The Breaking Point
Mary Roberts Rinehart
Part 7 out of 8
office under the balcony staircase, and closing the door sat down.
It was the interval after the second act, and above the hum of
voices outside the sound of the orchestra penetrated faintly.
He was entirely serene. He had a supper engagement after the show,
he had a neat car waiting outside to take him to it, and the night's
business had been extraordinary. He consulted his watch and then
picked up an evening paper. A few moments later he found himself
reading over and over a small notice inserted among the personals.
"Personal: Jean Melis, who was in Norada, Wyoming, during the
early fall of 1911 please communicate with L 22, this office."
The orchestra was still playing outside; the silly, giggling crowds
were moving back to their seats, and somewhere Jean Melis, or the
friends of Jean Melis, who would tell him of it, were reading that
He got his hat and went out, forgetful of the neat car at the curb,
of the supper engagement, of the night's business, and wandered
down the street through the rain. But his first uneasiness passed
quickly. He saw Bassett in the affair, and probably Clark himself,
still living and tardily determined to clear his name. But if the
worst came to the worst, what could they do? They could go only so
far, and then they would have to quit.
It would be better, however, if they did not see Melis. Much
better; there was no use involving a simple situation. And Bev
could be kept out of it altogether, until it was over. Ashamed of
his panic he went back to the theater, got a railway schedule and
looked up trains. He should have done it long before, he recognized,
have gone to Bassett in the spring. But how could he have known
then that Bassett was going to make a life-work of the case?
He had only one uncertainty. Suppose that Bassett had learned about
By the time the curtain rang down on the last act he was his dapper,
debonair self again, made his supper engagement, danced half the
night, and even dozed a little on the way home. But he slept badly
and was up early, struggling with the necessity for keeping Jean
Melis out of the way.
He wondered through what formalities L 22, for instance, would have
to go in order to secure a letter addressed to him? Whether he had
to present a card or whether he walked in demanded his mail and went
away. That thought brought another with it. Wasn't it probable
that Bassett was in New York, and would call for his mail himself?
He determined finally to take the chance, claim to be L 22, and if
Melis had seen the advertisement and replied, get the letter. It
would be easy to square it with the valet, by saying that he had
recognized him in the theater and that Miss Carlysle wished to send
him a box.
He bad small hope of a letter at his first call, unless the Frenchman
had himself seen the notice, but his anxiety drove him early to the
office. There was nothing there, but he learned one thing. He had
to go through with no formalities. The clerk merely looked in a box,
said "Nothing here," and went on about his business. At eleven
o'clock he went back again, and after a careful scrutiny of the
crowd presented himself once more.
"L 22? Here you are."
He had the letter in his hand. He had glanced at it and had thrust
it deep in his pocket, when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He
wheeled and faced Bassett.
"I thought I recognized that back," said the reporter, cheerfully.
"Come over here, old man. I want to talk to you."
But he held to Gregory's shoulder. In a corner Bassett dropped the
friendliness he had assumed for the clerk's benefit, and faced him
with cold anger.
"I'll have that letter now, Gregory," he said. "And I've got a
damned good notion to lodge an information against you."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Forget it. I was behind you when you asked for that letter. Give
it here. I want to show you something."
Suddenly, with the letter in his hand, Bassett laughed and then tore
it open. There was only a sheet of blank paper inside.
"I wasn't sure you'd see it, and I didn't think you'd fall for it
if you did," he observed. "But I was pretty sure you didn't want
me to see Melis. Now I know it."
"Well, I didn't," Gregory said sullenly.
"Just the same, I expect to see him. The day's early yet, and
that's not a common name. But I'll take darned good care you don't
get any more letters from here."
"What do you think Melis can tell you, that you don't know?"
"I'll explain that to you some day," Bassett said cheerfully. "Some
day when you are in a more receptive mood than you are now. The
point at this moment seems to me to be, what does Melis know that
you don't want me to know? I suppose you don't intend to tell me."
"Not here. You may believe it or not, Bassett, but I was going to
your town to-night to see you."
"Well," Bassett said sceptically, "I've got your word for it. And
I've got nothing to do all day but to listen to you."
To his proposition that they go to his hotel Gregory assented
sullenly, and they moved out to find a taxicab. On the pavement,
however, he held back.
"I've got a right to know something," he said, "considering what
he's done to me and mine. Clark's alive, I suppose?"
"He's alive all right."
"Then I'll trade you, Bassett. I'll come over with what I know, if
you'll tell me one thing. What sent him into hiding for ten years,
and makes him turn up now, yelling for help?"
Bassett reflected. The offer of a statement from Gregory was
valuable, but, on the other hand, he was anxious not to influence
his narrative. And Gregory saw his uncertainty. He planted
himself firmly on the pavement.
"How about it?" he demanded.
"I'll tell you this much, Gregory. He never meant to bring the
thing up again. In a way, it's me you're up against. Not Clark.
And you can be pretty sure I know what I'm doing. I've got Clark,
and I've got the report of the coroner's inquest, and I'll get
Mells. I'm going to get to the bottom of this if I have to dig a
hole that buries me."
In a taxicab Gregory sat tense and erect, gnawing at his blond
mustache. After a time he said:
"What are you after, in all this? The story, I suppose. And the
money. I daresay you're not doing it for love."
Bassett surveyed him appraisingly.
"You wouldn't understand my motives if I told you. As a matter of
fact, he doesn't want the money."
"Don't kid yourself," he said. "However, as a matter of fact I
don't think he'll take it. It might cost too much. Where is he?
Shooting pills again?"
"You'll see him in about five minutes."
If the news was a surprise Gregory gave no evidence of it, except
"You're a capable person, aren't you? I'll bet you could tune a
piano if you were put to it."
He carried the situation well, the reporter had to admit; the only
evidence he gave of strain was that the hands with which he lighted
a cigarette were unsteady. He surveyed the obscure hotel at which
the cab stopped with a sneering smile, and settled his collar as he
looked it over.
"Not advertising to the world that you're in town, I see."
"We'll do that, just as soon as we're ready. Don't worry."
The laugh he gave at that struck unpleasantly on Bassett's ears.
But inside the building he lost some of his jauntiness. "Queer
place to find Judson Clark," he said once.
"You'd better watch him when I go in. He may bite me."
To which Bassett grimly returned: "He's probably rather particular
what he bites."
He was uneasily conscious that Gregory, while nervous and tense,
was carrying the situation with a certain assurance. If he was
acting it was very good acting. And that opinion was strengthened
when he threw open the door and Gregory advanced into the room.
"Well, Clark," he said, coolly. "I guess you didn't expect to see
me, did you?"
He made no offer to shake hands as Dick turned from the window, nor
did Dick make any overtures. But there was no enmity at first in
either face; Gregory was easy and assured, Dick grave, and, Bassett
thought, slightly impatient. From that night in his apartment the
reporter had realized that he was constantly fighting a sort of
passive resistance in Dick, a determination not at any cost to
involve Beverly. Behind that, too, he felt that still another
battle was going on, one at which he could only guess, but which
made Dick somber at times and grimly quiet always.
"I meant to look you up," was his reply to Gregory's nonchalant
"Well, your friend here did that for you," Gregory said, and smiled
across at Bassett. "He has his own methods, and I'll say they're
He took off his overcoat and flung it on the bed, and threw a swift,
appraising glance at Dick. It was on Dick that he was banking, not
on Bassett. He hated and feared Bassett. He hated Dick, but he was
not afraid of him. He lighted a cigarette and faced Dick with a
"So here we are, again, Jud!" he said. "But with this change, that
now it's you who are the respectable member of the community, and
I'm the - well, we'll call it the butterfly."
There was unmistakable insult in his tone, and Dick caught it.
"Then I take it you're still living off your sister?"
The contempt in Dick's voice whipped the color to Gregory's face
and clenched his fist. But he relaxed in a moment and laughed.
"Don't worry, Bassett," he said, his eyes on Dick. "We haven't any
reason to like each other, but he's bigger than I am. I won't hit
him." Then he hardened his voice. "But I'll remind you, Clark, that
personally I don't give a God-damn whether you swing or not. Also
that I can keep my mouth shut, walk out of here, and have you in
quod in the next hour, if I decide to."
"But you won't," Bassett said smoothly. "You won't, any more than
you did it last spring, when you sent that little letter of yours
to David Livingstone."
"No. You're right. I won't. But if I tell you what I came here
to say, Bassett, get this straight. It's not because I'm afraid of
you, or of him. Donaldson's dead. What value would Melis's
testimony have after ten years, if you put him on the stand? It's
not that. It's because you'll put your blundering foot into it and
ruin Bev's career, unless I tell you the truth."
It was to Bassett then that he told his story, he and Bassett
sitting, Dick standing with his elbow on the mantelpiece, tall and
weary and almost detached.
"I've got to make my own position plain in this," he said. "I
didn't like Clark, and I kept her from marrying him. There was one
time, before she met Lucas, when she almost did it. I was away
when she decided on that fool trip to the Clark ranch. We couldn't
get a New York theater until November, and she had some time, so
they went. I've got her story of what happened there. You can
check it up with what you know."
He turned to Dick for a moment.
"You were drinking pretty hard that night, but you may remember
this: She had quarreled with Lucas at dinner that night and with
you. That's true, isn't it?"
"She went to her room and began to pack her things. Then she
thought it over, and she decided to try to persuade Lucas to go
too. Things had begun all right, but they were getting strained
and unpleasant. She went down the stairs, and Melis saw her, the
valet. The living-room was dark, but there was a light coming
through the billiard room door, and against it she saw the figure
of a man in the doorway. He had his back to her, and he had a
revolver in his hand. She ran across the room when he heard her
and when he turned she saw it was Lucas. Do you remember, Jud,
having a revolver and Lucas taking it from you?"
"No. Donaldson testified I'd had a revolver."
"Well, that's how we figure he'd got the gun. She thought at once
that Lucas and you had quarreled, and that he was going to shoot.
She tried to take it from him, but he was drunk and stubborn. It
went off and killed him."
Bassett leaned forward.
"That's straight, is it?"
"I'm telling you."
"Then why in God's name didn't she say that at the inquest?"
"She was afraid it wouldn't be believed. Look at the facts. She'd
quarreled with Lucas. There had been a notorious situation with
regard to Clark. And remember this. She had done it. I know her
well enough, however, to say that she would have confessed,
eventually, but Clark had beaten it. It was reasonably sure that
he was lost in the blizzard. You've got to allow for that."
Bassett said nothing. After a silence Dick spoke:
"What about the revolver?"
"She had it in her hand. She dropped it and stood still, too
stunned to scream. Lucas, she says, took a step or two forward,
and fell through the doorway. Donaldson came running in, and
you know the rest."
Bassett was the first to break the silence.
"She will be willing to testify to that now, of course?"
"And stand trial?"
"Not necessarily. Clark would be on trial. He's been indicted.
He has to be tried."
"Why does he have to be tried? He's free now. He's been free for
ten years. And I tell you as an honest opinion that the thing
would kill her. Accident and all, she did it. And there would be
some who'd never believe she hadn't tired of Lucas, and wanted the
"That's a chance she'll have to take," Bassett said doggedly. "The
only living witness who could be called would be the valet. And
remember this: for ten years he has believed that she did it. He'll
have built up a story by this time, perhaps unconsciously, that
might damn her."
"There's only one thing to do. You're right, Gregory. I'll
never expose her to that."
"You're crazy," Bassett said angrily.
"Not at all. I told you I wouldn't hide behind a woman. As a
matter of fact, I've learned what I wanted. Lucas wasn't murdered.
I didn't shoot him. That's what really matters. I'm no worse off
than I was before; considerably better, in fact. And I don't see
what's to be gained by going any further."
In spite of his protests, Bassett was compelled finally to agree.
He was sulky and dispirited. He saw the profound anticlimax to all
his effort of Dick wandering out again, legally dead and legally
guilty, and he swore roundly under his breath.
"All right," he grunted at last. "I guess that's the last word,
Gregory. But you tell her from me that if she doesn't reopen the
matter of her own accord, she'll have a man's life on her
"I'll not tell her anything about it. I'm not only her brother;
I'm her manager now. And I'm not kicking any hole in the boat that
He was self-confident and slightly insolent; the hands with which
he lighted a fresh cigarette no longer trembled, and the glance
he threw at Dick was triumphant and hostile.
"As a man sows, Clark !" he said. "You sowed hell for a number of
Bassett had to restrain an impulse to kick him out of the door.
When he had gone Bassett turned to Dick with assumed lightness.
"Well," he said, "here we are, all dressed up and nowhere to go!"
He wandered around the room, restless and disappointed. He knew,
and Dick knew, that they had come to the end of the road, and that
nothing lay beyond. In his own unpleasant way Fred Gregory had
made a case for his sister that tied their hands, and the crux of
the matter had lain in his final gibe: "As a man sows, Clark, so
shall he reap." The moral issue was there.
"I suppose the Hines story goes by the board, eh?" he commented
after a pause.
"Yes. Except that I wish I'd known about him when I could have
done something. He's my half-brother, any way you look at it,
and he had a rotten deal. Sometimes a man sows," he added, with
a wry smile, "and the other fellow reaps."
Bassett went out after that, going to the office on the chance of
a letter from Melis, but there was none. When he came back he
found Dick standing over a partially packed suitcase, and knew that
they had come to the end of the road indeed.
"What's the next step?" he asked bluntly.
"I'll have to leave here. It's too expensive."
"And after that, what?"
"I'll get a job. I suppose a man is as well hidden here as anywhere.
I can grow a beard-that's the usual thing, isn't it?"
Bassett made an impatient gesture, and fell to pacing the floor.
"It's incredible," he said. "It's monstrous. It's a joke. Here
you are, without a thing against you, and hung like Mahomet's
coffin between heaven and earth. It makes me sick."
He went home that night, leaving word to have any letters for L 22
forwarded, but without much hope. His last clutch of Dick's hand
had a sort of desperate finality in it, and he carried with him
most of the way home the tall, worn and rather shabby figure that
saw him off with a smile.
By the next afternoon's mail he received a note from New York, with
a few words of comment penciled on it in Dick's writing. "This
came this evening. I sent back the money. D." The note was from
Gregory and had evidently enclosed a one-hundred dollar bill. It
began without superscription: "Enclosed find a hundred dollars,
as I imagine funds may be short. If I were you I'd get out of here.
There has been considerable excitement, and you know too many people
in this burg."
Bassett sat back in his chair and studied the note.
"Now why the devil did he do that?" he reflected. He sat for some
time, thinking deeply, and he came to one important conclusion.
The story Gregory had told was the one which was absolutely
calculated to shut off all further inquiry. They had had ten years;
ten years to plan, eliminate and construct; ten years to prepare
their defense, in case Clark turned up. Wasn't that why Gregory
had been so assured? But he had not been content to let well enough
alone; he had perhaps overreached himself.
Then what was the answer? She had killed Lucas, but was it an
accident? And there must have been a witness, or they would have
had nothing to fear. He wrote out on a bit of paper three names,
and sat looking at them:
Elizabeth had quite definitely put Dick out of her heart. On the
evening of the day she learned he had come back and had not seen
her, she deliberately killed her love and decently interred it.
She burned her notes and his one letter and put away her ring,
performing the rites not as rites but as a shameful business to be
done with quickly. She tore his photograph into bits and threw them
into her waste basket, and having thus housecleaned her room set to
work to houseclean her heart.
She found very little to do. She was numb and totally without
feeling. The little painful constriction in her chest which had so
often come lately with her thoughts of him was gone. She felt
extraordinarily empty, but not light, and her feet dragged about
She felt no sense of Dick's unworthiness, but simply that she was
up against something she could not fight, and no longer wanted to
fight. She was beaten, but the strange thing was that she did not
care. Only, she would not be pitied. As the days went on she
resented the pity that had kept her in ignorance for so long, and
had let her wear her heart on her sleeve; and she even wondered
sometimes whether the story of Dick's loss of memory had not been
false, evolved out of that pity and the desire to save her pain.
David sent for her, but she wrote him a little note, formal and
restrained. She would come in a day or two, but now she must get
her bearings. He was, to know that she was not angry, and felt it
all for the best, and she was very lovingly his, Elizabeth.
She knew now that she would eventually marry Wallie Sayre if only
to get away from pity. He would have to know the truth about her,
that she did not love any one; not even her father and her mother.
She pretended to care for fear of hurting them, but she was actually
frozen quite hard. She did not believe in love. It was a terrible
thing, to be avoided by any one who wanted to get along, and this
avoiding was really quite simple. One simply stopped feeling.
On the Sunday after she had come to this comfortable knowledge she
sat in the church as usual, in the choir stalls, and suddenly she
hated the church. She hated the way the larynx of Henry Wallace,
the tenor, stuck out like a crabapple over his low collar. She
hated the fat double chin of the bass. She hated the talk about
love and the certain rewards of virtue, and the faces of the
congregation, smug and sure of salvation.
She went to the choir master after the service to hand in her
resignation. And did not, because it had occurred to her that it
might look, to use Nina's word, as though she were crushed.
Crushed! That was funny.
Wallie Sayre was waiting for her outside, and she went up with him
to lunch, and afterwards they played golf. They had rather an
amusing game, and once she had to sit down on a bunker and laugh
until she was weak, while he fought his way out of a pit. Crushed,
So the weaving went on, almost completed now. With Wallie Sayre
biding his time, but fairly sure of the result. With Jean Melis
happening on a two-days' old paper, and reading over and over a
notice addressed to him. With Leslie Ward, neither better nor
worse than his kind, seeking adventure in a bypath, which was East
56th Street. And with Dick wandering the streets of New York after
twilight, and standing once with his coat collar turned up against
the rain outside of the Metropolitan Club, where the great painting
of his father hung over a mantelpiece.
Now that he was near Beverly, Dick hesitated to see her. He felt
no resentment at her long silence, nor at his exile which had
resulted from it. He made excuses for her, recognized his own
contribution to the catastrophe, knew, too, that nothing was to be
gained by seeing her again. But he determined finally to see her
once more, and then to go away, leaving her to peace and to success.
She would know now that she had nothing to fear from him. All he
wanted was to satisfy the hunger that was in him by seeing her, and
then to go away.
Curiously, that hunger to see her had been in abeyance while Bassett
was with him. It was only when he was alone again that it came up;
and although he knew that, he was unconscious of another fact, that
every word, every picture of her on the great boardings which walled
in every empty lot, everything, indeed, which brought her into the
reality of the present, loosened by so much her hold on him out of
When he finally went to the 56th Street house it was on impulse.
He had meant to pass it, but he found himself stopping, and half
angrily made his determination. He would follow the cursed thing
through now and get it over. Perhaps he had discounted it too much
in advance, waited too long, hoped too much. Perhaps it was simply
that that last phase was already passing. But he felt no thrill,
no expectancy, as he rang the bell and was admitted to the familiar
It was peopled with ghosts, for him. Upstairs, in the drawing-room
that extended across the front of the house, she had told him of
her engagement to Howard Lucas. Later on, coming back from Europe,
he had gone back there to find Lucas installed in the house, his
cigars on the table, his photographs on the piano, his books
scattered about. And Lucas himself, smiling, handsome and
triumphant on the hearth rug, dressed for dinner except for a
brocaded dressing-gown, putting his hand familiarly on Beverly's
shoulder, and calling her "old girl."
He wandered into the small room to the right of the hall, where in
other days he had waited to be taken upstairs, and stood looking
out of the window. He heard some one, a caller, come down, get
into his overcoat in the hall and go out, but he was not interested.
He did not know that Leslie Ward had stood outside the door for a
minute, had seen and recognized him, and had then slammed out.
He was quite steady as the butler preceded him up the stairs. He
even noticed certain changes in the house, the door at the landing
converted into an arch, leaded glass in the dining-room windows
beyond it. But he caught a glimpse of himself in a mirror, and
saw himself a shabby contrast to the former days.
He faced her, still with that unexpected composure, and he saw her
very little changed. Even the movement with which she came toward
him with both hands out was familiar.
"Jud!" she said. "Oh, my dear!"
He saw that she was profoundly moved, and suddenly he was sorry for
her. Sorry for the years behind them both, for the burden she had
carried, for the tears in her eyes.
"Dear old Bev!" he said.
She put her head against his shoulder, and cried unrestrainedly;
and he held her there, saying small, gentle, soothing things,
smoothing her hair. But all the time he knew that life had been
playing him another trick; he felt a great tenderness for her and
profound pity, but he did not love her, or want her. He saw that
after all the suffering and waiting, the death and exile, he was
left at the end with nothing. Nothing at all.
When she was restored to a sort of tense composure he found to his
discomfort that woman-like she intended to abase herself thoroughly
and completely. She implored his forgiveness for his long exile,
gazing at him humbly, and when he said in a matter-of-fact tone
that he had been happy, giving him a look which showed that she
thought he was lying to save her unhappiness.
"You are trying to make it easier for me. But I know, Jud."
"I'm telling you the truth," he said, patiently. "There's one
point I didn't think necessary to tell your brother. For a good
while I didn't remember anything about it. If it hadn't been for
that-well, I don't know. Anyhow, don't look at me as though I
willfully saved you. I didn't."
She sat still, pondering that, and twisting a ring on her finger.
"What do you mean to do?" she asked, after a pause.
"I don't know. I'll find something."
"You won't go back to your work?"
"I don't see how I can. I'm in hiding, in a sort of casual fashion."
To his intense discomfiture she began to cry again. She couldn't
go through with it. She would go back to Norada and tell the whole
thing. She had let Fred influence her, but she saw now she couldn't
do it. But for the first time he felt that in this one thing she
was not sincere. Her grief and abasement had been real enough, but
now he felt she was acting.
"Suppose we don't go into that now," he said gently. "You've had
about all you can stand." He got up awkwardly. "I suppose you are
She nodded, looking up at him dumbly.
"Better lie down, then, and-forget me." He smiled down at her.
"I've never forgotten you, Jud. And now, seeing you again - I - "
Her face worked. She continued to look up at him, piteously. The
appalling truth came to him then, and that part of him which had
remained detached and aloof, watching, almost smiled at the irony.
She cared for him. Out of her memories she had built up something
to care for, something no more himself than she was the woman of
his dreams; but with this difference, that she was clinging,
woman-fashion, to the thing she had built, and he had watched it
crumble before his eyes.
"Will you promise to go and rest?"
"Yes. If you say so."
She was acquiescent and humble. Her eyes were soft, faithful,
"I've suffered so, Jud."
"You don't hate me, do you?"
"Why should I? Just remember this: while you were carrying this
burden, I was happier than I'd ever been. I'll tell you about it
She got up, and he perceived that she expected him again to take
her in his arms. He felt ridiculous and resentful, and rather as
though he was expected to kiss the hand that had beaten him, but
when she came close to him he put an arm around her shoulders.
"Poor Bev!' he said. "We've made pretty much a mess of it, haven't
He patted her and let her go, and her eyes followed him as he left
the room. The elder brotherliness of that embrace had told her the
truth as he could never have hurt her in words. She went back to
the chair where he had sat, and leaned her cheek against it.
After a time she went slowly upstairs and into her room. When her
maid came in she found her before the mirror of her dressing-table,
staring at her reflection with hard, appraising eyes
Leslie's partner, wandering into the hotel at six o'clock, found
from the disordered condition of the room that Leslie had been back,
had apparently bathed, shaved and made a careful toilet, and gone
out again. Joe found himself unexpectedly at a loose end. Filled,
with suppressed indignation he commenced to dress, getting out a
shirt, hunting his evening studs, and lining up what he meant to
say to Leslie over his defection.
Then, at a quarter to seven, Leslie came in, top-hatted and
morning-coated, with a yellowing gardenia in his buttonhole and his
shoes covered with dust.
"Hello, Les," Joe said, glancing up from a laborious struggle with
a stud. "Been to a wedding?"
"You look like it."
"I made a call, and since then I've been walking."
"Some walk, I'd say," Joe observed, looking at him shrewdly.
"What's wrong, Les? Fair one turn you down?"
"Go to hell," Leslie said irritably.
He flung off his coat and jerked at his tie. Then, with it hanging
loose, he turned to Joe.
"I'm going to tell you something. I know it's safe with you, and
I need some advice. I called on a woman this afternoon. You know
who she is. Beverly Carlysle."
Joe whistled softly.
"That's not the point," Leslie declaimed, in a truculent voice.
"I'm not defending myself. She's a friend; I've got a right to
call there if I want to."
"Sure you have," soothed Joe.
"Well, you know the situation at home, and who Livingstone actually
is. The point is that, while that poor kid at home is sitting
around killing herself with grief, Clark's gone back to her. To
"How do you know?"
"Know? I saw him this afternoon, at her house."
He sat still, moodily reviewing the situation. His thoughts were
a chaotic and unpleasant mixture of jealousy, fear of Nina, anxiety
over Elizabeth, and the sense of a lost romantic adventure. After
a while he got up.
"She's a nice kid," he said. "I'm fond of her. And I don't know
what to do."
Suddenly Joe grinned.
"I see," he said. "And you can't tell her, or the family, where
you saw him !"
"Not without raising the deuce of a row."
He began, automatically, to dress for dinner. Joe moved around
the room, rang for a waiter, ordered orange juice and ice, and
produced a bottle of gin from his bag. Leslie did not hear him, nor
the later preparation of the cocktails. He was reflecting bitterly
on the fact that a man who married built himself a wall against
romance, a wall, compounded of his own new sense of responsibility,
of family ties, and fear.
Joe brought him a cocktail.
"Drink it, old dear," he said. "And when it's down I'll tell you
a few little things about playing around with ladies who have a
past. Here's to forgetting 'em."
Leslie took the glass.
"Right-o," he said.
He went home the following day, leaving Joe to finish the business
in New York. His going rather resembled a flight. Tossing
sleepless the night before, he had found what many a man had
discovered before him, that his love of clandestine adventure was
not as strong as his caution. He had had a shock. True, his affair
with Beverly had been a formless thing, a matter of imagination and
a desire to assure himself that romance, for him, was not yet dead.
True, too, that he had nothing to fear from Dick Livingstone. But
the encounter had brought home to him the danger of this old-new
game he was playing. He was running like a frightened child.
He thought of various plans. One of them was to tell Nina the
truth, take his medicine of tears and coldness, and then go to Mr.
Wheeler. One was to go to Mr. Wheeler, without Nina, and make his
humiliating admission. But Walter Wheeler had his own rigid ideas,
was uncompromising in rectitude, and would understand as only a
man could that while so far he had been only mentally unfaithful,
he had been actuated by at least subconscious desire.
His own awareness of that fact made him more cautious than he need
have been, perhaps more self-conscious. And he genuinely cared for
Elizabeth. It was, on the whole, a generous and kindly impulse that
lay behind his ultimate resolution to tell her that her desertion
was both wilful and cruel.
Yet, when the time came, he found it hard to tell her. He took her
for a drive one evening soon after his return, forcibly driving off
Wallie Sayre to do so, and eying surreptitiously now and then her
pale, rather set face. He found a quiet lane and stopped the car
there, and then turned and faced her.
"How've you been, little sister, while I've been wandering the gay
white way?" he asked.
"I've been all right, Leslie."
Not quite all right, I think. Have you ever thought, Elizabeth,
that no man on earth is worth what you've been going through?"
"I'm all right, I tell you," she said impatiently. "I'm not
grieving any more. That's the truth, Les. I know now that he
doesn't intend to come back, and I don't care. I never even think
about him, now."
"I see," he said. "Well, that's that."
But he had not counted on her intuition, and was startled to hear
"Well? Go on."
"What do you mean, go on?"
"You brought me out here to tell me something."
"Not at all. I simply - "
"Where is he? You've seen him."
He tried to meet her eyes, failed, cursed himself for a fool. "He's
alive and well, Elizabeth. I saw him in New York." It was a full
minute before she spoke again, and then her lips were stiff and her
"Has he gone back to her? To the actress he used to care for?"
He hesitated, but he knew he would have to go on.
"I'm going to tell you something, Elizabeth. It's not very
creditable to me, but I'll have to trust you. I don't want to see
you wasting your life. You've got plenty of courage and a lot of
spirit. And you've got to forget him."
He told her, and then he took her home. He was a little frightened,
for there was something not like her in the way she had taken it, a
sort of immobility that might, he thought, cover heartbreak. But
she smiled when she thanked him, and went very calmly into the house.
That night she accepted Wallie Sayre.
Bassett was having a visitor. He sat in his chair while that visitor
ranged excitedly up and down the room, a short stout man, well dressed
and with a mixture of servility and importance. The valet's first
words, as he stood inside the door, had been significant.
"I should like to know, first, if I am talking to the police."
"No - and yes," Bassett said genially. "Come and sit down, man.
What I mean is this. I am a friend of Judson Clark's, and this may
or may not be a police matter. I don't know yet."
"You are a friend of Mr. Clark's? Then the report was correct.
He is still alive, sir?"
The valet got out a handkerchief and wiped his face. He was
"I am glad of that. Very glad. I saw some months ago, in a
newspaper - where is he?"
"In New York. Now Melis, I've an idea that you know something about
the crime Judson Clark was accused of. You intimated that at the
"Mrs. Lucas killed him."
"So she says," Bassett said easily.
The valet jumped and stared.
"She admits it, as the result of an accident. She also admits
hiding the revolver where you found it."
"Then you do not need me."
"I'm not so sure of that."
The valet was puzzled.
"I want you to think back, Melis. You saw her go down the stairs,
sometime before the shot. Later you were confident she had hidden
the revolver, and you made a second search for it. Why? You hadn't
heard her testimony at the inquest then. Clark had run away. Why
didn't you think Clark had done it?"
"Because I thought she was having an affair with another man. I
have always thought she did it."
"I thought so. What made you think that?"
"I'll tell you. She went West without a maid, and Mr. Clark got
a Swedish woman from a ranch near to look after her, a woman named
Thorwald. She lived at her own place and came over every day. One
night, after Mrs. Thorwald had started home, I came across her down
the road near the irrigator's house, and there was a man with her.
They didn't hear me behind them, and he was giving her a note for
some one in the house.
"Why not for one of the servants?"
"That's what I thought then, sir. It wasn't my business. But I
saw the same man later on, hanging about the place at night, and
once I saw her with him - Mrs. Lucas, I mean. That was in the
early evening. The gentlemen were out riding, and I'd gone with
one of the maids to a hill to watch the moon rise. They were on
some rocks, below in the canyon."
"Did you see him?"
"I think it was the same man, if that's what you mean. I knew
something queer was going on, after that, and I watched her. She
went out at night more than once. Then I told Donaldson there was
somebody hanging round the place, and he set a watch."
"Fine. Now we'll go to the night Lucas was shot. Was the Thorwald
"She had started home."
"Leaving Mrs. Lucas packing alone?"
"Yes. I hadn't thought of that. The Thorwald woman heard the shot
and came back. I remember that, because she fainted upstairs and I
had to carry her to a bed."
"I see. Now about the revolver."
"I located it the first time I looked for it. Donaldson and the
others had searched the billiard room. So I tried the big room.
It was under a chair. I left it there, and concealed myself in
the room. She, Mrs. Lucas, came down late that night and hunted
for it. Then she hid it where I got it later."
"I wish I knew, Melis, why you didn't bring those facts out at
"You must remember this, sir. I had been with Mr. Clark for a
long time. I knew the situation. And I thought that he had gone
away that night to throw suspicion from her to himself. I was not
certain what to do. I would have told it all in court, but it
never came to trial."
Bassett was satisfied and fairly content. After the Frenchman's
departure he sat for some time, making careful notes and studying
them. Supposing the man Melis had seen to be Clifton Hines, a
good many things would be cleared up. Some new element he had to
have, if Gregory's story were to be disproved, some new and
different motive. Suppose, for instance...
He got up and paced the floor back and forward, forward and back.
There was just one possibility, and just one way of verifying it.
He sat down and wrote out a long telegram and then got his hat
and carried it to the telegraph office himself. He had made his
He received a reply the following day, and in a state of
exhilaration bordering on madness packed his bag, and as he packed
it addressed it, after the fashion of lonely men the world over.
"Just one more trip, friend cowhide," he said, "and then you and
I are going to settle down again to work. But it's some trip,
He put in his pajamas and handkerchiefs, his clean socks and
collars, and then he got his revolver from a drawer and added it.
Just twenty-four hours later he knocked at Dick's door in a
boarding-house on West Ninth Street, found it unlocked, and went
in. Dick was asleep, and Bassett stood looking down at him with
an odd sort of paternal affection. Finally he bent down and touched
"Wake up, old top," he said. "Wake up. I have some news for you."
To Dick the last day or two had been nightmares of loneliness. He
threw caution to the winds and walked hour after hour, only to find
that the street crowds, people who had left a home or were going to
one, depressed him and emphasized his isolation. He had deliberately
put away from him the anchor that had been Elizabeth and had followed
a treacherous memory, and now he was adrift. He told himself that
he did not want much. Only peace, work and a place. But he had not
one of them.
He was homesick for David, for Lucy, and, with a tightening of the
heart he admitted it, for Elizabeth. And he had no home. He thought
of Reynolds, bent over the desk in his office; he saw the quiet
tree-shaded streets of the town, and Reynolds, passing from house
to house in the little town, doing his work, usurping his place in
the confidence and friendship of the people; he saw the very
children named for him asking: "Who was I named for, mother?" He
saw David and Lucy gone, and the old house abandoned, or perhaps
echoing to the laughter of Reynolds' children.
He had moments when he wondered what would happen if he took Beverly
at her word. Suppose she made her confession, re-opened the thing,
to fill the papers with great headlines, "Judson Clark Not Guilty.
A Strange Story."
He saw himself going back to the curious glances of the town, never
to be to them the same as before. To face them and look them down,
to hear whispers behind his back, to feel himself watched and
judged, on that far past of his. Suppose even that it could be kept
out of the papers; Wilkins amiable and acquiescent, Beverly's
confession hidden in the ruck of legal documents; and he stealing
back, to go on as best he could, covering his absence with lies,
and taking up his work again. But even that uneasy road was closed
to him. He saw David and Lucy stooping to new and strange
hypocrisies, watching with anxious old eyes the faces of their
neighbors, growing defiant and hard as time went on and suspicion
still followed him.
And there was Elizabeth.
He tried not to think of her, save as of some fine and tender thing
he had once brushed as he passed by. Even if she still cared for
him, he could, even less than David and Lucy, ask her to walk the
uneasy road with him. She was young. She would forget him and
marry Wallace Sayre. She would have luxury and gaiety, and the
things that belong to youth.
He was not particularly bitter about that. He knew now that he had
given her real love, something very different from that early
madness of his, but he knew it too late...
He looked up at Bassett and then sat up.
"What sort of news?" he asked, his voice still thick with sleep.
"Get up and put some cold water on your head. I want you to get
He obeyed, but without enthusiasm. Some new clue, some hope
revived only to die again, what did it matter? But he stopped by
Bassett and put a hand on his shoulder.
"Why do you do it?" he asked, "Why don't you let me go to the
devil in my own way?"
"I started this, and by Heaven I've finished it," was Bassett's
He sat down and produced a bundle of papers. "I'm going to read
you something," he said. "And when I'm through you're going to put
your clothes on and we'll go to the Biltmore. The Biltmore. Do
you get it?"
Then he began to read.
"I, the undersigned, being of sound mind, do hereby make the
following statement. I make the statement of my own free will, and
swear before Almighty God that it is the truth. I am an illegitimate
son of Elihu Clark. My mother, Harriet Burgess, has since married
and is now known as Hattie Thorwald. She will confirm the statements
"I was adopted by a woman named Hines, of the city of Omaha, whose
name I took. Some years later this woman married and had a
daughter, of whom I shall speak later.
"I attended preparatory school in the East, and was sent during
vacations to a tutoring school, owned by Mr. Henry Livingstone.
When I went to college Mr. Livingstone bought a ranch at Dry River,
Wyoming, and I spent some time there now and then.
"I learned that I was being supported and sent to college from
funds furnished by a firm of New York lawyers, and that aroused
my suspicion. I knew that Mrs. Hines was not my mother. I finally
learned that I was the son of Elihu Clark and Harriet Burgess.
"I felt that I should have some part of the estate, and I
developed a hatred of Judson Clark, whom I knew. I made one attempt
to get money from him by mail, threatening to expose his father's
story, but I did not succeed.
"I visited my mother, Hattie Thorwald, and threatened to kill Clark.
I also threatened Henry Livingstone, and his death came during a
dispute over the matter, but I did not kill him. He fell down and
hit his head. He had a weak heart.
"My foster-sister had gone on the stage, and Clark was infatuated
with her. I saw him a number of times, but he did not connect me
with the letter I had sent. My foster-sister's stage name is
"She married Howard Lucas and they visited the Clark ranch at
Norada, Wyoming, in the fall of 1911. I saw my sister there
several times, and as she knew the way I felt she was frightened.
My mother, Hattie Thorwald, was a sort of maid to her, and together
they tried to get me to go away."
Bassett looked up.
"Up to that point," he said, "I wrote it myself before I saw him."
There was a note of triumph in his voice. "The rest is his."
"On the night Lucas was killed I was to go away. Bev had agreed
to give me some money, for the piece had quit in June and I was
hard up. She was going to borrow it from Jud Clark, and that set
me crazy. I felt it ought to be mine, or a part of it anyhow.
"I was to meet my mother in the grounds, but I missed her, and I
went to the house. I wasn't responsible for what I did. I was
crazy, I guess. I saw Donaldson on the side porch, and beyond him
were Lucas and Clark, playing roulette. It made me wild. I
couldn't have played roulette that night for pennies.
"I went around the house and in the front door. What I meant to do
was to walk into that room and tell Clark who I was. He knew me,
and all I meant to do was to call Bev down, and mother, and make
him sit up and take notice. I hadn't a gun on me.
"I swear I wasn't thinking of killing him then. I hated him like
poison, but that was all. But I went into the living-room, and I
heard Clark say he'd lost a thousand dollars. Maybe you don't get
that. A thousand dollars thrown around like that, and me living
on what Bev could borrow from him.
"That sent me wild. Lucas took a gun from him, just after that,
and said he was going to put it in the other room. He did it, too.
He put it on a table and started back. I got it and pointed it at
Clark. I'd have shot him, too, but Bev came into the room.
"I want to exonerate Bev. She has been better than most sisters
to me, and she has lied to try to save me. She came up behind me
and grabbed my arm. Lucas had heard her, and he turned. I must
have closed my hand on the trigger, for it went off and hit him.
"I was in the living-room when Donaldson ran in. I hid there until
they were all gathered around Lucas and had quit running in, and
then I got away. I saw my mother in the grounds later. I told her
where the revolver was and that they'd better put it in the billiard
room. I was afraid they'd suspect Bev.
"I have read the above statement and it is correct. I was legally
adopted by Mrs. Alice Ford Hines, of Omaha, and use that signature.
I generally use the name of Frederick Gregory, which I took when I
was on the stage for a short time.
"(Signed) Clifton HINES."
Bassett folded up the papers and put them in the envelope. "I got
that," he said, "at the point of a gun, my friend. And our friend
Hines departed for the Mexican border on the evening train. I
don't mind saying that I saw him off. He held out for a get-away,
and I guess it's just as well."
He glanced at Dick, lying still and rigid on the bed.
"And now," he said. "I think a little drink won't do us any harm."
Dick refused to drink. He was endeavoring to comprehend the
situation; to realize that Gregory, who had faced him with such
sneering hate a day or so before, was his half-brother.
"Poor devil!" he said at last. "I wish to God I'd known. He was
right, you know. No wonder - "
Sometime later he roused from deep study and looked at Bassett.
"How did you get the connection?"
"I saw Melis, and learned that Hines was in it somehow. He was the
connecting link between Beverly Carlysle and the Thorwald woman.
But I couldn't connect him with Beverly herself, except by a chance.
I wired a man I knew in Omaha, and he turned up the second marriage,
and a daughter known on the stage as Beverly Carlysle."
Bassett was in high spirits. He moved about the room immensely
pleased with himself, slightly boastful.
"Some little stroke, Dick!" he said. "What price Mr. Judson Clark
to-night, eh? It will be worth a million dollars to see Wilkins'
face when he reads that thing."
"There's no mention of me as Livingstone in it, is there?"
"It wasn't necessary to go into that. I didn't know - Look here,"
he exploded, "you're not going to be a damned fool, are you?"
"I'm not going to revive Judson Clark, Bassett. I don't owe him
anything. Let him die a decent death and stay dead."
"Oh, piffle!" Bassett groaned. "Don't start that all over again.
Don't pull any Enoch Arden stuff on me, looking in at a lighted
window and wandering off to drive a taxicab."
Suddenly Dick laughed. Bassett watched him, puzzled and angry,
with a sort of savage tenderness.
"You're crazy," he said morosely. "Darned if I understand you.
Here I've got everything fixed as slick as a whistle, and it took
work, believe me. And now you say you're going to chuck the whole
"Not at all," Dick replied, with a new ring in his voice. "You're
right. I've been ten sorts of a fool, but I know now what I'm
going to do. Take your paper, old friend, and for my sake go out
and clear Jud Clark. Put up a headstone to him, if you like, a
good one. I'll buy it."
"And what will you be doing in the meantime?"
Dick stretched and threw out his arms.
"Me?" he said. "What should I be doing, old man? I'm going home."
Lucy Crosby was dead. One moment she was of the quick, moving
about the house, glancing in at David, having Minnie in the kitchen
pin and unpin her veil; and the next she was still and infinitely
mysterious, on her white bed. She had fallen outside the door of
David's room, and lay there, her arms still full of fresh bath
towels, and a fixed and intense look in her eyes, as though, outside
the door, she had come face to face with a messenger who bore
surprising news. Doctor Reynolds, running up the stairs, found her
there dead, and closed the door into David's room.
But David knew before they told him. He waited until they had
placed her on her bed, had closed her eyes and drawn a white
coverlet over her, and then he went in alone, and sat down beside
her, and put a hand over her chilling one.
"If you are still here, Lucy," he said, "and have not yet gone on,
I want you to carry this with you. We are all right, here.
Everybody is all right. You are not to worry."
After a time he went back to his room and got his prayer-book.
He could hear Harrison Miller's voice soothing Minnie in the lower
hall, and Reynolds at the telephone. He went back into the quiet
chamber, and opening the prayer-book, began to read aloud.
"Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits
of them that slept - "
His voice tightened. He put his head down on the side of the bed.
He was very docile that day. He moved obediently from his room for
the awful aftermath of a death, for the sweeping and dusting and
clean curtains, and sat in Dick's room, not reading, not even
praying, a lonely yet indomitable old figure. When his friends
came, elderly men who creaked in and tried to reduce their robust
voices to a decorous whisper, he shook hands with them and made
brief, courteous replies. Then he lapsed into silence. They felt
shut off and uncomfortable, and creaked out again.
Only once did he seem shaken. That was when Elizabeth came swiftly
in and put her arms around him as he sat. He held her close to him,
saying nothing for a long time. Then he drew a deep breath.
"I was feeling mighty lonely, my dear," he said.
He was the better for her visit. He insisted on dressing that
evening, and on being helped down the stairs. The town, which
had seemed inimical for so long, appeared to him suddenly to be
holding out friendly hands. More than friendly hands. Loving,
tender hands, offering service and affection and old-time
friendship. It moved about sedately, in dark clothes, and came
down the stairs red-eyed and using pocket-hand-kerchiefs, and it
surrounded him with love and loving kindness.
When they had all gone Harrison Miller helped him up the stairs to
where his tidy bed stood ready, and the nurse had placed his hot
milk on a stand. But Harrison did not go at once.
"What about word to Dick, David?" he inquired awkwardly, "I've
called up Bassett, but he's away. And I don't know that Dick ought
to come back anyhow. If the police are on the job at all they'll
be on the lookout now. They'll know he may try to come."
David looked away. Just how much he wanted Dick, to tide him over
these bad hours, only David knew. But he could not have him. He
stared at the glass of hot milk.
"I guess I can fight this out alone, Harrison," he said. "And Lucy
He did not sleep much that night. Once or twice he got up and
tip-toed across the hall into Lucy's room and looked at her. She
was as white as her pillow, and quite serene. Her hands, always a
little rough and twisted with service, were smooth and rested.
"You know why he can't come, Lucy," he said once. "It doesn't
mean that he doesn't care. You have to remember that." His
sublime faith that she heard and understood, not the Lucy on the
bed but the Lucy who had not yet gone on to the blessed company
of heaven, carried him back to his bed, comforted and reassured.
He was up and about his room early. The odor of baking muffins
and frying ham came up the stair-well, and the sound of Mike
vigorously polishing the floor in the hall. Mixed with the odor
of cooking and of floor wax was the scent of flowers from Lucy's
room, and Mrs. Sayre's machine stopped at the door while the
chauffeur delivered a great mass of roses.
David went carefully down the stairs and into his office, and there,
at his long deserted desk, commenced a letter to Dick.
He was sitting there when Dick came up the street...
The thought that he was going home had upheld Dick through the days
that followed Bassett's departure for the West. He knew that it
would be a fight, that not easily does a man step out of life and
into it again, but after his days of inaction he stood ready to
fight. For David, for Lucy, and, if it was not too late, for
Elizabeth. When Bassett's wire came from Norada, "All clear," he
set out for Haverly, more nearly happy than for months. The very
rhythm of the train sang: "Going home; going home."
At the Haverly station the agent stopped, stared at him and then
nodded gravely. There was something restrained in his greeting,
like the voices in the old house the night before, and Dick felt
a chill of apprehension. He never thought of Lucy, but David...
The flowers and ribbon at the door were his first intimation, and
still it was David he thought of. He went cold and bitter, standing
on the freshly washed pavement, staring at them. It was all too
late. David! David!
He went into the house slowly, and the heavy scent of flowers
greeted him. The hall was empty, and automatically he pushed open
the door to David's office and went in. David was at the desk
writing. David was alive. Thank God and thank God, David was alive.
"David !" he said brokenly. "Dear old David !" And was suddenly
shaken with dry, terrible sobbing.
There was a great deal to do, and Dick was grateful for it. But
first, like David, he went in and sat by Lucy's bed alone and talked
to her. Not aloud, as David did, but still with that same queer
conviction that she heard. He told her he was free, and that she
need not worry about David, that he was there now to look after him;
and he asked her, if she could, to help him with Elizabeth. Then
he kissed her and went out.
He met Elizabeth that day. She had come to the house, and after
her custom now went up, unwarned, to David's room. She found David
there and Harrison Miller, and - it was a moment before she realized
it - Dick by the mantel. He was greatly changed. She saw that.
But she had no feeling of pity, nor even of undue surprise. She
felt nothing at all. It gave her a curious, almost hard little
sense of triumph to see that he had gone pale. She marched up to
him and held out her hand, mindful of the eyes on her.
"I'm so very sorry, Dick," she said. "You have a sad home-coming."
Then she withdrew her hand, still calm, and turned to David.
"Mother sent over some things. I'll give them to Minnie," she said,
her voice clear and steady. She went out, and they heard her
descending the stairs.
She was puzzled to find out that her knees almost gave way on the
staircase, for she felt calm and without any emotion whatever.
And she finished her errand, so collected and poised that the two
or three women who had come in to help stared after her as she
"Do you suppose she's seen him?"-
"She was in David's room. She must have."
Mindful of Mike, they withdrew into Lucy's sitting-room and closed
the door, there to surmise and to wonder. Did he know she was
engaged to Wallie Sayre? Would she break her engagement now or not?
Did Dick for a moment think that he could do as he had done, go away
and jilt a girl, and come back to be received as though nothing had
happened? Because, if he did...
To Dick Elizabeth's greeting had been a distinct shock. He had not
known just what he had expected; certainly he had not hoped to pick
things up where he had dropped them. But there was a hard
friendliness in it that was like a slap in the face. He had meant
at least to fight to win back with her, but he saw now that there
would not even be a fight. She was not angry or hurt. The barrier
was more hopeless than that.
David, watching him, waited until Harrison had gone, and went
directly to the subject.
"Have you ever stopped to think what these last months have meant
to Elizabeth? Her own worries, and always this infernal town,
talking, talking. The child's pride's been hurt, as well as her
"I thought I'd better not go into that until after - until later," he
explained. "The other thing was wrong. I knew it the moment I saw
Beverly and I didn't go back again. What was the use? But - you
saw her face, David. I think she doesn't even care enough to hate me."
"She's cared enough to engage herself to Wallace Sayre!"
After one astounded glance Dick laughed bitterly.
"That looks as though she cared!" he said. He had gone very white.
After a time, as David sat silent and thoughtful, he said: "After
all, what right had I to expect anything else? When you think that,
a few days ago, I was actually shaken at the thought of seeing
another woman, you can hardly blame her."
"She waited a long time."
Later Dick made what was a difficult confession under the
"I know now - I think I knew all along, but the other thing was
like that craving for liquor I told you about - I know now that
she has always been the one woman. You'll understand that, perhaps,
but she wouldn't. I would crawl on my knees to make her believe it,
but it's too late. Everything's too late," he added.
Before the hour for the services he went in again and sat by Lucy's
bed, but she who had given him wise counsel so many times before
lay in her majestic peace, surrounded by flowers and infinitely
removed. Yet she gave him something. Something of her own peace.
Once more, as on the night she had stood at the kitchen door and
watched him disappear in the darkness, there came the tug of the
old familiar things, the home sense. Not only David now, but the
house. The faded carpet on the stairs, the old self-rocker Lucy
had loved, the creaking faucets in the bathroom, Mike and Minnie,
the laboratory, - united in their shabby strength, they were home
to him. They had come back, never to be lost again. Home.
Then, little by little, they carried their claim further. They
were not only home. They were the setting of a dream, long
forgotten but now vivid in his mind, and a refuge from the dreary
present. That dream had seen Elizabeth enshrined among the old
familiar things; the old house was to be a sanctuary for her and
for him. From it and from her in the dream he was to go out in
the morning; to it and to her he was to come home at night, after
he had done a man's work.
The dream faded. Before him rose her face of the morning,
impassive and cool; her eyes, not hostile but indifferent. She
had taken herself out of his life, had turned her youth to youth,
and forgotten him. He understood and accepted it. He saw himself
as he must have looked to her, old and worn, scarred from the last
months, infinitely changed. And she was young. Heavens, how
young she was!...
Lucy was buried the next afternoon. It was raining, and the quiet
procession followed Dick and the others who carried her light body
under grotesquely bobbing umbrellas. Then he and David, and Minnie
and Mike, went back to the house, quiet with that strange emptiness
that follows a death, the unconscious listening for a voice that
will not speak again, for a familiar footfall. David had not gone
upstairs. He sat in Lucy's sitting-room, in his old frock coat and
black tie, with a knitted afghan across his knees. His throat
looked withered in his loose collar. And there for the first time
they discussed the future.
"You're giving up a great deal, Dick," David said. "I'm proud of
you, and like you I think the money's best where it is. But this
is a prejudiced town, and they think you've treated Elizabeth badly.
If you don't intend to tell the story - "
"Never," Dick announced, firmly. "Judson Clark is dead." He smiled
at David with something of his old humor. "I told Bassett to put up
a monument if he wanted to. But you're right about one thing.
They're not ready to take me back. I've seen it a dozen times in
the last two days."
"I never gave up a fight yet." David's voice was grim.
"On the other hand, I don't want to make it uncomfortable for her.
We are bound to meet. I'm putting my own feeling aside. It doesn't
matter - except of course to me. What I thought was - We might go
into the city. Reynolds would buy the house. He's going to be
But he found himself up against the stone wall of David's opposition.
He was too old to be uprooted. He liked to be able to find his way
around in the dark. He was almost childish about it, and perhaps a
trifle terrified. But it was his final argument that won Dick over.
"I thought you'd found out there's nothing in running away from
"You're right," he said. "We'll stay here and fight it out together."
He helped David up the stairs to where the nurse stood waiting,
and then went on into his own bedroom. He surveyed it for the
first time since his return with a sense of permanency and intimacy.
Here, from now on, was to center his life. From this bed he would
rise in the morning, to go back to it at night. From this room he
would go out to fight for place again, and for the old faith in him,
for confiding eyes and the clasp of friendly hands.
He sat down by the window and with the feeling of dismissing them
forever retraced slowly and painfully the last few months; the
night on the mountains, and Bassett asleep by the fire; the man
from the cabin caught under the tree, with his face looking up,
strangely twisted, from among the branches; dawn in the alfalfa
field, and the long night tramp; the boy who had recognized him
in Chicago; David in his old walnut bed, shrivelled and dauntless;
and his own going out into the night, with Lucy in the kitchen
doorway, Elizabeth and Wallace Sayre on the verandah, and himself
across the street under the trees; Beverly, and the illumination
of his freedom from the old bonds; Gregory, glib and debonair,
telling his lying story, and later on, flying to safety.
All that, and now this quiet room, with David asleep beyond the
wall and Minnie moving heavily in the kitchen below, setting her
bread to rise. It was anti-climacteric, ridiculous, wonderful.
Then he thought of Elizabeth, and it became terrible.
After Reynolds came up he put on a dressing-gown and went down the
stairs. The office was changed and looked strange and unfamiliar.
But when he opened the door and went into the laboratory nothing
had been altered there. It was as though he had left it yesterday;
the microscope screwed to its stand, the sterilizer gleaming and
ready. It was as though it had waited for him.
He was content. He would fight and he would work. That was all
a man needed, a good fight, and work for his hands and brain. A
man could live without love if he had work.
He sat down on the stool and groaned.
One thing Dick knew must be done and got over with. He would have
to see Elizabeth and tell her the story. He knew it would do no
good, but she had a right to the fullest explanation he could give
her. She did not love him, but it was intolerable that she should
He meant, however, to make no case for himself. He would have to
stand on the facts. This thing had happened to him; the storm had
come, wrought its havoc and passed; he was back, to start again as
nearly as he could where he had left off. That was all.
He went to the Wheeler house the next night, passing the door twice
before he turned in and rang the bell, in order that his voice might
be calm and his demeanor unshaken. But the fact that Micky, waiting
on the porch, knew him and broke into yelps of happiness and ecstatic
wriggling almost lost him his self-control.
Walter Wheeler opened the door and admitted him.
"I thought you might come," he said. "Come in."
There was no particular warmth in his voice, but no unfriendliness.
He stood by gravely while Dick took off his overcoat, and then led
the way into the library.
"I'd better tell you at once," he said, "that I have advised
Elizabeth to see you, but that she refuses. I'd much prefer - "
He busied himself at the fire for a moment. "I'd much prefer to
have her see you, Livingstone. But - I'll tell you frankly - I
don't think it would do much good."
He sat down and stared at the fire. Dick remained standing. "She
doesn't intend to see me at all?" he asked, unsteadily.
"That's rather out of the question, if you intend to remain here.
An unexpected feeling of sympathy for the tall young man on the
hearth rug stirred in Walter Wheeler's breast.
"I'm sorry, Dick. She apparently reached the breaking point a week
or two ago. She knew you had been here and hadn't seen her, for
one thing." He hesitated. "You've heard of her engagement?"
"I didn't want it," her father said drearily. "I suppose she knows
her own business, but the thing's done. She sent you a message," he
added after a pause. "She's glad it's cleared up and I believe you
are not to allow her to drive you away. She thinks David needs you."
"Thank you. I'll have to stay, as she says."
There was another uncomfortable silence. Then Walter Wheeler burst
"Confound it, Dick, I'm sorry. I've fought your battles for months,
not here, but everywhere. But here's a battle I can't fight. She
isn't angry. You'll have to get her angle of it. I think it's
something like this. She had built you up into a sort of superman.
And she's - well, I suppose purity is the word. She's the essence
of purity. Then, Leslie told me this to-night, she learned from
him that you were back with the woman in the case, in New York."
And, as Dick made a gesture:
"There's no use going to him. He was off the beaten track, and he
knows it. He took a chance, to tell her for her own good. He's
fond of her. I suppose that was the last straw."
He sat still, a troubled figure, middle-aged and unhandsome, and
"It's a bad business, Dick," he said.
After a time Dick stirred.
"When I first began to remember," he said, "I wanted whisky. I
would have stolen it, if I couldn't have got it any other way.
Then, when I got it, I didn't want it. It sickened me. This other
was the same sort of thing. It's done with."
"I understand. But she wouldn't, Dick."
"No. I don't suppose she would."
He went away soon after that, back to the quiet house and to David.
Automatically he turned in at his office, but Reynolds was writing
there. He went slowly up the stairs.
Ann Sayre was frankly puzzled during the next few days. She had
had a week or so of serenity and anticipation, and although things
were not quite as she would have had them, Elizabeth too impassive
and even Wallie rather restrained in his happiness, she was
satisfied. But Dick Livingstone's return had somehow changed
It had changed Wallie, too. He was suddenly a man, and not, she
suspected, a very happy man. He came back one day, for instance,
to say that he had taken a partnership in a brokerage office, and
gave as his reason that he was sick of "playing round." She rather
thought it was to take his mind off something.
A few days after the funeral she sent for Doctor Reynolds. "I
caught cold at the cemetery," she said, when he had arrived and
was seated opposite her in her boudoir. "I really did," she
protested, as she caught his eye. "I suppose everybody is sending
for you, to have a chance to talk."
"You can't blame us. Particularly, you can't blame me. I've got
to know something, doctor. Is he going to stay?"
"I think so. Yes."
"Isn't he going to explain anything? He can't expect just to walk
back into his practise after all these months, and the talk that's
been going on, and do nothing about it."
"I don't see what his going away has to do with it. He's a good
doctor, and a hard worker. When I'm gone - "
"You're going, are you?"
"Yes. I may live here, and have an office in the city. I don't
care for general practise; there's no future in it. I may take a
special course in nose and throat."
But she was not interested in his plans.
"I want to know something, and only you can tell me. I'm not
curious like the rest; I think I have a right to know. Has he
seen Elizabeth Wheeler yet? Talked to her, I mean?"
"I don't know. I'm inclined to think not," he added cautiously.
"You mean that he hasn't?"
"Look here, Mrs. Sayre. You've confided in me, and I know it's
important to you. I don't know a thing. I'm to stay on until the
end of the week, and then he intends to take hold. I'm in and out,
see him at meals, and we've had a little desultory talk. There is
no trouble between the two families. Mr. Wheeler comes and goes.
If you ask me, I think Livingstone has simply accepted the situation
as he found it."
"He isn't going to explain anything? He'll have to, I think, if he
expects to practise here. There have been all sorts of stories."
"I don't know, Mrs. Sayre."
"How is Doctor David?" she asked, after a pause.
"Better. It wouldn't surprise me now to see him mend rapidly."
He met Elizabeth on his way down the hill, a strange, bright-eyed
Elizabeth, carrying her head high and a bit too jauntily, and with
a sort of hot defiance in her eyes. He drove on, thoughtfully.
All this turmoil and trouble, anxiety and fear, and all that was
left a crushed and tragic figure of a girl, and two men in an old
house, preparing to fight that one of them might regain the place
he had lost.
It would be a fight. Reynolds saw the village already divided into
two camps, a small militant minority, aligned with Dick and David,
and a waiting, not particularly hostile but intensely curious
majority, who would demand certain things before Dick's
reinstatement in their confidence.
Elizabeth Wheeler was an unconscious party to the division. It was,
in a way, her battle they were fighting. And Elizabeth had gone
over to the enemy.
Late that afternoon Ann Sayre had her first real talk with Wallie
since Dick's return. She led him out onto the terrace, her
shoulders militant and her head high, and faced him there.
"I can see you are not going to talk to me," she said. "So I'll
talk to you. Has Dick Livingstone's return made any change between
Elizabeth and you?"
"She's just the same to you? You must tell me, Wallace. I've been
building so much."
She realized the change in him then more fully than ever for he
faced her squarely and without evasion.
"There's no change in her, mother, but I think you and I will both
have to get used to this: she's not in love with me. She doesn't
pretend to be."
"Don't tell me it's still that man!"
"I don't know." He took a turn or two about the terrace. "I don't
think it is, mother. I don't think she cares for anybody, that way,
certainly not for me. And that's the trouble." He faced her again.
"If marrying me isn't going to make her happy, I won't hold her to
it. You'll have to support me in that, mother. I'm a pretty weak
That appeal touched her as nothing had done for a long time. "I'll
help all I can, if the need comes," she said, and turned and went
heavily into the house.
David was satisfied. The great love of his life had been given to
Dick, and now Dick was his again. He grieved for Lucy, but he
knew that the parting was not for long, and that from whatever
high place she looked down she would know that. He was satisfied.
He looked on his work and found it good. There was no trace of
weakness nor of vacillation in the man who sat across from him at
the table, or slammed in and out of the house after his old fashion.
But he was not content. At first it was enough to have Dick there,
to stop in the doorway of his room and see him within, occupied
with the prosaic business of getting into his clothes or out of
them, now and then to put a hand on his shoulder, to hear him
fussing in the laboratory again, and to be called to examine divers
and sundry smears to which Dick attached impressive importance and
more impressive names. But behind Dick's surface cheerfulness he
knew that he was eating his heart out.
And there was nothing to be done. Nothing. Secretly David watched
the papers for the announcement of Elizabeth's engagement, and each
day drew a breath of relief when it did not come. And he had done
another thing secretly, too; he did not tell Dick when her ring came
back. Annie had brought the box, without a letter, and the
incredible cruelty of the thing made David furious. He stamped into
his office and locked it in a drawer, with the definite intention of
saving Dick that one additional pang at a time when he already had
enough to hear.
For things were going very badly. The fight was on.
It was a battle without action. Each side was dug in and entrenched,
and waiting. It was an engagement where the principals met
occasionally the neutral ground of the streets, bowed to each other
and passed on.
The town was sorry for David and still fond of him, but it resented
his stiff-necked attitude. It said, in effect, that when he ceased
to make Dick's enemies his it was willing to be friends. But it
said also, to each other and behind its hands, that Dick's absence
was discreditable or it would be explained, and that he had behaved
abominably to Elizabeth. It would be hanged if it would be friends
It looked away, but it watched. Dick knew that when he passed by
on the streets it peered at him from behind its curtains, and
whispered behind his back. Now and then he saw, on his evening
walks, that line of cars drawn up before houses he had known and
frequented which indicated a party, but he was never asked. He
never told David.
It was only when the taboo touched David that Dick was resentful,
and then he was inclined to question the wisdom of his return.
It hurt him, for instance, to see David give up his church, and
reading morning prayer alone at home on Sunday mornings, and to
see his grim silence when some of his old friends were mentioned.
Yet on the surface things were much as they had been. David rose
early, and as he improved in health, read his morning paper in his
office while he waited for breakfast. Doctor Reynolds had gone,
and the desk in Dick's office was back where it belonged. In the
mornings Mike oiled the car in the stable and washed it, his old
pipe clutched in his teeth, while from the kitchen came the sounds
of pans and dishes, and the odor of frying sausages. And Dick
splashed in the shower, and shaved by the mirror with the cracked
glass in the bathroom. But he did not sing.
The house was very quiet. Now and then the front door opened, and
a patient came in, but there was no longer the crowded waiting-room,
the incessant jangle of the telephone, the odor of pungent drugs
When, shortly before Christmas, Dick looked at the books containing
the last quarter's accounts, he began to wonder how long they could
fight their losing battle. He did not mind for himself, but it was
unthinkable that David should do without, one by one, the small
luxuries of his old age, his cigars, his long and now errandless
rambles behind Nettie.
He began then to think of his property, his for the claiming, and
to question whether he had not bought his peace at too great a
cost to David. He knew by that time that it was not fear, but
pride, which had sent him back empty-handed, the pride of making
his own way. And now and then, too, he felt a perfectly human
desire to let Bassett publish the story as his vindication and
then snatch David away from them all, to some luxurious haven
where - that was the point at which he always stopped - where David
could pine away in homesickness for them!
There was an irony in it that made him laugh hopelessly.
He occupied himself then with ways and means, and sold the car.
Reynolds, about to be married and busily furnishing a city office,
bought it, had it repainted a bright blue, and signified to the
world at large that he was at the Rossiter house every night by
leaving it at the curb. Sometimes, on long country tramps, Dick
saw it outside a farmhouse, and knew that the boycott was not
limited to the town.
By Christmas, however, he realized that the question of meeting
their expenses necessitated further economies, and reluctantly at
last they decided to let Mike go. Dick went out to the stable with
a distinct sinking of the heart, while David sat in the house,
unhappily waiting for the thing to be done. But Mike refused to
"And is it discharging me you are?" he asked, putting down one of
David's boots in his angry astonishment. "Well, then, I'm telling
you you're not."
"We can't pay you any longer, Mike. And now that the car's gone - "
"I'm not thinking about pay. I'm not going, and that's flat.
Who'd be after doing his boots and all?"
David called him in that night and dismissed him again, this time
very firmly. Mike said nothing and went out, but the next morning
he was scrubbing the sidewalk as usual, and after that they gave
Now and then Dick and Elizabeth met on the street, and she bowed
to him and went on. At those times it seemed incredible that once
he had held her in his arms, and that she had looked up at him with
loving, faithful eyes. He suffered so from those occasional
meetings that he took to watching for her, so as to avoid her.
Sometimes he wished she would marry Wallace quickly, so he would
be obliged to accept what now he knew he had not accepted at all.
He had occasional spells of violent anger at her, and of resentment,
but they died when he checked up, one after the other, the inevitable
series of events that had led to the catastrophe. But it was all
nonsense to say that love never died. She had loved him, and there
was never anything so dead as that love of hers.
He had been saved one thing, however; he had never seen her with
Wallie Sayre. Then, one day in the country while he trudged afoot
to make one of his rare professional visits, they went past together
in Wallie's bright roadster. The sheer shock of it sent him against
a fence, staring after them with an anger that shook him.
Late in November Elizabeth went away for a visit, and it gave him
a breathing spell. But the strain was telling on him, and Bassett,
stopping on his way to dinner at the Wheelers', told him so bluntly.
"You look pretty rotten," he said. "It's no time to go to pieces
now, when you've put up your fight and won it."
"I'm all right. I haven't been sleeping. That's all."
"How about the business? People coming to their senses?"
"Not very fast," Dick admitted. "Of course it's a little soon."
After dinner at the Wheelers', when Walter Wheeler had gone to a
vestry meeting, Bassett delivered himself to Margaret of a highly
indignant harangue on the situation in general.
"That's how I see it," he finished. "He's done a fine thing. A
finer thing by a damned sight than I'd do, or any of this town.
He's given up money enough to pay the national debt - or nearly.
If he'd come back with it, as Judson Clark, they wouldn't have
cared a hang for the past. They'd have licked his boots. It
makes me sick."
He turned on her.
"You too, I think, Mrs. Wheeler. I'm not attacking you on that
score; it's human nature. But it's the truth."
"Perhaps. I don't know."
"They'll drive him to doing it yet. He came back to make a place
for himself again, like a man. Not what he had, but what he was.
But they'll drive him away, mark my words."
Later on, but more gently, he introduced the subject of Elizabeth.
"You can't get away from this, Mrs. Wheeler. So long as she stands
off, and you behind her, the town is going to take her side. She
doesn't know it, but that's how it stands. It all hangs on her.
If he wasn't the man he is, I'd say his salvation hangs on her. I
don't mean she ought to take him back; it's too late for that, if
she's engaged. But a little friendliness and kindness wouldn't do
any harm. You too. Do you ever have him here?"
"How can I, as things are?"
"Well, be friendly, anyhow," he argued. "That's not asking much.
I suppose he'd cut my throat if he knew, but I'm a
straight-to-the-mark sort of person, and I know this: what this
house does the town will do."
"I'll talk to Mr. Wheeler. I don't know. I'll say this, Mr.
Bassett. I won't make her unhappy. She has borne a great deal,
and sometimes I think her life is spoiled. She is very different."
"If she is suffering, isn't it possible she cares for him?"
But Margaret did not think so. She was so very calm. She was so
calm that sometimes it was alarming.
"He gave her a ring, and the other day I found it, tossed into a
drawer full of odds and ends. I haven't seen it lately; she may
have sent it back."
Elizabeth came home shortly before Christmas, undeniably glad to
be back and very gentle with them all. She set to work almost
immediately on the gifts, wrapping them and tying them with
methodical exactness, sticking a tiny sprig of holly through
the ribbon bow, and writing cards with neatness and care. She
hung up wreaths and decorated the house, and when she was through
with her work she went to her room and sat with her hands folded,
not thinking. She did not think any more.
Wallie had sent her a flexible diamond bracelet as a Christmas gift
and it lay on her table in its box. She was very grateful, but
she had not put it on.
On the morning before Christmas Nina came in, her arms full of
packages, and her eyes shining and a little frightened. She had
some news for them. She hadn't been so keen about it, at first,
but Leslie was like a madman. He was so pleased that he was
ordering her that sable cape she had wanted so. He was like a
different man. And it would be July.
Elizabeth kissed her. It seemed very unreal, like everything else.
She wondered why Leslie should be so excited, or her mother crying.
She wondered if there was something strange about her, that it
should see so small and unimportant. But then, what was important?
That one got up in the morning, and ate at intervals, and went to
bed at night? That children came, and had to be fed and washed
and tended, and cried a great deal, and were sick now and then?
She wished she could feel something, could think it vital whether
Nina should choose pink or blue for her layette, and how far she
should walk each day, and if the chauffeur drove the car carefully
enough. She wished she cared whether it was going to rain to-morrow
or not, or whether some one was coming, or not coming. And she
wished terribly that she could care for Wallie, or get over the
feeling that she had saved her pride at a cost to him she would not
After a time she went upstairs and put on the bracelet. And late
in the afternoon she went out and bought some wool, to make an
afghan. It eased her conscience toward Nina. She commenced it
that evening while she waited for Wallie, and she wondered if
some time she would be making an afghan for a coming child of her
own. Hers and Wallace Sayre's.
Suddenly she knew she would never marry him. She faced the future,
with all that it implied, and she knew she could not do it. It was
horrible that she had even contemplated it. It would be terrible
to tell Wallie, but not as terrible as the other thing. She saw
herself then with the same clearness with which she had judged Dick.
She too, leaving her havoc of wrecked lives behind her; she too
going along her headstrong way, raising hopes not to be fulfilled,
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