Presently, with her alert, rather assertive blue eyes she saw Kitty, and came forward. "Miss Tynan?" she asked, with an encompassing look.
Now Kitty was idiomatic in her speech at times, and she occasionally used slang of the best brand, but she avoided those colloquialisms which were of the vocabulary of the uneducated. Indeed, she had had no inclination to use them, for her father had set her a good example, and she liked to hear good English spoken. That was why Crozier's talk had been like music to her; and she had been keen to distinguish between the rhetorical method of Augustus Burlingame, who modelled himself on the orators of all the continents, and was what might be called a synthetic elocutionist. Kitty was as simple and natural as a girl could be, and as a rule had herself in perfect command; but she was so stunned by the sight of this petite person before her that, in reply to Mrs. Crozier's question, she only said abruptly
Then she came to herself and could have bitten her tongue out for that plunge into the vernacular of the West; and forthwith a great prejudice was set up in her mind against Mona Crozier, in whose eyes she caught a look of quizzical criticism or, as she thought, contemptuous comment. That for one instant she had been caught unawares and so had put herself at a disadvantage angered her; but she had been embarrassed and confounded by this miniature goddess, and her reply was a vague echo of talk she heard around her every day. Also she could have choked the Young Doctor, whom she caught looking at her with wondering humour, as though he was trying to see "what her game was," as he said to her afterwards.
It was all due to the fact that from the day of the Logan Trial, and particularly from the day when Shiel Crozier had told his life-story, she had always imagined his wife as a stately Amazonian being with the carriage of a Boadicea. She had looked for an empress in splendid garments, and—and here was a humming-bird of a woman, scarcely bigger, than a child, with the buzzing energy of a bee, but with a queer sort of manfulness too; with a square, slightly-projecting chin, as Kitty came to notice afterwards; together with some small lines about the mouth and at the eyes, which came from trouble endured and suffering undergone. Kitty did not notice that, but the Young Doctor took it in with his embracing glance, as the wife saluted Kitty with her inward comment, which was:
"So this is the chit who wrote to me like a mother!" But Mona Crozier did not underestimate Kitty for all that, and she wondered why it was that Kitty had written as she did. One thing was quite clear: Kitty had had good intentions, else why have written at all?
All these thoughts had passed through the mind of each, with a good many others, while they were shaking hands; and the Young Doctor summoned his man to carry Mona's hand-luggage to the extra buggy he had brought to the station. One of the many other thoughts that were passing through three active minds was Kitty's unspoken satire:
"Just think; this is the woman he talked of as though she was a moving mountain which would fall on you and crush you, if you didn't look out!"
No doubt Crozier would have repudiated this description of his talk, but the fact was he had unconsciously spoken of Mona with a sort of hush in his voice; for a woman to him was something outside real understanding. He had a romantic mediaeval view, which translated weakness and beauty into a miracle, and what psychologists call "an inspired control."
"She's no bigger than—than a wasp," said Kitty to herself, after the Young Doctor had assured Mrs. Crozier that her husband was almost well again; that he had recovered more quickly than was expected, and had gained strength wonderfully after the crisis was passed.
"An elephant can crush you, but a wasp can sting you," was Kitty's further inward comment, "and that's why he was always nervous when he spoke of her." Then, as the Young Doctor had already done, she noticed the tiny lines about the tiny mouth, and the fine-spun webs about the bird-bright eyes.
The Young Doctor attributed these lines mostly to anxiety and inward suffering, but Kitty set them down as the outward signs of an inward fretfulness and quarrelsomeness, which was rendered all the more offensive in her eyes by the fact that Mona Crozier was the most, spotless thing she had ever seen, at the end of a journey—and this, a journey across a continent. Orderliness and prim exactness, taste and fastidiousness, tireless tidiness were seen in every turn, in every fold of her dress, in the way everything she wore had been put on, in the decision of every step and gesture. Kitty noticed all this, and she said to herself,
"Wound up like a watch, cut like a cameo," and she instinctively felt the little dainty cameo-brooch at her own throat, the only jewellery she ever wore, or had ever worn.
"Sensible of her not to bring a maid," commented the Young Doctor inwardly. "That would have thrown Kitty into a fit. Yet how she manages to look like this after six thousand miles of sea and land going is beyond me—and Crozier so rather careless in his ways. Not what you would call two notes in the same key, she and Crozier," he reflected as he told her she need not trouble about her luggage, and took charge of the checks for it.
"My husband—is—is he quite better now?" Mrs. Crozier asked with sharp anxiety, as the two-seated "rig" started away with the ladies in the back seat.
"Oh, better, thanks to him," was Kitty's reply, nodding towards the Young Doctor.
"You have told him I was coming?"
"Wasn't it better to have a talk with you first?" asked Kitty meaningly.
Mrs. Crozier almost nervously twitched the little jet bag she carried, then she looked Kitty in the eyes.
"You will, of course, have reason for thinking so, if you say it," was her enigmatical reply. "And of course you will tell me. You did not let him know that you had written to me, or that the doctor had cabled me?"
"Oh, you got his cable?" questioned Kitty with a little ring of triumph in her voice, meant to reach the ears of the Young Doctor. It did reach him, and he replied to the question.
"We thought it better not; chiefly because he had in this country planned his life with an exclusiveness, and on a principle which did not, unfortunately, take you into account."
The little lady blushed, or flushed. "May I ask how you know this to be so, if it is so?" she asked, and there was the sharpness of the wasp in her tone, as it seemed to Kitty.
"The Logan Trial—I mentioned it in my letter to you," interposed Kitty. "He was shot for the evidence he gave at the trial. Well, at the trial a great many questions were asked by a lawyer who wanted to hurt him, and he answered them."
"Why did the lawyer want to hurt him?" Mona Crozier asked quickly.
"Just mean-hearted envy and spite and devilry," was Kitty's answer. "They were both handsome men, and perhaps that was it."
"I never thought my husband handsome, though he was always distinguished looking," was the quiet reply.
"Ah, but you haven't seen him at all for so long!" remarked Kitty, a little spitefully.
"How do you know that?" Mrs. Crozier was nettled, though she did not show it; but Kitty felt it was so, and was glad.
"He said so at the Logan Trial."
"Was that the kind of question asked at the trial?" the wife quickly interjected.
"Yes, lots of that kind," returned Kitty.
"What was the object?"
"To make him look not so distinguished—like nothing. If a man isn't handsome, but only distinguished"—Kitty's mood was dangerous—"and you make him look cheap, that's one advantage, and—"
Here the Young Doctor, having observed the rising tide of antagonism in the tone of the voices behind him, gently interposed, and made it clear that the purpose was to throw a shadow on the past of her husband in order to discredit his evidence; to which Mrs. Crozier nodded her understanding. She liked the Young Doctor, as who did not who came in contact with him, except those who had fear of him, and who had an idea that he could read their minds as he read their bodies. And even this girl at her side—Mona Crozier realised that the part she had played was evidently an unselfish one, though she felt with piercing intuition that whatever her husband thought of the girl, the girl thought too much of her husband. Somehow, all in a moment, it made her sorry for the girl's sake. The girl had meant well by her husband in sending for his wife, that was certain; and she did not look bad. She was too sedately and reservedly dressed, in spite of her auriferous face and head and her burnished tone, to be bad; too fearless in eye, too concentrated to be the rover in fields where she had no tenure or right.
She turned and looked Kitty squarely in the eyes, and a new, softer look came into her own, subduing what to Kitty was the challenging alertness and selfish inquisitiveness.
"You have been very good to Shiel—you two kind people," she said, and there came a sudden faint mist to her eyes.
That was her lucky moment, and she spoke as she did just in time, for Kitty was beginning to resent her deeply; to dislike her far more than was reasonable, and certainly without any justice.
Kitty spoke up quickly. "Well, you see, he was always kind and good to other people, and that was why—"
"But that Mr. Burlingame did not like him?" The wife had a strange intuition regarding Mr. Burlingame. She was sure that there was a woman in the case—the girl beside her?
"That was because Mr. Burlingame was not kind or good to other people," was Kitty's sedate response. There was an undertone of reflection in the voice which did not escape Mrs. Crozier's senses, and it also caught the ear of the Young Doctor, to whom there came a sudden revelation of the reason why Burlingame had left Mrs. Tynan's house.
"Oh!" exclaimed Mrs. Crozier enigmatically. Presently, with suppressed excitement as she saw the Young Doctor reining in the horses slowly, she added: "My husband—when have you arranged that I should see him?"
"When he gets back—home," Kitty replied, with an accent on the last word.
Mrs. Crozier started visibly. "When he gets back home-back from where? He is not here?" she asked in a tone of chagrin. She had come a long way, and she had pictured this meeting at the end of the journey with a hundred variations, but never with this one—that she should not see Shiel at once when the journey was over, if he was alive. Was it hurt pride or disappointed love which spoke in her face, in her words? After all, it was bad enough that her private life and affairs should be dragged out in a court of law; that these two kind strangers, whom she had never seen till a few minutes ago, should be in the inner circle of knowledge of the life of her husband and herself, without her self-esteem being hurt like this. She was very woman, and the look of the thing was not nice to her eyes, while it must belittle her in theirs. Had this girl done it on purpose? Yet why should she—she who had so appealed to her to come to him—have sought to humiliate her?
Kitty was not quite sure what she ought to say. "You see, we expected him back before this. He is very exact!"
"Very exact?" asked Mrs. Crozier in astonishment. This was a new phase of Shiel Crozier's character. He must, indeed, have changed since he had caused her so much anxiety in days gone by.
"Usen't he to be so?" asked Kitty, a little viciously. "He is so very exact now," she added. "He expected to be back home before this"—how she loved to use that word home—"and so we thought he would be here when you arrived. But he has been detained at Aspen Vale. He had a big business deal on—"
"A big business deal? Is he—is he in a large way of business?" Mona asked almost incredulously. Shiel Crozier in a large way of business, in a big business deal? It did not seem possible. His had ever been the game of chance. Business—business?
"He doesn't talk himself, of course; that wouldn't be like him,"—Kitty had joy in giving this wife the character of her husband," but they say that if he succeeds in what he's trying to do now he will make a great deal of money."
"Then he has not made it yet?" asked Mrs. Crozier.
"He has always been able to pay his board regularly, with enough left for a pew in church," answered Kitty with dry malice; for she mistook the light in the other's eyes, and thought it was avarice; and the love of money had no place in Kitty's make-up. She herself would never have been influenced by money where a man was concerned.
"Here's the house," she quickly added; "our home, where Mr. Crozier lives. He has the best room, so yours won't be quite so good. It's mother's—she's giving it up to you. With your trunks and things, you'll want a room to yourself," Kitty added, not at all unconscious that she was putting a phase of the problem of Crozier and his wife in a very commonplace way; but she did not look into Mrs. Crozier's face as she said it.
Mrs. Crozier, however, was fully conscious of the poignancy of the remark, and once again her face flushed slightly, though she kept outward composure.
"Mother, mother, are you there?" Kitty called, as she escorted the wife up the garden walk.
An instant later Mrs. Tynan cheerfully welcomed the disturber of the peace of the home where Shiel Crozier had been the central figure for so long.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
And I was very lucky—worse luck! God help the man that's afraid of his own wife! Sensitive souls, however, are not so many as to crowd each other
YOU NEVER KNOW YOUR LUCK
[BEING THE STORY OF A MATRIMONIAL DESERTER]
By Gilbert Parker
XII. AT THE RECEIPT OF CUSTOM XIII. KITTY SPEAKS HER MIND AGAIN XIV. AWAITING THE VERDICT XV. "MALE AND FEMALE CREATED HE THEM" XVI. "'TWAS FOR YOUR PLEASURE YOU CAME HERE, YOU GO BACK FOR MINE" XVII. WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT IT? EPILOGUE
AT THE RECEIPT OF CUSTOM
"What are you laughing at, Kitty? You cackle like a young hen with her first egg." So spoke Mrs. Tynan to her daughter, who alternately swung backwards and forwards in a big rocking-chair, silently gazing into the distant sky, or sat still and "cackled" as her mother had said.
A person of real observation and astuteness, however, would have noticed that Kitty's laughter told a story which was not joy and gladness— neither good humour nor the abandonment of a luxurious nature. It was tinged with bitterness and had the smart of the nettle.
Her mother's question only made her laugh the more, and at last Mrs. Tynan stooped over her and said, "I could shake you, Kitty. You'd make a snail fidget, and I've got enough to do to keep my senses steady with all the house-work—and now her in there!" She tossed a hand behind her fretfully.
Quick with love for her mother, as she always was, Kitty caught the other's trembling hand. "You've always had too much to do, mother; always been slaving for others. You've never had time to think whether you're happy or not, or whether you've got a problem—that's what people call things, when they're got so much time on their hands that they make a play of their inside feelings and work it up till it sets them crazy."
Mrs. Tynan's mouth tightened and her brow clouded. "I've had my problems too, but I always made quick work of them. They never had a chance to overlay me like a mother overlays her baby and kills it."
"Not 'like a mother overlays,' but 'as a mother overlays,'" returned Kitty with a queer note to her voice. "That's what they taught me at school. The teacher was always picking us up on that kind of thing. I said a thing worse than that when Mrs. Crozier"—her fingers motioned towards another room—"came to-day. I don't know what possessed me. I was off my trolley, I suppose, as John Sibley puts it. Well, when Mrs. James Shiel Gathorne Crozier said—oh, so sweetly and kindly—'You are Miss Tynan?' what do you think I replied? I said to her, 'The same'!"
Rather an acidly satisfied smile came to Mrs. Tynan's lips. "That was like the Slatterly girls," she replied. "Your father would have said it was the vernacular of the rail-head. He was a great man for odd words, but he knew always just what he wanted to say and he said it out. You've got his gift. You always say the right thing, and I don't know why you made that break with her—of all people."
A meditative look came into Kitty's eyes. "Mr. Crozier says every one has an imp that loves to tease us, and trip us up, and make us appear ridiculous before those we don't want to have any advantage over us."
"I don't want Mrs. Crozier to have any advantage over you and me, I can tell you that. Things'll never be the same here again, Kitty dear, and we've all got on so well; with him so considerate of every one, and a good friend always, and just one of us, and his sickness making him seem like our own, and—"
"Oh, hush—will you hush, mother!" interposed Kitty sharply. "He's going away with her back to the old country, and we might just as well think about getting other borders, for I suppose Mr. Bulrush and his bonny bride will set up a little bulrush tabernacle on the banks of the Nile"—she nodded in the direction of the river outside—"and they'll find a little Moses and will treat it as their very own."
"Kitty, how can you!"
Kitty shrugged a shoulder. "It would be ridiculous for that pair to have one of their own. It's only the young mother with a new baby that looks natural to me."
"Don't talk that way, Kitty," rejoined her mother sharply. "You aren't fit to judge of such things."
"I will be before long," said her daughter. "Anyway, Mrs. Crozier isn't any better able to talk than I am," she added irrelevantly. "She never was a mother."
"Don't blame her," said Mrs. Tynan severely. "That's God's business. I'd be sorry for her, so far as that was concerned, if I were you. It's not her fault."
"It's an easy way of accounting for good undone," returned Kitty. "P'r'aps it was God's fault, and p'r'aps if she had loved him more—"
Mrs. Tynan's face flushed with sudden irritation and that fretful look came to her eyes which accompanies a lack of comprehension. "Upon my word, well, upon my word, of all the vixens that ever lived, and you looking like a yellow pansy and too sweet for daily use! Such thoughts in your head! Who'd have believed that you—!"
Kitty made a mocking face at her mother. "I'm more than a girl, I'm a woman, mother, who sees life all around me, from the insect to the mountain, and I know things without being told. I always did. Just life and living tell me things, and maybe, too, the Irish in me that father was."
"It's so odd. You're such a mixture of fun and fancy, at least you always have been; but there's something new in you these days. Kitty, you make me afraid—yes, you make your mother afraid. After what you said the other day about Mr. Crozier I've had bad nights, and I get nervous thinking."
Kitty suddenly got up, put her arm round her mother and kissed her. "You needn't be afraid of me, mother. If there'd been any real danger, I wouldn't have told you. Mr. Crozier's away, and when he comes back he'll find his wife here, and there's the end of everything. If there'd been danger, it would have been settled the night before he went away. I kissed him that night as he was sleeping out there under the trees."
Mrs. Tynan sat down weakly and fanned herself with her apron. "Oh, oh, oh, dear Lord!" she said. "I'm not afraid to tell you anything I ever did, mother," declared Kitty firmly; "though I'm not prepared to tell you everything I've felt. I kissed him as he slept. He didn't wake, he just lay there sleeping—sleeping." A strange, distant, dreaming look came into her eyes. She smiled like one who saw a happy vision, and an eerie expression stole into her face. "I didn't want him to wake," she continued. "I asked God not to let him wake. If he'd waked—oh, I'd have been ashamed enough till the day I died in one way! Still he'd have understood, and he'd have thought no harm. But it wouldn't have been fair to him—and there's his wife in there," she added, breaking off into a different tone. "They're a long way above us—up among the peaks, and we're at the foot of the foothills, mother; but he never made us feel that, did he? The difference between him and most of the men I've ever seen! The difference!"
"There's the Young Doctor," said her mother reproachfully.
"He-him! He's by himself, with something of every sort in him from the top to the bottom. There's been a ditcher in his family, and there may have been a duke. But Shiel Crozier—Shiel"—she flushed as she said the name like that, but a little touch of defiance came into her face too— "he is all of one kind. He's not a blend. And he's married to her in there!"
"You needn't speak in that tone about her. She's as fine as can be."
"She's as fine as a bee," retorted Kitty. Again she laughed that almost mirthless laugh for which her mother had called her to account a moment before. "You asked me a while ago what I was laughing at, mother," she continued. "Why, can't you guess? Mr. Crozier talked of her always as though she was—well, like the pictures you've seen of Britannia, all swelling and spreading, with her hand on a shield and her face saying, 'Look at me and be good,' and her eyes saying, 'Son of man, get upon thy knees!' Why, I expected to see a sort of great—goodness—gracious goddess, that kept him frightened to death of her. Bless you, he never opened her letter, he was so afraid of her; and he used to breathe once or twice hard—like that, when he mentioned her!" She breathed in such mock awe that her mother laughed with a little kindly malice too.
"Even her letter," Kitty continued remorselessly, "it was as though she —that little sprite—wrote it with a rod of chastisement, as the Bible says. It—"
"What do you know of the inside of that letter?" asked her mother, staring.
"What the steam of the tea-kettle could let me see," responded Kitty defiantly; and then, to her shocked mother, she told what she had done, and what the nature of the letter was.
"I wanted to help him if I could, and I think I'll be able to do it—I've worked it all out," Kitty added eagerly, with a glint of steel in the gold of her eyes and a fantastic kind of wisdom in her look.
"Kitty," said her mother severely and anxiously, "it's madness interfering with other people's affairs—of that kind. It never was any use."
"This will be the exception to the rule," returned Kitty. "There she is"—again she flicked a hand towards the other room—"after they've been parted five years. Well, she came after she read my letter to her, and after I'd read that unopened letter to him, which made me know how to put it all to her. I've got intuition—that's Celtic and mad," she added, with her chin thrusting out at her mother, to whom the Irish that her husband had been, which was so deep in her daughter, was ever a mystery to her, and of which she was more or less afraid.
"I've got a plan, and I believe—I know—it will work," Kitty continued. "I've been thinking and thinking, and if there's trouble between them; if he says he isn't going on with her till he's made his fortune; if he throws that unopened letter in her face, I'll bring in my invention to deal with the problem, and then you'll see! But all this fuss for a little tiny button of a thing like that in there—pshaw! Mr. Crozier is worth a real queen with the beauty of one of the Rhine maidens. How he used to tell that story of the Rhinegold—do you remember? Wasn't it grand? Well, I am glad now that he's going—yes, whatever trouble there may be, still he is going. I feel it in my heart."
She paused, and her eyes took on a sombre tone. Presently, with a slight, husky pain in her voice, like the faint echo of a wail, she went on: "Now that he's going, I'm glad we've had the things he gave us, things that can't be taken away from us. What you have enjoyed is yours for ever and ever. It's memory; and for one moment or for one day or one year of those things you loved, there's fifty years, perhaps, for memory. Don't you remember the verses I cut out of the magazine:
"'Time, the ruthless idol-breaker, Smileless, cold iconoclast, Though he rob us of our altars, Cannot rob us of the past.'"
"That's the way your father used to talk," replied her mother. "There's a lot of poetry in you, Kitty." "More than there is in her?" asked Kitty, again indicating the region where Mrs. Crozier was.
"There's as much poetry in her as there is in—in me. But she can do things; that little bit of a babywoman can do things, Kitty. I know women, and I tell you that if that woman hadn't a penny, she'd set to and earn it; and if her husband hadn't a penny, she'd make his home comfortable just the same somehow, for she's as capable as can be. She had her things unpacked, her room in order herself—she didn't want your help or mine—and herself with a fresh dress on before you could turn round."
Kitty's eyes softened still more. "Well, if she'd been poor he would never have left her, and then they wouldn't have lost five years—think of it, five years of life with the man you love lost to you!—and there wouldn't be this tough old knot to untie now."
"She has suffered—that little sparrow has suffered, I tell you, Kitty. She has a grip on herself like—like—"
"Like Mr. Crozier with a broncho under his hand," interjected Kitty. "She's too neat, too eternally spick and span for me, mother. It's as though the Being that made her said, 'Now I'll try and see if I can produce a model of a grown-up, full-sized piece of my work.' Mrs. Crozier is an exhibition model, and Shiel Crozier's over six feet three, and loose and free, and like a wapiti in his gait. If he was a wapiti he'd carry the finest pair of antlers ever was."
"Kitty, you make me laugh," responded the puzzled woman. "I declare, you're the most whimsical creature, and—"
At that moment there came a tapping at the door behind them, and a small, silvery voice said, "May I come in?" as the door opened and Mrs. Crozier, very precisely yet prettily dressed, entered.
"Please make yourself at home—no need to rap," answered Mrs. Tynan. "Out in the West here we live in the open like. There's no room closed to you, if you can put up with what there is, though it's not what you're used to."
"For five months in the year during the past five years I've lived in a house about half as large as this," was Mrs. Crozier's reply. "With my husband away there wasn't the need of much room."
"Well, he only has one room here," responded Mrs. Tynan. "He never seemed too crowded in it."
"Where is it? Might I see it?" asked the small, dark-eyed, dark-haired wife, with the little touch of nectarine bloom and a little powder also; and though she spoke in a matter-of-fact tone, there was a look of wistfulness in her eyes, a gleam of which Kitty caught ere it passed.
"You've been separated, Mrs. Crozier," answered the elder woman, "and I've no right to let you into his room without his consent. You've had no correspondence at all for five years—isn't that so?"
"Did he tell you that?" the regal little lady asked composedly, but with an underglow of anger in her eyes.
"He told the court that at the Logan Trial," was the reply.
"At the murder trial—he told that?" Mrs. Crozier asked almost mechanically, her face gone pale and a little haggard.
"He was obliged to answer when that wolf, Gus Burlingame, was after him," interposed Kitty with kindness in her tone, for, suddenly, she saw through the outer walls of the little wife's being into the inner courts. She saw that Mrs. Crozier loved her husband now, whatever she had done in the past. The sight of love does not beget compassion in a loveless heart, but there was love in Kitty's heart; and it was even greater than she would have wished any human being to see; and by it she saw with radium clearness through the veil of the other woman's being.
"Surely he could have avoided answering that," urged Mona Crozier bitterly.
"Only by telling a lie," Kitty quickly answered, "and I don't believe he ever told a lie in his life. Come," she added, "I will show you his room. My mother needn't do it, and so she won't be responsible. You have your rights as a wife until they're denied you. You mustn't come, mother," she said to Mrs. Tynan, and she put a tender hand on her arm.
"This way," she added to the little person in the pale blue, which suited well her very dark hair, blue eyes, and rose-touched cheeks.
KITTY SPEAKS HER MIND AGAIN
A moment later they stood inside Shiel Crozier's room. The first glance his wife gave took in the walls, the table, the bureau, and the desk which contained her own unopened letter. She was looking for a photograph of herself.
There was none in the room, and an arid look came into her face. The glance and its sequel did not escape Kitty's notice. She knew well—as who would not?—what Mona Crozier was hoping to see, and she was human enough to feel a kind of satisfaction in the wife's chagrin and disappointment; for the unopened letter in the baize-covered desk which she had read was sufficient warrant for a punishment and penalty due the little lady, and not the less because it was so long delayed. Had not Shiel Crozier had his draught of bitter herbs to drink over the past five years?
Moreover, Kitty was sure beyond any doubt at all that Shiel Crozier's wife, when she wrote the letter, did not love her husband, or at least did not love him in the right or true way. She loved him only so far as her then selfish nature permitted her to do; only in so far as the pride of money which she had, and her husband had not, did not prevent; only in so far as the nature of a tyrant could love—though the tyranny was pink and white and sweetly perfumed and had the lure of youth. In her primitive way Kitty had intuitively apprehended the main truth, and that was enough to justify her in contributing to Mona Crozier's punishment.
Kitty's perceptions were true. At the start, Mona was in nature proportionate to her size; and when she married she had not loved Crozier as he had loved her. Maybe that was why—though he may not have admitted it to himself—he could not bear to be beholden to her when his ruin came. Love makes all things possible, and there is no humiliation in taking from one who loves and is loved, that uncapitalised and communal partnership which is not of the earth earthy. Perhaps that was why, though Shiel loved her, he had had a bitterness which galled his soul; why he had a determination to win sufficient wealth to make himself independent of her. Down at the bottom of his chivalrous Irish heart he had learned the truth, that to be dependent on her would beget in her contempt for him, and he would be only her paid paramour and not her husband in the true sense. Quixotic he had been, but under his quixotism there was at least the shadow of a great tragical fact, and it had made him a matrimonial deserter. Whether tragedy or comedy would emerge was all on the knees of the gods.
"It's a nice room, isn't it?" asked Kitty when there had passed from Mona Crozier's eyes the glaze or mist—not of tears, but stupefaction— which had followed her inspection of the walls, the bureau, the table, and the desk.
"Most comfortable, and so very clean—quite spotless," the wife answered admiringly, and yet drearily. It made her feel humiliated that her man could live this narrow life of one room without despair, with sufficient resistance to the lure of her hundred and fifty thousand pounds and her own delicate and charming person. Here, it would seem, he was content. One easy-chair, made out of a barrel, a couch, a bed—a very narrow bed, like a soldier's, a bed for himself alone—a small table, a shelf on the wall with a dozen books, a little table, a bureau, and an old-fashioned, sloping-topped, shallow desk covered with green baize, on high legs, so that like a soldier too he could stand as he wrote (Crozier had made that high stand for the desk himself). That was what the room conveyed to her—the spirit of the soldier, bare, clean, strong, sparse: a workshop and a chamber of sleep in one, like the tent of an officer on the march. After the feeling had come to her, to heighten the sensation she espied a little card hung under the small mirror on the wall. There was writing on it, and going nearer, she saw in red pencil the words, "Courage, soldier!"
These were the words which Kitty was so fond of using, and the girl had a thrill of triumph now as she saw the woman from whom Crozier had fled looking at the card. She herself had come and looked at it many times since Crozier had gone, for he had only put it there just before he left on his last expedition to Aspen Vale to carry through his deal. It had brought a great joy to Kitty's heart. It had made her feel that she had some share in his life; that, in a way, she had helped him on the march, the vivandiere who carried the water-bag which would give him drink when parched, battle-worn, or wounded.
Mona Crozier turned away from the card, sadly reflecting that nothing in the room recalled herself; that she was not here in the very core of his life in even the smallest way. Yet this girl, this sunny creature with the call of youth and passion in her eyes, this Ruth of the wheat-fields, came and went here as though she was a part of it. She did this and that for him, and she was no doubt on such terms of intimacy with him that they were really part of each other's life in a scheme of domesticity unlike any boarding-house organization she had ever known. Here in everything there was the air, the decorum, and the unartificial comfort of home.
This was why he could live without his wedded wife and her gold and her brocade, and the silk and the Persian rugs, and the grand piano and the carriages and the high silk hat from Piccadilly. Her husband had had the luxuries of wealth, and here he was living like a Spartan on his hill— and alone; though he had a wife whom men had beseiged both before and after marriage. A feeling of impotent indignation suddenly took possession of her. Here he was with two women, unattached,—one interesting and good and agreeable and good-looking, and the other almost a beauty,—who were part of the whole rustic scheme in which he lived. They made him comfortable, they did the hundred things that a valet or a fond wife would do; they no doubt hung on every word he uttered—and he could be interesting beyond most men. She had realised terribly how interesting he was after he had fled; when men came about her and talked to her in many ways, with many variations, but always with the one tune behind all they said; always making for the one goal, whatever the point from which they started or however circuitous their route.
As time went on she had hungrily longed to see her husband again, and other men had no power to interest her; but still she had not sought to find him. At first it had been offended pride, injured self-esteem, in which the value of her own desirable self and of her very desirable fortune was not lost; then it became the pride of a wife in whom the spirit of the eternal woman was working; and she would have died rather than have sought to find him. Five years—and not a word from him.
Five years—and not a letter from him! Her eyes involuntarily fell on the high desk with the greenbaize top. Of all the letters he had written at that desk not one had been addressed to her. Slowly, and with an unintentional solemnity, she went up to it and laid a hand upon it. Her chin only cleared the edge of it-he was a tall man, her husband.
"This is the place of secrets, I suppose?" she said, with a bright smile and an attempt at gaiety to Kitty, who had watched her with burning eyes; for she had felt the thrill of the moment. She was as sensitive to atmosphere of this sad play of life as nearly and as vitally as the deserted wife.
"I shouldn't think it a place of secrets," Kitty answered after a moment. "He seldom locks it, and when he does I know where the key is."
"Indeed?" Mona Crozier stiffened. A look of reproach came into her eyes. It was as though she was looking down from a great height upon a poor creature who did not know the first rudiments of personal honour, the fine elemental customs of life.
Kitty saw and understood, but she did not hasten to reply, or to set things right. She met the lofty look unflinchingly, and she had pride and some little malice too—it would do Mrs. Crozier good, she thought— in saying, as she looked down on the humming-bird trying to be an eagle:
"I've had to get things for him-papers and so on, and send them on when he was away, and even when he was at home I've had to act for him; and so even when it was locked I had to know where the key was. He asked me to help him that way."
Mona noted the stress laid upon the word home, and for the first time she had a suspicion that this girl knew more than even the Logan Trial had disclosed, and that she was being satirical and suggestive.
"Oh, of course," she returned cheerfully in response to Kitty—"you acted as a kind of clerk for him!" There was a note in her voice which she might better not have used. If she but knew it, she needed this girl's friendship very badly. She ought to have remembered that she would not have been here in her husband's room had it not been for the letter Kitty had written—a letter which had made her heart beat so fast when she received it, that she had sunk helpless to the floor on one of those soft rugs, representing the soft comfort which wealth can bring.
The reply was like a slap in the face.
"I acted for him in any way at all that he wished me to," Kitty answered, with quiet boldness and shining, defiant face.
Mona's hand fell away from the green baize desk, and her eyes again lost their sight for a moment. Kitty was not savage by nature. She had been goaded as much by the thought of the letter Crozier's wife had written to him in the hour of his ruin as by the presence of the woman in this house, where things would never be as they had been before. She had struck hard, and now she was immediately sorry for it: for this woman was here in response to her own appeal; and, after all, she might well be jealous of the fact that Crozier had had close to him for so long and in such conditions a girl like herself, younger than his own wife, and prettier—yes, certainly prettier, she admitted to herself.
"He is that kind of a man. What he asked for, any good woman could give and not be sorry," Kitty convincingly added when the knife had gone deep enough.
"Yes, he was that kind of a man," responded the other gently now, and with a great sigh of relief. Suddenly she came nearer and touched Kitty's arm. "And thank you for saying so," she added. "He and I have been so long parted, and you have seen so much more of him than I have of late years! You know him better—as he is. If I said something sharp just now, please forgive me. I am—indeed, I am grateful to you and your mother."
She paused. It was hard for her to say what she felt she must say, for she did not know how her husband would receive her—he had done without her for so long; and she might need this girl and her mother sorely. The girl was a friend in the best sense, or she would not have sent for her. She must remind herself of this continually lest she should take wrong views.
Kitty nodded, but for a moment she did not reply. Her hand was on the baize-covered desk. All at once, with determination in her eyes, she said: "You didn't use him right or you'd not have been parted for five years. You were rich and he was poor, he is poor now, though he may be rich any day, and he wouldn't stay with you because he wouldn't take your money to live on. If you had been a real wife to him he wouldn't have seen that he'd be using your money; he'd have taken it as though it was his own, out of the purse always open and belonging to both, just as though you were partners. You must feel—"
"Hush, for pity's sake, hush!" interrupted the other.
"You are going to see him again," Kitty persisted. "Now, don't you think it just as well to know what the real truth is?"
"How do you know what is the truth?" asked the trembling little stranger with a last attempt to hold her position, to conceal from herself the actual facts.
"The Young Doctor and my mother and I were with him all the time he was ill after he was shot, and the Trial had only told half the truth. He wanted us, his best friends here, to know the whole truth, so he told us that he left you because he couldn't bear to live on your money. It was you made him feel that, though he didn't say so. All the time he told his story he spoke of you as though you were some goddess, some great queen—"
A look of hope, of wonder, of relief came into the tiny creature's eyes. "He spoke like that of me; he said—?"
"He said what no one else would have said, probably; but that's the way with people in love—they see what no one else sees, they think what no one else thinks. He talked with a sort of hush in his voice about you till we thought you must be some stately, tall, splendid Helen of Troy with a soul like an ocean, instead of"—she was going to say something that would have seemed unkind, and she stopped herself in time—"instead of a sort of fairy, one of the little folk that never grow up; the same as my father used to tell me about."
"You think very badly of me, then?" returned the other with a sigh. Her courage, her pride, her attempt to control the situation had vanished suddenly, and she became for the moment almost the child she looked.
"We've only just begun. We're all his friends here, and we'll judge you and think of you according to what happens between you and him. You wrote him that letter!"
She suddenly placed her hand on the desk as the inspiration came to her to have this matter of the letter out now, and to have Mrs. Crozier know exactly what the position was, no matter what might be thought of herself. She was only thinking of Shiel Crozier and his future now.
"What letter did I write?" There was real surprise and wonder in her tone.
"That last letter you wrote to him—the letter in which you gave him fits for breaking his promise, and talked like a proud, angry angel from the top of the stairs."
"How do you know of that letter? He, my husband, told you what was in that letter; he showed it to you?" The voice was indignant, low, and almost rough with anger.
"Yes, your husband showed me the letter—unopened."
"Unopened—I do not understand." Mona steadied herself against the foot of the bed and looked in a helpless way at Kitty. Her composure was gone, though she was very quiet, and she had that look of a vital absorption which possesses human beings in crises of their lives.
Suddenly Kitty took from behind a book on the shelf a key, opened the desk, and drew out the letter which Crozier had kept sealed and unopened all the years, which he had never read.
"Do you know that?" Kitty asked, and held it out for Mrs. Crozier to see.
Two dark blue eyes stared confusedly at the letter—at her own handwriting. Kitty turned it over. "You see it is closed as it was when you sent it to him. He has never opened it. He does not know what is in it."
"He has-kept it—five years—unopened," Mona said in broken phrases scarce above a whisper.
"He has never opened it, as you see."
"Give—give it to me," the wife said, stepping forward to stay Kitty's hand as she opened the lid of the desk to replace the letter.
"It's not your letter—no, you shall not," said Kitty firmly as she jerked aside the hand laid upon her wrist, and threw one arm on the lid, holding it down as Mrs. Crozier tried to keep it open. Then with a swift action of the free hand she locked the desk and put the key in her pocket.
"If you destroyed this letter he would never believe but that it was worse than it is; and it is bad enough, Heaven knows, for any woman to have written to her husband—or to any one else's husband. You thought you were the centre of the world when you wrote that letter. Without a penny, he would be a great man, with a great future; but you are only a pretty little woman with a fortune, who has thought a great lot of herself, and far too much of herself only, when she wrote that letter."
"How do you know what is in it?" There was agony and challenge at once in the other's voice. "Because I read it—oh, don't look so shocked! I'd do it again. I knew just how to act when I'd read it. I steamed it open and closed it up again. Then I wrote to you. I'm not sorry I did it. My motive was a good one. I wanted to help him. I wanted to understand everything, so that I'd know best what to do. Though he's so far above us in birth and position, he seemed in one way like our own. That's the way it is in new countries like this. We don't think of lots of things that you finer people in the old countries do, and we don't think evil till it trips us up. In a new country all are strangers among the pioneers, and they have to come together. This town is only twenty years old, and scarcely anybody knew each other at the start. We had to take each other on trust, and we think the best as long as we can. Mr. Crozier came to live with us, and soon he was just part of our life—not a boarder; not some one staying the night who paid you what he owed you in the morning. He was a friend you could say your prayers with, or eat your meals with, or ride a hundred miles with, and just take it as a matter of course; for he was part of what you were part of, all this out here—don't you understand?"
"I am trying hard to do so," was the reply in a hushed voice. Here was a world, here were people of whom Mona Crozier had never dreamed. They were so much of an antique time—far behind the time that her old land represented; not a new world, but the oldest world of all. She began to understand the girl also, and her face took on a comprehending look, as with eyes like bronze suns Kitty continued:
"So, though it was wrong—wicked—in one way, I read the letter, to do some good by it, if it could be done. If I hadn't read it you wouldn't be here. Was it worth while?"
At that moment there was a knock at the outer door of the other room, or, rather, on the lintel of it. Mona started. Suppose it was her husband —that was her thought.
Kitty read the look. "No, it isn't Mr. Crozier. It's the Young Doctor. I know his knock. Will you come and see him?"
The wife was trembling, she was very pale, her eyes were rather staring, but she fought to control herself. It was evident that Kitty expected her to do so. It was also quite certain that Kitty meant to settle things now, in so far as it could be done.
"He knows as much as you do?" asked Mrs. Crozier.
"No, the Young Doctor hasn't read the letter and I haven't told him what's in it; but he knows that I read it, and what he doesn't know he guesses. He is Mr. Crozier's honest, clever friend. I've got an idea— an invention to put this thing right. It's a good one. You'll see. But I want the Young Doctor to know about it. He never has to think twice. He knows what to do the very first time."
A moment later they were in the other room, with the Young Doctor smiling down at "the little spot of a woman," as he called Crozier's wife.
AWAITING THE VERDICT
"You look quite settled and at home," the Young Doctor remarked, as he offered Mrs. Crozier a chair. She took it, for never in her life had she felt so small physically since coming to the great, new land. The islands where she was born were in themselves so miniature that the minds of their people, however small, were not made to feel insignificant. But her mind, which was, after all, vastly larger in proportion than the body enshrining it, felt suddenly that both were lost in a universe. Her impulse was to let go and sink into the helplessness of tears, to be overwhelmed by an unconquerable loneliness; but the Celtic courage in her, added to that ancient native pride which prevents one woman from giving way before another woman towards whom she bears jealousy, prevented her from showing the weakness she felt. Instead, it roused her vanity and made her choose to sit down, so disguising perceptibly the disparity of height which gave Kitty an advantage over her and made the Young Doctor like some menacing Polynesian god.
Both these people had an influence and authority in Mona Crozier's life which now outweighed the advantage wealth gave her. Her wealth had not kept her husband beside her when delicate and perfumed tyranny began to flutter its banners of control over him. Her fortune had driven him forth when her beauty and her love ought to have kept him close to her, whatever fate might bring to their door, or whatever his misfortune or the catastrophe falling on him. It was all deeply humiliating, and the inward dejection made her now feel that her body was the last effort of a failing creative power. So she sat down instead of standing up in a vain effort at retrieval.
The Young Doctor sat down also, but Kitty did not, and in her buoyant youth and command of the situation she seemed Amazonian to Mona's eyes. It must be said for Kitty that she remained standing only because a restlessness had seized her which was not present when she was with Mona in Crozier's room. It was now as though something was going to happen which she must face standing; as though something was coming out of the unknown and forbidding future and was making itself felt before its time. Her eyes were almost painfully bright as she moved about the room doing little things. Presently she began to lay a cloth and place dishes silently on the table—long before the proper time, as her mother reminded her when she entered for a moment and then quickly passed on into the kitchen, at a warning glance from Kitty, which said that the Young Doctor and Mona were not to be disturbed.
"Well, Askatoon is a place where one feels at home quickly," added the Young Doctor, as Mona did not at once respond to his first remark. "Every one who comes here always feels as though he—or she—owns the place. It's the way the place is made. The trouble with most of us is that we want to put the feeling into practice and take possession of 'all and sundry.' Isn't that true, Miss Tynan?"
"As true as most things you say," retorted Kitty, as she flicked the white tablecloth. "If mother and I hadn't such wonderful good health I suppose you'd come often enough here to give you real possession. Do you know, Mrs. Crozier," she added, with her wistful eyes vainly trying to be merely mischievous, "he once charged me five dollars for torturing me like a Red Indian. I had put my elbow out of joint, and he put it in again with his knee and both hands, as though it was the wheel of a wagon and he was trying to put on the tire."
"Well, you were running round soon after," answered the Young Doctor. "But as for the five dollars, I only took it to keep you quiet. So long as you had a grievance you would talk and talk and talk, and you never were so astonished in your life as when I took that five dollars."
"I've taken care never to dislocate my elbow since."
"No, not your elbow," remarked the Young Doctor meaningly, and turned to Mona, who had now regained her composure.
"Well, I shan't call you in to reduce the dislocation—that's the medical term, isn't it?" persisted Kitty, with fire in her eyes.
"What is the dislocation?" asked Mona, with a subtle, inquiring look but a manner which conveyed interest.
The Young Doctor smiled. "It's only her way of saying that my mind is unhinged and that I ought to be sent to a private hospital for two."
"No—only one," returned Kitty.
"Marriage means common catastrophe, doesn't it?" he asked quizzically.
"Generally it means that one only is permanently injured," replied Kitty, lifting a tumbler and looking through it at him as though to see if the glass was properly polished.
Mona was mystified. At first she thought there had been oblique references to her husband, but these remarks about marriage would certainly exclude him. Yet, would they exclude him? During the time in which Shiel's history was not known might there not have been—but no, it could not have been so, for it was Kitty who had sent the letter which had brought her to Askatoon.
"Are you to be married—soon?" she asked of Kitty, with a friendly yet trembling smile, for her agitation was, despite appearances, troubling every nerve.
"I've thought of it quite lately," responded Kitty calmly, seating herself now and looking straight into the eyes of the woman, who was suggesting more truth than she knew.
"May I congratulate you? Am I justified on such slight acquaintance? I am sure you have chosen wisely," was the smooth rejoinder.
Kitty did not shrink from looking Mona in the eyes. "It isn't quite time for congratulations yet, and I'm not sure I've chosen wisely. My family very strongly disapproves. I can't help that, of course, and I may have to elope and take the consequences."
"It takes two to elope," interposed the Young Doctor, who thought that Kitty, in her humorous extravagance, was treading very dangerous ground indeed. He was thinking of Crozier and Kitty; but Kitty was thinking of Crozier, and meaning John Sibley. Somehow she could not help playing with this torturing thing in the presence of the wife of the man who was the real "man in possession" so far as her life was concerned.
"Why, he is waiting on the doorstep," replied Kitty boldly and referring only to John Sibley.
At that minute there was the crunch of gravel on the pathway and the sound of a quick footstep. Kitty and Mona were on their feet at once. Both recognised the step of Shiel Crozier. Presently the Young Doctor recognised it also, but he rose with more deliberation.
At that instant a voice calling from the road arrested Crozier's advance to the open door of the room where they were. It was Jesse Bulrush asking a question. Crozier paused in his progress, and in the moment's time it gave, Kitty, with a swift look of inquiry and with a burst of the real soul in her, caught the hand of Crozier's wife and pressed it warmly. Then, with a face flushed and eyes that looked straight ahead of her, she left the room as the Young Doctor went to the doorway and stepped outside. Within ten feet of the door he met Crozier.
"How goes it, patient?" he said, standing in Crozier's way. Being a man who thought much and wisely for other people, he wanted to give the wife time to get herself in control.
"Right enough in your sphere of operations," answered Crozier.
"And not so right in other fields, eh?"
"I've come back after a fruitless hunt. They've got me, the thieves!" said Crozier, with a look which gave his long face an almost tragic austerity. Then suddenly the look changed, the mediaeval remoteness passed, and a thought flashed up into his eves which made his expression alive with humour.
"Isn't it wonderful, that just when a man feels he wants a rope to hang himself with, the rope isn't to be had?" he exclaimed. "Before he can lay his hands on it he wants to hang somebody else, and then he has to pause whether he will or no. Did I ever tell you the story of the old Irishwoman who lived down at Kenmare, in Kerry? Well, she used to sit at her doorway and lament the sorrows of the world with a depth of passion that you'd think never could be assuaged. 'Oh, I fale so bad, I am so wake—oh, I do fale so bad,' she used to say. 'I wish some wan would take me by the ear and lade me round to the ould shebeen, and set me down, and fill a noggen of whusky and make me dhrink it—whether I would or no!' Whether I would or no I have to drink the cup of self-denial," Crozier continued, "though Bradley and his gang have closed every door against me here, and I've come back without what I went for at Aspen Vale, for my men were away. I've come back without what I went for, but I must just grin and bear it." He shrugged his shoulders and gave a great sigh.
"Perhaps you'll find what you went for here," returned the Young Doctor meaningly.
"There's a lot here—enough to make a man think life worth while"—inside the room the wife shrank at the words, for she could hear all—"but just the same I'm not thinking the thing I went to look for is hereabouts."
"You never know your luck," was the reply. "'Ask and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you.'"
The long face blazed up with humour again. "Do you mean that I haven't asked you yet?" Crozier remarked, with a quizzical look, which had still that faint hope against hope which is a painful thing for a good man's eyes to see.
The Young Doctor laid a hand on Crozier's arm. "No, I didn't mean that, patient. I'm in that state when every penny I have is out to keep me from getting a fall. I'm in that Starwhon coal-mine down at Bethbridge, and it's like a suction-pump. I couldn't borrow a thousand dollars myself now. I can't do it, or I'd stand in with you, Crozier. No, I can't help you a bit; but step inside. There's a room in this house where you got back your life by the help of a knife. There's another room in there where you may get back your fortune by the help of a wife."
Stepping aside he gave the wondering Crozier a slight push forward into the doorway, then left him and hurried round to the back of the house, where he hoped he might see Kitty.
The Young Doctor found Kitty pumping water on a pail of potatoes and stirring them with a broom-handle.
"A most unscientific way of cleaning potatoes," he said, as Kitty did not look at him. "If you put them in a trough where the water could run off, the dirt would go with the water, and you would'nt waste time and intelligence, and your fingers would be cleaner in the end."
The only reply Kitty made was to flick the broomhead at him. It had been dipped in water, and the spray from it slightly spattered his face.
"Will you never grow up?" he exclaimed as he applied a handkerchief to his ruddy face.
"I'd like you so much better if you were younger—will you never be young?" she asked.
"It makes a man old before his time to have to meet you day by day and live near you."
"Why don't you try living with me?" she retorted. "Ah, then, you meant me when you said to Mrs. Crozier that you were going to be married? Wasn't that a bit 'momentary'? as my mother's cook used to remark. I think we haven't 'kept company'—you and I"
"It's true you haven't been a beau of mine, but I'd rather marry you than be obliged to live with you," was the paradoxical retort.
"You have me this time," he said, trying in vain to solve her reply.
Kitty tossed her head. "No, I haven't got you this time, thank Heaven, and I don't want you; but I'd rather marry you than live with you, as I said. Isn't it the custom for really nice-minded people to marry to get rid of each other—for five years, or for ever and ever and ever?"
"What a girl you are, Kitty Tynan !" he said reprovingly. He saw that she meant Crozier and his wife.
Kitty ceased her work for an instant and, looking away from him into the distance, said: "Three people said those same words to me all in one day a thousand years ago. It was Mr. Crozier, Jesse Bulrush, and my mother; and now you've said it a thousand years after; as with your inexpensive education and slow mind you'd be sure to do."
"I have an idea that Mrs. Crozier said the same to you also this very day. Did she—come, did she?"
"She didn't say, 'What a girl you are!' but in her mind she probably did say, 'What a vixen!"'
The Young Doctor nodded satirically. "If you continued as you began when coming from the station, I'm sure she did; and also I'm sure it wasn't wrong of her to say it."
"I wanted her to say it. That's why I uttered the too, too utter-things, as the comic opera says. What else was there to do? I had to help cure her."
"To cure her of what, miss?"
"Of herself, doctor-man."
The Young Doctor's look became graver. He wondered greatly at this young girl's sage instinct and penetration. "Of herself? Ah, yes, to think more of some one else than herself! That is—"
"Yes, that is love," Kitty answered, her head bent over the pail and stirring the potatoes hard.
"I suppose it is," he answered.
"I know it is," she returned.
"Is that why you are going to be married?" he asked quizzically.
"It will probably cure the man I marry of himself," she retorted. "Oh, neither of us know what we are talking about—let's change the subject!" she added impatiently now, with a change of mood, as she poured the water off the potatoes.
There was a moment's silence in which they were both thinking of the same thing. "I wonder how it's all going inside there?" he remarked. "I hope all right, but I have my doubts."
"I haven't any doubt at all. It isn't going right," she answered ruefully; "but it has to be made go right."
"Whom do you think can do that?"
Kitty looked him frankly and decisively in the face. Her eyes had the look of a dreaming pietist for the moment. The deep-sea soul of her was awake. "I can do it if they don't break away altogether at once. I helped her more than you think. I told her I had opened that letter."
He gasped. "My dear girl—that letter—you told her you had done such a thing, such—!"
"Don't dear girl me, if you please. I know what I am doing. I told her that and a great deal more. She won't leave this house the woman she was yesterday. She is having a quick cure—a cure while you wait."
"Perhaps he is cured of her," remarked the Young Doctor very gravely.
"No, no, the disease might have got headway, but it didn't," Kitty returned, her face turned away. "He became a little better; but he was never cured. That's the way with a man. He can never forget a woman he has once cared for, and he can go back to her half loving her; but it isn't the case with a woman. There's nothing so dead to a woman as a man when she's cured of him. The woman is never dead to the man, no matter what happens."
The Young Doctor regarded her with a strange, new interest and a puzzled surprise. "Sappho—Sappho, how did you come to know these things!" he exclaimed. "You are only a girl at best, or something of a boy-girl at worst, and yet you have, or think you have, got into those places which are reserved for the old-timers in life's scramble. You talk like an ancient dame."
Kitty smiled, but her eyes had a slumbering look as if she was half dreaming. "That's the mistake most of you make—men and women. There's such a thing as instinct, and there's such a thing as keeping your eyes open."
"What did Mrs. Crozier say when you told her about opening that five- year-old letter? Did she hate you?"
Kitty nodded with wistful whimsicality. "For a minute she was like an industrious hornet. Then I made her see she wouldn't have been here at all if I hadn't opened it. That made, her come down from the top of her nest on the church-spire, and she said that, considering my opportunities, I was not such an aboriginal after all."
"Now, look you, Saphira, prospective wife of Ananias, she didn't say that, of course. Still, it doesn't matter, does it? The point is, suppose he opens that letter now."
"If he does, he'll probably not go with her. It was a letter that would send a man out with a scalping-knife. Still, if Mr. Crozier had his land-deal through he might not read the letter as it really is. His brain wouldn't then be grasping what his eyes saw."
"He hasn't got his land-deal through. He told me so just now before he saw her."
"Then it's ora pro nobis—it's pray for us hard," rejoined Kitty sorrowfully. "Poor man from Kerry!" At that moment Mrs. Tynan came from the house, her face flushed, her manner slightly agitated. "John Sibley is here, Kitty—with two saddle-horses.... He says you promised to ride with him to-day."
"I probably did," responded Kitty calmly. "It's a good day for riding too. But John will have to wait. Please tell him to come back at six o'clock. There'll be plenty of time for an hour's ride before sundown."
"Are you lame, dear child?" asked her mother ironically. "Because if you're not, perhaps you'll be your own messenger. It's no way to treat a friend—or whatever you like to call him."
Kitty smiled tenderly at her mother. "Then would you mind telling him to come here, mother darling? I'm giving this doctor-man a prescription. Ah, please do what I ask you, mother! It is true about the prescription. It's not for himself; it's for the foreign people quarantined inside." She nodded towards the room where Shiel Crozier and his wife were shaping their fate.
As her mother disappeared with a gesture of impatience and the remark that she washed her hands of the whole Sibley business, the Young Doctor said to Kitty, "What is your prescription, Ma'm'selle Saphira? Suppose they come out of quarantine with a clean bill of health?"
"If they do that you needn't make up the prescription. But if Aspen Vale hasn't given him what he wanted, then Mr. Shiel Crozier will still be an exile from home and the angel in the house."
"What is the prescription? Out with your Sibylline leaves!"
"It's in that unopened letter. When the letter is opened you'll see it effervesce like a seidlitz powder."
"But suppose I am not here when the letter is opened?"
"You must be here-you must. You'll stay now, if you please."
"I'm afraid I can't. I have patients waiting." Kitty made an impetuous gesture of command. "There are two patients here who are at the crisis of their disease. You may be wanted to save a life any minute now."
"I thought that with your prescription you were to be the AEsculapius."
"No, I'm only going to save the reputation of AEsculapius by giving him a prescription got from a quack to give to a goose."
"Come, come, no names. You are incorrigible. I believe you'd have your joke on your death-bed."
"I should if you were there. I should die laughing," Kitty retorted.
"There will be no death-bed for you, miss. You'll be translated—no, that's not right; no one could translate you."
"God might—or a man I loved well enough not to marry him."
There was a note of emotion in her laugh as she uttered the words. It did not escape the ear of the Young Doctor, who regarded her fixedly for a moment before he said: "I'm not sure that even He would be able to translate you. You speak your own language, and it's surely original. I am only just learning its alphabet. No one else speaks it. I have a fear that you'll be terribly lonely as you travel along the trail, Kitty Tynan."
A light of pleasure came into Kitty's eyes, though her face was a little drawn. "You really do think I'm original—that I'm myself and not like anybody else?" she asked him with a childlike eagerness.
"Almost more than any one I ever met," answered the Young Doctor gently; for he saw that she had her own great troubles, and he also felt now fully what this comedy or tragedy inside the house meant to her. "But you're terribly lonely—and that's why: because you are the only one of your kind."
"No, that's why I'm not going to be lonely," she said, nodding towards the corner of the house where John Sibley appeared.
Suddenly, with a gesture of confidence and almost of affection, she laid a hand on the Young Doctor's breast. "I've left the trail, doctor-man. I'm cutting across the prairie. Perhaps I shall reach camp and perhaps I shan't; but anyhow I'll know that I met one good man on the way. And I also saw a resthouse that I'd like to have stayed at, but the blinds were drawn and the door was locked."
There was a strange, eerie look in her face again as her eyes of soft umber dwelt on his for a moment; then she turned with a gay smile to John Sibley, who had seen her hand on the Young Doctor's chest without dismay; for the joy of Kitty was that she hid nothing; and, anyhow, the Young Doctor had a place of his own; and also, anyhow, Kitty did what she pleased. Once when she had visited the Coast the Governor had talked to her with great gusto and friendliness; and she had even gone so far as to touch his arm while, chuckling at her whimsically, he listened to a story she told him of life at the rail-head. And the Governor had patted her fingers in quite a fatherly way—or not, as the mind of the observer saw it; while subsequently his secretary had written verses to her.
"So you've been gambling again—you've broken your promise to me," she said reprovingly to Sibley, but with that wonderful, wistful laughter in her eyes.
Sibley looked at her in astonishment. "Who told you?" he asked. It had only happened the night before, and it didn't seem possible she could know.
He was quite right. It wasn't possible she could know, and she didn't know. She only divined.
"I knew when you made the promise you couldn't keep it; that's why I forgive you now," she added. "Knowing what I did about you, I oughtn't to have let you make it."
The Young Doctor saw in her words a meaning that John Sibley could never have understood, for it was a part of the story of Crozier's life reproduced—and with what a different ending!
"MALE AND FEMALE CREATED HE THEM"
When Crozier stepped out of the bright sunlight into the shady living- room of the Tynan home, his eyes were clouded by the memory of his conference with Studd Bradley and his financial associates, and by the desolate feeling that the five years since he had left England had brought him nothing—nothing at all except a new manhood. But that he did not count an asset, because he had not himself taken account of this new capital. He had never been an introspective man in the philosophic sense, and he never had thought that he was of much account. He had lived long on his luck, and nothing had come of it—"nothing at all, at all," as he said to himself when he stepped inside the room where, unknown to him, his wife awaited him. So abstracted was he, so disturbed was his gaze (fixed on the inner thing), that he did not see the figure in blue and white over against the wall, her hand on the big arm-chair once belonging to Tyndall Tynan, and now used always by Shiel Crozier, "the white-haired boy of the Tynan sanatorium," as Jesse Bulrush had called him.
There was a strange timidity, and a fear not so strange, in Mona's eyes as she saw her husband enter with that quick step which she had so longingly remembered after he had fled from her; but of which she had taken less account when he was with her at Lammis long ago-When Crozier of Lammis was with her long ago. How tall and shapely he was! How large he loomed with the light behind him! How shadowed his face and how distant the look in his eyes.
Somehow the room seemed too small for him, and yet he had lived in this very house for four years and more; he had slept in the next room all that time; had eaten at this table and sat in this very chair—Mrs. Tynan had told her that—for this long time, like the master of a household. With that far-away, brooding look in his face, he seemed in one sense as distant from her as when she was in London in those dreary, desolate years with no knowledge of his whereabouts, a widow in every sense save one; but in her acts—that had to be said for her—a wife always and not a widow. She had not turned elsewhere, though there had been temptation enough to do so.
Crozier advanced to the centre of the room, even to the table laid for dinner, before he was conscious of some one in the room, of a figure by the chair. For a moment he stood still, startled as if he had seen a vision, and his sight became blurred. When it cleared, Mona had come a step nearer to him, and then he saw her clearly. He caught his breath as though Life had burst upon him with some staggering revelation. If she had been a woman of genius, as in her way Kitty Tynan was, she would have spoken before he had a chance to do so. Instead, she wished to see how he would greet her, to hear what he would say. She was afraid of him now. It was not her gift to do the right thing by perfect instinct; she had to think things out; and so she did now. Still it has to be said for her that she also had a strange, deep sense of apprehension in the presence of the man whose arms had held her fast, and then let her go for so bitter a length of time, in which her pride was lacerated and her heart brought low. She did not know how she was going to be met now, and a womanly shyness held her back. If she had said one word—his name only—it might have made a world of difference to them both at that moment; for he was tortured by failure, and now when hope was gone, here was the woman whom he had left in order to force gifts from fate to bring himself back to her.
"You—you here!" he exclaimed hoarsely. He did not open his arms to her or go a step nearer to her. His look was that of blank amazement, of mingled remembrance and stark realisation. This was a turn of affairs for which he had made no calculation. There had ever been the question of his return to her, but never of her coming to him. Yet here she was, debonnaire and fresh and perfectly appointed—and ah, so terribly neat and spectacularly finessed! Here she was with all that expert formality which, in the old days, had been a reproach to his loosely-swung life and person, to his careless, almost slovenly but well-brushed, cleanly, and polished ease—not like his wife, as though he had been poured out of a mould and set up to dry. He was not tailor-made, and she had ever been so exact that it was as though she had been crystallised, clothes and all—a perfect crystal, yet a crystal. It was this very perfection, so charming to see, but in a sense so inhuman, which had ever dismayed him. "What should I be doing in the home of an angel!" he had exclaimed to himself in the old home at Lammis.
Truth is, he ought never to have had such a feeling, and he would not have had it, if she had diffused the radiance of love, which would have made her outer perfectness mere slovenliness beside her inner charm and magnetism. Very little of all this passed through Crozier's mind, as with confused vision he looked at her. He had borne the ordeal of the witness-box in the Logan Trial with superb coolness; he had been in physical danger over and over again, and had kept his head; he had never been faced by a human being who embarrassed him—except his own wife. "There is no fear like that of one's own wife," was the saying of an ancient philosopher, and Crozier had proved it true; not because of errors committed, but because he was as sensitive as a girl of sensibility; because he felt that his wife did not understand him, and he was ever in fear of doing the wrong thing, while eager beyond telling to please her. After all, during the past five years, parted from her while loving her, there had still been a feeling of relief unexplainable to himself in not having to think whether he was pleasing her or not, or to reproach himself constantly that he was failing to conform to her standard.
"How did you come—why? How did you know?" he asked helplessly, as she made no motion to come nearer; as she kept looking at him with an expression in her eyes wholly unfamiliar to him. Yet it was not wholly unfamiliar, for it belonged to the days when he courted her, when she seemed to have got nearer to him than in the more intimate relations of married life.
"Is—is that all you have to say to me, Shiel?" she asked, with a swelling note of feeling in her voice; while there was also emerging in her look an elusive pride which might quickly become sharp indignation. That her deserter should greet her so after five years of such offence to a woman's self-respect, as might entitle her to become a rebel against matrimony, was too cruel to be borne. This feeling suddenly became alive in her, in spite of a joy in her heart different from that which she had ever known; in defiance of the fact that now that they were together once more, what would she not do to prevent their being driven apart again!
"After abandoning me for five years, is that all you have to say to me, Shiel? After I have suffered before the world—"
He threw up his arms with a passionate gesture. "The world!" he exclaimed—"the devil take the world! I've been out of it for five years, and well out of it. What do I care for the world!"
She drew herself up in a spirit of defence. "It isn't what you care for the world, but I had to live in it—alone, and because I was alone, eyebrows were lifted. It has been easy enough for you. You were where no one knew you. You had your freedom"—she advanced to the table, and, as though unconsciously, he did the same, and they gazed at each other over the white linen and its furnishings—"and no one was saying that your wife had left you for this or that, because of her bad conduct or of yours. Either way it was not what was fair and just; yet I had to bear and suffer, not you. There is no pain like it. There I was in misery and—"
A bitter smile came to his lips. "A woman can endure a good deal when she has all life's luxuries in her grasp. Did you ever think, Mona, that a man must suffer when he goes out into a world where he knows no one, penniless, with no trade, no profession, nothing except his own helpless self? He might have stayed behind among the luxuries that belonged to another, and eaten from the hand of his wife's charity, but"—(all the pride and pain of the old situation rose up in him, impelled by the brooding of the years of separation, heightened by the fact that he was no nearer to his goal of financial independence of her than he was when he left London five years before)—"but do you think, no matter what I've done, broken a pledge or not, been in the wrong a thousand times as much as I was, that I'd be fed by the hand of one to whom I had given a pledge and broken it? Do you think that I'd give her the chance to say, or not to say, but only think, 'I forgive you; I will give you your food and clothes and board and bed, but if you are not good in the future, I will be very, very angry with you'? Do you think—?"
His face was flaming now. The pent-up flood of remorse and resentment and pride and love—the love that tore itself in pieces because it had not the pride and self-respect which independence as to money gives— broke forth in him, fresh as he was from a brutal interview with the financial clique whom he had given the chance to make much money, and who were now, for a few thousand dollars, trying to cudgel him out of his one opportunity to regain his place in his lost world.
"I live—I live like this," he continued, with a gesture that embraced the room where they were, "and I have one room to myself where I have lived over four years"—he pointed towards it. "Do you think I would choose this and all it means—its poverty and its crudeness, its distance from all I ever had and all my people had, if I could have stood the other thing—a pauper taking pennies from his own wife? I had had taste enough of it while I had a little something left; but when I lost everything on Flamingo, and I was a beggar, I knew I could not stand the whole thing. I could not, would not, go under the poor-law and accept you, with the lash of a broken pledge in your hand, as my guardian. So that's why I left, and that's why I stay here, and that's why I'm going to stay here, Mona."
He looked at her firmly, though his face had that illumination which the spirit in his eyes—the Celtic fire drawn through the veins of his ancestors—gave to all he did and felt; and now as in a dream he saw little things in her he had never seen before. He saw that a little strand of her beautiful dark hair had broken away from its ordered place and hung prettily against the rosy, fevered skin of her cheek just beside her ear. He saw that there were no rings on her fingers save one, and that was her wedding-ring—and she had always been fond of wearing rings. He noted, involuntarily, that in her agitation the white tulle at her bosom had been disturbed into pretty disarray, and that there was neither brooch nor necklace at her breast or throat.
"If you stay, I am going to stay too," she declared in an almost passionate voice, and she spoke with deliberation and a look which left no way open to doubt. She was now a valiant little figure making a fight for happiness.
"I can't prevent that," he responded stubbornly.
She made a quick, appealing motion of her hands. "Would you prevent it? Aren't you glad to see me? Don't you love me any more? You used to love me. In spite of all, you used to love me. Even though you hated my money, and I hated your gambling—your betting on horses. You used to love me—I was sure you did then. Don't you love me now, Shiel?"
A gloomy look passed over his face. Memory of other days was admonishing him. "What is the good of one loving when the other doesn't? And, anyhow, I made up my mind five years ago that I would not live on my wife. I haven't done so, and I don't mean to 'do so. I don't mean to take a penny of your money. I should curse it to damnation if I was living on it. I'm not, and I don't mean to do so."
"Then I'll stay here and work too, without it," she urged, with a light in her eyes which they had never known.
He laughed mirthlessly. "What could you do—you never did a day's work in your life!"
"You could teach me how, Shiel."
His jaw jerked in a way it had when he was incredulous. "You used to say I was only—mark you, only a dreamer and a sportsman. Well, I'm no longer a dreamer and a sportsman; I'm a practical man. I've done with dreaming and sportsmanship. I can look at a situation as it is, and—"
"You are dreaming—but yes, you are dreaming still," she interjected. "And you are a sportsman still, but it is the sport of a dreamer, and a mad dreamer too. Shiel, in spite of all my faults in the past, I come to you, to stay with you, to live on what you earn if you like, if it's only a loaf of bread a day. I—I don't care about my money. I don't care about the luxuries which money can buy; I can do without them if I have you. Am I not to stay, and won't you—won't you kiss me, Shiel?"
She came close to him-came round the table till she stood within a few feet of him.
There was one trembling instant when he would have taken her hungrily into his arms, but as if some evil spirit interposed with malign purpose, there came the sound of feet on the gravel outside, and the figure of a man darkened the doorway. It was Augustus Burlingame, whose face as he saw Mona Crozier took on an ironical smile.
"Yes—what do you want?" inquired Crozier quietly. "A few words with Mr. Crozier on business, if he is not too much occupied?"
"I am acting for Messrs. Bradley, Willingden, Baxter, & Simmons."
The cloud darkened on Crozier's face. His lips tightened, his face hardened. "I will see you in a moment—wait outside, please," he added, as Burlingame made as though to step inside. "Wait at the gate," he added quietly, but with undisguised contempt.
The moment of moments for Mona and himself had passed. All the bitterness of defeat was on him again. All the humiliation of undeserved failure to accomplish what had been the dear desire of five years bore down his spirit now. Suddenly he had a suspicion that his wife had received information of his whereabouts from this very man, Burlingame. Had not the Young Doctor said that Burlingame had written to lawyers in the old land to get information concerning him? Was it not more than likely that he had given his wife the knowledge which had brought her here?
When Burlingame had disappeared he turned to Mona. "Who told you I was here? Who wrote to you?" he asked darkly. The light had died away from his face. It was ascetic in its lonely gravity now.
"Your doctor cabled to Castlegarry and Miss Tynan wrote to me."
A faint flush spread over Crozier's face. "How did Miss Tynan know where to write?"
Mona had told the truth at once because she felt it was the only way. Now, however, she was in a position where she must either tell him that Kitty had opened that still sealed letter from herself to him which he had carried all these years, or else tell him an untruth. She had no right to tell him what Kitty had confided to her. There was no other way save to lie.
"How should I know? It was enough for me to get her letter," she replied.
What was there to do? She must keep faith with Kitty, who had given her this sight of her husband again.
"Forwarded from Lammis," she said. "It reached me before the doctor's cable."
So it was Kitty—Kitty Tynan-who had brought his wife to this new home from which he had been trying so hard to get back to the old home. Kitty, the angel of the house.
"You wrote me a letter which drove me from home," he said heavily.
"No—no—no," she protested. "It was not that. I know it was not that. It was my money—it was that which drove you away. You have just said so."
"You wrote me a hateful letter," he persisted. "You didn't want to see me. You sent it to me by your sweet, young brother."
Her eyes flashed. "My letter did not drive you away. It couldn't have. You went because you did not love me. It was that and my money, not the letter, not the letter."
Somehow she had a curious feeling that the very letter which contained her bitter and hateful reproaches might save her yet. The fact that he had not opened it—well, she must see Kitty again. Her husband was in a dark mood. She must wait. She knew that her fortunate moment had passed when the rogue Burlingame appeared. She must wait for another.
"Shall I go now? You want to see that man outside. Shall I go, Shiel?" She was very pale, very quiet, steady and gentle.
"I must hear what that fellow has to say. It is business—important," he replied. "It may mean anything—everything, or nothing."
As she left the room he had an impulse to call her back, but he conquered it.
"'TWAS FOR YOUR PLEASURE YOU CAME HERE, YOU SHALL GO BACK FOR MINE"
For a moment Crozier stood looking at the closed doorway through which Mona had gone, with a look of repentant affection in his eyes; but as the thought of his own helpless insolvency and broken hopes flashed across his mind, a look of dark and harassed reflection shadowed his face. He turned to the front doorway with a savage gesture. The mutilated dignity of his manhood, the broken pride of a lifetime, the bitterness in his heart need not be held in check in dealing with the man who waited to give him a last thrust of enmity.
He left the house. Burlingame was seated on the stump of a tree which had been made into a seat. "Come to my room if you have business with me," Crozier said sharply.
As they went, Crozier swung aside from the front door towards the corner of the house.
"The back way?" asked Burlingame with a sneer.
"The old familiar way to you," was the smarting reply. "In any case, you are not welcome in Mrs. Tynan's part of the house. My room is my own, however, and I should prefer you within four walls while doing business with you."
Burlingame's face changed colour slightly, for the tone of Crozier's voice, the grimness of his manner, suggested an abnormal condition. Burlingame was not a brave man physically. He had never lived the outdoor life, though he had lived so much among outdoor people. He was that rare thing in a new land, a decadent, a connoisseur in vice, a lover of opiates and of liquor. He was young enough yet not to be incapacitated by it. His face and hands were white and a little flabby, and he wore his hair rather long, which, it is said, accounts for the weakness of some men, on the assumption that long hair wastes the strength. But Burlingame quickly remembered the attitude of the lady— Crozier's wife, he was certain—and of Crozier in the dining-room a few moments before, and to his suspicious eyes it was not characteristic of a happy family party. No doubt this grimness of Crozier was due to domestic trouble and not wholly to his own presence. Still, he felt softly for the tiny pistol he always carried in his big waistcoat pocket, and it comforted him.
Beyond the corner of the house Crozier paused and took a key from his pocket. It opened a side door to his own room, seldom used, since it was always so pleasant in this happy home to go through the main living-room, which every one liked so much that, though it was not the dining-room, it was generally used as such, and though it was not the parlour, it was its frequent substitute. Opening the door, Crozier stepped aside to let Burlingame pass. It was two years since Burlingame had been in this room, and then he had entered it without invitation. His inquisitiveness had led him to explore it with no good intent when he lived in the house.
Entering now, he gave it quick scrutiny. It was clear he was looking for something in particular. He was, in fact, searching for signs of its occupancy by another than Shiel Crozier—tokens of a woman's presence. There was, however, no sign at all of that, though there were signs of a woman's care and attention in a number of little things—homelike, solicitous, perhaps affectionate care and attention. Certainly the spotless pillows, the pretty curtains, the pincushion, and charmingly valanced bed and shelves, cheap though the material was, showed a woman's very friendly care. When he lived in that house there were no such little attentions paid to him! It was his experience that where such attentions went something else went with them. A sensualist himself, it was not conceivable to him that men and women could be under the same roof without "passages of sympathetic friendship and tokens of affinity." That was a phrase he had frequently used when pursuing his own sort of happiness.
His swift scrutiny showed that Crozier's wife had no habitation here, and that gave him his cue for what the French call "the reconstruction of the crime." It certainly was clear that, as he had suggested at the Logan Trial, there was serious trouble in the Crozier family of two, and the offender must naturally be the man who had flown, not the woman who had stayed. Here was circumstantial evidence.
His suggestive glance, the look in his eyes, did not escape Crozier, who read it all aright; and a primitive expression of natural antipathy passed across his mediaeval face, making it almost inquisitorial.
"Will you care to sit?" he said, however, with the courtesy he could never avoid; and he pointed to a chair beside the little table in the centre of the room. As Burlingame sat down he noticed on the table a crumpled handkerchief. It had lettering in the corner. He spread it out slightly with his fingers, as though abstractedly thinking of what he was about to say. The initial in the corner was K. Kitty had left it on the table while she was talking to Mrs. Crozier a halfhour before. Whatever Burlingame actually thought or believed, he could not now resist picking up the handkerchief and looking at it with a mocking smile. It was too good a chance to waste. He still hugged to his evil heart the humiliating remembrance of his expulsion from this house, the share Crozier had had in it, and the things which Crozier had said to him then. He had his enemy now between the upper and the nether mill-stones, and he meant to grind him to the flour of utter abasement. It was clear that the arrival of Mrs. Crozier had brought him no relief, for Crozier's face was not that of a man who had found and opened a casket of good fortune.