The Breaking Point
Mary Roberts Rinehart
Part 2 out of 8
This mood of unreasoning happiness continued all morning. He went
from house to house, properly grave and responsible but with a small
song in his heart, and about eleven o'clock he found time to stop
at the village haberdasher's and to select a new tie, which he had
wrapped and stuffed in his pocket. And which, inspected in broad day
later on a country road, gave him uneasy qualms as to its brilliance.
At the luncheon table he was almost hilarious, and David played up
to him, albeit rather heavily. But Lucy was thoughtful and quiet.
She had a sense of things somehow closing down on them, of hands
reaching out from the past, and clutching; Mrs. Morgan, Beverly
Carlysle, Dick in love and possibly going back to Norada. Unlike
David, who was content that one emergency had passed, she looked
ahead and saw their common life a series of such chances, with
their anxieties and their dangers.
She could not eat.
Nevertheless when she herself admitted a new patient for Dick that
afternoon, she had no premonition of trouble. She sent him into
the waiting-room, a tall, robust and youngish man, perhaps in his
late thirties, and went quietly on her way to her sitting-room,
and to her weekly mending.
On the other hand, Louis Bassett was feeling more or less
uncomfortable. There was an air of peace and quiet respectability
about the old house, a domestic odor of baking cake, a quietness and
stability that somehow made his errand appear absurd. To connect
it with Judson Clark and his tumultuous past seemed ridiculous.
His errand, on the surface, was a neuralgic headache.
When, hat in hand, he walked into Dick's consulting room, he had
made up his mind that he would pay the price of an overactive
imagination for a prescription, walk out again, and try to forget
that he had let a chance resemblance carry him off his feet.
But, as he watched the man who sat across from him, tilted back in
his swivel chair, he was not so sure. Here was the same tall
figure, the heavy brown hair, the features and boyish smile of the
photograph he had seen the night before. As Judson Clark might
have looked at thirty-two this man looked.
He made his explanation easily. Was in town for the day. Subject
to these headaches. Worse over the right eye. No, he didn't wear
glasses; perhaps he should.
It wasn't Clark. It couldn't be. Jud Clark sitting there tilted
back in an old chair and asking questions as to the nature of his
fictitious pain! Impossible. Nevertheless he was of a mind to
clear the slate and get some sleep that night, and having taken his
prescription and paid for it, he sat back and commenced an
apparently casual interrogation.
"Two names on your sign, I see. Father and son, I suppose?"
"Doctor David Livingstone is my uncle."
"I should think you'd be in the city. Limitations to this sort of
thing, aren't there?"
"I like it," said Dick, with an eye on the office clock.
"Patients are your friends, of course. Born and raised here, I
"Not exactly. I was raised on a ranch in Wyoming. My father had
a ranch out there."
Bassett shot a glance at him, but Dick was calm and faintly smiling.
"Wyoming !" the reporter commented. "That's a long way from here.
Anywhere near the new oil fields?"
"Not far from Norada. That's the oil center," Dick offered,
good-naturedly. He rose, and glanced again at the clock. "If those
headaches continue you'd better have your eyes examined."
Bassett was puzzled. It seemed to him that there had been a shade
of evasion in the other man's manner, slightly less frankness in
his eyes. But he showed no excitement, nothing furtive or alarmed.
And the open and unsolicited statement as to Norada baffled him.
He had to admit to himself either that a man strongly resembling
Judson Clark had come from the same neighborhood, or -
"Norada?" he said. "That's where the big Clark ranch was located,
wasn't it? Ever happen to meet Judson Clark?"
"Our place was very isolated."
Bassett found himself being politely ushered out, considerably more
at sea than when he went in and slightly irritated. His annoyance
was not decreased by the calm voice behind him which said:
"Better drink considerable water when you take that stuff. Some
stomachs don't tolerate it very well."
The door closed. The reporter stood in the waiting-room for a
moment. Then he clapped on his hat.
"Well, I'm a damned fool," he muttered, and went out into the street.
He was disappointed and a trifle sheepish. Life was full of queer
chances, that was all. No resemblance on earth, no coincidence of
birthplace, could make him believe that Judson Clark, waster,
profligate and fugitive from the law was now sitting up at night
with sick children, or delivering babies.
After a time he remembered the prescription in his hand, and was
about to destroy it. He stopped and examined it, and then carefully
placed it in his pocket-book. After all, there were things that
looked queer. The fellow had certainly evaded that last question
He made his way, head bent, toward the station.
He had ten minutes to wait, and he wandered to the newsstand. He
made a casual inspection of its display, bought a newspaper and
was turning away, when he stopped and gazed after a man who had
just passed him from an out-bound train.
The reporter looked after him with amused interest. Gregory, too!
The Livingstone chap had certainly started something. But it was
odd, too. How had Gregory traced him? Wasn't there something more
in Gregory's presence there than met the eye? Gregory's visit might
be, like his own, the desire to satisfy himself that the man was or
was not Clark. Or it might be the result of a conviction that it
was Clark, and a warning against himself. But if he had traced him,
didn't that indicate that Clark himself had got into communication
with him? In other words, that the chap was Clark, after all?
Gregory, having made an inquiry of a hackman, had started along the
street, and, after a moment's thought, Bassett fell into line behind
him. He was extremely interested and increasingly cheerful. He
remained well behind, and with his newspaper rolled in his hand
assumed the easy yet brisk walk of the commuters around him, bound
for home and their early suburban dinners.
Half way along Station Street Gregory stopped before the Livingstone
house, read the sign, and rang the doorbell. The reporter slowed
down, to give him time for admission, and then slowly passed. In
front of Harrison Miller's house, however, he stopped and waited.
He lighted a cigarette and made a careful survey of the old place.
Strange, if this were to prove the haven where Judson Clark had taken
refuge, this old brick two-story dwelling, with its ramshackle stable
in the rear, its small vegetable garden, its casual beds of simple
garden flowers set in a half acre or so of ground.
A doctor. A pill shooter. Jud Clark!
Elizabeth had gone about all day with a smile on her lips and a sort
of exaltation in her eyes. She had, girl fashion, gone over and
over the totally uneventful evening they had spent together,
remembering small speeches and gestures; what he had said and she
She had, for instance, mentioned Clare Rossiter, very casually. Oh
very, very casually. And he had said: "Clare Rossiter? Oh, yes,
the tall blonde girl, isn't she?"
She was very happy. He had not seemed to find her too young or
particularly immature. He had asked her opinion on quite important
things, and listened carefully when she replied. She felt, though,
that she knew about one-tenth as much as he did, and she determined
to read very seriously from that time on. Her mother, missing
her that afternoon, found her curled up in the library, beginning
the first volume of Gibbon's "Rome" with an air of determined
concentration, and wearing her best summer frock.
She did not intend to depend purely on Gibbon's "Rome," evidently.
"Are you expecting any one, Elizabeth?" she asked, with the frank
directness characteristic of mothers, and Elizabeth, fixing a date
in her mind with terrible firmness, looked up absently and said:
"No one in particular."
At three o'clock, with a slight headache from concentration, she
went upstairs and put up her hair again; rather high this time to
make her feel taller. Of course, it was not likely he would come.
He was very busy. So many people depended on him. It must be
wonderful to be like that, to have people needing one, and looking
out of the door and saying: "I think I see him coming now."
Nevertheless when the postman rang her heart gave a small leap and
then stood quite still. When Annie slowly mounted the stairs she
was already on her feet, but it was only a card announcing: "Mrs.
Sayre, Wednesday, May fifteenth, luncheon at one-thirty."
However, at half past four the bell rang again, and a masculine
voice informed Annie, a moment later, that it would put its overcoat
here, because lately a dog had eaten a piece out of it and got most
The time it took Annie to get up the stairs again gave her a moment
so that she could breathe more naturally, and she went down very
deliberately and so dreadfully poised that at first he thought she
was not glad to see him.
"I came, you see," he said. "I intended to wait until to-morrow,
but I had a little time. But if you're doing anything - "
"I was reading Gibbon's 'Rome,'" she informed him. "I think every
one should know it. Don't you?"
"Good heavens, what for?" he inquired.
"I don't know." They looked at each other, and suddenly they laughed.
"I wanted to improve my mind," she explained. "I felt, last night,
that you-that you know so many things, and that I was frightfully
"Do you mean to say," he asked, aghast, "that I - ! Great Scott!"
Settled in the living-room, they got back rather quickly to their
status of the night before, and he was moved to confession.
"I didn't really intend to wait until to-morrow," he said. "I got
up with the full intention of coming here to-day, if I did it over
the wreck of my practice. At eleven o'clock this morning I held up
a consultation ten minutes to go to Yardsleys and buy a tie, for
this express purpose. Perhaps you have noticed it already."
"I have indeed. It's a wonderful tie."
"Neat but not gaudy, eh?" He grinned at her, happily. "You know,
you might steer me a bit about my ties. I have the taste of an
African savage. I nearly bought a purple one, with red stripes.
And Aunt Lucy thinks I should wear white lawn, like David!"
They talked, those small, highly significant nothings which are
only the barrier behind which go on the eager questionings and
unspoken answers of youth and love. They had known each other for
years, had exchanged the same give and take of neighborhood talk
when they met as now. To-day nothing was changed, and everything.
Then, out of a clear sky, he said:
"I may be going away before long, Elizabeth."
He was watching her intently. She had a singular feeling that
behind this, as behind everything that afternoon, was something not
spoken. Something that related to her. Perhaps it was because of
"You don't mean-not to stay?"
"No. I want to go back to Wyoming. Where I was born. Only for a
And in that "only for a few weeks" there lay some of the unspoken
things. That he would miss her and come back quickly to her. That
she would miss him, and that subconsciously he knew it. And behind
that, too, a promise. He would come back to her.
"Only for a few weeks," he repeated. "I thought perhaps, if you
wouldn't mind my writing to you, now and then - I write a rotten
hand, you know. Most medical men do."
"I should like it very much," she said, primly.
She felt suddenly very lonely, as though he had already gone, and
slightly resentful, not at him but at the way things happened. And
then, too, everyone knew that once a Westerner always a Westerner.
The West always called its children. Not that she put it that way.
But she had a sort of vision, gained from the moving pictures, of a
country of wide spaces and tall mountains, where men wore quaint
clothing and the women rode wild horses and had the dash she knew
she lacked. She was stirred by vague jealousy.
"You may never come back," she said, casually. "After all, you
were born there, and we must seem very quiet to you."
"Quiet!" he exclaimed. "You are heavenly restful and comforting.
You - " he checked himself and got up. "Then I'm to write, and you
are to make out as much of my scrawl as you can and answer. Is
"I'll write you all the town gossip."
"If you do - !" he threatened her. "You're to write me what you're
doing, and all about yourself. Remember, I'll be counting on you."
And, if their voices were light, there was in both of them the sense
of a pact made, of a bond that was to hold them, like clasped hands,
against their coming separation. It was rather anti-climacteric
after that to have him acknowledge that he didn't know exactly when
he could get away!
She went with him to the door and stood there, her soft hair blowing,
as he got into the car. When he looked back, as he turned the corner,
she was still there. He felt very happy affable, and he picked up
an elderly village woman with her and went considerably out of his
way to take her home.
He got back to the office at half past six to find a red-eyed
Minnie in the hall.
AT half past five that afternoon David had let himself into the
house with his latch key, hung up his overcoat on the old walnut
hat rack, and went into his office. The strain of the days before
had told on him, and he felt weary and not entirely well. He had
fallen asleep in his buggy, and had wakened to find old Nettie
drawing him slowly down the main street of the town, pursuing an
erratic but homeward course, while the people on the pavements
watched and smiled.
He went into his office, closed the door, and then, on the old
leather couch with its sagging springs he stretched himself out to
finish his nap.
Almost immediately, however, the doorbell rang, and a moment later
Minnie opened his door.
"Gentleman to see you, Doctor David."
He got up clumsily and settled his collar. Then he opened the door
into his waiting-room.
"Come in," he said resignedly.
A small, dapper man, in precisely the type of clothes David most
abominated, and wearing light-colored spats, rose from his chair
and looked at him with evident surprise.
"I'm afraid I've made a mistake. A Doctor Livingstone left his seat
number for calls at the box office of the Annex Theater last night
- the Happy Valley company - but he was a younger man. I - "
David stiffened, but he surveyed his visitor impassively from under
his shaggy white eyebrows.
"I haven't been in a theater for a dozen years, sir."
Gregory was convinced that he had made a mistake. Like Louis
Bassett, the very unlikeliness of Jud Clark being connected with
the domestic atmosphere and quiet respectability of the old house
made him feel intrusive and absurd. He was about to apologize and
turn away, when he thought of something.
"There are two names on your sign. The other one, was he by any
chance at the theater last night?"
"I think I shall have to have a reason for these inquiries," David
He was trying to place Gregory, to fit him into the situation;
straining back over ten years of security, racking his memory,
"Just what have you come to find out?" he asked, as Gregory turned
and looked around the room.
"The other Doctor Livingstone is your brother?"
Gregory shot a sharp glance at him, but all he saw was an elderly
man, with heavy white hair and fierce shaggy eyebrows, a portly and
dignified elderly gentleman, rather resentfully courteous.
"Sorry to trouble you," be said. "I suppose I've made a mistake.
I - is your nephew at home?"
"May I see a picture of him, if you have one?"
David's wild impulse was to smash Gregory to the earth, to
annihilate him. His collar felt tight, and he pulled it away from
"Not unless I know why you want to see it."
"He is tall, rather spare? And he took a young lady to the theater
last night?" Gregory persisted.
"He answers that description. What of it?"
"And be is your nephew?"
"My brother's son," David said steadily.
Somehow it began to dawn on him that there was nothing inimical in
this strange visitor, that he was anxious and ill at ease. There
was, indeed, something almost beseeching in Gregory's eyes, as
though he stood ready to give confidence for confidence. And, more
than that, a sort of not unfriendly stubbornness, as though he had
come to do something he meant to do.
"Sit down," he said, relaxing somewhat. "Certainly my nephew is
making no secret of the fact that he went to the theater last night.
If you'll tell me who you are - "
But Gregory did not sit down. He stood where he was, and continued
to eye David intently.
"I don't know just what it conveys to you, Doctor, but I am Beverly
David lowered himself into his chair. His knees were suddenly weak
under him. But he was able to control his voice.
"I see," he said. And waited.
"Something happened last night at the theater. It may be important.
I'd have to see your nephew, in order to find out if it is. I can't
afford to make a mistake."
David's ruddy color had faded. He opened a drawer of his desk and
produced a copy of the photograph of Dick in his uniform. "Maybe
this will help you."
Gregory studied it carefully, carrying it to the window to do so.
When he confronted David again he was certain of himself and his
errand for the first time, and his manner had changed.
"Yes," he said, significantly. "It does."
He placed the photograph on the desk, and sitting down, drew his
chair close to David's. "I'll not use any names, Doctor. I think
you know what I'm talking about. I was sure enough last night.
I'm certain now."
David nodded. "Go on."
"We'll start like this. God knows I don't want to make any trouble.
But I'll put a hypothetical case. Suppose that a man when drunk
commits a crime and then disappears; suppose he leaves behind him
a bad record and an enormous fortune; suppose then he reforms and
becomes a useful citizen, and everything is buried."
Doctor David listened stonily. Gregory lowered his voice.
"Suppose there's a woman mixed up in that situation. Not guiltily,
but there's a lot of talk. And suppose she lives it down, for ten
years, and then goes back to her profession, in a play the families
take the children to see, and makes good. It isn't hard to suppose
that neither of those two people wants the thing revived, is it?"
David cleared his throat.
"You mean, then, that there is danger of such a revival?" "I think
there is," Gregory said bitterly. "I recognized this man last night,
and called a fellow who knew him in the old days, Saunders, our
stage manager. And a newspaper man named Bassett wormed it out of
Saunders. You know what that means.
David heard him clearly, but as though from a great distance.
"You can see how it appears to Bassett. If he's found it, it's the
big story of a lifetime. I thought he'd better be warned."
When David said nothing, but sat holding tight to the arms of his
old chair, Gregory reached for his hat and got up.
"The thing for him to do," he said, "is to leave town for a while.
This Bassett is a hound-hog on a scent. They all are. He is
Bassett of the Times-Republican. And he took Jud - he took your
nephew's automobile license number."
Still David sat silent, and Gregory moved to the door.
"Get him away, to-night if you can."
"Thank you," David said. His voice was thick. "I appreciate your
He got up dizzily, as Gregory said, "Good-evening" and went out.
The room seemed very dark and unsteady, and not familiar. So this
was what had happened, after all the safe years! A man could work
and build and pray, but if his house was built on the sand -
As the outer door closed David fell to the floor with a crash.
Bassett lounged outside the neat privet hedge which it was Harrison
Miller's custom to clip with his own bachelor hands, and waited.
And as he waited he tried to imagine what was going on inside,
behind the neatly curtained windows of the old brick house.
He was tempted to ring the bell again, pretend to have forgotten
something, and perhaps happen in on what might be drama of a rather
high order; what, supposing the man was Clark after all, was fairly
sure to be drama. He discarded the idea, however, and began again
his interested survey of the premises. Whoever conceived this sort
of haven for Clark, if it were Clark, had shown considerable
shrewdness. The town fairly smelt of respectability; the tree-shaded
streets, the children in socks and small crisp-laundered garments,
the houses set back, each in its square of shaved lawn, all peaceful,
middle class and unexciting. The last town in the world for Judson
Clark, the last profession, the last house, this shabby old brick
He smiled rather grimly as he reflected that if Gregory had been
right in his identification, be was, beyond those windows at that
moment, very possibly warning Clark against himself. Gregory would
know his type, that he never let go. He drew himself up a little.
The house door opened, and Gregory came out, turning toward the
station. Bassett caught up with him and put a hand on his arm.
"Well?" he said cheerfully. "It was, wasn't it?"
Gregory stopped dead and stared at him. Then:
"Old dog Tray!" he said sneeringly. "If your brain was as good
as your nose, Bassett, you'd be a whale of a newspaper man."
"Don't bother about my brain. It's working fine to-day, anyhow.
Well, what had he to say for himself?"
Gregory's mind was busy, and he had had a moment to pull himself
"We both get off together," he said, more amiably. "That fellow
isn't Jud Clark and never was. He's a doctor, and the nephew of
the old doctor there. They're in practice together."
"Did you see them both?"
Bassett eyed him. Either Gregory was a good actor, or the whole
trail ended there after all. He himself had felt, after his
interview, with Dick, that the scent was false. And there was
this to be said: Gregory had been in the house scarcely ten
minutes. Long enough to acknowledge a mistake, but hardly long
enough for any dramatic identification. He was keenly disappointed,
but he had had long experience of disappointment, and after a
moment he only said:
"Well, that's that. He certainly looked like Clark to me."
"I'll say he did."
"Rather surprised him, didn't you "
"Oh, he was all right," Gregory said. "I didn't tell him anything,
Bassett looked at his watch.
"I was after you, all right," he said, cheerfully. "But if I was
barking up the wrong tree, I'm done. I don't have to be hit on the
head to make me stop. Come and have a soda-water on me," he
finished amiably. "There's no train until seven."
But Gregory refused.
"No, thanks. I'll wander on down to the station and get a paper."
The reporter smiled. Gregory was holding a grudge against him, for
a bad night and a bad day.
"All right," he said affably. "I'll see you at the train. I'll
walk about a bit."
He turned and started back up the street again, walking idly. His
chagrin was very real. He hated to be fooled, and fooled he had
been. Gregory was not the only one who had lost a night's sleep.
Then, unexpectedly, he was hailed from the curbstone, and he saw
with amazement that it was Dick Livingstone.
"Take you anywhere?" Dick asked. "How's the headache?" "Better,
thanks." Bassett stared at him. "No, I'm just walking around until
train-time. Are you starting out or going home, at this hour?"
"Going home. Well, glad the head's better."
He drove on, leaving the reporter gazing after him. So Gregory had
been lying. He hadn't seen this chap at all. Then why - ? He
walked on, turning this new phase of the situation over in his mind.
Why this elaborate fiction, if Gregory had merely gone in, waited
for ten minutes, and come out again?
It wasn't reasonable. It wasn't logical. Something had happened
inside the house to convince Gregory that he was right. He had
seen somebody, or something. He hadn't needed to lie. He could
have said frankly that he had seen no one. But no, he had built
up a fabric carefully calculated to throw Bassett off the scent.
He saw Dick stop in front of the house, get out and enter. And
coming to a decision, he followed him and rang the doorbell. For a
long time no one answered. Then the maid of the afternoon opened
the door, her eyes red with crying, and looked at him with hostility.
"Doctor Richard Livingstone?"
"You can't see him."
"Well, you can't see him. Doctor David has just had a stroke. He's
in the office now, on the floor."
She closed the door on him, and he turned and went away. It was
all clear to him; Gregory had seen, not Clark, but the older man;
had told him and gone away. And under the shock the older man had
collapsed. That was sad. It was very sad. But it was also
He sat up late that night again, running over the entries in his
notebook. The old story, as he pieced it out, ran like this:
It had been twelve years ago, when, according to the old files,
Clark had financed Beverly Carlysle's first starring venture. He
had, apparently, started out in the beginning only to give her the
publicity she needed. In devising it, however, he had shown a sort
of boyish recklessness and ingenuity that had caught the interest
of the press, and set newspaper men to chuckling wherever they got
He had got together a dozen or so of young men like himself, wealthy,
idle and reckless with youth, and, headed by him, they had made the
exploitation of the young star an occupation. The newspapers
referred to the star and her constellation as Beverly Carlysle and
her Broadway Beauties. It had been unvicious, young, and highly
entertaining, and it had cost Judson Clark his membership in his
father's conservative old clubs.
For a time it livened the theatrical world with escapades that were
harmless enough, if sensational. Then, after a time, newspaper row
began to whisper that young Clark was in love with the girl. The
Broadway Beauties broke up, after a wild farewell dinner. The
audiences ceased to expect a row of a dozen youths, all dressed
alike with gardenias in their buttonholes and perhaps red neckties
with their evening suits, to rise in their boxes on the star's
appearance and solemnly bow. And the star herself lost a little
of the anxious look she frequently wore.
The story went, after a while, that Judson Clark had been refused,
and was taking his refusal badly. Reporters saw him, carelessly
dressed, outside the stage door waiting, and the story went that
the girl had thrown him over, money and all, for her leading man.
One thing was clear; Clark, not a drinker before, had taken to
drinking hard, and after a time, and some unpleasant scenes probably,
she refused to see him any more.
When the play closed, in June, 1911, she married Howard Lucas, her
leading man; his third wife. Lucas had been not a bad chap, a
good-looking, rather negligible man, given to all-day Sunday poker,
carefully valeted, not very keen mentally, but amiable. They had
bought a house on East Fifty-sixth Street, and were looking for a
new play with Lucas as co-star, when he unaccountably went to pieces
nervously, stopped sleeping, and developed a slight twitching of
his handsome, rather vacuous face.
Judson Clark had taken his yacht and gone to Europe, and was
reported from here and there not too favorably. But when be came
back, in early September, he had apparently recovered from his
infatuation, was his old, carefully dressed self again, and when
interviewed declared his intention of spending the winter on his
Of course he must have heard of Lucas's breakdown, and equally, of
course, he must have seen them both. What happened at that
interview, by what casual attitude he allayed Lucas's probable
jealousy and the girl's own nervousness, Bassett had no way of
discovering. It was clear that he convinced them both of his good
faith, for the next note in the reporter's book was simply a date,
September 12, 1911.
That was the day they had all started West together, traveling in
Clark's private car, with Lucas, twitching slightly, smiling and
waving farewell from a window.
The big smash did not come until the middle of October.
Bassett sat back and considered. He had a fairly clear idea of the
conditions at the ranch; daily riding, some little reading, and a
great deal too much of each other. A sick man, too, unhappy in his
exile, chafing against his restrictions, lonely and irritable. The
girl, early seeing her mistake, and Clark's jealousy of her husband.
The door into their apartment closing, the thousand and one
unconscious intimacies between man and wife, the breakfast for two
going up the stairs, and below that hot-eyed boy, agonized and
passionately jealous, yet meeting them and looking after them, their
host and a gentleman.
Lucas took to drinking, after a time, to allay his sheer boredom.
And Jud Clark drank with him. At the end of three weeks they were
both drinking heavily, and were politely quarrelsome. Bassett
could fill that in also. He could see the girl protesting, watching,
increasingly anxious as she saw that Clark's jealousy was matched
by her husband's.
A queer picture, he reflected, the three of them shut away on the
great ranch, and every day some new tension, some new strain.
Then, one night at dinner, they quarreled, and Beverly left the
table. She was going to pack her things and go back to New York.
She had felt, probably, that something was bound to snap. And while
she was upstairs Clark had shot and killed Howard Lucas, and himself
He had run, testimony at the inquest revealed, to the corral, and
saddled a horse. Although it was only October, it was snowing hard,
but in spite of that he had turned his horse toward the mountains.
By midnight a posse from Norada had started out, and another up the
Dry River Canyon, but the storm turned into a blizzard in the
mountains, and they were obliged to turn back. A few inches more
snow, and they could not have got their horses out. A week or so
later, with a crust of ice over it, a few of them began again, with
no expectation, however, of finding Clark alive. They came across
his horse on the second day, but they did not find him, and there
were some among them who felt that, after all, old Elihu Clark's
boy had chosen the better way.
Bassett closed his notebook and lighted a cigar.
There was a big story to be had for the seeking, a whale of a story.
He could go to the office, give them a hint, draw expense money and
start for Norada the next night. He knew well enough that he would
have to begin there, and that it would not be easy. Witnesses of
the affair at the ranch would be missing now, or when found the
first accuracy of their statements would either be dulled by time or
have been added to with the passing years. The ranch itself might
have passed into other hands. To reconstruct the events of ten
years ago might be impossible, or nearly so. But that was not his
problem. He would have to connect Norada with Haverly, Clark with
Livingstone. One thing only was simple. If he found Livingstone's
story was correct, that he had lived on a ranch near Norada before
the crime and as Livingstone, then he would acknowledge that two men
could look precisely alike and come from the same place, and yet not
be the same. If not -
But, after he had turned out his light and got into bed, he began
to feel a certain distaste for his self-appointed task. If
Livingstone were Clark, if after years of effort he had pulled
himself up by his own boot-straps, had made himself a man out of
the reckless boy he had been, a decent and useful citizen, why pull
him down? After all, the world hadn't lost much in Lucas; a sleek,
not over-intelligent big animal, that had been Howard Lucas.
He decided to sleep over it, and by morning he found himself not
only disinclined to the business, but firmly resolved to let it drop.
Things were well enough as they were. The woman in the case was
making good. Jud was making good. And nothing would restore Howard
Lucas to that small theatrical world of his which had waved him
good-bye at the station so long ago.
He shaved and dressed, his resolution still holding. He had indeed
almost a conscious glow of virtue, for he was making one of those
inglorious and unsung sacrifices which ought to bring a man credit
in the next world, because they certainly got him nowhere in this.
He was quite affable to the colored waiter who served his breakfasts
in the bachelor apartment house, and increased his weekly tip to a
dollar and a half. Then he sat down and opened the Times-Republican,
skimming over it after his habit for his own space, and frowning over
a row of exclamation and interrogation points unwittingly set behind
the name of the mayor.
On the second page, however, he stopped, coffee cup in air. "Is
Judson Clark alive? Wife of former ranch manager makes confession."
A woman named Margaret Donaldson, it appeared, fatally injured by
an automobile near the town of Norada, Wyoming, had made a confession
on her deathbed. In it she stated that, afraid to die without
shriving her soul, she had sent for the sheriff of Dallas County and
had made the following confession:
That following the tragedy at the Clark ranch her husband, John
Donaldson, since dead, had immediately following the inquest, where
he testified, started out into the mountains in the hope of finding
Clark alive, as he knew of a deserted ranger's cabin where Clark
sometimes camped when hunting. It was his intention to search for
Clark at this cabin and effect his escape. He carded with him food
That, owing to the blizzard, he was very nearly frozen; that he was
obliged to abandon his horse, shooting it before he did so, and that,
close to death himself, he finally reached the cabin and there found
Judson Clark, the fugitive, who was very ill.
She further testified that her husband cared for Clark for four days,
Clark being delirious at the time, and that on the fifth day he
started back on foot for the Clark ranch, having left Clark locked
in the cabin, and that on the following night he took three horses,
two saddled, and one packed with food and supplies. That accompanied
by herself they went back to the cabin in the mountains and that she
remained there to care for Clark, while her husband returned to the
ranch, to prevent suspicion.
That, a day or so later, looking out of her window, she had
perceived a man outside in the snow coming toward the cabin, and
that she had thought it one of the searching party. That her first
instinct had been to lock him outside, but that she had finally
admitted him, and that thereafter he had remained and had helped
her to care for the sick man.
Unfortunately for the rest of the narrative it appeared that the
injured woman had here lapsed into a coma, and had subsequently
died, carrying her further knowledge with her.
But, the article went on, the story opened a field of infinite
surmise. In all probability Judson Clark was still alive, living
under some assumed identity, free of punishment, outwardly
respectable. Three years before he had been adjudged legally
dead, and the estate divided, under bond of the legatees.
Close to a hundred million dollars had gone to charities, and
Judson Clark, wherever he was, would be dependent on his own efforts
for existence. He could have summoned all the legal talent in the
country to his defense, but instead he had chosen to disappear.
The whole situation turned on the deposition of Mrs. Donaldson, now
dead. The local authorities at Norada maintained that the woman
had not been sane for several years. On the other hand, the cabin
to which she referred was well known, and no search of it had been
made at the time. Clark's horse had been found not ten miles from
the town, and the cabin was buried in snow twenty miles further away.
If Clark had made that journey on foot he had accomplished the
Certain facts, according to the local correspondent, bore out
Margaret Donaldson's confession. Inquiry showed that she was
supposed to have spent the winter following Judson Clark's crime
with relatives in Omaha. She had returned to the ranch the
A detailed description of Judson Clark, and a photograph of him
accompanied the story. Bassett re-read the article carefully, and
swore a little, under his breath. If he had needed confirmation of
his suspicions, it lay to his hand. But the situation had changed
over night. There would be a search for Clark now, as wide as the
knowledge of his disappearance. Local police authorities would
turn him up in every city from Maine to the Pacific coast. Even
Europe would be on the lookout and South America.
But it was not the police he feared so much as the press. Not all
of the papers, but some of them, would go after that story, and send
their best men on it. It offered not so much a chance of solution
as an opportunity to revive the old dramatic story. He could see,
when he closed his eyes, the local photographers climbing to that
cabin and later sending its pictures broadcast, and divers gentlemen
of the press, eager to pit their wits against ten years of time and
the ability of a once conspicuous man to hide from the law, packing
their suitcases for Norada.
No, he couldn't stop now. He would go on, like the others, and with
this advantage, that he was morally certain he could lay his hands
on Clark at any time. But he would have to prove his case, connect
it. Who, for instance, was the other man in the cabin? He must
have known who the boy was who lay in that rough bunk, delirious.
Must have suspected anyhow. That made him, like the Donaldsons,
accessory after the fact, and criminally liable. Small chance of
him coming out with any confession. Yet he was the connecting link.
On his third reading the reporter began to visualize the human
elements of the fight to save the boy; he saw moving before him the
whole pitiful struggle; the indomitable ranch manager, his
heart-breaking struggle with the blizzard, the shooting of his horse,
the careful disarming of suspicion, and later the intrepid woman,
daring that night ride through snow that had sent the posse back
to its firesides to the boy, locked in the cabin and raving.
His mind was busy as he packed his suitcase. Already he had
forgotten his compunctions of the early morning; he moved about
methodically, calculating roughly what expense money he would need,
and the line of attack, if any, required at the office. Between
Norada and that old brick house at Haverly lay his story. Ten
years of it. He was closing his bag when he remembered the little
girl in the blue dress, at the theater. He straightened and scowled.
After a moment he snapped the bag shut. Damn it all, if Clark had
chosen to He up with a girl, that was on Clark's conscience, not his.
But he was vaguely uncomfortable.
"It's a queer world, Joe," he observed to the waiter, who had come
in for the breakfast dishes.
"Yes, sir. It is that," said Joe.
DURING all the long night Dick sat by David's bedside. Earlier in
the evening there had been a consultation; David had suffered a light
stroke, but there was no paralysis, and the prognosis was good.
For this time, at least, David had escaped, but there must be no
other time. He was to be kept quiet and free from worry, his diet
was to be carefully regulated, and with care he still had long years
David slept, his breathing heavy and slow. In the morning there
would be a nurse, but that night Dick, having sent Lucy to bed,
himself kept watch. On the walnut bed lay Doctor David's portly
figure, dimly outlined by the shaded lamp, and on a chair drawn
close sat Dick.
He was wide-awake and very anxious, but as time went on and no
untoward symptoms appeared, as David's sleep seemed to grow easier
and more natural, Dick's thoughts wandered. They went to Elizabeth
first, and then on and on from that starting point, through the
years ahead. He saw the old house with Elizabeth waiting in it for
his return; he saw both their lives united and flowing on together,
with children, with small cares, with the routine of daily living,
and behind it all the two of them, hand in hand.
Then his mind turned on himself. How often in the past ten years
it had done that! He had sat off, with a sort of professional
detachment, and studied his own case. With the entrance into his
world of the new science of psycho-analysis he had made now and
then small, not very sincere, attempts to penetrate the veil of his
own unconscious devising. Not very sincere, for with the increase
of his own knowledge of the mind he had learned that behind such
conditions as his lay generally, deeply hidden, the desire to
forget. And that behind that there lay, acknowledged or not, fear.
"But to forget what?" he used to say to David, when the first
text-books on the new science appeared, and he and David were
learning the new terminology, Dick eagerly and David with
contemptuous snorts of derision. "To forget what?"
"You had plenty to forget," David would say, stolidly. "I think
this man's a fool, but at that - you'd had your father's death, for
one thing. And you'd gone pretty close to the edge of eternity
yourself. You'd fought single-handed the worst storm of ten years,
you came out of it with double pneumonia, and you lay alone in that
cabin about fifty-six hours. Forget! You had plenty to forget."
It had never occurred to Dick to doubt David's story. It did not,
even now. He had accepted it unquestioningly from the first,
supplemented the shadowy childish memories that remained to him with
it, and gradually co-ordinating the two had built out of them his
house of the past.
Thus, the elderly man whom he dimly remembered was not only his
father; he was David's brother. And he had died. It was the shock
of that death, according to David, that had sent him into the
mountains, where David had followed and nursed him back to health.
It was quite simple, and even explicable by the new psychology.
Not that he had worried about the new psychology in those early days.
He had been profoundly lethargic, passive and incurious. It had
been too much trouble even to think.
True, he had brought over from those lost years certain instincts
and a few mental pictures. He had had a certain impatience at first
over the restrictions of comparative poverty; he had had to learn
the value of money. And the pictures he retained had had a certain
opulence which the facts appeared to contradict. Thus he remembered
a large ranch house, and innumerable horses, grazing in meadows or
milling in a corral. But David had warned him early that there was
no estate; that his future depended entirely on his own efforts.
Then the new life had caught and held him. For the first time he
had mothering and love. Lucy was his mother, and David the pattern
to which he meant to conform. He was happy and contented.
Now and then, in the early days, he had been conscious of a desire
to go back and try to reconstruct his past again. Later on he knew
that if he were ever to fill up the gap in his life, it would be
easier in that environment of once familiar things. But in the
first days he had been totally dependent on David, and money was
none too plentiful. Later on, as the new life took hold, as he
went to medical college and worked at odd clerical jobs in
vacations to help pay his way, there had been no chance. Then the
war came, and on his return there had been the practice, and his
knowledge that David's health was not what it should have been.
But as time went on he was more and more aware that there was in
him a peculiar shrinking from going back, an almost apprehension.
He knew more of the mind than he had before, and he knew that not
physical hardship, but mental stress, caused such lapses as his.
But what mental stress had been great enough for such a smash?
His father's death?
Strain and fear, said the new psychology. Fear? He had never found
himself lacking in courage. Certainly he would have fought a man
who called him a coward. But there was cowardice behind all such
conditions as his; a refusal of the mind to face reality. It was
weak. Weak. He hated himself for that past failure of his to face
But that night, sitting by David's bed, he faced reality with a
vengeance. He was in love, and he wanted the things that love
should bring to a normal man. He felt normal. He felt,
strengthened by love, that he could face whatever life had to bring,
so long as also it brought Elizabeth.
Painfully he went back over his talk with David the preceding
"Don't be a fool," David had said. "Go ahead and take her, if
she'll have you. And don't be too long about it. I'm not as young
as I used to be."
"What I feel," he had replied, "is this: I don't know, of course,
if she cares." David had grunted. "I do know I'm going to try to
make her care, if it - if it's humanly possible. But I'd like to
go back to the ranch again, David, before things go any further."
"I'd like to fill the gap. Attempt it anyhow."
What he was thinking about, as he sat by David's bedside, was
David's attitude toward that threatened return of his. For David
had opposed it, offering a dozen trivial, almost puerile reasons.
Had shown indeed, a dogged obstinacy and an irritability that were
somehow oddly like fear. David afraid! David, whose life and
heart were open books! David, whose eyes never wavered, nor his
"You let well enough alone, Dick," he had finished. "You've got
everything you want. And a medical man can't afford to go gadding
about. When people want him they want him."
But he had noticed that David had been different, since. He had
taken to following him with his faded old eyes, had even spoken
once of retiring and turning all the work over to him. Was it
possible that David did not want him to go back to Norada?
He bent over and felt the sick man's pulse. It was stronger, not
so rapid. The mechanical act took him back to his first memory of
He had been lying in a rough bunk in the mountain cabin, and David,
beside him on a wooden box, had been bending forward and feeling
his pulse. He had felt weak and utterly inert, and he knew now
that he had been very ill. The cabin had been a small and lonely
one, with snow-peaks not far above it, and it had been very cold.
During the day a woman kept up the fire. Her name was Maggie, and
she moved about the cabin like a thin ghost. At night she slept
in a lean-to shed and David kept the fire going. A man who seemed
to know him well - John Donaldson, he learned, was his name - was
Maggie's husband, and every so often he came, about dawn, and
brought food and supplies.
After a long time, as he grew stronger, Maggie had gone away, and
David had fried the bacon and heated the canned tomatoes or the
beans. Before she left she had written out a recipe for biscuits,
and David would study over it painstakingly, and then produce a
panfull of burned and blackened lumps, over which he would groan
He himself had been totally incurious. He had lived a sort of
animal life of food and sleep, and later on of small tentative
excursions around the room on legs that shook when he walked. The
snows came and almost covered the cabin, and David had read a great
deal, and talked at intervals. David had tried to fill up the gap
in his mind. That was how he learned that David was his father's
brother, and that his father had recently died.
Going over it all now, it had certain elements that were not clear.
They had, for instance, never gone hack to the ranch at all. With
the first clearing of the snow in the spring John Donaldson had
appeared again, leading two saddled horses and driving a pack animal,
and they had started off, leaving him standing in the clearing and
gazing after them. But they had not followed Donaldson's trail.
They had started West, over the mountains, and David did not know
the country. Once they were lost for three days.
He looked at the figure on the bed. Only ten years, and yet at
that time David had been vigorous, seemed almost young. He had
aged in that ten years. On the bed he was an old man, a tired old
man at that. On that long ride he had been tireless. He had taken
the burden of the nightly camps, and had hacked a trail with his
hatchet across snow fields while Dick, still weak but furiously
protesting, had been compelled to stand and watch.
Now, with the perspective of time behind him, and with the clearly
defined issue of David's protest against his return to the West, he
went again over the details of that winter and spring. Why had they
not taken Donaldson's trail? Or gone back to the ranch? Why, since
Donaldson could make it, had not other visitors come? Another
doctor, the night he almost died, and David sat under the lamp
behind the close-screened windows, and read the very pocket
prayer-book that now lay on the stand beside the bed? Why had they
burned his clothes, and Donaldson brought a new outfit? Why did
Donaldson, for all his requests, never bring a razor, so that when
they struck the railroad, miles from anywhere, they were both full
He brought himself up sharply. He had allowed his imagination to
run away with him. He had been depicting a flight and no one who
knew David could imagine him in flight.
Nevertheless he was conscious of a new uneasiness and anxiety.
When David recovered sufficiently he would go to Norada, as he had
told Elizabeth, and there he would find the Donaldsons, and clear
up the things that bothered him. After that -
He thought of Elizabeth, of her sweetness and sanity. He remembered
her at the theater the evening before, lost in its fictitious
emotions, its counterfeit drama. He had felt moved to comfort her,
when he found her on the verge of tears.
"Just remember, they're only acting," he had said.
"Yes. But life does do things like that to people."
"Not often. The theater deals in the dramatic exceptions to life.
You and I, plain bread and butter people, come to see these things
because we get a sort of vicarious thrill out of them."
"Doesn't anything ever happen to the plain bread and butter people?"
"A little jam, sometimes. Or perhaps they drop it, butter side
down, on the carpet."
"But that is tragedy, isn't it?"
He had had to acknowledge that it might be. But he had been quite
emphatic over the fact that most people didn't drop it.
After a long time he slept in his chair. The spring wind came in
through the opened window, and fluttered the leaves of the old
prayer-book on the stand.
The week that followed was an anxious one. David's physical
condition slowly improved. The slight thickness was gone from his
speech, and he sipped resignedly at the broths Lucy or the nurse
brought at regular intervals. Over the entire house there hung all
day the odor of stewing chicken or of beef tea in the making, and
above the doorbell was a white card which said: "Don't ring.
As it happened, no one in the old house had seen Maggie Donaldson's
confession in the newspaper. Lucy was saved that anxiety, at least.
Appearing, as it did, the morning after David's stroke, it came in
with the morning milk, lay about unnoticed, and passed out again,
to start a fire or line a pantry shelf. Harrison Miller, next door,
read it over his coffee. Walter Wheeler in the eight-thirty train
glanced at it and glanced away. Nina Ward read it in bed. And
that was all.
There came to the house a steady procession of inquirers and bearers
of small tribute, flowers and jellies mostly, but other things also.
A table in David's room held a steadily growing number of bedroom
slippers, and Mrs. Morgan had been seen buying soles for still
others. David, propped up in his bed, would cheer a little at these
votive offerings, and then relapse again into the heavy troubled
silence that worried Dick and frightened Lucy Crosby. Something had
happened, she was sure. Something connected with Dick. She watched
David when Dick was in the room, and she saw that his eyes followed
the younger man with something very like terror.
And for the first time since he had walked into the house that night
so long ago, followed by the tall young man for whose coming a
letter had prepared her, she felt that David had withdrawn himself
from her. She went about her daily tasks a little hurt, and waited
for him to choose his own time. But, as the days went on, she saw
that whatever this new thing might be, he meant to fight it out
alone, and that the fighting it out alone was bad for him. He
improved very slowly.
She wondered, sometimes, if it was after all because of Dick's
growing interest in Elizabeth Wheeler. She knew that he was seeing
her daily, although he was too busy now for more than a hasty call.
She felt that she could even tell when he had seen her; be would
come in, glowing and almost exalted, and, as if to make up for the
moments stolen from David, would leap up the stairs two at a time
and burst into the invalid's room like a cheerful cyclone. Wasn't
it possible that David had begun to feel as she did, that the girl
was entitled to a clean slate before she pledged herself to Dick?
And the slate - poor Dick! - could never be cleaned.
Then, one day, David astonished them both. He was propped up in
his bed, and he had demanded a cigar, and been very gently but
firmly refused. He had been rather sulky about it, and Dick had
been attempting to rally him into better humor when he said suddenly:
"I've had time to think things over, Dick. I haven't been fair to
you. You're thrown away here. Besides - " he hesitated. Then:
"We might as well face it. The day of the general practitioner
"I don't believe it," Dick said stoutly. "Maybe we are only
signposts to point the way to the other fellows, but the world will
always need signposts."
"What I've been thinking of," David pursued his own train of thought,
"is this: I want you to go to Johns Hopkins and take up the special
work you've been wanting to do. I'll be up soon and - "
"Call the nurse, Aunt Lucy," said Dick. "He's raving."
"Not at all," David retorted testily. "I've told you. This whole
town only comes here now to be told what specialist to go to, and
you know it."
"I don't know anything of the sort."
"If you don't, it's because you won't face the facts." Dick
chuckled, and threw an arm over David's shoulder, "You old
hypocrite!" he said. "You're trying to get rid of me, for some
reason. Don't tell me you're going to get married !"
But David did not smile. Lucy, watching him from her post by the
window, saw his face and felt a spasm of fear. At the most, she
had feared a mental conflict in David. Now she saw that it might
be something infinitely worse, something impending and immediate.
She could hardly reply when Dick appealed to her.
"Are you going to let him get rid of me like this, Aunt Lucy?" he
demanded. "Sentenced to Johns Hopkins, like Napoleon to St. Helena!
Are you with me, or forninst me?"
"I don't know, Dick," she said, with her eyes on David. "If it's
for your good - "
She went out after a time, leaving them at it hammer and tongs.
David was vanquished in the end, but Dick, going down to the office
later on, was puzzled. Somehow it was borne in on him that behind
David's insistence was a reason, unspoken but urgent, and the only
reason that occurred to him as possible was that David did not,
after all, want him to marry Elizabeth Wheeler. He put the matter
to the test that night, wandering in in dressing-gown and slippers,
as was his custom before going to bed, for a brief chat. The nurse
was downstairs, and Dick moved about the room restlessly. Then he
stopped and stood by the bed, looking down.
"A few nights ago, David, I asked you if you thought it would be
right for me to marry; if my situation justified it, and if to your
knowledge there was any other reason why I could not or should not.
You said there was not."
"There is no reason, of course. If she'll have you."
"I don't know that. I know that whether she will or not is a pretty
vital matter to me, David."
David nodded, silently.
"But now you want me to go away. To leave her. You're rather
urgent about it. And I feel-well I begin to think you have a reason
David clenched his hands under the bed-clothing, but he returned
Dick's gaze steadily.
"She's a good girl," he said. "But she's entitled to more than
you can give her, the way things are."
"That is presupposing that she cares for me. I haven't an idea
that she does. That she may, in time - Then, that's the reason
for this Johns Hopkins thing, is it?"
"That's the reason," David said stoutly. "She would wait for you.
She's that sort. I've known her all her life. She's as steady
as a rock. But she's been brought up to have a lot of things.
Walter Wheeler is well off. You do as I want you to; pack your
things and go to Baltimore. Bring Reynolds down here to look
after the work until I'm around again."
But Dick evaded the direct issue thus opened and followed another
line of thought.
"Of course you understand," he observed, after a renewal of his
restless pacing, "that I've got to tell her my situation first. I
don't need to tell you that I funk doing it, but it's got to be done."
"Don't be a fool," David said querulously. "You'll set a lot of
women cackling, and what they don't know they'll invent. I know
"Only herself and her family."
"Because they have a right to know it."
But when he saw David formulating a further protest he dropped the
"I'll not do it until we've gone into it together," he promised.
"There's plenty of time. You settle down now and get ready for
When the nurse came in at eleven o'clock she found Dick gone and
David, very still, with his face to the wall.
It was the end of May before David began to move about his upper
room. The trees along the shaded streets had burst into full leaf
by that time, and Mike was enjoying that gardener's interval of
paradise when flowers grow faster than the weeds among them.
Harrison Miller, having rolled his lawn through all of April, was
heard abroad in the early mornings with the lawn mower or hoe in
hand was to be seen behind his house in his vegetable patch.
Cars rolled through the streets, the rear seats laden with blossoming
loot from the country lanes, and the Wheeler dog was again burying
bones in the soft warm ground under the hedge.
Elizabeth Wheeler was very happy. Her look of expectant waiting,
once vague, had crystallized now into definite form. She was
waiting, timidly and shyly but with infinite content. In time,
everything would come. And in the meantime there was to-day, and
some time to-day a shabby car would stop at the door, and there
would be five minutes, or ten. And then Dick would have to hurry
to work, or back to David. After that, of course, to-day was over,
but there would always be to-morrow.
Now and then, at choir practice or at service, she saw Clare
Rossiter. But Clare was very cool to her, and never on any account
sought her, or spoke to her alone. She was rather unhappy about
Clare, when she remembered her. Because it must be so terrible to
care for a man who only said, when one spoke of Clare, "Oh, the tall
Once or twice, too, she had found Clare's eyes on her, and they
were hostile eyes. It was almost as though they said:
"I hate you because you know. But don't dare to pity me."
Yet, somehow, Elizabeth found herself not entirely believing that
Clare's passion was real. Because the real thing you hid with all
your might, at least until you were sure it was wanted. After that,
of course, you could be so proud of it that you might become utterly
shameless. She was afraid sometimes that she was the sort to be
utterly shameless. Yet, for all her halcyon hours, there were
little things that worried her. Wallie Sayre, for instance, always
having to be kept from saying things she didn't want to hear. And
Nina. She wasn't sure that Nina was entirely happy. And, of
course, there was Jim.
Jim was difficult. Sometimes he was a man, and then again he was
a boy, and one never knew just which he was going to be. He was
too old for discipline and too young to manage himself. He was
spending almost all his evenings away from home now, and her mother
always drew an inaudible sigh when he was spoken of.
Elizabeth had waited up for him one night, only a short time before,
and beckoning him into her room, had talked to him severely.
"You ought to be ashamed, Jim," she said. "You're simply worrying
"Well, why?" he demanded defiantly. "I'm old enough to take care
"You ought to be taking care of her, too."
He had looked rather crestfallen at that, and before he went out
he offered a half-sheepish explanation.
"I'd tell them where I go," he said, "but you'd think a pool room
was on the direct road to hell. Take to-night, now. I can't tell
them about it, but it was all right. I met Wallie Sayre and Leslie
at the club before dinner, and we got a fourth and played bridge.
Only half a cent a point. I swear we were going on playing, but
somebody brought in a chap named Gregory for a cocktail. He turned
out to be a brother of Beverly Carlysle, the actress, and he took
us around to the theater and gave us a box. Not a thing wrong with
it, was there?"
"Where did you go from there?" she persisted inexorably. "It's
half past one."
"Went around and met her. She's wonderful, Elizabeth. But do you
know what would happen if I told them? They'd have a fit."
She felt rather helpless, because she knew he was right from his
"I know. I'm surprised at Les, Jim."
"Oh, Les ! He just trailed along. He's all right."
She kissed him and he went out, leaving her to lie awake for a long
time. She would have had all her world happy those days, and all
her world good. She didn't want anybody's bread and butter spilled
on the carpet.
So the days went on, and the web slowly wove itself into its
complicated pattern: Bassett speeding West, and David in his quiet
room; Jim and Leslie Ward seeking amusement, and finding it in the
littered dressing-room of a woman star at a local theater; Clare
Rossiter brooding, and the little question being whispered behind
hands, figuratively, of course - the village was entirely well-bred;
Gregory calling round to see Bassett, and turning away with the
information that he had gone away for an indefinite time; and Maggie
Donaldson, lying in the cemetery at the foot of the mountains
outside Norada, having shriven her soul to the limit of her strength
so that she might face her Maker.
Out of all of them it was Clare Rossiter who made the first conscious
move of the shuttle; Clare, affronted and not a little malicious, but
perhaps still dramatizing herself, this time as the friend who feels
forced to carry bad tidings. Behind even that, however, was an
unconscious desire to see Dick again, and this time so to impress
herself on him that never again could he pass her in the street
On the day, then, that David first sat up in bed Clare went to the
house and took her place in the waiting-room. She was dressed with
extreme care, and she carried a parasol. With it, while she waited,
she drilled small nervous indentations in the old office carpet,
and formulated her line of action.
Nevertheless she found it hard to begin.
"I don't want to keep you, if you're busy," she said, avoiding his
eyes. "If you are in a hurry - "
"This is my business," he said patiently. And waited.
"I wonder if you are going to understand me, when I do begin?"
"You sound alarmingly ominous." He smiled at her, and she had a
moment of panic. "You don't look like a young lady with anything
eating at her damask cheek, or however it goes."
"Doctor Livingstone," she said suddenly, "people are saying something
about you that you ought to know."
He stared at her, amazed and incredulous.
"About me? What can they say? That's absurd."
"I felt you ought to know. Of course I don't believe it. Not for
a moment. But you know what this town is."
"I know it's a very good town," he said steadily. "However, let's
have it. I daresay it is not very serious."
She was uneasy enough by that time, and rather frightened when she
had finished. For he sat, quiet and rather pale, not looking at
her at all, but gazing fixedly at an old daguerreotype of David
that stood on his desk. One that Lucy had shown him one day and
which he had preempted; David at the age of eight, in a small black
velvet suit and with very thin legs.
"I thought you ought to know," she justified herself, nervously.
Dick got up.
"Yes," he said. "I ought to know, of course. Thank you."
When she had gone he went back and stood before the picture again.
>From Clare's first words he had had a stricken conviction that the
thing was true; that, as Mrs. Cook Morgan's visitor from Wyoming
had insisted, Henry Livingstone had never married, never had a son.
He stood and gazed at the picture. His world had collapsed about
him, but he was steady and very erect.
"David, David!" he thought. "Why did you do it? And what am I?
Characteristically his first thought after that was of David himself.
Whatever David had done, his motive had been right. He would have
to start with that. If David had built for him a false identity it
was because there was a necessity for it. Something shameful,
something he was to be taken away from. Wasn't it probable that
David had heard the gossip, and had then collapsed? Wasn't the fear
that he himself would hear it behind David's insistence that he go
His thoughts flew to Elizabeth. Everything was changed now, as to
Elizabeth. He would have to be very certain of that past of his
before he could tell her that he loved her, and he had a sense of
immediate helplessness. He could not go to David, as things were.
Probably he would have gone to Lucy at once, but the telephone rang.
He answered it, got his hat and bag and went out to the car. Years
with David had made automatic the subordination of self to the
demands of the practice.
At half past six Lucy heard him come in and go into his office.
When he did not immediately reappear and take his flying run up
the stairs to David's room, she stood outside the office door and
listened. She had a premonition of something wrong, something of
the truth, perhaps. Anyhow, she tapped at the door and opened it,
to find him sitting very quietly at his desk with his head in his
"Dick!" she exclaimed. "Is anything wrong?"
"I have a headache," he said. He looked at his watch and got up.
"I'll take a look at David, and then we'll have dinner. I didn't
know it was so late."
But when she had gone out he did not immediately move. He had been
going over again, painfully and carefully, the things that puzzled
him, that he had accepted before without dispute. David and Lucy's
reluctance to discuss his father; the long days in the cabin, with
David helping him to reconstruct his past; the spring, and that slow
progress which now he felt, somehow, had been an escape.
He ate very little dinner, and Lucy's sense of dread increased.
When, after the meal, she took refuge in her sitting-room on the
lower floor and picked up her knitting, it was with a conviction
that it was only a temporary reprieve. She did not know from what.
She heard him, some time later, coming down from David's room. But
he did not turn into his office. Instead, he came on to her door,
stood for a moment like a man undecided, then came in. She did not
look up, even when very gently he took her knitting from her and
laid it on the table.
"Aunt Lucy "
"Don't you think we'd better have a talk?"
"What about?" she asked, with her heart hammering.
"About me." He stood above her, and looked down, still with the
tenderness with which he always regarded her, but with resolution
in his very attitude. "First of all, I'll tell you something.
Then I'll ask you to tell me all you can."
She yearned over him as he told her, for all her terror. His voice,
for all its steadiness, was strained.
"I have felt for some time," he finished, "that you and David were
keeping something from me. I think, now, that this is what it was.
Of course, you realize that I shall have to know."
"Dick! Dick!" was all she could say.
"I was about," he went on, with his almost terrible steadiness, "to
ask a girl to take my name. I want to know if I have a name to
offer her. I have, you see, only two alternatives to believe about
myself. Either I am Henry Livingstone's illegitimate son, and in
that case I have no right to my name, or to offer it to any one, or
I am - "
He made a despairing gesture.
" - or I am some one else, some one who was smuggled out of the
mountains and given an identity that makes him a living lie."
Always she had known that this might come some time, but always
too she had seen David bearing the brunt of it. He should bear it.
It was not of her doing or of her approving. For years the danger
of discovery had hung over her like a cloud.
"Do you know which?" he persisted.
"Would you have the unbelievable cruelty not to tell me?"
She got up, a taut little figure with a dignity born of her fear
and of her love for him.
"I shall not betray David's confidence," she said. "Long ago I
warned him that this time would come. I was never in favor of
keeping you in ignorance. But it is David's problem, and I cannot
take the responsibility of telling you."
He knew her determination and her obstinate loyalty. But he was
"You know that if you don't tell me, I shall go to David?"
"If you go now you will kill him."
"It's as bad as that, is it?" he asked grimly. "Then there is
something shameful behind it, is there?"
"No, no, Dick. Not that. And I want you, always, to remember this.
What David did was out of love for you. He has made many sacrifices
for you. First he saved your life, and then he made you what you
are. And he has had a great pride in it. Don't destroy his work
Her voice broke and she turned to go out, her chin quivering, but
half way to the door he called to her.
"Aunt Lucy " he said gently.
She heard him behind her, felt his strong arms as he turned her
about. He drew her to him and stooping, kissed her cheek.
"You're right," he said. "Always right. I'll not worry him with it.
My word of honor. When the time comes he'll tell me, and until it
comes, I'll wait. And I love you both. Don't ever forget that."
He kissed her again and let her go.
But long after David had put down his prayer-book that night, and
after the nurse had rustled down the stairs to the night supper on
the dining-room table, Lucy lay awake and listened to Dick's slow
pacing of his bedroom floor.
He was very gentle with David from that time on, and tried to return
to his old light-hearted ways. On the day David was to have his
first broiled sweetbread he caught the nurse outside, borrowed her
cap and apron and carried in the tray himself.
"I hope your food is to your taste, Doctor David," he said, in a
high falsetto which set the nurse giggling in the hall. "I may not
be much of a nurse, but I can cook."
Even Lucy was deceived at times. He went his customary round, sent
out the monthly bills, opened and answered David's mail, bore the
double burden of David's work and his own ungrudgingly, but off
guard he was grave and abstracted. He began to look very thin, too,
and Lucy often heard him pacing the floor at night. She thought
that he seldom or never went to the Wheeler's.
And so passed the tenth day of David's illness, with the smile on
Elizabeth's face growing a trifle fixed as three days went by
without the shabby car rattling to the door; with "The Valley"
playing its second and final week before going into New York; and
with Leslie Ward unconsciously taking up the shuttle Clare had
dropped, and carrying the pattern one degree further toward
JUST how Leslie Ward had drifted into his innocuous affair with the
star of "The Valley" he was not certain himself. Innocuous it
certainly was. Afterwards, looking back, he was to wonder sometimes
if it had not been precisely for the purpose it served. But that
was long months after. Not until the pattern was completed and he
was able to recognize his own work in it.
The truth was that he was not too happy at home. Nina's smart
little house on the Ridgely Road had at first kept her busy. She
had spent unlimited time with decorators, had studied and rejected
innumerable water-color sketches of interiors, had haunted auction
rooms and bid recklessly on things she felt at the moment she could
not do without, later on to have to wheedle Leslie into
straightening her bank balance. Thought, too, and considerable
energy had gone into training and outfitting her servants, and still
more into inducing them to wear the expensive uniforms and livery
But what she made, so successfully, was a house rather than a home.
There were times, indeed, when Leslie began to feel that it was not
even a house, but a small hotel. They almost never dined alone,
and when they did Nina would explain that everybody was tied up.
Then, after dinner, restlessness would seize her, and she would want
to run in to the theater, or to make a call. If he refused, she
nursed a grievance all evening.
And he did not like her friends. Things came to a point where, when
he knew one of the gay evenings was on, he would stay in town,
playing billiards at his club, or occasionally wandering into a
theater, where he stood or sat at the back of the house and watched
the play with cynical, discontented eyes.
The casual meeting with Gregory and the introduction to his sister
brought a new interest. Perhaps the very novelty was what first
attracted him, the oddity of feeling that he was on terms of
friendship, for it amounted to that with surprising quickness,
with a famous woman, whose face smiled out at him from his morning
paper or, huge and shockingly colored, from the sheets on the bill
He formed the habit of calling on her in the afternoons at her hotel,
and he saw that she liked it. It was often lonely, she explained.
He sent her flowers and cigarettes, and he found her poised and
restful, and sometimes, when she was off guard, with the lines of
old suffering in her face.
She sat still. She didn't fidget, as Nina did. She listened, too.
She was not as beautiful as she appeared on the stage, but she was
attractive, and he stilled his conscience with the knowledge that
she placed no undue emphasis on his visits. In her world men came
and went, brought or sent small tribute, and she was pleased and
grateful. No more. The next week, or the week after, and other
men in other places would be doing the same things.
But he wondered about her, sometimes. Did she ever think of Judson
Clark, and the wreck he had made of her life? What of resentment
and sorrow lay behind her quiet face, or the voice with its careful
intonations which was so unlike Nina's?
Now and then he saw her brother. He neither liked nor disliked
Gregory, but he suspected him of rather bullying Beverly. On the
rare occasions when be saw them together there was a sort of nervous
tension in the air, and although Leslie was not subtle he sensed
some hidden difference between them. A small incident one day
almost brought this concealed dissension to a head. He said to
"By the way, I saw you in Haverly yesterday afternoon."
"Must have seen somebody else. Haverly? Where's Haverly?"
Leslie Ward had been rather annoyed. There had been no mistake
about the recognition. But he passed it off with that curious sense
of sex loyalty that will actuate a man even toward his enemies.
"Funny," he said. "Chap looked like you. Maybe a little heavier."
Nevertheless he had a conviction that he had said something better
left unsaid, and that Beverly Carlysle's glance at her brother was
almost hostile. He had that instantaneous picture of the two of
them, the man defiant and somehow frightened, and the woman's eyes
anxious and yet slightly contemptuous. Then, in a flash, it was
He had meant to go home that evening, would have, probably, for he
was not ignorant of where he was drifting. But when he went back
to the office Nina was on the wire, with the news that they were
to go with a party to a country inn.
"For chicken and waffles, Les," she said. "It will be oceans of
fun. And I've promised the cocktails."
"I'm tired," he replied, sulkily. "And why don't you let some of
the other fellows come over with the drinks? It seems to me I'm
always the goat."
"Oh, if that's the way you feel!" Nina said, and hung up the
He did not go home. He went to the theater and stood at the back,
with his sense of guilt deadened by the knowledge that Nina was
having what she would call a heavenly time. After all, it would
soon be over. He counted the days. "The Valley" had only four
more before it moved on.
He had already played his small part in the drama that involved
Dick Livingstone, but he was unaware of it. He went home that
night, to find Nina settled in bed and very sulky, and he retired
himself in no pleasant frame of mind. But he took a firmer hold
of himself that night before he slept. He didn't want a smash,
and yet they might be headed that way. He wouldn't see Beverly
He lived up to his resolve the next day, bought his flowers as
usual, but this time for Nina and took them with him. And went
home with the orchids which were really an offering to his own
But Nina was not at home. The butler reported that she was dining
at the Wheelers', and he thought the man eyed him with restrained
"Did she say I am expected there?" he asked.
"She ordered dinner for you here, sir."
Even for Nina that sounded odd. He took his coat and went out
again to the car; after a moment's hesitation he went back and
got the orchids.
Dick Livingstone's machine was at the curb before the Wheeler house,
and in the living-room he found Walter Wheeler, pacing the floor.
Mr. Wheeler glanced at him and looked away.
"Anybody sick?" Leslie asked, his feeling of apprehension growing.
"Nina is having hysterics upstairs," Mr. Wheeler said, and continued
"That's what I said," replied Mr. Wheeler, suddenly savage.
"You've made a nice mess of things, haven't you?"
Leslie placed the box of orchids on the table and drew off his
gloves. His mind was running over many possibilities.
"You'd better tell me about it, hadn't you?"
"Oh, I will. Don't worry. I've seen this coming for months. I'm
not taking her part. God knows I know her, and she has as much
idea of making a home as - as" - he looked about - "as that poker
has. But that's the worst you can say of her. As to you - "
Mr. Wheeler's anxiety was greater than his anger. He lowered his
"She got a bill to-day for two or three boxes of flowers, sent to
some actress." And when Leslie said nothing, "I'm not condoning it,
mind you. You'd no business to do it. But," he added fretfully,
"why the devil, if you've got to act the fool, don't you have your
bills sent to your office?"
"I suppose I don't need to tell you that's all there was to it?
Flowers, I mean."
"I'm taking that for granted. But she says she won't go back."
Leslie was aghast and frightened. Not at the threat; she would go
back, of course. But she would always hold it against him. She
cherished small grudges faithfully. And he knew she would never
understand, never see her own contribution to his mild defection,
nor comprehend the actual innocence of those afternoons of tea
There was no sound from upstairs. Mr. Wheeler got his hat and went
out, calling to the dog. Jim came in whistling, looked in and said:
"Hello, Les," and disappeared. He sat in the growing twilight and
cursed himself for a fool. After all, where had he been heading?
A man couldn't eat his cake and have it. But he was resentful, too;
he stressed rather hard his own innocence, and chose to ignore the
less innocent impulse that lay behind it.
After a half hour or so he heard some one descending and Dick
Livingstone appeared in the hall. He called to him, and Dick entered
the room. Before he sat down he lighted a cigarette and in the
flare of the match Leslie got an impression of fatigue and of
something new, of trouble. But his own anxieties obsessed him.
"She's told you about it, I suppose?"
"I was a fool, of course. But it was only a matter of a few
flowers and some afternoon calls. She's a fine woman, Livingstone,
and she is lonely. The women have given her a pretty cold deal
since the Clark story. They copy her clothes and her walk, but
they don't ask her into their homes."
"Isn't the trouble more fundamental than that, Ward? I was
thinking about it upstairs. Nina was pretty frank. She says you've
had your good time and want to settle down, and that she is young
and now is her only chance. Later on there may be children, you
know. She blames herself, too, but she has a fairly clear idea of
how it happened."
"Do you think she'll go back home?"
"She promised she would."
They sat smoking in silence. In the dining-room Annie was laying
the table for dinner, and a most untragic odor of new garden peas
began to steal along the hall. Dick suddenly stirred and threw away
"I was going to talk to you about something else," he said, "but
this is hardly the time. I'll get on home." He rose. "She'll be
all right. Only I'd advise very tactful handling and - the
fullest explanation you can make."
"What is it? I'd be glad to have something to keep my mind
occupied. It's eating itself up just now."
"It's a personal matter."
Ward glanced up at him quickly.
"Have you happened to hear a story that I believe is going round?
One that concerns me?"
"Well, I have," Leslie admitted. "I didn't pay much attention.
Nobody is taking it very seriously."
"That's not the point," Dick persisted. "I don't mind idle gossip.
I don't give a damn about it. It's the statement itself."
"I should say that you are the only person who knows anything
Dick made a restless, impatient gesture.
"I want to know one thing more," he said. "Nina told you, I suppose.
Does - I suppose Elizabeth knows it, too?"
"I rather think she does."
Dick turned abruptly and went out of the room, and a moment later
Leslie heard the front door slam. Elizabeth, standing at the head
of the stairs, heard it also, and turned away, with a new droop to
her usually valiant shoulders. Her world, too, had gone awry, that
safe world of protection and cheer and kindliness. First had come
Nina, white-lipped and shaken, and Elizabeth had had to face the
fact that there were such things as treachery and the queer hidden
things that men did, and that came to light and brought horrible
And that afternoon she had had to acknowledge that there was
something wrong with Dick. No. Between Dick and herself. There
was a formality in his speech to her, an aloofness that seemed to
ignore utterly their new intimacy. He was there, but he was miles
away from her. She tried hard to feel indignant, but she was only
Peace seemed definitely to have abandoned the Wheeler house. Then
late in the evening a measure of it was restored when Nina and Leslie
effected a reconciliation. It followed several bad hours when Nina
had locked her door against them all, but at ten o'clock she sent for
Leslie and faced him with desperate calmness.
To Elizabeth, putting cold cloths on her mother's head as she lay
on the bed, there came a growing conviction that the relation
between men and women was a complicated and baffling thing, and
that love and hate were sometimes close together.
Love, and habit perhaps, triumphed in Nina's case, however, for at
eleven o'clock they heard Leslie going down the stairs and later
on moving about the kitchen and pantry while whistling softly. The
servants had gone, and the air was filled with the odor of burning
bread. Some time later Mrs. Wheeler, waiting uneasily in the upper
hall, beheld her son-in-law coming up and carrying proudly a tray
on which was toast of an incredible blackness, and a pot which
smelled feebly of tea.
"The next time you're out of a cook just send for me," he said
Mrs. Wheeler, full and overflowing with indignation and the piece
of her mind she had meant to deliver, retired vanquished to her
Late that night when Nina had finally forgiven him and had settled
down for sleep, Leslie went downstairs for a cigar, to find Elizabeth
sitting there alone, a book on her knee, face down, and her eyes
wistful and with a question in them.
"Sitting and thinking, or just sitting?" he inquired.
"I was thinking."
"Air-castles, eh? Well, be sure you put the right man into them!"
He felt more or less a fool for having said that, for it was
extremely likely that Nina's family was feeling some doubt about
"What I mean is," he added hastily, "don't be a fool and take Wallie
Sayre. Take a man, while you're about it."
"I would, if I could do the taking."
"That's piffle, Elizabeth." He sat down on the arm of a chair and
looked at her. "Look here, what about this story the Rossiter
girl and a few others are handing around about Dick Livingstone?
You're not worrying about it, are you?"
"I don't believe it's true, and it wouldn't matter to me, anyhow."
"Good for you," he said heartily, and got up. "You'd better go to
bed, young lady. It's almost midnight."
But although she rose she made no further move to go.
"What I am worrying about is this, Leslie. He may hear it."
"He has heard it, honey."
He had expected her to look alarmed, but instead she showed relief.
"I'll tell you the truth, Les," she said. "I was worrying. I'm
terribly fond of him. It just came all at once, and I couldn't help
it. And I thought he liked me, too, that way." She stopped and
looked up at him to see if he understood, and he nodded gravely.
"Then to-day, when he came to see Nina, he avoided me. He - I was
waiting in the hall upstairs, and he just said a word or two and
went on down."
"Poor devil!" Leslie said. "You see, he's in an unpleasant
position, to say the least. But here's a thought to go to sleep
on. If you ask me, he's keeping out of your way, not because he
cares too little, but because he cares too much."
Long after a repentant and chastened Leslie had gone to sleep, his
arm over Nina's unconscious shoulder, Elizabeth stood wide-eyed on
the tiny balcony outside her room. From it in daylight she could
see the Livingstone house. Now it was invisible, but an upper
window was outlined in the light. Very shyly she kissed her finger
tips to it.
"Good-night, dear," she whispered.
Louis Bassett had left for Norada the day after David's sudden
illness, but ten days later found him only as far as Chicago, and
laid up in his hotel with a sprained knee. It was not until the
day Nina went back to the little house in the Ridgely Road, having
learned the first lesson of married life, that men must not only be
captured but also held, that he was able to resume his journey.
He had chafed wretchedly under the delay. It was true that
nothing in the way of a story had broken yet. The Tribune had
carried a photograph of the cabin where Clark had according to the
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