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The Day of the Beast
by Zane Grey
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"No, you stay," she replied. "I'll chase this bunch pretty soon."

"Well, you won't chase me. I'll go," spoke up Swann, sullenly, with a fling of his cigarette.

"You needn't hurt yourself," returned Helen, sarcastically.

"So long, people," said Swann to the others. But it was perfectly obvious that he did not include Lane. It was also obvious, at least to Lane, that Swann showed something of intolerance and mastery in the dark, sullen glance he bestowed upon Helen. She followed him across the room and out into the hall, from whence her guarded voice sounded unintelligibly. But Lane's keen ear, despite the starting of the Victrola, caught Swann's equally low, yet clearer reply. "You can't kid me. I'm on. You'll vamp Lane if he lets you. Go to it!"

As Helen came back into the room Mackay ran for her, and locking her in the same embrace—even a tighter one than Swann's—he fell into the strange steps that had so shocked Lane. Moreover, he was manifestly a skilful dancer, and showed the thin, lithe, supple body of one trained down by this or some other violent exercise.

Lane did not watch the dancers this time. Again Bessy Bell refused to get up from the lounge. The youth was insistent. He pawed at her. And manifestly she did not like that, for her face flamed, and she snapped: "Stop it—you bonehead! Can't you see I want to sit here by Mr. Lane?"

The youth slouched away fuming to himself.

Whereupon Lane got up, and seated himself beside Bessy so that he need not shout to be heard.

"That was nice of you, Miss Bell—but rather hard on the youngster," said Lane.

"He makes me sick. All he wants to do is lolly-gag.... Besides, after what you said to Helen about the jazz I wouldn't dance in front of you on a bet."

She was forceful, frank, naive. She was impressed by his nearness; but Lane saw that it was the fact of his being a soldier with a record, not his mere physical propinquity that affected her. She seemed both bold and shy. But she did not show any modesty. Her short skirt came above her bare knees, and she did not try to hide them from Lane's sight. At fifteen, like his sister Lorna, this girl had the development of a young woman. She breathed health, and something elusive that Lane could not catch. If it had not been for her apparent lack of shame, and her rouged lips and cheeks, and her plucked eyebrows, she would have been exceedingly alluring. But no beauty, however striking, could under these circumstances, stir Lane's heart. He was fascinated, puzzled, intensely curious.

"Why wouldn't you dance jazz in front of me?" he inquired, with a smile.

"Well, for one thing I'm not stuck on it, and for another I'll say you said a mouthful."

"Is that all?" he asked, as if disappointed.

"No. I'd respect what you said—because of where you've been and what you've done."

It was a reply that surprised Lane.

"I'm out of date, you know."

She put a finger on the medal on his breast and said: "You could never be out of date."

The music and the sliding shuffle ceased.

"Now beat it," said Helen. "I want to talk to Daren." She gayly shoved the young people ahead of her in a mass, and called to Bessy: "Here, you kid vamp, lay off Daren."

Bessy leaned to whisper in his ear: "Make a date with me, quick!"

"Surely, I'll hunt you up. Good-bye."

She was the only one who made any pretension of saying good-bye to Lane. They all crowded out before Helen, with Mackay in the rear. From the hall Lane heard him say to Helen: "Dick'll sure go to the mat with you for this."

Presently Helen returned to shut the door behind her; and her walk toward Lane had a suggestion of the oriental dancer. For Lane her face was a study. This seemed a woman beyond his comprehension. She was the Helen Wrapp he had known and loved, plus an age of change, a measureless experience. With that swaying, sinuous, pantherish grace, with her green eyes narrowed and gleaming, half mocking, half serious, she glided up to him, close, closer until she pressed against him, and her face was uplifted under his. Then she waited with her eyes gazing into his. Slumberous green depths, slowly lighting, they seemed to Lane. Her presence thus, her brazen challenge, affected him powerfully, but he had no thrill.

"Aren't you going to kiss me?" she asked.

"Helen, why didn't you write me you had broken our engagement?" he counter-queried.

The question disconcerted her somewhat. Drawing back from close contact with him she took hold of his sleeves, and assumed a naive air of groping in memory. She used her eyes in a way that Lane could not associate with the past he knew. She was a flirt—not above trying her arts on the man she had jilted.

"Why, didn't I write you? Of course I did."

"Well, if you did I never got the letter. And if you were on the level you'd admit you never wrote."

"How'd you find out then?" she inquired curiously.

"I never knew for sure until your mother verified it."

"Are you curious to know why I did break it off?"

"Not in the least."

This reply shot the fire into her face, yet she still persisted in the expression of her sentimental motive. She began to finger the medal on his breast.

"So, Mr. Soldier Hero, you didn't care?"

"No—not after I had been here ten minutes," he replied, bluntly.

She whirled from him, swiftly, her body instinct with passion, her expression one of surprise and fury.

"What do you mean by that?"

"Nothing I care to explain, except I discovered my love for you was dead—perhaps had been dead for a long time."

"But you never discovered it until you saw me—here—with Swann—dancing, drinking, smoking?"

"No. To be honest, the shock of that enlightened me."

"Daren Lane, I'm just what you men have made me," she burst out, passionately.

"You are mistaken. I beg to be excluded from any complicity in the—in whatever you've been made," he said, bitterly. "I have been true to you in deed and in thought all this time."

"You must be a queer soldier!" she exclaimed, incredulously.

"I figure there were a couple of million soldiers like me, queer or not," he retorted.

She gazed at him with something akin to hate in her eyes. Then putting her hands to her full hips she began that swaying, dancing walk to and fro before the window. She was deeply hurt. Lane had meant to get under her skin with a few just words of scorn, and he had imagined his insinuation as to the change in her had hurt her feelings. Suddenly he divined it was not that at all—he had only wounded her vanity.

"Helen, let's not talk of the past," he said. "It's over. Even if you had been true to me, and I loved you still—I would have been compelled to break our engagement."

"You would! And why?"

"I am a physical wreck—and a mental one, too, I fear.... Helen, I've come home to die."

"Daren!" she cried, poignantly.

Then he told her in brief, brutal words of the wounds and ravages war had dealt him, and what Doctor Bronson's verdict had been. Lane felt shame in being so little as to want to shock and hurt her, if that were possible.

"Oh, I'm sorry," she burst out. "Your mother—your sister.... Oh, that damned horrible war! What has it not done to us?... Daren, you looked white and weak, but I never thought you were—going to die.... How dreadful!"

Something of her girlishness returned to her in this moment of sincerity. The past was not wholly dead. Memories lingered. She looked at Lane, wide-eyed, in distress, caught between strange long-forgotten emotions.

"Helen, it's not dreadful to have to die," replied Lane. "That is not the dreadful part in coming home."

"What is dreadful, then?" she asked, very low.

Lane felt a great heave of his breast—the irrepressible reaction of a profound and terrible emotion, always held in abeyance until now. And a fierce pang, that was physical as well as emotional, tore through him. His throat constricted and ached to a familiar sensation—the welling up of blood from his lungs. The handkerchief he put to his lips came away stained red. Helen saw it, and with dilated eyes, moved instinctively as if to touch him, hold him in her pity.

"Never mind, Helen," he said, huskily. "That's nothing.... Well, I was about to tell you what is so dreadful—for me.... It's to reach home grateful to God I was spared to get home—resigned to the ruin of my life—content to die for whom I fought—my mother, my sister, you, and all our women (for I fought for nothing else)—and find my mother aged and bewildered and sad, my sister a painted little hussy—and you—a strange creature I despise.... And all, everybody, everything changed—changed in some horrible way which proves my sacrifice in vain.... It is not death that is dreadful, but the uselessness, the hopelessness of the ideal I cherished."

Helen fell on the couch, and burying her face in the pillows she began to sob. Lane looked down at her, at her glistening auburn hair, and slender, white, ringed hand clutching the cushions, at her lissom shaking form, at the shapely legs in the rolled-down silk stockings—and he felt a melancholy happiness in the proof that he had reached her shallow heart, and in the fact that this was the moment of loss.

"Good-bye—Helen," he said.

"Daren—don't—go," she begged.

But he had to go, for other reasons beside the one that this was the end of all intimate relation between him and Helen. He had overtaxed his strength, and the burning pang in his breast was one he must heed. On the hall stairway a dizzy spell came over him. He held on to the banister until the weakness passed. Fortunately there was no one to observe him. Somehow the sumptuous spacious hall seemed drearily empty. Was this a home for that twenty-year-old girl upstairs? Lane opened the door and went out. He was relieved to find the taxi waiting. To the driver he gave the address of his home and said: "Go slow and don't give me a jar!"

But Lane reached home, and got into the house, where he sat at the table with his mother and Lorna, making a pretense of eating, and went upstairs and into his bed without any recurrence of the symptoms that had alarmed him. In the darkness of his room he gradually relaxed to rest. And rest was the only medicine for him. It had put off hour by hour and day by day the inevitable.

"If it comes—all right—I'm ready," he whispered to himself. "But in spite of all I've been through—and have come home to—I don't want to die."

There was no use in trying to sleep. But in this hour he did not want oblivion. He wanted endless time to think. And slowly, with infinite care and infallible memory, he went over every detail of what he had seen and heard since his arrival home. In the headlong stream of consciousness of the past hours he met with circumstances that he lingered over, and tried to understand, to no avail. Yet when all lay clearly before his mental gaze he felt a sad and tremendous fascination in the spectacle.

For many weeks he had lived on the fancy of getting home, of being honored and loved, of being given some little meed of praise and gratitude in the short while he had to live. Alas! this fancy had been a dream of his egotism. His old world was gone. There was nothing left. The day of the soldier had passed—until some future need of him stirred the emotions of a selfish people. This new world moved on unmindful, through its travail and incalculable change, to unknown ends. He, Daren Lane, had been left alone on the vast and naked shores of Lethe.

Lane made not one passionate protest at the injustice of his fate. Labor, agony, war had taught him wisdom and vision. He began to realize that no greater change could there be than this of his mind, his soul. But in the darkness there an irresistible grief assailed him. He wept as never before in all his life. And he tasted the bitter salt of his own tears. He wept for his mother, aged and bowed by trouble, bewildered, ready to give up the struggle—his little sister now forced into erotic girlhood, blind, wilful, bold, on the wrong path, doomed beyond his power or any earthly power—the men he had met, warped by the war, materialistic, lost in the maze of self-preservation and self-aggrandizement, dead to chivalry and the honor of women—Mel Iden, strangest and saddest of mysteries—a girl who had been noble, aloof, proud, with a heart of golden fire, now disgraced, ruined, the mother of a war-baby, and yet, strangest of all, not vile, not bad, not lost, but groping like he was down those vast and naked shores of life. He wept for the hard-faced Mrs. Wrapp, whose ideal had been wealth and who had found prosperity bitter ashes at her lips, yet who preserved in this modern maelstrom some sense of its falseness, its baseness. He wept for Helen, playmate of the years never to return, sweetheart of his youth, betrayer of his manhood, the young woman of the present, blase, unsexed, seeking, provocative, all perhaps, as she had said, that men had made her—a travesty on splendid girlhood. He wept for her friends, embodying in them all of their class—for little Bessy Bell, with her exquisite golden beauty, her wonderful smile that was a light of joy—a child of fifteen with character and mind, not yet sullied, not yet wholly victim to the unstable spirit of the day.

And traveling in this army that seemed to march before Lane's eyes were the slackers, like Mackay and Swann, representative of that horde of cowards who in one way or another had avoided the service—the young men who put comfort, ease, safety, pleasure before all else—who had no ideal of womanhood—who could not have protected women—who would not fight to save women from the apish Huns—who remained behind to fall in the wreck of the war's degeneration, and to dance, to drink, to smoke, to ride the women to their debasement.

And for the first and the last time Lane wept for himself, pitifully as a child lost and helpless, as a strong man facing irreparable loss, as a boy who had dreamed beautiful dreams, who had loved and given and trusted, who had suffered insupportable agonies of body and soul, who had fought like a lion for what he represented to himself, who had killed and killed—and whose reward was change, indifference, betrayal and death.

That dark hour passed. Lane lay spent in the blackness of his room. His heart had broken. But his spirit was as unquenchable as the fire of the sun. If he had a year, a month, a week, a day longer to live he could never live it untrue to himself. Life had marked him to be a sufferer, a victim. But nothing could kill his soul. And his soul was his faith—something he understood as faith in God or nature or life—in the reason for his being—in his vision of the future.

How then to spend this last remnant of his life! No one would guess what passed through his lonely soul. No one would care. But out of the suffering that now seemed to give him spirit and wisdom and charity there dawned a longing to help, to save. He would return good for evil. All had failed him, but he would fail no one.

Then he had a strange intense desire to understand the present. Only a day home—and what colossal enigma! The war had been chaos. Was this its aftermath? Had people been rocked on their foundations? What were they doing—how living—how changing? He would see, and be grateful for a little time to prove his faith. He knew he would find the same thing in others that existed in himself.

He would help his mother, and cheer her, and try to revive something of hope in her. He would bend a keen and patient eye upon Lorna, and take the place of her father, and be kind, loving, yet blunt to her, and show her the inevitable end of this dancing, dallying road. Perhaps he could influence Helen. He would see the little soldier-worshipping Bessy Bell, and if by talking hours and hours, by telling the whole of his awful experience of war, he could take up some of the time so fraught with peril for her, he would welcome the ordeal of memory. And Mel Iden—how thought of her seemed tinged with strange regret! Once she and he had been dear friends, and because of a falsehood told by Helen that friendship had not been what it might have been. Suppose Mel, instead of Helen, had loved him and been engaged to him! Would he have been jilted and would Mel have been lost? No! It was a subtle thing—that answer of his spirit. It did not agree with Mel Iden's frank confession.

It might be difficult, he reflected, to approach Mel. But he would find a way. He would rest a few days—then find where she lived and go to see her. Could he help her? And he had an infinite exaltation in his power to help any one who had suffered. Lane recalled Mel's pale sweet face, the shadowed eyes, the sad tremulous lips. And this image of her seemed the most lasting of the impressions of the day.



CHAPTER V

The arbiters of social fate in Middleville assembled at Mrs. Maynard's on a Monday afternoon, presumably to partake of tea. Seldom, however, did they meet without adding zest to the occasion by a pricking down of names.

Mrs. Wrapp was the leading spirit of this self-appointed tribunal—a circumstance of expanding, resentment to Mrs. Maynard, who had once held the reins with aristocratic hands. Mrs. Kingsley, the third member of the great triangle, claimed an ancestor on the Mayflower, which was in her estimation a guerdon of blue blood. Her elaborate and exclusive entertainments could never be rivalled by those of Mrs. Wrapp. She was a widow with one child, the daughter Elinor, a girl of nineteen.

Mrs. Maynard was tall, pale, and worldly. Traces of lost beauty flashed in her rare smiles. When Frank Maynard had failed in business she had shrouded her soul in bitterness; and she saw the slow cruel years whiten his head and bend his shoulders with the cold eye of a woman who had no forgiveness for failure. After Mr. Maynard's reverse, all that kept the pair together were the son Blair, and the sweet, fair-haired, delicate Margaret, a girl of eighteen, whom the father loved, and for whom the mother had large ambitions. They still managed, in ways mysterious to the curious, to keep their fine residence in the River Park suburb of Middleville.

On this April afternoon the tea was neglected in the cups, and there was nothing of the usual mild gossip. The discussion involved Daren Lane, and when two of those social arbiters settled back in their chairs the open sesame of Middleville's select affairs had been denied to him.

"Why did he do it?" asked Mrs. Kingsley.

"He must have been under the influence of liquor," replied Mrs. Maynard, who had her own reasons for being relieved at the disgrace of Daren Lane.

"No, Jane, you're wrong," spoke up Mrs. Wrapp, who, whatever else she might be, was blunt and fair-minded. "Lane wasn't drunk. He never drank before the war. I knew him well. He and Helen had a puppy-love affair—they were engaged before Lane went to war. Well, the day after his return he called on us. And if I never liked him before I liked him then. He's come back to die! He was ill for two weeks—and then he crawled out of bed again. I met him down town one day. He really looked better, and told me with a sad smile that he had 'his ups and downs'.... No, Lane wasn't drunk at Fanchon Smith's dance the other night. I was there, and I was with Mrs. Smith when Lane came up to us. If ever I saw a cool, smooth, handsome devil it was Lane.... Well, he said what he said. I thought Mrs. Smith would faint. It is my idea Lane had a deep motive back of his remark about Fanchon's dress and her dancing. The fact is Lane was sick at what he saw—sick and angry. And he wanted Fanchon's mother and me to know what he thought."

"It was an insult," declared Mrs. Maynard, vehemently.

"It made Mrs. Smith ill," added Mrs. Kingsley. "She told me Fanchon tormented the life out of her, trying to learn what Lane said. Mrs. Smith would not tell. But Fanchon came to me and I told her. Such a perfectly furious girl! She'll not wear that dress or dance that dance very soon again. The story is all over town."

"Friends, there are two sides to every question," interposed the forceful Mrs. Wrapp. "If Lane cared to be popular he would have used more tact. But I don't think his remark was an insult. It was pretty raw, I admit. But the dress was indecent and the dance was rotten. Helen told me Fanchon was half shot. So how could she be insulted?"

Mrs. Maynard and Mrs. Kingsley, as usual, received Mrs. Wrapp's caustic and rather crude opinions with as good grace as they could muster. Plain it was that they felt themselves a shade removed from this younger and newer member of society. But they could not show direct antagonism to her influence any more than they could understand the common sense and justice of her arguments.

"No one will ever invite him again," declared Mrs. Maynard.

"He's done in Middleville," echoed Mrs. Kingsley. And that perhaps was a gauntlet thrown.

"Rot!" exclaimed Mrs. Wrapp, with more force than elegance. "I'll invite Daren Lane to my house.... You women don't get the point. Daren Lane is a soldier come home to die. He gave himself. And he returns to find all—all this sickening—oh, what shall I call it? What does he care whether or not we invite him? Can't you see that?"

"There's a good deal in what you say," returned Mrs. Kingsley, influenced by the stronger spirit. "Maybe Lane hated the new styles. I don't blame him much. There's something wrong with our young people. The girls are crazy. The boys are wild. Few of them are marrying—or even getting engaged. They'll do anything. The times are different. And we mothers don't know our daughters."

"Well, I know mine" returned Mrs. Maynard, loftily. "What you say may be true generally, but there are exceptions. My daughter has been too well brought up."

"Yes, Margie is well-bred," retorted Mrs. Wrapp. "We'll admit she hasn't gone to extremes, as most of our girls have. But I want to observe to you that she has been a wall-flower for a year."

"It certainly is a problem," sighed Mrs. Kingsley. "I feel helpless—out of it. Elinor does precisely what she wants to do. She wears outlandish clothes. She smokes and—I'm afraid drinks. And dances—dreadfully. Just like the other girls—no better, no worse. But with all that I think she's good. I feel the same as Jane feels about that. In spite of this—this modern stuff I believe all the girls are fundamentally the same as ten years ago."

"Well, that's where you mothers get in wrong," declared Mrs. Wrapp with her vigorous bluntness. "It's your pride. Just because they're your daughters they are above reproach.... What have you to say about the war babies in town? Did you ever hear of that ten years ago? You bet you didn't. These girls are a speedy set. Some of them are just wild for the sake of wildness. Most of them have to stand for things, or be left out altogether."

"What in the world can we do?" queried Mrs. Maynard, divided between distress and chagrin.

"The good Lord only knows," responded Mrs. Wrapp, herein losing her assurance. "Marriage would save most of them. But Helen doesn't want to marry. She wants to paint pictures and be free."

"Perhaps marriage is a solution," rejoined Mrs. Maynard thoughtfully.

"Whom on earth can we marry them to?" asked Mrs. Kingsley. "Most of the older men, the bachelors who're eligible haven't any use for these girls except to play with them. True, these young boys only think of little but dances, car-rides, and sneaking off alone to spoon—they get engaged to this girl and that one. But nothing comes of it."

"You're wrong. Never in my time have I seen girls find lovers and husbands as easily as now," declared Mrs. Wrapp. "Nor get rid of them so quickly.... Jane, you can marry Margaret. She's pretty and sweet even if you have spoiled her. The years are slipping by. Margaret ought to marry. She's not strong enough to work. Marriage for her would make things so much easier for you."

With that parting dig Mrs. Wrapp rose to go. Whereupon she and Mrs. Kingsley, with gracious words of invitation and farewell, took themselves off leaving Mrs. Maynard contending with an outraged spirit. Certain terse remarks of the crude and practical Mrs. Wrapp had forced to her mind a question that of late had assumed cardinal importance, and now had been brought to an issue by a proposal for Margaret's hand. Her daughter was a great expense, really more than could longer be borne in these times of enormous prices and shrunken income. A husband had been found for Margaret, and the matter could be adjusted easily enough, if the girl did not meet it with the incomprehensible obstinacy peculiar to her of late.

Mrs. Maynard found the fair object of her hopes seated in the middle of her room with the bright contents of numerous boxes and drawers strewn in glittering heaps around her.

"Margaret, what on earth are you doing there?" she demanded.

"I'm looking for a little picture Holt Dalrymple gave me when we went to school together," responded Margaret.

"Aren't you ever going to grow up? You'll be hunting for your dolls next."

"I will if I like," said the daughter, in a tone that did not manifest a seraphic mood.

"Don't you feel well?" inquired the mother, solicitously. Margaret was frail and subject to headaches that made her violent.

"Oh, I'm well enough."

"My dear," rejoined Mrs. Maynard, changing the topic. "I'm sorry to tell you Daren Lane has lost his standing in Middleville."

The hum and the honk of a motor-car sounded in the street.

"Poor Daren! What's he done?... Any old day he'll care!"

Mrs. Maynard was looking out of the window. "Here comes a crowd of girls.... Helen Wrapp has a new suit. Well, I'll go down. And after they leave I want a serious talk with you."

"Not if I see you first!" muttered Margaret, under her breath, as her mother walked out.

Presently, following gay talk and laughter down stairs, a bevy of Margaret's friends entered her boudoir.

"Hello, old socks!" was Helen's greeting. "You look punk."

"Marg, where's the doll? Your mother tipped us off," was Elinor's greeting.

"Where's the eats?" was Flossie Dickerson's greeting. She was a bright-eyed girl, with freckles on her smiling face, and the expression of a daring, vivacious and happy spirit—and acknowledged to be the best dancer and most popular girl in Middleville. Her dress, while not to be compared with her friends' costumes in costliness, yet was extreme in the prevailing style.

"Glad to see you, old dear," was dark-eyed, dark-haired Dorothy Dalrymple's greeting. Her rich color bore no hint of the artificial. She sank down on her knees beside Margaret.

The other girls draped themselves comfortably round the room; and Flossie with a 'Yum Yum' began to dig into a box of candy on Margaret's couch. They all talked at once. "Hear the latest, Marg?"

"Look at Helen's spiffy suit!"

"Oh, money, money, what it will buy!"

"Money'll never buy me, I'll say."

"Marg, who's been fermentin' round lately? Girls, get wise to the flowers."

"Hot dog! See Marg blush! That comes from being so pale. What are rouge and lip-stick and powder for but to hide truth from our masculine pursuers?"

"Floss, you haven't blushed for a million years."

It was Dorothy Dalrymple who silenced the idle badinage.

"Marg, you rummaging in the past?" she cried.

"Yes, and I love it," replied Margaret. "I haven't looked over this stuff for years. Just to remember the things I did!... Here, Dal, is a picture you once drew of our old teacher, Miss Hill."

Dorothy, whom the girls nicknamed "Dal," gazed at the drawing with amaze and regret.

"She was a terror," continued Margaret. "But Dal, you never had any reason to draw such a horrible picture of her. You were her pet."

"I wasn't," declared Dorothy.

"Maybe you never knew Miss Hill adored you, Dal," interposed Elinor. "She was always holding you up as a paragon. Not in your lessons—for you were a bonehead—but for deportment you were the class!"

"Dal, you were too good for this earth then, let alone these days," said Margaret.

"Miss Hill," mused Elinor, gazing at the caricature. "That's not a bad drawing. I remember Miss Hill never had any use for me. Small wonder. She was an honest-to-God teacher. I think she wanted us to be good.... Wonder how she got along with the kids that came after us."

"I saw Amanda Hill the other day," spoke up Flossie. "She looked worn out. She was nice to me. I'll bet my shirt she'd like to have us back, bad as we were.... These kids of to-day! My Gawd! they're the limit. They paralyze me. I thought I was pretty fast. But compared to these youngsters I'm tied to a post. My kid sister Joyce—Rose Clymer—Bessy Bell!... Some kids, believe me. And take it from me, girls, these dimple-kneed chickens are vamping the older boys."

"They're all stuck on Bessy," said Helen.

Margaret squealed in delight. "Girls, look here. Valentines! Did you ever?... Look at them.... And what's this?... 'Wonders of Nature—composition by Margaret Maynard.' Heavens! Did I write that? And what's this sear and yellow document?"

A slivery peal of laughter burst from Margaret.

"Dal, here's one of your masterpieces, composed when you were thirteen, and mooney over Daren Lane."

"I? Never! I didn't write it," denied Dorothy, with color in her dark cheeks.

"Yes you did. It's signed—'Yours forever Dot Dalrymple.' ... Besides I remember now Daren gave it to me. Said he wanted to prove he could have other girls if he couldn't have me."

"How chivalrous!" exclaimed Dorothy, joining in the laugh.

"Ah! here's what I've been hunting," declared Margaret, waving aloft a small picture. "It's a photograph of Holt, taken five years ago. Only the other evening he swore I hadn't kept it—dared me to produce it. He'll want it now—for some other girl. But nix, it's mine.... Dal, isn't he a handsome boy here?"

With sisterly impartiality Dorothy declared she could not in the wildest flight of her imagination see her brother as handsome.

"Holt used to be good-looking," said she. "But he outgrew it. That South Carolina training camp and the flu changed his looks as well as his disposition."

"Holt is changed," mused Margaret, gazing down at the picture, and the glow faded from her face.

"Dare Lane is handsome, even if he is a wreck," said Elinor, with sudden enthusiasm. "Friday night when he beat it from Fanchon's party he sure looked splendid."

Elinor was a staunch admirer of Lane's and she was the inveterate torment of her girl friends. She gave Helen a sly glance. Helen's green eyes narrowed and gleamed.

"Yes, Dare's handsomer than ever," she said. "And to give the devil his due he's finer than ever. Too damn fine for this crowd!... But what's the use—" she broke off.

"Yes, poor Dare Lane!" sighed Elinor. "Dare deserves much from all of us, not to mention you. He has made me think. Thank Heaven, I found I hadn't forgotten how."

"El, no one would notice it," returned Helen, sarcastically.

"It's easy to see where you get off," retorted Elinor.

Then a silence ensued, strange in view of the late banter and quick sallies; a silence breathing of restraint. The color died wholly from Margaret's face, and a subtle, indefinable, almost imperceptible change came over Dorothy.

"You bet Dare is handsome," spoke up Flossie, as if to break the embarrassment. "He's so white since he came home. His eyes are so dark and flashing. Then the way he holds his head—the look of him.... No wonder these damned slackers seem cheap compared to him.... I'd fall for Dare Lane in a minute, even if he is half dead."

The restraint passed, and when Floss Dickerson came out with eulogy for any man his status was settled for good and all. Margaret plunged once more into her treasures of early schooldays. Floss and Elinor made merry over some verses Margaret had handed up with a blush. Helen apparently lapsed into a brooding abstraction. And presently Dorothy excused herself, and kissing Margaret good-bye, left for home.

The instant she had gone Margaret's gay and reminiscent mood underwent a change.

"Girls, I want to know what Daren Lane did or said on Friday night at Fanchon's," spoke up Margaret. "You know mother dragged me home. Said I was tired. But I wasn't. It was only because I'm a wall-flower.... So I missed what happened. But I've heard talk enough to make me crazy to know about this scandal. Kit Benson was here and she hinted things. I met Bessy Bell. She asked me if I knew. She's wild about Daren. That yellow-legged broiler! He doesn't even know her.... My brother Blair would not tell me anything. He's strong for Daren. But mother told me Daren had lost his standing in Middleville. She always hated Daren. Afraid I'd fall in love with him. The idea! I liked him, and I like him better now—poor fellow!... And last, when El mentioned Daren, did you see Dal's face? I never saw Dal look like that."

"Neither did I," replied Elinor.

"Well, I have," spoke up Helen, with all of her mother's bluntness. "Dal always was love-sick over Daren, when she was a mere kid. She never got over it and never will."

"Still water runs deep," sapiently remarked Elinor. "There's a good deal in Dal. She's fine as silk. Of course we all remember how jealous she was of other girls when Daren went with her. But I think now it's because she's sorry for Daren. So am I. He was such a fool. Fanchon swears no nice girl in Middleville will ever dance that new camel-walk dance in public again."

"What did Daren say?" demanded Margaret, with eyes lighting.

"I was standing with Helen, and Fanchon when Daren came up. He looked—I don't know how—just wonderful. We all knew something was doing. Daren bowed to Fanchon and said to her in a perfectly clear voice that everybody heard: 'I'd like to try your camel-walk. I'm out of practice and not strong, but I can go once around, I'm sure. Will you?'"

'You're on, Dare,' replied Fanchon.

Then he asked. 'Do you like it?'

'I'll say so, Dare—crazy about it.'

'Of course you know why it's danced—and how it's interpreted by men,' said Daren.

'What do you mean?' asked Fanchon, growing red and flustered.

"Then Daren said: 'I'll tell your mother. If she lets you dance with that understanding—all right.' He bent over Mrs. Smith and said something. Mrs. Wrapp heard it. And so did Mrs. Mackay, who looked pretty sick. Mrs. Smith nearly fainted!... but she recovered enough to order Daren to leave."

"Do you know what Daren said?" demanded Margaret, in a frenzy of excitement.

"No. None of the girls know. We can only imagine. That makes it worse. If Fanchon knows she won't tell. But it is gossip all over town. We'll hear it soon. All the girls in town are imagining. It's spread like wildfire. And what do you think, Margie? In church—on Sunday—Doctor Wallace spoke of it. He mentioned no names. But he said that as the indecent dress and obscene dance of the young women could no longer be influenced by the home or the church it was well that one young man had the daring to fling the truth into the faces of their mothers."

"Oh, it was rotten of Daren," replied Margaret, with tears in her eyes. She was ashamed, indignant, incredulous. "For him to do a thing like that! He's always been the very prince of gentlemen. What on earth possessed him? Heaven knows the dances are vile, but that doesn't excuse Daren Lane. What do I care what Doctor Wallace said? Never in a thousand years will Mrs. Smith or mother or any one forgive him. Fanchon Smith is a little snob. I always hated her. She's spiteful and catty. She's a flirt all the way. She would dance any old thing. But that's not the point. Daren's disgraced himself. It was rotten—of him. And—I'll never—forgive—him, either."

"Don't cry, Margie," said Elinor. "It always makes your eyes red and gives you a headache. Poor Daren made a blunder. But some of us will stick to him. Don't take it so badly."

"Margie, it was rotten of Daren, one way you look at it—our way," added Flossie. "But you have to hand it to him for that stunt."

Helen Wrapp preserved her sombre mood, silent and brooding.

"Margie," went on Elinor, "there's a lot back of this. If Dare Lane could do that there must be some reason for it. Maybe we all needed a jolt. Well, we've got it. Let's stand by Daren. I will. Helen will. Floss will. You will. And surely Dal will."

"If you ask me I'll say Dare Lane ought to hand something to the men!" burst out Floss Dickerson, with fire in her eyes.

"You said a mouthful, kiddo," responded Helen, with her narrow contracted gaze upon Margaret. "Daren gave me the once over—and then the icepick!"

"Wonder what he gave poor Mel—when he heard about her," murmured Elinor, thoughtfully.

"Mel Iden ought to be roasted," retorted Helen. "She was always so darned superior. And all the time...."

"Helen, don't you say a word against Mel Iden," burst out Margaret, hotly. "She was my dearest friend. She was lovely. Her ruin was a horrible shock. But it wasn't because she was bad.... Mel had some fanatical notion about soldiers giving all—going away to be slaughtered. She said to me, 'A woman's body is so little to give,'"

"Yes, I know Mel was cracked," replied Helen. "But she needn't have been a damn fool. She didn't need to have had that baby!"

"Helen, your idea of sin is to be found out," said Elinor, with satire.

Again Floss Dickerson dropped her trenchant personality into the breach.

"Aw, come off!" she ejaculated. "Let somebody roast the men once, will you? I'm the little Jane that knows, believe me. All this talk about the girls going to hell makes me sick. We may be going—and going in limousines—but it's the men who're stepping on the gas."

"Floss, I love to hear you elocute," drawled Helen. "Go to it! For God's sake, roast the men."

"You always have to horn in," retorted Floss. "Let me get this off my chest, will you?... We girls are getting talked about. There's no use denying it. Any but a blind girl could see it. And it's because we do what the men want. Every girl wants to go out—to be attractive—to have fellows. But the price is getting high. They say in Middleville that I'm rushed more than any other girl. Well, if I am I know what it costs.... If I didn't 'pet'—if I didn't mush, if I didn't park my corsets at dances—if I didn't drink and smoke, and wiggle like a jelly-fish, I'd be a dead one—an egg, and don't you overlook that. If any one says I want to do these things he's a fool. But I do love to have good times, and little by little I've been drawn on and on.... I've had my troubles staving off these fellows. Most of them get half drunk. Some of the girls do, too. I never went that far. I always kept my head. I never went the limit. But you can bet your sweet life it wasn't their fault I didn't fall for them.... I'll say I've had to walk home from more than one auto ride. There's something in the gag, 'I know she's a good girl because I met her walking home from an auto ride.' That's one thing I intend to cut out this summer—the auto rides. Nothing doing for little Flossie!"

"Oh, can't we talk of something else!" complained Margaret, wearily, with her hands pressing against her temples.



CHAPTER VI

Mrs. Maynard slowly went upstairs and along the hall to her daughter's room. Margaret sat listlessly by a window. The girls had gone.

"You were going for a long walk," said Mrs. Maynard.

"I'm tired," replied Margaret. There was a shadow in her eyes.

The mother had never understood her daughter. And of late a subtle change in Margaret had made her more of a puzzle.

"Margaret, I want to talk seriously with you," she began.

"Well?"

"Didn't I tell you I wanted you to break off your—your friendship with Holt Dalrymple?"

"Yes," replied Margaret, with a flush. "I did not—want to."

"Well, the thing which concerns you now is—he can't be regarded as a possibility for you."

"Possibility?" echoed Margaret.

"Just that, exactly. I'm not sure of your thoughts on the matter, but it's time I knew them. Holt is a ne'er-do-well. He's gone to the bad, like so many of these army boys. No nice girl will ever associate with him again."

"Then I'm not nice, for I will," declared Margaret, spiritedly.

"You will persist in your friendship for him in the face of my objection?"

"Certainly I will if I have any say about it. But I know Holt. I—I guess he has taken to drink—and carrying on. So you needn't worry much about our friendship."

Mrs. Maynard hesitated. She had become accustomed to Margaret's little bursts of fury and she expected one here. But none came; Margaret appeared unnaturally calm; she sat still with her face turned to the window. Mrs. Maynard was a little afraid of this cold, quiet girl.

"Margaret, you can't help seeing now that your mother's judgment was right. Holt Dalrymple once may have been very interesting and attractive for a friend, but as a prospective husband he was impossible. The worst I hear of him is that he drinks and gambles. I know you liked him and I don't want to be unjust. But he has kept other and better young men away from you."

Margaret's hand clenched and her face sank against the window-pane.

"We need say no more about him," went on Mrs. Maynard. "Margaret, you've been brought up in luxury. If your father happened to die now—he's far from well—we'd be left penniless. We've lived up every dollar.... We have our poor crippled Blair to care for. You know you must marry well. I've brought you up with that end in view. And it's imperative you marry soon."

"Why must a girl marry?" murmured Margaret, wistfulness in her voice. "I'd rather go to work." "Margaret, you are a Maynard," replied her mother, haughtily. "Pray spare me any of this new woman talk about liberty—equal rights—careers and all that. Life hasn't changed for the conservative families of blood.... Try to understand, Margaret, that you must marry and marry well. You're nobody without money. In society there are hundreds of girls like you, though few so attractive. That's all the more reason you should take the best chance you have, before it's lost. If you don't marry people will say you can't. They'll say you're fading, growing old, even if you grow prettier every day of your life, and in the end they'll make you a miserable old maid. Then you'll be glad to marry anybody. If you marry now you can help your father, who needs help badly enough. You can help poor Blair.... You can be a leader in society; you can have a house here, a cottage at the seashore and one in the mountains; everything a girl's heart yearns for—servants, horses, autos, gowns, diamonds——"

"Everything except love," interrupted Margaret, bitterly.

Mrs. Maynard actually flushed, but she kept her temper.

"It's desirable that you love your husband. Any sensible woman can learn to care for a man. Love, as you dream about it is merely a—a dream. If women waited for that they would never get married."

"Which would be preferable to living without love."

"But Margaret, what would become of the world? If there were fewer marriages—Heaven knows they're few enough nowadays—there would be fewer families—and in the end fewer children—less and less——"

"They'd be better children," said Margaret, calmly.

"Eventually the race would die out."

"And that'd be a good thing—if the people can't love each other."

"How silly—exasperating!" ejaculated Mrs. Maynard. "You don't mean such nonsense. What any girl wants is a home of her own, a man to fuss over. I didn't marry for love, as you dream it. My husband attended to his business and I've looked after his household. You've had every advantage. I flatter myself our marriage has been a success."

Margaret's eyes gleamed like pointed flames.

"I differ with you. Your married life hasn't been successful any more than it's been happy. You never cared for father. You haven't been kind to him since his failure."

Mrs. Maynard waved her hand imperiously in angry amaze.

"I won't stop. I'm not a baby or a doll," went on Margaret, passionately. "If I'm old enough to marry I'm old enough to talk. I can think, can't I? You never told me anything, but I could see. Ever since I can remember you and father have had one continual wrangle about money—bills—expenses. Perhaps I'd have been better off without all the advantages and luxury. It's because of these things you want to throw me at some man. I'd far rather go to work the same as Blaid did, instead of college."

"Whatever on earth has come over you?" gasped Mrs. Maynard, bewildered by the revolt of this once meek daughter.

"Maybe I'm learning a little sense. Maybe I got some of it from Daren Lane," flashed back Margaret.

"Mother, whatever I've learned lately has been learned away from home. You've no more idea what's going on in the world to-day than if you were actually dead. I never was bright like Mel Iden, but I'm no fool. I see and hear and I read. Girls aren't pieces of furniture to be handed out to some rich men. Girls are waking up. They can do things. They can be independent. And being independent doesn't mean a girl's not going to marry. For she can wait—wait for the right man—for love.... You say I dream. Well, why didn't you wake me up long ago—with the truth? I had my dreams about love and marriage. And I've learned that love and marriage are vastly different from what most mothers make them out to be, or let a girl think."

"Margaret, I'll not have you talk in this strange way. You owe me respect if not obedience," said Mrs. Maynard, her voice trembling.

"Oh, well, I won't say any more," replied Margaret, "But can't you spare me? Couldn't we live within our means?"

"After all these years—to skimp along! I couldn't endure it."

"Whom have you in mind for me to—to marry?" asked the girl, coldly curious.

"Mr. Swann has asked your hand in marriage for his son Richard. He wants Richard to settle down. Richard is wild, like all these young men. And I have—well, I encouraged the plan."

"Mother!" cried Margaret, springing up.

"Margaret, you will see"

"I despise Dick Swann."

"Why?" asked her mother.

"I just do. I never liked him in school. He used to do such mean things. He's selfish. He let Holt and Daren suffer for his tricks."

"Margaret, you talk like a child."

"Listen, mother." She threw her arms round Mrs. Maynard and kissed her and spoke pleadingly. "Oh, don't make me hate myself. It seems I've grown so much older in the last year or so—and lately since this marriage talk came up. I've thought of things as never before because I've—I've learned about them. I see so differently. I can't—can't love Dick Swann. I can't bear to have him touch me. He's rude. He takes liberties.... He's too free with his hands! Why, it'd be wrong to marry him. What difference can a marriage service make in a girl's feelings.... Mother, let me say no."

"Lord spare me from bringing up another girl!" exclaimed Mrs. Maynard. "Margaret, I can't make you marry Richard Swann. I'm simply trying to tell you what any sensible girl would see she had to do. You think it over—both sides of the question—before you absolutely decide."

Mrs. Maynard was glad to end the discussion and to get away. In Margaret's appeal she heard a yielding, a final obedience to her wish. And she thought she had better let well enough alone. The look in Margaret's clear blue eyes made her shrink; it would haunt her. But she felt no remorse. Any mother would have done the same. There was always the danger of that old love affair; there was new danger in these strange wild fancies of modern girls; there was never any telling what Margaret might do. But once married she would be safe and her position assured.



CHAPTER VII

Daren Lane left Riverside Park, and walked in the meadows until he came to a boulder under a huge chestnut tree. Here he sat down. He could not walk far these days. Many a time in the Indian summers long past he had gathered chestnuts there with Dal, with Mel Iden, with Helen. He would never do it again.

The April day had been warm and fresh with the opening of a late spring. The sun was now gold—rimming the low hills in the west; the sky was pale blue; the spring flowers whitened the meadow. Twilight began to deepen; the evening star twinkled out of the sky; the hush of the gloaming hour stole over the land.

"Four weeks home—and nothing done. So little time left!" he muttered.

Two weeks of that period he had been unable to leave his bed. The rest of the time he had dragged himself around, trying to live up to his resolve, to get at the meaning of the present, to turn his sister Lorna from the path of dalliance. And he had failed in all.

His sister presented the problem that most distressed Lane. She had her good qualities, and through them could be reached. But she was thoughtless, vacillating, and wilful. She had made him promises only to break them. Lane had caught her in falsehoods. And upon being called to account she had told him that if he didn't like it he could "lump" it. Of late she had grown away from what affection she had shown at first. She could not bear interference with her pleasures, and seemed uncontrollable. Lane felt baffled. This thing was a Juggernaut impossible to stop.

Lane had scraped acquaintance with Harry Hale, one of Lorna's admirers, a boy of eighteen, who lived with his widowed mother on the edge of the town. He appeared to be an industrious, intelligent, quiet fellow, not much given to the prevailing habits of the young people. In his humble worship of Lorna he was like a dog. Lorna went to the motion pictures with him occasionally, when she had no other opportunity for excitement. Lane gathered that Lorna really liked this boy, and when with him seemed more natural, more what a fifteen-year-old girl used to be. And somehow it was upon this boy that Lane placed a forlorn hope.

No more automobiles honked in front of the home to call Lorna out. She met her friends away from the house, and returning at night she walked the last few blocks. It was this fact that awoke Lane's serious suspicions.

Another problem lay upon Lane's heart; if not so distressing as Lorna's, still one that added to his sorrow and his perplexity. He had gone once to call on Mel Iden. Mel Iden was all soul. Whatever had been the facts of her downfall—and reflection on that hurt Lane so strangely he could not bear it—it had not been on her part a matter of sex. She was far above wantonness.

Through long hours in the dark of night, when Lane's pain kept him sleepless, he had pondered over the mystery of Mel Iden until it cleared. She typified the mother of the race. In all periods of the progress of the race, war had brought out this instinct in women—to give themselves for the future. It was a provision of nature, inscrutable and terrible. How immeasurable the distance between Mel Iden and those women who practised birth control! As the war had brought out hideous greed and baseness, so had it propelled forward and upward the noblest attributes of life. Mel Iden was a builder, not a destroyer. She had been sexless and selfless. Unconsciously during the fever and emotion of the training of American men for service abroad, and the poignancy of their departure, to fight, and perhaps never return, Mel Iden had answered to this mysterious instinct of nature. Then, with the emotion past, and face to face with staggering consequences, she had reacted to conscious instincts. She had proved the purity of her surrender. She was all mother. And Lane began to see her moving in a crystal, beautiful light.

For what seemed a long time Lane remained motionless there in the silence of the meadow. Then at length he arose and retraced his slow steps back to town. Darkness overtook him on the bridge that spanned Middleville River. He leaned over the railing and peered down into the shadows. A soft murmur of rushing water came up. How like strange distant voices calling him to go back or go on, or warning him, or giving mystic portent of something that would happen to him there! A cold chill crept over him and he seemed enveloped in a sombre menace of the future. But he shook it off. He had many battles to fight, not the least of which was with morbid imagination.

When he reached the center of town he entered the lobby of the Bradford Inn. He hoped to meet Blair Maynard there. A company of well-dressed youths and men filled the place, most of whom appeared to be making a merry uproar.

Lane observed two men who evidently were the focus of attention. One was a stranger, very likely a traveling man, and at the moment he presented a picture of mingled consternation and anger. He was brushing off his clothes while glaring at a little, stout, red-faced man who appeared about to be stricken by apoplexy. This latter was a Colonel Pepper, whose acquaintance Lane had recently made. He was fond of cards and sport, and appeared to be a favorite with the young men about town. Moreover he had made himself particularly agreeable to Lane, in fact to the extent of Lane's embarrassment. At this moment the stranger lost his consternation wholly in wrath, and made a threatening movement toward Pepper. Lane stepped between them just in time to save Pepper a blow.

"I know what he's done. I apologize for him," said Lane, to the stranger. "He's made a good many people victims of the same indignity. It's a weakness—a disease. He can't help himself. Pray overlook it."

The stranger appeared impressed with Lane's presence, probably with his uniform, and slowly shook himself and fell back, to glower at Pepper, and curse under his breath, still uncertain of himself.

Lane grasped Colonel Pepper and led him out of the lobby.

"Pepper, you're going to get in an awful mess with that stunt of yours," he declared, severely. "If you can't help it you ought at least pick on your friends, or the town people—not strangers."

"Have—a—drink," sputtered Pepper, with his hand at his hip.

"No, thanks."

"Have—a—cigar."

Lane laughed. He had been informed that Colonel Pepper's failing always took this form of remorse, and certainly he would have tried it upon his latest victim had not Lane interfered.

"Colonel, you're hopeless," said Lane, as they walked out. "I hope somebody will always be around to protect you. I'd carry a body guard.... Say, have you seen Blair Maynard or Holt Dalrymple to-night?"

"Not Blair, but Holt was here early with the boys," replied Pepper. "They've gone to the club rooms to have a little game. I'm going to sit in. Lately I had to put up a holler. If the boys quit cards how'm I to make a living?"

"Had Holt been drinking?"

"Not to-night. But he's been hitting the bottle pretty hard of late."

Suddenly Lane buttonholed the little man and peered down earnestly at him. "Pepper, I've been trying to straighten Holt up. He's going to the bad. But he's a good kid. It's only the company.... The fact is—this's strictly confidential, mind you—Holt's sister begged me to try to stop his drinking and gambling. I think I can do it, too, with a little help. Now, Pepper, I'm asking you to help me."

"Ahuh! Well, let's go in the writing room, where we can talk," said the other, and he took hold of Lane's arm. When they were seated in a secluded corner he lighted a cigar, and faced Lane with shrewd, kindly eyes. "Son, I like you and Blair as well as I hate these slackers Swann and Mackay, and their crowd. I could tell you a heap, and maybe help you, though I think young Holt is not a bad egg.... Is his sister the dark one who steps so straight and holds herself so well?"

"Yes, that sounds like Dorothy," replied Lane.

"She's about the only one I know who doesn't paint her face and I never saw her at—well, never mind where. But the fact I mean makes her stand out in this Middleville crowd like a light in the dark.... Lane, have you got on yet to the speed of the young people of this old burg?"

"I'm getting on, to my sorrow," said Lane.

"Ahuh! You mean you're getting wise to your kid sister?"

"Yes, I'm sorry to say. What do you know, Pepper?"

"Now, son, wait. I'm coming to that, maybe. But I want to know some things first. Is it true—what I hear about your health, bad shape, you know—all cut up in the war? Worse than young Maynard?"

Pepper's hand was close on Lane's. He had forgotten his cigar. His eyes were earnest.

"True?" laughed Lane, grimly. "Yes, it's true.... I won't last long, Pepper, according to Doctor Bronson. That's why I want to make hay while the sun shines."

"Ahuh!" Pepper cleared his throat. "Forgive this, boy.... Is it also true you were engaged to marry that Helen Wrapp—and she threw you down, while you were over there?"

"Yes, that's perfectly true," replied Lane, soberly.

"God, I guess maybe the soldier wasn't up against it!" ejaculated Pepper, with a gesture of mingled awe and wonder and scorn.

"What was the soldier up against, Pepper?" queried Lane. "Frankly, I don't know."

"Lane, the government jollied and forced the boys into the army," replied Pepper. "The country went wild with patriotism. The soldiers were heroes. The women threw themselves away on anything inside a uniform. Make the world safe for democracy—down the Hun—save France and England—ideals, freedom, God's country, and all that! Well, the first few soldiers to return from France got a grand reception, were made heroes of. They were lucky to get back while the sentiment was hot. But that didn't last.... Now, a year and more after the war, where does the soldier get off? Lane, there're over six hundred thousand of you disabled veterans, and for all I can read and find out the government has done next to nothing. New York is full of begging soldiers—on the streets. Think of it! And the poor devils are dying everywhere. My God! think of what's in the mind of one crippled soldier, let alone over half a million. I just have a dim idea of what I'd felt. You must know, or you will know, Lane, for you seem a thoughtful, lofty sort of chap. Just the kind to make a good soldier, because you had ideals and nerve!... Well, a selfish and weak administration could hardly be expected to keep extravagant promises to patriots. But that the American public, as a body, should now be sick of the sight of a crippled soldier—and that his sweetheart should turn him down!—this is the hideous blot, the ineradicable shame, the stinking truth, the damned mystery!"

When Pepper ended his speech, which grew more vehement toward the close, Lane could only stare at him in amaze.

"See here, Lane," added the other hastily, "pardon me for blowing up. I just couldn't help it. I took a shine to you—and to see you like this—brings back the resentment I've had all along. I'm blunt, but it's just as well for you to be put wise quick. You'll find friends, like me, who will stand by you, if you let them. But you'll also find that most of this rotten world has gone back on you...."

Then Pepper made a sharp, passionate gesture that broke his cigar against the arm of his chair, and he cursed low and deep. Presently he addressed Lane again. "Whatever comes of any disclosures I make—whatever you do—you'll not give me away?"

"Certainly not. You can trust me, Pepper," returned Lane.

"Son, I'm a wise old guy. There's not much that goes on in Middleville I don't get on to. And I'll make your hair curl. But I'll confine myself to what comes closest home to you. I get you, Lane. You're game. You're through. You have come back from war to find a hell of a mess. Your own sister—your sweetheart—your friend's brother and your soldier pard's sister—on the primrose path! And you with your last breath trying to turn them back! I'll say it's a damn fine stunt. I'm an old gambler, Lane. I've lived in many towns and mixed in tough crowds of crooked men and rotten women. But I'm here to confess that this after-the-war stuff of Middleville's better class has knocked out about all the faith I had left in human nature.... Then you came along to teach me a lesson."

"Well, Pepper, that's strong talk," returned Lane. "But cut it, and hurry to—to what comes home to me. What's the matter with these Middleville girls?"

"Lane, any intelligent man, who knows things, and who can think for himself, will tell you this—that to judge from the dress, dance, talk, conduct of these young girls—most of them have apparently gone wrong."

"You include our nice girls—from what we used to call Middleville's best families?"

"I don't only include them. I throw the emphasis on them. The girls you know best."

Lane straightened up, to look at his companion. Pepper certainly was not drunk.

"Do you know—anything about Lorna?"

"Nothing specifically to prove anything. She's in the thick of this thing in Middleville. Only a few nights ago I saw her at a roadhouse, out on the State Road, with a crowd of youngsters. They were having a high old time, I'll say. They danced jazz, and I saw Lorna drink lemonade into which liquor had been poured from a hip-pocket flask."

Lane put his head on his hands, as if to rest it, or still the throbbing there.

"Who took Lorna to this place?" he asked, presently, breathing heavily.

"I don't know. But it was Dick Swann who poured the drink out of the flask. Between you and me, Lane, that young millionaire is going a pace hereabouts. Listen," he went on, lowering his voice, and glancing round to see there was no one to overhear him, "there's a gambling club in Middleville. I go there. My rooms are in the same building. I've made a peep-hole through the attic floor next to my room. Do I see more things than cards and bottles? Do I! If the fathers of Middleville could see what I've seen they'd go out to the asylum.... I'm not supposed to know it's more than a place to gamble. And nobody knows I know. Dick Swann and Hardy Mackay are at the head of this club. Swann is the genius and the support of it. He's rich, and a high roller if I ever saw one.... Among themselves these young gentlemen call it the Strong Arm Club. Study over that, Lane. Do you get it? I know you do, and that saves me talking until I see red."

"Pepper, have you seen my sister—there?" queried Lane, tensely.

"Yes."

"With whom?"

"I'll not say, Lane. There's no need for that. I'll give you a key to my rooms, and you can go there—in the afternoons—and paste yourself to my peep-hole, and watch.... Honest to God, I believe it means bloodshed. But I can't help that. Something must be done. I'm not much good, but I can see that."

Colonel Pepper wiped his moist face. He was now quite pale and his hands shook.

"I never had a wife, or a sweetheart," he went on. "But once I had a little sister. Thank Heaven she didn't live her girlhood in times like these."

Lane again bowed his head on his hands, and wrestled with the might of reality.

"I'm going to take you to these club-rooms to-night," went on Pepper. "It'll cause a hell of a row. But once you get in, there'll be no help for them. Swann and his chums will have to stand for it."

"Did you ever take an outsider in?" asked Lane.

"Several times. Traveling men I met here. Good fellows that liked a game of cards. Swann made no kick at that. He's keen to gamble. And when he's drinking the sky's the limit."

"Wouldn't it be wiser just to show me these rooms, and let me watch from your place—until I find my sister there?" queried Lane.

"I don't know," replied Pepper, thoughtfully. "I think if I were you I'd butt in to-night with me. You can drag young Dalrymple home before he gets drunk."

"Pepper, I'll break up this—this club," declared Lane.

"I'll say you will. And I'm for you strong. If it was only the booze and cards I'd not have squealed. That's my living. But by God, I can't stand for the—the other stuff any longer!... Come on now. And I'll put you on to a slick stunt that'll take your breath away."

He led the way out of the hotel, in his excitement walking rather fast.

"Go slow, Pepper," said Lane. "We're not going over the top."

Pepper gave him a quick, comprehending look.

"Good Lord, Lane, you're not as—as bad as all that!"

Lane nodded. Then at slower pace they went out and down the bright Main Street for two blocks, and then to the right on West Street, which was quite comparable to the other thoroughfare as a business district. At the end of the street the buildings were the oldest in Middleville, and entirely familiar to Lane.

"Give White's the once over," said Pepper, indicating a brightly lighted store across the street. "That place is new to you, isn't it?"

"Yes, I don't remember White, or that there was a confectionery den along here."

"Den is right. It's some den, believe me.... White's a newcomer—a young sport, thick with Swann. For all I know Swann is backing him. Anyway he has a swell joint and a good trade. People kick about his high prices. Ice cream, candy, soda, soft drinks, and all that rot. But if he knows who you are you can get a shot. It'll strike you funny later to see he waits on the customers himself. But when you get wise it'll not be so funny. He's got a tea parlor upstairs—and they say it's some swell place, with a rest room or ladies' dressing room back. Now from this back room the girls can get into the club-rooms of the boys, and go out on the other side of the block. In one way and out the other—at night. Not necessary in the afternoon.... Come on now, well go round the block."

A short walk round the block brought them into a shaded, wide street with one of Middleville's parks on the left. A row of luxuriant elm trees helped the effect of gloom. The nearest electric light was across on the far corner, with trees obscuring it to some extent. At the corner where Pepper halted there was an outside stairway running up the old-fashioned building. The ground floor shops bore the signs of a florist and a milliner; above was a photograph gallery; and the two upper stories were apparently unoccupied. To the left of the two stores another stairway led up into the center of the building. Pepper led Lane up this stairway, a long, dark climb of three stories that taxed Lane's endurance.

"Sure is a junk heap, this old block," observed Pepper, as he fumbled in the dim light with his keys. At length he opened a door, turned on a light and led Lane into his apartment. "I have three rooms here, and the back one opens into a kind of areaway from which I get into an abandoned storeroom, or I guess it's an attic. To-morrow afternoon about three you meet me here and I'll take you in there and let you have a look through the peep-hole I made. It's no use to-night, because there'll be only boys at the club, and I'm going to take you right in."

He switched off the light, drew Lane out and locked the door. "I'm the only person who lives on this floor. There're three holes to this burrow and one of them is at the end of this hall. The exit where the girls slip out is on the floor below, through a hallway to that outside stairs. Oh, I'll say it's a Coney Island maze, this building! But just what these young rakes want.... Come on, and be careful. It'll be dark and the stairs are steep."

At the end of the short hall Pepper opened a door, and led Lane down steep steps in thick darkness, to another hall, dimly lighted by a window opening upon the street.

"You'll have to make a bluff at playing poker, unless my butting in with you causes a row," said Pepper, as he walked along. Presently he came to a door upon which he knocked several times. But before it was opened footsteps and voices sounded down the hall in the opposite direction from which Pepper had escorted Lane.

"Guess they're just coming. Hard luck," said Pepper. "'Fraid you'll not get in now."

Lane counted five dark forms against the background of dim light. He saw the red glow of a cigarette. Then the door upon which Pepper had knocked opened to let out a flare. Pepper gave Lane a shove across the threshold and followed him. Lane did not recognize the young man who had opened the door. The room was large, with old walls and high ceiling, a round table with chairs and a sideboard. It had no windows. The door on the other side was closed.

"Pepper, who's this you're ringin' in on me?" demanded the young fellow.

"A pard of mine. Now don't be peeved, Sammy," replied Pepper. "If there's any kick I'll take the blame. What's got into you that you can gamble and drink' with slackers?"

Dalrymple jammed his hat on and stepped toward the door. "Dare, you said a lot. I'll beat it with you—and I'll never come back."

"You bet your sweet life you won't," shouted Swann.

"Hold on there, Dalrymple," interposed Mackay, stepping out. "Come across with that eighty-six bucks you owe me."

"I—I haven't got it, Mackay," rejoined the boy, flushing deeply.

Lane ripped open his coat and jerked out his pocket-book and tore bills out of it. "There, Hardy Mackay," he said, with deliberate scorn, throwing the money on the table. "There are your eighty-six dollars—earned in France.... I should think it'd burn your fingers."

He drew Holt out into the hall, where Pepper waited. Some one slammed the door and began to curse.

"That ends that," said Colonel Pepper, as the three moved down the dim hall.

"It ends us, Pepper, but you couldn't stop those guys with a crowbar," retorted Dalrymple.

Lane linked arms with the boy and changed the conversation while they walked back to the inn. Here Colonel Pepper left them, and Lane talked to Holt for an hour. The more he questioned Holt the better he liked him, and yet the more surprised was he at the sordid fact of the boy's inclination toward loose living. There was something perhaps that Holt would not confess. His health had been impaired in the rich coloring, but his face wore a shade of sullen depression. The other two young men Lane had seen in Middleville, but they were unknown to him.

"Pepper, you beat it with your new pard," snarled Swann. "And you'll not get in here again, take that from me."

The mandate nettled Pepper, who evidently felt more deeply over this situation than had appeared on the surface.

"Sure, I'll beat it," returned he, resentfully. "But see here, Swann. Be careful how you shoot off your dirty mouth. It's not beyond me to hand a little tip to my friend Chief of Police Bell."

"You damned squealer!" shouted Swann. "Go ahead—do your worst. You'll find I pull a stroke.... Now get out of here."

With a violent action he shoved the little man out into the hall. Then turning to Lane he pointed with shaking hand to the door.

"Lane, you couldn't be a guest of mine."

"Swann, I certainly wouldn't be," retorted Lane, in tones that rang. "Pepper didn't tell me you were the proprietor of this—this joint."

"Get out of here or I'll throw you out!" yelled Swann, now beside himself with rage. And he made a threatening move toward Lane.

"Don't lay a hand on me," replied Lane. "I don't want my uniform soiled."

With that Lane turned to Dalrymple, and said quietly: "Holt, I came here to find you, not to play cards. That was a stall. Come away with me. You were not cut out for a card sharp or a booze fighter. What's got into you that you can gamble and drink' with slackers?"

Dalrymple jammed his hat on and stepped toward the door. "Dare, you said a lot. I'll beat it with you—and I'll never come back."

"You bet your sweet life you won't," shouted Swann.

"Hold on there, Dalrymple," interposed Mackay, stepping out. "Come across with that eighty-six bucks you owe me."

"I—I haven't got it, Mackay," rejoined the boy, flushing deeply.

Lane ripped open his coat and jerked out his pocket-book and tore bills out of it. "There, Hardy Mackay," he said, with deliberate scorn, throwing the money on the table. "There are your eighty-six dollars—earned in France.... I should think it'd burn your fingers."

He drew Holt out into the hall, where Pepper waited. Some one slammed the door and began to curse.

"That ends that," said Colonel Pepper, as the three moved down the dim hall.

"It ends us, Pepper, but you couldn't stop those guys with a crowbar," retorted Dalrymple.

Lane linked arms with the boy and changed the conversation while they walked back to the inn. Here Colonel Pepper left them, and Lane talked to Holt for an hour. The more he questioned Holt the better he liked him, and yet the more surprised was he at the sordid fact of the boy's inclination toward loose living. There was something perhaps that Holt would not confess. His health had been impaired in the service, but not seriously. He was getting stronger all the time. His old job was waiting for him. His mother and sister had enough to live on, but if he had been working he could have helped them in a way to afford him great satisfaction.

"Holt, listen," finally said Lane, with more earnestness. "We're friends—all boys of the service are friends. We might even become great pards, if we had time."

"What's time got to do with it?" queried the younger man. "I'm sure I'd like it—and know it'd help me."

"I'm shot to pieces, Holt.... I won't last long...."

"Aw, Lane, don't say that!"

"It's true. And if I'm to help you at all it must be now.... You haven't told me everything, boy—now have you?"

Holt dropped his head.

"I'll say—I haven't," he replied, haltingly. "Lane—the trouble is—I'm clean gone on Margie Maynard. But her mother hates the sight of me. She won't stand for me."

"Oho! So that's it?" ejaculated Lane, a light breaking in upon him. "Well, I'll be darned. It is serious, Holt.... Does Margie love you?"

"Sure she does. We've always cared. Don't you remember how Margie and I and Dal and you used to go to school together? And come home together? And play on Saturdays?... Ever since then!... But lately Margie and I are—we got—pretty badly mixed up."

"Yes, I remember those days," replied Lane, dreamily, and suddenly he recalled Dal's dark eyes, somehow haunting. He had to make an effort to get back to the issue at hand.

"If Margie loves you—why it's all right. Go back to work and marry her."

"Lane, it can't be all right. Mrs. Maynard has handed me the mitt," replied Holt, bitterly. "And Margie hasn't the courage to run off with me.... Her mother is throwing Margie at Swann—because he's rich."

"Oh Lord, no—Holt—you can't mean it!" exclaimed Lane, aghast.

"I'll say I do mean it. I know it," returned Holt, moodily. "So I let go—fell into the dumps—didn't care a d—— what became of me."

Lane was genuinely shocked. What a tangle he had fallen upon! Once again there seemed to confront him a colossal Juggernaut, a moving, crushing, intangible thing, beyond his power to cope with.

"Now, what can I do?" queried Holt, in sudden hope his friend might see a way out.

Despairingly, Lane racked his brain for some word of advice or assurance, if not of solution. But he found none. Then his spirit mounted, and with it passion.

"Holt, don't be a miserable coward," he began, in fierce scorn. "You're a soldier, man, and you've got your life to live!... The sun will rise—the days will be long and pleasant—you can work—do something. You can fish the streams in summer and climb the hills in autumn. You can enjoy. Bah! don't tell me one shallow girl means the world. If Margie hasn't courage enough to run off and marry you—let her go! But you can never tell. Maybe Margie will stick to you. I'll help you. Margie and I have always been friends and I'll try to influence her. Then think of your mother and sister. Work for them. Forget yourself—your little, miserable, selfish desires.... My God, boy, but it's a strange life the war's left us to face. I hate it. So do you hate it. Swann and Mackay giving nothing and getting all!... So it looks.... But it's false—false. God did not intend men to live solely for their bodies. A balance must be struck. They have got to pay. Their time will come.... As for you, the harder this job is the fiercer you should be. I've got to die, Holt. But if I could live I'd show these slackers, these fickle wild girls, what they're doing.... You can do it, Holt. It's the greatest part any man could be called upon to play. It will prove the difference between you and them...."

Holt Dalrymple crushed Lane's hand in both his own. On his face was a glow—his dark eyes flashed: "Lane—that'll be about all," he burst out with a kind of breathlessness. Then his head high, he stalked out.

The next day was bad. Lane suffered from both over-exertion and intensity of emotion. He remained at home all day, in bed most of the time. At supper time he went downstairs to find Lorna pirouetting in a new dress, more abbreviated at top and bottom than any costume he had seen her wear. The effect struck him at an inopportune time. He told her flatly that she looked like a French grisette of the music halls, and ought to be ashamed to be seen in such attire.

"Daren, I don't think you're a good judge of clothes these days," she observed, complacently. "The boys will say I look spiffy in this."

So many times Lorna's trenchant remarks silenced Lane. She hit the nail on the head. Practical, logical, inevitable were some of her speeches. She knew what men wanted. That was the pith of her meaning. What else mattered?

"But Lorna, suppose you don't look nice?" he questioned.

"I do look nice," she retorted.

"You don't look anything of the kind."

"What's nice? It's only a word. It doesn't mean much in my young life."

"Where are you going to-night?" he asked, sitting down to the table.

"To the armory—basketball game—and dance afterward."

"With whom?"

"With Harry. I suppose that pleases you, big brother?"

"Yes, it does. I like him. I wish he'd take you out oftener."

"Take me! Hot dog! He'd kill himself to take me all the time. But Harry's slow. He bores me. Then he hasn't got a car."

"Lorna, you may as well know now that I'm going to stop your car rides," said Lane, losing his patience.

"You are not," she retorted, and in the glint of the eyes meeting his, Lane saw his defeat. His patience was exhausted, his fear almost verified. He did not mince words. With his mother standing open-mouthed and shocked, Lane gave his sister to understand what he thought of automobile rides, and that as far as she was concerned they had to be stopped. If she would not stop them out of respect to her mother and to him, then he would resort to other measures. Lorna bounced up in a fury, and in the sharp quarrel that followed, Lane realized he was dealing with flint full of fire. Lorna left without finishing her supper.

"Daren, that's not the way," said his mother, shaking her head.

"What is the way, mother?" he asked, throwing up his hands.

"I don't know, unless it's to see her way," responded the mother. "Sometimes I feel so—so old-fashioned and ignorant before Lorna. Maybe she is right. How can we tell? What makes all the young girls like that?"

What indeed, wondered Lane! The question had been hammering at his mind for over a month. He went back to bed, weary and dejected, suffering spasms of pain, like blades, through his lungs, and grateful for the darkness. Almost he wished it was all over—this ordeal. How puny his efforts! Relentlessly life marched on. At midnight he was still fighting his pangs, still unconquered. In the night his dark room was not empty. There were faces, shadows, moving images and pictures, scenes of the war limned against the blackness. At last he rested, grew as free from pain as he ever grew, and slept. In the morning it was another day, and the past was as if it were not.

May the first dawned ideally springlike, warm, fresh, fragrant, with birds singing, sky a clear blue, and trees budding green and white.

Lane yielded to an impulse that had grown stronger of late. His steps drew him to the little drab house where Mel Iden lived with her aunt. On the way, which led past a hedge, Lane gathered a bunch of violets.

"'In the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love,'" he mused. "It's good, even for me, to be alive this morning.... These violets, the birds, the fresh smells, the bursting green! Oh, well, regrets are idle. But just to think—I had to go through all I've known—right down to this moment—to realize how stingingly sweet life is...."

Mel answered his knock, and sight of her face seemed to lift his heart with an unwonted throb. Had he unconsciously needed that? The thought made his greeting, and the tender of the violets, awkward for him.

"Violets! Oh, and spring! Daren, it was good of you to gather them for me. I remember.... But I told you not to come again."

"Yes, I know you did," he replied. "But I've disobeyed you. I wanted to see you, Mel.... I didn't know how badly until I got here."

"You should not want to see me at all. People will talk."

"So you care what people say of you?" he questioned, feigning surprise.

"Of me? No. I was thinking of you."

"You fear the poison tongues for me? Well, they cannot harm me. I'm beyond tongues or minds like those."

She regarded him earnestly, with serious gravity and slowly dawning apprehension; then, turning to arrange the violets in a tiny vase, she shook her head.

"Daren, you're beyond me, too. I feel a—a change in you. Have you had another sick spell?"

"Only for a day off and on. I'm really pretty well to-day. But I have changed. I feel that, yet I don't know how."

Lane could talk to her. She stirred him, drew him out of himself. He felt a strange desire for her sympathy, and a keen curiosity concerning her opinions.

"I thought maybe you'd been ill again or perhaps upset by the consequences of your—your action at Fanchon Smith's party."

"Who told you of that?" he asked in surprise.

"Dal. She was here yesterday. She will come in spite of me."

"So will I," interposed Lane.

She shook her head. "No, it's different for a man.... I've missed the girls. No one but Dal ever comes. I thought Margie would be true to me—no matter what had befallen.... Dal comes, and oh, Daren, she is good. She helps me so.... She told me what you did at Fanchon's party."

"She did! Well, what's your verdict?" he queried, grimly. "That break queered me in Middleville."

"I agree with what Doctor Wallace said to his congregation," returned Mel.

As Lane met the blue fire of her eyes he experienced another singularly deep and profound thrill, as if the very depths of him had been stirred. He seemed to have suddenly discovered Mel Iden.

"Doctor Wallace did back me up," said Lane, with a smile. "But no one else did."

"Don't be so sure of that. Harsh conditions require harsh measures. Dal said you killed the camel-walk dance in Middleville."

"It surely was a disgusting sight," returned Lane, with a grimace. "Mel, I just saw red that night."

"Daren," she asked wistfully, following her own train of thought, "do you know that most of the girls consider me an outcast? Fanchon rides past me with her head up in the air. Helen Wrapp cuts me. Margie looks to see if her mother is watching when she bows to me. Isn't it strange, Daren, how things turn out? Maybe my old friends are right. But I don't feel that I am what they think I am.... I would do what I did—over and over."

Her eyes darkened under his gaze, and a slow crimson tide stained her white face.

"I understand you, Mel," he said, swiftly. "You must forgive me that I didn't understand at once.... And I think you are infinitely better, finer, purer than these selfsame girls who scorn you."

"Daren! You—understand?" she faltered.

And just as swiftly he told her the revelation that thinking had brought to him.

When he had finished she looked at him for a long while. "Yes, Daren," she finally said, "you understand, and you have made me understand. I always felt"—and her hand went to her heart—"but my mind did not grasp.... Oh, Daren, how I thank you!" and she held her hands out to him.

Lane grasped the outstretched hands, and loosed the leaping thought her words and action created.

"Mel, let me give your boy a father—a name."

No blow could have made her shrink so palpably. It passed—that shame. Her lips parted, and other emotions claimed her.

"Daren—you would—marry me?" she gasped.

"I am asking you to be my wife for your child's sake," he replied.

Her head bowed. She sank against him, trembling. Her hands clung tightly to his. Lane divined something of her agitation from the feel of her slender form. And then again that deep and profound thrill ran over him. It was followed by an instinct to wrap her in his arms, to hold her, to share her trouble and to protect her.

Strong reserve force suddenly came to Mel. She drew away from Lane, still quivering, but composed.

"Daren, all my life I'll thank you and bless you for that offer," she said, very low. "But, of course it is impossible."

She disengaged her hands, and, turning away, looked out of the window. Lane rather weakly sat down. What had come over him? His blood seemed bursting in his veins. Then he gazed round the dingy little parlor and at this girl of twenty, whose beauty did not harmonize with her surroundings. Fair-haired, white-faced, violet-eyed, she emanated tragedy. He watched her profile, clear cut as a cameo, fine brow, straight nose, sensitive lips, strong chin. She was biting those tremulous lips. And when she turned again to him they were red. The short-bowed upper lip, full and sweet, the lower, with its sensitive droop at the corner, eloquent of sorrow—all at once Lane realized he wanted to kiss that mouth more than he had ever wanted anything. The moment was sudden and terrible, for it meant love—love such as he had never known.

"Daren," she said, turning, "tell me how you got the Croix de Guerre."

By the look of her and the hand that moved toward his breast, Lane felt his power over her. He began his story and it was as if he heard some one else talking. When he had finished, she asked, "The French Army honored you, why not the American?"

"It was never reported."

"How strange! Who was your officer?"

"You'll laugh when you hear," he replied, without hint of laugh himself. "Heavens, how things come about! My officer was from Middleville."

"Daren! Who?" she asked, quickly, her eyes darkening with thought.

"Captain Vane Thesel."

How singular to Lane the fact she did not laugh! She only stared. Then it seemed part of her warmth and glow, her subtle response to his emotion, slowly receded. He felt what he could not see.

"Oh! He. Vane Thesel," she said, without wonder or surprise or displeasure, or any expression Lane anticipated.

Her strange detachment stirred a hideous thought—could Thesel have been.... But Lane killed the culmination of that thought. Not, however, before dark, fiery jealousy touched him with fangs new to his endurance.

To drive it away, Lane launched into more narrative of the war. And as he talked he gradually forgot himself. It might be hateful to rake up the burning threads of memory for the curious and the soulless, but to tell Mel Iden it was a keen, strange delight. He watched the changes of her expression. He learned to bring out the horror, sadness, glory that abided in her heart. And at last he cut himself off abruptly: "But I must save something for another day."

That broke the spell.

"No, you must never come back."

He picked up his hat and his stick.

"Mel, would you shut the door in my face?"

"No, Daren—but I'll not open it," she replied resolutely.

"Why?"

"You must not come."

"For my sake—or yours?"

"Both our sakes."

He backed out on the little porch, and looked at her as she stood there. Beyond him, indeed, were his emotions then. Sad as she seemed, he wanted to make her suffer more—an inexplicable and shameful desire.

"Mel, you and I are alike," he said.

"Oh, no, Daren; you are noble and I am...."

"Mel, in my dreams I see myself standing—plodding along the dark shores of a river—that river of tears which runs down the vast naked stretch of our inner lives.... I see you now, on the opposite shore. Let us reach our hands across—for the baby's sake."

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