"And in the American field Sir Joseph has connived with a syndicate to purchase factories, to stop production at the source, since your U-boats and your red-handed diplomatic spies cannot stop it otherwise. Your agents have corrupted a few of the Yankees, and killed others, and would have killed more if the name of your people had not become such a horror even in that land where millions of Germans live that every proffer is suspect.
"You see, we know you, Lady Webling and Sir Joseph. We have watched you all the while from the very first, and we know that you are not innocent even of complicity in the supreme infamy of luring the Lusitania to her death."
He was quivering with the rush of his emotions over the broken dam of habitual reticence.
Lady Webling and Sir Joseph had quivered, too, less under the impact of his denunciation than in the confusion of their own exposure to themselves and to Marie Louise.
They had watched her eyes as she heard Mr. Verrinder's philippic. They had seen her pass from incredulity to belief. They had seen her glance at them and glance away in fear of them.
This broke them utterly, for she was utterly dear to them. She was dearer than their own flesh and blood. She had replaced their dead. She had been born to them without pain, without infancy, born full grown in the prime of youth and beauty. They had watched her love grow to a passion, and their own had grown with it.
What would she do now? She was the judge they feared above England. They awaited her sentence.
Her eyes wandered to them and searched them through. At first, under the spell of Verrinder's denunciation, she saw them as two bloated fiends, their hands dripping blood, their lips framed to lies, their brains to cunning and that synonym for Germanism, ruthlessness—the word the Germans chose, as their Kaiser chose Huns for an ideal.
But she looked again. She saw the pleading in their eyes. Their very uncomeliness besought her mercy. After all, she had seen none of the things Verrinder described. The only real things to her, the only things she knew of her own knowledge, were the goodnesses of these two. They were her parents. And now for the first time they needed her. The mortgage their generosity had imposed on her had fallen due.
How could she at the first unsupported obloquy of a stranger turn against them? Her first loyalty was due to them, and no other loyalty was under test. Something swept her to her feet. She ran to them and, as far as she could, gathered them into her arms. They wept like two children whom reproaches have hardened into defiance, but whom kindness has melted.
Verrinder watched the spectacle with some surprise and not altogether with scorn. Whatever else Miss Webling was, she was a good sport. She stuck to her team in defeat.
He said, not quite harshly, "So, Miss Webling, you cast your lot with them."
"Do you believe that what I said was true?"
"Really, you should be careful. Those messages you carried incriminate you."
"I suppose they do, though I never knew what was in them. No, I'll take that back. I'm not trying to crawl out of it."
"Then since you confess so much, I shall have to ask you to come with them."
"To the—the Tower of London?"
"The car is ready."
Marie Louise was stabbed with fright. She seized the doomed twain in a faster embrace.
"What are you going to do with these poor souls?"
"Their souls my dear Miss Webling, are outside our jurisdiction."
"With their poor bodies, then?"
"I am not a judge or a jury, Miss Webling. Everything will be done with propriety. They will not be torpedoed in midocean without warning. They will have the full advantage of the British law to the last."
That awful word jarred them all. But Sir Joseph was determined to make a good end. He drew himself up with another effort.
"Excuse, pleass, Mr. Verrinder—might it be we should take with us a few little things?"
"Thang gyou." He bowed and turned to go, taking his wife and Marie Louise by the arm, for mutual support.
"If you don't mind, I'll come along," said Mr. Verrinder.
Sir Joseph nodded. The three went heavily up the grandiose stairway as if a gibbet waited at the top. They went into Sir Joseph's room, which adjoined that of his wife. Mr. Verrinder paused on the sill somewhat shyly:
"This is a most unpleasant task, but—"
Marie Louise hesitated, smiling gruesomely.
"My room is across the hall. You can hardly be in both places at once, can you?"
"I fancy I can trust you—especially as the house is surrounded. If you don't mind joining us later."
Marie Louise went to her room. Her maid was there in a palsy of fear. The servants had not dared apply themselves to the keyholes, but they knew that the master was visited by the police and that a cordon was drawn about the house.
The ashen girl offered her help to Marie Louise, wondering if she would compromise herself with the law, but incapable of deserting so good a mistress even at such a crisis. Marie Louise thanked her and told her to go to bed, compelled her to leave. Then she set about the dreary task of selecting a few necessaries—a nightgown, an extra day gown, some linen, some silver, and a few brushes. She felt as if she were laying out her own grave-clothes, and that she would need little and not need that little long.
She threw a good-by look, a long, sweeping, caressing glance, about her castle, and went across the hall, lugging her hand-bag. Before she entered Sir Joseph's room she knocked.
It was Mr. Verrinder that answered, "Come in."
He was seated in a chair, dejected and making himself as inoffensive as possible. Lady Webling had packed her own bag and was helping the helpless Sir Joseph find the things he was looking for in vain, though they were right before him. Marie Louise saw evidences that a larger packing had already been done. Verrinder had surprised them, about to flee.
Sir Joseph was ready at last. He was closing his bag when he took a last glance, and said:
"My toot'-brush and powder."
He went to his bathroom cabinet, and there he saw in the little apothecary-shop a bottle of tablets prescribed for him during his illness. It was conspicuously labeled "Poison."
He stood staring at the bottle so long in such fascination that Lady Webling came to the door to say:
"Vat is it you could not find now, papa?"
She leaned against the edge of the casement, and he pointed to the bottle. Their eyes met, and in one long look they passed through a brief Gethsemane. No words were exchanged. She nodded. He took the bottle from the shelf stealthily, unscrewed the top, poured out a heap of tablets and gave them to her, then poured another heap into his fat palm.
"Prosit!" he said, and they flung the venom into their throats. It was brackish merely from the coating, but they could not swallow all the pellets. He filled a glass of water at the faucet and handed it to his wife. She quaffed enough to get the pellets down her resisting throat, and handed the glass to him.
They remained staring at each other, trying to crowd into their eyes an infinity of strange passionate messages, though their features were all awry with nausea and the premonition of lethal pains.
Verrinder began to wonder at their delay. He was about to rise. Marie Louise went to the door anxiously. Sir Joseph mumbled:
"Look once, my darlink. I find some bong-bongs. Vould you like, yes?"
With a childish canniness he held the bottle so that she could see the skull and cross-bones and the word beneath.
Marie Louise, not realizing that they had already set out on the adventure, gave a stifled cry and snatched at the bottle. It fell to the floor with a crash, and the tablets leaped here and there like tiny white beetles. Some of them ran out into the room and caught Verrinder's eye.
Before he could reach the door Sir Joseph had said, triumphantly, to Marie Louise:
"Mamma and I did eat already. Too bad you do not come vit. Ade, Toechterchen. Lebewohl!"
He was reaching his awkward arms out to clasp her when Verrinder burst into the homely scene of their tragedy. He caught up the broken bottle and saw the word "Poison." Beneath were the directions, but no word of description, no mention of the antidote.
"What is this stuff?" Verrinder demanded, in a frenzy of dread and wrath and self-reproach.
"I don't know," Marie Louise stammered.
Verrinder repeated his demand of Sir Joseph.
"Weiss nit," he mumbled, beginning to stagger as the serpent struck its fangs into his vitals.
Verrinder ran out into the hall and shouted down the stairs:
"Bickford, telephone for a doctor, in God's name—the nearest one. Send out to the nearest chemist and fetch him on the run—with every antidote he has. Send somebody down to the kitchen for warm water, mustard, coffee."
There was a panic below, but Marie Louise knew nothing except the swirling tempest of her own horror. Sir Joseph and Lady Webling, blind with torment, wrung and wrenched with spasms of destruction, groped for each other's hands and felt their way through clouds of fire to a resting-place.
Marie Louise could give them no help, but a little guidance toward the bed. They fell upon it—and after a hideous while they died.
The physician arrived too late—physicians were hard to get for civilians. While he was being hunted down and brought in, Verrinder fought an unknown poison with what antidotes he could improvise, and saw that they merely added annoyance to agony.
His own failure had been unnerving. He had pursued this eminent couple for months, trying in vain to confirm suspicion by proof and strengthen assurance with evidence, and always delaying the blow in the hope of gathering in still more of Germany's agents. At last he had thrown the slowly woven net about the Weblings and revealed them to themselves as prisoners of his cunning. Then their souls slipped out through the meshes, leaving their useless empty bodies in his care, their bodies and the soul and body of the young woman who was involved in their guilt.
Verrinder did not relish the story the papers would make of it. So he and the physician devised a statement for the press to the effect that the Weblings died of something they had eaten. The stomach of Europe was all deranged, and Sir Joseph had been famous for his dinners; there was a kind of ironic logic in his epitaph.
Verrinder left the physician to fabricate and promulgate the story and keep him out of it. Then he addressed himself to the remaining prisoner, Miss Marie Louise Webling.
He had no desire to display this minnow as his captive after the whales had got away, but he hoped to find her useful in solving some of the questions the Weblings had left unanswered when they bolted into eternity. Besides, he had no intention of letting Marie Louise escape to warn the other conspirators and to continue her nefarious activities.
His first difficulty was not one of frightening Miss Webling into submission, but of soothing her into coherence. She had loved the old couple with a filial passion, and the sight of their last throes had driven her into a frenzy of grief. She needed the doctor's care before Verrinder could talk to her at all. The answers he elicited from her hysteria were full of contradiction, of evident ignorance, of inaccuracy, of folly. But so he had found all human testimony; for these three things are impossible to mankind: to see the truth, to remember it, and to tell it.
When first Marie Louise came out of the avalanche of her woes, it was she who began the questioning. She went up and down the room disheveled, tear-smirched, wringing her hands and beating her breast till it hurt Verrinder to watch her brutality to that tender flesh.
"What—what does it mean?" she sobbed. "What have you done to my poor papa and mamma? Why did you come here?"
"Surely you must know."
"What do I know? Only that they were good sweet people."
"Good sweet spies!"
"Spies! Those poor old darlings?"
"Oh, I say—really, now, you surely can't have the face, the insolence, to—"
"I haven't any insolence. I haven't anything but a broken heart."
"How many hearts were broken—how many hearts were stopped, do you suppose, because of your work?"
"I refer to the lives that you destroyed."
"I—I destroyed lives? Which one of us is going mad?"
"Oh, come, now, you knew what you were doing. You were glad and proud for every poor fellow you killed."
"It's you, then, that are mad." She stared at him in utter fear. She made a dash for the door. He prevented her. She fell back and looked to the window. He took her by the arm and twisted her into a chair. He had seen hysteria quelled by severity. He stood over her and spoke with all the sternness of his stern soul.
"You will gain nothing by trying to make a fool of me. You carried messages for those people. The last messages you took you delivered to one of our agents."
Her soul refused her even self-defense. She could only stammer the fact, hardly believing it as she put it forth:
"I didn't know what was in the letters. I never knew."
Verrinder was disgusted by such puerile defense:
"What did you think was in them, then?"
"I had no idea. Papa—Sir Joseph didn't take me into his confidence."
"But you knew that they were secret."
"He told me that they were—that they were business messages—secret financial transactions."
"Transactions in British lives—oh, they were that! And you knew it."
"I did not know it! I did not know it! I did not know it!"
She realized too late that the strength of the retort suffered by its repetition. It became nonsense on the third iterance. She grew afraid even to defend herself.
Seeing how frightened she was at bay, Mr. Verrinder forebore to drive her to distraction.
"Very well, you did not know what the messages contained. But why did you consent to such sneaking methods? Why did you let them use you for such evident deceit?"
"I was glad to be of use to them. They had been so good to me for so long. I was used to doing as I was told. I suppose it was gratitude."
It was then that Mr. Verrinder delivered himself of his bitter opinion of gratitude, which has usually been so well spoken of and so rarely berated for excess.
"Gratitude is one of the evils of the world. I fancy that few other emotions have done more harm. In moderation it has its uses, but in excess it becomes vicious. It is a form of voluntary servitude; it absolutely destroys all respect for public law; it is the foundation of tyrannies; it is the secret of political corruption; it is the thing that holds dynasties together, family despotism; it is soul-mortgage, bribery. It is a monster of what the Americans call graft. It is chloroform to the conscience, to patriotism, to every sense of public duty. 'Scratch my back, and I am your slave'—that's gratitude."
Mr. Verrinder rarely spoke at such length or with such apothegm.
Marie Louise was a little more dazed than ever to hear gratitude denounced. She was losing all her bearings. Next he demanded:
"But admitting that you were duped by your gratitude, how did it happen that your curiosity never led you to inquire into the nature of those messages?"
"I respected Sir Joseph beyond all people. I supposed that what he did was right. I never knew it not to be. And then—well, if, I did wonder a little once in a while, I thought I'd better mind my own business."
Verrinder had his opinion of this, too. "Minding your own business! That's another of those poisonous virtues. Minding your own business leads to pacifism, malevolent neutrality, selfishness of every sort. It's death to charity and public spirit. Suppose the Good Samaritan had minded his own business! But— Well, this is getting us no forwarder with you. You carried those messages, and never felt even a woman's curiosity about them! You met Nicky Easton often, and never noted his German accent, never suspected that he was not the Englishman he pretended to be. Is that true?"
He saw by the wild look in her eyes and their escape from his own that he had scored a hit. He did not insist upon her acknowledging it.
"And your only motive was gratitude?"
"You never asked any pay for it?"
"You never received anything for it?"
"We find the record of a transfer to you of securities for some twenty thousand pounds. Why was that given you?"
"It—it was just out of generosity. Sir Joseph said he was afraid I might be—that his will might be broken, and—"
"Ah! you discussed his will with him, then?"
She was horrified at his implication. She cried, "Oh, I begged him not to, but he insisted."
"He said there were other heirs and they might contest his will. Did he mention the heirs?"
"No, sir. I don't think so. I don't remember that he did."
"He did not by any chance refer to the other grandparents of the two children? Mr. and Mrs. Oakby, the father and mother of the father of Victor and Bettina?"
"He didn't refer to them, I'm sure. Yes, I am quite sure."
"Did he say that his money would be left in trust for his grandchildren?"
"And he gave you twenty thousand pounds just out of generosity?"
"Yes. Yes, Mr. Verrinder."
"It was a fairish amount of money for messenger fees, wasn't it? And it came to you while you were carrying those letters to Nicky?"
"No! Sir Joseph had been ill. He had had a stroke of paralysis."
"And you were afraid he might have another?"
"You were not afraid of that?"
"Yes, of course I was, but— What are you trying to make me say—that I went to him and demanded the money?"
"That idea occurs to you, does it?"
She writhed with disgust at the suggestion. Yet it had a clammy plausibility. Mr. Verrinder went on:
"These messages, you say, concerned a financial transaction?"
"So papa told me."
"And you believed him?"
"You never doubted him?"
All the tortures of doubt that had assailed her recurred to her now and paralyzed her power to utter the ringing denial that was needed. He went on:
"Didn't it strike you as odd that Sir Joseph should be willing to pay you twenty thousand pounds just to carry messages concerning some mythical business?"
She did not answer. She was afraid to commit herself to anything. Every answer was a trap. Verrinder went on: "Twenty thousand pounds is a ten-per-centum commission on two hundred thousand pounds. That was rather a largish transaction to be carried on through secret letters, eh? Nicky Easton was not a millionaire, was he? Now I ask you, should you think of him as a Rothschild? Or was he, do you think, acting as agent for some one else, perhaps, and if so, for whom?"
She answered none of these. They were based on the assumption that she had put forward herself. She could find nothing to excuse her. Verrinder was simply playing tag with her. As soon as he touched her he ran away and came at her from another direction.
"Of course, we know that you were only the adopted daughter of Sir Joseph. But where did you first meet him?"
The sound of that word startled her. That German name stood for all the evils of the time. It was the inaccessible throne of hell.
Verrinder was startled by it, too.
"In Berlin!" he exclaimed, and nodded his head. "Now we are getting somewhere. Would you mind telling me the circumstances?"
She blushed a furious scarlet.
"I—I'd rather not."
"I must insist."
"Please send me to the Tower and have me imprisoned for life. I'd rather be there than here. Or better yet—have me shot. It would make me happier than anything you could do."
"I'm afraid that your happiness is not the main object of the moment. Will you be so good as to tell me how you met Sir Joseph in—in Berlin."
Marie Louise drew a deep breath. The past that she had tried to smother under a new life must be confessed at such a time of all times!
"Well, you know that Sir Joseph had a daughter; the two children up-stairs are hers, and—and what's to become of them, in Heaven's name?"
"One problem at a time, if you don't mind. Sir Joseph had a daughter. That would be Mrs. Oakby."
"Yes. Her husband died before her second baby was born, and she died soon after. And Sir Joseph and Lady Webling mourned for her bitterly, and—well, a year or so later they were traveling on the Continent—in Germany, they were, and one night they went to the Winter Garten in Berlin—the big music-hall, you know. Well, they were sitting far back, and an American team of musicians came on—the Musical Mokes, we were called."
She bent her head in shame. "I was one of them. I played a xylophone and a saxophone and an accordion—all sorts of things. Well, Lady Webling gave a little gasp when she saw me, and she looked at Sir Joseph—so she told me afterward—and then they got up and stole 'way up front just as I left the stage—to make a quick change, you know. I came back—in tights, playing a big trombone, prancing round and making an awful noise. Lady Webling gave a little scream; nobody heard her because I made a loud blat on the trombone in the ear of the black-face clown, and he gave a shriek and did a funny fall, and—"
"But, pardon me—why did Lady Webling scream?"
"Because I looked like her dead daughter. It was so horrible to see her child come out of the grave in—in tights, blatting a trombone at a clown in that big variety theater."
"I can quite understand. And then—"
"Well, Sir Joseph came round to the stage door and sent in his card. The man who brought it grinned and told everybody an old man was smitten on me; and Ben, the black-face man, said, 'I'll break his face,' but I said I wouldn't see him.
"Well, when I was dressed and leaving the theater with the black-face man, you know, Sir Joseph was outside. He stopped me and said: 'My child! My child!' and the tears ran down his face. I stopped, of course, and said, 'What's the matter now?' And he said, 'Would you come with me?' and I said, 'Not in a thousand years, old Creepo Christmas!' And he said: 'My poor wife is in the carriage at the curb. She wants to speak to you.' And then of course I had to go, and she reached out and dragged me in and wept all over me. I thought they were both crazy, but finally they explained, and they asked me to go to their hotel with them. So I told Ben to be on his way, and I went.
"Well, they asked me a lot of questions, and I told them a little—not everything, but enough, Heaven knows. And they begged me to be their daughter. I thought it would be pretty stupid, but they said they couldn't stand the thought of their child's image going about as I was, and I wasn't so stuck on the job myself—odd, how the old language comes back, isn't it? I haven't heard any of it for so long I'd almost forgotten it." She passed her handkerchief across her lips as if to rub away a bad taste. It left the taste of tears. She sighed: "Well, they adopted me, and I learned to love them. And—and that's all."
"And you learned to love their native country, too, I fancy."
"At first I did like Germany pretty well. They were crazy about us in Berlin. I got my first big money and notices and attention there. You can imagine it went to my head. But then I came to England and tried to be as English as I could, so as not to be conspicuous. I never wanted to be conspicuous off the stage—or on it, for that matter. I even took lessons from the man who had the sign up, you remember, 'Americans taught to speak English!' I always had a gift for foreign languages, and I got to thinking in English, too."
"One moment, please. Did you say 'Americans taught?' Americans?"
"You're not American?"
"Why, of course!"
"Damned stupid of me!"
Verrinder frowned. This complicated matters. He had cornered her, only to have her abscond into neutral territory. He had known that Marie Louise was an adopted child, but had not suspected her Americanism. This required a bit of thinking. While he studied it in the back room of his brain his forehead self was saying:
"So Sir Joseph befriended you, and that was what won your amazing, unquestioning gratitude?"
"That and a thousand thousand little kindnesses. I loved them like mother and father."
"But your own—er—mother and father—you must have had parents of your own—what was their nationality?"
"Oh, they were, as we say, 'Americans from 'way back.' But my father left my mother soon after I was born. We weren't much good, I guess. It was when I was a baby. He was very restless, they say. I suppose I got my runaway nature from him. But I've outgrown that. Anyway, he left my mother with three children. My little brother died. My mother was a seamstress in a little town out West—an awful hole it was. I was a tiny little girl when they took me to my mother's funeral. I remember that, but I can't remember her. That was my first death. And now this! I've lost a mother and father twice. That hasn't happened to many people. So you must forgive me for being so crazy. So many of my loved are dead. It's frightful. We lose so many as we grow up. Life is like walking through a graveyard, with the sextons always busy opening new places. There was so much crying and loneliness before, and now this war goes on and on—as if we needed a war!"
"God knows, we don't."
Marie Louise went to the window and raised the curtain. A haggard gray light had been piping the edges of the shade. Now the full casement let in a flood of warm morning radiance.
The dull street was alive again. Sparrows were hopping. Wagons were on the move. Small and early tradesfolk were about their business. Servants were opening houses as shops were being opened in town.
The big wheel had rolled London round into the eternal day. Doors and windows were being flung ajar. Newspapers and milk were taken in, ashes put out, cats and dogs released, front stoops washed, walks swept, gardens watered. Brooms were pendulating. In the masters' rooms it was still night and slumber-time, but humble people were alert.
The morning after a death is a fearful thing. Those papers on the steps across the way were doubtless loaded with more tragedies from the front, and among the cruel facts was the lie that concealed the truth about the Weblings, who were to read no more morning papers, eat no more breakfasts, set out on no more journeys.
Grief came to Marie Louise now with a less brackish taste. Her sorrow had the pity of the sunlight on it. She wept not now for the terror and hatefulness of the Weblings' fate, but for the beautiful things that would bless them no more, for the roses that would glow unseen, the flowers that would climb old walls and lean out unheeded, asking to be admired and proffering fragrance in payment of praise. The Weblings were henceforth immune to the pleasant rumble of wagons in streets, to the cheery good mornings of passers-by, the savor of coffee in the air, the luscious colors of fruits piled upon silver dishes.
Then she heard a scamper of bare feet, the squeals of mischief-making children escaping from a pursuing nurse.
It had been a favorite pastime of Victor and Bettina to break in upon Marie Louise of mornings when she forgot to lock her door. They loved to steal in barefoot and pounce on her with yelps of savage delight and massacre her, pull her hair and dance upon her bed and on her as she pleaded for mercy.
She heard them coming now, and she could not reach the door before it opened and disclosed the grinning, tousle-curled cherubs in their sleeping-suits.
They darted in, only to fall back in amazement. Marie Louise was not in bed. The bed had not been slept in. Marie Louise was all dressed, and she had been crying. And in a chair sat a strange, formidable old gentleman who looked tired and forlorn.
"Auntie!" they gasped.
She dropped to her knees, and they ran to her for refuge from the strange man.
She hugged them so hard that they cried, "Don't!"
Without in the least understanding what it was all about, they heard her saying to the man:
"And now what's to become of these poor lambs?"
The old stranger passed a slow gray hand across his dismal face and pondered.
The children pointed, then remembered that it is impolite to point, and drew back their little index hands and whispered:
"Auntie, what you up so early for?" and, "Who is that?"
And she whispered, "S-h-h!"
Being denied the answer to this charade, they took up a new interest.
"I wonder is grandpapa up, too, and all dressed," said Victor.
"And maybe grandmamma," Bettina shrilled.
"I'll beat you to their room," said Victor.
Marie Louise seized them by their hinder garments as they fled.
"You must not bother them."
"Why not?" said Victor.
"Will so!" said Bettina, pawing to be free.
Marie Louise implored: "Please, please! They've gone."
She cast her eyes up at that terrible query, and answered it vaguely.
"They might have told a fellow good-by," Victor brooded.
"They—they forgot, perhaps."
"I don't think that was very nice of them," Bettina pouted.
Victor was more cheerful. "Perhaps they did; perhaps they kissed us while we was asleep—were asleep."
Bettina accepted with delight.
"Seems to me I 'member somebody kissin' me. Yes, I 'member now."
Victor was skeptical. "Maybe you only had a dream about it."
"What else is there?" said Mr. Verrinder, rising and patting Victor on the shoulder. "You'd better run along to your tubs now."
They recognized the authority in his voice and obeyed.
The children took their beauty with them, but left their destiny to be arranged by higher powers, the gods of Eld.
"What is to become of them," Louise groaned again, "when I go to prison?"
Verrinder was calm. "Sir Joseph's will doubtless left the bulk of his fortune to them. That will provide for their finances. And they have two grandparents left. The Oakbys will surely be glad to take the children in, especially as they will come with such fortunes."
"You mean that I am to have no more to do with them?"
"I think it would be best to remove them to a more strictly English influence."
This hurt her horribly. She grew impatient for the finishing blow.
"And now that they are disposed of, have you decided what's to become of me?"
"It is not for me to decide. By the by, have you any one to represent you or intercede for you here, or act as your counsel in England?"
She shook her head. "A good many people have been very nice to me, of course. I've noticed, though, that even they grew cold and distant of late. I'd rather die than ask any of them."
"But have you no relatives living—no one of importance in the States who could vouch for you?"
She shook her head with a doleful humility.
"None of our family were ever important that I ever heard of, though of course one never knows what relatives are lurking about. Mine will never claim me; that's certain. I did have a sister—poor thing!—if she's alive. We didn't get along very well. I was too wild and restless as a girl. She was very good, hard-working, simple, homely as sin—or homely as virtue. I was all for adventure. I've had my fill of it. But once you begin it, you can't stop when you've had enough. If she's not dead, she's probably married and living under another name—Heaven knows what name or where. But I could find her, perhaps. I'd love to go to her. She was a very good girl. She's probably married a good man and has brought up her children piously, and never mentioned me. I'd only bring disgrace on her. She'd disown me if I came home with this cloud of scandal about me."
"No one shall know of this scandal unless you tell."
She laughed harshly, with a patronizing superiority.
"Really, Mr. Verrinder, did you ever know a secret to be kept?"
"This one will be."
She laughed again at him, then at herself.
He rose wearily. "I think I shall have to be getting along. I haven't had a bath or a shave to-day. I shall ask you to keep to your room and deny yourself to all visitors. I won't ask you to promise not to escape. If the guard around the house is not capable of detaining you, you're welcome to your freedom, though I warn you that England is as hard to get out of as to get into nowadays. Whatever you do, for your own sake, at least, keep this whole matter secret and stick to the story we agreed on. Good morning!"
He bowed himself out. No rattling of chains marked his closing of the door, but if he had been a turnkey in Newgate he could not have left Marie Louise feeling more a prisoner. Her room was her body's jail, but her soul was in a dungeon, too.
As Verrinder went down the hall he scattered a covey of whispering servants.
The nurse who had waited to seize the children when they came forth had left them to dress themselves while she hastened to publish in the servants' dining-room the appalling fact that she had caught sight of a man in Miss Marie Louise's room. The other servants had many other even more astounding things to tell—to wit: that after mysterious excitements about the house, with strange men going and coming, and the kitchen torn to pieces for mustard and warm milk and warm water and strong coffee, and other things, Sir Joseph and Lady Webling were no more, and the whole household staff was out of a job. Strange police-like persons were in the house, going through all the papers in Sir Joseph's room. The servants could hardly wait to get out with the gossip.
And Mr. Verrinder had said that this secret would be kept!
Somewhere along about this time, though there is no record of the exact date—and it was in a shabby home in a humble town where dates made little difference—a homely woman sniffed.
Her name was Mrs. Nuddle.
What Mrs. Nuddle was sniffing at was a page of fashion cartoons, curious human hieroglyphs that women can read and run to buy. Highly improbable garments were sketched on utterly impossible figures—female eels who could crawl through their own garters, eels of strange mottlings, with heads like cranberries, feet like thorns, and no spines at all.
Mrs. Nuddle was as opposite in every way as could be. She could not have crawled through her own washtub if she had knocked the bottom out of it. She was a caricature made by nature and long, hard work, and she laughed at the caricatures devised by art in a hurry.
She was about to cast the paper aside as a final rebuke when she caught sight of portraits of real people of fashion. They did not look nearly so fashionable as the cartoons, but they were at least possible. Some of them were said to be prominent in charity; most of them were prominent out of their corsages.
Now Mrs. Nuddle sniffed at character, not at caricature. Leaning against her washtub and wringer, both as graceful as their engineer, she indulged herself in the pitiful but unfailing solace of the poor and the ugly, which is to attribute to the rich dishonesty and to the beautiful wickedness.
The surf Mrs. Nuddle had raised in the little private sea of her tub had died down, and a froth of soap dried on the rawhide of her big forearms as her heifer eyes roamed the newspaper-gallery of portraits. One sudsy hand supported and suppressed her smile of ridicule. These women, belles and swells, were all as glossy as if they had been ironed.
Mrs. Nuddle sneered: "If the hussies would do an honest day's work it would be better for their figgers." She was mercifully oblivious of the fact that her tub-calisthenics had made her no more exquisite than a cow in a kimono.
Mrs. Nuddle scorned the lily-fingered tulip-fleshed beauties. Their sentimental alarms had nothing in common with her problem, which was the riddle of a husband who was faithful only to the bottle, who was indifferent to the children he got so easily, and was poetical only in that he never worked save when the mood was on him.
Again Mrs. Nuddle made to cast aside the paper that had come into her home wrapped round a bundle of laundry. But now she was startled, and she would have startled anybody who might have been watching her, for she stared hard at a photographed beauty and gasped:
She in her disordered garb, unkempt, uncorseted, and uncommonly common, greeted with the word "Sister!" the photograph of a very young, very beautiful, very gracile creature, in a mannish costume that emphasized her femininity, in a foreign garden, in a braw hat with curls cascading from under it, with a throat lilying out of a flaring collar, with hands pocketed in a smart jacket, and below that a pair of most fashionable legs in riding-breeches and puttees! She carried not a parasol nor a riding-crop, but a great reaping-hook swung across her shoulder, and she smiled as impudently, as immortally, as if she were Youth and had slain old Time and carried off his scythe.
The picture did not reply to Mrs. Nuddle's cry, but Mrs. Nuddle's eldest daughter, a precocious little adventuress of eleven or so, who was generally called "Sister," turned from the young brother whose smutty face she was just smacking and snapped:
"Aw, whatcha want?"
Little Sister supposed that her irritating mother was going to tell her to stop doing something, or to start doing something—either of which behests she always hated and only obeyed because her mother was bigger than she was. She turned and saw her mother swaying and clutching at the air. Sister had a gorgeous hope that mother would fall into the tub and be interesting for once. But mother was a born disappointer. She shook off the promising swoon, righted herself, and began fiercely to scan the paper to find out whose name the picture bore. The caption was torn off.
Being absolutely sure who it was, she wanted to find out who it really was.
In her frantic curiosity she remembered that her husband had stripped off a corner of the paper, dipped it in the stove, lighted his pipe with it, thrown it flaming on the floor, spat it out with practised accuracy, and trodden it as he went away. Mrs. Nuddle ran to pick it up.
On the charred remnant she read:
The Beautiful Miss.... One of London's reigning beaut.... daughter of Sir Joseph W.... doing farm work on the estate in....
Mrs. Nuddle sniffed no more. She flopped to a backless chair and squatted in a curious burlesque of Rodin's statue of "The Thinker." One heavy hand pinched her dewlap. Her hair was damp with steam and raining about her face. Her old waist was half buttoned, and no one would have regretted if it had been all buttoned. She was as plebeian as an ash-can and as full of old embers.
She was still immobilized when her husband came in. Now he gasped. His wife was loafing! sitting down! in the middle of the day! Thinking was loafing with her. He was supposed to do the family thinking. It was doubly necessary that she should work now, because he was on a strike. He had been to a meeting of other thinkers—ground and lofty thinkers who believed that they had discovered the true evil of the world and its remedy.
The evil was the possession of money by those who had accumulated it. The remedy was to take it away from them. Then the poor would be rich, which was right, and the rich would be poor, which was righter still.
It was well known that the only way to end the bad habit of work was to quit working. And the way to insure universal prosperity was to burn down the factories and warehouses, destroy all machinery and beggar the beasts who invented, invested, built, and hired and tried to get rich by getting riches.
This program would take some little time to perfect, and meanwhile Jake was willing that his wife should work. Indeed, a sharp fear almost unmanned him—what if she should fall sick and have to loaf in the horsepital? What if she should die? O Gord! Her little children would be left motherless—and fatherless, for he would, of course, be too busy saving the world to save his children. He would lose, too, the prestige enjoyed only by those who have their money in their wife's name. So he spoke to her with more than his wonted gentleness:
"Whatta hellsa matter wit choo?"
She felt the unusual concern in his voice, and smiled at him as best she could:
"I got a kind of a jolt. I seen this here pitcher, and I thought for a minute it was my sister."
"Your sister? How'd she get her pitcher in the paper? Who did she shoot?"
He snatched the sheet from her and saw the young woman in the young-manly garb.
Jake gloated over the picture: "Some looker! What is she, a queen in burlecue?"
Mrs. Nuddle held out the burned sliver of paper.
He roared. "London's ranging beaut? And you're what thinks she's your sister! The one that ran away? Was she a beaut like this?"
Mrs. Nuddle nodded. He whistled and said, with great tact:
"Cheese! but I have the rotten luck! Why didn't I see her first? Whyn't you tell me more about her? You never talk about her none. Why not?" No answer. "All I know is she went wrong and flew the coop."
Mrs. Nuddle flared at this. "Who said she went wrong?"
"You did!" Jake retorted with vigor. "Usedn't you to keep me awake praying for her—hollerin' at God to forgive her? Didn't you, or did you?" No answer. "And you think this is her!" The ridiculousness of the fantasy smote him. "Say, you must 'a' went plumb nutty! Bendin' over that tub must 'a' gave you a rush of brains to the head."
He laughed uproariously till she wanted to kill him. She tried to take back what she had said:
"Don't you set there tellin' me I ever told you nothin' mean about my pore little sister. She was as good a girl as ever lived, Mamise was."
"You're changin' your tune now, ain'tcha? Because you think she looks like a grand dam in pants! And where dya get that Mamise stuff? What was her honestogawd name? Maryer? You're tryin' to swell her up a little, huh?"
"No, I ain't. She was named Marie Louise after her gran'-maw, on'y as a baby she couldn't say it right. She said 'Mamise.' That's what she called her poor little self—Mamise. Seems like I can see her now, settin' on the floor like Sister. And where is she now? O Gawd! whatever become of her, runnin' off thataway—a little sixteen-year-ol' chile, runnin' off with a cheap thattical troupe, because her aunt smacked her.
"She never had no maw and no bringin' up, and she was so pirty. She had all the beauty of the fambly, folks all said."
"And that ain't no lie," said Jake, with characteristic gallantry. "There's nothin' but monopoly everywheres in the world. She got all the looks and I got you. I wonder who got her!"
Jake sighed as he studied the paper, ransacked it noisily for an article about her, but, finding none, looked at the date and growled:
"Aw, this paper's nearly a year old—May, 1916, it says."
This quelled his curiosity a little, and he turned to his dinner, flinging it into his jaws like a stoker. His wife went slip-slopping from stove to table, ministering to him.
Jake Nuddle did not look so dangerous as he was. He was like an old tomato-can that an anarchist has filled with dynamite and provided with a trigger for the destruction of whosoever disturbs it. Explosives are useful in place. But Jake was of the sort that blow up regardless of the occasion.
His dynamite was discontent. He hated everybody who was richer or better paid, better clothed, better spoken of than he was. Yet he had nothing in him of that constructive envy which is called emulation and leads to progress, to days of toil, nights of thought. His idea of equality was not to climb to the peak, but to drag the climbers down. Prating always of the sufferings of the poor, he did nothing to soothe them or remove them. His only contribution to the improvement of wages was to call a strike and get none at all. His contribution to the war against oppressive capital was to denounce all successful men as brutes and tyrants, lumping the benefactors with the malefactors.
Men of his type made up the blood-spillers of the French Revolution, and the packs of the earlier Jacquerie, the thugs who burned chateaux and shops, and butchered women as well as men, growling their ominous refrain:
"Noo sum zum cum eel zaw" ("Nous sommes hommes comme ils sont").
The Jake Nuddles were hate personified. They formed secret armies of enemies now inside the nation and threatened her success in the war. The thing that prevented their triumph was that their blunders were greater than their malice, their folly more certain than their villainy. As soon as America entered the lists against Germany, the Jake Nuddles would begin doing their stupid best to prevent enlistment, to persuade desertion, to stop war-production, to wreck factories and trains, to ruin sawmills and burn crops. In the name of freedom they would betray its most earnest defenders, compel the battle-line to face both ways. They were more subtle than the snaky spies of Germany, and more venomous.
As he wolfed his food now, Jake studied the picture of Marie Louise. The gentlest influence her beauty exerted upon him was a beastly desire. He praised her grace because it tortured his wife. But even fiercer than his animal impulse was his rage of hatred at the look of cleanliness and comeliness, the environment of luxury only emphasized by her peasant disguise.
When he had mopped his plate with his bread, he took up the paper again and glared at it with hostile envy.
"Dammer and her arristocratic ways! Daughter of a Sir and a Lady, eh? Just wait till we get through with them Sirs and Ladies. We'll mow 'em down. You'll see. Robbin' us poor toilers that does all the work! We'll put an end to their peerages and their deer-parks. What Germany leaves of these birds we'll finish up. And then we'll take this rotten United States, the rottenest tyranny of all. Gawdammit! You just wait!"
His wife just waited till he had smashed the picture in the face, knocked the pretty lady's portrait to the floor and walked on it as he strode out to his revolution. Incidentally he trod on little Sister's hand, and she sent up a caterwaul. Her little brother howled in duet. Then father turned on them.
"Aw, shut up or I'll—"
He did not finish his sentence. He rarely finished anything—except his meals. He left his children crying and his wife in a new distress; but then, revolutions cannot pause for women and children.
When he had gone, and Sister's tears had dried on her smutty face, Mrs. Nuddle picked up the smitten and trampled picture of England's reigning beauty and thought how lucky Miss W. was to be in England, blissful on Sir and Lady Somebody-or-other's estate.
When Mr. Verrinder left Marie Louise he took from her even the props of hostility. She had nothing to lean on now, nobody to fight with for life and reputation. She had only suspense and confusion. Agitated thoughts followed one another in waves across her soul—grief for her foster-father and mother, memory of their tendernesses, remorse for seeming to have deserted them in their last hours, remorse for having been the dupe of their schemes, and remorse for that remorse, grief at losing the lovable, troublesome children, creature distress at giving up the creature comforts of the luxurious home, the revulsion of her unfettered mind and her restless young body at the prospect of exchanging liberty and occupation for the half-death of an idle cell—a kind of coffin residence—fear of being executed as a spy, and fear of being released to drag herself through life with the ball and chain of guilt forever rolling and clanking at her feet.
Verrinder's mind was hardly more at rest when he left her and walked to his rooms. He carried the regret of a protector of England who had bungled his task and let the wards of his suspicion break loose. The fault was not his, but he would never escape the reproach. He had no taste for taking revenge on the young woman. It would not salve his pride to visit on her pretty head the thwarted punishments due Sir Joseph and his consort in guilt. Besides, in spite of his cynicism, he had been touched by Marie Louise's sincerities. She proved them by the very contradictions of her testimony, with its history of keen intelligence alternating with curious blindness. He knew how people get themselves all tangled up in conflicting duties, how they let evils slide along, putting off till to-morrow the severing of the cords and the stepping forth with freedom from obligation. He knew that the very best people, being those who are most sensitive to gratitude and to other people's pains, are incessantly let in for complications that never involve selfish or self-righteous persons.
As an executive of the law, he knew how many laws there are unwritten and implied that make obedience to the law an experiment in caddishness and ingratitude. There were reasons enough then to believe that Marie Louise had meant no harm and had not understood the evil in which she was so useful an accomplice. Even if she were guilty and her bewilderment feigned, her punishment would be untimely at this moment when the Americans who abhorred and distrusted Germany had just about persuaded the majority of their countrymen that the world would be intolerable if Germany triumphed, and that the only hope of defeating her tyranny lay in joining hands with England, France, and Italy.
The enemies of England would be only too glad to make a martyr out of Miss Webling if she were disciplined by England. She would be advertised, as a counterweight to the hideous mistake the Germans made in immortalizing with their bullets the poor little nurse, "die Cavell."
Verrinder was not himself at all till he had bathed, shaved, and clothed his person in clean linen and given his inner man its tea and toast. Once this restoration was made, his tea deferred helped him to the conclusion that the one wise thing was to restore Marie Louise quietly to her own country. He went with freshened step and determined mind to a conference with the eminent men concerned. He made his own confession of failure and took more blame than he need have accepted. Then he told his plans for Marie Louise and made the council agree with him.
Early in the afternoon he called on Miss Webling and found the house a flurry of undertakers, curious relatives, and thwarted reporters. The relatives and the reporters he satisfied with a few well-chosen lies. Then he sent his name up to Marie Louise. The butler thrust the card-tray through the door as if he were tossing a bit of meat to some wild animal.
"I'll be down," said Marie Louise, and she primped herself like another Mary Queen of Scots receiving a call from the executioner. She was calmed by the hope that she would learn her fate, at least, and she cared little what it was, so long as it was not unknown.
Verrinder did not delay to spread his cards on the table.
"Miss Webling, I begin again with a question: If we should offer you freedom and silence, would you go back to America and tell no one of what has happened here?"
The mere hint was like flinging a door open and letting the sunlight into a dungeon. The very word "America" was itself a rush of fresh air. The long-forgotten love of country came back into her heart on a cry of hope.
"Oh, you don't mean that you might?"
"We might. In fact, we will, if you will promise—"
She could not wait for his formal conclusion. She broke in: "I'll promise anything—anything! Oh I don't want to be free just for the sake of escaping punishment! No, no. I just want a chance to—to expiate the evil I have done. I want to do some good to undo all the bad I've brought about. I won't try to shift any blame. I want to confess. It will take this awful load off my heart to tell people what a wicked fool I've been."
Verrinder checked her: "But that is just what you must not do. Unless you can assure us that you will carry this burden about with you and keep it secret at no matter what cost, then we shall have to proceed with the case—legally. We shall have to exhume Sir Joseph and Lady Webling, as it were, and drag the whole thing through the courts. We'd really rather not, but if you insist—"
"Oh, I'll promise. I'll keep the secret. Let them rest."
She was driven less by the thought of her own liberty than the terror of exposing the dead. The mere thought brought back pictures of hideous days when the grave was not refuge enough from vengeance, when bodies were dug up, gibbeted, haled by a chain along the unwashed cobblestones, quartered with a sword in the market-place and then flung back to the dark.
Verrinder may have feared that Marie Louise yielded under duress, and that when she was out of reach of the law she would forget, so he said
"Would you swear to keep this inviolate?"
"Have you a Bible?"
She thought there must be one, and she searched for it among the bookshelves. But first she came across one in the German tongue. It fell open easily, as if it had been a familiar companion of Sir Joseph's. She abhorred the sight of the words that youthful Sunday-school lessons had given an unearthly sanctity as she recognized them twisted into the German paraphrase and printed in the twisted German type. But she said:
"Will this do?"
Verrinder shook his head. "I don't know that an oath on a German Bible would really count. It might be considered a mere heap of paper."
Marie Louise put it aside and brushed its dust off her fingers. She found an English Bible after a further search. Its pages had seen the light but seldom. It slipped from her hand and fell open. She knelt to pick it up with a tremor of fear.
She rose, and before she closed it glanced at the page before her. These words caught her eye:
For thus saith the Lord God of Israel unto me. Take the winecup of this fury at my hand, and cause all the nations, to whom I send thee, to drink it. And they shall drink, and be moved, and be mad because of the sword that I will send among them.
She showed them to Verrinder. He nodded solemnly, took the book from her hand, closed it, and held it before her. She put the slim tips of her young fingers near the talon of his old thumb and echoed in a timid, silvern voice the broken phrases he spoke in a tone of bronze:
"I solemnly swear—that so long as I live—I will tell no one—what I know—of the crimes and death—of Sir Joseph and Lady Webling—unless called upon—in a court of law. This oath is made—with no mental reservations—and is binding—under all circumstances whatsoever—so help me God!"
When she had whispered the last invocation he put the book away and gripped her hand in his.
"I must remind you that releasing you is highly illegal—and perhaps immoral. Our action might be overruled and the whole case opened. But I think you are safe, especially if you get to America—the sooner the better."
"Thank you!" she said.
He laughed, somewhat pathetically.
He did not tell her that England would still be watching over her, that her name and her history were already cabled to America, that she would be shadowed to the steamer, observed aboard the boat, and picked up at the dock by the first of a long series of detectives constituting a sort of serial guardian angel.
IN NEW YORK
Leaving England quickly was not easy in those days. Passenger-steamers were few, irregular, and secret. The passport regulations were exceedingly rigorous, and even Mr. Verrinder's influence could not speed the matter greatly.
There was the Webling estate to settle up, also. At Verrinder's suggestion Marie Louise put her affairs into the hands of counsel, and he arranged her surrender of all claims on the Webling estate. But he insisted that she should keep the twenty thousand pounds that had been given to her absolutely. He may have been influenced in this by his inability to see from what other funds he could collect his fee.
Eventually he placed her aboard a liner, and her bonds in the purser's safe; and eventually the liner stole out into the ocean, through such a gantlet of lurking demons as old superstitions peopled it with.
She had not told the children good-by, but had delivered them to the Oakbys and run away. The Oakbys had received her with a coldness that startled her. They used the expression, "Under the circumstances," with a freezing implication that made her wonder if the secret had already trickled through to them.
On the steamer there was nobody she knew. At the dock no friends greeted her. She did not notice that her arrival was noted by a certain Mr. Larrey, who had been detailed to watch her and saw with some pride how pretty she was. "It'll be a pleasure to keep an eye on her," he told a luckless colleague who had a long-haired pacifist professor allotted to him. But Marie Louise's mystic squire had not counted on her stopping in New York for only a day and then setting forth on a long, hot, stupid train-ride of two days to the little town of her birth, Wakefield.
Larrey found it appalling. Marie Louise found it far smaller and shabbier than she had imagined. Yet it had grown some, too, since her time.
At least, most of the people she had known had moved away to the cities or the cemeteries, and new people had taken their place. She had not known many of the better people. Her mother had been too humble to sew for them.
Coming from London and the country life of England, she found the town intolerably ugly. It held no associations for her. She had been unhappy there, and she said: "Poor me! No wonder I ran away." She justified her earlier self with a kind of mothering sympathy. She longed for some one to mother her present self.
But her sister was not to be found. The old house where they had lived was replaced by a factory that had made suspenders and now was turning out cartridge-belts. She found no one who knew her sister at all. She did not give her own name, for many reasons, and her face was not remembered. A few people recalled the family. The town marshal vaguely placed her father as a frequent boarder at the jail.
One sweet old lady, for whom Marie Louise's mother had done sewing, had a kind of notion that one of the sisters had run away and that the other sister had left town with somebody for somewhere sometime after. But that was all that the cupboard of her recollection disclosed.
Anatole France has a short story of Pilate in his old age meeting his predecessor as Proconsul in Jerusalem. During their senile gossip the elder asks if Pilate had known a certain beauty named Mary of Magdala. Pilate shakes his head. The other has heard that she took up with a street-preacher called Jesus from the town of Nazareth. Pilate ponders, shakes his head again, and confesses, "I don't remember him."
It was not strange, then, that Marie Louise's people, who had made almost no impression on the life of the town, should have lapsed from its memory. But it was discouraging. Marie Louise felt as much of an anachronism as old Rip Van Winkle, though she looked no more like him than an exquisite, fashionable young woman could look like a gray-bearded sot who has slept in his clothes for twenty years.
Her private detective, Larrey, homesick for New York, was overjoyed when she went back, but she was disconsolate and utterly detached from life. The prodigal had come home, but the family had moved away.
She took a comfortable little nook in an apartment hotel and settled down to meditate. The shops interested her, and she browsed away among them for furniture and clothes and books.
Marie Louise had not been in her homeless home long when the President visited Congress and asked it to declare a state of war against Germany. She was exultant over the great step, but the wilful few who held Congress back from answering the summons revealed to her why the nation had been so slow in responding to the crisis. Even now, after so much insult and outrage, vast numbers of Americans denied that there was any cause for war.
But the patience of the majority had been worn thin. The opposition was swept away, and America declared herself in the arena—in spirit at least. Impatient souls who had prophesied how the millions would spring to arms overnight wondered at the failure to commit a miracle. The Germans, who had prepared for forty years, laughed at the new enemy and felt guaranteed by five impossibilities: that America should raise a real army, or equip it, or know how to train it, or be able to get it past the submarine barrier, or feed the few that might sneak through.
America's vast resources were unready, unwieldy, unknown. The first embarrassment was the panic of volunteers.
Marie Louise was only one of the hundred million who sprang madly in all directions and landed nowhere. She wanted to volunteer, too, but for what? What could she do? Where could she get it to do? In the chaos of her impatience she did nothing.
Supping alone at the Biltmore one night, she was seen, hailed, and seized by Polly Widdicombe. Marie Louise's detective knew who Polly was. He groaned to note that she was the first friend his client had found.
Polly, giggling adorably, embraced her and kissed her before everybody in the big Tudor Room. And Polly's husband greeted her with warmth of hand and voice.
Marie Louise almost wept, almost cried aloud with joy. The prodigal was home, had been welcomed with a kiss. Evidently her secret had not crossed the ocean. She could take up life again. Some day the past would confront and denounce her, perhaps; but for the moment she was enfranchised anew of human society.
Polly said that she had read of Sir Joseph's death and his wife's, and what a shock it must have been to poor Marie Louise, but how well she bore up under it, and how perfectly darn beautiful she was, and what a shame that it was almost midnight! She and her hub were going to Washington. Everybody was, of course. Why wasn't Marie Louise there? And Polly's husband was to be a major—think of it! He was going to be all dolled up in olive drab and things and— "Damn the clock, anyway; if we miss that train we can't get on another for days. And what's your address? Write it on the edge of that bill of fare and tear it off, and I'll write you the minute I get settled, for you must come to us and nowhere else and— Good-by, darling child, and— All right, Tom, I'm coming!"
And she was gone.
Marie Louise went back to her seclusion much happier and yet much lonelier. She had found a friend who had not heard of her disgrace. She had lost a friend who still rejoiced to see her.
But her faithful watchman was completely discouraged. When he turned in his report he threatened to turn in his resignation unless he were relieved of the futile task of recording Marie Louise's blameless and eventless life.
And then the agent's night was turned to day—at least his high noon was turned to higher. For a few days later Marie Louise was abruptly addressed by Nicky Easton.
She had been working in the big Red Cross shop on Fifth Avenue, rolling bandages and making dressings with a crowd of other white-fingered women. A cable had come that there was a sudden need for at least ten thousand bandages. These were not yet for American soldiers in France, though their turn would come, and their wholesale need. But as Marie Louise wrought she could imagine the shattered flesh, the crying nerves of some poor patriot whose gaping wound this linen pack would smother. And her own nerves cried out in vicarious crucifixion. At noon she left the factory for a little air and a bite of lunch.
Nicky Easton appeared out of her list of the buried. She gasped at sight of him.
"I thought you were dead."
He laughed: "If I am it, thees is my Doppelgaenger." And he began to hum with a grisly smile Schubert's setting to Heine's poem of the man who met his own ghost and double, aping his love-sorrow outside the home of his dead sweetheart:
"Der Mond zeigt mir meine eig'ne Gestalt. Du Doppelgaenger, du bleicher Geselle! Was aeffst du nach mein Liebesleid, Das mich gequaelt auf dieser Stelle So manche Nacht in alter Zeit."
Marie Louise was terrified by the harrowing emotions the song always roused in her, but more by the dreadful sensation of walking that crowded Avenue with a man humming German at her side.
"Hush! Hush, in Heaven's name!" she pleaded.
He laughed Teutonically, and asked her to lunch with him.
"I have another engagement, and I am late," she said.
"Where are you living?"
She felt inspired to give him a false address. He insisted on walking with her to the Waldorf, where she said her engagement was.
"You don't ask me where I have been?"
"I was just going to. The last I heard you were in the London Tower or somewhere. However did you get out?"
"The same way like you ditt. I thought you should choin me therein, but you also told all you knew and some more yet, yes?"
She saw then that he had turned state's evidence. Perhaps he had betrayed Sir Joseph. Somehow she found it possible to loathe him extra. She lacked the strength to deny his odious insinuation about herself. He went on:
"Now I am in America. I could not dare go to Germany now. But here I try to gain back my place in Deutschland. These English think they use me for a stool-pitcheon. But they will find out, and when Deutschland ist ueber alles—ach, Gott! You shall help me. We do some work togedder. I come soon by your house. Auf—Goot-py."
He left her at the hotel door and lifted his hat. She went into the labyrinth and lost herself. When her heart had ceased fluttering and she grew calm from very fatigue of alarm she resolved to steal out of New York.
She spent an afternoon and an evening of indecision. Night brought counsel. Polly Widdicombe had offered her a haven, and in the country. It would be an ideal hiding-place. She set to work at midnight packing her trunk.
Marie Louise tried all the next morning to telephone from New York to Washington, but it seemed that everybody on earth was making the same effort. It was a wire Babel.
Washington was suddenly America in the same way that London had long been England; and Paris France. The entire population was apparently trying to get into Washington in order to get out again. People wrote, telegraphed, radiographed, telephoned, and traveled thither by all the rail- and motor-roads. Washington was the narrow neck of the funnel leading to the war, and the sleepy old home of debate and administration was suddenly dumfounded to find itself treated to all the horrors of a boom-town—it was like San Francisco in '49.
Marie Louise, who had not yet recovered her American dialect, kept pleading with Long Distance:
"Oh, I say, cahn't you put me through to Washington? It's no end important, really! Rosslyn, seven three one two. I want to speak to Mrs. Widdicombe. I am Miss Webling. Thank you."
The obliging central asked her telephone number and promised to call her in a moment. Eternity is but a moment—to some centrals. Marie Louise, being finite and ephemeral, never heard from that central again. Later she took up the receiver and got another central, who had never heard her tale of woe and had to have it all over again. This central also asked her name and number and promised to report, then vanished into the interstellar limbo where busy centrals go.
Again and again Marie Louise waited and called, and told and retold her prayer till it turned to gibberish and she began to doubt her own name and to mix the telephone number hopelessly. Then she went into her hand-bag and pawed about in the little pocket edition of confusion till she found the note that Polly had sent her at once from Washington with the address, Grinden Hall, Rosslyn, and the telephone number and the message.
So glad you're on this side of the water, dear. Do run over and see us. Perfect barn of a house, and lost in the country, but there's always room—especially for you, dear. You'll never get in at a hotel.
Marie Louise propped this against the telephone and tried again.
The seventh central dazed her with, "We can take nothing but gov'ment business till two P.M."
Marie Louise rose in despair, searched in her bag for her watch, gasped, put the watch and the note back in her bag, snapped it, and rose to go.
She decided to send Polly a telegram. She took out the note for the address and telephoned a telegram, saying that she would arrive at five o'clock. The telegraph-operator told her that the company could not guarantee delivery, as traffic over the wires was very heavy. Marie Louise sighed and rose, worn out with telephone-fag.
She told the maid to ask the hall-boy to get her a taxi, and hastily made ready to leave. Her trunks had gone to the station an hour ago, and they had been checked through from the house.
Her final pick-up glance about the room did not pick up the note she had propped on the telephone-table. She left it there and closed the door on another chapter of her life.
She rode to the station, and, after standing in line for a weary while, learned that not a seat was to be had in a parlor-car to-day, to-morrow, or any day for two weeks. Berths at night were still more unobtainable.
She decided that she might as well go in a day-coach. Scores of people had had the same idea before her. The day-coaches were filled. She sidled through the crowded aisles and found no seat. She invaded the chair-cars in desperation.
In one of these she saw a porter bestowing hand-luggage. She appealed to him. "You must have one chair left."
He was hardly polite in his answer. "No, ma'am, I ain't. I ain't a single chair."
"But I've got to sit somewhere," she said.
The porter did not comment on such a patent fallacy. He moved back to the front to repel boarders. Several men stared from the depths of their dentist's chairs, but made no proffer of their seats. They believed that woman's newfangled equality included the privilege of standing up.
One man, however, gave a start as of recognition, real or pretended. Marie Louise did not know him, and said so with her eyes. His smile of recognition changed to a smile of courtesy. He proffered her his seat with an old-fashioned gesture. She declined with a shake of the head and a coldly correct smile.
He insisted academically, as much as to say: "I can see that you are a gentlewoman. Please accept me as a gentleman and permit me to do my duty." There was a brief, silent tug-of-war between his unselfishness and hers. He won. Before she realized it, she had dropped wearily into his place.
"But where will you sit?" she said.
"Oh, I'll get along."
He smiled and moved off, lugging his suit-case. He had the air of one who would get along. He had shown himself masterful in two combats, and compelled her to take the chair he had doubtless engaged with futile providence days before.
"Rahthah a decentish chap, with a will of his own," she thought.
The train started, left the station twilight, plunged into the tunnel of gloom and made the dip under the Hudson River. People felt their ears buzz and smother. Wise ones swallowed hard. The train came back to the surface and the sunlight, and ran across New Jersey.
Marie Louise decided to take her luncheon early, to make sure of it. Nearly everybody else had decided to do the same thing. At this time all the people in America seemed to be thinking en masse. When she reached the dining-car every seat was taken and there was a long bread-line in the narrow corridor.
The wilful man was at the head. He fished for her eye, caught it, and motioned to her to take his place. She shook her head. But it seemed to do no good to shake heads at him; he came down the corridor and lifted his hat. His voice and words were pleading, but his tone was imperative.
"Please take my place."
She shook her head, but he still held his hand out, pointing. She was angry at being bossed even for her own benefit. Worse yet, by the time she got to the head of the line the second man had moved up to first. He stared at her as if he wondered what she was doing there. She fell back, doubly vexed, but That Man advanced and gave the interloper a look like a policeman's shove. The fellow backed up on the next man's toes. Then the cavalier smiled Miss Webling to her place and went back to the foot of the class without waiting for her furious thanks.
She wanted to stamp her foot. She had always hated to be cowed or compelled to take chairs or money. People who had tried to move her soul or lend her their experience or their advantages had always aroused resentment.
Before long she had a seat. The man opposite her was just thumbing his last morsel of pie. She supposed that when he left That Man would take the chair and order her luncheon for her. But it was not so to be. She passed him still well down the line. He had probably given his place to other women in succession. She did not like that. It seemed a trifle unfaithful or promiscuous or something. The rescuer owes the rescuee a certain fidelity. He did not look at her. He did not claim even a glance of gratitude.
It was so American a gallantry that she resented it. If he had seemed to ask for the alms of a smile, she would have insulted him. Yet it was not altogether satisfactory to be denied the privilege. She fumed. Everything was wrong. She sat in her cuckoo's nest and glared at the reeling landscape.
Suddenly she began pawing through that private chaos, looking for Polly Widdicombe's letter. She could not find it. She found the checks for her trunks, a handkerchief, a pair of gloves, and various other things, but not the letter. This gave her a new fright.
She remembered now that she had left it on the telephone-table. She could see it plainly as her remembered glance took its last survey of the room. The brain has a way of developing occasional photographs very slowly. Something strikes our eyes, and we do not really see it till long after. We hear words and say, "How's that?" or, "I beg your pardon!" and hear them again before they can be repeated.
This belated feat of memory encouraged Miss Webling to hope that she could remember a little farther back to the contents of the letter and the telephone number written there. But her memory would not respond. The effort to cudgel it seemed to confuse it. She kept on forgetting more and more completely.
All she could remember was what Polly Widdicombe had said about there being no chance to get into a hotel—"an hotel," Marie Louise still thought it.
It grew more and more evident that the train would be hours late. People began to worry audibly about the hotels that would probably refuse them admission. At length they began to stroll toward the dining-car for an early dinner.
Marie Louise, to make sure of the meal and for lack of other employment, went along. There was no queue in the corridor now. She did not have to take That Man's place. She found one at a little empty table. But by and by he appeared, and, though there were other vacant seats, he sat down opposite her.
She could hardly order the conductor to eject him. In fact, seeing that she owed him for her seat— It suddenly smote her that he must have paid for it. She owed him money! This was unendurable!
He made no attempt to speak to her, but at length she found courage to speak to him.
"I beg your pardon—"
He looked up and about for the salt or something to pass, but she went on:
"May I ask you how much you paid for the seat you gave me?"
He laughed outright at this unexpected demand:
"Why, I don't remember, I'm sure."
"Oh, but you must, and you must let me repay it. It just occurred to me that I had cheated you out of your chair, and your money, too."
"That's mighty kind of you," he said.
He laughed again, but rather tenderly, and she was grateful to him for having the tact not to be flamboyant about it and not insisting on forgetting it.
"I'll remember just how much it was in a minute, and if you will feel easier about it, I'll ask you for it."
"I could hardly rob a perfect stranger," she began.
He broke in: "They say nobody is perfect, and I'm not a perfect stranger. I've met you before, Miss Webling."
"Not rilly! Wherever was it? I'm so stupid not to remember—even your name."
He rather liked her for not bluffing it through. He could understand her haziness the better from the fact that when he first saw her in the chair-car and leaped to his feet it was because he had identified her once more with the long-lost, long-sought beauty of years long gone—the girl he had seen in the cheap vaudeville theater. This slip of memory had uncovered another memory. He had corrected the palimpsest and recalled her as the Miss Webling whom he had met in London. She had given him the same start then as now, and, as he recalled it, she had snubbed him rather vigorously. So he had kept his distance. But the proffer of the money for the chair-car chair broke the ice a little. He said at last:
"My name is Ross Davidge. I met you at your father's house in London."
This seemed to agitate her peculiarly. She trembled and gasped:
"You don't mean it. I— Oh yes, of course I remember—"
"Please don't lie about it," he pleaded, bluntly, "for of course you don't."
She laughed, but very nervously.
"Well, we did give very large dinners."
"It was a very large one the night I was there. I was a mile down the street from you, and I said nothing immortal. I was only a business acquaintance of Sir Joseph's, anyway. It was about ships, of course."
He saw that her mind was far away and under strange excitation. But she murmured, distantly:
"Oh, so you are—interested in ships?"
"I make 'em for a living."
"Rilly! How interesting!"
This constraint was irksome. He ventured:
"How is the old boy? Sir Joseph, I mean. He's well, I hope."
Her eyes widened. "Didn't you know? Didn't you read in the papers—about their death together?"
"Theirs? His wife and he died together?"
"In a submarine attack?"
"No, at home. It was in all the papers—about their dying on the same night, from—from ptomaine poisoning."
He put a vast amount of shock and regret in the mumbled word. He explained: "I must have been out in the forest or in the mines at the time. Forgive me for opening the old wound. How long ago was it? I see you're out of mourning."
"Sir Joseph abominated black; and besides, few people wear mourning in England during the war."
"That's so. Poor old England! You poor Englishwomen—mothers and daughters! My God! what you've gone through! And such pluck!"
Before he realized what he was doing his hand went across and touched hers, and he clenched it for just a moment of fierce sympathy. She did not resent the message. Then he muttered:
"I know what it means. I lost my father and mother—not at once, of course—years apart. But to lose them both in one night!"
She made a sharp attempt at self-control:
"Please! I beg you—please don't speak of it."
He was so sorry that he said nothing more. Marie Louise was doubly fascinating to him because she was in sorrow and afraid of something or somebody. Besides, she was inaccessible, and Ross Davidge always felt a challenge from the impossible and the inaccessible.
She called for her check and paid it, and tipped the waiter and rose. She smiled wretchedly at him as he rose with her. She left the dining-car, and he sat down and cursed himself for a brute and a blunderer.
He kept in the offing, so that if she wanted him she could call him, but he thought it the politer politeness not to italicize his chivalry. He was so distressed that he forgot that she had forgotten to pay him for the chair.
It was good and dark when the train pulled into Washington at last. The dark gave Marie Louise another reason for dismay. The appearance of a man who had dined at Sir Joseph's, and the necessity for telling him the lie about that death, had brought on a crisis of nerves. She was afraid of the dark, but more afraid of the man who might ask still more questions. She avoided him purposely when she left the train.
A porter took her hand-baggage and led her to the taxi-stand. Polly Widdicombe's car was not waiting. Marie Louise went to the front of the building to see if she might be there. She was appalled at the thought of Polly's not meeting her. She needed her blessed giggle as never before.
It was a very majestic station. Marie Louise had heard people say that it was much too majestic for a railroad station. As if America did not owe more to the iron god of the rails than to any of her other deities!
Before her was the Capitol, lighted from below, its dome floating cloudily above the white parapets as if mystically sustained. The superb beauty of it clutched her throat. She wanted to do something for it and all the holy ideals it symbolized.
Evidently Polly was not coming. The telegram had probably never reached her. The porter asked her, "Was you thinkin' of a taxi?" and she said, "Yes," only to realize that she had no address to give the driver.
She went through her hand-bag again, while the porter computed how many tips he was missing and the cab-starter looked insufferable things about womankind.
She asked if any of them knew where Grinden Hall might be, but they shook their heads. She had a sudden happy idea. She would ask the telephone Information for the number. She hurried to a booth, followed by the despondent porter. She asked for Information and got her, but that was all.
"Please give me the numba of Mrs. Widdicombe's, in Rosslyn."
A Washington dialect eventually told her that the number was a private wire and could not be given.
Marie Louise implored a special dispensation, but it was against the rules.
She asked for the supervisor—who was equally sorry and adamant. Marie Louise left the booth in utter defeat. There was nothing to do but go to a hotel till the morrow.
She recalled the stories of the hopelessness of getting a room. Yet she had no choice but to make the try. She had got a seat on the train where there were none. Perhaps she could trust her luck to provide her with a lodging, too.
"We'll go back to the taxi-stand," she told the porter.
He did not conceal his joy at being rid of her.
She tried the Shoreham first, and when the taxicab deposited her under the umbrellas of the big trees and she climbed the homelike steps to a lobby with the air of a living-room she felt welcome and secure. Brilliant clusters were drifting to dinner, and the men were more picturesque than the women, for many of them were in uniform. Officers of the army and navy of the United States and of Great Britain and of France gave the throng the look of a costume-party.
There was a less interesting crowd at the desk, and now nobody offered her his place at the head of the line. It would have done no good, for the room-clerk was shaking his head to all the suppliants. Marie Louise saw women turned away, married couples, men alone. But new-comers pressed forward and kept trying to convince the deskman that he had rooms somewhere, rooms that he had forgotten, or was saving for people who would never arrive.
He stood there shaking his head like a toy in a window. People tried to get past him in all the ways people try to get through life, in the ways that Saint Peter must grow very tired of at the gate of heaven—bluff, whine, bribery, intimidation, flirtation.
Some demanded their rights with full confidence and would not take no for answer. Some pleaded with hopelessness in advance; they were used to rebuffs. They appealed to his pity. Some tried corruption; they whispered that they would "make it all right," or they managed a sly display of money—one a one-dollar bill with the "1" folded in, another a fifty-dollar bill with the "50" well to the fore. Some grew ugly and implied favoritism; they were the born strikers and anarchists. Even though they looked rich, they had that habit of finding oppression and conspiracy everywhere. A few women appealed to his philanthropy, and a few others tried to play the siren. But his head oscillated from side to side, and nobody could swing it up and down.
Marie Louise watched the procession anxiously. There seemed to be no end to it. The people who had come here first had been turned away into outer darkness long ago and had gone to other hotels. The present wretches were those who had gone to the other hotels first and made this their second, third, or sixth choice.
Marie Louise did not go to the desk. She could take a hint at second hand. She would have been glad of a place to sit down, but all the divans were filled with gossipers very much at home and somewhat contemptuous of the vulgar herd trying to break into their select and long-established circle. She heard a man saying, with amiable anger: "Ah'm mahty sah'y Ah can't put you up at ouah haouse, but we've got 'em hangin' on the hat-rack in the hall. You infunnal patriots have simply ruined this little old taown."
She heard a pleasant laugh. "Don't worry. I'll get along somehow."
She glanced aside and saw That Man again. She had forgotten his name again; yet she felt curiously less lonely, not nearly so hopeless. The other man said:
"Say, Davidge, are you daown heah looking for one of these dollah-a-yeah jobs? Can you earn it?"
"I'm not looking for a job. I'm looking for a bed."
"Not a chance. The government's taken ovah half the hotels for office-buildings."
"I'll go to a Turkish bath, then."
"Good Lawd! man, I hud a man propose that, and the hotel clerk said he had telephoned the Tukkish bath, and a man theah said: 'For God's sake don't send anybody else heah! We've got five hundred cots full naow.'"
"Baltimer's full up. So's Alexandra. Go on back home and write a letta."
"I'll try a few more hotels first."
"No use—not an openin'."
"Well, I've usually found that the best place to look for things is where people say they don't grow."
Marie Louise thought that this was most excellent advice. She decided to follow it and keep on trying.
As she was about to move toward the door the elevator, like a great cornucopia, spilled a bevy of men and women into the lobby. Leading them all came a woman of charm, of distinction, of self-possession. She was smiling over one handsome shoulder at a British officer.
The forlorn Marie Louise saw her, and her eyes rejoiced; her face was kindled with haven-beacons. She pressed forward with her hand out, and though she only murmured the words, a cry of relief thrilled them.
"Lady Clifton-Wyatt! What luck to find you!"
Lady Clifton-Wyatt turned with a smile of welcome in advance. Her hand went forward. Her smile ended suddenly. Blank amazement passed into contemptuous wrath. Her hand went back. With the disgust of a sick eagle in a zoo, she drew a film over her eyes.
The smile on Marie Louise's face also hung unsupported for a moment. It faded, then rallied. She spoke with patience, underlining the words with an affectionate reproof:
"My dear Lady Clifton-Wyatt, I am Miss Webling—Marie Louise. Don't you know me?"
Lady Clifton-Wyatt answered: "I did. But I don't!"
Then she turned and moved toward the dining-room door.
The head waiter bowed with deference and command and beckoned Lady Clifton-Wyatt. She obeyed him with meek hauteur.
As she came out of the first hotel of her selection and rejection Marie Louise asked the car-starter the name of another. He mentioned the New Willard.
It was not far, and she was there before she had time to recover from the staggering effect of Lady Clifton-Wyatt's bludgeon-like snub. As timidly as the waif and estray that she was, she ventured into the crowded, gorgeous lobby with its lofty and ornate ceiling on its big columns. At one side a long corridor ran brokenly up a steep hill. It was populous with loungers who had just finished their dinners or were waiting for a chance to get into the dining-rooms. Orchestra music was lilting down the aisle.
When Marie Louise had threaded the crowd and reached the desk a very polite and eager clerk asked her if she had a reservation. He seemed to be as regretful as she when she said no. He sighed, "We've turned away a hundred people in the last two hours."
She accepted her dismissal dumbly, then paused to ask, "I say, do you by any chance know where Grinden Hall is?"
He shook his head and turned to another clerk to ask, "Do you know of a hotel here named Grinden Hall?"
The other shook his head, too. There was a vast amount of head-shaking going on everywhere in Washington. He added, "I'm new here." Nearly everybody seemed to be new here. It seemed as if the entire populace had moved into a ready-made town.
Marie Louise had barely the strength to explain, "Grinden Hall is not an hotel; it is a home, in Rosslyn, wherever that is."
"Oh, Rosslyn—that's across the river in Virginia."
"Do you know, by any chance, Major Thomas Widdicombe?"
He shook his head. Major Widdicombe was a big man, but the town was fairly swarming with men bigger than he. There were shoals of magnates, but giants in their own communities were petty nuisances here pleading with room-clerks for cots and with head waiters for bread. The lobby was a thicket of prominent men set about like trees. Several of them had the Congressional look. Later history would record them as the historic statesmen of titanic debates, men by whose eloquence and leadership and committee-room toil the Republic would be revolutionized in nearly every detail, and billions made to flow like water.
As Marie Louise collected her porter and her hand-luggage for her next exit she saw Ross Davidge just coming in. She stepped behind a large politician or something. She forgot that she owed Davidge money, and she felt a rather pleasurable agitation in this game of hide-and-seek, but something made her shy of Davidge. For one thing, it was ludicrous to be caught being turned out of a second hotel.
The politician walked away, and Davidge would have seen Marie Louise if he had not stopped short and turned a cold shoulder on her, just as the distant orchestra, which had been crooning one of Jerome Kern's most insidiously ingratiating melodies, began to blare with all its might the sonorities of "The Star-spangled Banner."
Miss Webling saw the people in the alley getting to their feet slowly, awkwardly. A number of army and navy officers faced the music and stood rigid at attention. The civilians in the lobby who were already standing began to pull their hats off sheepishly like embarrassed peasants. People were still as self-conscious as if the song had just been written. They would soon learn to feel the tremendous importance of that eternal query, the only national anthem, perhaps, that ever began with a question and ended with a prayer. Americans would soon learn to salute it with eagerness and to deal ferociously with men—and women, too—who were slow to rise.
Marie Louise watched Davidge curiously. He was manifestly on fire with patriotism, but he was ashamed to show it, ashamed to stand erect and click his heels. He fumbled his hat and slouched, and looked as if he had been caught in some guilt. He was indeed guilty of a childish fervor. He wanted to shout, he wanted to weep, he wanted to fight somebody; but he did not know how to express himself without striking an attitude, and he was incapable of being a poseur—except as an American posily affects poselessness.
When the anthem ended, people sank into their chairs with sighs of relief; the officers sharply relaxed; the civilians straightened up and felt at home again. Ross Davidge marched to the desk, not noticing Marie Louise, who motioned to her porter to come along with her luggage and went to hunt shelter at the Raleigh Hotel. She kept her taxi now and left her hand-baggage in it while she received the inevitable rebuff. From there she traveled to hotel after hotel, marching in with the dismal assurance that she would march right out again.
The taxi-driver was willing to take her to hotels as long as they and her money lasted. Her strength and her patience gave out first. At the Lafayette she advanced wearily, disconsolately to the desk. She saw Ross Davidge stretched out in a big chair. He did not see her. His hat was pulled over his eyes, and he had the air of angry failure. If he despaired, what chance had she?
She received the usual regrets from the clerk. As she left the desk the floor began to wabble. She hurried to an inviting divan and dropped down, beaten and distraught. She heard some one approach, and her downcast eyes saw a pair of feet move up and halt before her.
Since Lady Clifton-Wyatt's searing glance and words Marie Louise had felt branded visibly, and unworthy of human kindness and shelter. She was piteously grateful to this man for his condescension in saying:
"You'll have to excuse me for bothering you again. But I'm afraid you're in worse trouble than I am. Nobody seems to be willing to take you in."
He meant this as a light jocularity, but it gave her a moment's serious fear that he had overheard Lady Clifton-Wyatt's slashing remark. But he went on: