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The Millionaire Baby
by Anna Katharine Green
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"No," I ventured to rejoin. "You are the only one who can settle your own fate. The word must come from you. I am only trying to make it possible for you to meet your husband without any additional wrong to blunt his possible forgiveness."

"Oh, he will never forgive—and I have lost all."

And the set look returned in its full force.

I made my final attempt.

"Mrs. Ocumpaugh, we may never have another moment together in confidence. There is one thing I have never told you, something which I think you ought to know, as it may affect your whole future course. It concerns Gwendolen's real mother. You say you do not know her."

"No, no; do not bring up that. I do not want to know her. My darling is happy with Mrs. Carew—too happy. O God! Give me no opportunity for disturbing that contentment. Don't you see that I am consumed with jealousy? That I might—"

She was roused enough now, cheek and lip and brow were red; even her eyes looked blood-shot. Alarmed, I put out my hand in a soothing gesture, and when her voice stopped and her words trailed off into an inarticulate murmur I made haste to say:

"Listen to my little story. It will not add to your pain, rather alleviate it. When I hid behind the curtain on that day we all regret, I did not slip from my post at your departure. I knew that another patient awaited the doctor's convenience in my own small room, where he had hastily seated her when your carriage drove up. I also knew that this patient had overheard what you said as well as I, for impervious as the door looked I had often heard the doctor's mutterings when he thought I was safe beyond ear-shot, if not asleep. And I wanted to see how she would act when she rejoined the doctor; for I had heard a little of what she had said before, and was quite aware that she could help you out of your difficulty if she wished. She was a married woman, or rather had been, but she had no use for a child, being very poor and anxious to earn her own living. Would she embrace this opportunity to part with it when it came? You may imagine my interest, boy though I was."

"And did she? Was she—"

"Yes. She was ready to make her compact with the doctor just as you had done. Before she left everything was arranged for. It was her child you took—reared—loved—and have now lost."

At another time she might have resented these words, especially the last; but I had roused her curiosity, her panting eager curiosity, and she let them pass altogether unchallenged.

"Did you see this woman? Was she of common blood, common manners? It does not seem possible—Gwendolen is by nature so dainty in all her ways."

"The woman was a lady. I did not see her face, it was heavily veiled, but I heard her voice; it was a lady's voice and—"

"What?"

"She wore beautiful jewels."

"Jewels? You said she was poor."

"So she declared herself, but she had on her neck under her coat a string of beads which were both valuable and of exquisite workmanship. I know, because it broke just as she was leaving, and the beads fell all over the floor, and one rolled my way and I picked it up, scamp that I was, when both their backs were turned in their search for the others."

"A bead—a costly bead—and you were not found out?"

"No, Mrs. Ocumpaugh, she never seemed to miss it. She was too excited over what she had just done to count correctly. She thought she had them all. But this has been in my pocket for six years. Perhaps you have seen its like; I never have, in jeweler's shop or elsewhere, till yesterday."

"Yesterday?" Her great eyes, haggard with suffering, rose to mine, then they fell on the bead which I had taken from my pocket. The cry she gave was not loud, but it effectually settled all my doubts.

"What did you know of Mrs. Carew before she came to ——?" I asked impressively.

For minutes she did not answer; she was trembling like a leaf.

"Her mother!" she exclaimed at last. "Her mother! her own mother! And she never hinted it to me by word or look. Oh, Valerie, Valerie, what tortures we have both suffered! and now you are happy while I—"

Grief seemed to engulf her. Feeling my position keenly, I walked to the window, but soon turned and came back in response to her cry: "I must see Mrs. Carew instantly. Give my orders. I will start at once to New York. They will think I have gone to be on hand to meet Mr. Ocumpaugh, and will say that I have not the strength. Override their objections. I put my whole cause in your hands. You will go with me?"

"With pleasure, madam."

And thus was that terrifying apathy broken up, to be succeeded by a spell of equally terrifying energy.



XXVII

THE FINAL STRUGGLE

She, however, did not get off that night. I dared not push the matter to the point of awakening suspicion, and when the doctor said that the ship was not due for twenty hours and that it would be madness for her to start without a night's rest and two or three good meals, I succumbed and she also to the few hours' delay. More than that, she consented to retire, and when I joined her in her carriage the following morning, it was to find her physically stronger, even if the mind was still a prey to deepest anguish and a torturing indecision. Her nurse accompanied us and the maid called Celia, so conversation was impossible—a fact I did not know whether to be thankful for or not. On the cars she was shielded as much as possible from every one's gaze, and when we reached New York we were driven at once to the Plaza. As I noticed the respect and intense sympathy with which her presence was met by those who saw nothing in her broken aspect but a mother's immeasurable grief, I wondered at the secrets which lie deep down in the hearts of humanity, and what the effect would be if I should suddenly shout aloud:

"She is more wretched than you think. Her suspense is one that the child's return would not appease. Dig deeper into mortal fear and woe if you would know what has changed this beautiful woman into a shadow in five days."

And I myself did not know her mind. I could neither foresee what she contemplated nor what the effect of seeing the child again would have upon her. I only knew that she must never for a moment be out of sight of some one who loved her. I myself never left the hall upon which her room opened, a precaution for which I felt grateful when, late in the evening, she opened the door and, seeing me, stepped out fully dressed for the street.

"Come and tell Sister Angelina that I may be trusted with you," she said. Sister Angelina was the nurse.

Of course I did as she bade me, and after some few more difficulties I succeeded in getting her into a carriage without attracting any special attention. Once there she breathed more easily, and so did I.

"Now take me to her," she said. Whether she meant Mrs. Carew or Gwendolen, I never knew.

I now saw that the hour had come for telling her that she no longer need have any fear of Doctor Pool. Whatever she contemplated must be done with a true knowledge of where she stood and to just what extent her secret remained endangered. I do not know if she felt grateful. I almost think that for the first few minutes she felt rather frightened than relieved to find herself free to act as her wishes and the preservation of her place in her husband's heart and the world's regard impelled her. For she never for a moment seemed to doubt, that now the doctor was gone I would yield to her misery and prove myself the friend she had begged me to be from the first. She turned herself toward me and sought to read my face, but it was rather to find out what I expected of her than what she had yet to fear from me. I noted this and muttered some words of confidence; but her mood had already changed, and they fell on deaf ears.

I was not present at the meeting of the two women. That is, I remained in what they would call a private parlor, while Mrs. Ocumpaugh passed into the inner room, where she knew she would find Mrs. Carew and the child. Nor did I hear much. Some words came through the partition. I caught most of Mrs. Carew's explanation of how she came to give up her new-born child. She was an actress at the time with a London success to her credit, but with no hold as yet in this country. She was booked for a tour the coming season; the husband who might have seen to the child was dead; she had no friends, no relatives here save a brother poorer than herself, and the mother instinct had not awakened. She bartered her child away as she would have parted with any other encumbrance likely to interfere with her career. But—here her voice rose and I heard distinctly: "A fortune was suddenly left me. An old admirer dying abroad bequeathed me two million dollars, and I found myself rich, admired and independent, with no one on earth to care for or to share the happiness of what seemed to me, after the brilliant life I had hitherto led, a dreary inaction. Love had no interest for me. I had had a husband, and that part of my nature had been satisfied. What I wanted now—and the wish presently grew into a passion—was my child. From passion it grew to mania. Knowing the name of her to whom I had yielded it (I had overheard it in the doctor's office), I hunted up your residence and came one day to Homewood.

"Perhaps some old servant can be found there to-day who could tell you of the strange, deeply veiled lady who was found one evening at sunset, clinging to the gate with both hands and sobbing as she looked in at the triumphant little heiress racing up and down the walks with the great mastiff, Don. They will say that it was some poor crazy woman, or some mother who had buried her own little darling; but it was I, Marion, it was I, looking upon the child I had sold for a half-year's independence; I who was broken-hearted now for her smiles and touches and saw them all given to strangers, who had made her a princess, but who could never give her such love as I felt for her then in my madness. I went away that time, but I came again soon with the titles of the adjoining property in my pocket. I could not keep away from the sight of her, and felt that the torture would be less to see her in your arms than not to see her at all."

The answer was not audible, but I could well imagine what it was. As every one knew, the false mother had not long held out against the attractions of the true one. Instinct had drawn the little one to the heart that beat responsive to its own.

What followed I could best judge from the frightened cry which the child suddenly gave. She had evidently waked to find both women at her bedside. Mrs. Carew's "Hush! hush!" did not answer this time; the child was in a frenzy, and evidently turned from one to the other, sobbing out alternately, "I will not be a girl again. I like my horse and going to papa and sailing on the big ocean, in trousers and a little cap," and the softer phrases she evidently felt better suited to Mrs. Ocumpaugh's deep distress: "Don't feel bad, mamma, you shall come see me some time. Papa will send for you. I am going to him." Then silence, then such a struggle of woman-heart with woman-heart as I hope never to be witness to again. Mrs. Ocumpaugh was pleading with Mrs. Carew, not for the child, but for her life. Mr. Ocumpaugh would be in port the next morning; if she could show him the child all would be well. Mr. Trevitt would manage the details; take the credit of having found Gwendolen somewhere in this great city, and that would insure him the reward and them his silence. (I heard this.) There was no one else to fear. Doctor Pool, the cause of all this misery, was dead; and in the future, her heart being set to rest about her secret, she would be happier and make the child happier, and they could enjoy her between them, and she would be unselfish and let Gwendolen spend an hour or more every day with Mrs. Carew, on some such plea as lessons in vocal-training and music.

Thus pleaded Mrs. Ocumpaugh.

But the mother hardly listened. She had eaten with the child, slept with the child and almost breathed with the child for three days now, and the ecstasy of the experience had blinded her to any other claim than her own. She pitied Mrs. Ocumpaugh, pitied most of all her deceived husband, but no grief of theirs could equal that of Rachel crying for her child. Let Mrs. Ocumpaugh remember that when the evil days come. She had separated child from mother! child from mother! Oh, how the wail swept through those two rooms!

I dared not prophesy to myself at this point how this would end. I simply waited.

Their voices had sunk after each passionate outbreak, and I was only able to catch now and then a word which told me that the struggle was yet going on.

But finally there came a lull, and while I wondered, the door flew suddenly open and I saw Mrs. Ocumpaugh standing on the threshold, pallid and stricken, looking back at the picture made by the other two as Mrs. Carew, fallen on her knees by the bedside, held to her breast the panting child.

"I can not go against nature," said she. "Keep Gwendolen, and may God have pity upon me and Philo."

I stepped forward. Meeting my eye, she faltered this last word:

"Your advice was good. To-morrow when I meet my husband I will tell him who found the child and why that child is not at my side to greet him."

* * * * *

That night I had a vision. I saw a door—shut, ominous. Before that door stood a woman, tall, pale, beautiful. She was there to enter, but to what no mortal living could say. She saw nothing but loss and the hollowness of a living death behind that closed door.

But who knows? Angels spring up unknown on the darkest road, and perhaps—

Here the vision broke; the day and its possibilities lay before me.

THE END

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