The Breaking Point
Mary Roberts Rinehart
Part 3 out of 8
Donaldson woman spent the winter following the murder, and there
were the usual reports that he had been seen recently in spots as
diverse as Seattle and New Orleans. But when the following Sunday
brought nothing further he surmised that the pack, having lost the
scent, had been called off.
He confirmed this before starting West by visiting some of the
offices of the leading papers and looking up old friends. The
Clark story was dead for the time. They had run a lot of pictures
of him, however, and some one might turn him up eventually, but a
scent was pretty cold in ten years. The place had changed, too.
Oil had been discovered five years ago, and the old settlers had,
a good many of them, cashed in and moved away. The town had grown
like all oil towns.
Bassett was fairly content. He took the night train out of Chicago
and spent the next day crossing Nebraska, fertile, rich and
interesting. On the afternoon of the second day he left the train
and took a branch line toward the mountains and Norada, and from
that time on he became an urbane, interested and generally
cigar-smoking interrogation point.
"Railroad been here long?" he asked the conductor.
"Norada must have been pretty isolated before that."
"Thirty miles in a coach or a Ford car."
"I was reading the other day," said Bassett, "about the Judson
Clark case. Have a cigar? Got time to sit down?"
"You a newspaper man?"
"Oil well supplies," said Bassett easily. "Well, in this article
it seemed some woman or other had made a confession. It sounded
fishy to me."
"Well, I'll tell you about that." The conductor sat down and bit
off the end of his cigar. "I knew the Donaldsons well, and Maggie
Donaldson was an honest woman. But I'll tell you how I explain the
thing. Donaldson died, and that left her pretty much alone. The
executors of the Clark estate kept her on the ranch, but when the
estate was settled three years ago she had to move. That broke her
all up. She's always said he wasn't dead. She kept the house just
as it was, and my wife says she had his clothes all ready and
"That rather sounds as though the story is true, doesn't it?"
"Not necessarily. It's my idea she got from hoping to moping, so
to speak. She went in to town regular for letters for ten years,
and the postmaster says she never got any. She was hurt in front
of the post office. The talk around here is that she's been off
her head for the last year or two."
"But they found the cabin."
"Sure they did," said the conductor equably. "The cabin was no
secret. It was an old fire station before they put the new one on
Goat Mountain. I spent a month in it myself, once, with a dude who
wanted to take pictures of bear. We found a bear, but it charged
the camera and I'd be running yet if I hadn't come to civilization."
When he had gone Bassett fell into deep thought. So Maggie
Donaldson had gone to the post office for ten years. He tried to
visualize those faithful, wearisome journeys, through spring mud
and winter snow, always futile and always hopeful. He did not for
a moment believe that she had "gone off her head." She had been
faithful to the end, as some women were, and in the end, too, as
had happened before, her faith had killed her.
And again he wondered at the curious ability of some men to secure
loyalty. They might go through life, tearing down ideals and
destroying illusions to the last, but always there was some
faithful hand to rebuild, some faithful soul to worship.
He was somewhat daunted at the size and bustling activity of Norada.
Its streets were paved and well-lighted, there were a park and a
public library, and the clerk at the Commercial Hotel asked him if
he wished a private bath! But the development was helpful in one
way. In the old Norada a newcomer might have been subjected to a
friendly but inquisitive interest. In this grown-up and
self-centered community a man might come and go unnoticed.
And he had other advantages. The pack, as he cynically thought of
them, would have started at the Clark ranch and the cabin. He would
get to them, of course, but he meant to start on the outside of the
circle and work in.
"Been here long?" he asked the clerk at the desk, after a leisurely
The clerk grinned.
"I came here two years ago. I never saw Jud Clark. To get to the
Clark place take the road north out of the town and keep straight
about eight miles. The road's good now. You fellows have worn it
"Must have written that down and learned it off," Bassett said
admiringly. "What the devil's the Clark place? And why should I
go there? Unless," he added, "they serve a decent meal."
"Sorry." The clerk looked at him sharply, was satisfied, and picked
up a pen. "You'll hear the story if you stay around here any time.
Anything I can do for you?"
"Yes. Fire the cook," Bassett said, and moved away.
He spent the evening in going over his notes and outlining a
campaign, and the next day he stumbled on a bit of luck. His
elderly chambermaid had lived in and around the town for years.
"Ever hear of any Livingstones in these parts?" he asked.
"Why, yes. There used to be a Livingstone ranch at Dry River," she
said, pausing with her carpet sweeper, and looking at him. "It
wasn't much of a place. Although you can't tell these days. I
sold sixty acres eight years ago for two thousand dollars, and the
folks that bought it are getting a thousand a day out of it."
She sighed. She had touched the hem of fortune's garment and passed
on; for some opportunity knocked but faintly, and for others it
burst open the door and forced its way in.
"I'd be a millionaire now if I'd held on," she said somberly. That
day Bassett engaged a car by the day, he to drive it himself and
return it in good condition, the garage to furnish tires.
"I'd just like to say one thing," the owner said, as he tried the
gears. "I don't know where you're going, and it's not exactly my
business. Here in the oil country, where they're cutting each
other's throats for new leases, we let a man alone. But if you've
any idea of taking that car by the back road to the old fire station
where Jud Clark's supposed to have spent the winter, I'll just say
this: we've had two stuck up there for a week, and the only way I
see to get them back is a cyclone."
"I'm going to Dry River," Bassett said shortly.
"Dry River's right, if you're looking for oil! Go easy on the
brakes, old man. We need 'em in our business."
Dry River was a small settlement away from the railroad. It
consisted of two intersecting unpaved streets, a dozen or so
houses, a closed and empty saloon and two general stores. He chose
one at random and found that the old Livingstone place had been
sold ten years ago, on the death of its owner, Henry Livingstone.
"His brother from the East inherited it," said the storekeeper.
"He came and sold out, lock, stock and barrel. Not that there was
much. A few cattle and horses, and the stuff in the ranch house,
which wasn't valuable. There were a lot of books, and the brother
gave them for a library, but we haven't any building. The railroad
isn't built this far yet, and unless we get oil here it won't be."
"The brother inherited it, eh? Do you know the brother's name?"
"David, I think. He was a doctor back East somewhere."
"Then this Henry Livingstone wasn't married? Or at least had no
"He wasn't married. He was a sort of hermit. He'd been dead two
days before any one knew it. My wife went out when they found him
and got him ready for the funeral. He was buried before the
brother got here." He glanced at Bassett shrewdly. "The place has
been prospected for oil, and there's a dry hole on the next ranch.
I tell my wife nature's like the railroad. It quit before it got
Bassett's last scruple had fled. The story was there, ready for
the gathering. So ready, indeed, that he was almost suspicious of
And that conviction, that things were coming too easy, persisted
through his interview with the storekeeper's wife, in the small
house behind the store. She was a talkative woman, eager to
discuss the one drama in a drab life, and she showed no curiosity
as to the reason for his question.
"Henry Livingstone !" she said. "Well, I should say so. I went
out right away when we got the word he was dead, and there I stayed
until it was all over. I guess I know as much about him as any one
around here does, for I had to go over his papers to find out who
his people were."
The papers, it seemed, had not been very interesting; canceled
checks and receipted bills, and a large bundle of letters, all of
them from a brother named David and a sister who signed herself Lucy.
There had been a sealed one, too, addressed to David Livingstone,
and to be opened after his death. She had had her husband wire
to "David" and he had come out, too late for the funeral.
"Do you remember when that was?"
"Let me see. Henry Livingstone died about a month before the murder
at the Clark ranch. We date most things around here from that time."
"How long did 'David' stay?" Bassett had tried to keep his tone
carefully conversational, but he saw that it was not necessary.
She was glad of a chance to talk.
"Well, I'd say about three or four weeks. He hadn't seen his brother
for years, and I guess there was no love lost. He sold everything
as quick as he could, and went back East." She glanced at the clock.
"My husband will be in soon for dinner. I'd be glad to have you stay
and take a meal with us."
The reporter thanked her and declined.
"It's an interesting story," he said. "I didn't tell your husband,
for I wasn't sure I was on the right trail. But the David and Lucy
business eliminates this man. There's a piece of property waiting
in the East for a Henry Livingstone who came to this state in the
80's, or for his heirs. You can say positively that this man was
"No. He didn't like women. Never had one on the place. Two ranch
hands that are still at the Wassons' and himself, that was all.
The Wassons are the folks who bought the ranch."
No housekeeper then, and no son born out of wedlock, so far as any
evidence went. All that glib lying in the doctor's office, all that
apparent openness and frankness, gone by the board! The man in the
cabin, reported by Maggie Donaldson, had been David Livingstone.
Somehow, some way, he had got Judson Clark out of the country and
spirited him East. Not that the how mattered just yet. The
essential fact was there, that David Livingstone had been in this
part of the country at the time Maggie Donaldson had been nursing
Judson Clark in the mountains.
Bassett sat back and chewed the end of his cigar thoughtfully. The
sheer boldness of the scheme which had saved Judson Clark compelled
his admiration, but the failure to cover the trail, the ease with
which he had picked it up, made him suspicious.
He rose and threw away his cigar.
"You say this David went East, when he had sold out the place. Do
you remember where he lived?"
"Some town in eastern Pennsylvania. I've forgotten the name."
"I've got to be sure I'm wrong, and then go ahead," he said, as he
got his hat. "I'll see those men at the ranch, I guess, and then
be on my way. How far is it?"
It was about ten miles, along a bad road which kept him too much
occupied for any connected thought. But his sense of exultation
persisted. He had found Judson Clark.
Dick's decision to cut himself off from Elizabeth was born of his
certainty that he could not see her and keep his head. He was
resolutely determined to keep his head, until he knew what he had
to offer her. But he was very unhappy. He worked sturdily all
day and slept at night out of sheer fatigue, only to rouse in the
early morning to a conviction of something wrong before he was
fully awake. Then would come the uncertainty and pain of full
consciousness, and he would lie with his arms under his head, gazing
unblinkingly at the ceiling and preparing to face another day.
There was no prospect of early relief, although David had not again
referred to his going away. David was very feeble. The look of him
sometimes sent an almost physical pain through Dick's heart. But
there were times when he roused to something like his old spirit,
shouted for tobacco, frowned over his diet tray, and fought Harrison
Miller when he came in to play cribbage in much his old tumultuous
Then, one afternoon late in May, when for four days Dick had not
seen Elizabeth, suddenly he found the decision as to their relation
taken out of his hands, and by Elizabeth herself.
He opened the door one afternoon to find her sitting alone in the
waiting-room, clearly very frightened and almost inarticulate. He
could not speak at all at first, and when he did his voice, to his
dismay, was distinctly husky.
"Is anything wrong?" he asked, in a tone which was fairly sepulchral.
"That's what I want to know, Dick."
Suddenly he found himself violently angry. Not at her, of course.
"Wrong?" he said, savagely. "Yes. Everything is wrong!"
Then he was angry! She went rather pale.
"What have I done, Dick?"
As suddenly as he had been fierce he was abject and ashamed.
"You?" he said. "What have you done? You're the only thing that's
right in a wrong world. You - "
He checked himself, put down his bag - he had just come in - and
closed the door into the hall. Then he stood at a safe distance
from her, and folded his arms in order to be able to keep his head
- which shows how strange the English language is.
"Elizabeth," he said gravely. "I've been a self-centered fool. I
stayed away because I've been in trouble. I'm still in trouble,
for that matter. But it hasn't anything to do with you. Not
"Don't you think it's possible that I know what it is?"
"You do know."
He was too absorbed to notice the new maturity in her face, the
brooding maternity born of a profound passion. To Elizabeth just
then he was not a man, her man, daily deciding matters of life and
death, but a worried boy, magnifying a trifle into importance.
"There is always gossip," she said, "and the only thing one can do
is to forget it at once. You ought to be too big for that sort of
"But - suppose it is true?"
"What difference would it make?"
He made a quick movement toward her.
"There may be more than that. I don't know, Elizabeth," he said,
his eyes on hers. "I have always thought - I can't go to David
He was moved to go on. To tell her of his lost youth, of that
strange trick by which his mind had shut off those hidden years.
But he could not. He had a perfectly human fear of being abnormal
in her eyes, precisely but greatly magnified the same instinct
which had made him inspect his new tie in daylight for fear it was
too brilliant. But greater than that was his new fear that
something neither happy nor right lay behind him under lock and key
in his memory.
"I want you to know this, Dick," she said. "That nothing, no gossip
or anything, can make any difference to me. And I've been terribly
hurt. We've been such friends. You - I've been lying awake at
That went to his heart first, and then to his head. This might be
all, all he was ever to have. This hour, and this precious and
tender child, so brave in her declaration, so simple and direct;
all his world in that imitation mahogany chair.
"You're all I've got," he said. "The one real thing in a world
that's going to smash. I think I love you more than God."
The same mood, of accepting what he had without question and of
refusing to look ahead, actuated him for the next few days. He was
He went about his work with his customary care and thoroughness,
for long practice had made it possible for him to go on as though
nothing had happened, to listen to querulous complaints and long
lists of symptoms, and to write without error those scrawled
prescriptions which were, so hopefully, to cure. Not that Dick
himself believed greatly in those empirical doses, but he considered
that the expectation of relief was half the battle. But that was
the mind of him, which went about clothed in flesh, of course, and
did its daily and nightly work, and put up a very fair imitation
of Doctor Richard Livingstone. But hidden away was a heart that
behaved in a highly unprofessional manner, and sang and dreamed,
and jumped at the sight of a certain small figure on the street,
and generally played hob with systole and diastole, and the vagus
and accelerator nerves. Which are all any doctor really knows about
the heart, until he falls in love.
He even began to wonder if he had read into the situation something
that was not there, and in this his consciousness of David's
essential rectitude helped him. David could not do a wrong thing,
or an unworthy one. He wished he were more like David.
The new humility extended to his love for Elizabeth. Sometimes, in
his room or shaving before the bathroom mirror, he wondered what
she could see in him to care about. He shaved twice a day now, and
his face was so sore that he had to put cream on it at night, to
his secret humiliation. When he was dressed in the morning he found
himself once or twice taking a final survey of the ensemble, and at
those times he wished very earnestly that he had some outstanding
quality of appearance that she might admire.
He refused to think. He was content for a time simply to feel, to
be supremely happy, to live each day as it came and not to look
ahead. And the old house seemed to brighten with him. Never had
Lucy's window boxes been so bright, or Minnie's bread so light; the
sun poured into David's sick room and turned the nurse so dazzling
white in her uniform that David declared he was suffering from
And David himself was improving rapidly. With the passage of each
day he felt more secure. The reporter from the Times-Republican
-if he were really on the trail of Dick he would have come to see
him, would have told him the story. No. That bridge was safely
crossed. And Dick was happy. David, lying in his bed, would listen
and smile faintly when Dick came whistling into the house or leaped
up the stairs two at a time; when he sang in his shower, or
tormented the nurse with high-spirited nonsense. The boy was very
happy. He would marry Elizabeth Wheeler, and things would be as
they should be; there would be the fullness of life, young voices
in the house, toys on the lawn. He himself would pass on, in the
fullness of time, but Dick -
On Decoration Day they got him out of bed, making a great ceremony
of it, and when he was settled by the window in his big chair with
a blanket over his knees, Dick came in with a great box. Unwrapping
it he disclosed a mass of paper and a small box, and within that
"What fol-de-rol is all this?" David demanded fiercely, with a
childish look of expectation in his eyes. "Give me that box.
Some more slippers, probably!"
He worked eagerly, and at last he came to the small core of the
mass. It was a cigar!
It was somewhat later, when the peace of good tobacco had relaxed
him into a sort of benignant drowsiness, and when Dick had started
for his late afternoon calls, that Lucy came into the room.
"Elizabeth Wheeler's downstairs," she said. "I told her you wanted
to see her. She's brought some chicken jelly, too."
She gathered up the tissue paper that surrounded him, and gave the
room a critical survey. She often felt that the nurse was not as
tidy as she might be. Then she went over to him and put a hand on
"I don't want to worry you, David. Not now. But if he's going to
marry her - "
"Well, why shouldn't he?" he demanded truculently. "A good woman
would be one more anchor to windward."
She found that she could not go on. David was always
incomprehensible to her when it came to Dick. Had been
incomprehensible from the first. But she could not proceed without
telling him that the village knew something, and what that
something was; that already she felt a change in the local attitude
toward Dick. He was, for one thing, not quite so busy as he had been.
She went out of the room, and sent Elizabeth to David.
In her love for Dick, Elizabeth now included everything that
pertained to him, his shabby coats, his rattling car, and his people.
She had an inarticulate desire for their endorsement, to be liked
by them and wanted by them. Not that there could be any words,
because both she and Dick were content just then with love, and
were holding it very secret between them.
"Well, well!" said David. "And here we are reversed and I'm the
patient and you're the doctor! And good medicine you are, my dear."
He looked her over with approval, and with speculation, too. She
was a small and fragile vessel on which to embark all the hopes
that, out of his own celibate and unfulfilled life, he had dreamed
for Dick. She was even more than that. If Lucy was right, from
now on she was a part of that experiment in a human soul which he
had begun with only a professional interest, but which had ended
by becoming a vital part of his own life.
She was a little shy with him, he saw; rather fluttered and nervous,
yet radiantly happy. The combination of these mixed emotions, plus
her best sick-room manner, made her slightly prim at first. But
soon she was telling him the small news of the village, although
David rather suspected her of listening for Dick's car all the while.
When she got up to go and held out her hand he kept it, between
both of his.
"I haven't been studying symptoms for all these years for nothing,
my dear," he said. "And it seems to me somebody is very happy."
"I am, Doctor David."
He patted her hand.
"Mind you," he said, "I don't know anything and I'm not asking any
questions. But if the Board of Trade, or the Chief of Police, had
come to me and said, 'Who is the best wife for - well, for a young
man who is an important part of this community?' I'd have said in
reply, 'Gentlemen, there is a Miss Elizabeth Wheeler who - '"
Suddenly she bent down and kissed him.
"Oh, do you think so?" she asked, breathlessly. "I love him so
much, Doctor David. And I feel so unworthy."
"So you are," he said. "So's he. So are all of us, when it comes
to a great love, child. That is, we are never quite what the other
fellow thinks we are. It's when we don't allow for what the
scientist folk call a margin of error that we come our croppers.
I wonder" - he watched her closely - "if you young people ever
allow for a margin of error?'
"I only know this," she said steadily. "I can't imagine ever
caring any less. I've never thought about myself very much, but I
do know that. You see, I think I've cared for a long time."
When she had gone he sat in his chair staring ahead of him and
thinking. Yes. She would stick. She had loyalty, loyalty and
patience and a rare humility. It was up to Dick then. And again
he faced the possibility of an opening door into the past, of
crowding memories, of confusion and despair and even actual danger.
And out of that, what?
Habit. That was all he had to depend on. The brain was a thing
of habits, like the body; right could be a habit, and so could
evil. As a man thought, so he was. For all of his childhood, and
for the last ten years, Dick's mental habits had been right; his
environment had been love, his teaching responsibility. Even if
the door opened, then, there was only the evil thinking of two or
three reckless years to combat, and the door might never open.
Happiness, Lauler had said, would keep it closed, and Dick was happy.
When at five o'clock the nurse came in with a thermometer he was
asleep in his chair, his mouth slightly open, and snoring valiantly.
Hearing Dick in the lower hall, she went to the head of the stairs,
her finger to her lips.
Dick nodded and went into the office. The afternoon mail was lying
there, and he began mechanically to open it. His thoughts were
Now that he had taken the step he had so firmly determined not to
take, certain things, such as Clare Rossiter's story, David's
uneasiness, his own doubts, no longer involved himself alone, nor
even Elizabeth and himself. They had become of vital importance
to her family.
There was no evading the issue. What had once been only his own
misfortune, mischance, whatever it was, had now become of vital
importance to an entire group of hitherto disinterested people. He
would have to put his situation clearly before them and let them
judge. And he would have to clarify that situation for them and
He had had a weak moment or two. He knew that some men, many men,
went to marriage with certain reticences, meaning to wipe the
slate clean and begin again. He had a man's understanding of
such concealments. But he did not for a moment compare his
situation with theirs, even when the temptation to seize his
happiness was strongest. No mere misconduct, but something hidden
and perhaps terrible lay behind David's strange new attitude.
Lay, too, behind the break in his memory which he tried to analyze
with professional detachment. The mind in such cases set up its
defensive machinery of forgetfulness, not against the trivial but
against the unbearable.
For the last day or two he had faced the fact that, not only must
he use every endeavor to revive his past, but that such revival
threatened with cruelty and finality to separate him from the
With an open and unread letter in his hand he stared about the
office. This place was his; he had fought for it, worked for it.
He had an almost physical sense of unseen hands reaching out to
drag him away from it; from David and Lucy, and from Elizabeth.
And of himself holding desperately to them all, and to the
believed commonplaceness of his surroundings.
He shook himself and began to read the letter.
"Dear Doctor: I have tried to see you, but understand you are
laid up. Burn this as soon as you've read it. Louis Bassett has
started for Norada, and I advise your getting the person we
discussed out of town as soon as possible. Bassett is up to
mischief. I'm not signing this fully, for obvious reasons. G."
The Sayre house stood on the hill behind the town, a long, rather
low white house on Italian lines. In summer, until the family
exodus to the Maine Coast, the brilliant canopy which extended out
over the terrace indicated, as Harrison Miller put it, that the
family was "in residence." Originally designed as a summer home,
Mrs. Sayre now used it the year round. There was nothing there,
as there was in the town house, to remind her of the bitter days
before her widowhood.
She was a short, heavy woman, of fine taste in her house and of no
taste whatever in her clothing.
"I never know," said Harrison Miller, "when I look up at the Sayre
place, whether I'm seeing Ann Sayre or an awning."
She was not a shrewd woman, nor a clever one, but she was kindly in
the main, tolerant and maternal. She liked young people, gave gay
little parties to which she wore her outlandish clothes of all
colors and all cuts, lavished gifts on the girls she liked, and
was anxious to see Wallie married to a good steady girl and settled
down. Between her son and herself was a quiet but undemonstrative
affection. She viewed him through eyes that had lost their illusion
about all men years ago, and she had no delusions about him. She
had no idea that she knew all that he did with his time, and no
desire to penetrate the veil of his private life.
"He spends a great deal of money," she said one day to her lawyer.
"I suppose in the usual ways. But he is not quite like his father.
He has real affections, which his father hadn't. If he marries the
right girl she can make him almost anything."
She had her first inkling that he was interested in Elizabeth
Wheeler one day when the head gardener reported that Mr. Wallace
had ordered certain roses cut and sent to the Wheeler house. She
was angry at first, for the roses were being saved for a dinner
party. Then she considered.
"Very well, Phelps," she said. "Do it. And I'll select a plant
also, to go to Mrs. Wheeler."
After all, why not the Wheeler girl? She had been carefully reared,
if the Wheeler house was rather awful in spots, and she was a gentle
little thing; very attractive, too, especially in church. And
certainly Wallie had been seeing a great deal of her.
She went to the greenhouses, and from there upstairs and into the
rooms that she had planned for Wallie and his bride, when the time
came. She was more content than she had been for a long time. She
was a lonely woman, isolated by her very grandeur from the
neighborliness she craved; when she wanted society she had to ask
for it, by invitation. Standing inside the door of the boudoir,
her thoughts already at work on draperies and furniture, she had a
vague dream of new young life stirring in the big house, of no more
lonely evenings, of the bustle and activity of a family again.
She wanted Wallie to settle down. She was tired of paying his
bills at his clubs and at various hotels, tired and weary of the
days he lay in bed all morning while his valet concocted various
things to enable him to pull himself together. He had been four
years sowing his wild oats, and now at twenty-five she felt he
should be through with them.
The south room could be the nursery.
On Decoration Day, as usual, she did her dutiful best by the
community, sent flowers to the cemetery and even stood through a
chilly hour there while services were read and taps sounded over
the graves of those who had died in three wars. She felt very
grateful that Wallie had come back safely, and that if only now he
would marry and settle down all would be well.
The service left her emotionally untouched. She was one of those
women who saw in war, politics, even religion, only their reaction
on herself and her affairs. She had taken the German deluge as a
personal affliction. And she stood only stoically enduring while
the village soprano sang "The Star Spangled Banner." By the end
of the service she had decided that Elizabeth Wheeler was the answer
to her problem.
Rather under pressure, Wallie lunched with her at the country club,
but she found him evasive and not particularly happy.
"You're twenty-five, you know," she said, toward the end of a
discussion. "By thirty you'll be too set in your habits, too hard
"I'm not going to marry for the sake of getting married, mother."
"Of course not. But you have a good bit of money. You'll have
much more when I'm gone. And money carries responsibility with it."
He glanced at her, looked away, rapped a fork on the table cloth.
"It takes two to make a marriage, mother."
He closed up after that, but she had learned what she wanted.
At three o'clock that afternoon the Sayre limousine stopped in front
of Nina's house, and Mrs. Sayre, in brilliant pink and a purple hat,
got out. Leslie, lounging in a window, made the announcement.
"Here's the Queen of Sheba," he said. "I'll go upstairs and have a
headache, if you don't mind."
He kissed Nina and departed hastily. He was feeling extremely
gentle toward Nina those days and rather smugly virtuous. He
considered that his conscience had brought him back and not a very
bad fright, which was the fact, and he fairly exuded righteousness.
It was the great lady's first call, and Nina was considerably
uplifted. It was for such moments as this one trained servants
and put Irish lace on their aprons, and had decorators who stood
off with their heads a little awry and devised backgrounds for
"What a delightful room !" said Mrs. Sayre. "And how do you keep
a maid as trim as that?"
"I must have service," Nina replied. "The butler's marching in a
parade or something. How nice of you to come and see our little
place. It's a band-box, of course."
Mrs. Sayre sat down, a gross disharmony in the room, but a solid
and not unkindly woman for all that.
"My dear," she said, "I am not paying a call. Or not only that. I
came to talk to you about something. About Wallace and your sister."
Nina was gratified and not a little triumphant.
"I see," she said. "Do you mean that they are fond of one another?"
"Wallace is. Of course, this talk is between ourselves, but - I'm
going to be frank, Nina. I want Wallie to marry, and I want him to
marry soon. You and I know that the life of an unattached man about
town is full of temptations. I want him to settle down. I'm lonely,
too, but that's not so important."
"I don't know about Elizabeth. She's fond of Wallie, as who isn't?
But lately - "
"Well, for the last few days I have been wondering. She doesn't
talk, you know. But she has been seeing something of Dick
"Doctor Livingstone! She'd be throwing herself away!"
"Yes, but she's like that. I mean, she isn't ambitious. We've
always expected her to throw herself away; at least I have."
A half hour later Leslie, upstairs, leaned over the railing to see
if there were any indications of departure. The door was open, and
Mrs. Sayre evidently about to take her leave. She was saying:
"It's very close to my heart, Nina dear, and I know you will be
tactful. I haven't stressed the material advantages, but you might
point them out to her."
A few moments later Leslie came downstairs. Nina was sitting alone,
thinking, with a not entire1y pleasant look of calculation on her face.
"Well?" he said. "What were you two plotting?"
"Plotting? Nothing, of course."
He looked down at her. "Now see here, old girl," he said, "you
keep your hands off Elizabeth's affairs. If I know anything she's
making a damn good choice, and don't you forget it."
Dick stood with the letter in his hand, staring at it. Who was
Bassett? Who was "G"? What had the departure of whoever Bassett
might be for Norada to do with David? And who was the person who
was to be got out of town?
He did not go upstairs. He took the letter into his private office,
closed the door, and sitting down at his desk turned his reading
lamp on it, as though that physical act might bring some mental light.
Reread, the cryptic sentences began to take on meaning. An unknown
named Bassett, whoever he might be, was going to Norada bent on
"mischief," and another unknown who signed himself "G" was warning
David of that fact. But the mischief was designed, not against
David, but against a third unknown, some one who was to be got out
David had been trying to get him out of town. - The warning referred
His first impulse was to go to David, and months later he was to
wonder what would have happened had he done so. How far could
Bassett have gone? What would have been his own decision when he
learned the truth?
For a little while, then, the shuttle was in Dick's own hand. He
went up to David's room, and with his hand on the letter in his
pocket, carried on behind his casual talk the debate that was so
vital. But David had a headache and a slightly faster pulse, and
that portion of the pattern was never woven.
The association between anxiety and David's illness had always been
apparent in Dick's mind, but now he began to surmise a concrete
shock, a person, a telegram, or a telephone call. And after dinner
that night he went back to the kitchen.
"Minnie," he inquired, "do you remember the afternoon Doctor David
was taken sick?"
"I'll never forget it."
"Did he receive a telegram that day?"
"Not that I know of. He often answers the bell himself."
"Do you know whether he had a visitor, just before you heard him
"He had a patient, yes. A man."
"Who was it?"
"I don't know. He was a stranger to me."
"Do you remember what he looked like?"
"He was a smallish man, maybe thirty-five or so," she said. "I think
he had gaiters over his shoes, or maybe light tops. He was a nice
"How soon after that did you hear Doctor David fall?"
"Right away. First the door slammed, and then he dropped."
Poor old David! Dick had not the slightest doubt now that David had
received some unfortunate news, and that up there in his bedroom
ever since, alone and helpless, he had been struggling with some
secret dread he could not share with any one. Not even with Lucy,
Nevertheless, Dick made a try with Lucy that evening.
"Aunt Lucy," he said, "do you know of anything that could have
caused David's collapse?"
"What sort of thing?" she asked guardedly.
"A letter, we'll say, or a visitor?"
When he saw that she was only puzzled and thinking back, he knew
she could not help him.
"Never mind," he said. "I was feeling about for some cause.
He was satisfied that Lucy knew no more than he did of David's
visitor, and that David had kept his own counsel ever since. But
the sense of impending disaster that had come with the letter did
not leave him. He went through his evening office hours almost
mechanically, with a part of his mind busy on the puzzle. How did
it affect the course of action he had marked out? Wasn't it even
more necessary than ever now to go to Walter Wheeler and tell him
how things stood? He hated mystery. He liked to walk in the
middle of the road in the sunlight. But even stronger than that
was a growing feeling that he needed a sane and normal judgment on
his situation; a fresh viewpoint and some unprejudiced advice.
He visited David before he left, and he was very gentle with him.
In view of this new development he saw David from a different angle,
facing and dreading something imminent, and it came to him with a
shock that he might have to clear things up to save David. The
burden, whatever it was, was breaking him.
He had telephoned, and Mr. Wheeler was waiting for him. Walter
Wheeler thought he knew what was coming, and he had well in mind
what he was going to say. He had thought it over, pacing the floor
alone, with the dog at his heels. He would say:
"I like and respect you, Livingstone. If you're worrying about what
these damned gossips say, let's call it a day and forget it. I
know a man when I see one, and if it's all right with Elizabeth
it's all right with me."
Things, however, did not turn out just that way. Dick came in,
grave and clearly preoccupied, and the first thing he said was:
"I have a story to tell you, Mr. Wheeler. After you've heard it,
and given me your opinion on it, I'll come to a matter that - well,
that I can't talk about now."
"If it's the silly talk that I daresay you've heard - "
"No. I don't give a damn for talk. But there is something else.
Something I haven't told Elizabeth, and that I'll have to tell you."
Walter Wheeler drew himself up rather stiffly. Leslie's defection
was still in his mind.
"Don't tell me you're tangled up with another woman."
"No. At least I think not. I don't know."
It is doubtful if Walter Wheeler grasped many of the technicalities
that followed. Dick talked and he listened, nodding now and then,
and endeavoring very hard to get the gist of the matter. It seemed
to him curious rather than serious. Certainly the mind was a
strange thing. He must read up on it. Now and then he stopped
Dick with a question, and Dick would break in on his narrative to
reply. Thus, once:
"You've said nothing to Elizabeth at all? About the walling off,
as you call it?"
"No. At first I was simply ashamed of it. I didn't want her to
get the idea that I wasn't normal."
"Now, as I tell you, I begin to think - I've told you that this
walling off is an unconscious desire to forget something too
painful to remember. It's practically always that. I can't go to
her with just that, can I? I've got to know first what it is."
"I'd begun to think there was an understanding between you.
Dick faced him squarely.
"There is. I didn't intend it. In fact, I was trying to keep away
from her. I didn't mean to speak to her until I'd cleared things
up. But it happened anyhow; I suppose the way those things always
It was Walter Wheeler's own decision, finally, that he go to
Norada with Dick as soon as David could be safely left. It was the
letter which influenced him. Up to that he had viewed the
situation with a certain detachment; now he saw that it threatened
the peace of two households.
"It's a warning, all right."
"You don't recognize the name Bassett?"
"No. I've tried, of course."
The result of some indecision was finally that Elizabeth should not
be told anything until they were ready to tell it all. And in the
end a certain resentment that she had become involved in an unhappy
situation died in Walter Wheeler before Dick's white face and
At ten o'clock the house-door opened and closed, and Walter
Wheeler got up and went out into the hall.
"Go on upstairs, Margaret," he said to his wife. "I've got a
visitor." He did not look at Elizabeth. "You settle down and be
comfortable," he added, "and I'll be up before long. Where's Jim?"
"I don't know. He didn't go to Nina's."
"He started with you, didn't he "
"Yes. But he left us at the corner."
They exchanged glances. Jim had been worrying them lately. Strange
how a man could go along for years, his only worries those of
business, his track a single one through comfortable fields where
he reaped only what he sowed. And then his family grew up, and
involved him without warning in new perplexities and new troubles.
Nina first, then Jim, and now this strange story which so inevitably
He put his arm around his wife and held her to him.
"Don't worry about Jim, mother," he said. "He's all right
fundamentally. He's going through the bad time between being a boy
and being a man. He's a good boy."
He watched her moving up the stairs, his eyes tender and solicitous.
To him she was just "mother." He had never thought of another woman
in all their twenty-four years together.
Elizabeth waited near him, her eyes on his face.
"Is it Dick?" she asked in a low tone.
"You don't mind, daddy, do you?"
"I only want you to be happy," he said rather hoarsely. "You know
that, don't you?"
She nodded, and turned up her face to be kissed. He knew that she
had no doubt whatever that this interview was to seal her to Dick
Livingstone for ever and ever. She fairly radiated happiness and
confidence. He left her standing there going back to the
living-room closed the door.
Louis Bassett, when he started to the old Livingstone ranch, now
the Wasson place, was carefully turning over in his mind David's
participation in the escape of Judson Clark. Certain phases of it
were quite clear, provided one accepted the fact that, following a
heavy snowfall, an Easterner and a tenderfoot had gone into the
mountains alone, under conditions which had caused the posse after
Judson Clark to turn back and give him up for dead.
Had Donaldson sent him there, knowing he was a medical man? If he
had, would Maggie Donaldson not have said so? She had said "a man
outside that she had at first thought was a member of the searching
party." Evidently, then, Donaldson had not prepared her to expect
Take the other angle. Say David Livingstone had not been sent for.
Say he knew nothing of the cabin or its occupants until he stumbled
on them. He had sold the ranch, distributed his brother's books,
and apparently the townspeople at Dry River believed that he had
gone back home. Then what had taken him, clearly alone and having
certainly given the impression of a departure for the East, into
the mountains? To hunt? To hunt what, that he went about it
secretly and alone?
Bassett was inclined to the Donaldson theory, finally. John
Donaldson would have been wanting a doctor, and not wanting one
from Norada. He might have heard of this Eastern medical man at
Dry River, have gone to him with his story, even have taken him
part of the way. The situation was one that would have a certain
appeal. It was possible, anyhow:
But instead of clarifying the situation Bassett's visit at the
Wasson place brought forward new elements which fitted neither of
the hypotheses in his mind.
To Wasson himself, whom he met on horseback on the road into the
ranch, he gave the same explanation he had given to the store-keeper's
wife. Wasson was a tall man in chaps and a Stetson, and he was
"Bill and Jake are still here," he said. "They're probably in for
dinner now, and I'll see you get a chance to talk to them. I took
them over with the ranch. Property, you say? Well, I hope it's
better land than he had here."
He turned his horse and rode beside the car to the house.
"Comes a little late to do Henry Livingstone much good," he said.
"He's been lying in the Dry River graveyard for about ten years.
Not much mourned either. He was about as close-mouthed and
uncompanionable as they make them."
The description Wasson had applied to Henry Livingstone, Bassett
himself applied to the two ranch hands later on, during their
interview. It could hardly have been called an interview at all,
indeed, and after a time Bassett realized that behind their
taciturnity was suspicion. They were watching him, undoubtedly;
he rather thought, when he looked away, that once or twice they
exchanged glances. He was certain, too, that Wasson himself was
"Speak up, Jake," he said once, irritably. "This gentleman has
come a long way. It's a matter of some property."
"What sort of property?" Jake demanded. Jake was the spokesman of
"That's not important," Bassett observed, easily. "What we want to
know is if Henry Livingstone had any family."
"He had a brother."
"No one else?"
"Then it's up to me to trail the brother," Bassett observed.
"Either of you remember where he lived?"
"Somewhere in the East."
"That's a trifle vague," he commented good-humoredly. "Didn't you
boys ever mail any letters for him?"
He was certain again that they exchanged glances, but they
continued to present an unbroken front of ignorance. Wasson was
divided between irritation and amusement.
"What'd I tell you?" he asked. "Like master like man. I've been
here ten years, and I've never got a word about the Livingstones
out of either of them."
"I'm a patient man." Bassett grinned. "I suppose you'll admit that
one of you drove David Livingstone to the train, and that you had a
fair idea then of where he was going?"
He looked directly at Jake, but Jake's face was a solid mask. He
made no reply whatever.
>From that moment on Bassett was certain that David had not been
driven away from the ranch at all. What he did not know, and was
in no way to find out, was whether the two ranch hands knew that
he had gone into the mountains, or why. He surmised back of their
taciturnity a small mystery of their own, and perhaps a fear.
Possibly David's going was as much a puzzle to them as to him.
Conceivably, during the hours together on the range, or during the
winter snows, for ten years they had wrangled and argued over a
disappearance as mysterious in its way as Judson Clark's.
He gave up at last, having learned certain unimportant facts: that
the recluse had led a lonely life; that he had never tried to make
the place more than carry itself; that he was a student, and that
he had no other peculiarities.
"Did he ever say anything that would lead you to believe that he had
any family, outside of his brother and sister? That is, any direct
heir?" Bassett asked.
"He never talked about himself," said Jake. "If that's all, Mr.
Wasson, I've got a steer bogged down in the north pasture and I'll
On the Wassons' invitation he remained to lunch, and when the ranch
owner excused himself and rode away after the meal he sat for some
time on the verandah, with Mrs. Wasson sewing and his own eyes fixed
speculatively on the mountain range, close, bleak and mysterious.
"Strange thing," he commented. "Here's a man, a book-lover and
student, who comes out here, not to make living and be a useful
member of the community, but apparently to bury himself alive.
I wonder, why."
"A great many come out here to get away from something, Mr. Bassett."
"Yes, to start again. But this man never started again. He
apparently just quit."
Mrs. Wasson put down her sewing and looked at him thoughtfully.
"Did the boys tell you anything about the young man who visited
Henry Livingstone now and then?"
"No. They were not very communicative."
"I suppose they wouldn't tell. Yet I don't see, unless - " She
stopped, lost in some field of speculation where he could not follow
her. "You know, we haven't much excitement here, and when this boy
was first seen around the place - he was here mostly in the summer
- we decided that he was a relative. I don't know why we considered
him mysterious, unless it was because he was hardly ever seen. I
don't even know that that was deliberate. For that matter Mr.
Livingstone wasn't much more than a name to us."
"You mean, a son?"
"Nobody knew. He was here only now and then."
Bassett moved in his chair and looked at her.
"How old do you suppose this boy was?" he asked.
"He was here at different times. When Mr. Livingstone died I
suppose he was in his twenties. The thing that makes it seem odd
to me is that the men didn't mention him to you."
"I didn't ask about him, of course."
She went on with her sewing, apparently intending to drop the
matter; but the reporter felt that now and then she was subjecting
him to a sharp scrutiny, and that, in some shrewd woman-fashion,
she was trying to place him.
"You said it was a matter of some property?"
"But it's rather late, isn't it? Ten years?"
"That's what makes it difficult."
There was another silence, during which she evidently made her
"I have never said this before, except to Mr. Wasson. But I believe
he was here when Henry Livingstone died."
Her tone was mysterious, and Bassett stared at her.
"You don't think Livingstone was murdered!"
"No. He died of heart failure. There was an autopsy. But he had
a bad cut on his head. Of course, he may have fallen - Bill and
Jake were away. They'd driven some cattle out on the range. It
was two days before he was found, and it would have been longer if
Mr. Wasson hadn't ridden out to talk to him about buying. He found
him dead in his bed, but there was blood on the floor in the next
room. I washed it up myself."
"Of course," she added, when Bassett maintained a puzzled silence,
"I may be all wrong. He might have fallen in the next room and
dragged himself to bed. But he was very neatly covered up."
"It's your idea, then, that this boy put him into the bed?"
"I don't know. He wasn't seen about the place. He's never been
here since. But the posse found a horse with the Livingstone
brand, saddled, dead in Dry River Canyon when it was looking for
Judson Clark. Of course, that was a month later. The men here,
Bill and Jake, claimed it had wandered off, but I've often wondered."
After a time Bassett got up and took his leave. He was confused
and irritated. Here, whether creditably or not, was Dick
Livingstone accounted for. There was a story there, probably, but
not the story he was after. This unknown had been at the ranch
when Henry Livingstone died, had perhaps been indirectly responsible
for his death. He had, witness the horse, fled after the thing
happened. Later on, then, David Livingstone had taken him into his
family. That was all.
Except for that identification of Gregory's, and for the photograph
of Judson Clark.... For a moment he wondered if the two, Jud Clark
and the unknown, could be the same. But Dry River would have known
Clark. That couldn't be.
He almost ditched the car on his way back to Norada, so deeply was
he engrossed in thought.
On the seventh of June David and Lucy went to the seashore, went
by the order of various professional gentlemen who had differed
violently during the course of David's illness, but who now suddenly
agreed with an almost startling unanimity. Which unanimity was the
result of careful coaching by Dick.
He saw in David's absence his only possible chance to go back to
Norada without worry to the sick man, and he felt, too, that a
change, getting away from the surcharged atmosphere of the old
house, would be good for both David and Lucy.
For days before they started Lucy went about in a frenzy of nervous
energy, writing out menus for Minnie for a month ahead, counting
and recounting David's collars and handkerchiefs, cleaning and
pressing his neckties. In the harness room in the stable Mike
polished boots until his arms ached, and at the last moment with
trunks already bulging, came three gift dressing-gowns for David,
none of which he would leave behind.
"I declare," Lucy protested to Dick, "I don't know what's come over
him. Every present he's had since he was sick he's taking along.
You'd think he was going to be shut up on a desert island."
But Dick thought he understood. In David's life his friends had
had to take the place of wife and children; he clung to them now,
in his age and weakness, and Dick knew that he had a sense of
deserting them, of abandoning them after many faithful years.
So David carried with him the calendars and slippers, dressing-gowns
and bed-socks which were at once the tangible evidence of their
friendliness and Lucy's despair.
Watching him, Dick was certain nothing further had come to
threaten his recovery. Dick carefully inspected the mail, but no
suspicious letter had arrived, and as the days went on David's peace
seemed finally re-established. He made no more references to Johns
Hopkins, slept like a child, and railed almost pettishly at his
"When we get away from Dick, Lucy," he would say, "we'll have beef
again, and roast pork and sausage."
Lucy would smile absently and shake her head.
"You'll stick to your diet, David," she would say. "David, it's
the strangest thing about your winter underwear. I'm sure you had
five suits, and now there are only three."
Or it was socks she missed, or night-clothing. And David, inwardly
chuckling, would wonder with her, knowing all the while that they
had clothed some needy body.
On the night before the departure David went out for his first short
walk alone, and brought Elizabeth back with him.
"I found a rose walking up the street, Lucy," he bellowed up the
stairs, "and I brought it home for the dinner table."
Lucy came down, flushed from her final effort over the trunks, but
"It's fish night, Elizabeth," she said. "You know Minnie's a
Catholic, so we always have fish on Friday. I hope you eat it."
She put her hand on Elizabeth's arm and gently patted it, and thus
was Elizabeth taken into the old brick house as one of its own.
Elizabeth was finding this period of her tacit engagement rather
puzzling. Her people puzzled her. Even Dick did, at times. And
nobody seemed anxious to make plans for the future, or even to
discuss the wedding. She was a little hurt about that, remembering
the excitement over Nina's.
But what chiefly bewildered her was the seeming necessity for
secrecy. Even Nina had not been told, nor Jim. She did not resent
that, although it bewildered her. Her own inclination was to shout
it from the house-tops. Her father had simply said: "I've told your
mother, honey, and we'd better let it go at that, for a while.
There's no hurry. And I don't want to lose you yet."
But there were other things. Dick himself varied. He was always
gentle and very tender, but there were times when he seemed to
hold himself away from her, would seem aloof and remote, but all
the time watching her almost fiercely. But after that, as though
he had tried an experiment in separation and failed with it, he
would catch her to him savagely and hold her there. She tried,
very meekly, to meet his mood; was submissive to his passion and
acquiescent to those intervals when he withdrew himself and sat or
stood near her, not touching her but watching her intently.
She thought men in love were very queer and quite incomprehensible.
Because he varied in other ways, too. He was boyish and gay
sometimes, and again silent and almost brooding. She thought at
those times that perhaps he was tired, what with David's work and
his own, and sometimes she wondered if he were still worrying about
that silly story. But once or twice, after he had gone, she went
upstairs and looked carefully into her mirror. Perhaps she had not
looked her best that day. Girl-like, she set great value on looks
in love. She wanted frightfully to be beautiful to him. She wished
she could look like Beverly Carlysle, for instance.
Two days before David and Lucy's departure he had brought her her
engagement ring, a square-cut diamond set in platinum. He kissed
it first and then her finger, and slipped it into place. It became
a rite, done as he did it, and she had a sense of something done that
could never be undone. When she looked up at him he was very pale.
"Forsaking all others, so long as we both shall live," he said,
"So long as we both shall live," she repeated.
However she had to take it off later, for Mrs. Wheeler, it developed,
had very pronounced ideas of engagement rings. They were put on the
day the notices were sent to the newspapers, and not before. So
Elizabeth wore her ring around her neck on a white ribbon, inside
her camisole, until such time as her father would consent to announce
that he was about to lose her.
Thus Elizabeth found her engagement full of unexpected turns and
twists, and nothing precisely as she had expected. But she accepted
things as they came, being of the type around which the dramas of
life are enacted, while remaining totally undramatic herself. She
lived her quiet days, worried about Jim on occasion, hemmed table
napkins for her linen chest, and slept at night with her ring on
her finger and a sense of being wrapped in protecting love that was
no longer limited to the white Wheeler house, but now extended two
blocks away and around the corner to a shabby old brick building
in a more or less shabby yard.
They were very gay in the old brick house that night before the
departure, very noisy over the fish and David's broiled lamb chop.
Dick demanded a bottle of Lucy's home-made wine, and even David
got a little of it. They toasted the seashore, and the departed
nurse, and David quoted Robert Burns at some length and in a horrible
Scotch accent. Then Dick had a trick by which one read the date on
one of three pennies while he was not looking, and he could tell
without failing which one it was. It was most mysterious. And
after dinner Dick took her into his laboratory, and while she
squinted one eye and looked into the finder of his microscope he
kissed the white nape of her neck.
When they left the laboratory there were patients in the
waiting-room, but he held her in his arms in the office for a
moment or two, very quietly, and because the door was thin they made
a sort of game of it, and pretended she was a patient.
"How did you sleep last night?" he said, in a highly professional
and very distinct voice. Then he kissed her.
"Very badly, doctor," she said, also very clearly, and whispered,
"I lay awake and thought about you, dear."
"I'd better give you this sleeping powder." Oh, frightfully
professional, but the powder turned out to be another kiss. It
was a wonderful game.
When she slipped out into the hall she had to stop and smooth her
hair, before she went to Lucy's tidy sitting-room.
It was Jim Wheeler's turn to take up the shuttle. A girl met in
some casual fashion; his own youth and the urge of it, perhaps the
unconscious family indulgence of an only son - and Jim wove his
bit and passed on.
There had been mild contention in the Wheeler family during all the
spring. Looking out from his quiet windows Walter Wheeler saw the
young world going by a-wheel, and going fast. Much that legitimately
belonged to it, and much that did not in the laxness of the new code,
he laid to the automobile. And doggedly he refused to buy one.
"We can always get a taxicab," was his imperturbable answer to Jim.
"I pay pretty good-sized taxi bills without unpleasant discussion.
I know you pretty well too, Jim. Better than you know yourself.
And if you had a car, you'd try your best to break your neck in it."
Now and then Jim got a car, however. Sometimes he rented one,
sometimes he cajoled Nina into lending him hers.
"A fellow looks a fool without one," he would say to her. "Girls
expect to be taken out. It's part of the game."
And Nina, always reached by that argument of how things looked, now
and then reluctantly acquiesced. But a night or two after David
and Lucy had started for the seashore Nina came in like a whirlwind,
and routed the family peace immediately.
"Father," she said, "you just must speak to Jim. He's taken our
car twice at night without asking for it, and last night he broke
a spring. Les is simply crazy."
"Taken your car!" Mrs. Wheeler exclaimed.
"Yes. I hate telling on him, but I spoke to him after the first
time, and he did it anyhow."
Mrs. Wheeler glanced at her husband uneasily. She often felt he
was too severe with Jim.
"Don't worry," he said grimly. "He'll not do it again."
"If we only had a car of our own " Mrs. Wheeler protested.
"You know what I think about that, mother. I'm not going to have
him joy-riding over the country, breaking his neck and getting into
trouble. I've seen him driving Wallace Sayre's car, and he drives
like a fool or a madman."
It was an old dispute and a bitter one. Mr. Wheeler got up,
whistled for the dog, and went out. His wife turned on Nina.
"I wish you wouldn't bring these things to your father, Nina," she
said. "He's been very nervous lately, and he isn't always fair to
"Well, it's time Jim was fair to Leslie," Nina said, with family
frankness. "I'll tell you something, mother. Jim has a girl
somewhere, in town probably. He takes her driving. I found a glove
in the car. And he must be crazy about her, or he'd never do what
"Do you know who it is?"
"No. Somebody's he's ashamed of, probably, or he wouldn't be so
clandestine about it."
"Well, it looks like it. Jim's a man, mother. He's not a little
boy. He'll go through his shady period, like the rest."
That night it was Mrs. Wheeler's turn to lie awake. Again and again
she went over Nina's words, and her troubled mind found a basis in
fact for them. Jim had been getting money from her, to supplement
his small salary; he had been going out a great deal at night, and
returning very late; once or twice, in the morning, he had looked
ill and his eyes had been bloodshot, as though he had been drinking.
Anxiety gripped her. There were so many temptations for young men,
so many who waited to waylay them. A girl. Not a good girl, perhaps.
She raised herself on her elbow and looked at her sleeping husband.
Men were like that; they begot children and then forgot them. They
never looked ahead or worried. They were taken up with business,
and always they forgot that once they too had been young and liable
She got up, some time later, and tiptoed to the door of Jim's room.
Inside she could hear his heavy, regular breathing. Her boy. Her
She went back and crawled carefully into the bed.
There was an acrimonious argument between Jim and his father the
next morning, and Jim slammed out of the house, leaving chaos
behind him. It was then that Elizabeth learned that her father was
going away. He said:
"Maybe I'm wrong, mother. I don't know. Perhaps, when I come back,
I'll look around for a car. I don't want him driven to doing
"Are you going away?" Elizabeth asked, surprised.
It appeared that he was. More than that, that he was going West
with Dick. It was all arranged and nobody had told her anything
She was hurt and a trifle offended, and she cried a little about it.
Yet, as Dick explained to her later that day, it was simple enough.
Her father needed a rest, and besides, it was right that he should
know all about Dick's life before he came to Haverly.
"He's going to make me a present of something highly valuable,
"But it looks as though he didn't trust you!"
"He's being very polite about it; but, of course, in his eyes I'm
a common thief, stealing - "
She would not let him go on.
A certain immaturity, the blind confidence of youth in those it
loves, explains Elizabeth's docility at that time. But underneath
her submission that day was a growing uneasiness, fiercely
suppressed. Buried deep, the battle between absolute trust and
fear was beginning, a battle which was so rapidly to mature her.
Nina, shrewd and suspicious, sensed something of nervous strain
in her when she came in, later that day, to borrow a hat.
"Look here, Elizabeth," she began, "I want to talk to you. Are
you going to live in this - this hole all your life?"
"Hole nothing," Elizabeth said, hotly. "Really, Nina, I do think
you might be more careful of what you say."
"Oh, it's a dear old hole," Nina said negligently. "But hole it
is, nevertheless. Why in the world mother don't manage her servants
- but no matter about that now. Elizabeth, there's a lot of talk
about you and Dick Livingstone, and it makes me furious. When I
think that you can have Wallie Sayre by lifting your finger - "
"And that I don't intend to lift my finger," Elizabeth interrupted.
"Then you're a fool. And it is Dick Livingstone !"
"It is, Nina."
Nina's ambitious soul was harrowed.
"That stodgy old house," she said, "and two old people! A general
house-work girl, and you cooking on her Thursdays out! I wish you
joy of it."
"I wonder," Elizabeth said calmly, "whether it ever occurs to you
that I may put love above houses and servants? Or that my life is
my own, to live exactly as I please? Because that is what I intend
Nina rose angrily.
"Thanks," she said. "I wish you joy of it." And went out,
slamming the door behind her.
Then, with only a day or so remaining before Dick's departure, and
Jim's hand already reaching for the shuttle, Elizabeth found
herself the object of certain unmistakable advances from Mrs. Sayre
herself, and that at a rose luncheon at the house on the hill.
The talk about Dick and Elizabeth had been slow in reaching the
house on the hill. When it came, via a little group on the terrace
after the luncheon, Mrs. Sayre was upset and angry and inclined to
blame Wallie. Everything that he wanted had come to him, all his
life, and he did not know how to go after things. He had sat by,
and let this shabby-genteel doctor, years older than the girl, walk
away with her.
Not that she gave up entirely. She knew the town, and its tendency
toward over-statement. And so she made a desperate attempt, that
afternoon, to tempt Elizabeth. She took her through the greenhouses,
and then through the upper floors of the house. She showed her
pictures of their boat at Miami, and of the house at Marblehead.
Elizabeth was politely interested and completely unresponsive.
"When you think," Mrs. Sayre said at last, "that Wallie will have
to assume a great many burdens one of these days, you can understand
how anxious I am to have him marry the right sort of girl."
She thought Elizabeth flushed slightly.
"I am sure he will, Mrs. Sayre."
Mrs. Sayre tried a new direction.
"He will have all I have, my dear, and it is a great responsibility.
Used properly, money can be an agent of great good. Wallie's wife
can be a power, if she so chooses. She can look after the poor. I
have a long list of pensioners, but I am too old to add personal
"That would be wonderful," Elizabeth said gravely. For a moment
she wished Dick were rich. There was so much to be done with money,
and how well he would know how to do it. She was thoughtful on the
way downstairs, and Mrs. Sayre felt some small satisfaction. Now if
Wallie would only do his part -
It was that night that Jim brought the tragedy on the Wheeler house
that was to lie heavy on it for many a day.
There had been a little dinner, one of those small informal affairs
where Mrs. Wheeler, having found in the market the first of the
broiling chickens and some fine green peas, bought them first and
then sat down to the telephone to invite her friends. Mr. Oglethorpe,
the clergyman, and his wife accepted cheerfully; Harrison Miller,
resignedly. Then Mrs. Wheeler drew a long, resolute breath and
invited Mrs. Sayre. When that lady accepted with alacrity Mrs.
Wheeler hastily revised her menu, telephoned the florist for flowers,
and spent a long half-hour with Annie over plates and finger bowls.
Jim was not coming home, and Elizabeth was dining with Nina. Mrs.
Wheeler bustled about the house contentedly. Everything was going
well, after all. Before long there would be a car, and Jim would
spend more time at home. Nina and Leslie were happy again. And
Elizabeth - not a good match, perhaps, but a marriage for love, if
ever there was one.
She sat at the foot of her table that night, rather too watchful
of Annie, but supremely content. She had herself scoured the
loving cup to the last degree of brightness and it stood, full of
flowers, in the center of the cloth.
At Nina's was a smaller but similar group. All over the village
at that time in the evening were similar groups, gathered around
flowers and candles; neatly served, cheerful and undramatic groups,
with the house doors closed and dogs waiting patiently outside in
the long spring twilight.
Elizabeth was watching Nina. Just so, she was deciding, would she
some day preside at her own board. Perhaps before so very long,
too. A little separation, letters to watch for and answer, and
The telephone rang, and Leslie answered it. He did not come back;
instead they heard the house door close, and soon after the rumble
of the car as it left the garage. It stopped at the door, and
Leslie came in.
"I'm sorry," he said, "but I guess Elizabeth will have to go home.
You'd better come along, Nina."
"What is it? Is somebody sick " Elizabeth gasped.
"Jim's been in an automobile accident. Steady now, Elizabeth! He's
hurt, but he's going to be all right."
The Wheeler house, when they got there, was brightly lighted.
Annie was crying in the hall, and in the living-room Mrs. Sayre
stood alone, a strange figure in a gaudy dress, but with her face
strong and calm.
"They've gone to the hospital in my car," she said. "They'll be
there now any minute, and Mr. Oglethorpe will telephone at once.
You are to wait before starting in."
They all knew what that meant. It might be too late to start in.
Nina was crying hysterically, but Elizabeth could not cry. She
stood dry-eyed by the telephone, listening to Mrs. Sayre and
Leslie, but hardly hearing them. They had got Dick Livingstone
and he had gone on in. Mrs. Sayre was afraid it had been one of
Wallie's cars. She had begged Wallie to tell Jim to be careful in
it. It had too much speed.
The telephone rang and Leslie took the receiver and pushed Elizabeth
gently aside. He listened for a moment.
"Very well," he said. Then he hung up and stood still before he
"It isn't very good news," he said. "I wish I could - Elizabeth!"
Elizabeth had crumpled up in a small heap on the floor.
All through the long night that followed, with the movement of feet
through the halls, with her mother's door closing and the ghastly
silence that followed it, with the dawn that came through the
windows, the dawn that to Jim meant not a new day, but a new life
beyond their living touch, all through the night Elizabeth was aware
of two figures that came and went. One was Dick, quiet, tender and
watchful. And one was of a heavy woman in a gaudy dress, her face
old and weary in the morning light, who tended her with gentle hands.
She fell asleep as the light was brightening in the East, with Dick
holding her hands and kneeling on the floor beside her bed.
It was not until the next day that they knew that Jim had not been
alone. A girl who was with him had been pinned under the car and
had died instantly.
Jim had woven his bit in the pattern and passed on. The girl was
negligible; she was, she had been. That was all. But Jim's death
added the last element to the impending catastrophe. It sent Dick
For several days after his visit to the Livingstone ranch Louis
Bassett made no move to go to the cabin. He wandered around the
town, made promiscuous acquaintances and led up, in careful
conversations with such older residents as he could find, to the
Clark and Livingstone families. Of the latter he learned nothing;
of the former not much that he had not known before.
One day he happened on a short, heavy-set man, the sheriff, who had
lost his office on the strength of Jud Clark's escape, and had now
recovered it. Bassett had brought some whisky with him, and on the
promise of a drink lured Wilkins to his room. Over his glass the
"All this newspaper stuff lately about Jud Clark being alive is
dead wrong," he declared, irritably. "Maggie Donaldson was crazy.
You can ask the people here about her. They all know it. Those
newspaper fellows descended on us here with a tooth-brush apiece
and a suitcase full of liquor, and thought they'd get something.
Seemed to think we'd hold out on them unless we got our skins full.
But there isn't anything to hold out. Jud Clark's dead. That's all."
"Sure he's dead," Bassett agreed, amiably. "You found his horse,
"Yes. Dead. And when you find a man's horse dead in the mountains
in a blizzard, you don't need any more evidence. It was five months
before you could see a trail up the Goat that winter."
Bassett nodded, rose and poured out another drink.
"I suppose," he observed casually, "that even if Clark turned up
now, it would be hard to convict him, wouldn't it?"
The 8herlff considered that, holding up his glass.
"Well, yes and no," he said. "It was circumstantial evidence,
mostly. Nobody saw it done. The worst thing against him was his
"How about witnesses?"
"Nobody actually saw it done. John Donaldson came the nearest, and
he's dead. Lucas's wife was still alive, the last I heard, and I
reckon the valet is floating around somewhere."
"I suppose if he did turn up you'd make a try for it." Bassett
stared at the end of his cigar.
"We'd make a try for it, all right," Wilkins said somberly. "There
are some folks in this county still giving me the laugh over that
The next day Bassett hired a quiet horse, rolled in his raincoat
two days' supply of food, strapped it to the cantle of his saddle,
and rode into the mountains. He had not ridden for years, and at
the end of the first hour he began to realize that he was in for a
bad time. By noon he was so sore that he could hardly get out of
the saddle, and so stiff that once out, he could barely get back
again. All morning the horse had climbed, twisting back and forth
on a narrow canyon trail, grunting occasionally, as is the way of
a horse on a steep grade. All morning they bad followed a roaring
mountain stream, descending in small cataracts from the ice fields
far above. And all morning Bassett had been mentally following
that trail as it had been ridden ten years ago by a boy maddened
with fear and drink, who drove his horse forward through the night
and the blizzard, with no objective and no hope.
He found it practically impossible to connect this frenzied fugitive
with the quiet man in his office chair at Haverly, the man who was
or was not Judson Clark. He lay on a bank at noon and faced the
situation squarely, while his horse, hobbled, grazed with grotesque
little forward jumps in an upland meadow. Either Dick Livingstone
was Clark, or he was the unknown occasional visitor at the
Livingstone Ranch. If he were Clark, and if that could be proved,
there were two courses open to Bassett. He could denounce him to
the authorities and then spring the big story of his career. Or he
could let things stand. From a professional standpoint the first
course attracted him, as a man he began to hate it. The last few
days had shed a new light on Judson Clark. He had been immensely
popular; there were men in the town who told about trying to save
him from himself. He had been extravagant, but he had also been
generous. He had been "a good kid," until liberty and money got
hold of him. There had been more than one man in the sheriff's
posse who hadn't wanted to find him.
He was tempted to turn back. The mountains surrounded him, somber
and majestically still. They made him feel infinitely small and
rather impertinent, as though he had come to penetrate the secrets
they never yielded. He had almost to fight a conviction that they
After an hour or so he determined to go on. Let them throw him
over a gorge if they so determined. He got up, grunting, and
leading the horse beside a boulder, climbed painfully into the
saddle. To relieve his depression he addressed the horse:
"It would be easier on both of us if you were two feet narrower in
the beam, old dear," he said.
Nevertheless, he made good time. By six o'clock he knew that he
must have made thirty odd miles, and that he must be near the cabin.
Also that it was going to be bitterly cold that night, under the
snow fields, and that he had brought no wood axe. The deep valley
was purple with twilight by seven, and he could scarcely see the
rough-drawn trail map he had been following. And the trail grew
increasingly bad. For the last mile or two the horse took its
It wandered on, through fords and out of them, under the low-growing
branches of scrub pine, brushing his bruised legs against rocks.
He had definitely decided that he had missed the cabin when the
horse turned off the trail, and he saw it.
It was built of rough logs, the chinks once closed with mud which
had fallen away. The door stood open, and his entrance into its
darkness was followed by the scurrying of many little feet.
Bassett unstrapped his raincoat from the saddle with fingers numb
with cold, and flung it to the ground. He uncinched and removed
the heavy saddle, hobbled his horse and removed the bridle, and
turned him loose with a slap on the flank.
"For the love of Mike, don't go far, old man," he besought him.
And was startled by the sound of his own voice.
By the light of his candle lantern the prospects were extremely
poor. The fir branches in the double-berthed bunk were dry and
useless, the floor was crumbling under his feet, and the roof of the
lean-to had fallen in and crushed the rusty stove. In the cabin
itself some one had recently placed a large flat stone in a corner
for a fireplace, with two slabs to back it, and above it had broken
out a corner of the roof as a chimney. Bassett thought he saw the
handwork of some enterprising journalist, and smiled grimly.
He set to work with the resource of a man who had learned to take
what came, threw the dry bedding onto the slab and set a match to
it, brought in portions of the lean-to roof for further supply for
the fire, opened a can of tomatoes and set it on the edge of the
hearth to heat, and sliced bacon into his diminutive frying-pan.
It was too late for any examination that night. He ate his supper
from the rough table, drawing up to it a broken chair, and
afterwards brought in more wood for his fire. Then, with a lighted
cigar, and with his boots steaming on the hearth, he sat in front
of the blaze and fell into deep study.
He was aching in every muscle when he finally stretched out on the
bare boards of the lower bunk. While he slept small furry noses
appeared in the openings in the broken floor, to be followed by
little bodies that moved cautiously out into the open. He roused
once and peered over the edge of the bunk. Several field mice were
basking in front of the dying embers of the fire, and two were
sitting on his boots. He grinned at them and lay back again, but
he found himself fully awake and very uncomfortable. He lay there,
contemplating his own folly, and demanding of himself almost
fiercely what he had expected to get out of all this effort and
misery. For ten days or so men had come here. Wilkins had come,
for one, and there had been others. And had found nothing, and had
gone away. And now he was there, the end of the procession, to
look for God knows what.
He pulled the raincoat up around his shoulders, and lay back stiffly.
Then - he was not an imaginative man - he began to feel that eyes
were staring at him, furtive, hidden eyes, intently watching him.
Without moving he began to rake the cabin with his eyes, wall to
wall, corner to corner. He turned, cautiously, and glanced at the
door into the lean-to. It gaped, cavernous and empty. But the
sense of being watched persisted, and when he looked at the floor
the field mice had disappeared.
He began gradually to see more clearly as his eyes grew accustomed
to the semi-darkness, and he felt, too, that he could almost locate
the direction of the menace. For as a menace he found himself
considering it. It was the broken, windowless East wall, opposite
After a time the thing became intolerable. He reached for his
revolver, and getting quickly out of the bunk, ran to the doorway
and threw open the door, to find himself peering into a blackness
like a wall, and to hear a hasty crunching of the underbrush that
sounded like some animal in full flight.
With the sounds, and his own movement, the terror died. The cold
night air on his face, the feel of the pine needles under his
stockinged feet, brought him back to sense and normality. Some
creature of the wilderness, a deer or a bear, perhaps, had been
moving stealthily outside the cabin, and it was sound he had heard,
not a gaze he had felt. He was rather cynically amused at himself.
He went back into the cabin, closed the door, and stooped to turn
his boots over before the fire.
It was while he was stooping that he heard a horse galloping off
along the trail.
He did not go to sleep again. Now and then he considered the
possibility of its having been his own animal, somehow freed of
the rope and frightened by the same thing that had frightened him.
But when with the first light he went outside, his horse, securely
hobbled, was grazing on the scant pasture not far away.
Before he cooked his breakfast he made a minute examination of the
ground beneath the East wall, but the earth was hard, and a broken
branch or two might have been caused by his horse. He had no skill
in woodcraft, and in the broad day his alarm seemed almost absurd.
Some free horse on the range had probably wandered into the vicinity
of the cabin, and had made off again on a trot. Nevertheless, he
made up his mind not to remain over another night, but to look about
after breakfast, and then to start down again.
He worked on his boots, dry and hard after yesterday's wetting,
fried his bacon and dropped some crackers into the sizzling fat,
and ate quickly. After that he went out to the trail and inspected
it. He had an idea that range horses were mostly unshod, and that
perhaps the trail would reveal something. But it was unused and
overgrown. Not until he had gone some distance did he find anything.
Then in a small bare spot he found in the dust the imprints of a
horse's shoes, turned down the trail up which he had come.
Even then he was slow to read into the incident anything that
related to himself or to his errand. He went over the various
contingencies of the trail: a ranger, on his way to town; a forest
fire somewhere; a belated hound from the newspaper pack. He was
convinced now that human eyes had watched him for some time through
the log wall the night before, but he could not connect them with
the business in hand.
He set resolutely about his business, which was to turn up, somehow,
some way, a proof of the truth of Maggie Donaldson's dying statement.
To begin with then he accepted that statement, to find where it would
lead him, and it led him, eventually, to the broken-down stove under
the fallen roof of the lean-to.
He deliberately set himself to work, at first, to reconstruct the
life in the cabin. Jud would have had the lower bunk, David the
upper. The skeleton of a cot bed in the lean-to would have been
Maggie's. But none of them yielded anything.
Very well. Having accepted that they lived here, it was from here
that the escape was made. They would have started the moment the
snow was melted enough to let them get out, and they would have
taken, not the trail toward the town, but some other and circuitous
route toward the railroad. But there had been things to do before
they left. They would have cleared the cabin of every trace of
occupancy; the tin cans, Clark's clothing, such bedding as they
could not carry. The cans must have been a problem; the clothes,
of course, could have been burned. But there were things, like
buttons, that did not burn easily. Clark's watch, if he wore one,
his cuff links. Buried?
It occurred to him that they might have disposed of some of the
unburnable articles under the floor, and he lifted a rough board or
two. But to pursue the search systematically he would have needed
a pickaxe, and reluctantly he gave it up and turned his attention
to the lean-to and the buried stove.
The stove lay in a shallow pit, filled with ancient ashes and
crumbled bits of wood from the roof. It lay on its side, its
sheet-iron sides collapsed, its long chimney disintegrated. He
was in a heavy sweat before he had uncovered it and was able to
remove it from its bed of ashes and pine needles. This done, he
brought his candle-lantern and settled himself cross-legged on the
His first casual inspection of the ashes revealed nothing. He set
to work more carefully then, picking them up by handfuls, examining
and discarding. Within ten minutes he had in a pile beside him
some burned and blackened metal buttons, the eyelets and a piece
of leather from a shoe, and the almost unrecognizable nib of a
He sat with them in the palm of his hand. Taken alone, each one
was insignificant, proved nothing whatever. Taken all together,
they assumed vast proportions, became convincing, became evidence.
Late that night he descended stiffly at the livery stable, and
turned his weary horse over to a stableman.
"Looks dead beat," said the stableman, eyeing the animal.
"He's got nothing on me," Bassett responded cheerfully. "Better
give him a hot bath and put him to bed. That's what I'm going to do."
He walked back to the hotel, glad to stretch his aching muscles.
The lobby was empty, and behind the desk the night clerk was waiting
for the midnight train. Bassett was wide awake by that time, and he
went back to the desk and lounged against it.
"You look as though you'd struck oil," said the night clerk.
"Oil! I'll tell you what I have struck. I've struck a livery stable
saddle two million times in the last two days."
The clerk grinned, and Bassett idly pulled the register toward him.
"J. Smith, Minneapolis," he read. Then he stopped and stared.
Richard Livingstone was registered on the next line above.
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