The Breaking Point
Mary Roberts Rinehart
Part 8 out of 8
and passing on. She too.
That evening, Christmas eve, she told Wallie she would not marry
him. Told him very gently, and just after an attempt of his to
embrace her. She would not let him do it.
"I don't know what's come over you," he said morosely. "But I'll
let you alone, if that's the way you feel."
"I'm sorry, Wallie. It - it makes me shiver."
In a way he was prepared for it but nevertheless he begged for
time, for a less unequivocal rejection. But he found her, for the
first time, impatient with his pleadings.
"I don't want to go over and over it, Wallie. I'll take the blame.
I should have done it long ago."
She was gentle, almost tender with him, but when he said she had
spoiled his life for him she smiled faintly.
"You think that now. And don't believe I'm not sorry. I am. I
hate not playing the game, as you say. But I don't think for a
moment that you'll go on caring when you know I don't. That doesn't
happen. That's all."
"Do you know what I think?" he burst out. "I think you're still
mad about Livingstone. I think you are so mad about him that you
don't know it yourself."
But she only smiled her cool smile and went on with her knitting.
After that he got himself in hand, and - perhaps he still had some
hope. It was certain that she had not flinched at Dick's name
- told her very earnestly that he only wanted her happiness. He
didn't want her unless she wanted him. He would always love her.
"Not always," she said, with tragically cold certainty. "Men are
not like women; they forget."
She wondered, after he had gone, what had made her say that.
She did not tell the family that night. They were full of their
own concerns, Nina's coming maternity, the wrapping of packages
behind closed doors, the final trimming of the tree in the library.
Leslie had started the phonograph, and it was playing "Stille Nacht,
Still night, holy night, and only in her was there a stillness that
was not holy.
They hung up their stockings valiantly as usual, making a little
ceremony of it, and being careful not to think about Jim's missing
one. Indeed, they made rather a function of it, and Leslie
demanded one of Nina's baby socks and pinned it up.
"I'm starting a bank account for the little beggar," he said, and
dropped a gold piece into the toe. "Next year, old girl"
He put his arm around Nina. It seemed to him that life was doing
considerably better than he deserved by him, and he felt very
humble and contrite. He felt in his pocket for the square jeweler's
box that lay there.
After that they left Walter Wheeler there, to play his usual part
at such times, and went upstairs. He filled the stockings bravely,
an orange in each toe, a box of candy, a toy for old time's sake,
and then the little knickknacks he had been gathering for days and
hiding in his desk. After all, there were no fewer stockings this
year than last. Instead of Jim's there was the tiny one for Nina's
baby. That was the way things went. He took away, but also He gave.
He sat back in his deep chair, and looked up at the stockings,
ludicrously bulging. After all, if he believed that He gave and
took away, then he must believe that Jim was where he had tried to
think him, filling a joyous, active place in some boyish heaven.
After a while he got up and went to his desk, and getting pen and
paper wrote carefully.
"Dearest: You will find this in your stocking in the morning, when
you get up for the early service. And I want you to think over it
in the church. It is filled with tenderness and with anxiety.
Life is not so very long, little daughter, and it has no time to
waste in anger or in bitterness. A little work, a little sleep, a
little love, and it is all over.
"Will you think of this to-day?"
He locked up the house, and went slowly up to bed Elizabeth found
the letter the next morning. She stood in the bleak room, with the
ashes of last night's fire still smoking, and the stockings
overhead not festive in the gray light, but looking forlorn and
abandoned. Suddenly her eyes, dry and fiercely burning for so long,
were wet with tears. It was true. It was true. A little work, a
little sleep, a little love. Not the great love, perhaps, not the
only love of a man's life. Not the love of yesterday, but of
to-day and to-morrow.
All the fierce repression of the last weeks was gone. She began
to suffer. She saw Dick coming home, perhaps high with hope that
whatever she knew she would understand and forgive. And she saw
herself failing him, cold and shut away, not big enough nor woman
enough to meet him half way. She saw him fighting his losing
battle alone, protecting David but never himself; carrying Lucy
to her quiet grave; sitting alone in his office, while the village
walked by and stared at the windows; she saw him, gaining harbor
after storm, and finding no anchorage there.
She turned and went, half blindly, into the empty street.
She thought he was at the early service. She did not see him, but
she had once again the thing that had seemed lost forever, the
warm sense of his thought of her.
He was there, in the shadowy back pew, with the grill behind it
through which once insistent hands had reached to summon him. He
was there, with Lucy's prayer-book in his hand, and none of the
peace of the day in his heart. He knelt and rose with the others.
"0 God, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth
of Thy Son - "
David was beaten; most tragic defeat of all, beaten by those he
had loved and faithfully served.
He did not rise on Christmas morning, and Dick, visiting him after
an almost untasted breakfast, found him still in his bed and
questioned him anxiously.
"I'm all right," he asserted. "I'm tired, Dick, that's all. Tired
of fighting. You're young. You can carry it on, and win. But I'll
never see it. They're stronger than we are."
Later he elaborated on that. He had kept the faith. He had run
with courage the race that was set before him. He had stayed up
at night and fought for them. But he couldn't fight against them.
Dick went downstairs again and shutting himself in his office fell
to pacing the floor. David was right, the thing was breaking him.
Very seriously now he contemplated abandoning the town, taking
David with him, and claiming his estate. They could travel then;
he could get consultants in Europe; there were baths there, and
The doorbell rang. He heard Minnie's voice in the hail, not too
friendly, and her tap at the door.
"Some one in the waiting-room," she called.
When he opened the connecting door he found Elizabeth beyond it,
a pale and frightened Elizabeth, breathless and very still. It
was a perceptible moment before he could control his voice to speak.
"I suppose you want to see David. I'm sorry, but he isn't well
to-day. He is still in bed."
"I didn't come to see David, Dick."
"I cannot think you want to see me, Elizabeth."
"I do, if you don't mind."
He stood aside then and let her pass him into the rear office.
But he was not fooled at all. Not he. He had been enough. He
knew why she had come, in the kindness of heart. (She was so
little. Good heavens, a man could crush her to nothing!) She had
come because she was sorry for him, and she had brought forgiveness.
It was like her. It was fine. It was damnable.
His voice hardened, for fear it might be soft.
"Is this a professional visit, or a Christmas call, Elizabeth? Or
perhaps I shouldn't call you that."
"A Christmas call?"
"You know what I mean. The day of peace. The day - what do you
think I'm made of, Elizabeth? To have you here, gentle and good
and kind - "
He got up and stood over her, tall and almost threatening.
"You've been to church, and you've been thinking things over, I
know. I was there. I heard it all, peace on earth, goodwill to
men. Bosh. Peace, when there is no peace. Good will! I don't
want your peace and good will."
She looked up at him timidly.
"You don't want to be friends, then?"
"No. A thousand times, no," he said violently. Then, more gently:
"I'm making a fool of myself. I want your peace and good will,
Elizabeth. God knows I need them."
"You frighten me, Dick," she said, slowly. "I didn't come to bring
forgiveness, if that is what you mean. I came - "
"Don't tell me you came to ask it. That would be more than I can
"Will you listen to me for a moment, Dick? I am not good at
explaining things, and I'm nervous. I suppose you can see that."
She tried to smile at him. "A - a little work, a sleep, a little
love, that's life, isn't it?"
He was watching her intently.
"Work and trouble, and a long sleep at the end for which let us be
duly thankful - that's life, too. Love? Not every one gets love."
Hopelessness and despair overwhelmed her. He was making it hard
for her. Impossible. She could not go on.
"I did not come with peace," she said tremulously, "but if you don't
want it - " She rose. "I must say this, though, before I go. I
blame myself. I don't blame you. You are wrong if you think I came
to forgive you."
She was stumbling toward the door.
"Elizabeth, what did bring you?"
She turned to him, with her hand on the door knob. "I came because
I wanted to see you again."
He strode after her and catching her by the arm, turned her until
he faced her.
"And why did you want to see me again? You can't still care for me.
You know the story. You know I was here and didn't see you. You've
seen Leslie Ward. You know my past. What you don't know - "
He looked down into her eyes. "A little work, a little sleep, a
little love," he repeated. "What did you mean by that?"
"Just that," she said simply. "Only not a little love, Dick. Maybe
you don't want me now. I don't know. I have suffered so much that
I'm not sure of anything."
"Want you !" he said. "More than anything on this earth."
Bassett was at his desk in the office. It was late, and the night
editor, seeing him reading the early edition, his feet on his desk,
carried over his coffee and doughnuts and joined him.
"Sometime," he said, "I'm going to get that Clark story out of you.
If it wasn't you who turned up the confession, I'll eat it."
"Have it your own way," he said indifferently. "You were shielding
somebody, weren't you? No? What's the answer?"
Bassett made no reply. He picked up the paper and pointed to an
item with the end of his pencil.
The night editor read it with bewilderment. He glanced up.
"What's that got to do with the Clark case?"
"Nothing. Nice people, though. Know them both."
When the night editor walked away, rather affronted, Bassett took
up the paper and reread the paragraph.
"Mr. and Mrs. Walter Wheeler, of Haverly, announce the engagement
of their daughter, Elizabeth, to Doctor Richard Livingstone."
He sat for a long time staring at it.
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