"No," she answered. "We've never seen it. Irritable, of course, but not vicious. I can't imagine her doing such a thing. But you never can tell, sir—not with this sort."
Field again addressed Gard, whose admission seemed to have exhausted him. "And the son—knows nothing?"
"Nothing," answered Gard. "He worships his father's memory. He is engaged, also, to—a very dear little friend of mine—the child of an old colleague. I want to shield them—both."
"I understand." He nodded his head slowly, lost in thought.
The woman, childishly interested in the grotesque inkwells on the table, stepped forward and raised one curiously. Her bony hands, of almost transparent thinness, seemed hardly able to sustain the weight of the cast bronze. It was hard to believe such a birdlike claw capable of delivering a stunning blow, or forcibly wielding the deadly knife. She babbled for a moment in a gentle, not unpleasant voice, while they watched her, fascinated.
"She's that way most of the time," said the nurse softly. "Just like a ten-year-old girl—plays with dolls, sir, all day long."
Suddenly her expression changed. Over her smiling wrinkles crept the whiteness of death. Her eyes seemed to start from her head, her lips drew back, while her fingers tightened convulsively on the metal inkstand. The nurse, with an exclamation, stepped forward and caught her.
There was a gleam of such maniacal fury in the woman's face that Mr. Field shuddered. "Hardly a safe child to trust even with a doll," he said. "I fancy the recital has excited her. Hadn't you better take her away and keep her quiet? And don't let anyone unauthorized by Mr. Gard or myself have access to her. It will not be wise to allow her delusion that she was the wife of Victor Mahr to become known—you understand?"
Mr. Gard rose stiffly. "I will assume the expense of her care in future. Let her have every comfort your institution affords, Dr. Malky. I will see you to-morrow."
"Thank you, sir." The physician bowed. "Good night. Come, Mrs. Welles."
Obediently the withered little woman turned and suffered herself to be led away.
As the door closed, Field came forward and grasped Gard's hand warmly. "It is necessary for the general good," he said, his kindly face grown grave, "that this matter be kept as quiet as possible. Believe me, I understand, old friend; and, as always, I admire you."
Gard's weary face relaxed its strain. "Thanks," he said hoarsely. "We can safely trust the press to Brencherly. He," and he smiled wanly, "deserves great credit for his work. I'm thinking, Field, I need that young man in my business."
Field nodded. "I was thinking I needed him in mine; but yours is the prior claim. And now I'm off. Mr. Brencherly, can I set you down anywhere?"
Confusedly the young man accepted the offer, hesitated and blushed as he held out his hand. "May I?"
Gard read the good-will in his face, the congratulation in the tone, and grasped the extended hand with a warm feeling of friendly regard.
"Good-night—and, thank you both," he said.
* * * * *
Spring had come. The silvery air was soft with promises of leaf and bud. Invitation to Festival and Adventure was in the gold-flecked sunlight. Nature stood on tiptoe, ready for carnival, waiting for the opening measures of the ecstatic music of life's renewal.
The remote stillness of the great library had given place to the faint sounds of the vernal world. A robin preened himself at an open casement, cast a calculating eye at the priceless art treasures of the place, scorned them as useless for his needs, and fluttered away to an antique marble bench in the walled garden, wherefrom he might watch for worms, or hop to the Greek sarcophagus and take a bath in accumulated rainwater.
Marcus Gard, outwardly his determined, unbending self again, sat before his laden table, slave as ever to his tasks. Nine strokes chimed from the Gothic clock in the hall; already his busy day had begun.
Denning entered unannounced, as was his special privilege, and stood for a moment in silence, looking at his friend. Gard acknowledged his presence with a cordial nod, and continued to glance over and sign the typewritten notes before him. At last he put down his pen and settled back in his chair.
"Well, old friend, how goes it?" he inquired, smiling.
Denning nodded. "Fine, thank you. I thought I'd find you here. I was in consultation with Langley last night, and we have decided we are in a position now to go ahead as we first planned over a year ago. The opposition in Washington has been deflected. Besides, Langley dug up a point of law."
Gard rose and crossed to Denning. His manner was quietly conversational, and he twirled his pince-nez absently.
"My dear man," he said slowly, "you will have to adjust yourself to a shock. We will stick to the understanding as expressed in our interviews of last February, whether Mr. Langley has dug up a point of law or not. In short, Denning, we are not in future doing business in the old way."
"But you don't understand," gasped the other. "Langley says that it lets us completely out. They can't attack us under that ruling—can't you see?"
"Quite so—yes. I can imagine the situation perfectly. But we entered into certain obligations—understandings, if you will—and we are going to live up to them, whether we could climb out of them or not."
Denning sat down heavily.
"Well, I'll be—Why, it's no different from our position in the river franchise matter, not in the least—and we did pretty well with that, as you know."
Gard nodded. "Yes, we are practically in the same position, as you say. The position is the same—but we are different. I suppose you've heard a number of adages concerning the irresponsibility of corporations? Well, we are going to change all that. I fancy you have already noticed a different method in our mercantile madness, and you will notice it still more in the future."
Denning pulled his mustache violently, a token with him of complete bewilderment.
"H'm—er—exactly," he murmured. "Of course, if that's the way you feel now—and you have your reasons, I suppose—I'll call Langley up. He'll be horribly disappointed, though. He's pluming himself on landing this quick getaway for you. He's been staking out the whole plan."
Gard chuckled. "Do you remember, Denning, how hard you worked to make me go to Washington—and how my 'duty to our stockholders' was your favorite weapon? Where has all that noble enthusiasm gone—eh?"
Denning blushed. "But we were in a very dangerous hole. Things are different now."
"Yes," said Gard with finality, "they are—don't forget it."
"Well," and Denning rose, discomfited, "I'm going. Three o'clock, Gard, the directors' meeting. I'll see you then."
He shook hands and turned to the door, paused, turned again as if to reopen the subject, checked himself and went out.
As the door closed Gard chuckled. "I bet he's cracking his skull to find out my game," he thought with amusement. "By the time he reaches the office, he'll have worked it out that I'm more far-sighted than the rest of them, and am making character; that I'm trying to do business by the Ten Commandments will never occur to him." He returned to the table and resumed his task, paused and sat gazing absently at the contorted inkwells.
His secretary entered quietly, a sheaf of letters in his hand.
"Saunders," said Marcus Gard, not raising his eyes from their absorbed contemplation, "did you ever let yourself imagine how hard it is to do business in a strictly honest manner, when the whole world seems to have lost the habit—if it ever had the habit?"
Saunders looked puzzled. "I don't know, sir. Mr. Mahr is in the hall and wants to see you," he added, glad to change the subject.
"Is he? Good. Tell him to come in." Gard rose with cordial welcome as Teddy entered.
There was an air of responsibility about the younger man, calmness, observation and concentration, very different from his former light-hearted, easy-mannered boyishness. Gard's greeting was affectionate. "Well, boy, what brings you out so early? Taking your responsibilities seriously? And in what can I help you?"
Teddy blushed. "Mr. Gard," he said, hurrying his words with embarrassment, "I wish you'd let me give you the Vandyke—please do. I don't want to sell it to you. Duveen's men are bringing it over to you this morning; they are on their way now. I want you to have it. I—I—" He looked up and gazed frankly in the older man's face, unashamed of the mist of tears that blinded him. "I know father would want you to have it. And I know, Mr. Gard, what you did to shield his memory. If you hadn't gone to Field—if you hadn't taken the matter in charge—" He choked and broke off. "I don't know anything—but you handled the situation as I could not. Please—won't you take the Vandyke?"
Gard's hand fell on the boy's shoulder with impressive kindliness. "No," he said quietly, "I can't do that, much as I appreciate your wanting to give it to me. I have a sentiment, a feeling about that picture. It isn't the collector's passion—I want it to remind me daily of certain things, things that you'd think I'd want to forget—but not I. I want that picture 'In Memoriam'—that's why I asked you to let me have it; and I want it by purchase. Don't question my decision any more, Teddy. You'll find a cheque at your office, that's all." He turned and indicated a space on the velvet-hung wall, where a reflector and electric lights had been installed. "It's to hang there, Teddy, where I can see it as I sit. It is to dominate my life—how much you can never guess. Will you stay with me now, and help me to receive it?"
Teddy was obviously disappointed. "I can't—I'm sorry. I ought to be at the office now; but I did so want to make one last appeal to you. Anyway, Mr. Gard, your cheque will go to enrich the Metropolitan purchase fund."
"That's no concern of mine," Gard laughed. "You can't make me the donor, you know. How is Dorothy—to change the subject!"
"What she always is," the boy beamed, "the best and sweetest. My, but I'm glad she is back! And Mrs. Marteen, she's herself again. You've seen them, of course?"
Gard nodded. "I met them at the train last night. Yes—she is—herself."
"She had an awful close call!" Teddy exclaimed, his face grown grave.
There was reminiscent silence for a moment. With an active swing of his athletic body, Dorothy's adorer collected his hat, gloves and cane in one sweep, spun on his heel with gleeful ease, smiled his sudden sunny smile, and waved a quick good-by.
* * * * *
Teddy Mahr paused for a moment before descending to the street. He was honestly disappointed. He had hoped with all his heart to overcome Gard's opposition. Not that he was over anxious to pay, in some degree, the debt of gratitude that he owed—he had come to regard his benefactor as a being so near and dear to him that there was no question of the ethics of giving and taking, but he had longed to give himself the keen pleasure of bestowing something that his friend really wanted. There was just one more chance of achieving his purpose—the intervention of Dorothy; her caprices Gard never denied. If he could only induce Dorothy—Early as it was he determined to intreat her intercession.
Walking briskly for a few blocks, he entered an hotel and sought the telephone booth. The wide awake voice that answered him was very unlike the sweet and sleepy drawls of protest his matutinal ringings were wont to call forth when Dorothy had been a gay and frivolous debutante. The enforced quiet of her mother's prolonged illness, and the sojourn in the retirement of a hill sanitarium, had made of her a very different creature from the gaudy little night-bird of yore. The experiences through which she had passed, their anxiety and pain, had left her nature sweetened and deepened; had given her new sympathies and understandings. Now her laugh was just as clear—but its ring of light coquetry was gone.
"Of course, I'll take a walk with you," came her answer,—"if you'll stop for me. I'm quite a pedestrian, you know. I had to take some sort of a cure in sheer self-defense, up there in the wilds, so I decided on fresh air—and now it's a habit. I'll be ready."
Teddy walked rapidly, his heart singing. He had quite forgotten his errand in the anticipated joy of seeing her. If he thought at all of the painting, it was an unformulated regret that no living artist could do Dorothy justice, or ever hope to transfer to canvas any true semblance of her many perfections.
She joined him in the hallway of her home, called back a last happy good-by to her mother, and passed with him into the silver and crystal morning light. She was simply dressed in a dark tailor suit, with a little hat and sensible shoes—a very different silhouette from that of the girl who left her room only in time to keep her luncheon appointments. He looked at her with approval and laughed happily.
"Hello, Country!—how are the cows to-day?"
"Fine," she answered. "All boiled and sterilized, milked by electricity, manicured by steam and dehorned by absent treatment, sir, she said—sir, she said."
"May I go with you into your highly sanitary barnyard, my pretty maid?" he asked seriously.
"Not unless you take a bath in carbolic solution, are vaccinated twice, and wear a surgeon's uniform, sir, she said."
"But, I'm going to marry you, my pretty maid." The words were out before he could check them. He blushed furiously. To propose in a nursery rhyme was something that shocked his sense of fitness. He was amazed to find that he meant what he said in just the very way he had said it.
But Dorothy took his answer as part of their early morning springtime madness.
"Nobody asked you to be farm inspector, sir, she said," she replied promptly.
But he was silent. His own words had choked him completely. She looked at him quickly, but his head was turned away. Her own heart began to beat nervously. She felt the magnetic current of his emotion vibrating through her being. Her eyes opened wide in wonder. She had for so long accustomed herself to the idea that Teddy was her own peculiar property, and that, of course, she intended to marry him, that but for his half-distressed perturbation, she would have thought no more of the momentous "Yes" than of voicing some long-formed opinion. Now his throbbing excitement had become contagious. She found herself fluttering and tongue-tied. Though she realized suddenly that their ridiculous child's-play had turned to earnest, she could not find word or look to ease the strain. They walked on in silence, step for step, in a sort of mechanical rhythmic physical understanding. Suddenly he spoke.
"Dolly, I wish you'd punch old Marcus!"
The remark was so unexpected that Dorothy slipped a beat in her step and shuffled quickly to fall in tune.
"Good Gracious!—what for?" Her surprise was unfeigned.
"Because he won't let me give him the Heim Vandyke—wants to buy it, insists on buying it. Asked me to let him have it—and then won't accept it. Now, do me a favor, will you? You make him take it. You're the only person who can boss him—and he likes to have you do it. Will you see him to-day, and fix it?"
"Well of all!—Why, I can't make him do anything he doesn't want to do. Of course, he ought to take it, if you want to give it to him; but I really don't see—I wonder—" She meditated for a full block in silence. "I'm going to lunch with him and Miss Gard and Mother. If I can, I'll—no, I can't. It's none of my business. It's up to you. How can I say—'You ought to do what Teddy says'? He'd tell me I was an impertinent little girl, and that he knew how he wanted to deal with little boys without being told by their desk-mates."
Teddy scowled. He wanted to get back to the barnyard he had left so abruptly, impelled by his new and unaccountable fright. But having hitched himself to his new subject of conversation, he felt somehow compelled to drag at it. It was up-hill work. To be sure, he had come to Dorothy for the purpose of soliciting her help, but Gard and Vandyke had both lost interest. Against his will he kept on talking.
"Well, I've done everything I can to make him see my point of view. I've told him I owe it to him; that Father would want him to have it; that I'll give his money away if he sends it; that I've already shipped the thing to him; that I don't want it; that it's unbecoming to my house—he won't listen. Just says he's sent his cheque and we'll please change the subject."
"Well, you don't have to cash his cheque, do you?" she inquired gravely.
"I know that," Teddy scoffed. "But if I don't, he'll send it in my name, in cash, to some charity, and that'll be all the same in the final addition. He's so confoundedly resourceful, you can't think around him."
"No, you can't," she agreed. "That's one of the wonderful things about him. He thinks in his own terms, in terms of you or me, or the janitor, or the President. He isn't just himself, he's everybody."
"He isn't thinking in terms of me," Teddy complained.
She shook her head. "No," she smiled wisely, "he's thinking in terms of himself, this time, and we aren't big enough to see that, too, and understand."
They had reached the entrance to the Park and crossed the already crowded Plaza to its quieter walks. The tender greens of new grass greeted them, and drifts of pink and yellow vaporous color that seemed to overhang and envelop every branch of tree and shrub, like faint spirits of flower and leaf, clustering about and striving to enter the clefts of gray bark, that they might become embodied in tangible and fragile beauty. Sweet pungent smells of damp earth rose to their nostrils,—fragrance of reviving things, of stirring sap, of diligent seeds moling their way to light and air. Mists shifted by softly, now gray, now rainbow-hued, now trailing on the grass, now sifting slowly through reluctant branches that strove to retain them.
Dorothy sighed happily. The restraint that had troubled them both slowly metamorphosed itself into a tender, dreamy content. Why ask anything of fate? Why crystallize with a word the cloudland perfection of the mirage in which they walked? They were content, happy with the vernal joy of young things in harmony with all the world of spring. They were silent now—unconscious, and one with the heart of life, as were Adam and Eve in the great garden of Eternal Spring—isolated, alone, all in all to each other, and kin with all the vibrant life about them, sentient and inanimate. For them the rainbow glowed in every drop the trailing mists scattered in their wake; for them the pale light of the sun was pure gold of dreams; every frail, courageous flower a delicate censor of fragrance. There was crooning in the tree-tops and laughter in the confidential whisper of the fountains—as if Pan's pipes had enchanted all this ruled-and-lined, sophisticated, urban pleasaunce into a dell in Arcady.
Teddy looked down at his companion, trudging sturdily by his side. How sweet and dear were her eyes of violet, how tender and gentle the slim curves of her mouth, how wholly lovely the contour of cheek and chin, and the curled tendrils of her moist, dark hair!
She was conscious of his gaze. She felt an impulse to take his arm—that strong, strong arm; to walk with him like that—like the old, long married couples, who come to sun themselves in the warm light of the young day, and the sight of passing lovers. A Judas tree in full blossom arrested her attention, and they came to a halt before its lavish display.
"There's nothing in the world so beautiful as natural things," she said slowly, breaking the enchanted silence.
Teddy was master of himself again. "I know," he said, "and I want to get back again to the barnyard we left so suddenly. I said something then—I want to say it over again."
It was Dorothy's turn to become frightened and confused.
"Oh," she said with an indifference she was far from feeling. "Barnyard! It's such a commonplace spot after all. Don't you like the garden better?"
But Teddy was determined. "My pretty maid," he began in a tender voice.
But she moved away suddenly down a tempting path, and, perforce, he followed her.
"I've been thinking," she said hurriedly, "about Mr. Gard. I'm sure, if he felt he was hurting your feelings, he wouldn't think all his own way. Now, if you want me to, I'll try and make him understand it. I'll tell him that you came to me in an awful huff—all cut up. I'm sure I can put it strongly enough."
"And I shall go to him, and complain that when I want to talk with you, you put me off—won't listen to me. I'll ask him to make you listen to reason. I'll tell him to put it to you. I'll show him that I am cut up, all around the heart. Perhaps he can put it to you strongly enough—"
Dorothy stopped short and wheeled around to face him.
"Oh, very well, then," she smiled, "if you are going to get someone else to do your love making for you, I apply for the position. Teddy Mahr, will you marry the milkmaid?—Honest and true, black and blue?"
"I will!" he cried ecstatically, and caught her in his arms.
Two wrens upon a neighboring branch, tilted forward to watch them, the business of nest building for the moment forgotten. A gray squirrel, with jerking tail and mincing gate, approached along the path. A florid policeman, wandering aimlessly in this remote arbor, stopped short, grinned, stuck his thumbs in his belt, and contemplated the picture, then wheeled about and stole out of sight in fashion most unmilitary. Across the lake the white swans glided, and two little "mandarin" ducks sidled up close to shore, regarding the moveless group of humans with bright and beady eyes.
Dorothy disengaged herself from his arms with a happy little gurgle, set her hat straight upon her tumbled hair, and glanced at the ducks.
"There," she said softly, "that's a lucky sign. In China they always send the newlyweds a pair. They are love birds; they die when separated—which means, I'm a duck."
"You are," he agreed, and kissed her again.
"Now," she said seriously, "I've found a way to clear all difficulties."
He looked at her, troubled. "I didn't know there were any," he said anxiously. "I think your mother likes me, and I don't see—I can keep you in hats and candy; and Miss Gard is the only person who has seemed to disapprove of me."
"All wrong," she said. "I don't mean that at all. I mean about the picture. I have thought it all out while you were kissing me."
He grinned. "Did you, indeed? I'm vastly flattered, I'm sure. In that case I shall go to kissing school no later than to-morrow. However, since you work out problems in that way, I'll give you another to Q.E.D. When will the wedding be?" He folded his arms about her rapturously.
The ducks waddled up the bank; the squirrel climbed to the back of the bench; one wren captured a damaged feather from Dorothy's hat that had fallen to earth, and made off with his nest contribution.
"Now," Teddy demanded as he released her. "Did you work that out?"
She gasped. "If you act like that, I'll not tell you anything. I'll leave you guessing all the rest of your life."
"I expect that," he laughed. "Who am I to escape the common lot?"
She frowned. "As I was saying before you interrupted me so rudely, I have found a way to overcome the arguments and refusals of 'Old Marcus'—by the way, if he heard you call him that, he'd beat you up, and perfectly right. He isn't old, and I wish you had half his sense."
"Dolly, we are not married yet, and I object to unfavorable comparisons. Kindly get down to business."
"Well," she said, "I was thinking just this. We can give it to him as a wedding present—we've got him there, don't you see?"
"No, I don't see," he replied. "Will you kindly show me how you work that out. He'll probably want to give you a Murillo and a town house and a Cellini service, and a motor car upholstered in cloth of gold, a Florentine bust and an order on Raphael to paint your portrait. If you ask me if I see him accepting the Vandyke as a wedding present from us—I don't."
"Goose!" she said with withering scorn.
He laughed. "Oh, very well, I'm back in the barnyard, so I don't mind. Just a minute ago and you had me a duck. I've lost caste—I was a mandarin then."
"I didn't say a wedding present for our wedding, did I?" she inquired loftily. "Why don't you stop and think a minute. They don't teach observation in college, evidently."
Teddy was nonplussed. "You've got me," he said, his brows drawn together in a puzzled frown.
She tapped her foot impatiently. "Well, how else could we be giving him a wedding present?" she inquired.
"That's just what I don't see," he replied emphatically.
"When he gets married, of course—heavens! you are dense!"
Teddy was stunned. "When he—why—what nonsense!—he's a confirmed old bachelor. There! I knew you couldn't think out problems when I was kissing you. I'm glad you didn't answer my second question, if that's the way you work things out. Who in the world would he marry!"
"How would you like him for a step-father-in-law?" She looked at him with an amused smile.
"Good gracious!" he exclaimed. "Why, I never thought of that! Your mother!—Oh, by golly! that's great, that's great! Of course, of course. Here, I'll kiss you again—you can answer my second question." He embraced her with hysterical enthusiasm. "Oh, when did it happen?" he begged. "How did you know? Since when have they been engaged? My! I have been a bat! Where were my eyes? Of all the jolly luck!" he leaped from the bench and executed a triumphal war dance.
"You act just like the kids—I mean, the baby goats, up in the Bronx," she laughed. "Teddy, stop, somebody might see you, and they'd send us both to an asylum. Stop it! And besides, my step-father hasn't proposed yet."
Teddy ceased his gambols abruptly. "What in the world have you been telling me, then?" he demanded, crestfallen. "Here I've been celebrating an event that hasn't happened."
"Well, it's going to," she affirmed with an impressive nod of her head. "I know. Why, even Mother hasn't the slightest idea of it yet. Poor, dear Mother, she's so really humble minded, she wouldn't let herself realize how he loves her. But she leans on him, on the very thought of him. When we were away recuperating, she used to watch for his letters—like—like—I watched for yours, Teddy; and when I'd hand her one, she had such a look of calm, of rest. I've found her asleep with one crushed up in her hand. I'm sure she used to put them under her pillow at night, just as—well—just as I used to put yours, Teddy, under mine. Don't you know, that when two women are in love, they know it one from another, without a word. Of course, Mother knew all about how I felt, I used to catch her looking at me, oh, so wistfully—but she never dreamed that wise little daughter had guessed her secret—oh, no—mothers never realize that their little chick-children have grown to be big geese. But, I know, and, well, Teddy, as you know, if he doesn't ask her pretty soon, I'll go and ask him myself—and he never refuses me anything. I shall say, 'Dear old Marcus, Teddy and I wish you'd hurry up and ask Mother to marry you. We have set our hearts on picking out our own "steps." We think of being married in June, and we want it all settled.' There," she said with a radiant blush, "I've answered all your questions—have you another problem?"
* * * * *
Left alone before the empty space reserved for the masterpiece the expression on Gard's face changed. Grave and purposeful, he continued to regard the blank wall, then, turning, he caught up the desk telephone, gave Mrs. Marteen's private number and waited.
A moment later the sweet familiar voice thrilled him.
"It's I—Marcus," he said. "I am coming for you this morning. Yes, I'm taking a holiday, and I'm going to bring you back to the library to see a new acquisition of mine—that will interest you. Then you and Dorothy will lunch with Polly. Dorothy can join us at one o'clock. This is a private view—for you alone.... You will? That's good! Good-by."
Noises in the resonant hall and the opening of the great doors announced the arrival of the moving van and its precious contents, before Saunders, his eyes bulging with excitement, rushed in with the tidings of the coming of the world famous Heim Vandyke. With respectful care the great canvas was brought in, unwrapped and lifted to its chosen hanging place.
Seated in his armchair, Gard with mixed emotions watched it elevated and straightened. The pictured face smiled down at him—impersonal yet human, glowing, vivid with color, alive with that suggestion of eternal life that art alone in its highest expression can give. Card's smile was enigmatical; his eyes were sad. His imagination pictured to him Mrs. Marteen as she had sat before him in her self-contained stateliness and announced with indifferent calm that the Vandyke had been but a ruse to gain his private ear.
Gard rose, approached the picture, and for an instant laid his fingers upon its darkened frame. The movement was that of a worshiper who makes his vow at the touch of some relic infinitely holy.
Then he returned to his seat and for some time remained wrapped in thought. These moments of introspection, of deep self-questioning, had become more and more frequent. He had made in the past few months a new and most interesting acquaintance—himself. All the years of his over-hurried, over-cultivated, ambitious life he had delved into the psychology of others. It had been his pride to divine motives, to dissect personalities, to classify and sort the brains and natures of men. Now for the first time he had turned the scalpel upon himself. He was amazed, he was shocked, almost frightened. He could not hide from himself, he was no longer blind, the searchlight of his own analysis was inexorably focused on his own sins and shortcomings—his powers misused, his strength misdirected, his weaknesses indulged, because his strength protected them. In these hours of what he had grown to grimly call his "stock taking," he had become aware of a new and all-important group of men. Where before he had reckoned values solely by capacities of brain and hand, he found now a new factor—the capacity of heart. Ideals that heretofore had borne to his mind the stamp of weakness, now showed themselves as real bulwarks of character. The men who had fallen by the wayside in the advance of his pitiless march to power, were no longer, to his eyes, types of the unfit, to be thrust aside. Some were men, indeed, who knew their own souls, and would not barter them.
In his mind a vast readjustment had taken place. Words had become bodied, the unseen was becoming the visible—Responsibility, Honesty, Fairness, Truth! they had all been words to conjure with—for use in political speeches, in interviews—because they seemed to exercise an occult influence upon the gullible public. "Law," "Peace," "Order," "The Greatest Good to the Greatest Number," he had used them all as an Indian medicine-man shakes bone rattles, and waves a cow's tail before the tribe, laughing behind his gaping mask at the servile acceptance of his prophecies. One and all these Cunjar Gods he had believed to be only bits of shell and plaited rope, had come to life—they were gods, real presences, real powers. He had invoked them only to deceive others—and, behold! he it was who knew not the truth.
The high tower of his heaven-grasping ambitions seemed suddenly insecure and founded upon shifting sands. The incense the sycophant world burned before him became a stench in his nostrils. The fetishes he had tossed to the crowd now faced him as real gods; and they were not to be blinded with dust, nor bought with gold. The specious and tortured verbiage of twisted law never for one moment deceived the open ears of Justice, even though it tied her hands, and her voice was the voice of condemnation. Honor—he had sold it. Faith—he had not kept it. Truth—he had distorted to fit whatever garb he had chosen for her to wear. And, withal, he had hailed himself conqueror; had placed his laurels himself upon his head, ranking all others beneath him. The clamor of the mob he had interpreted as acclaim. Now he heard above the applause the hoarse chorus of disdain and fear. It had been his pride to see men fall back and make way at the very mention of his name. Now he felt that they shrank from him—not before his greatness, but from his very contact. He had driven his fellow creatures from him, and in return, they withdrew themselves.
If they came to him fawning, they but showed their lower natures. He had not called forth the power for good, from these the necromancy of his personality had touched. He had conjured evil, he had pandered to base forces.
The realization had not come easily. His habits of thought would return and blind him as of old. He had laughed at himself; he had derided the new gods, he had disobeyed them and their strange commands—only to return crestfallen, contrite, feeling himself unworthy. He became aware that he had run a long and victorious race for a prize he had craved—only to find that the goal to which it brought him was not that of his old desires. That was but withered leaves, spattered with the blood of those who lost. He had turned from it, and now his steps sought another conquest and another reward. He must strive for a goal unseen, but more real and more worthy than the little crowns of little victories.
His somber thoughts left him refreshed, as if from a bath of deep, clear waters. His spirit felt clean and elated as it rose from the depths. It was with a smile that he pushed back his chair and rose from the table where, for a full hour, he had sat in silent self-communing. He still smiled as he entered the motor and was driven to Mrs. Marteen's.
He found her awaiting him, with outstretched hands, and the look in her eyes that he always longed for—the look he had divined rather than seen on that day of days, when the Past had been renounced and consumed. There was no embarrassment in their meeting. True, there had been daily exchange of letters during the months of her enforced exile; but they had been only friendly, surface tokens, giving no real hint of the realities beneath. But they had grown toward one another, not apart. It was as if they had never been sundered; as if all the experiences of all the intervening days had been experiences in common.
He gazed at her happily now, rejoicing in the firmness of her step, the brightness of her eyes, the healthy color of her skin. She came with him gladly at his suggestion and they drove in silence through the crowded streets and the silence was in truth, golden. At the door of the great house he descended, gave her his hand and conducted her quickly through the vast, soft-lighted hall to his own sanctum. He closed the door quietly and pressed the electric switch. Instantly the mellow lights glowed above the portrait, which throbbed in response, a glittering gem of warmth and beauty.
Mrs. Marteen's body stiffened; the color receded from her face, leaving it ashen. Her great eyes dilated.
"Do you know why it is there?" he asked at length in a whisper.
"Yes," she murmured. "We have traveled the same road—you and I. I understand."
He took her hand and raised it to his lips. "You don't know all that this picture recalls to me—and I hope you will never know; but you and I," he said slowly, weighing his words, "are not of the breed of those who cry out with remorse. We are of those who live differently. That is the constant reminder of what was. I do not want to forget. I want to remember. Every time the iron enters my soul I shall know the more keenly that I have at last a soul."
Again they fell silent.
"According to the accepted code I suppose I should make a clean breast of it, even to Dorothy, and go into retirement," she said at length. "I have thought of that, too; but I cannot feel it. I want to be active; to be able to use myself for betterment; make of myself an example of good and not of evil. What I did was because of what I was. I am that no longer, and my expression must be of the new thing that has become me—a soul!" she said reverently.
"A soul," he repeated. "It has come to me, too. And what is left to me of life has no place for regrets. I have that which I must live up to—I shall live up to it."
"We have, indeed, traveled the same road; but you—have led me." She looked at him with complete comprehension.
"We will travel the new road together," he said finally, "hand in hand."