As Wade shuffled toward the front door, once more the simple slave of circumstance, she fled quickly into the library.
"Oh, Lutie," she cried, sinking into a chair beside the long, familiar table, and beating with her clenched hands upon the surface of it, "I know at last just how I look to other people. My God in heaven, what a thing I must seem to you."
Lutie came swiftly out of the shadows and laid her hands upon the shoulders of her sister-in-law.
"You ought to thank the Lord, dear old girl, for the revelation," she said gently. "I guess it's just what you've needed." Then she leaned over and pressed her warm, soft cheek to Anne's cold one. "If I owned this house," she said almost in a whisper, "I'd renovate it from top to bottom. I'd get rid of more than old Wade and the old clothes. The best and cheapest way to renovate it would be to set fire to a barrel of kerosene in the basement."
"Oh, how horrible for that girl to marry a dreadful, shrivelled old man like Wade. The skin on his hands is all wrinkled and loose—I couldn't help noticing it as I—"
"Hello!" called out Simmy from the doorway, peering into the darkened room. "Where the deuce are you? Ah, that's better, Wade." The caretaker had switched on the lights in the big chandelier. "Sorry to be late, Anne. Morning, Lutie. How's my god-son? Couldn't get here a minute sooner. You see, Anne, I've got other clients besides you. Braden, for instance. I've been carrying out his instructions in regard to that confounded trusteeship. The whole matter is to be looked after by a Trust Company from now on. Simplifies matters enormously."
Anne started up. "Isn't—isn't he coming back to America?" she cried.
"Sure,—unless they pink him some day. My goodness, you don't suppose for an instant that he could manage the whole of that blooming foundation and have any time to spare for hopeful humanity,—do you? Why, it will take a force of half a dozen men to keep the books straight and look after the ever-increasing capital. By the time old Brady is ready to start the ball rolling there will be so much money stored up for the job that Rockefeller will be ashamed to mention the pitiful fortune he controls. In the meantime he can go on saving people's lives while the trust company saves the Foundation."
Thorpe returned to New York about the middle of May, in the tenth month of the war. The true facts concerning the abrupt severance of his connections with the hospital corps in France were never divulged. His confreres and his superiors maintained a discreet and loyal silence. It was to Simmy that he explained the cause of his retirement. Word had gone out among the troops that he was the American doctor whose practices were infinitely more to be feared than the bullets from an enemy's guns.... It was announced from headquarters that he was returning to the United States on account of ill-health. He had worked hard and unceasingly and had exposed himself to grave physical hardships. He came home with a medal for conspicuous and unexampled valour while actually under fire. One report had it that on more than one occasion he appeared not only to scorn death but to invite it, so reckless were his deeds.
* * * * *
Meanwhile James Marraville died in great agony. Those nearest to him said, in so many words, that it was a great pity he did not die at the time of the operation.
* * * * *
"But," began one of the reporters at the dock, "you are said to have risked your own life, Dr. Thorpe, on at least half a dozen occasions when you exposed yourself to the fire of the enemy by going out in front after men who had fallen and were as good as dead when you got to them. In every case, we are told the men died on the stretchers while they were being carried to the rear. Do you mind telling us why you brought those men back when you knew that they were bound to die—"
"You have been misinformed," interrupted Thorpe. "One of those men did not die. I did all that was possible to save the lives as well as the bodies of those wretched fellows. Not one of them appeared to have a chance. The one who survived was in the most hopeless condition of them all. He is alive to-day, but without legs or arms. He is only twenty-two. He may live to be seventy. The others died. Will you say that they are not better off than he? And yet we tried to save them all. That is what we were there for. I saw a man run a bayonet through the heart of his own brother one day. We were working over him at the time and we knew that our efforts would be useless. The brother knew it also. He merely did the thing we refused to do. You want to know why I deliberately picked out of all the wounded the men who seemed to have the least chance for recovery, and brought them back to a place of safety. Well, I will tell you quite frankly, why I chose those men from among all the others. They were being left behind. They were as good as dead, as you say. I wanted to treat the most hopeless cases that could be found. I wanted to satisfy myself. I went about it quite cold-bloodedly,—not bravely, as the papers would have it,—and I confess that I passed by men lying out there who might have had a chance, looking for those who apparently had none. Seven of them died, as you say,—seven of the 'hopelessly afflicted.' One of them lived. You will now say that having proved to my own satisfaction that no man can be 'hopelessly afflicted,' I should be ready to admit the fallacy of my preachings. But you are wrong. I am more firmly intrenched in my position than ever before. That man's life should not have been saved. We did him a cruel wrong in saving it for him. He wanted to die, he still wants to die. He will curse God to the end of his days because he was allowed to live. Some day his relatives will exhibit him in public, as one of the greatest of freaks, and people will pay to enter the side shows to see him. They will carry him about in shawl straps. He will never be able to protest, for he has lost the power of speech. He can only see and hear. Will you be able to look into the agonised eyes of that man as he lies propped up in a chair, a mere trunk, and believe that he is glad to be alive? Will you then rejoice over the fact that we saved him from a much nobler grave than the one he occupies in the side-show, where all the world may stare at him at so much per head? An inglorious reward, gentlemen, for a brave soldier of the Republic."
"We may quote you as saying, Dr. Thorpe, that you have not abandoned your theories?"
"Certainly. I shall go on preaching, as you are pleased to call my advocacy. A great many years from to-day—centuries, no doubt,—the world will think as I do now. Thank you, gentlemen, for your courtesy in—"
"Have you heard that James Marraville died last week, Dr. Thorpe?" broke in one of the reporters.
"No," said he, quite unmoved. "I am not surprised, however. I gave him five or six months."
"Didn't you expect him to get entirely well?" demanded the man, surprised.
Braden shook his head, smiling. "No one expected that, gentlemen,—not even Mr. Marraville."
"But every one thought that the operation was a success, and—"
"And so it was, gentlemen," said Thorpe unsmilingly; "a very terrible success."
"Gee, if we print that as coming from you, Dr. Thorpe, it will create the biggest sensation in years."
"Then I haven't the least doubt that you will print it," said Thorpe.
There was a short silence. Then the spokesman said: "I think I speak for every man here when I say that we will not print it, Dr. Thorpe. We understand, but the people wouldn't." He deliberately altered the character of the interview and inquired if German submarines had been sighted after the steamship left Liverpool. The whole world was still shuddering over the disaster to the Lusitania, torpedoed the week before, with the loss of over a thousand souls.
Thorpe drove uptown with Simmy Dodge, who would not hear of his going to an hotel, but conducted him to his own apartment where he was to remain as long as he pleased.
"Get yourself pulled together, old chap, before you take up any work," advised Simmy. "You look pretty seedy. We're going to have a hot summer, they say. Don't try to do too much until you pick up a bit. Too bad they're fighting all over the continent of Europe. If they weren't, hang me if I wouldn't pack you onto a boat and take you over there for a good long rest, in spite of what happened to the Lusitania. We'll go up into the mountains in June, Brady,—or what do you say to skipping out to the San Francisco fair for a few—"
"You're looking thin and sort of pegged out, old boy," began Simmy soothingly.
"I'm all right, Simmy. Sound as anything. I don't mind telling you that it wasn't my health that drove me out of the service,—and that's what hurts. They—they didn't want me. They thought it was best for me to get out."
"Good Lord!" gasped Simmy, struggling between amazement and indignation. "What kind of blithering fools have they got over—"
"They are not blithering fools," said Thorpe soberly. "The staff would not have turned me out, I'm sure of that. I was doing good work, Simmy," he went on rapidly, eagerly, "even though I do say it myself. Everybody was satisfied, I'm sure. Night and day,—all the time,—mind you, and I was standing up under it better than any of them. But, you see, it wasn't the staff that did it. It was the poor devil of a soldier out there in the trenches. They found out who I was. Newspapers, of course. Well, that tells the story. They were afraid of me. But I am not complaining. I do not blame them. God knows it was hard enough for them to face death out there at the front without having to think of—well, getting it anyhow if they fell into my hands. I—But there's no use speaking of it, Simmy. I wanted you to know why I got out, and I want Anne to know. As for the rest, let them think I was sick or—cowardly if they like."
Simmy was silent for a long time. He said afterwards that it was all he could do to keep from crying as he looked at the pale, gaunt face of his friend and listened to the verdict of the French soldiers.
"I don't see the necessity for telling Anne," he said, at last, pulling rather roughly at his little moustache. They were seated at one of the broad windows in Simmy's living-room, drinking in the cool air that came up from the west in advance of an impending thunderstorm. The day had been hot and stifling. "No sense in letting her know, old man. Secret between you and me, if you don't—"
"I'd rather she knew," said Thorpe briefly. "In fact, she will have to know."
"What do you mean?"
Thorpe was staring out over the Park, and did not answer. Simmy found another cigarette and lighted it, scorching his fingers while furtively watching his companion's face.
"How is Anne, Simmy?" demanded Thorpe abruptly. There was a fierce, eager light in his eyes, but his manner was strangely repressed. "Where is she?"
Simmy took a deep breath. "She's well and she's at home."
"You mean,—down there in the old—"
"The old Thorpe house. I don't know what's got into the girl, Brady. First she swears she won't live in the house, and then she turns around,—just like that,—and moves in. Workmen all over the place, working overtime and all that sort of thing,—with Anne standing around punchin' 'em with a sharp stick if they don't keep right on the job. Top to bottom,—renovated, redecorated, brightened up,—wouldn't recognise the place as—"
"Is she living there—alone?"
"Yes. New lot of servants and—By the way, old Wade has—what do you think he has done?"
"How long has she been living down there?" demanded the other, impatiently. His eyes were gleaming.
"Well, old Wade has gone and got married," went on Simmy, deliberately ignoring the eager question. "Married a girl of twenty or something like that. Chucked his job, bloomed out as a dandy,—spats and chamois gloves and silk hats,—cleared out three weeks ago for a honeymoon,—rather pretty girl, by the way,—"
Braden's attention had been caught at last and held. "Wade married? Good Lord! Oh, I say, Simmy, you can't expect me to believe—"
"You'll see. He has shaken the dust of Thorpe house from his person and is gallivanting around in lavender perfumes and purple linen."
"My God! That old hulk and—twenty years, did you say? Why, the damned old scoundrel! After all he has seen and—" His jaws closed suddenly with a snap, and his eyes narrowed into ugly slits.
"Be careful, Brady, old top," said Simmy, shaking his head. "It won't do to call Wade names, you know. Just stop and think for a second or two."
Thorpe relaxed with a gesture of despair. "You are right, Simmy. Why should I blame Wade?"
He got up and began pacing the floor, his hands clenched behind his back. Simmy smoked in silence, apparently absorbed in watching the angry clouds that blackened the western sky.
Presently Thorpe resumed his seat in the window. His eyes did not meet Simmy's as the latter turned toward him. He look straight out over the tops of the great apartment houses on the far side of the Park.
"How long has she been living down there alone?" he asked again.
"Five or six weeks."
"When did you last see her?"
"Yesterday. She's been dreadfully nervous ever since the blowing up of the Lusitania. I asked her to go to the pier with me. She refused. See here, Brady," said Simmy, rising suddenly and laying his hand on the other's shoulder, "what are you going to do about Anne?"
"Nothing. Anne can never be anything to me, nor I to her," said Thorpe, white-faced and stern. His face was rigid.
"Nonsense! You love her, don't you?"
"Yes. That has nothing to do with it, however."
"And she loves you. I suppose that hasn't anything to do with it, either. I suppose it is right and proper and natural that you both should go on loving each other to the end of time without realising the joys of—"
"Don't try to argue the—"
"It's right that you should let that glorious, perfect young creature wither and droop with time, grow old without—oh, Lordy, what a damn fool you are, Brady! There isn't the slightest reason in this world why you shouldn't get married and—"
"Stop that, Simmy!"
"Here you are, two absolutely sound, strong, enduring specimens of humanity,—male and female,—loving each other, wanting each other,—and yet you say you can never be anything to each other! Hasn't nature anything to do with it? Are you going to sit there and tell me that for some obstinate, mawkish reason you think you ought to deprive her of the one man in all this world that she wants and must have? It doesn't matter what she did a couple of years ago. It doesn't matter that she was,—and still may be designing,—the fact remains that she is the woman you love and that you are her man. She married old Mr. Thorpe deliberately, I grant you. She doesn't deny it. She loved you when she did it. And you can't, to save your soul, hate her for it. You ought to do so, I admit. But you don't, and that solves the problem. You want her now even more than you did two years ago. You can't defy nature, old chap. You may defy convention, and honour, and even common decency, but you can't beat nature out of its due. Now, look me in the eye! Why can't you marry Anne and—be everything to her, instead of nothing, as you put it? Answer me!"
"It is impossible," groaned Thorpe. "You cannot understand, Simmy."
"Nothing is impossible," said Simmy, the optimist. "If you are afraid of what people will say about it, then all I have to say is that you are worse than a coward: you are a stupid ass. People talked themselves black in the face when she married your grandfather, and what good did it do them? Not a particle of good. They roasted her to a fare-you-well, and they called her a mean, avaricious, soulless woman, and still she survives. Everybody expects her to marry you. When she does it, everybody will smile and say 'I told you so,'—and sneer a little, perhaps,—but, hang it all, what difference should that make? This is a big world. It is busier than you think. It will barely take the time to sniff twice or maybe three times at you and Anne and then it will hustle along on the scent of something new. It's always smelling out things, but that's all it amounts to. It overlooks divorces, liaisons, murders,—everything, in fact, except disappointments. It never forgives the man or woman who disappoints it. Now, I know something else that's on your mind. You think that because you operated—fatally, we'll say,—on your grandfather, that that is an obstacle in the way of your marriage with Anne. Tommy-rot! I've heard of a hundred doctors who have married the widows of their patients, and their friends usually congratulate 'em, which goes to prove something, doesn't it? You are expected by ninety per cent. of the inhabitants of greater New York to marry Anne Tresslyn. They may have forgotten everything else, but that one thing they do expect. They said it would happen and it must. They said it when Anne married your grandfather, they said it when he died and they say it now, even though their minds are filled with other things."
Thorpe eyed him steadily throughout this earnest appeal. "Do you think that Anne expects it, Simmy?" he inquired, a harsh note in his voice.
Simmy had to think quickly. "I think she does," he replied, and always was to wonder whether he said the right thing. "She is in love with you. She wants you, and anything that Anne wants she expects to get. I don't mean that in a disparaging sense, either. If she doesn't marry you, she'll never marry any one. She'll wait for you till the end of her days. Even if you were to marry some one else, she'd—"
"I shall not marry any one else," said Thorpe, almost fiercely.
"—She'd go on waiting and wanting you just the same, and you would go on wanting her," concluded Simmy. "You will never consider your life complete until you have Anne Tresslyn as a part of it. She wants to make you happy. That's what most women want when they're in love with a man."
"I tell you, Simmy, I cannot marry Anne. I love her,—God knows how terribly I want her,—in spite of everything. It is nature. You can't kill love, no matter how hard you try. Some one else has to do the killing. Anne is keeping it alive in me. She has tortured my love, beaten it, outraged it, but all the time she has been secretly feeding it, caressing it, never for an instant letting it out of her grasp. You cannot understand, Simmy. You've never been in love with a woman like Anne. She may have despaired at times, but she has never given up the fight, not even when she must have thought that I despised her. She knew that my love was mortally hurt, but do you think she would let it die? No! She will keep it alive forever,—and she will suffer, too, in doing so. But what's that to Anne? She—"
"Just a second, old chap," broke in Simmy. "You are forgetting that Anne wants you to be happy."
"God, how happy I could have been with her!"
"See here, will you go down there and see her?" demanded Simmy.
"I can't do that,—I can't do it. Simmy—" he lowered his voice to almost a whisper,—"I can't trust myself. I don't know what would happen if I were to see her again,—be near her, alone with her. This longing for her has become almost unbearable. I thought of her every minute of the time I was out there at the front—Yes, I had to put the heaviest restraint upon myself at times to keep from chucking the whole thing and dashing back here to get her, to take her, to keep her,—maybe to kill her, I don't know. Now I realise that I was wrong in coming back to America at all. I should have gone—oh, anywhere else in the world. But here I am, and, strangely enough, I feel stronger, more able to resist. It was the distance between us that made it so terrible. I can resist her here, but, by heaven, I couldn't over there. I could have come all the way back from France to see her, but I can't go from here down to Washington Square,—so that shows you how I stand in the matter."
"Now I know the real reason why you came back to little old New York," said Simmy sagely, and Thorpe was not offended.
"In the first place I cannot marry her while she still has in her possession the money for which she sold herself and me," said Thorpe, musing aloud. "You ought to at least be able to understand that, Simmy? No matter how much I love her, I can't make her my wife with that accursed money standing—But there's no use talking about that. There is an even graver reason why I ought not to marry her, an insurmountable reason. I cannot tell you what it is, but I fear that down in your heart you suspect."
Simmy leaned forward in his chair. "I think I know, old man," he said simply. "But even that shouldn't stand in the way. I don't see why you should have been kind and gentle and merciful to Mr. Thorpe, and refuse to be the same, in a different way, to her." His face broke into a whimsical smile. "Anne is what you might call hopelessly afflicted. Dammit all, put her out of her misery!"
Thorpe stared at him aghast. The utter banality of the remark left him speechless. For the first time in their acquaintance, he misjudged Simmy Dodge. He drew back from him, scowling.
"That's a pretty rotten thing to say, Simmy," he said, after a moment. "Pretty poor sort of wit."
"It wasn't meant for wit, my friend," said Simmy seriously. "I meant every word of it, no matter how rotten it may have sounded. If you are going to preach mercy and all that sort of silly rot, practise it whenever it is possible. There's no law against your being kind to Anne Tresslyn. You don't have to be governed by a commission or anything like that. She's just as deserving as any one, you know."
"Which is another way of saying that she deserves my love?" cried Thorpe angrily.
"She's got it, so it really doesn't matter whether she deserves it or not. You can't take it away from her. You've tried it and—well, she's still got it, so there's no use arguing."
"Do you think it gives me any happiness to love her as I do?" cried the other. "Do you think I am finding joy in the prospect of never having her for my own—all for my own? Do you—"
"Well, my boy, do you think she is finding much happiness living down there in that old house all alone? Do you think she is getting much real joy out of her little old two millions? By the way, why is she living down there at all? I can tell you. She's doing it because she's got nerve enough to play the game out as she began it. She's doing it because she believes it will cause you to think better of her. This is a guess on my part, but I know darned well she wouldn't be doing it if there wasn't some good and sufficient reason."
Thorpe nodded his head slowly, an ironic smile on his lips. "Yes, she is playing the game, but not as she began it. I am not so sure that I think better of her for doing it."
"Brady, I hope you'll forgive me for saying something harsh and disrespectful about your grandfather, but here goes. He played you a shabby trick in taking Anne away from you in the first place. No matter how shabbily Anne behaved toward you, he was worse than she. Then he virtually compelled you to perform an operation that—well, I'll not say it. We can forgive him for that. He was suffering. And then he went out of his way to leave that old house down there to Anne, knowing full well that if she continued to live in it, it would be a sort of prison to her. She can't sell it, she can't rent it. She's got to live in it, or abandon it altogether. I call it a pretty mean sort of trick to play on her, if you'll forgive my—"
"She doesn't have to live in it," said Thorpe doggedly.
"She is going to live there until you take her out of it, bodily if you please, and you are going to become so all-fired sorry for her that you'll—"
"Good Lord, Simmy," shouted Thorpe, springing to his feet with a bitter imprecation, "don't go on like this. I can't stand it. I know how she hates it. I know how frightened, how miserable she is down there. It is a prison,—no, worse than that, it is haunted by something that you cannot possibly—My God, it must be awful for her, all alone,—shivering, listening,—something crawly—something sinister and accusing—Why, she—"
"Here, here, old fellow!" cried Simmy in alarm. "Don't go off your nut. You're talking like a crazy man,—and, hang it all, I don't like the look in your eye. Gosh, if it gives you the creeps—who don't have to be down there of nights,—what must it be for that shrinking, sensitive—Hey! Where are you going?"
"I'm going down there to see her. I'm going to tell her that I was a cur to write what I did to her the day I sailed. I—" He stopped short near the door, and faced his friend. His hands were clenched.
"I shall see her just this once,—never again if I can avoid it," he said. "Just to tell her that I don't want her to live in that house. She's got to get out. I'll not know a moment's peace until she is out of that house."
Simmy heard the door slam and a few minutes later the opening and closing of the elevator cage. He sat quite still, looking out over the trees. He was a rather pathetic figure.
"I wonder if I'd be so loyal to him if I had a chance myself," he mused. "Oh, Lordy, Lordy!" He closed his eyes as if in pain.
The storm burst in all its fury when Thorpe was half way down the Avenue in the taxi he had picked up at the Plaza. Pedestrians scurried in all directions, seeking shelter from the wind and rain; the blackness of night had fallen upon the city; the mighty roar of a thousand cannon came out of the clouds; terrifying flashes rent the skies. The man in the taxi neither saw nor heard the savage assault of the elements. He was accustomed to the roar of battle. He was used to thinking with something worse than thunder in his ears, and something worse than raindrops beating about him.
He knew that Anne was afraid of the thunder and the lightning. More than once she had huddled close to him and trembled in the haven of his arms, her fingers to her ears, while storms raged about them. He was thinking of her now, down there in that grim old house, trembling in some darkened place, her eyes wide with alarm, her heart beating wildly with terror,—ah, he remembered so well how wildly her heart could beat!
He had forgotten his words to Simmy: "I can't trust myself!" There was but one object in his mind and that was to retract the unnecessary challenge with which he had closed his letter to her in January. Why should he have demanded of her a sacrifice for which he could offer no consolation? He now admitted to himself that when he wrote the blighting postscript he was inspired by a mean desire to provoke anticipation on her part. "If you also are not a coward, you will return to my grandfather's house, where you belong." What right had he to revive the hope that she accounted dead? She still had her own life to live, and in her own way. He was not to be a part of it. He was sure of that, and yet he had given her something on which to sustain the belief that a time would come when their lives might find a common channel and run along together to the end. She had taken his words as he had hoped she would, and now he was filled with shame and compunction.
The rain was coming down in sheets when the taxi-cab slid up to the curb in front of the house that had been his home for thirty years. His home! Not hers, but his! She did not belong there, and he did. He would never cease to regard this fine old house as his home.
He was forced to wait for the deluge to cease or to slacken. For many minutes he sat there in the cab, his gaze fixed rigidly on the streaming, almost opaque window, trying to penetrate the veil of water that hung between him and the walls of the house not twenty feet away. At last his impatience got the better of him, and, the downpour having diminished slightly, he made a sudden swift dash from the vehicle and up the stone steps into the shelter of the doorway. Here he found company. Four workmen, evidently through for the day, were flattened against the walls of the vestibule.
They made way for him. Without realising what he did, he hastily snatched his key-ring from his pocket, found the familiar key he had used for so many years, and inserted it in the lock. The door opened at once and he entered the hall. As he closed the door behind him, his eyes met the curious gaze of the four workmen, and for the first time he realised what he had done through force of habit. For a moment or two he stood petrified, trying to grasp the full significance of his act. He had never rung the door-bell of that house,—not in all the years of his life. He had always entered in just this way. His grandfather had given him a key when he was thirteen,—the same key that he now held in his fingers and at which he stared in a sort of stupefaction.
He was suddenly aware of another presence in the hall,—a figure in white that stood near the foot of the staircase, motionless where it had been arrested by the unexpected opening of the door,—a tall, slender figure.
He saw her hand go swiftly to her heart.
"Why—why didn't you—let me know?" she murmured in a voice so low that he could hardly hear the words. "Why do you come in this way to—"
"What must you think of me for—for breaking in upon you—" he began, jerkily. "I don't know what possessed me to—you see, I still have the key I used while I lived—Oh, I'm sorry, Anne! I can't explain. It just seemed natural to—"
"Why did you come without letting me know?" she cried, and now her voice was shrill from the effort she made to suppress her agitation.
"I should have telephoned," he muttered. Suddenly he tore the key from the ring. "Here! It does not belong to me. I should not have the key to your—"
"Keep it," she said, drawing back. "I want you to keep it. I shall be happier if I know that you have the key to the place where I live. No! I will not take it."
To her infinite surprise, he slipped the key into his pocket. She had expected him to throw it upon the floor as she resolutely placed her hands behind her back.
"Very well," he said, rather roughly. "It is quite safe with me. I shall never forget myself again as I have to-day."
For the first time since entering the door, he allowed his gaze to sweep the lofty hallway. But for the fact that he knew he had come into the right house, he would have doubted his own senses. There was nothing here, to remind him of the sombre, gloomy place that he had known from childhood's earliest days. All of the massive, ugly trappings were gone, and all of the gloom. The walls were bright, the rugs gay, the woodwork cheerfully white. He glanced quickly down the length of the hall and—yes, the suit of mail was gone! He was conscious of a great relief.
Then his eyes fell upon her again. A strange, wistful little smile had appeared while his gaze went roving.
"You see that I am trying not to be a coward," she said.
"What a beast I was to write that thing to you," he cried. "I came down here to tell you that I am sorry. I don't want you to live here, Anne. It is—"
"Ah, but I am here," she said, "and here I shall stay. We have done wonders with the place. You will not recognise it,—not a single corner of it, Braden. It was all very well as the home of a lonely old man who loved it, but it was not quite the place for a lonely young woman who hated it. Come! Let me show you the library. It is finished. I think you will say it is a woman's room now and not a man's. Some of the rooms upstairs are still unfinished. My own room is a joy. Everything is new and—"
"Anne," he broke in, almost harshly, "it will come to nothing, you may as well know the truth now. It will save you a great deal of unhappiness, and it will allow you to look elsewhere for—"
"Come into the library," she interrupted. "I already have had a great deal of unhappiness in that room, so I fancy it won't be so hard to hear what you have come to say to me if you say it to me there."
He followed her to the library door, and there stopped in amazement, unwilling to credit his eyes. He was looking into the brightest, gayest room he had ever seen. An incredible transformation had taken place. The vast, stately, sober room had become dainty, exquisite, enchanting. Here, instead of oppressive elegance, was the most delicate beauty; here was exemplified at a glance the sweet, soft touch of woman in contrast to the heavy, uncompromising hand of man. Here was sweetness and freshness, and the sparkle of youth, and gone were the grim things of age. Here was light and happiness, and the fragrance of woman.
"In heaven's name, what have you done to this room?" he cried. "Am I in my right senses? Can this be my grandfather's house?"
She smiled, and did not answer. She was watching his face with eager, wistful eyes.
"Why, it's—it's unbelievable," he went on, an odd tremor in his voice. "It is wonderful. It is—why, it is beautiful, Anne. I could not have dreamed that such a change,—What has become of everything? What have you done with all the big, clumsy, musty things that—"
"They are in a storage warehouse," said she crisply. "There isn't so much as a carpet-tack left of the old regime. Everything is gone. Every single thing that was here with your grandfather is gone. I alone am left. When I came down here two months ago the place was filled with the things that you remember. I had made up my mind to stay here,—but not with the things that I remembered. The first thing I did was to clean out the house from cellar to garret. I am not permitted to sell the contents of this house, but there was nothing to prevent me from storing them. Your grandfather overlooked that little point, I fear. In any event, that was the first thing I did. Everything is gone, mind you,—even to the portrait that used to hang over the mantelpiece there,—and it was the only cheerful object in the house. I wish I could show you my boudoir, my bedroom, and the rooms in which Mr. Thorpe lived. You—you would love them."
He was now standing in the middle of the room, staring about him at the handiwork of Aladdin.
"Why, it isn't—it will not be so dreadful, after all," he said slowly. "You have made it all so lovely, so homelike, so much like yourself that—you will not find it so hard to live here as I—"
"I wanted you to like it, Braden. I wanted you to see the place,—to see what I have done to make it bright and cheerful and endurable. No, I sha'n't find it so hard to live here. I was sure that some day you would come to see me here and I wanted you to feel that—that it wasn't as hard for me as you thought it would be. I have been a coward, though. I confess that I could not have lived here with all those things about to—to remind me of—You see, I just had to make the place possible. I hope you are not offended with me for what I have done. I have played havoc with sentiment and association, and you may feel that I—"
"Offended? Good heavens, Anne, why should I be offended? You have a right to do what you like here."
"Ah, but I do not forget that it is your home, Braden, not mine. It will always be home to you, and I fear it can never be that to me. This is not much in the way of a library now, I confess. Thirty cases of books are safely stored away,—all of those old first editions and things of that sort. They meant nothing to me. I don't know what a first edition is, and I never could see any sense in those funny things he called missals, nor the incunabula, if that's the way you pronounce it. You may have liked them, Braden. If you care for them, if you would like to have them in your own house, you must let me lend them to you. Everybody borrows books, you know. It would be quite an original idea to lend a whole library, wouldn't it? If you—"
"They are better off in the storage warehouse," he interrupted, trying to steel himself against her rather plaintive friendliness.
"Don't you intend to shake hands with me?" she asked suddenly. "I am so glad that you have come home,—come back, I mean,—and—" She advanced with her hand extended.
It was a perilous moment for both of them when she laid her hand in his. The blood in both of them leaped to the thrill of contact. The impulse to clasp her in his arms, to smother her with kisses, to hold her so close that nothing could ever unlock his arms, was so overpowering that his head swam dizzily and for an instant he was deprived of vision. How he ever passed through that crisis in safety was one of the great mysteries of his life. She was his for the taking! She was ready.
Their hands fell apart. A chill swept through the veins of both,—the ice- cold chill of a great reaction. They would go on loving each other, wanting each other, perhaps forever, but a moment like the one just past would never come again. Bliss, joy, complete satisfaction might come, but that instant of longing could never be surpassed.
He was very white. For a long time he could not trust himself to speak. The fight was a hard one, and it was not yet over. She was a challenge to all that he tried to master. He wondered why there was a smile in her lovely, soft eyes, while in his own there must have been the hardness of steel. And he wondered long afterward how she could have possessed the calmness to say:
"Simmy must have been insane with joy. He has talked of nothing else for days."
But he did not know that in her secret heart she was crying out in ecstasy: "God, how I love him—and how he loves me!"
"He is a good old scout," said he lamely, hardly conscious of the words. Then abruptly: "I can't stay, Anne. I came down to tell you that—that I was a dog to say what I did in my note to you. I knew the construction you would put upon the—well, the injunction. It wasn't fair. I led you to believe that if you came down here to live that sometime I would—"
"Just a moment, Braden," she interrupted, steadily. "You are finding it very difficult to say just the right thing to me. Let me help you, please. I fear that I have a more ready tongue than you and certainly I am less agitated. I confess that your note decided me. I confess that I believed my coming here to live would result in—well, forgiveness is as good a word as any at this time. Now you have come to me to say that I have nothing to gain by living in this house, that I have nothing to gain by living in a place which revolts and terrifies me,—not always, but at times. Well, you may spare yourself the pain of saying all that to me. I shall continue to live here, even though nothing comes of it, as you say. I shall continue to sit here in this rather enchanting place and wait for you to come and share it with me. If you—"
"Good God! That is just what I am trying to tell you that I cannot—"
"I know, I know," she broke in impatiently. "That is just what you are trying to tell me, and this is just what I am trying to tell you. I do not say that you will ever come to me here, Braden. I am only saying to you that I shall wait for you. If you do not come, that is your affair, not mine. I love you. I love you with every bit of selfishness that is in my soul, every bit of goodness that is in my heart, and every bit of badness that is in my blood. I am proud to tell you that I am selfish in this one respect, if no longer in any other. I would give up everything else in the world to have you. That is how selfish I am. I want to be happy and I selfishly want you to be happy—for my sake if not for your own. Do you suppose that I am glorifying myself by living here? Do you suppose that I am justifying myself? If you do, you are very greatly mistaken. I am here because you led me to believe that—that things might be altered if I—" Her lips trembled despite the brave countenance she presented to him. In a second she had quelled the threatened weakness. "I have made this house a paradise. I have made it a place in which you may find happiness if you care to seek for it here. At night I shudder and cringe, because I am the coward you would try to reform. I hide nothing from myself. I am afraid to be alone in this house. But I shall stay—I shall stay."
"Do you think that I could ever find happiness in this house—now?" he demanded hoarsely.
"Do you expect to find happiness anywhere else, Braden?" she asked, a little break in her voice.
"No. I shall never find happiness anywhere else,—real happiness, I mean. I cannot be happy without you, Anne."
"Nor I without you," she said simply. "I don't see that it makes very much difference where we choose to be unhappy, Braden, so I shall take mine here,—where it is likely to be complete."
"But that is just what I don't want you to do," he cried angrily. "I don't want you to stay here. You must leave this place. You have had hell enough. I insist that you—"
"No use arguing," she said, shaking her head. "I can love you here as well as anywhere else, and that is all I care for,—just my love for you."
"God, what a cruel thing love is, after all. If there was no such thing as love, we could—"
"Don't say that!" she cried out sharply. "Love is everything. It conquers everything. It is both good and evil. It makes happiness and it makes misery. Braden,—oh, my dearest!—see what it has made for us? Love! Why, don't you know it is Love that we love? We love Love. I would not love you if you were not Love itself. I treated you abominably, but you still love me. You performed an act of mercy for the man you loved, and he loved you. You cursed me in your heart, and I still love you. We cannot escape love, my friend. It rules us,—it rules all of us. The thing that you say stands between us—that act of mercy, dearest,—what effect has it had upon either of us? I would come to you to-morrow, to-day,—this very hour if you asked me to do so, and not in all the years that are left to me would I see the shadow you shrink from."
"The shadow extends back a great deal farther, Anne," he said, closing his eyes as if in pain. "It began long before my grandfather found the peace which I have yet to find. It began when you sold yourself to him."
She shrank slightly. "But even that did not kill your love for me," she cried out, defensively. "I did not sell my love,—just my soul, if you must have a charge against me. I've got it back, thank God, and it is worth a good deal more to me to-day than it was when Mr. Thorpe bargained for it. Two million dollars!" She spoke ironically, yet with great seriousness. "If he could have bought my love for that amount, his bargain would have been a good one. If I were to discover now that you do not care for me, Braden, and if I could buy your love, which is the most precious thing in the world to me, I would not hesitate a second to pay out every dollar I have in—"
"Stop!" he cried eagerly, drawing a step nearer and fixing her with a look that puzzled and yet thrilled her. "Would you give up everything—everything, mind you,—if I were to ask you to do so?"
"You said something like that a few months ago," she said, after a moment's hesitation. There was a troubled, hunted look in her eyes, as of a creature at bay. "You make it hard for me, Braden. I don't believe I could give up everything. I have found that all this money does not give me happiness. It does provide me with comfort, with independence, with a certain amount of power. It does not bring me the thing I want more than anything else in the world, however. Still I cannot say to you now that I would willingly give it up, Braden. You would not ask it of me, of course. You are too fair and big—"
"But it is exactly what I would ask of you, Anne," he said earnestly, "if it came to an issue. You could not be anything more to me than you are now if you retained a dollar of that money."
She drew a long, deep breath. "Would you take me back, Braden,—would you let me be your wife if I—if I were to give up all that I received from Mr. Thorpe?" She was watching his face closely, ready to seize upon the slightest expression that might direct her course, now or afterwards.
"I—I—Oh, Anne, we must not harass ourselves like this," he groaned. "It is all so hopeless, so useless. It never can be, so what is the use in talking about it?"
She now appeared to be a little more sure of her ground. There was a note of confidence in her voice as she said: "In that event, it can do no harm for me to say that I do not believe I could give it up, Braden."
"If I were to give up all this money, Braden dear, I would prove myself to be the most selfish creature in the world."
"Selfish? Good Lord! It would be the height of self-denial. It—"
"When a woman wants something so much that she will give up everything in the world to get it, I claim that she is selfish to the last degree. She gratifies self, and there is no other way to look at it. And I will admit to you now, Braden, that if there is no other way, I will give up all this money. That may represent to you just how much I think of self. But," and she smiled confidently, "I don't intend to impoverish myself if I can help it, and I don't believe you are selfish enough to ask it of me."
"Would you call Lutie selfish?" he demanded. "She gave up everything for George."
"Lutie is impulsive. She did it voluntarily. No one demanded it of her. She was not obliged to give back a penny, you must remember. My case is different. You would demand a sacrifice of me. Lutie did not sell herself in the beginning. She sold George. She bought him back. If George was worth thirty thousand dollars to her, you are worth two millions to me. She gave her all, and that would be my all. She was willing to pay. Am I? That is the question."
"You would have to give it up, Anne," said he doggedly.
He saw the colour fade from her cheeks, and the lustre from her eyes.
"I am not sure that I could do it, Braden," she said, after a long silence. Then, almost fiercely: "Will you tell me how I should go about getting rid of all this money,—sensibly,—if I were inclined to do so? What could I do with it? Throw it away? Destroy it? Burn—"
"There isn't much use discussing ways and means," he said with finality in his manner. "I'm sorry we brought the subject up. I came here with a very definite object in view, and we—well, you see what we have come to."
"Oh, I—I love you so!" came tremulously from her lips. "I love you so, Braden. I—I don't see how I can go on living without—" She suppressed the wild, passionate words by deliberately clapping her hands, one above the other, over her lips. Red surged to her brow and a look of exquisite shame and humiliation leaped into her eyes.
"Anne, Anne—" he began, but she turned on him furiously.
"Why do you lie to me? Why do you lie to yourself? You came here to-day because you were mad with the desire to see me, to be near me, to—Oh, you need not deny it! You have been crying out for me ever since the day you last held me in your arms and kissed me,—ages ago!—just as I have been crying out for you. Don't say that you came here merely to tell me that I must not live in this house if it leads me to hope for—recompense. Don't say that, because it is not the real reason, and you know it. You would have remained in Europe if you were through with me, as you would have yourself believe. But you are not through with me. You never will be. If you cannot be fair with yourself, Braden, you should at least be fair with me. You should not have come here to-day. But you could not help it, you could not resist. It will always be like this, and it is not fair, it is not fair. You say we never can be married to each other. What is there left for us, I ask of you,—what will all this lead to? We are not saints. We are not made of stone. We—"
"God in heaven, Anne," he cried, aghast and incredulous. "Do you know what you are saying? Do you think I would drag you down, despoil you—"
"Oh, you would be honest enough to marry me—then," she cried out bitterly. "Your sense of honour would attend to all that. You—"
"Stop!" he commanded, standing over her as she shrank back against the wall. "Do you think that I love you so little that I could—Love? Is that the kind of love that you have been extolling to the skies?"
She covered her flaming face with her hands. "Forgive me, forgive me!" she murmured, brokenly. "I am so ashamed of myself."
He was profoundly moved. A great pity for her swept through him. "I shall not come again," he said hoarsely. "I will be fair. You are right. You see more clearly than I can see. I must not come to you again unless I come to ask you to be my wife. You are right. We would go mad with—"
"Listen to me, Braden," she interrupted in a strangely quiet manner. "I shall never ask you to come to me. If you want me you must ask me to come to you. I will come. But you are to impose no conditions. You must leave me to fight out my own battle. My love is so great, so honest, so strong that it will triumph over everything else. Listen! Let me say this to you before I send you away from me to-day. Love is relentless. It wrecks homes, it sends men to the gallows and women to the madhouse. It makes drunkards, suicides and murderers of noble men and women. It causes men and women to abandon homes, children, honour—and all the things that should be dear to them. It impoverishes, corrupts and—defiles. It makes cowards of brave men and brave men of cowards. The thing we call love has a thousand parts. It has purity, nobility, grandeur, greed, envy, lust—everything. You have heard of good women abandoning good husbands for bad lovers. You have heard of good mothers giving up the children they worship. You have heard of women and men murdering husbands and wives in order to remove obstacles from the path of love. One woman whom we both know recently gave up wealth, position, honour, children,—everything,—to go down into poverty and disgrace with the man she loved. You know who I mean. She did it because she could not help herself. Opposed to the evil that love can do, there is always the beautiful, the sweet, the pure,—and it is that kind of love that rules the world. But the other kind is love, just the same, and while it does not govern the world, it is none the less imperial. What I want to say to you is this: while love may govern the world, the world cannot govern love. You cannot govern this love you have for me, although you may control it. Nor can I destroy the love I have for you. I may not deserve your love, but I have it and you cannot take it away from me. Some other woman may rob me of it, perhaps, but you cannot do it, my friend. I will wait for you to come and get me, Braden. Now, go,—please go,—and do not come here again until—" she smiled faintly.
He lowered his head. "I will not come again, Anne," he said huskily.
She did not follow him to the door.
Anne left town about the middle of June and did not return until late in September. She surprised every one who knew her by going to Nova Scotia, where she took a cottage in one of the quaint old coast towns. Lutie and George and the baby spent the month of August with her. Near the close of their visit, Anne made an announcement that, for one day at least, caused them to doubt, very gravely, whether she was in her right mind. George, very much perturbed, went so far as to declare to Lutie in the seclusion of their bedroom that night, that Anne was certainly dotty. And the queer part of it all was that he couldn't, for the life of him, feel sorry about it!
The next morning they watched her closely, at times furtively, and waited for her to either renounce the decision of the day before or reveal some sign that she had no recollection of having made the astounding statement at all,—in which case they could be certain that she had been a bit flighty and would be in a position to act accordingly. (Get a specialist after her, or something like that.) But Anne very serenely discoursed on the sweetest sleep she had known in years, and declared she was ready for anything, even the twelve-mile tramp that George had been trying so hard to get her to take with him. Her eyes were brighter, her cheeks rosier than they had been for months, and, to George's unbounded amazement, she ate a hearty breakfast with them.
"I have written to Simmy," said she, "and James has posted the letter. The die is cast. Congratulate me!"
"But, hang it all," cried George desperately, "I still believe you are crazy, Anne, so—how can I congratulate you? My Lord, girl—"
He stopped short, for Lutie sprang up from the table and threw her arms around Anne. She kissed her rapturously, all the time gurgling something into her ear that George could not hear, and perhaps would not have understood if he had. Then they both turned toward him, shining-eyed and exultant. An instant later he rushed over and enveloped both of them in his long, strong arms and shouted out that he was crazy too.
Anne's letter to Simmy was a long one, and she closed it with the sentence: "You may expect me not later than the twentieth of September."
* * * * *
Thorpe grew thin and haggard as the summer wore away; his nerves were in such a state that he seriously considered giving up his work, for the time being, at least. The truth was gradually being forced in upon him that his hand was no longer as certain, no longer as steady as it had been. Only by exercising the greatest effort of the will was he able to perform the delicate work he undertook to do in the hospitals. He was gravely alarmed by the ever-growing conviction that he was never sure of himself. Not that he had lost confidence in his ability, but he was acutely conscious of having lost interest. He was fighting all the time, but it was his own fight and not that of others. Day and night he was fighting something that would not fight back, and yet was relentless; something that was content to sit back in its own power and watch him waste his strength and endurance. Each succeeding hour saw him grow weaker under the strain. He was fighting the thing that never surrenders, never weakens, never dies. He was struggling against a mighty, world-old Giant, born the day that God's first man was created, and destined to live with all God's men from that time forth: Passion.
Time and again he went far out of his way to pass by the house near Washington Square, admittedly surreptitious in his movements. On hot nights he rode down Fifth Avenue on the top of the stages, and always cast an eye to the right in passing the street in which Anne lived, looking in vain for lights in the windows of the closed house. And an hundred times a day he thought of the key that no longer kept company with others at the end of a chain but lay loose in his trousers' pocket. Times there were when an almost irresistible desire came upon him to go down there late at night and enter the house, risking discovery by the servants who remained in quarters, just for a glimpse of the rooms upstairs she had described,—her own rooms,—the rooms in which she dreamed of him.
He affected the society of George and Lutie, spending a great deal of his leisure with them, scorning himself the while for the perfectly obvious reason that moved him. Automobile jaunts into the country were not infrequent. He took them out to the country inns for dinner, to places along the New Jersey and Long Island shores, to the show grounds at Coney Island. There were times when he could have cursed himself for leading them to believe that he was interested only in their affairs and not in this affair of his own; times when he realised to the full that he was using them to satisfy a certain craving. They were close to Anne in every way; they represented her by proxy; they had letters from her written in the far-off town in Canada; she loved them, she encouraged them, she envied them. And they talked of her,—how they talked of her!
More than all else, George and Lutie personified Love. They represented love triumphant over all. Their constancy had been rewarded, and the odds had been great against it. He was contented and happy when near them, for they gave out love, they radiated it, they lived deep in the heart of it. He craved the company of these serene, unselfish lovers because they were brave and strong and inspiring. He fed hungrily on their happiness, and he honestly tried to pay them for what they gave to him.
He was glad to hear that George was going into a new and responsible position in the fall,—a six thousand dollar a year job in the office of a big manufacturing company. He rejoiced not because George was going ahead so splendidly but because his advancement was a justification of Anne's faith in her seemingly unworthy brother,—and, moreover, there was distinctly something to be said for the influence of love.
When George's family departed for the north, Thorpe was like a lost soul. In the first week of their absence, he found himself more than once on the point of throwing everything aside and rushing off after them. His scruples, his principles, his resolutions were shaken in the mighty grasp of despair. There were to be no more letters, and, worse than all else, she would not be lonely!
* * * * *
One day late in August Simmy Dodge burst in upon him. He had motored in from Southampton and there was proof that he had not dallied along the way. His haste in exploding in Thorpe's presence was evidence of an unrestrained eagerness to have it over with.
"My God!" he shouted, tugging at his goggles with nervous hands from which he had forgotten to remove his gloves. "You've got to put a stop to this sort of thing. It can't go on. She must be crazy,—stark, raving crazy. You must not let her do this—"
"What the devil are you talking about?" gasped Thorpe, acutely alarmed by the little man's actions, to say nothing of his words, which under other circumstances might have been at least intelligent.
"Anne! Why, she's—What do you think she's going to do? Or maybe you know already. Maybe you've put her up to this idiotic—Say, what do you know about it?" He was glaring at his friend. The goggles rested on the floor in a far corner of the consultation-room.
"In heaven's name, Simmy, cool off! I haven't the remotest idea of what you are talking about. What has happened?"
"Nothing has happened yet. And it mustn't happen at all. You've got to stop her. She has threatened to do it before, and now she comes out flat- footed and says she's going to do it,—absolutely, irrevocably, positively. Is that plain enough for you? Absolutely, irrev—"
"Would you mind telling me what she is going to do?"
Simmy sat down rather abruptly and wiped his moist, dust-blackened brow.
"She's going to give away every damned nickel of that money she got from old Mr. Thorpe,—every damned nickel of it, do you hear? My God! She is crazy, Brady. We've got to put her in a sanitarium—or torium—as soon as we can get hold of—Hi! Look out!"
Thorpe had leaped forward and was shaking him furiously by the shoulders. His eyes were wide and gleaming.
"Say that again! Say it again!" he shouted.
"Say it, damn you, Simmy! Can't you see that I want you to say it again—"
"Say—it—again," chattered Simmy. "Let go! How the dickens can I say anything with you mauling me all over the—"
"I'm sorry! I will—try to be sensible—and quiet. Now, go on, old chap,—tell me all there is to tell." He sank into a chair and leaned forward, watching every expression that crossed his friend's face—watching with an intensity that finally got on Simmy's nerves.
"She wrote me,—I got the letter yesterday,—Lordy, what did I do with it? Never mind. I'll look for it later on. I can remember nearly every word, so it doesn't matter. She says she has made up her mind to give all that money to charity. Some darned nonsense about never knowing happiness as long as she has the stuff in her possession. Absolute idiocy! Wants me to handle the matter for her. Lawyer, and all that sort of thing, you see. I know what the game is, and so do you. She'd sooner have you than all that money. By Gosh! I—here's something I never thought of before." He paused and wiped his brow, utter bewilderment in his eyes. "It has just occurred to me that I'd sooner have Anne than all the money I've got. I've said that to myself a thousand times and—But that has nothing to do with the case. Lordy, it gave me a shock for a second or two, though. Seems to knock my argument all to smash. Still there is a difference. I didn't earn my money. Where was I? Oh, yes,—er—she's got the idea into her head that she can never be anything to you until she gets rid of that money. Relief fund! Red Cross! Children's Welfare! Tuberculosis camps! All of 'em! Great snakes! Every nickel! Can you beat it? Now, there's just one way to stop this confounded nonsense. You can do it, and you've got to come to the mark."
Thorpe was breathing fast, his eyes were glowing. "But suppose that I fail to regard it as confounded nonsense. Suppose—"
"Will you marry Anne Thorpe if she gives up this money?" demanded Simmy sharply.
"That has nothing to do with Anne's motives," said Thorpe grimly. "She wants to give it up because it is burning her soul, Simmy."
"Rats! You make me sick, talking like that. She is giving it up for your sake and not because her soul is even uncomfortably hot. Now, I want to see you two patch things up, cut out the nonsense, and get married,—but I don't intend to see Anne make a fool of herself if I can help it. That money is Anne's. The house is hers. The—By the way, she says she intends to keep the house. But how in God's name is she going to maintain it if she hasn't a dollar in the world? Think the Red Cross will help her when she begins to starve down there—"
"I shall do nothing to stop her, Simmy," said Thorpe firmly. "If she has made up her mind to give all that money to charity, it is her affair, not mine. God knows the Red Cross Society and the Relief Funds need it now more than ever before. I'll tell you what I think of Anne Tresslyn's sacri—"
"Anne Thorpe, if you please."
"She hates—do you hear?—hates the money that my grandfather gave to her. It hurts her in more ways than you can ever suspect. Her honour, her pride, her peace of mind—all of them and more. She sold me out, and she hates the price she received. It is something deeper with her than mere—"
"You are wrong," broke in Simmy, suddenly calm. He leaned forward and laid his hand on Thorpe's knee. "She wants you more than anything else in the world. You are worth more to her than all the money ever coined. It is no real sacrifice, the way she feels about it now, but—listen to me! I am not going to stand idly by and see her make herself as poor as Job's turkey unless I know—positively know, do you hear,—that she is not to lose out entirely. You've just got to say one thing or the other, Brady, before it's too late. If she does all this for you, what will you do for her?"
Thorpe got up from his chair and began pacing the office, his lips compressed, his eyes lowered. At last he stopped in front of Simmy.
"If I were you, Simmy, I would tell her at once that—it will be of no avail."
Simmy glowered to the best of his ability. "Have you never asked her to make this sacrifice? Have you never given her a ray of hope on which—"
"Yes,—I will be honest with you,—I asked her if she could give it up."
"There you are!" said Simmy triumphantly. "I was pretty sure you had said something—"
"My God, Simmy, I—I don't know what to do," groaned Thorpe, throwing himself into a chair and staring miserably into the eyes of his friend.
"There is just one thing you are not to do," said the other gently. "You are not to let her do this thing unless you are prepared to meet her half- way. If she does her half, you must do yours. I am looking out for her interests now, old chap, and I mean to see that she gets fair play. You have no right to let her make this sacrifice unless you are ready to do your part."
"Then say to her for me that she must keep the money, every penny of it."
Simmy was staggered. "But she—she doesn't want it," he muttered, lamely. His face brightened. "I say, old boy, why let the measly money stand in the way? Take her and the money too. Don't be so darned finicky about—"
"Come, come, old fellow," protested Thorpe, eyeing him coldly.
"All right," said Simmy resignedly. "I'll say no more along that line. But I'm going to make you give her a square deal. This money is hers. She bargained for it, and it belongs to her. She sha'n't throw it away if I can help it. I came here to ask you to use your influence, to help me and to help her. You say that she is to keep the money. That means—there's no other chance for her?"
"She knows how I feel about it," said Thorpe doggedly.
"I'll tell her just what you've said. But suppose that she insists on going ahead with this idiotic scheme of hers? Suppose she really hates the money and wants to get rid of it, just as she says? Suppose this is no part of a plan to reconcile—Well, you see what I mean. What then? What's to become of her?"
"I don't know," said Thorpe dully. "I don't know."
"She will be practically penniless, Brady. Her mother will not help her. God, how Mrs. Tresslyn will rage when she hears of this! Lordy, Lordy!"
Thorpe leaned back in the chair and covered his eyes with his hands. For a long time he sat thus, scarcely breathing. Simmy watched him in perplexity.
"It would be awful to see Anne Tresslyn penniless," said the little man finally, a queer break in his voice. "She's a fair fighter, my boy. She doesn't whimper. She made her mistake and she's willing to pay. One couldn't ask more than that of any one. It means a good deal for her to chuck all this money. I don't want her to do it. I'm fond of her, Brady. I, for one, can't bear the thought of her going about in rummy old clothes and—well, that's just what it will come to—unless she marries some one else."
The hands fell from Thorpe's eyes suddenly. "She will not marry any one else," he exclaimed. "What do you mean? What have you heard? Is there—"
"My Lord, you don't expect the poor girl to remain single all the rest of her life just to please you, do you?" roared Simmy, springing to his feet. "You must not forget that she is young and very beautiful and she'll probably be very poor. And God knows there are plenty of us who would like to marry her!" He took a turn or two up and down the room and then stopped before Thorpe, in whose eyes there was a new and desperate anxiety, born of alarm. "She wants me to arrange matters so that she can begin turning over this money soon after she comes down in September. She hasn't touched the principal. If she sticks to her intention, I'll have to do it. Here is her letter. I'll read it to you. George and Lutie know everything, and she is writing to her mother, she says. Not a word about you, however. Now, listen to what she says, and—for God's sake, do something!"
Anne's strictest injunction to Simmy Dodge bore upon the anonymity of the contributions to the various specified charities. Huge sums were to be delivered at stated intervals, covering a period of six months. At the end of that period she would have contributed the whole of her fortune to charity and, through its agencies, to humanity. The only obligation demanded in return from any of these organisations was a pledge of secrecy, and from this pledge there was to be no release until such time as the donor herself announced her willingness to make public the nature and extent of her benefactions. It was this desire to avoid publicity that appealed most strongly to Thorpe. As for poor Simmy,—he could not understand it at all.
Grimly, Anne's lover refused to interfere with her plans. He went about his work from that day on, however, with a feverish eagerness and zest, and an exaltation that frequently lifted him to a sort of glory that he could neither define nor deny. There were moments when he slipped far back into the depths, and cursed himself for rejoicing in the sacrifice she was apparently so willing to make. And at such times he found that he had to resist an impulse that was almost overwhelming in its force: the impulse to rush down to her and cry out that the sacrifice was not necessary!
Mrs. Tresslyn came to see him shortly after Anne's return to the city. She was humble. When she was announced, he prepared himself for a bitter scene. But she was not bitter, she was not furious; on the contrary, she was gentler than he had ever known her to be.
"If you do not take her now, Braden," she said in the course of their brief interview, "I do not know what will become of her. I blame myself for everything, of course. It was I who allowed her to go into that unhappy business of getting Mr. Thorpe's money, and I am to blame. I should have allowed her to marry you in the beginning. I should not have been deceived by the cleverness of your amiable grandfather. But, you see I counted on something better than this for her. I thought,—and she thought as well,—that she could one day have both you and the money. It is a pretty hard thing to say, isn't it? I saw her to-day. She is quite happy,—really it seems to me she was radiantly happy this morning. Simmy has arranged for the first instalment of five hundred thousand dollars to be paid over to-morrow. She herself has selected the securities that are to make up this initial payment. They are the best of the lot, Simmy tells me. In a few months she will be penniless. I don't know what is to become of her, Braden, if you do not take her when all this absurd business is over. You love her and she loves you. Both of you should hate me, but Anne, for one, does not. She is sorrier for me than she is for herself. Of course, you are to understand one thing, Braden." She lifted her chin proudly. "She may return to me at any time. My home is hers. She shall never want for anything that I am able to give her. She is my daughter and—well, you are to understand that I shall stand by her, no matter what she does. I have but one object in coming to see you to-day. I need not put it into words."
A few days later Simmy came in, drooping. "Well, the first half-million is gone. Next month another five hundred thousand goes. I hope you are happy, Brady."
"I hope Anne is happy," was all that Thorpe said in response.
* * * * *
No word came to him from Anne. She was as silent as the sphinx. Not a day passed that did not find him running eagerly,—hopefully,—through his mail, looking for the letter he hoped for and was sure that eventually she would write to him. But no letter came. The only news he had of her was obtained through Simmy, who kept him acquainted with the progress of his client's affairs, forgetting quite simply the admonition concerning secrecy.
Thorpe virtually abandoned his visits to the home of the young Tresslyns. He had them out to dinner and the theatre occasionally. They talked quite freely with him about the all-important topic, and seemed not to be unhappy or unduly exercised over the step Anne had taken. In fact, George was bursting with pride in his sister. Apparently he had no other thought than that everything would turn out right and fair for her in the end. But the covert, anxious, analysing look in Lutie's eyes was always present and it was disconcerting.
He avoided the little flat in which he had spent so many happy, and in a sense profitable hours, and they appreciated his reason for doing so. They kept their own counsel. He had no means of knowing that Anne Thorpe's visits were but little more frequent than his.
Anne's silence, her persistent aloofness, began to irritate him at last. Weeks had passed since her return to the city and she had given no sign. He had long since ceased his sly pilgrimages to the neighbourhood of Washington Square. Now as the days grew shorter and the nights infinitely longer, he was conscious, first, of a distinct feeling of resentment toward her, and later on of an acute sense of uneasiness. The long, dreary hours of darkness fed him with reflections that kept him awake most of the night, and only his iron will held his hand and nerves steady during the days between the black seasons. The theatre palled on him, books failed to hold his attention, people annoyed him. He could not concentrate his thoughts on study; his mind was forever journeying. What was she doing? Every minute of the day he was asking that question of himself. It was in the printed pages of the books he read; it was on the lips of every lecturer he listened to; it was placarded on every inch of scenery in the theatre,—always: "Where is she to-night? What is she doing?"
And then, at last, one cold, rainy night in late November he resumed his stealthy journeys to lower Fifth Avenue atop of the stage, protected by a thick ulster and hidden as well as he could be in the shelter of a rigidly grasped umbrella. Alighting in front of the Brevoort, he slunk rather than sauntered up the Avenue until he came to the cross-town street in which she lived,—in which he once had lived. It was a fair night for such an adventure as this. There were but few people abroad. The rain was falling steadily and there was a gusty wind. He had left his club at ten o'clock, and all the way down the Avenue he was alone on the upper deck of the stage. Afterwards he chuckled guiltily to himself as he recalled the odd stare with which the conductor favoured him when he jestingly inquired if there was "any room aloft."
Walking down the street toward Sixth Avenue, he peered out from beneath the umbrella as he passed his grandfather's house across the way. There were lights downstairs. A solitary taxi-cab stood in front of the house. He quickened his pace. He did not want to charge himself with spying. A feeling of shame and mortification came over him as he hurried along; his face burned. He was not acting like a man, but as a love-sick, jealous school-boy would have behaved. And yet all the way up Sixth Avenue to Fifty-ninth Street,—he walked the entire distance,—he wondered why he had not waited to see who came forth from Anne's house to enter the taxi-cab.
For a week he stubbornly resisted the desire to repeat the trip down-town. In the meantime, Simmy had developed into a most unsatisfactory informant. He suddenly revealed an astonishing streak of uncommunicativeness, totally unnatural in him and tantalising in the extreme. He rarely mentioned Anne's name and never discussed her movements. Thorpe was obliged to content himself with an occasional word from Lutie,—who was also painfully reticent,—and now and then a scrap of news in the society columns of the newspapers. Once he saw her in the theatre. She was with other people, all of whom he knew. One of them was Percy Wintermill. He began on that night to hate Wintermill. The scion of the Wintermill family sat next to Anne and there was nothing in his manner to indicate that he had resigned himself to defeat in the lists.
If Anne saw him she did not betray the fact. He waited outside for a fairer glimpse of her as she left the theatre. What he saw at close range from his carefully chosen position was not calculated to relieve his mind. She appeared to be quite happy. There was nothing in her appearance or in her manner to indicate that she suffered,—and he wanted her to suffer as he was suffering. That night he did not close his eyes.
He had said to her that he would never marry her even though she gave up the money she had received from his grandfather, and she had said—how well he remembered!—that if George was worth thirty thousand dollars to Lutie, which was her all,—he was worth two millions to her, and her all. She was paying for him now, just as Lutie had paid for George, only in Lutie's case there was the assurance that the sacrifice would bring its own consolation and reward. Anne was going ahead blindly, trusting to an uncertainty. She had his word for it that the sacrifice would bring no reward through him, and yet she persisted in the vain enterprise. She had likened herself, in a sense, to Lutie, and now he was beginning to think of himself as he had once thought of George Tresslyn!
He recalled his pitying scorn for the big, once useless boy during that long period of dog-like watchfulness over the comings and goings of the girl he loved. He had felt sorry for him and yet pleased with him. There was something admirable in the stubborn, drunken loyalty of George Tresslyn,—a loyalty that never wavered even though there was no such thing as hope ahead of him.
As time went on, Thorpe, the sound, sober, indomitable Thorpe,—began to encourage himself with the thought that he too might sink to the extremities through which George had passed,—and be as simple and as firm in his weakness as the other had been! He too might stand in dark places and watch, he too might slink behind like a thing in the night. Only in his case the conditions would be reversed. He would be fighting conviction and not hope, for he knew he had but to walk into Anne's presence and speak,—and the suspense would be over. She was waiting for him. It was he who would have to surrender, not she.
He fought desperately with himself; the longing to see her, to be near her, to test his vaunted self-control, never for an instant subsided. He fought the harder because he was always asking himself why he fought at all. Why should he not take what belonged to him? Why should he deny himself happiness when it was so much to be desired and so easy to obtain?
But always when he was nearest to the breaking point, and the rush of feeling was at flood, there crept up beside him the shadow that threatened his very existence and hers. He had taken the life of her husband. He had no right to her. Down in his heart he knew that there was no moral ground for the position he took and from which he could not extricate himself. He had committed no crime. There had been no thought of himself in that solemn hour when he delivered his best friend out of bondage. Anne had no qualms, and he knew her to be a creature of fine feelings. She had always revolted against the unlovely aspects of life, and all this despite the claim she made that love would survive the most unholy of oppressions. What was it then that he was afraid of? What was it that made him hold back while love tugged so violently, so persistently at his heart-strings?
At times he had flashes of the thing that created the shadow, and it was then that he grasped, in a way, the true cause of his fears. Back of everything he realised there was the most uncanny of superstitions. He could not throw off the feeling that his grandfather, in his grave, still had his hand lifted against his marriage with Anne Tresslyn; that the grim, loving old man still regarded himself as a safeguard against the connivings of Anne!
His common sense, of course, resisted this singular notion. He had but to recall his grandfather's praise of Anne just before he went to his death. Surely that signified an altered opinion of the girl, and no doubt there was in his heart during those last days of life, a very deep, if puzzled, admiration for her. And yet, despite the conviction that his grandfather, had he been pressed for a definite statement would have declared himself as being no longer opposed to his marriage with Anne, there still remained the fact that he had gone to his grave without a word to show that he regarded his experiment as a failure. And he had gone to his grave in a manner that left no room for doubt that his death was to stand always as an obstacle in the path of the lovers. There were times when Braden Thorpe could have cursed his grandfather for the cruel cunning to which he had resorted in the end.
He could not free himself of the ridiculous, distorted and oft-recurring notion that his grandfather was watching him from beyond the grave, nor were all his scientific convictions sufficient to dispel the fear that men live after death and govern the destinies of those who remain.
But through all of these vain struggles, his love for Anne grew stronger, more overpowering. He was hollow-eyed and gaunt, ravenous with the hunger of love. A spectre of his former self, he watched himself starve with sustenance at hand. Bountiful love lay within his grasp and yet he starved. Full, rich pastures spread out before him wherein he could roam to the end of his days, blissfully gorging himself,—and yet he starved. And Anne, who dwelt in those elysian pastures, was starving too!
Once more he wavered and again he fell. He found himself at midnight standing at the corner above Anne's home, staring at the darkened unresponsive windows. Three nights passed before he resumed the hateful vigil. This time there were lights. And from that time on, he went almost nightly to the neighbourhood of Washington Square, regardless of weather or inconvenience. He saw her come and go, night after night, and he saw people enter the house to which he held a key,—always he saw from obscure points of vantage and with the stealth and caution of a malefactor.
He came to realise in course of time that she was not at peace with herself, notwithstanding a certain assumption of spiritedness with which she fared into the world with others. At first he was deceived by appearances, but later on he knew that she was not the happy, interested creature she affected to be when adventuring forth in search of pleasure. He observed that she tripped lightly down the steps on leaving the house, and that she ascended them slowly, wearily, almost reluctantly on her return, far in the night. He invariably waited for the lights to appear in the shaded windows of her room upstairs, and then he would hurry away as if pursued. Once, after roaming the streets for two hours following her return to the house, he wended his way back to the spot from which he had last gazed at her windows. To his surprise the lights were still burning. After that he never left the neighbourhood until he saw that the windows were dark, and more often than otherwise the lights did not go out until two or three o'clock in the morning. The significance of these nightly indications of sleeplessness on her part did not escape him.
Bitterly cold and blustering were some of the nights. He sought warmth and shelter from time to time in the near-by cafes, always returning to his post when the call became irresistible. It was his practice to go to the cheap and lowly cafes, places where he was not likely to be known despite his long residence in the community. He did not drink. It had, of course, occurred to him that he might find solace in resorting to the cup that cheers, but never for an instant was he tempted to do so. He was too strong for that!
Curiosity led him one night to the restaurant of Josiah Wade. He did not enter, but stood outside peering through the window. It was late at night and old Wade was closing the place. A young woman whom Thorpe took to be his wife was chatting amiably with a stalwart youth near the cash register. He did not fail to observe the furtive, shifty glances that Wade shot out from under his bushy eyebrows in the direction of the couple.
He knew, through Simmy, that the last of Templeton Thorpe's money would soon pass from Anne's hands. A million and a half was gone. The time for the last to go was rapidly approaching. She would soon be poorer than when she entered upon the infamous enterprise. There would still remain to her the house in which she lived. It was not a part of the purchase price. It was outside of the bargain she had made, and the right to sell it was forbidden her. But possesion of it was a liability rather than an asset. He wondered what she would do when it came down to the house in which she lived.
Again and again he apostrophized himself as follows: "My God, what am I coming to? Is this madness? Am I as George Tresslyn was, am I no nobler than he? Or was he noble in spite of himself, and am I noble in the same sense? If I am mad with love, if I am weak and accursed by consequences, why should not she be weaker than I? She is a woman. I am—or was—a man. Why should I sink to such a state as this and she remain brave and strong and resolute? She keeps away from me, why should I not stay away from her? God knows I have tried to resist this thing that she resists, and what have I come to? A street loafer, a spy, a sneak, a dog without a master. She is doing a big thing, and I am doing the smallest thing that man can do. She loves me and longs for me and—Oh, what damned madness is it that brings me to loving her and longing for her and yet makes of me a thing so much less worthy than she?" And so on by the hour, day and night, he cursed himself with questions.
* * * * *
The end came swiftly, resistlessly. She paused at the bottom of the steps as the automobile slid off into the chill, windy night. For the first time in all his vigil, he noted the absence of the footman who always ran up the steps ahead of her to open the door. She was alone to-night. This had never happened before. Mystified, he saw her slowly ascend the steps and pause before the door. Her body drooped wearily. He waited long for her to press the electric button which had taken the place of the ancient knob that jangled the bell at the far end of the hall. But she remained motionless for what seemed to him an interminable time, and then, to his consternation, she leaned against the door and covered her face with her hands.
A great weight suddenly was lifted from his soul; a vast exaltation drove out everything that had been oppressing him for so long. He was free! He was free of the thing that had been driving him to death. Joy, so overwhelming in its rush that he almost collapsed as it assailed him, swept aside every vestige of resistance,—and, paradox of paradoxes,—made a man of him! He was a man and he would—But even as his jaw set and his body straightened in its old, dominant strength, she opened the door and passed into the dim hall beyond.
He was half across the street when the door closed behind her, but he did not pause. His hand came from his pocket and in his rigid fingers he held the key to his home—and hers.
At the bottom of the steps he halted. The lights in the drawing-room had been switched on. The purpose that filled him now was so great that he waited long there, grasping the hand rail, striving to temper his new- found strength to the gentleness that was in his heart. The fight was over, and he had won—the man of him had won. She was in that room where the lights were,—waiting for him. The moment was not far off when she would be in his arms. He was suffocating with the thought of the nearness of it all!
He mounted the steps. As he came to the top, the door was opened and Anne stood there in the warm light of the hall,—a slender, swaying figure in something rose-coloured and—and her lips were parted in a wondering, enchanted smile. She held out her arms to him.
1. Punctuation has been normalized to contemporary standards. 2. Frontispiece relocated after copyright page. 3. Table of Contents added. 4. Typographic errors corrected in original: p. 102 heared to hearted ("loyal, warm-hearted, enduring creature") p. 193 snovel to snivel ("choke and snivel softly") p. 215 unforgetable to unforgettable ("that unforgettable day") p. 439 "Her saw her" to "He saw her" ("He saw her come and go") p. 440 possesion to possession ("possession of it was a liability")