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The Wild Olive
by Basil King
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It was half-past four when the servant showed him in. His formal attire seemed to her, as he crossed the room, oddly civilized and correct after her recollections of him. Notwithstanding her dread of the opening minutes, the meeting passed off according to the fixed procedure of the drawing-room. It was a relief to both to find that the acts of shaking hands and sitting down had been accomplished with matter-of-course formality. With the familiar support of afternoon-call conventions difficult topics could be treated at greater ease.

"I'm very glad to find you at home," he began, feeling it to be a safe opening. "I was almost afraid—"

"I stayed in on purpose," she said, frankly. "I thought you might come."

"I wasn't sure whether or not you knew me last night—"

"I didn't at first. I really hadn't noticed you, though I remembered afterward that you were standing with Mrs. Endsleigh Jarrott when Mr. Wayne and I came into the room. I wonder now if you recognized me?"

"Oh, rather! I knew you were going to be there. I've been in New York a month."

"Then you might have come to see me sooner."

"Well, you see—"

He paused and colored, trying to cover up his embarrassment with a smile. She allowed her eyes to express interrogation not knowing that her frank gaze disconcerted him. She herself went back so eagerly to the days when he was the fugitive, Norrie Ford, and she the nameless girl who was helping him, that she could not divine his humiliation at being obliged to drop his mask. Since becoming engaged to Evie Colfax and returning to New York, he perceived more clearly than ever before that his true part in the world was that of the respectable, successful man of business which he played so skilfully. It cost him an effort she could have no reason to suspect to be face to face with the one person in the world who knew him as something else.

"You see," he began again, "I had to consider a good many things—naturally. It wouldn't have done to give any one an idea that we had met before."

"No, of course not. But last night you might have—"

"Last night I had to follow the same tactics. I can't afford to run risks. It's rather painful, it's even a bit humiliating—"

"I can imagine that, especially here in New York. In out-of-the-way places it must be different. There it doesn't matter. But to be among the very people who—"

"You think that there it does matter. I had to consider that. I had to make it plain to myself that there was nothing dishonorable in imposing on people who had forced me into a false position. I don't say it's pleasant—"

"Oh, I know it can't be pleasant. I only wondered a little, as I saw you last night, why you let yourself be placed in a position that made it necessary."

"I should have wondered at that myself a year ago. I certainly never had any intention of doing it. It's almost as much a surprise to me to be here as it is to you to see me. I suppose you thought I would never turn up again."

"No, I didn't think that. On the contrary, I thought you would turn up—only not just here."

It struck him that she was emphasizing that point for a purpose—to bring him to another point still. He took a few seconds to reflect before deciding that he would follow her lead without further hanging back.

"I shouldn't have returned to New York if I hadn't become engaged to Miss Colfax. You know about that, don't you? I think she meant to tell you."

She inclined her head assentingly, without words. He noticed her dark eyes resting on him with a kind of pity. He had cherished a faint hope—the very faintest—that she might welcome what he had just said sympathetically. In the few minutes during which she remained silent that hope died.

"I suppose," she said, gently, "that you became engaged to Evie before knowing who she was?"

"I fell in love with her before knowing who she was. I'm afraid that when I actually asked her to marry me I had heard all there was to learn."

"Then why did you do it?"

He shrugged his shoulders with a movement acquired by long residence among Latins. His smile conveyed the impossibility of explaining himself in a sentence.

"I'll tell you all about it, if you'd like to hear."

"I should like it very much. Remember, I know nothing of what happened after—after—"

He noticed a shade of confusion in her manner, and hastened to begin his narrative.

Somewhat to her surprise, he sketched his facts in lightly, but dwelt strongly on the mental and moral necessities his situation forced on him. He related with some detail the formation of his creed of conduct in the dawn on Lake Champlain, and showed her that according to its tenets he was permitted a kind of action that in other men might be reprehensible. He came to the story of Evie last of all, and allowed her to see how dominating a part Fate, or Predestination had played in evolving it.

"So you see," he ended, "it was too late then to do anything—but to yield."

"Or withdraw," she added, softly.

He stared at her a moment, his body bent slightly forward his elbows resting on the arms of his chair. As a matter of fact, he was thinking less of her words than of her beauty—so much nobler in type than he remembered it.

"Yes," he returned, quietly, "I can see that it would strike you in that way. So it did me—at first. But I had to look at the subject all round—"

"I don't need to do that."

He stared at her again. There was a decision in her words which he found hard to reconcile with the pity in her eyes and the gentle softness of her smile.

"You mean that you don't want to take my—necessities—into consideration."

"I mean that when I see the one thing right to do, I don't have to look any further."

"The one thing right to do—for you?—or for me?"

"There's no reason why I should intervene at all. I look to you to save me from the necessity."

He hesitated a minute before deciding whether to hedge or to meet her squarely.

"By giving up Evie and—clearing out," he said, with a perceptible hint of defiance.

"I shouldn't lay stress on your—clearing out."

"But you would on my giving up Evie?"

"Don't you see," she began, in an explanatory tone, "I, in my own person, have nothing to do with it? It isn't for me to say this should be done or that. You can't imagine how hard it is for me to say anything at all; and if I speak, it isn't as myself—it's as the voice of a situation. You must understand as well as I do what that situation imposes."

"But I don't intend that a situation shall impose anything—on me. I mean to act as master—"

"But I'm neither so independent nor so strong—nor is Evie. You don't consider her."

"I don't have to consider any one. When I make Evie happy I do all that can be asked of me."

"No, you would be called on to keep her happy. And she couldn't remain happy if she were married to you. It isn't possible. She couldn't live with you any more than—than a humming-bird could live with a hawk."

They both smiled, rather nervously.

"But I'm not a hawk," he insisted. "I'm much more a humming-bird than you imagine. You think me some sort of creature of prey because you believe—that I did—what I was accused of—"

The circumstances seemed so far off from him now, so incongruous with what he had become, that he reverted to them with difficulty.

"I don't attach any importance to that," she said, with a tranquillity that startled him. "I suppose I ought to, but I never have. If you killed your uncle, it seems to me—very natural. He provoked you. He deserved it. My father would have done it certainly."

"But I didn't, you see. That puts another color on the case."

"It doesn't for me. And it doesn't, as it affects Evie. Whether you're innocent or guilty—and I don't say I think you to be guilty—I've never thought much about it—but whether you're guilty or not, your life is the kind of tragedy Evie couldn't share. It would kill her."

"It wouldn't kill her, if she didn't know anything about it."

"But she would know. You can't keep that sort of thing from a wife. She wouldn't be married to you a year before she had discovered that you were—a—"

"An escaped convict. Why not say it?"

"I wasn't going to say it. But at least she would know that you were a man who was pretending to be—something that he wasn't."

"You mean an impostor. Well, I've already explained to you that I'm an impostor only because Society itself has made me one, I'm not to blame—"

"I quite see the force of that. But Evie wouldn't. Don't you understand? That's my point. She would only see the horror of it, and she would be overwhelmed. It wouldn't matter to her that you could bring forward arguments in your own defence. She wouldn't be capable of understanding them. You must see for yourself that mentally—and spiritually—just as bodily—she's as fragile as a butterfly. She couldn't withstand a storm. She'd be crushed by it."

"I don't think you do her justice. If she were to discover—I mean, if the worst were to come to the worst—well, you can see how it's been with yourself. You've known from the beginning all there is to know—and yet—"

"I'm different."

She meant the brief statement to divert his attention from himself, but she perceived that it aroused a flash of self-consciousness in both. While she could hear herself saying inwardly, "I'd rather go on waiting for him—uselessly," he was listening to a silvery voice, as it lisped the words, "Dear mamma used to think she was in love with some one; we didn't know anything about it." Each reverted to the memory of the lakeside scene in which he had said, "My life will belong to you ... a thing for you to dispose of ..." and each was afraid that the other was doing so.

All at once she saw herself as she fancied he must see her—a woman claiming the fulfilment of an old promise, the payment of a long-standing debt. He must think she was making Evie a pretext in her fight for her own hand. His vow—if it was a vow—had been the germ of so much romance in her mind that she ascribed it to a place in the foreground of his. In all she was saying he would understand a demand on her part that he should make it good. Very well, then; if he could do her such injustice, he must do it. She could not permit the fear of it to inspire her with moral cowardice or deter her from doing what was right.

Nevertheless, it helped her to control her agitation to rise and ring for tea. She felt the need of some commonplace action to assure herself and him that now, at last, she was outside the realm of the romantic. He rose as she did, to forestall her at the bell; and as the servant entered with the tray, they moved together into the embrasure of the wide bay-window. Down below the autumn colors were fading, while leaves, golden-yellow or blood-red, were being swirled along the ground.

"I had to do things out there"—his nod was meant to indicate the direction of South America—"in a somewhat high-handed manner, and I've acquired the habit of it. If I'd stuck at difficulties I shouldn't have got anywhere."

She looked at him inquiringly, as though to ask the purport of the observation.

"You must see that I'm obliged to put this thing through—on Evie's account as much as mine. After getting her to care for me, I can't desert her now, whatever happens."

"She wouldn't suffer—after a while. She'd get over it. You might not, but she—"

"She shall not get over it, if I can help it. How can you ask me to let her?"

"Only on the ground that you love her well enough."

"Would you call that love?"

"In view of all the circumstances, it would be my idea of it."

"Then it wouldn't be mine. The only love I understand is the love that fights for its object, in the face of all opposition."

She looked at him a minute with what she tried to make a smile, but which became no more than a quivering of the lip and lashes.

"I hope you won't fight," she said, in a tone of appeal, "because it would have to be with me. If anything could break my heart, that would."

She knew how near to self-betrayal she had gone, but in her eagerness she was reckless of the danger.

"How do you know it wouldn't break mine too?" he asked, with a scrutiny that searched her eyes. "But there are times in life when men have just to fight—and let their hearts be broken. In becoming responsible for Evie's happiness I've given a pledge from which I can't withdraw—"

"But that's where you don't understand her—"

"Possibly; but it's where I understand myself."

"Tea is served, miss," the maid said, coming forward to where they talked in undertones. At the same minute there was a shuffling at the door and Wayne entered from his drive. Ford would have gone forward to help him, but she put out her hand and stopped him.

"He likes to find his way himself," she whispered.

"They tell me there's tea in here," Wayne said, cheerily, from the doorway.

"There's more than tea," Miriam replied in as bright a tone as she could assume. "There's Mr. Strange, whom you met last night."

"Ah, that's good." Wayne groped his way toward the voices. "How do you do! Glad to see you. It's windy out-of-doors. One feels the winter beginning to nip."

Ford took the extended hand, and, without seeming to do so, adroitly piloted the blind man to a seat as they moved, all three, to the tea-table.

For the next ten minutes their talk turned on the common topics of the day. As during her conversation with Conquest a few weeks before, Miriam found again that the routine of duties of acting as hostess steadied her nerves. With Ford aiding her in the little ways to which he had become accustomed since his engagement to Evie, hostility was absent from their mutual relation, even though opposition remained. That at least was a comfort to her; and now and then, as she handed him the bread and butter or a plate of cakes to pass to Wayne, their eyes could meet in a glance of comprehension.

Wayne was still enjoying his tea when Ford turned to him with an abrupt change of tone.

"I'm glad you came in, sir, while I was still here, because there's something I particularly want to tell you."

He did not look at Miriam, but he could feel the way in which she sat upright and aghast. Wayne turned his sightless eyes, hidden by large colored glasses, toward the speaker, and nodded.

"Yes?" he said, interrogatively.

"I would have told you before, only that Miss Jarrott and Miss Colfax thought I had better wait till every one got settled. In any case, Mr. Jarrott made it a condition before I left Buenos Aires that it shouldn't go outside the family till Miss Colfax had had her social winter in New York."

Wayne's face grew grave, but not unsympathetic.

"I suppose I know what's coming," he said, quietly.

"It's the sort of thing that was bound to come sooner or later with Miss Colfax," Ford smiled, speaking with an air of assurance. "What makes me uneasy is that I should be the man to come and tell the news. If it was any one you knew better—"

"You've probably heard that I'm not Evie's guardian," Wayne interposed. "I've no control at all over what she does."

"I understand that; but to me there's an authority above the legal one—or at least on a level with it—and I should be unhappy—we should both be unhappy—if we didn't have your consent."

Wayne looked pleased. He was so rarely consulted in the affairs of the family, especially since his affliction had forced him aside, that this deference was a clew to the young man's character. Nevertheless, he allowed some seconds to pass in silence, while Ford threw at Miriam a glance of defiance, in which there was also an expression of audacious friendliness. She sat rigid and pale, her hands clinching the arms of her chair.

"It's a serious matter—of course," Wayne said, after becoming hesitation; "but I've great confidence in Henry Jarrott. Next to Evie herself, he's the person most concerned—in a certain way. I'm told he thinks well of you—"

"He ought to know," Ford broke in, confidently. "I've nothing to show in the way of passports, except myself and my work. I've been with him ever since I went to South America, and he's been extremely kind to me. The only certificate of character I can offer is one from him."

"That's sufficient. We should be sorry to let Evie go, shouldn't we, Miriam? She's a sweet child, and very much like her dear mother. But, as you say, it was bound to happen one day or another; and we can only be glad that—I'm happy to congratulate you, Mr. Strange. Your name, at any rate, is a familiar one. It's that of an old boyhood's friend of mine, who showed me the honor of placing this young lady in my charge. We called him Harry. His full name was Herbert Harrington, but he dropped the first. You seem to have taken it up—it's odd, isn't it, Miriam?—and I take it as a happy omen."

"Thank you." Ford rose, and made the blind man understand that he was holding out his hand, "I shall be more satisfied now for having told you."

Miriam accompanied him into the hall, on pretext of ringing for the lift.

"Oh, why did you do that?" she protested. "Don't you see that it only makes things more complicated than they were already?"

"It's my first move," he laughed, with friendly bravado. "Now you can make yours."

She gazed at him in puzzled distress as the lift rose.

"I'm coming again," he said, with renewed confidence. "I've a lot more things to say."

"And I have only one," she answered, turning back toward the drawing-room.

"He's a nice young fellow," Wayne said, as he heard her enter. He had risen and felt his way into the bay-window, where he stood looking outward as if he could see. "I suppose it must be all right, since the Jarrotts are so enthusiastic Poor little Evie! I hope she'll be happy. It's extraordinary how his voice reminds me of—"

She stood still in the middle of the room, waiting for him to continue. Nothing he could add would have surprised her now. But he said no more.



XVI



Thinking that Ford might come again next afternoon, Miriam went out. On her return she found his card—Mr. Herbert Strange. The same thing occurred the next day, and the next, and so on through the week. She was not afraid of seeing him. Now that the worst was known to her, she was sure of her mastery of herself, and of her capacity to meet anything. What she feared most was her sympathy for him, and the possibility that in some unguarded moment of pity he might wring concessions from her which she had no right to make. She hoped, too, that time, even a few days' time, would help him to work out the honorable course for himself.

Her meetings with Evie were more inevitable, and required greater self-repression. She was so used to the part of elder sister, with whom all confidences are discussed, that she found it difficult not to speak her heart out frankly.

"I heard he had been to see you and Popsey Wayne, and told you," Evie said, with her pretty nose just peeping above the bedclothes, at midday, on a morning later in the week. It was the day after Evie's first large dance, and she had been sleeping late. Miriam sat on the edge of the bed, smoothing stray golden tendrils off the flushed, happy little face.

"He did come," Miriam admitted. "Mr. Wayne made no objections. I can't say he was glad. You wouldn't expect us to be that, dear, would you?"

"I expect you to like him. It isn't committing you to much to say that. But you seem so—so every which way about him."

"I'm not every which way about him. I can't say that I'm any way at all. Yes, I do like him—after a fashion. If I make reserves, it's because I'm not sure that I think him good enough for my little Evie."

"He's a great deal too good!" Evie exclaimed, rapturously. "Oh, Miriam, if you only knew how fond I am of him! I'd die for him—I truly believe I would—almost! Oh, it was so stupid last night without him! All these boys seem such pigeons beside him. I'm sorry now we're not going to announce the engagement at once. I certainly sha'n't change my mind—and it would be such fun to be able to say I was engaged before coming out."

"Twice before coming out."

"Oh, well, I only count it once, do you see? Billy's such a goose. You should have seen him last night when I forgot two of my dances with him—on purpose. He's really getting to dislike me; so that I shall soon be able to—to show him."

"I wouldn't be in a hurry about that, dear. There's lots of time. As you said the other day, it's no use hurting his feelings—"

Evie sat up suddenly in bed, and looked suspicious.

"So you're taking that stand. Now I know you don't like him. You've got something against him, though I can't for the life of me imagine what it can be, when you never laid eyes on him till a few days ago. Well, I'm not going to change, do you see? You may as well make up your mind to that at once. And it will be Billy or no Billy."

Nearer than that Miriam could not approach the subject through fear of doing more harm than good. At the end of a week Ford found her at home, chiefly because she felt it time he should. She secured again the afternoon-call atmosphere; but she noticed that he carried a small packet—a large, brownish-yellow envelope, strapped with rubber bands—which he kept in his hand. She was struck by the greater ease of his entry, and by the renewal of that sense of comradeship which had marked his bearing toward her in the old days in the cabin. The small comedy of introductory commonplace went off smoothly.

"Well?" he said then, with a little challenging laugh.

"Well—what?"

"I've been waiting for your move. You haven't made it."

She shook her head. "I've no move to make."

"Oh yes, you have—a great big move. You can easily say, Check. I doubt if you can make it, Checkmate."

"I'm afraid that's a game I don't know how to play."

He stared at her inquiringly—noting the disdain with which her chin tilted and her lip curled, though he could see it was a disdain suffused with sweetness.

"Do you mean that you wouldn't—wouldn't give me away?"

"I mean that you're either broaching a topic I don't understand or speaking a language I've never learned. If you don't mind, we won't discuss the subject, and we'll speak our mother-tongue—the mother-tongue of people like you and me."

He stared again. It took him some few seconds to understand her phraseology. In proportion as her meaning broke upon him, his face glowed. When he spoke it was with enthusiasm for her generosity in taking this stand rather than in gratitude for anything he was to gain by it.

"By Jove, you're a brick! You always were. I might have expected that this is exactly what you'd say."

"I hope so. I didn't expect that you'd talk of my giving you away, as you call it—to any one."

"But you're wrong," he said, with a return to the laughing bravado which concealed his inward repugnance to his position. "You're wrong. I'll give you that tip now. I'll fight fair. I sha'n't be grateful. I'll profit by your magnanimity. Remember it's my part in the world to be unscrupulous. It has to be. I've told you so. With me the end justifies the means—always; and when the end is to keep my word to Evie, it will make no difference to me that you were too high-minded to put the big obstacle in my way."

"You'll not expect me to be otherwise than sorry for that—for your sake."

"No, I dare say. But I can't stop to think of what any one feels for my sake when I know what I feel for my own."

"Which is only an additional reason for my being—sorry. You don't find fault with me for that?"

"I do. I don't want you to be sorry. I want to convince you. I want you to see things from my point of view—how I've been placed. Good Lord! it's hard enough, without the sense that you're sitting in judgment on me."

"I'm not sitting in judgment on you—except in so far as concerns Evie Colfax. If it was anybody else—"

"But it couldn't be anybody else It's Evie or no one. She's everything on earth to me. She's to me what electricity is to the wire—that which makes it a thing alive."

"To be a thing alive isn't necessarily the highest thing."

"Ah, but that doesn't apply to me. It's all very well for other men to say, 'All is lost to save honor.' They have compensations. I haven't. You might as well ask a man to think of the highest thing when he's drowning."

"But I should. There have been men who haven't—and they've saved their lives by it. But you know what we've called them."

"In my case there'd be only you to call me that—if you wanted to."

"Oh no; there'd be—you."

"I can stand that. I've stood it for eight years already. If you think I haven't had times when it's been hell, you're quite mistaken. I wonder if you can guess what it means to me—in here"—he tapped his breast—"to go round among all these good, kind, honorable people, passing myself off as Herbert Strange when all the time I'm Norrie Ford—and a convict? But I'm forced to. There's no way out of it."

"Because there's no way out of it isn't a reason for going further in."

"What does that matter? When you're in up to the eyes, what does it matter if you go over your head?"

"In this case it would matter to Evie. That's my point. I have to protect her—to save her. There's no one but me to do it—and you."

"Don't count on me," he said, savagely. "I've the right, in this wild beast's life, to seize anything I can snatch."

He renewed his arguments, going over all the ground again. She listened to him as she had once listened to his plea in his defence—her pose pensive, her chin resting on her hand, her eyes pitiful. As far as she was aware of her own feelings it was merely to take note that a kind of yearning over him, an immense sorrow for him and with him, had extinguished the fires that a few days ago were burning for herself. It was hard to sit there heedless of his exposition and deaf to his persuasion. Seeing her inflexible, he became halting in his speech, till finally he stopped, still looking at her with an unresenting, dog-like gaze of entreaty.

She made no comment when he ceased, and for a time they sat in silence.

"Do you know what this is?" he asked, holding the packet toward her.

She shook her head wonderingly.

"It's what I owe you." She made a gesture of deprecation. "It's the money you lent me," he went on. "It's a tremendous satisfaction—that at least—to be able to bring it back to you."

"But I don't want it," she stammered, in some agitation.

"Perhaps not. But I want you to have it." He explained to her briefly what he had done in the matter.

"Couldn't you give it to something?" she begged, "to some church or institution?"

"You can, if you like. I mean to give it to you. You see, I'm not returning it with expressions of gratitude, because anything I could say would be so inadequate as to be absurd."

He left his chair and came to her, with the packet in his outstretched hand. She shrank from it, rising, and retreating into the space of the bay-window.

"But I don't want it," she insisted. "I never thought of your returning it. I scarcely thought of the incident at all. It had almost passed from my memory."

"That's natural enough; but it's equally natural that it shouldn't have passed from mine." He came close to her and offered it again. "Do take it."

"Put it on the table. Please."

"That isn't the same thing. I want you to take it. I want to put it into your own hand, as you put it into mine."

She remembered that she had put it into his hand by closing his fingers forcibly upon it, and hastened to prevent anything of that kind now. She took it unwillingly, holding it in both hands as if it were a casket.

"That's done," he said, with satisfaction. "You can't imagine what a relief it is to have it off my mind."

"I'm sorry you should have felt about it like that."

"You would have felt like that yourself, if you were a man owing money to a woman—and especially a woman who was your—enemy."

"Oh!" She cowered, as if he had threatened her.

"I repeat the word," he laughed, uneasily. "Any one is my enemy who comes between me and Evie. You'll forgive me if I seem brutal—"

"Yes, I'll forgive you. I'll even accept the word." She was pale and nervous, with the kind of nervousness that kept her smiling and still, but sent the queer, lambent flashes into her eyes. "Let us say it. I'm your enemy, and you pay me the money so as to feel free to strike me as hard as you can."

He kept to his laugh, but there was a forced ring in it.

"I don't call that a fair way of putting it, but—"

"I don't see that the way of putting it matters, so long as it's the fact."

"It's the fact twisted in a very ingenious fashion. I should say that—since I'm going to marry Evie—I want—naturally enough—to feel that—that"—he stammered and reddened, seeking a word that would not convey an insult—"to feel—that I—met other claims—as well as I could."

He looked her in the eyes with significant directness. His steady gaze, in which she saw—or thought she saw—glints of challenge toned down by gleams of regret, seemed to say, "Whatever I owe you other than money is out of my power to pay." She fully understood that he did not repudiate the debt; he was only telling her that since he had given all to Evie, his heart was bankrupt. What angered her and kept her silent, fearing she would say something she would afterward repent, was the implication that she was putting forth her claim for fulfilment.

He still confronted her, with an air of flying humiliation as a flag of defiance, while she stood holding the packet in both hands, when the door was pushed open, and Evie, radiant from her walk in the cold air and fine in autumn furs and plumage, fluttered in. Her blue eyes opened wide on the two in the bay-window, but she did not advance from the threshold.

"Dear me, dear me!" she twittered, in her dry little fashion, before they had time to realize the fact that she was there. "I hope I'm not interrupting you."

"Evie dear, come in." Miriam threw the packet on a table, and went forward. Ford followed, trying to regain the appearance of "just making a call."

"No, no," Evie cried, waving Miriam back. "I only came—for nothing. That is—But I'll go away and come back again. Do you think you'll be long? But I suppose if you have secrets—"

Her hand was on the knob again, but Miriam caught her.

"No, darling, you must stay. You're absurd. Mr. Strange and I were just—talking."

"Yes, so I saw. That's why I thought I might be de trap. How do you do!" She put out her left hand carelessly to Ford, her right hand still holding the knob, and twisted her little person impatiently. Ford held her hand, but she snatched it away. "There's not the least reason why I should stay, do you see?" she hurried on. "I only came with a message from Aunt Queenie."

"I'm sure it's confidential," Ford laughed, "so I'll make myself scarce."

"You can do just as you like," Evie returned, indifferently. "Cousin Colfax Yorke," she added, looking at Miriam, "has telephoned that he can't come to dine; and, as it's too late to get anybody else, Aunt Queenie thought you might come and make a fourth. It's only ourselves and—- him," she nodded toward Strange.

"Certainly, I'll come, dear—with pleasure."

"And I'll go," Ford said; "but I won't add with pleasure, because that would be rude."

When he had gone Evie sniffed about the room, looking at the pictures and curios as if she had never seen them before. It was evident that she had spied the packet, and was making her way, by a seemingly accidental route, toward it. Miriam drifted back to her place in the bay-window, where, while apparently watching the traffic in the street below, she kept an eye on Evie's manA"uvres.

"What on earth can you two have to talk about?" Evie demanded, while she seemed intent on examining a cabinet of old porcelain.

"If you're very good, dear," Miriam replied, trying to take an amused, offhand tone, "I'll tell you. It was business."

"Business? Why, I thought you hardly knew him."

"You don't have to know people very well to transact business with them. He came on a question of—money."

"No, but you don't start up doing business with a person that's just dropped down from the clouds—like that." She snapped her fingers to indicate precipitous haste.

"Sometimes you do."

"Well, you don't. I know that for a fact." She was inspecting a vase on a pedestal in a corner now. It was nearer to the packet. She wheeled round suddenly, so that it should take her by surprise. "What's that?"

"You see. It's an envelope with papers in it."

"What sort of papers?"

"I haven't looked at them yet. They have to do with money, or investments, or something. I'm never very clear about those things."

"I thought you did all that through Cousin Endsleigh Jarrott and Mr. Conquest?"

"This was a little thing I couldn't trouble them with."

"And you went straight off to him, when you'd only known him—let me see!—how many days?—one, two, three, four—"

"I've gone to people I didn't know at all—sometimes. You have to. If you only knew more about investing money—"

"I don't know anything about investing money; but I know this is very queer. And you didn't like him—or you said you didn't."

"I said I did, dear—after a fashion—and so I do."

"In that case I should think a good deal would depend upon the fashion. Look here. It's addressed—Miss Strange. That's his writing. That's how he scribbles his name. And there's something written in tiny, tiny letters in the corner. What is it?" Without touching the envelope she bent down to see. "It's The Wild Olive. Now, what in this world can that mean? That's not business, anyhow. That means something."

"No, that's not business, but I haven't an idea what it means." Miriam was glad to be able to disclaim something. "It was probably on the envelope by accident. Some clerk wrote it, and Mr. Strange didn't notice it."

Evie let the explanation pass, while continuing to stare at the object of her suspicions.

"That's not papers," she said, at last, pointing as she spoke to something protruding between the rubber bands. "There's something in there. It looks like a"—she hesitated to find the right article—"it looks like a card-case."

"Perhaps it is," Miriam agreed. "But I'm sure I don't know why he should bring me a card-case."

"Why don't you look?"

"I wasn't in a hurry; but you can look yourself if you want to."

Evie took offence. "I'm sure I don't want to. That's the last thing."

"I wish you would. Then you'd see."

"I only do it under protest," she declared—"because you force me to." She took up the envelope, and began to unloose the rubber bands. "The Wild Olive" she quoted, half to herself. "Ridiculous! I should think clerks might have something better to do than write such things as that—on envelopes—on people's business." But her indignation turned to surprise when a small flat thing, not unlike a card-case, certainly, tumbled out. "What in the name of goodness—?"

Only strong self-control kept Miriam from darting forward to snatch it from the floor. She remembered it at once. It was a worn red leather pocket-book, which she had last seen when it was fresh and new—sitting in the sunset, on the heights above Champlain, and looking at the jewelled sea. A card fell from it, on which there was something written. Evie dropped on one knee to pick it up. Miriam was sorry to risk anything, but she felt constrained to say, as quietly as possible:

"You'd better not read that, dear. It might be private."

Evie slipped the card back into the pocket-book, which she threw on the table, where Miriam let it lie. "I won't look at anything else," Evie said, with dignity, turning away.

"I want you to," Miriam said, authoritatively. "I beg you to."

Thus commanded, Evie drew forth a flat document, on which she read, in ornamental letters, the inscription, New York, Toronto, and Great Lakes Railroad Company. She unfolded it slowly, looking puzzled.

"It's nothing but a lot of little square things," she said, with some disdain.

"The little square things are called coupons, if you know what they are."

"I know they're things people cut—when they have a lot of money. I don't know why they cut them; and still less do I know why he should be bringing them to you."

Miriam had a sudden inspiration that made her face beam with relief.

"I'll tell you why he brought them to me, dear—though I do it under protest, as you say yourself. Your curiosity forces my hand, and makes me show it ahead of time. He brought them to me because it's a wedding-present for you. When you get married—or begin to get married—you can have all that money for your trousseau."

"Aunt Helen is going to give me my trousseau. She said so."

"Then you can have it for anything you like—for house-furnishings or a pearl necklace. You know you wanted a pearl necklace—and there's plenty for a nice one. Each of those papers is worth a thousand dollars, or nearly. And there are—how many?"

"Three. You seem very keen on getting rid of them."

"So I am—to you, darling."

Evie prepared to depart, looking unconvinced.

"It's awfully nice of you—of course. But still—if that's what you had meant at first—from the beginning—you would have—Well, I'll tell Aunt Queenie you'll come."

Left alone, Miriam made haste to read the card in the pocket-book.

/# As deep calls to deep, so Spirit speaks to Spirit. It is the only true communion between mutually comprehending souls. But it is unerring—pardoning all, because understanding all, and making the crooked straight. #/

She read it more than once. She was not sure that it was meant for her. She was not sure that it was in Ford's own handwriting. But in their situation it had a meaning; she took it as a message to herself; and as she read, and read again, she felt on her face the trickling of one or two slow, hard tears.



XVII



The result of the dinner that evening was that Evie grew more fretful. After the departure of her guests, she evolved a brief formula which she used frequently during the next few weeks: "There's something!" With her quick eyes and quicker intuitions, it was impossible for her not to see that Ford and Miriam possessed common memories of the kind that distinguish old acquaintances from new ones. When it did not transpire in chance words she caught it in their glances or divined it in the mental atmosphere. As autumn passed into early winter she became nervous, peevish, and exacting; she lost much from her pretty ways and something from her looks. In the family the change was ascribed to the fatigue incidental to the sudden round of lunches, dinners, dances, suppers, theatre-parties, opera-goings, and "teas" with which American boys and girls of a certain age are surfeited pitilessly with pleasure, as Strasburg geese are stuffed for patA(C) de foie gras. Ford, however, suspected the true reason, and Miriam knew it. They met as seldom as might be; and yet, with the many things requiring explanation between them, frank conversation became imperative.

"You see how it is already," Miriam said to him. "It's making her unhappy from the start. You can't conceal the truth from her very long."

"She isn't fretting about the truth; she's fretting about what she imagines."

"She's fretting because she doesn't understand, and she'll go on fretting till she does. I'm not sorry. It must show you—"

"It shows me the necessity of our being married as soon as possible, so that I may take care of her, and put a stop to it."

"I agree with you that you'd put a stop to it. You'd put a stop to everything. She wouldn't live a year—or you wouldn't. Either she'd die—or she'd abhor you. And if she didn't die, you'd want to."

"I wish to the Lord I had died—eight years ago. The great mistake I made was when the lumber-jacks loosed my hand-cuffs and started me through the woods. They called it giving me a chance, and for a few minutes I thought it was one. A chance! Good God! I remember feeling, as I ran, that I was deserting something. I didn't know what it was just then, but I've understood it since. It would have been a pluckier thing to have been in my coffin as Norrie Ford—or even doing time—than to be here as Herbert Strange."

She said nothing for the moment, but as they walked along side by side he shot a glance at her, and saw her coloring. They had met in the park. He was going toward the house in Seventy-second Street when she was coming away from it. Seizing the opportunity of a few words in private, he had turned to stroll back with her.

"I didn't expect you to be here as Herbert Strange," she said, as though in self-excuse. "I had to give you a name that was like my own, when I was writing letters about your ticket, and sending checks. I had to do everything to avoid suspicion at a time when Greenport was watched. I thought you might be able to take your own name or something like it—"

He explained to her how that had never been possible.

"Evie fidgets about it," he continued. "She puts together the two facts that you and I seem to have known each other, and that my name is identical with your father's. She doesn't know what to make of it; she only thinks 'there's something.' She hasn't said more than that in words, but I see her little mind at work."

"Evie isn't the only one," she informed him. "There's Mr. Wayne. He has to be reckoned with. He recognized your voice from the first minute of hearing it, though he hasn't said yet that he knows whose it is. He may do so at any time. He's very surprising at that sort of thing. I can see him listening when you're there, not only to your words, but to your very movements, trying to recapture—"

"The upshot of everything," he said, abruptly, "is that I must marry her, take her back to the Argentine, where I found her, and where we shall both be out of harm's way."

"You wouldn't be out of harm's way. You can't turn your back on it like that. You alone might be able to slip through, but not if you have Evie."

"That will be my affair; I'll see to it. I take the full responsibility on myself."

"I couldn't let you. Remember that. You can't marry her. Let me say it plainly—"

"Oh, you've said it plainly enough."

"If I've said it too plainly, it's because you force me. You're so wilful."

"You mean, I'm so determined. What it amounts to is the clash of your will against mine; and you refuse to see that I can't give way."

"I see that you must give way. It's in the nature of things. It's inevitable. If I didn't know that, do you think I should interfere? Do you think I should dare to run the risk of wrecking your happiness if I could do anything else? If you knew how I hate doing anything at all—"

"But you needn't. You can just let things be."

"I can't let things be—with all I know; and yet it's impossible for me to appeal to any one, except yourself. You put me in a position in which I must either betray you or betray those who trust me. Because I can't do either—"

"I profit by your noble-mindedness. I told you I would. I'm sorry to have to do it—I'll even admit that I'm ashamed of it—and yet there's no other course for me. I'm not taking you at an unfair advantage, because I've concealed nothing from you from the first. You talk about the difficulty of your position, but you don't begin to imagine mine. As if everything else wasn't gall to me, I've got your disapproval to add wormwood."

"It isn't my disapproval; it's simply—the situation. My opinion counts for nothing—"

"It counts for everything with me—and yet I have to ignore it. But, after all," he flung out, bitterly, "it's the old story. I claim the right to squeeze out of life such drops of happiness—if you can call it happiness—as men have left to me, and you deny it. There it is in a nutshell. Because other people have inflicted a great wrong on me, you insist that I shall inflict a greater one on myself. And this time it wouldn't be only on myself; it would be on poor little Evie. There's where it cuts. No, no; I shall go on. I've the right to do it. You must stop me if you can. If you don't, or won't—why, then—"

"I can stop you ... if you drive me to extremes ... but it wouldn't be by doing ... any of the things you expect."

It was because of the catch in her voice that he stopped in his walk, and confronted her. In spite of the little tremor he could see in her no sign of yielding, and behind her veil he caught a gleam like that of anger. It was at that minute, perhaps, that he became distinctly conscious for the first time of a doubt as to the superiority of "his type of girl." Notwithstanding the awakening of certain faint perceptions, he had hitherto denied within himself that there was anything higher or more lovely. But in this girl's unflinching loyalty, and in her tenacious clinging to what she considered right, he was getting a new glimpse of womanhood, which, however, in no way weakened his determination to resist her.

"As far as I see," he said, after long hesitation, "you and I have two irreconcilable duties. My duty is to marry Evie; yours is to prevent me. In that case there's nothing for either of us but to forge ahead, and see who wins. If you win, I shall bear no malice; and I hope you'll be equally generous if I do."

"But I don't want to win independently of you. If I did, nothing could be easier."

"Then why not do it?"

He tossed up his hand with one of his fatalistic Latin gestures, drawing the attention of the passers-by to the man and woman talking so earnestly. For this reason, and because she was losing her self-command, she hastened to take leave of him.

Arrived at home, it gave her no comfort to find Charles Conquest—the most spick and span of middle-aged New-Yorkers—waiting in the drawing-room.

"I thought you might come in," he explained, "so I stayed. I have to get your signature to the papers about that property in Montreal. I've fixed the thing up and we'll sell."

"You said you'd send the papers—"

"That sounds as if you weren't glad to see me," he laughed, "but I'll ignore the discourtesy. Here," he added, unfolding the documents, "you put your name there—and there—near the L.S."

She carried the papers to her desk, and sat down to write. Conquest took the liberty of old friendship to stroll about the room, with his hands behind him, humming a little tune.

"Well," he said suddenly, "has he come back?"

He had not approached the subject, beyond alluding to it covertly, since the day she had confided to him the confused story of her hopes. She blotted her signature carefully thinking out her reply.

"I've given up expecting him," she said at last.

"Ho! ho! So that's out of the way."

She pretended to be scanning the documents before her so as to be able to sit with her back to him.

"It isn't, for the reason that there's—no way," she said, after some hesitation.

"Oh yes, there is," he laughed, "where there's a will."

"But I've no will."

"I have; I've enough for two."

"I'll tell you what you have got," she said, half turning and speaking to him over the back of her chair. He drew near her. "You've got a great deal of common sense, and I want to ask your advice."

"I can give that, as radium emits light—without ever diminishing the original store."

"Then tell me. Has one ever the right to interfere where a man and a woman—"

"No, never. You needn't give me any more details, because it's one of the questions an oracle finds easiest to answer. No one ever thanks you—"

"I shouldn't be doing it for thanks."

"And you get your own fingers burnt."

"That wouldn't matter. I'd let my fingers burn to the bone if it would do any good."

"It wouldn't. You may take my word for it. I know who you're talking about. It's Evie Colfax."

She started, looking guilty. "Why should you suppose that?"

"I've got eyes. I've watched her, and I know she's a little minx. Oh, you needn't protest. She's a taking little minx, and this time she's in the right."

"I'm afraid I don't know what you mean."

"What has Billy Merrow got to offer her, even if he is my nephew? Come now! He won't be in a position to marry for the next two or three years. Whereas that fellow Strange—"

"Have you heard anything about him?" she asked, breathlessly.

"It isn't what I've heard, it's what I see. He's a very good chap, and a first-rate man of business."

"Do you know him well—personally?"

"I meet him around—at the club and other places—and naturally I have something to do with him at the office. I like him. If Evie can snap him up she'll be doing well for herself. I'm sorry for Billy, of course; but he'll have time to break his heart more than once before he'll have money enough to do anything else with it. If I'd married at his age—"

This, however, was venturing on delicate ground, so that he broke off, wheeling round toward the centre of the drawing-room. She folded the documents and brought them to him.

"You know why I didn't send them?" he said, as he took them. "I thought if I came myself, you might have something to tell me."

"I haven't; not anything special, that is."

"You've told me something special already—that you're not looking for him back."

"I'd rather not talk about it now, if you don't mind."

"Then we'll talk about what goes with it—the other side of the subject."

"There is no other side of the subject."

"Oh, come now, Miriam! You haven't heard all I've got to tell you. You've never let me really present my case, as we lawyers say. If you could see things as I do—"

"But I can't, and you mustn't ask me to-day. I'm tired—"

"It would rest you."

"No, no; not to-day. Don't you see I'm not—I'm not myself? I've had a very trying morning."

"What's the matter? Tell me. I can keep a confidence even if I can't do some other things. Come now! I don't like to think you're worried when perhaps I could help you. That's what I should be good for, don't you see? I could assist you to bear a lot of things—"

His tone, which was so often charged with a slightly mocking banter, became tender, and he attempted to take her hand. For a minute it seemed as if it might be a relief to trust him, to tell him the whole story and follow his counsel; but a second's thought showed her that she could not shift the responsibility from herself, and that in the end she should have to act alone.

"Not to-day," she pleaded. "I'm not equal to it."

"Then I'll come another day."

"Yes, yes; if you like, only—"

"Some day soon?"

"When you like, only leave me now. Please go away. You won't think I'm rude, will you? But I'm not—not as I generally am—"

"Good-bye." He put out his, hand frankly, and smiled so humbly, and yet withal so confidently, that she felt as if in spite of herself she might yield to his persistence through sheer weariness.

* * * * *

To her surprise, the next few weeks passed without incident bringing no development in the situation. She saw little of Evie and almost nothing of Ford. One or two encounters with Charles Conquest had no result beyond the reiteration on his part of a set phrase, "You're coming to it, Miriam," which, while exasperating her nerves, had a kind of hypnotic effect upon her will. She felt as if she might be "coming to it." Without calculating the probabilities she saw clearly enough that if she married Conquest the very act would furnish proof to Ford that her intervention in his affairs had been without self-interest. It would even offer some proof to herself, the sort of proof that strengthens the resolution and supports what is tottering in the pride. Notwithstanding the valor with which she struggled her victory over herself was not so complete that she could contemplate the destruction of Ford's happiness with absolute confidence in the purity of her motives in bringing it to ruin. It was difficult to take the highest road when what was left of her own fiercest instincts accompanied her on it. That she had fierce instincts she was quite aware. It was not for nothing that she had been born almost beyond the confines of the civilized earth, of parents for whom law and order and other men's rights were as the dead letter. True, she was trying to train the inheritance received from them to its finer purposes, as the vine draws strange essences from a flinty soil and sublimates them into the grape—but it was still their inheritance. While she was proud of it, she was afraid of it; and the fact that it leaped with her to separate Norrie Ford from Evie Colfax was a reason for distrusting the very impulse she knew to be right. Marriage with Conquest presented itself, therefore as a refuge—from Ford's suspicion and her own.

For the time being, however, the necessity for doing anything was not pressing. Evie was caught into the social machine that had been set going on her account, and was not so much whirling in it as being whirled. Her energies were so taxed by the task of going round that she had only snatches of time and attention to give to her own future. In one of these she wrote to her uncle Jarrott, asking his consent to the immediate proclamation of her engagement, with his approval of her marriage at the end of the winter, though the reasons she gave him were not the same as those she advanced to Miriam. To him she dwelt on the maturity of her age—twenty by this time—the unchanging nature of her sentiments, and her desire to be settled down. To Miriam she was content to say, "There's something! and I sha'n't get to the bottom of it till we're married."

Of the opening thus unexpectedly offered her Miriam made full use, pointing out the folly or verifying suspicions after marriage rather than before.

"Well, I'm going to do it, do you see?" was Evie's only reply. "I know it will be all right in the end."

Still a few weeks were to pass, and it was early in the new year before Uncle Jarrott's cablegram arrived with the three words, "If you like." Miriam received the information at the opera, where she had been suddenly called on to take the place of Miss Jarrott, laid low with "one of her headaches." It was Ford who told her, during an entr'acte, when for a few minutes Evie had left the box with the young man who made the fourth in the party. Finding themselves alone, Ford and Miriam withdrew as far as possible from public observation, speaking in rapid undertones.

"But you'll not let her do it?" Miriam urged.

"I shall, if you will. You can stop it—or posptone it. If you don't, I have every right to forge ahead. It's no use going over the old arguments again—"

"You put me in an odious position. You want me either to betray you or betray the people who've been kind to me. It would be betrayal if I were to let you go on."

"Then stop me; it's in your power."

"Very well; I will."

He gave her a quick look, astonished rather than startled, but there was no time for further speech before Evie and her companion returned.

It was Miriam's intention to put her plan into immediate execution, but she let most of the next day go by without doing anything. Understanding his driving her to extremes to be due less to deliberate defiance than to a desperate braving of the worst, she was giving him a chance for repentance. Just at the closing in of the winter twilight, at the hour when he generally appeared, the door was flung open and Billy Merrow rushed in excitedly.

"What's all this about Evie?" he shouted, almost before crossing the threshold. "I've been there, and no one is at home. What's it about? Who has invented the confounded lie?"

She could only guess at his meaning, but she forced him to shake hands and calm himself. Turning on the electric light, she saw a young man with decidedly tousled reddish hair, and features as haggard as a perfectly healthy, honest, freckled face could be.

"Sit down, Billy, and tell me about it."

"I can't; I'm crazy."

"So I see; but tell me what you're crazy about."

"Haven't you heard it? Of course you have. They wouldn't be writing it to Uncle Charlie if you didn't know all about it. But I'm hanged if I'll let it go on."

Little by little she dragged the story from him. Miss Queenie Jarrott had written to Charles Conquest as one of the oldest friends of the family to inform him, "somewhat confidentially as yet," of her niece's engagement to Mr. Herbert Strange, of Buenos Aires and New York. Uncle Charlie, knowing what this would mean to him, had come to break the news and tell him to "buck up and take it standing."

"I'll bet you I sha'n't take it lying down," he assured Miriam. "Evie is engaged to me."

"Yes, Billy, but you see Miss Jarrott didn't know it. That's where the mistake has been. You know I've always been opposed to the secrecy of the affair, and I advised you and Evie to wait till you could both speak out."

"It isn't so very secret. You know it and so does Uncle Charlie."

"But Evie's own family have been kept in the dark, except that she told her aunt in South America. But that's where the mistake comes in, don't you see? Miss Jarrott, not having an idea about you, you see—"

"Spreads it round that Evie is engaged to some one else, when she isn't. I'll show her who's engaged, when I can find her in. I'm going to sit on her door-step till—"

"I wouldn't do anything rash, Billy. Suppose you were to leave it to me?"

"What good would that do? If that old witch is putting it round, the only thing for Evie and me to do is to contradict her."

"Has Evie ever given you an idea that anything was wrong?"

"Evie's been the devil. I don't mind saying it to you, because you understand the kind of devil she'd be. But Lord! I don't care. It's just her way. She's told me to go to the deuce half a dozen times, but she knows I won't till she comes with me. Oh, no. Evie's all right—"

"Yes, of course, Evie's all right. But you know, Billy dear, this thing requires a great deal of management and straightening out, and I do wish you'd let me take charge of it. I know every one concerned, you see, so that I could do it better than any one—any one but you, I mean—"

"I understand that all right. I'm not going to be rough on them, but all the same—"

She got him to sit down at last, made tea for him, and soothed him. At the end of an hour he had undertaken not to molest Miss Jarrott, or to fight that "confounded South-American," or to say a word of any kind to Evie till she was ready to say a word to him. He became impressed with the necessity for diplomatic action and, after some persuasion, promised to submit to guidance—at any rate, for a time.

"And now, Billy, I'm going to write a note. The first thing to be done is that you should find Mr. Strange and deliver it to him before nine o'clock this evening. You'll do it quietly, won't you? and not let him see that you are anything more than my messenger. No matter where he is, even in a private house, you must see that he gets the note, if at all possible."

When he had sworn to this she wrote a few lines hurriedly. He carried them away in the same tumultuous haste with which he had come. After his departure she felt herself unexpectedly strong and calm.



XVIII



The feeling of being equal to anything she might have to face continued with her. Now that the moment for action had arrived she had confidence in her ability to meet it, since it had to be done. At dinner she was able to talk to Wayne on indifferent topics, and later, when he had retired to his den to practise his Braile, she sat down in the drawing-room with a book. Noticing that she wore the severe black dress in which she had assisted at the "killing off" of Evie's family, she brightened it with a few unobtrusive jewels, so as to look less like the Tragic Muse. The night being cold, a cheerful fire burned on the hearth, beside which she sat down and waited.

When he was shown in, about half-past eight, it seemed to her best not to rise to receive him. Something in her repose, or in her dignity, gave him the impression of arriving before a tribunal, and he began his explanations almost from the doorway.

"I got your note. Young Merrow caught me at dinner. I was dining alone, so that I could come at once."

"You're very kind. I'm glad you were able to do it. Won't you sit down?"

Without offering her hand, she indicated a high arm-chair suitable for a man, on the other side of the hearth. He seated himself with an air of expectation, while she gazed pensively at the fire, speaking at last without looking up.

"I hear Miss Jarrott has begun to announce your engagement to Evie."

"I understood she was going to, to a few intimate friends."

"And you allowed it?"

"As you see."

"Didn't you know that I should have to take that for a signal?"

"I've never given you to understand that a signal wouldn't come—if you required one."

"No; but I hoped—" She broke off, continuing to gaze at the fire. "Do you remember," she began again—"do you remember telling me—that evening on the shore of Lake Champlain—just before you went away—that if ever I needed your life, it would be at my disposal?—to do with as I chose?"

"I do."

"Then I'm going to claim it." She did not look up, but she heard him change his position in his chair. "I shouldn't do it if there was any other way. I'm sure you understand that. Don't you?" she insisted, glancing at him for an answer.

"I know you wouldn't do it, unless you were convinced there was a reason."

"I've tried to be just to you, and to see things from your point of view. I do; I assure you. If I were in your position I should feel as you do. But I'm not in your position. I'm in one of great responsibility, toward Evie and toward her friends."

"I don't see what you owe to them."



"I owe them the loyalty that every human being owes to every other."

"To every other—except me."

"I'm loyal to you, at least, whoever else may not be. But it wouldn't be loyalty if I let you marry Evie. I'm going to ask you—not to do it—to go away—to leave her alone—to go—for good."

There was a long silence. When he spoke, it was hoarsely but otherwise without change of tone.

"Is that what you meant?—just now?"

"Yes. That's what I meant."

"Do you intend me to get out of New York, to go back to the South—?"

She lifted her hand in protestation.

"I'm not giving orders or making conditions. New York is large. There's room in it for you and Evie, too."

"I dare say. One doesn't require much space to break one's heart in."

"Evie wouldn't break her heart. I know her better than you do. She'd suffer for a while, but she'd get over it, and in the end, very soon probably—marry some one else."

"How cruel you can be," he said, with a twisted smile.

"I can be, when it's right. In this case I'm only as cruel as—the truth. I'm saying it because it must make things easier for you. Your own pain will be the less from the knowledge that, in time, Evie will get over hers."

"I suppose it ought to be, but—"

He did not finish his sentence, and again there was a long hush, during which, while she continued to gaze pensively at the fire, she could hear him shifting with nervous frequency in his chair. When at last she ventured to look at him he was bowed forward, his elbow supported on his knee, and his forehead resting on his hand.

"You'll keep your promise to me?" she persisted, softly, with a kind of pitiful relentlessness.

"I'll tell you in a minute."

He jerked out the words in the brusque way in which a man says all that, for the moment, he is physically able to utter. She allowed more time to elapse. The roar of traffic and the clanging of electric trams came up from the street below, but no sound seemed able to penetrate the stillness in which they sat. As far as Miriam was conscious of herself at all, it was simply to note the curious deadness of her emotions, as though she had become a mere machine for doing right, like a clock that strikes punctually. Nevertheless, it caused her some surprise when he raised himself and said, in a voice that would have been casual on a common occasion:

"I suppose you think me a cad?"

"No; why should I?"

"Because I am one."

"I don't know why you should say that, or what it has to do with—anything."

"It's about that—that—promise."

"Oh!"

"Do you mind if we speak quite frankly? I should like to. I've been bluffing that point ever since you and I met again. It's been torture to have to do it—damned, humiliating torture; but it's been difficult to do anything else. You see, I couldn't even speak of it without seeming to—to insult you—that is, unless you took me in just the right way."

His look, his attitude, the tones of his voice, the something woe-begone and yet boyish in his expression, recalled irresistibly the days in the cabin, when he often wore just this air. She had observed before that when they were alone together the years seemed to fall from his manner, while he became the immature, inexperienced young fugitive again. She had scarcely expected, however, that this lapse into youth would occur to-night. She herself felt ages old—as though all the ends of the world had come upon her.

"You may say anything you like. There's nothing you could possibly tell me that I shouldn't understand."

"Well, then, when I made that promise, I meant to keep it, and to keep it in a special way. I thought—of course we were both very young—but I thought that, after what had happened—"

"Wait a minute. I want to tell you something before you go on." She rallied her spirit's forces for a desperate step, gathering all her life's possible happiness into one extravagant handful, and flinging it away, in order to save her pride before this man, who was about to tell her that he had never been able to love her. "What I am going to say may strike you as irrelevant; but if it is, you can ignore it. I expect to be married—in a little while—it's practically a settled thing—to Charles Conquest, whom I think you know. Now, will you go on, please?"

He stared at her in utter blankness.

"Good God!"

He got up and took a few restless turns up and down the room, his head bent, his hands behind his back. He reseated himself when his confused impressions grew clearer.

"So that it doesn't matter what I thought about—that promise?"

"Not in the least." She had saved herself. "The one thing important to me is that you should have made it."

"And that you can hold me to it," he added, tersely.

"I presume I can do that?"

"You can, unless—unless I find myself in a position to take the promise back."

"I can hardly see how that position could come about," she said, with an air of wondering.

"I can. You see," he went on in an explanatory tone, "it was an unusual sort of promise—a promise made, so to speak, for value received—for unusual value received. It wasn't one that a common occasion would have called forth. It was offered because you had given me—life."

He rested his arm now on a table that stood between them and, leaning toward her, looked her steadily in the eyes.

"I haven't the faintest idea what you're going to say," she remarked, rather blankly.

"No, but you'll see. You gave me life. I hold that life in a certain sense at your pleasure. It is at your disposal. It must remain at your disposal—- until I give it back."

She sat upright in her chair, leaning in her turn on the table, and drawing nearer to him.

"I can't imagine what you mean," she said, under her breath and looking a little frightened.

"You'll see presently. But don't be alarmed. It's going to be all right. As long as I hold the life you gave me," he continued to explain, "I must do your bidding. I'm not a free man; I'm—don't be offended—I'm your creature. I don't say I was a free man before this came up. I haven't been a free man ever since I've been Herbert Strange. I've been the slave of a sort of make-believe. I've made believe, and I've felt I was justified. Perhaps I was. I'm not quite sure. But I haven't liked it; and now I begin to feel that I can't stand it any longer. You follow me, don't you?"

She nodded, still leaning toward him across the table, and not taking her eyes from his. He remembered afterward though he paid no heed to it at the time, how those eyes grew wide with awe and flashed with strange, lambent brightness.

"I told you a few days ago," he pursued, "that there were times when it was hell. That was putting it mildly—too mildly. There's been no time when it wasn't hell—in here." He tapped his forehead. "I've struggled, and fought, and pushed, and swaggered, and bluffed, and had ups and downs, and taken heart, and swaggered and bluffed again, and lied all through—and I've made Herbert Strange a respectable man of business on the high road to success. But when I come near you it all goes to pieces—like one of those curiously conserved dead bodies when they're brought to the air. There's nothing to them. There's nothing to me—so long as I'm Herbert Strange."

"But you are Herbert Strange. You can't help yourself—now."

"Herbert Strange goes back into the nothingness out of which he was born the minute I become Norrie Ford again."

"But you can't do that!"

She drew herself up hastily, with a gasp.

"It's exactly what I mean to do." He spoke very slowly "I'm going to be a free man, and my own master, even if it leads me where—where they meant to put me when you snatched me away. I'm going back to my fellow-men, to the body corporate—"

She rose in agitation, and drew back from him toward the chimney-piece. "So that if—if anything happens," she said, "I shall have driven you to it. That's how you get your revenge."

"Not at all. I'm not coming to this decision suddenly, or in a spirit of revenge, in any way." He followed her, standing near her, on the hearth-rug. "I can truthfully say," he went on in his slow, explanatory fashion, "that there's been no time, since the minute I made my first dash for liberty, when I haven't known, in the bottom of my heart, what a good thing it would have been if I hadn't done it. I've come to see—I've had to—- that the death-chair would have been better, with self-respect, than freedom to go and come, with the necessity to gag every one, every minute of the day, and every day in the year, and all the time, with lies. If that seems far-fetched to you—"

"No, it doesn't."

"Well, if it did you'd see it wasn't, if you were in my place for a month. I didn't mind it so much at first. I stood it by day and just suffered by night—till the Jarrotts began to be so kind to me, and I came to New York—and—and—and Evie!"

"I'm sorry I've spoken to you as I have," she said, hastily. "If I'd known you felt like that—"

"You were quite right. I always understood that. But I can't go on with it. If Evie marries me now, it shall be knowing who I am."

"You don't mean that you could possibly tell her?"

"I'm going to tell every one."

She stifled a little cry. "Then it will be my doing!"

"It will be your doing—up to a point. But it will be something for you to be proud of, not to regret. You've only brought my mistake so clearly before me that even I can't stand it—when I've stood so much. You ask me to turn my back on Evie and sneak away. You've got the right to command, and there's nothing for me but to obey you. But I can't help seeing the sort of life that would be left to me after I'd carried out your orders. It wouldn't only be the loss of Evie—I may lose her in any case—it would be the loss of everything within myself that's enabled me hitherto merely to hold up my head—and bluff."

"I might withdraw what I've just asked you to do. Perhaps we could find some other way."

He laughed with grim lightness.

"You're weakening. That's not like you. And it wouldn't do any good now. Even if we did patch up some other scheme, there would still remain what you talked about a minute ago—the loyalty that every human being owes to every other."

"But I thought you didn't recognize that?"

"I said I didn't. But in here"—he tapped his fingers over the heart—"I did, and I do. You've brought me to see it."

"That's very noble, but you saw it for yourself—"

"Through a glass—darkly; now I can look at the thing in clear daylight, and see what I have to do."

She dropped into her chair again, looking up at him. He stood with his back to the fire, holding his head high, his bearing marked by a dogged, perhaps forced, serenity.

"But what can you do?" she asked, after considering his words. "You're so involved. All this business—and the people in South America—"

"Oh, there are ways and means. I haven't made plans, but I've thought, from time to time, of what I should do if I ever came to just this pass. The first thing would be to tell the few people who are most concerned, confidentially. Then I should go back to South America, and settle things give me your respect again—not even the little you've given me hitherto—and God knows that can't have been much. I could stand anything in the world—anything—rather than that you should come to that."

"But I shouldn't, when I myself had dissuaded you—"

"No, no; don't try. You'd be doing wrong. You've been to me so high and holy that I don't like to think you haven't the strength to go on to the end. I've got it, because you've given it me. Don't detract from your own gift by holding me back from using it. You found me a prisoner—or an escaped one—and I've been a prisoner all these years, the prisoner of something worse than chains. Now I'm going free. Look!" he cried, with sudden inspiration. "I'll show you how it's done. You'll see how easy it will be."

He moved to cross the room.

"What are you going to do?"

She sprang up as if to hold him back, but his finger was on the bell.

"You don't mind, I hope?" he asked; but he had rung before she could give an answer. The maid appeared in the doorway.

"Ask Mr. Wayne if he would be good enough to come in here a minute. Tell him Mr. Strange particularly wants to see him."

He went back to his place by the fireside, where he stood apparently calm, showing no sign of excitement except in heightened color and the stillness of nervous tension Miriam sank into her chair again.

"Don't do anything rash," she pleaded. "Wait till to-morrow There will always be time. For God's sake!"

If he heard her he paid no attention, and presently Wayne appeared. He hesitated a minute on the threshold, and during that instant Ford could see that he looked ashy and older, as if something had aged him suddenly. His hands trembled, too, as he felt his way in.

"Good-evening," he said, speaking into the air as blind men do. "I thought I heard your voice."

Having groped his way across the room and reached the table that stood between the arm-chairs Miriam and Ford had occupied, he stopped. He stood there, with fingers drumming soundlessly on the polished wood, waiting for some one to speak.

In spite of the confidence with which he had rung the bell, Ford found it difficult now to begin. It was only after one or two inarticulate attempts that he was able to say anything.

"I asked you to come in, sir," he began, haltingly, "to tell you something very special. Miss Strange knows it already.... If I've done wrong in not telling you before ... you'll see I'm prepared to take my punishment.... My name isn't Strange ... it isn't Herbert."

"I know it isn't."

The words slipped out in a sharp tone, not quite nervous, but thin and worn. Miriam's attitude grew tense. Ford took a step forward from the fireside. With his arm flung over the back of his chair, and his knee resting on the seat of it, he strained across the table, as if to annihilate the space between Wayne and himself.

"You knew?"

The blind man nodded. When he spoke it was again into the air.

"Yes; I knew. You're Norrie Ford. I ought to say I've only known it latterly—about a fortnight now."

"How?"

"Oh, it just came to me—by degrees, I think."

"Why didn't you say something about it?"

"I thought I wouldn't. It has worried me, but I thought I'd keep still."

"Do you mean that you were going to let everything—go on?"

"I weighed all the considerations. That's the decision I came to. You must understand," he went on to explain, in a voice that was now tremulous as well as thin, "that I'd had you a good deal on my mind, during these past eight years. I sentenced you to death when I almost knew you were innocent. It was my duty. I couldn't help it. The facts told dead against you. Every one admitted that. True, the evidence might have been twisted to tell against old Gramm and his wife, but they hadn't been dissipated, and they hadn't been indicted, and they hadn't gone round making threats against Chris Ford's life like you."

"I didn't mean them. It was nothing but a boy's rage—"

"Yes, but you made them; and when the old man was found—But I'll not go into that now. I only want to say that, while I couldn't acquit you with my intelligence, I felt constrained to do it in my heart, especially when everything was over, and it was too late. The incident has been the one thing in my professional career that I've most regretted. I don't quite blame myself. I had to do my duty. And yet it was a relief to me when you got away. I don't know that I could have acted differently, but—but I liked you. I've gone on liking you. I've often thought about you, and wondered what had become of you. And one day—not long ago—as I was going over the old ground once more, I saw I'd been thinking about—you. That's how it came to me."

"And you were going to remain silent, and let me marry Evie?"

The blind man reflected.

"I saw what was to be said against it. But I weighed all the evidence carefully. You were an injured man; you'd made a great fight and you'd won—as far as one man can win against the world. I came to the conclusion that I wasn't called on to strike you down a second time, after you'd scrambled up so pluckily. Evie is very dear to me; I don't say that I should see her married to you without some misgiving; but I decided that you deserved her. It was a great responsibility to take, but I took it and made up my mind to—let her go."

"Oh, you're a good man! I didn't think there was such mercy in the world."

Ford flung out the words in a cry that was half a groan and half a shout of triumph. Miriam choked back a sob. The neat little man shrugged his shoulders deprecatingly.

"There's one thing I should like to ask," he pursued, "among the many that I don't know anything about, and that I don't care to inquire into. How did you come by the name of this lady's father, my old friend Herbert Strange?"

Ford and Miriam exchanged swift glances. She shook her head, and he took his cue.

"I happened to see it in a—a sort of—paper. I had no idea it was that of a real person. I fancied it had come out of a novel—- or something like that. I didn't mean to keep it, but it got fastened on me."

"Very odd," was his only comment. "Isn't it, Miriam?

"Now," he added, "I suppose you've had all you want of me, so I'll say good-night."

He held out his hand, which Ford grasped, clinched rather, in both his own.

"God bless you!" Wayne murmured, still tremulously. "God bless you—my boy, and bring everything out right. Miriam, I suppose you'll come in and see me before you go to bed."

They watched him shuffle his way out of the room, and watched the door long after he had closed it. When at last Miriam turned her eyes on Ford they were luminous with the relief of her own defeat.

"You see!" she cried, triumphantly. "You see the difference between him and me—between his spirit and mine! Now which of us was right?"

"You were."



XIX



The one thing clear to Miriam on the following day was that she had ruined everything with astonishing completeness—a curious result to come from what she was firmly convinced was "doing right." She had calculated that, by a moderate measure of suffering to Evie, and a large one to Ford, Evie's ultimate welfare at least would be secured. Now everything was being brought to grief together. Out of such a wreck nothing could be saved.

With Ford's desire to break the force which made him an impostor she had sympathy, but his willingness to risk his life in order to be in harmony with law and order again was not so easy for her to understand. While education, training and taste kept her, in her own person, within the restrictions of civilized life, yet the part of a free-lance in the world appealed to her strongly atavistic instincts far more directly than membership in a disciplined regular army. The guerilla fighter must of necessity be put to shifts—even moral shifts—which the common soldier, trained and commanded by others, can be spared; but her heart was with the man roving in the hills on his own account. That Ford should deliberately seek chains in barracks, when by her surrender on the subject of Evie she had made it possible for him still to keep the liberty of the field, was to her at once incomprehensible and awful. She had not only the sense of watching a man rushing upon Fate, but the knowledge that she herself had given him the impetus; while she was fully alive to the fact that when he fell everything she cared for in the world would fall with him.

Her mind was too resourceful, her spirit too energetic, to permit of her sitting in helpless anguish over his new determination. She was already busy with plans for counteracting him, in one of which at least she saw elements of hope. Having conceived its possibilities, she was eager to go and test them; but she had decided not to leave the house until she knew that Ford was really putting his plans into execution. The minute Evie learned the fatal news she would have need of her, and she dared not put herself out of the child's reach. Her first duty must be toward the fragile little creature, who would be crushed like a trampled flower.

Shortly before noon she was summoned to the telephone, where Evie was asking if she should find her in. Miriam judged from the tones of the transmitted voice that the worst had been made known. She was not, however, prepared for the briskness with which, ten minutes later, Evie whisked into the room, her cheeks aglow with excitement and her heavenly eyes dancing with a purely earthly sparkle.

"Isn't this awful?" she cried, before Miriam could take her into her loving arms. "Isn't it appalling? But it's not a surprise to me—not in the least. I knew there was something. Haven't I said so? I almost knew that his name wasn't Strange. If I hadn't been so busy with my coming out—and everything—I should have been sure of it. I haven't had time to think of it—do you see? With a lunch somewhere every day at half-past one," she hurried on, breathlessly, "and a tea at half-past four, and a dinner at eight, and a dance at eleven, and very likely the theatre or the opera in between—well, you can see I haven't been able to give much attention to anything else; but I knew, from the very time when I was in Buenos Aires, that there was something queer about that name. I never saw a man so sensitive when any one spoke about his name, not in all my life before—and you know down there it's the commonest thing—why, they're so suspicious on that point that they'd almost doubt that mine was Evie Colfax."

She threw her muff in one direction, her boa in another, and her gloves in still another.

"But, Evie darling, you surely didn't think—"

"Of course I never thought of anything like this. I didn't really think of anything at all. If I'd begun to give my mind to it, I should probably have hit on something a great deal worse."

"What do you mean, dear? Worse—than what?"

"Worse than just being accused of shooting your uncle—and it was only his great-uncle, too. I might have thought of forgery or something dishonorable, though I should know he wasn't capable of it. Being accused isn't much. You can accuse any one—you could accuse me. That doesn't prove anything when he says he didn't do it. Of course he didn't do it. Can't any one see? My goodness! I wish they'd let me make the laws. I'd show them. Just think! To put a man like that in prison—- and say they'd do such awful things to him—and make him change his name—and everything. It's perfectly scandalous. It's an outrage. I shouldn't think such things would be allowed. They wouldn't be allowed in the Argentine. Why, there was a man out there who killed his father-in-law—actually killed him—and they didn't do anything to him at all. I've seen him lots of times. Aunt Queenie has pointed him out to me. He used to have the box next but two to ours at the opera. And to think they should take a man like Herbert, and worry him like that—it makes me so indignant I'd like to—"

Evie ground her teeth, threw her clinched fists outward, and twitched her skirts about the room in the prettiest possible passion of righteous anger.

"But, darling," Miriam asked, in a puzzled voice, "what are you going to do about it?"

Evie wheeled round haughtily.

"Do about it? What would you expect me to do about it? I'm going to tell every one he didn't do it—that's what I'm going to do about it. But of course we're not to speak of it just yet—outside ourselves, you know. He's going to Buenos Aires to tell Uncle Jarrott he didn't do it—and when he comes back we're going to make it generally known. Oh, there's to be law about it—and everything. He means to change his name again to what it was before—Ford, the name was—and I must say, Miriam, I like that a good deal better than Strange, if you don't mind my telling you. It seems odd to have so many Stranges—and I must say I never could get used to the idea of having exactly the same name as yours. It was almost like not being married outside the family—and I should hate to marry a relation. That part of it comes as a pleasant surprise, do you see? I'd made up my mind to Strange, and thought there was no way of getting rid of it, unless I—but I wasn't looking ahead to anything of that kind. I hope I shall never—"

"So, darling, you're going to be true to him?"

"True to him? Of course I'm going to be true to him. Why shouldn't I be? I'm going to be more true to him now than I was before. He's so noble about it, too. I wish you could have seen the way he broke it to me. Aunt Queenie said she never saw anything so affecting, not even on the stage. She was there, you know. Herbert felt he couldn't go over it all twice, and he thought I should need some one to support me through the shock. I didn't—not a bit. But I wish you could have been there, just to see him."

"I can fancy it, dear."

"Of course I know now what you've been fidgeting about ever since he came to New York. He says you recognized him—that you'd seen him at Greenport. Oh, I knew there was something. But I must say, Miriam, I think you might have told me confidentially, and not let it come on me as such a blow as this. Not that I take it as a blow, though, of course, it upsets things terribly. We can't announce our engagement for ever so long, and Aunt Queenie is rushing round in the motor now to take back what she wrote to a few people yesterday. I can't imagine what she'll tell them, because I charged her on her sacred honor not to give them the idea it was broken off, although I'd rather they thought it was broken off than that I hadn't been engaged at all."

"Miss Jarrott takes it quietly, then?"

"Quietly! I wish you could see her. She thinks there never was anything so romantic. Why, she cried over him, and kissed him, and said she'd always be his friend if every one else in the world were to turn against him. As a matter of fact, the poor old dear is head over heels in love with him—do you see?—in that sort of old-maid way—you know the kind of thing I mean. She thinks there's nobody like him, and neither there is. I shall miss him frightfully while he's down there telling Uncle Jarrott. I shall skip half my invitations and go regularly into retreat till he comes back. There's lots more he's going to tell me then—all about what Popsey Wayne had to do with it—and everything. I'm glad he doesn't want to do it now, because my head is reeling as it is. I've so many things to think of—and so much responsibility coming on me all at once—and—"

"Are you going to do anything about Billy?"

"Well, I can postpone that, at any rate. Thank goodness, there's one silver lining to the cloud. I was going to give him a pretty strong hint to-night, seeing Aunt Queenie has begun writing notes around, but now I can let him simmer for a while longer. He won't be able to say I haven't let him down easy, poor old boy. And, Miriam dear," she continued, gathering up her various articles of apparel, preparatory to taking leave, "you'll keep just as quiet about it as you can, like a dear, won't you? We don't mean to say a word about it outside ourselves till Herbert comes back from seeing Uncle Jarrott. That's my advice—and it's all our advice—I mean, Aunt Queenie's, too. Then they're going to law—or something. I know you won't say anything about it, but I thought I'd just put you on your guard."

* * * * *

If Evie's way of taking it was a new revelation to Miriam, of her own miscalculation, it was also a new incentive to setting to work as promptly as possible to repair what she could of the mischief she had made. With Evie's limitations she might never know more of the seriousness of her situation than a bird of the nature of the battle raging near its nest; while if even Ford "went to law," as Evie put it, and he came off victorious, there might still be chances for their happiness. To anything else Miriam was indifferent, as a man in the excitement of saving his children from fire or storm is dead to his own sensations. It was with impetuous, almost frenzied, eagerness, therefore, that she went to the telephone to ring up Charles Conquest, asking to be allowed to see him privately at his office during the afternoon.

In what she had made up her mind to do the fact that she was planning for herself an unnecessary measure of sacrifice was no deterrent. She was in a mood in which self-immolation seemed the natural penalty of her mistakes. She was not without the knowledge that money could buy the help she purposed to obtain by direct intervention; but her inherited instincts, scornful of roundabout methods, urged her to pay the price in something more personal than coin. It replied in some degree to her self-accusation, it assuaged the bitterness of her self-condemnation, to know that she was to be the active agent in putting right that which her errors of judgment had put wrong. To her essentially primitive soul atonement by proxy was as much out of the question as to the devotee beneath the wheels of Juggernaut. Somewhere in the background of her thought there were faint prudential protests against throwing herself away; but she disdained them, as a Latin or a Teuton disdains the Anglo-Saxon's preference for a court of law to the pistol of the duellist. It was something outside the realm of reason. Reckless impulses subdued by convent restraint or civilized requirements awoke with a start all the more violent because of their long sleep, driving her to do that which she knew other women would have done otherwise or not at all.

She was aware, therefore, of limitations in the sacrifice she was making; she was even aware that, in the true sense, it was no sacrifice whatever. She was offering herself up because she chose to—in a kind of wilfulness—but a passionate wilfulness which claimed that for her at least there was no other way. Other women, wiser women, women behind whom there was a long, moderation-loving past, might obey the laws that prompt to the economy of one's self; she could only follow those blind urgings which drove her forefathers to fight when they might have remained at peace, or whipped them forth into the wild places of the earth when they could have stayed in quiet homes. The hard way in preference to the easy way was in her blood. She could no more have resisted taking it now than she could have held herself back eight years ago from befriending Norrie Ford against the law.

Nevertheless, it was a support to her to remember that Conquest's manner on the occasions when business brought her to his office was always a little different from that which he assumed when they met outside. He was much more the professional man with his client, a little the friend, but not at all the lover—if he was a lover anywhere. Having welcomed her now with just the right shade of cordiality, he made her sit at a little distance from his desk, while he himself returned to the revolving-chair at which he had been writing when she entered. After the preliminary greetings, he put on, unconsciously, the questioning air a business man takes at the beginning of an interview which he has been invited to accord.

"I came—about Evie."

Now that she was there it was less easy to begin than she had expected.

"Quite so. I knew there was a hitch. I've just had a mysterious note from Queenie Jarrott which I haven't been able to make out. Can't they hit it off?"

"It's a good deal more serious than that. Mr. Strange came to see Mr. Wayne and me last night. I may as well tell you as simply as I can. His name isn't Strange at all."

"Ho! ho! What's up?"

"Did you ever hear the name of—Norrie Ford?"

"Good Lord, yes! I can't quite remember—Let's see. Norrie Ford? I know the name as well as I know my own. Wasn't that the case—why, yes, it must have been—wasn't that the case Wayne was mixed up in six or eight years ago?"

"Yes, it was."

"The fellow gave 'em all the slip, didn't he?"

She nodded.

"Hadn't he been commuted to a life sentence—?"

"Mr. Wayne hoped it would be done, but it hadn't been done yet. He was still under sentence of—death."

"Yes, yes, yes. It comes back to me. We thought Wayne hadn't displayed much energy or ability of foresight—or something. I remember there was talk about it, and in the newspapers there was even a cock-and-bull story that Wayne had connived at his escape. Well, what has that got to do with Evie?"

"It has everything to do with her."

Conquest's little gray-green eyes blinked as if against the blaze of their own light, while his features sharpened to their utmost incisiveness.

"You don't mean to say—?"

"I do."

"Well, upon—my—!" The exclamation trailed off into a silent effort to take in this extraordinary piece of intelligence "Do you mean to say the scamp had the cheek—? Oh no, it isn't possible. Come now!"

"It was exactly as I'm going to tell you, but I don't think you should call him a scamp. You see, he's engaged to Evie—"

"He's not engaged to her now?"

"He is. She means to be true to him. So do we all."

Two little scarlet spots burned in her cheeks, but it was not more in the way of emotion than a warm partisanship on Evie's account demanded.

"Well, I'm blowed!" He swung one leg across the other, making his chair describe a semicircle.

"Perhaps you won't be so much—blowed, when you hear all I have to tell you."

"Go ahead; I'm more interested than if it was a dime novel."

As lucidly as she could she gave him the outline of Ford's romance, dwelling as he had done in relating it to her, less on its incidents than on its mental and moral effect upon himself. She suppressed the narrative of the weeks spent in the cabin and based her report entirely on information received from Ford. For testimony as to his life and character in the Argentine she had the evidence of Miss Jarrott, while on the subject of his business abilities—no small point with a New York business man, as she was astute enough to see—there could be no better authority than Conquest himself, who, as Stephens and Jarrott's American legal adviser, had had ample opportunity of judging. She was gratified to note that as her story progressed it called forth sympathetic looks, and an occasional appreciative exclamation, while now and then he slapped his thigh as a mark of the kind of amused astonishment that verges on approbation.

"So we couldn't desert him now, after she's been so brave, could we?" she pleaded, with some amount of confidence; "and especially when he's engaged to Evie."

"I suppose we can't desert him, if he's sane."

"Oh, he's sane."

"Then why the deuce, when he was so well out of harm's way, didn't he stay there?"

"Because of his love for Evie, don't you see?" She had to explain Ford's moral development and psychological state all over again, until he could see it with some measure of comprehension.

"It certainly is the queerest story I ever heard," he declared, in enjoyment of its dramatic elements, "and we're all in it, aren't we? It's like seeing yourself in a play."

"I thought you would look at it in that way. As soon as I began wondering what we could do—this morning—I saw that, after Evie, you were the person most concerned."

"Who? I? Why am I concerned? I've got nothing to do with it!"

"No, of course not, except as Stephens and Jarrott's lawyer. When their representative in New York—"

"Oh, but my dear girl, my duties don't involve me in anything of this kind. I'm the legal adviser to the firm, but I've nothing to do with the private affairs of their employees."

"Mr. Jarrott is very fond of Mr. Strange—"

"Perhaps this will cool his affection."

"I don't think it will as long as Evie insists on marrying him. I'm sure they mean to stand by him."

"They won't be able to stand by him long, if the law gives him—what it meant to give him before."

"Oh, but you don't think there's any danger of that?"

"I don't know about it," he said, shaking his head, ominously. "The fact that he comes back and gives himself up isn't an argument in favor of his innocence. There's generally remorse behind that dodge."

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