you had only been—" He broke off, resolutely compressing his lips. His jaw was set again in the strong old way that she knew so well.
She nodded her head slowly. "If I had only been some one else instead of myself," she said, "it would not have happened."
He turned toward the door, stopped short and then turned to face her. There was a strange expression in his grey eyes, not unlike diffidence.
"Percy told me last night that you have refused to marry him. I'm glad that you did that, Anne. I want you to know that I am glad, that I felt—oh, I cannot tell you how I felt when he told me."
She eyed him closely for a moment. "You thought that I—I might have accepted him. Is that it?"
"I—I hadn't thought of it at all," he said, confusedly.
"Well," she said, and a slight pallor began to reveal itself in her face, "I tried marrying for money once, Braden. The next time I shall try marrying for love."
He stared. "You don't mince words, do you?" he said, frowning.
"No," she said. "Percy will tell you that, I fancy," she added, and smiled. "He can't understand my not marrying him. He will be worth fifteen or twenty millions, you know." The irony in her voice was directed inwardly, not outwardly. "Perhaps it would be safer for him to wait before taking too much for granted. You see, I haven't actually refused him. I merely refused to give him an option. He—"
"Oh, Anne, don't jest about—" he began, and then as her eyes fell suddenly under his gaze and her lip trembled ever so slightly,—"By Jove, I—I sha'n't misjudge you in that way again. Good-bye." This time he held out his hand to her.
She shook her head. "I've changed my mind. I'm never going to say good-bye to you again."
"Never say good-bye? Why, that's—"
"Why should I say good-bye to you when you are always with me?" she broke in. Noting the expression in his eyes she went on ruthlessly, breathlessly. "Do you think I ought to be ashamed to say such a thing to you? Well, I'm not. It doesn't hurt my pride to say it. Not in the least." She paused for an instant and then went on boldly. "I fancy I am more honest with myself than you are with yourself, Braden."
He looked steadily into her eyes. "You are wrong there," he said quietly. Then bluntly: "By God, Anne, if it were not for the one terrible thing that lies between us, I could—I could—"
"Go on," she said, her heart standing still. "You can at least say it to me. I don't ask for anything more."
"But why say it?" he cried out bitterly. "Will it help matters in the least for me to confess that I am weak and—"
She laughed aloud, unable to resist the nervous excitement that thrilled her. "Weak? You weak? Look back and see if you can find a single thing to prove that you are weak. You needn't be afraid. You are strong enough to keep me in my place. You cannot put yourself in jeopardy by completing what you started out to say. 'If it were not for the one terrible thing that lies between us, I could—I could—' Well, what could you do? Overlook my treachery? Forget that I did an even more terrible thing than you did? Forgive me and take me back and trust me all over again? Is that what you would have said to me?"
"That is what I might have said," he admitted, almost savagely, "if I had not come to my senses in time."
Her eyes softened. The love-light glowed in their depths. "I am not as I was two years ago, Braden," she said. "I'd like you to know that, at least."
"I dare say that is quite true," he said harshly. "You got what you went after and now that you've got it you can very comfortably repent."
She winced. "I am not repenting."
"Would you be willing to give up all that you gained out of that transaction and go back to where my grandfather found you?" he demanded?
"Do you expect me to lie to you?" she asked with startling candour.
"No. I know you will not lie."
"Would it please you to have me say that I would willingly give up all that I gained?"
"I see what you mean. It would be a lie."
"Would it please you to have me give it all up?" she insisted.
He was thoughtful. "No," he said candidly. "You earned it, you are entitled to it. It is filthy, dirty money, but you earned it. You do not deny that it was your price. That's the long and the short of it."
"Will you let me confess something to you? Something that will make it all seem more despicable than before?"
"Good Lord, I don't see how that can be possible!"
"I did not expect to lose you, Braden, when I married Mr. Thorpe. I counted on you in the end. I was so sure of myself,—and of you. Wait! Let me finish. If I had dreamed that I was to lose you, I should not have married Mr. Thorpe. That makes it worse, doesn't it?" There was a note of appeal in her voice.
"Yes, yes,—it makes it worse," he groaned.
"I was young and—over-confident," she murmured. "I looked ahead to the day when I should be free again and you would be added to the—well, the gains. Now you know the whole truth about me. I was counting on you, looking forward to you, even as I stood beside him and took the vows. You were always uppermost in my calculations. I never left you out of them. Even to this day, to this very moment, I continue to count on you. I shall never be able to put the hope out of my mind. I have tried it and failed. You may despise me if you will, but nothing can kill this mean little thing that lurks in here. I don't know what you will call it, Braden, but I call it loyalty to you."
"Loyalty! My God!" he cried out hoarsely.
"Yes, loyalty," she cried. "Mean as I am, mean as I have been, I have never wavered an instant in my love for you. Oh, I'm not pleading for anything. I'm not begging. I don't ask for anything,—not even your good opinion. I am only telling you the truth. Mr. Thorpe knew it all. He knew that I loved you, and he knew that I counted on having you after he was out of the way. And here is something else that you never knew, or suspected. He believed that my love for you, my eagerness, my longing to be free to call you back again, would be the means of releasing him from the thing that was killing him. He counted on me to—I will put it as gently as I can—to free myself. I believe in my soul that he married me with that awful idea in his mind."
For a long time they were silent. Braden was staring at her, horror in his eyes. She remained standing before him, motionless. Lutie's nurse passed through the little hall outside, but they did not see or hear her. A door closed softly; the faint crying of the baby went unheard.
"You are wrong there," he said at last, thickly. "I happen to know what his motives were, Anne."
"Oh, I know," she said wearily. "To prove to you how utterly worthless I am,—or was. Well, it may have been that. I hope it was. I would like to think it of him instead of the other thing. I would like to think of him as sacrificing himself for your sake, instead of planning to sacrifice me for his sake. It is a terrible thought, Braden. He begged me to give him those tablets, time and again. I—I couldn't have done that, not even with you as the prize." She shuddered.
A queer, indescribable chill ran through his veins. "Do you—have you ever thought that he may have held you out as a prize—for me?"
"You mean?" She went very white. "God above us, no! If I thought that, Braden, then there would be something lying between us, something that even such as I could not overcome."
"Just the same," he went on grimly, "he went to his death with a word of praise on his lips for you, Anne. He told me you were deserving of something better than the fate he had provided for you. He was sorry. It—it may have been that he was pleading your cause, that—"
"I would like to think that of him," she cried eagerly, "even though his praise fell upon deaf ears."
She turned away from him and sank wearily into a chair. For a minute or two he stood there regarding her in silence. He was sorry for her. It had taken a good deal of courage to humble herself in his eyes, as she had done by her frank avowal.
"Is it any satisfaction to your pride, Anne," he said slowly, after deliberate thought, "to know that I love you and always will love you, in spite of everything?"
Her answer was a long time in coming, and it surprised him when it did come.
"If I had any pride left I should hate you for humbling it in that manner, Braden," she said, little red spots appearing on her cheeks. "I am not asking for your pity."
"I did not mean to—" he cried impulsively. For an instant he threw all restraint aside. The craving mastered him. He sprang forward.
She closed her eyes quickly, and held her breath.
He was almost at her side when he stopped short. Then she heard the rush of his feet and, the next instant, the banging of the hall door. He was gone! She opened her eyes slowly, and stared dully, hazily before her. For a long time she sat as one unconscious. The shock of realisation left her without the strength or the desire to move. Comprehension was slow in coming to her in the shock of disappointment. She could not realise that she was not in his arms. He had leaped forward to clasp her, she had felt his outstretched arms encircling her,—it was hard to believe that she sat there alone and that the ecstasy was not real.
Tears filled her eyes. She did not attempt to wipe them away. She could only stare, unblinking, at the closed door. Sobs were in her throat; she was first cold, then hot as with a fever.
Slowly her breath began to come again, and with it the sobs. Her body relaxed, she closed her eyes again and let her head fall back against the chair, and for many minutes she remained motionless, still with the weakness of one who has passed through a great crisis.... Long afterward,—she did not know how long it was,—she laid her arms upon the window-sill at her side and buried her face on them. The sobs died away and the tears ceased flowing. Then she raised her eyes and stared down into the hot, crowded street far below. She looked upon sordid, cheap, ugly things down there, and she had been looking at paradise such a little while ago.
Suddenly she sprang to her feet. Her tall, glorious figure was extended to its full height, and her face was transformed with the light of exaltation.
A key grated noisily in the hall door. The next instant it swung violently open and her brother George strode in upon her,—big, clear-eyed, happy- faced and eager.
"Hello!" he cried, stopping short. "I popped in early to-day. Matter of great importance to talk over with my heir. Wait a second, Anne. I'll be back—I say, what's the matter? You look posi-tive-ly as if you were on the point of bursting into grand opera. Going to sing?"
"I'm singing all over, Georgie,—all over, inside and out," she cried joyously.
"Gee whiz!" he gasped. "Has the baby begun to talk?"
She did not meet him again at Lutie's. Purposely, and with a cunning somewhat foreign to her sex, she took good care that he should not be there when she made her daily visits. She made it an object to telephone every day, ostensibly to inquire about Lutie's condition, and she never failed to ask what the doctor had said. In that way she knew that he had made his visit and had left the apartment. She would then drive up into Harlem and sit happily with her sister-in-law and the baby, whom she adored with a fervour that surprised not only herself but the mother, whose ideas concerning Anne were undergoing a rapid and enduring reformation.
She was shocked and not a little disillusioned one day, however, when Lutie, now able to sit up and chatter to her heart's content, remarked, with a puzzled frown on her pretty brow:
"Dr. Braden must be terribly rushed with work nowadays, Anne. For the last week he has been coming here at the most unearthly hour in the morning, and dashing away like a shot just as soon as he can. Good gracious, we're hardly awake when he gets here. Never later than eight o'clock."
Anne's temple came down in a heap. He wasn't playing the game at all as she had expected. He was avoiding her. She was dismayed for an instant, and then laughed outright quite frankly at her own disenchantment.
Lutie looked at her with deep affection in her eyes. "You ought to have a little baby of your own, Anne," she said.
"It's much nicer having yours," said Anne. "He's such a fat one."
Two weeks later they were all up in the country, and George was saying twice a day at least that Anne was the surprise and comfort of his old age. She was as gay as a lark. She sang,—but not grand opera selections. Her days were devoted to the cheerful occupation of teaching young Carnahan how to smile and how to count his toes.
But in the dark hours of the night she was not so serene. Then was her time for reflection, for wonder, for speculation. Was life to be always like this? Were her days to be merry and confident, and her nights as full of loneliness and doubt? Was her craving never to be satisfied? Sometimes when George and Lutie went off to bed and left her sitting alone on the dark, screened-in veranda, looking down from the hills across the sombre Hudson, she almost cried aloud in her desolation. Of what profit was love to her? Was she always to go on being alone with the love that consumed her?
The hot, dry summer wore away. She steadfastly refused to go to the cool seashore, she declined the countless invitations that came to her, and she went but seldom into the city. Her mother was at Newport. They had had one brief, significant encounter just before the elder woman went off to the seashore. No doubt her mother considered herself entitled to a fair share of "the spoils," but she would make no further advances. She had failed earlier in the game; she would not humble herself again. And so, one hot day in August, just before going to the country, Anne went up to her old home, determined to have it out with her mother.
"Why are you staying in town through all of this heat, mother dear?" she asked. Her mother was looking tired and listless. She was showing her age, and that was the one thing that Anne could not look upon with complacency.
"I can't afford to go junketing about this year," said her mother, simply. "This awful war has upset—"
"The war hasn't had time to upset anything over here, mother. It's only been going on a couple of weeks. You ought to go away, dearest, for a good long snooze in the country. You'll be as young as a debutante by the time the season sets in."
Mrs. Tresslyn smiled aridly. "Am I beginning to show my age so much as all this, Anne?" she lamented. "I'm just a little over fifty. That isn't old in these days, my dear."
"You look worried, not old," said her daughter, sympathetically. "Is it money?"
"It's always money," admitted Mrs. Tresslyn. "I may as well make up my mind to retrench, to live a little more simply. You would think that I should be really quite well-to-do nowadays, having successfully gotten rid of my principal items of expense. But I will be quite frank with you, Anne. I am still trying to pay off obligations incurred before I lost my excellent son and daughter. You were luxuries, both of you, my dear."
Anne was shocked. "Do you mean to say that you are still paying off—still paying up for us? Good heavens, mamma! Why, we couldn't have got you into debt to that—"
"Don't jump to conclusions, my dear," her mother interrupted. "The debts were not all due to you and George. I had a few of my own. What I mean to say is that, combining all of them, they form quite a handsome amount."
"Tell me," said Anne determinedly, "tell me just how much of it should be charged up to George and me."
"I haven't the remotest idea. You see, I was above keeping books. What are you trying to get at? A way to square up with me? Well, my dear, you can't do that, you know. You don't owe me anything. Whatever I spent on you, I spent cheerfully, gladly, and without an idea of ever receiving a penny in the shape of recompense. That's the way with a mother, Anne. No matter what she may do for her children, no matter how much she may sacrifice for them, she does it without a single thought for herself. That is the best part of being a mother. A wife may demand returns from her husband, but a mother never thinks of asking anything of her children. I am sure that even worse mothers than I will tell you the same. We never ask for anything in return but a little selfish pleasure in knowing that we have borne children that are invariably better than the children that any other mother may have brought into the world. No, you owe me nothing, Anne. Put it out of your mind."
Anne listened in amazement. "But if you are hard-up, mother dear, and on account of the money you were obliged to spend on us—because we were both spoiled and selfish—why, it is only right and just that your children, if they can afford to do so, should be allowed to turn the tables on you. It shouldn't be so one-sided, this little selfish pleasure that you mention. I am rich. I have a great deal more than I need. I have nearly a hundred thousand a year. You—"
"Has any one warned you not to talk too freely about it in these days of income tax collectors?" broke in her mother, with a faint smile.
"Pooh! Simmy attends to that for me. I don't understand a thing about it. Now, see here, mother, I insist that it is my right,—not my duty, but my right—to help you out of the hole. You would do it for me. You've done it for George, time and again. How much do you need?"
Mrs. Tresslyn regarded her daughter thoughtfully. "Back of all this, I suppose, is the thought that it was I who made a rich girl of you. You feel that it is only right that you should share the spoils with your partner, not with your mother."
"Once and for all, mother, let me remind you that I do not blame you for making a rich woman of me. I did not have to do it, you know. I am not the sort that can be driven or coerced. I made my own calculations and I took my own chances. You were my support but not my commander. The super- virtuous girls you read about in books are always blaming their mothers for such marriages as mine, and so do the comic papers. It's all bosh. Youth abhors old age. It loves itself too well. But we needn't discuss responsibilities. The point is this: I have more money than I know what to do with, so I want to help you out. It isn't because I think it is my duty, or that I owe it to you, but because I love you, mother. If you had forced me into marrying Mr. Thorpe, I should hate you now. But I don't,—I love you dearly. I want you to let me love you. You are so hard to get close to,—so hard to—"
"My dear, my dear," cried her mother, coming up to her and laying her hands on the tall girl's shoulders, "you have paid me in full now. What you have just said pays off all the debts. I was afraid that my children hated me."
"You poor old dear!" cried Anne, her eyes shining. "If you will only let me show you how much I can love you. We are pretty much alike, mother, you and I. We—"
"No!" cried out the other fiercely. "I do not want you to say that. I do not want you to be like me. Never say that to me again. I want you to be happy, and you will never be happy if you are like me."
"Piffle!" said Anne, and kissed her mother soundly. And she knew then, as she had always known, that her mother was not and never could be a happy woman. Even in her affection for her own children she was the spirit of selfishness. She loved them for what they meant to her and not for themselves. She was consistent. She knew herself better than any one else knew her.
"Now, tell me how much you need," went on Anne, eagerly. "I've hated to broach the subject to you. It didn't seem right that I should. But I don't care now. I want to do all that I can."
"I will not offend you, or insult you, Anne, by saying that you are a good girl,—a better one than I thought you would ever be. You can't help me, however. Don't worry about me. I shall get on, thank you."
"Just the same, I insist on paying your bills, and setting you straight once more for another fling. And you are going to Newport this week. Come, now, mother dear, let's get it over with. Tell me about everything. You may hop into debt again just as soon as you like, but I'll feel a good deal better if I know that it isn't on my account. It isn't right that you should still have George and me hanging about your neck like millstones. Come! I insist. Let's figure it all up."
An hour afterward, she said to her mother: "I'll make out one check to you covering everything, mother. It will look better if you pay them yourself. Thirty-seven thousand four hundred and twelve dollars. That's everything, is it,—you're sure?"
"Everything," said Mrs. Tresslyn, settling back in her chair. "I will not attempt to thank you, Anne. You see, I didn't thank Lutie when she threw her money in my face, for somehow I knew that I'd give it all back to her again. Well, you may have to wait longer than she did, my dear, but this will all come back to you. I sha'n't live forever, you know."
Anne kissed her. "You are a wonder, mother dear. You wouldn't come off of your high-horse for anything, would you? By Jove, that's what I like most in you. You never knuckle."
"My dear, you are picking up a lot of expressions from Lutie."
The early evenings at Anne's place in the country were spent solely in discussions of the great war. There was no other topic. The whole of the civilised world was talking of the stupendous conflict that had burst upon it like a crash out of a clear sky. George came home loaded down with the latest extras and all of the regular editions of the afternoon papers.
"By gemini," he was in the habit of saying, "it's a lucky thing for those Germans that Lutie got me to reenlist with her a year ago. I'd be on my way over there by this time, looking for real work. Gee, Anne, that's one thing I could do as well as anybody. I'm big enough to stop a lot of bullets. We'll never see another scrap like this. It's just my luck to be happily married when it bursts out, too."
"I am sure you would have gone," said Lutie serenely. "I'm glad I captured you in time. It saves the Germans an awful lot of work."
The smashing of Belgium, the dash of the great German army toward Paris, the threatened disaster to the gay capital, the sickening conviction that nothing could check the tide of guns and men,—all these things bore down upon them with a weight that seemed unbearable. And then came the battle of the Marne! Von Kluck's name was on the lips of every man, woman and child in the United States of America. Would they crush him? Was Paris safe? What was the matter with England? And then, the personal element came into the situation for Anne and her kind: the names of the officers who had fallen, snuffed out in Belgium and France. Nearly every day brought out the name of some one she had known, a few of them quite well. There were the gallant young Belgians who had come over for the horse- shows, and the polo-players she had known in England, and the gay young noblemen,—their names brought the war nearer home and sickened her.
As time went on the horrors of the great conflict were deprived, through incessant repetition, of the force to shock a world now accustomed to the daily slaughter of thousands. Humanity had got used to war. War was no longer a novelty. People read of great battles in which unprecedented numbers of men were slain, and wondered how much of truth was in the reports. War no longer horrified the distant on-looker. The sufferings of the Belgians were of greater interest to the people of America than the sufferings of the poor devils in the trenches or on the battle lines. A vast wave of sympathy was sweeping the land and purses were touched as never before. War was on parade. The world turned out en masse to see the spectacle. The heart of every good American was touched by what he saw, and the hand of every man was held out to stricken Belgium, nor was any hand empty. Belgium presented the grewsome spectacle, and the world paid well for the view it was having.
It was late in November when Anne and the others came down to the city, and by that time the full strength of the movement to help the sufferers had been reached. People were fighting for the Belgians, but with their hearts instead of their hands. The stupendous wave of sympathy was at its height. It rolled across the land and then across the sea. People were swept along by its mighty rush. Anne Thorpe was caught up in the maelstrom of human energy.
Something fine in her nature, however, caused Anne to shrink from public benefactions. She realised that a world that was charitable to the Belgians was not so apt to be charitable toward her. While she did not contribute anonymously to the fund, she let it be distinctly understood that her name was not to be published in any of the lists of donors, except in a single instance when she gave a thousand-dollars. That much, at least, would be expected of her and she took some comfort in the belief that the world would not charge her with self-exploitation on the money she had received from Templeton Thorpe. Other gifts and contributions were never mentioned in the press by the committees in charge. She gave liberally, not only to the sufferers on the other side of the Atlantic but to the poor of New York, and she steadfastly declined to serve on any of the relief committees.
Never until now had she appreciated how thin-skinned she was. It is not to be inferred that she shut herself up and affected a life of seclusion. As a matter of fact, she went out a great deal, but invariably among friends and to small, intimate affairs.
Not once in the months that followed the scene in Lutie's sitting-room did she encounter Braden Thorpe. She heard of him frequently. He was very busy. He went nowhere except where duty called. There was not a moment in her days, however, when her thoughts were not for him. Her eyes were always searching the throngs on Fifth Avenue in quest of his figure; in restaurants she looked eagerly over the crowded tables in the hope that she might see actually the face that was always before her, night and day. Be it said to her credit, she resolutely abstained from carrying her quest into quarters where she might be certain of seeing him, of meeting him, of receiving recognition from him. She avoided the neighbourhood in which his offices were located, she shunned the streets which he would most certainly traverse. While she longed for him, craved him with all the hunger of a starved soul, she was content to wait. He loved her. She thrived on the joy of knowing this to be true. He might never come to her, but she knew that it would never be possible for her to go to him unless he called her to him.
Then, one day in early January, she crumpled up under the shock of seeing his name in the headlines of her morning newspaper.
He was going to the front!
For a moment she was blind. The page resolved itself into a thick mass of black. She was in bed when the paper was brought to her with her coffee. She had been lying there sweetly thinking of him. Up to the instant her eyes fell upon the desolating headline she had been warm and snug and tingling with life just aroused. And then she was as cold as ice, stupefied. It was a long time before she was able to convince herself that the type was really telling her something that she would have to believe. He was going to the war!
Thorpe was one of a half-dozen American surgeons who were going over on the steamer sailing that day to give their services to the French. The newspaper spoke of him in glowing terms. His name stood out above all the others, for he was the one most notably in the public eye at the moment. The others, just as brave and self-sacrificing as he, were briefly mentioned and that was all. He alone was in the headlines, he alone was discussed. No one was to be allowed to forget that he was the clever young surgeon who had saved the great Marraville. The account dwelt upon the grave personal sacrifice he was making in leaving New York just as the world was beginning to recognise his great genius and ability. Prosperity was knocking at his door, fame was holding out its hand to him, and yet he was casting aside all thought of self-aggrandisement, all personal ambition in order to go forth and serve humanity in fields where his name would never be mentioned except in a cry for help from strong men who had known no fear.
Sailing that day! Anne finally grasped the meaning of the words. She would not see him again. He would go away without a word to her, without giving her the chance to say good-bye, despite her silly statement that she would never utter the words again where he was concerned.
Slowly the warm glow returned to her blood. Her brain cleared, and she was able to think, to grasp at the probable significance of his action in deserting New York and his coveted opportunities. Something whispered to her that he was going away because of his own sufferings and not those of the poor wretches at the front. Her heart swelled with pity. There was no triumph in the thought that he was running away because of his love for her. She needed no such proof as this to convince her that his heart was more loyal to her than his mind would have it be. She cried a little ... and then got up and called for a messenger boy.
This brief message went down to the ship:
"God be with you. I still do not say good-bye, just God be with you always, as I shall be. Anne."
She did not leave the hotel until long after the ship had sailed. He did not telephone. There were a dozen calls on the wire that morning, but she had her maid take the messages. There was always the fear that he might try to reach her while some one of her idle friends was engaged in making a protracted visit with her over the wire. About one o'clock Simmy Dodge called up to ask if he could run in and have luncheon with her.
"I've got a message for you," he said.
Her heart began to beat so violently that she was afraid he would hear it through the receiver at his ear. She could not trust herself to speak for a moment. Evidently he thought she was preparing to put him off with some polite excuse. Simmy was, as ever, considerate. He made haste to spare her the necessity for fibbing. "I can drop in late this afternoon—"
"No," she cried out, "come now, Simmy. I shall expect you. Where are you?"
He coughed in some embarrassment. "I'm—well, you see, I was going past so I thought I'd stop in and—What? Yes, I'm downstairs."
She joined him in the palm room a few minutes later, and they went in to luncheon. Her colour was high. Simmy thought he had never seen her when she looked more beautiful. But he thought that with each succeeding glimpse of her.
"'Pon my word, Anne," he said, staring at her across the table, "you fairly dazzle me. Forgive me for saying so. I couldn't help it. Perfect ass sometimes, you see."
"I forgive you. I like it. What message did Braden send to me?"
He had not expected her to be so frank, so direct. "I don't know. I wish I did. The beggar wrote it and sealed it up in this beastly little envelope." He handed her the square white envelope with the ship's emblem in the corner.
Before looking at the written address, she put her next question to him. A good deal depended on his answer. "Do you know when he wrote this note, Simmy?"
"Just before they pushed me down the gang-plank," he said. A light broke in upon him. "Did you send him a message?"
"Well, I don't know whether it is the right thing to say, but I can tell you this: he wrote this note before reading your letter or telegram or whatever it was. He had a score of things like that and he didn't open one of 'em until she'd cast off."
She smiled. "Thank you, Simmy. You have said the right thing,—as you always do." One glance at the superscription was enough. It was in his handwriting. For the first time she saw it in his hand: "Anne Tresslyn Thorpe." A queer little shiver ran through her, never to be explained.
Simmy watched her curiously as she slipped the missive, unopened, into her gold mesh bag. "Don't mind me," he said. "Read it."
"Not now, Simmy," she said simply. And all through luncheon she thrilled with the consciousness that she had something of Braden there with her, near her, waiting for her. His own hand had touched this bit of paper; it was a part of him. It was so long since she had seen that well-known, beloved handwriting,—strong like the man, and sure; she found herself counting the ages that had passed since his last love missive had come to her.
Simmy was rattling on, rather dolefully, about Braden's plans. He was likely to be over there for a long time,—just as long as he was needed or able to endure the strain of hard, incessant work in the field hospitals.
"I wanted to go," the little man was saying, and that brought her back to earth. "The worst way, Anne. But what could I do? Drive an automobile, yes, but what's that? Brady wouldn't hear to it. He said it was nonsense, me talking of going over there and getting in people's way. Of course, I'd probably faint the first time I saw a mutilated dead body, and that would irritate the army. They'd have to stop everything while they gave me smelling salts. I suppose I'd get used to seeing 'em dead all over the place, just as everybody does,—even the worst of cowards. I'm not a coward, Anne. I drive my racing-car at ninety miles, I play polo, I go up in Scotty's aeroplane whenever I get a chance, I can refuse to take a drink when I think I've had enough, and if that doesn't prove that I've got courage I'd like to know what it does prove. But I'm not a fighting man. Nobody would ever be afraid of me. There isn't a German on earth who would run if he saw me charging toward him. He'd just wait to see what the dickens I was up to. Something would tell him that I wouldn't have the heart to shoot him, no matter how necessary it might be for me to do so. Still I wanted to go. That's what amazes me. I can't understand it."
"I can understand it, you poor old simpleton," cried Anne. "You wanted to go because you are not afraid."
"I wish I could think so," said he, really perplexed. "Brady is different. He'd be a soldier as is a soldier. He's going over to save men's lives, however, and that's something I wouldn't be capable of doing. If I went they'd expect me to kill 'em, and that's what I'd hate. Good Lord, Anne, I couldn't shoot down a poor German boy that hadn't done a thing to me—or to my country, for that matter. If they'd only let me go as a spy, or even a messenger boy, I'd jump at the chance. But they'd want me to kill people,—and I couldn't do it, that's all."
"Is Braden well? Does he look fit, Simmy? You know there will be great hardships, vile weather, exposure—"
"He's thin and—well, I'll be honest with you, he doesn't look as fit as might be."
She paled. "Has he been ill?"
"Not in body, but—he's off his feed, Anne. Maybe you know the reason why." He looked at her narrowly.
"I have not seen him in months," she said evasively.
"I guess that's the answer," he said, pulling at his little moustache. "I'm sorry, Anne. It's too bad—for both of you. Lordy, I never dreamed I could be so unselfish. I'm mad in love with you myself and—oh, well! That's an old tale, so we'll cut it short. I don't know what I'm going to do without Brady. I've got the blues so bad that—why, I cried like a nasty little baby down there at the—everybody lookin' at me pityingly and saying to themselves 'what a terrible thing grief is when it hits a man like that,' and thinkin' of course that I'd lost a whole family in Belgium or somewhere—oh, Lordy, what a blithering—"
"Hush!" whispered Anne, her own eyes glistening. "You are an angel, Simmy. You—"
"Let's talk sense," he broke in abruptly. "Braden left his business in my hands, and his pleasures in the hands of Dr. Cole. He says it's a pleasure to heal people, so that's why I put it in that way. I've got his will down in our safety vault, and his instructions about that silly foundation—"
"You—you think he may not come back?" she said, gripping her hands under the edge of the table.
"You never can tell. Taking precautions, that's all, as any wise man would do. Oh, I'm sorry, Anne! I should have known better. Lordy, you're as white as—Sure, he'll come back! He isn't going to be in the least danger. Not the least. Nobody bothers the doctors, you know. They can go anywhere. They wear plug hats and all that sort of thing, and all armies respect a plug hat. A plug hat is a silk hat, you know,—the safest hat in the world when you're on the firing line. Everybody tries to hit the hat and not the occupant. It's a standing army joke. I was reading in the paper the other day about a fellow going clear from one end of the line to the other and having six hundred and some odd plug hats shot off his head without so much as getting a hair singed. Wait! I can tell what you're going to ask, and I can't, on such short notice, answer the question. I can only say that I don't know where he got the hats. Ah, good! You're laughing again, and, by Jove, it becomes you to blush once in a while, too. Tell me, old lady,"—he leaned forward and spoke very seriously,—"does it mean a great deal to you?"
She nodded her head slowly. "Yes, Simmy, it means everything."
He drew a long breath. "That's just what I thought. One ordinary dose of commonsense split up between the two of you wouldn't be a bad thing for the case."
"You dear old thing!" cried Anne impulsively.
"How are Lutie and my god-son?" he inquired, with a fine air of solicitude.
Half an hour later, Anne read the brief note that Braden had sent to her. She read it over and over again, and without the exultation she had anticipated. Her heart was too full for exultation.
"Dear Anne," it began, "I am going to the war. I am going because I am a coward. The world will call me brave and self-sacrificing, but it will not be true. I am a coward. The peril I am running away from is far greater than that which awaits me over there. I thought you would like to know. The suffering of others may cause me to forget my own at times." He signed it "Braden"; and below the signature there was a postscript that puzzled her for a long time. "If you are not also a coward you will return to my grandfather's house, where you belong."
And when she had solved the meaning of that singular postscript she sent for Wade.
Anne Thorpe had set her heart on an eventuality. She could see nothing else, think of nothing else. She prayed each night to God,—and devoutly,—not alone for the safe return of her lover, but that God would send him home soon! She was conscious of no fear that he might never return at all.
To the surprise of every one, with the approach of spring, she announced her determination to re-open the old Thorpe residence and take up her abode therein. George was the only one who opposed her. He was seriously upset by the news.
"Good heaven, Anne, you don't have to live in the house, so why do it? It's like a tomb. I get the shivers every time I think about it. You can afford to live anywhere you like. It isn't as if you were obliged to think of expenses—"
"It seems rather silly not to live in it," she countered. "I will admit that at first I couldn't endure the thought of it, but that was when all of the horrors were fresh in my mind. Besides, I resented his leaving it to me. It was not in the bargain, you know. There was something high- handed, too, in the way I was ordered to live in the house. I had the uncanny feeling that he was trying to keep me where he could watch—but, of course, that was nonsense. There is no reason why I shouldn't live in the house, Georgie. It is—"
"There is a blamed good reason why you should never have lived in it," he blurted out. "There's no use digging it up, however, so we'll let it stay buried." He argued bitterly, even doggedly, but finally gave it up. "Well," he said in the end, "if you will, you will. All the King's horses and all the King's men can't stop you when you've once made up your mind."
A few days later she called for Lutie in the automobile and they went together to the grim old house near Washington Square. Her mind was made up, as George had put it. She was going to open the house and have it put in order for occupancy as soon as possible.
She had solved the meaning of Braden's postscript. She would have to prove to him, first of all, that she was not afraid of the shadow that lay inside the walls of that grim old house. "If you are not also a coward you will return to my grandfather's house, where you belong." It was, she honestly believed, his way of telling her that if she faced the shadow in her own house, and put it safely behind her, her fortitude would not go unrewarded!
It did not occur to her that she was beginning badly when she delayed going down to the house for two whole days because Lutie was unable to accompany her.
The windows and doors were boarded up. There was no sign of life about the place when they got down from the limousine and mounted the steps at the heels of the footman who had run on ahead to ring the bell. They waited for the opening of the inner door and the shooting of the bolts in the storm-doors, but no sound came to their ears. Again the bell jangled,—how well she remembered the old-fashioned bell at the end of the hall!—and still no response from within.
The two women looked at each other oddly. "Try the basement door," said Anne to the man. They stood at the top of the steps while the footman tried the iron gate that barred the way to the tradesmen's door. It was pad-locked.
"I asked Simmy to meet us here at eleven," said Anne nervously. "I expect it will cost a good deal to do the house over as I want—Doesn't any one answer, Peters?"
"No, ma'am. Maybe he's out."
Lutie's face blanched suddenly. "My goodness, Anne, what if—what if he's dead in—"
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Lutie," cried Anne impatiently, "don't go to imagining—Still it's very odd. Pound on the door, Peters,—hard."
She shivered a little and turned away so that Lutie could not see the expression in her eyes. "I have had no word from him in nearly two weeks. He calls up once every fortnight to inquire—You are not pounding hard enough, Peters."
"Let's go away," said Lutie, starting down the steps.
"No," said Anne resolutely, "we must get in somehow. He may be ill. He is an old man. He may be lying in there praying for help, dying for lack of—" Then she called out to the chauffeur. "See if you can find a policeman. We may have to break the door down. You see, Lutie, if he's in there I must get to him. We may not be too late."
Lutie rejoined her at the top of the steps. "You're right, Anne. I don't know what possessed me. But, goodness, I hope it's nothing—" She shuddered. "He may have been dead for days."
"What a horrible thing it would be if—But it doesn't matter, Lutie; I am going in. If you are nervous or afraid of seeing something unpleasant, don't come with me. Wade must be nearly seventy. He may have fallen or—Look! Why,—can that be him coming up the—" She was staring down the street toward Sixth Avenue. A great breath of relief escaped her lips as she clutched her companion's arm and pointed.
Wade was approaching. He was still half way down the long block, and only an eye that knew him well could have identified him. Even at closer range one might have mistaken him for some one else.
He was walking rather briskly,—in fact, he was strutting. It was not his gait, however, that called for remark. While he was rigidly upright and steady as to progress, his sartorial condition was positively staggering. He wore a high, shiny silk hat. It was set at just the wee bit of an angle and quite well back on his head. Descending his frame, the eye took in a costly fur-lined overcoat with a sable collar, properly creased trousers with a perceptible stripe, grey spats and unusually glistening shoes that could not by any chance have been of anything but patent leather. Light tan gloves, a limber walking stick, a white carnation and a bright red necktie—there you have all that was visible of him. Even at a great distance you would have observed that he was freshly shaved.
Suddenly his eye fell upon the automobile and then took in the smart looking visitors above. His pace slackened abruptly. After a moment of what appeared to be indecision, he came on, rather hurriedly. There had been a second or two of suspense in which Anne had the notion that the extraordinary creature was on the point of darting into a basement door, as if, unlike the peacock, he was ashamed of his plumage.
He came up to them, removing his high hat with an awkwardness that betrayed him. His employer was staring at him with undisguised amazement. "I just stepped out for a moment, Mrs. Thorpe, to post a letter," said Wade, trying his best not to sink back into servility, and quite miserably failing. He was fumbling for his keys. The tops of the houses across the street appeared to interest him greatly. His gaze was fixed rather intently upon them. "Very sorry, Mrs. Thorpe,—dreadfully sorry. Ahem! Good morning. I hope you have not been waiting long. I—ah, here we are!" He found the key in the pocket of his fancy waistcoat, and bolted down the steps to unlock the gate. "Excuse me, please. I will run in this way and open the door from the—"
"Wade," cried out Mrs. Thorpe, "is it really you?"
He looked astonished—and a trifle hurt. "Who else could I be, Mrs. Thorpe?" Then he darted through the gate and a moment later the servants' door opened and closed behind him.
"I must be dreaming," said Anne. "What in the world has come over the man?"
Lutie closed one eye slowly. "There is only one thing under heaven that could make a man rig himself out like that,—and that thing is a woman."
"A woman? Don't be foolish, Lutie. Wade couldn't even think of a woman. He's nearly seventy."
"They think of 'em until they drop, my dear," said Lutie sagely. "That's one thing we've got to give them credit for. They keep on thinking about us even while they're trying to keep the other foot out of the grave. You are going to lose the amiable Wade, Anne dear. He's not wearing spats for nothing."
Some time passed before the key turned in the inner door, and there was still a long wait before the bolts in the storm doors shot back and Wade's face appeared. He had not had the time to remove the necktie and spats, but the rest of his finery had been replaced by the humble togs of service—long service, you would say at a glance.
"Sorry to keep you waiting, ma'am, but—" He held the doors open and the two ladies entered the stuffy, unlighted hall.
"Turn on the lights, please," said Anne quickly. Wade pushed a button and the lights were on. She surveyed him curiously. "Why did you take them off, Wade? You looked rather well in them."
He cleared his throat gently, and the shy, set smile reappeared as if by magic. "It isn't necessary for me to say that I was not expecting you this morning."
"Quite obviously you were not," said Anne drily. She continued to regard him somewhat fixedly. Something in his expression puzzled her. "Mr. Dodge will be here presently. I am making arrangements to open the house."
He started. "Er—not to—er—live in it yourself, of course. I was sure Mr. Dodge would find a way to get around the will so that you could let the house—"
"I expect to live here myself, Wade," said she. After a moment, she went on: "Will you care to stay on?"
He was suddenly confused. "I—I can't give you an answer just at this moment, Mrs. Thorpe. It may be a few days before I—" He paused.
"Take all the time you like, Wade," she interrupted.
"I fancy I'd better give notice now, ma'am," he said after a moment. "To- day will do as well as any day for that." He seemed to straighten out his figure as he spoke, resuming a little of the unsuspected dignity that had accompanied the silk hat and the fur-lined coat.
"I'm sorry," said Anne,—who was not in the slightest sense sorry. Wade sometimes gave her the creeps.
"I should like to explain about the—ah—the garments you saw me wearing—ah—I mean to say, I should have brought myself to the point of telling you a little later on, in any event, but now that you have caught me wearing of them, I dare say this is as good a time as any to get it over with. First of all, Mrs. Thorpe, I must preface my—er—confession by announcing that I am quite sure that you have always considered me to be an honest man and above deception and falsehood. Ahem! That is right, isn't it?"
"What are you trying to get at, Wade?" she cried in surprise. "You cannot imagine that I suspect you of—anything wrong?"
"It may be wrong, and it may not be. I have never felt quite right about it. There have been times when I felt real squeamish—and a bit underhanded, you might say. On the other hand, I submit that it was not altogether reprehensible on my part to air them occasionally—and to see that the moths didn't—"
"Air them? For goodness' sake, Wade, speak plainly. Why shouldn't you air your own clothes? They are very nice looking and they must have cost you a pretty penny. Dear me, I have no right to say what you shall wear on the street or—"
Wade's eyes grew a little wider. "Is it possible, madam, that you failed to recognise the—er—garments?"
She laid her hand upon Lutie's arm, and gripped it convulsively. Her eyes were fixed in a fast-growing look of aversion.
"You do not mean that—that they were Mr. Thorpe's?" she said, in a low voice.
"I supposed, of course, you would have remembered them," said Wade, a trifle sharply. "The overcoat was one that he wore every day when you went out for your drive with him, just before he took to his bed. I—"
"Good heaven!" cried Anne, revolted. "You have been wearing his clothes?"
"They were not really what you would call cast-off garments, ma'am," he explained in some haste, evidently to save his dignity. "They were rather new, you may remember,—that is to say, the coat and vest and trousers. As I recall it, the overcoat was several seasons old, and the hat was the last one he ordered before taking to the comfortable lounge hat—he always had his hats made from his own block, you see,—and as I was about to explain, ma'am, it seemed rather a sin to let them hang in the closet, food for moths and to collect dust in spite of the many times I brushed them. Of course, I should never have presumed to wear them while he was still alive, not even after he had abandoned them for good—No, that is a thing I have never been guilty of doing. I could not have done it. That is just the difference between a man-servant and a woman-servant. Your maid frequently went out in your gowns without your knowledge. I am told it is quite a common practice. At least I may claim for myself the credit of waiting until my employer was dead before venturing to cover my back with his—Yes, honest confession is good for the soul, ma'am. These shoes are my own, and the necktie. He could not abide red neckties. Of course, I need not say that the carnation I wore was quite fresh. The remainder of my apparel was once worn by my beloved master. I am not ashamed to confess it."
"How could you wear the clothes of a—a dead person?" cried Anne, cringing as if touched by some cold and slimy thing.
"It seemed such a waste, madam. Of late I have taken to toning myself up a bit, and there seemed no sensible reason why I shouldn't make use of Mr. Thorpe's clothes,—allow me to explain that I wore only those he had used the least,—provided they were of a satisfactory fit. We were of pretty much the same size,—you will remember that, I'm sure,—and, they fitted me quite nicely. Of course, I should not have taken them away with me when I left your employ, madam. That would have been unspeakable. I should have restored them to the clothes presses, and you would have found them there when I turned over the keys and—"
"Good heavens, man," she cried, "take them away with you when you go—all of them. Everything, do you hear? I give them all to you. Of what use could they be to me? They are yours. Take everything,—hats, boots, linen,—"
"Thank you, ma'am. That is very handsome of you. I wasn't quite sure that perhaps Mr. Braden wouldn't find some use for the overcoat. It is a very elegant coat. It cost—"
"Wade, you are either very stupid or very insolent," she interrupted coldly. "We need not discuss the matter any farther. How soon do you expect to leave?"
"I should say that a week would be sufficient notice, under the circumstances," said he, and chuckled, much to their amazement. "I may as well make a clean breast of it, ma'am. I am going to be married on the seventeenth of next month. That's just six weeks off and—"
"Ah, madam, I trust you will not forget that I have lived a very lonely and you might say profitless life," he said, rubbing his hands together, and allowing his smile to broaden into a pleased grin. "As you may know in the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love,—and so on. A man is as old as he feels. I can't say that I ever felt younger in my life than I have felt during the past month."
"I wish you joy and happiness, Wade," said Anne dumbly. She was staring at his smirking, seamed old face as if fascinated. "I hope she is a good woman and that you will find—"
"She is little more than a girl," said he, straightening his figure still a little more, remembering that he had just spoken of his own youthful feelings. There may have been something of the pride of conquest as well. "Just twenty-one last December."
Lutie laughed out loud. He bent his head quickly and they saw that his lips were compressed.
"I beg your pardon, Wade," cried George's wife. "It—it really isn't anything to laugh at, and I'm sorry."
"That's all right, Mrs. George," he muttered.
"Only twenty-one," murmured Anne, her gaze running over the shabby old figure in front of her. "My God, Wade, is she—what can she be thinking of?"
He looked straight into her eyes, and spoke. "Is it so horrible for a young girl to marry an old man, ma'am?" he asked sorrowfully, and so respectfully that she was deceived into believing that he intended no affront to her.
"They usually know what they are doing when they marry very old men," she replied deliberately. "You must not overlook that fact, Wade. But perhaps it isn't necessary for me to remind you that young girls do not marry old men for love. There may be pity, or sentiment, or duty—but never love. More often than not it is avarice, Wade."
"Quite true," said he. "I am glad to have you speak so frankly to me, ma'am. It proves that you are interested in my welfare."
"Who is she, Wade?" she inquired.
Lutie had passed into the library, leaving them together in the hall. She had experienced a sudden sensation of nausea. It was impossible for her to remain in the presence of this shattered old hulk and still be able to keep the disgust from showing itself in her eyes. She was the wife of a real man, and the wife of a man whom she could love and caress and yield herself to with a thrill of ecstasy in her blood.
"The young lady I was speaking to you about some weeks ago, madam,—the daughter of my friend who conducts the delicatessen just below us in Sixth Avenue. You remember I spoke to you of the Southern lady reduced to a commercial career by—"
"I remember. I remember thinking at the time that it might be the mother who would prevail—I am sorry, Wade. I shouldn't have said that—"
"It's quite all right," said he amiably. "It is barely possible—ay, even probable,—that it was the mother who prevailed. They sometimes do, you know. But Marian appears to have a mind of her own. She loves me, Mrs. Thorpe. I am quite sure of that. It would be pretty hard to deceive me."
Through all of this Anne was far from oblivious to the sinister comparisons the man was drawing. She had always been a little afraid of him. Now an uneasy horror was laying its hold upon her. He had used her as an example in persuading a silly, unsophisticated girl to give herself to him. He had gone about his courtship in the finery his dead master had left behind him.
"I thank you for your good wishes, Mrs. Thorpe," he went on, smoothly. "If it is not too much to ask, I should like to have you say a few good words for me to Marian some day soon. She would be very greatly influenced by the opinion of so great a lady as—"
"But I thought you said it was settled," she broke in sharply.
"It is settled," he said. "But if you would only do me the favour of—er—advising her to name an earlier day than the seventeenth, I—"
"I cannot advise her, Wade," said she firmly. "It is out of the question."
"I am sorry," he said, lowering his gaze. "Mr. Thorpe was my best friend as well as my master. I thought, for his sake, you might consent to—"
"You must do your own pleading, Wade," she interrupted, a red spot appearing in each cheek. Then rashly: "You may continue to court her in Mr. Thorpe's clothes but you need not expect his wife to lend her assistance also."
His eyes glittered. "I am sorry if I have offended you, ma'am. And I thank you for being honest and straightforward with me. It is always best."
"I did not mean to hurt your feelings, Wade," she began, half-sorry for her remark.
"Not in the least, ma'am. Nothing can hurt my feelings. You see, I lived with Mr. Thorpe a great deal longer than you did. I got quite beyond being hurt."
She drew a step nearer. "Wade," she said quietly, "I am going to advise you, not this wretched girl who is planning to marry you. How old are you?"
"Two score and a half and five," he answered promptly. Evidently he had uttered the glib lie before, and as on another occasion he waited for his listener to reduce the words to figures.
"Fifty-five," said Anne, after some time. She was not good at mathematics. "I thought you were older than that. It doesn't matter, however. You are fairly well-off, I believe. Upwards of fifty thousand dollars, no doubt. Now, I shall be quite frank with you. This girl is taking you for your money. Just a moment, if you please. I do not know her, and I may be doing her an injustice. You have compared her to me in reaching your conclusions. You do not deceive yourself any more than Mr. Thorpe deceived himself. He knew I did not love him, and you must know that the same condition exists in this affair of yours. You have thanked me for being honest. Well, I was honest with Mr. Thorpe. I would have been as true as steel to him, even if he had lived to be an hundred. The question you must ask of yourself is this, Wade: Will this girl be as true as steel to you? Is there no other man to be afraid of?"
He listened intently. A certain greyness crept into his hollow cheeks.
"Was there no other man when you married Mr. Thorpe?" he asked levelly.
"Yes, there was," she surprised him by replying. "An honest man, however. I think you know—"
She scarcely heard Wade as he went on, now in a most conciliatory way. "It may interest you to know that I have arranged to buy out the delicatessen. We expect to enlarge and tidy the place up just as soon as we can get around to it. I believe I shall be very happy, once I get into active business. Mrs. Gadscomb,—that's the present mother,—I mean to say, the present owner, Marian's mother, has agreed to conduct the place as heretofore, at a very excellent salary, and I have no fear as to—But excuse me for going on like this, ma'am. No doubt you would like to talk about your own affairs instead of listening to mine. You said something about opening the house and coming back here to live. Of course, I shall consider it my duty to remain here just as long as I can be of service to you. There will be a little plumbing needed on the third floor, and I fancy a general cleaning—"
"Thank heaven, there is Mr. Dodge at last," cried Anne, as the bell jangled almost over her head, startling her into a little cry of alarm.