The Wild Olive
Part 5 out of 6
"Pff! I don't care anything about that. I never liked the name of
Herbert--or Strange, either. I told you that before. All the same, I wish
Uncle Jarrott would have a little sense."
"Suppose--I mean, just suppose, dear--he felt it his duty to forbid your
engagement altogether. What would you do then?"
"It wouldn't be very nice of him, I must say. He was as pleased as Punch
over it when I was down there. If he's so capricious, I don't see how he
can blame me."
"Blame you, for what, dear?"
"For staying engaged--if it's all right."
"But if he thought it wasn't all right?"
"You do, don't you?"
Evie, who had been prancing about the room, turned sharply on Miriam, who
was still at her desk.
"That isn't the question--"
"No, but it's _a_ question. I presume you don't mind my asking it?"
"You may ask me anything, darling--of course. But this is your uncle
Jarrott's affair, and yours. It wouldn't do for me--"
"Oh, that's so like you Miriam. You'd exasperate a saint--the way you
won't give your opinion when you've got one. I wish I could ask Billy.
He'd know. But of course I couldn't, when he thinks I'm still engaged to
"What do you want to ask him, Evie, dear?"
"Well, he's a lawyer. He could tell me all about what it's all about. I'm
sure _I_ don't know. I didn't think it was anything--and yet here's Uncle
Jarrott writing as if it was something awful. He's written to Aunt
Queenie, too. Of course I must stand by Herbert, whatever happens--if it
isn't very bad; but you can see yourself that I don't want to be mixed up
in a--a--in a scandal."
"It would hardly be a scandal, dear; but there would be some--some
publicity about it."
"I don't mind publicity. I'm used to that, with my name in the paper every
other day. It was in this morning. Did you see it?--the Gresley's dance.
Only I do wish they would call me Evelyn, and not Evie. It sounds so
"I'm afraid they'd put more in about you than just that."
"Would they? What?" Her eyes danced already, in anticipation.
"I can't tell you exactly what; but it would be things you wouldn't like."
Evie twitched about the room, making little clicking sounds with her lips,
as signs of meditation.
"Well, I mean to be true to him--a while longer," she said, at last, as if
coming to a conclusion. "I'm not going to let Uncle Jarrott think I'm just
a puppet to be jerked on a string. The idea! When he was as pleased as
Punch about it himself. And Aunt Helen said she'd give me my trousseau. I
suppose I sha'n't get that now. But there's the money you offered me for
the pearl necklace. Only I'd much rather have the pearl--Well, I'll be
true to him, do you see? We're leaving for Newport the day after
to-morrow. They say there hasn't been such a brilliant summer for a long
time as they expect this year. Thank goodness, there's something to take
my mind off all this care and worry and responsiblity, otherwise I think I
should pass away. But I shall show Uncle Jarrott that he can't do just as
he likes with me, anyhow."
Evie and Miss Jarrott went to Newport, and it was the beginning of July
before Miriam heard from Ford again. Once more she read to Conquest such
portions of the letter as she thought he would find of interest.
* * * * *
"It is all over now," Ford wrote, "between Stephens and Jarrott and me.
I'm out of the concern for good. It was something of a wrench, and I'm
glad it is past. I didn't see the old man again. I wanted to thank him and
say good-bye, but he dodged me. Perhaps it is just as well. Even if I were
to meet him now, I shouldn't make the attempt again. I confess to feeling
a little hurt, but I thoroughly understand him. He is one of those
men--you meet them now and again--survivals from the old school--with a
sense of rectitude so exact that they can only see in a straight line. It
is all right. Don't think that I complain. It is almost as much for his
sake as for my own that I wish he could have taken what I call a more
comprehensive view of me. I know he suffers--and I shall never be able to
tell him how sorry I am till we get into the kingdom of heaven. In fact, I
can't explain anything to any one, except you, which must be an excuse for
my long letters. I try to keep you posted in what I'm going through, so
that you may convey as much or as little of it as you think fit to Evie. I
can't tell her much, and I see from the little notes she writes me that
she doesn't yet understand.
"The cat seems to be quite out of the bag in the office, though I haven't
said a word to any one, and I know Mr. Jarrott wouldn't. Pride and sore
feeling will keep him from ever speaking of me again, except when he can't
help it. I don't mean to say that the men know exactly what it is, but
they know enough to set them guessing. They are jolly nice about it, too,
even the fellows who were hardly decent to me in the old days. Little
Green--the chap from Boston who succeeded me at Rosario; I must have told
you about him--and his wife can't do enough for me, and I know they mean
There was a silence of some weeks before he wrote again.
"I shall not get away from here as soon as I expected, as my private
affairs are not easily settled up. This city grows so fast that I have had
a good part of my savings in real estate. I am getting rid of it by
degrees, but it takes time to sell to advantage. I may say that I am doing
very well, for which I am not sorry, as I shall need the money for my
trial. I hope you don't mind my referring to it, because I look forward to
it with something you might almost call glee. To get back where I started
will be like waking from a bad dream. I can't believe that Justice will
make the same mistake twice--and even if she does I would rather she had
the chance. I am much encouraged by the last reports from Kilcup and
Warren. I've long felt that it was Jacob Gramm who did for my poor uncle,
though I didn't like to accuse him of it when the proofs seemed all the
other way. He certainly had more reason to do the trick than I had, for my
uncle had been a brute to him for thirty years, while he had only worried
me for two. He wasn't half a bad old chap, either--old Gramm--and it was
one of the mysteries of the place to me that he could have stood it so
long. The only explanation I could find was that he had a kind of
affection for the old man, such as a dog will sometimes have for a master
who beats him, or a woman for a drunken husband. I believe the moment came
when he simply found himself at the end of his tether of endurance--and
he just did for him. His grief, when it was all over, was real enough.
Nobody could doubt that. In fact, it was so evidently genuine that the
theory I am putting forward now only came to me of late years. I think
there is something in it, and I believe the further they go the more they
will find to support it. Now that the old chap is dead I should have less
scruple in following it up--especially if the old lady is gone too. She
was a bit of a vixen, but the husband was a good old sort. I liked him."
Some weeks later he wrote:
"I wander about this place a good deal like a ghost in its old haunts.
Everything here is so temporary, so changing--much more so than in New
York--that one's footprints are very quickly washed away. Outside the
office almost no one remembers me. It is curious to think that I was once
so happy here--and so hopeful. There was always a kind of hell in my
heart, but I kept it banked down, as we do the earth's internal fires,
beneath a tolerably solid crust. Yesterday, finding myself at the
Hipodromo, I stood for a while on the spot where I first saw Evie. It used
to seem to me a bit of enchanted ground, but I feel now as if I ought to
erect a gravestone there. Poor little Evie! How right you were about it
all. It was madness on my part to think she could ever climb up my
Calvary. My excuse is that I didn't imagine it was going to be so steep. I
even hoped she would never see that there was a Calvary at all. Her notes
are still pitifully ignorant of the real state of things.
"And speaking of gravestones, I went out the other day to the Recoleta
Cemetery, and looked at the grave of my poor old friend, Monsieur Durand.
Everything neat, and in good order. It gives me a peculiar satisfaction
to see that the decorum he loved reigns where he 'sleeps.' I never knew
his secret--except that rumor put him down for an unfrocked priest.
"I doubt if I shall get away from here till the beginning of October; but
when I do, everything will be in trim for what I sometimes think of as my
* * * * *
These letters, and others like them, Miriam shared conscientiously with
Conquest. It was part of the loyalty she had vowed to him in her heart
that she should keep nothing from him, except what was sanctified and
sealed forever, as her own private history. In the impulse to give her
life as a ransom for Norrie Ford's she was eager to do it without
reserves, or repinings, or backward looks--without even a wish that it had
been possible to make any other use of it. If she was not entirely
successful in the last feat, she was fairly equal to the rest, so that in
allowing himself to be misled Conquest could scarcely be charged with
fatuity. With his combined advantages, personal and otherwise, it was not
astonishing that a woman should be in love with him; and if that woman
proved to be Miriam Strange, one could only say that the unexpected had
happened, as it often does. If, in view of all the circumstances, he
dressed better than ever, and gave his little dinners more frequently,
while happiness toned down the sharpness of his handsome profile to a
softer line, he had little in common with Malvolio.
And what he had began to drop away from him. Insensibly he came to see
that the display of his legal knowledge, of his carefully chosen ties, of
his splendid equipment in house, horses, and automobiles, had something of
the major-domo's strut in parti-colored hose. The day came when he
understood that the effort to charm her by the parade of these things was
like the appeal to divine grace by means of grinding on a prayer-mill. It
was a long step to take, both in thought and emotion, leading him to see
love, marriage, women's hearts, and all kindred subjects, from a different
point of view. Love in particular began to appear to him as more than the
sum total of approbation bestowed on an object to be acquired. Though he
was not prepared to give it a new definition, it was clear that the old
one was no longer sufficient for his needs. The mere fact that this woman,
whom he had vainly tempted with gifts--whom he was still hoping to capture
by prowess--could come to him of her own accord, had a transforming effect
on himself. If he ever got her--by purchase, conquest, or any other form
of acquisition--he had expected to be proud; he had never dreamed of this
curious happiness, that almost made him humble.
It was a new conception of life to think that there were things in it that
might be given, but which could not be bought; as it was a new revelation
of himself to perceive that there were treasures in his dry heart which
had never before been drawn on. This discovery was made almost
accidentally. He stumbled on it, as men have stumbled on Koh-i-noors and
Cullinanes lying in the sand.
"What I really came to tell you," he said to her, on one occasion, as they
strolled side by side in the Park, "is that I am going away to-morrow--to
the West--to Omaha."
"Isn't that rather sudden?"
"Rather. I've thought for the last few days I might do it. The fact is,
they've found Amalia Gramm."
She stopped with a sudden start of interrogation, moving on again at once.
It was a hot September evening, at the hour when twilight merges into
night. They had left Wayne on a favorite seat, and having finished their
own walk northward, were returning to pick him up and take him home. It
was just dark enough for the thin crescent of the harvest moon to be
pendulous above the city, while a rim of lighted windows in high faASec.ades
framed the tree-tops The peace of the quiet path in which they rambled
seemed the more sylvan because of the clang and rumble of the streets, as
a room will appear more secluded and secure when there is a storm outside.
"They've found her living with some nieces out there," he went on to
explain. "She appears to have been half over the world since old Gramm
died--home to Germany--back to America--to Denver--to Chicago--to
Milwaukee--to the Lord knows where--and now she has fetched up in Omaha.
She strikes me in the light of an unquiet spirit. It seems she has nephews
and nieces all over the lot--and as she has the ten thousand dollars old
Chris Ford left them--"
"Are they going to bring her here?"
"They can't--bedridden--paralyzed, or something. They've got to take her
testimony on the spot. I want to be there when they do it. There are
certain questions which it is most important to have asked. In a way, it
is not my business; but I'm going to make it mine. I've mulled over the
thing so long that I think I see the psychology of the whole drama."
"I can never thank you enough for the interest you've shown," she said,
after a brief silence.
He gave his short, nervous laugh.
"Nor I you for giving me the chance to show it. That's where the kindness
comes in. It's made a different world for me, and me a different man in
it. If anybody had told me last winter that I should spend the whole
summer in town working on a criminal case--"
"You shouldn't have done that. I wanted you to go away as usual."
"And leave you here?"
"I shouldn't have minded--as long as Mr. Wayne preferred to stay. It's so
hard for him to get about, anywhere but in the place he's accustomed to.
New York in summer isn't as bad as people made me think."
"I too have found that true. To me it has been a very happy time. But
perhaps my reasons were different from yours."
She reflected a minute before uttering her next words, but decided to say
"I fancy our reasons were the same."
The low voice, the simplicity of the sentence, the meanings in it and
behind it, made him tremble. It was then, perhaps, that he began to see
most clearly the true nature of love, both as given and received.
"I don't think they can be," he ventured, hoping to draw her on to say
something more; but she did not respond.
After all, he reflected, as they continued their walk more or less in
silence, too many words would only spoil the minute's bliss. There was,
too, a pleasure in standing afar off to view the promised land almost
equal to that of marching into it--especially when, as now, he was given
to understand that its milk and honey were awaiting him.
It was the middle of October when Evie wrote from Lenox to say she would
come to town to meet Ford on his arrival, begging Miriam to give her
shelter for a night or two. The Grants remaining abroad, Miss Jarrott had
taken the house in Seventy-second Street for another winter, but as Evie
would run up to New York alone she preferred for the minute to be Miriam's
"The fact is, I'm worried to death," she wrote, confidentially "and you
must help me to see daylight through this tangled mass of everybody saying
different things. Aunt Queenie has gone completely back on Herbert, just
because Uncle Jarrott has. That doesn't strike me as very loyal, I must
say. I shouldn't think it right to desert anybody, unless I wanted to. I
wouldn't do it because some one else told me to--not if he was my brother
ten times over. I mean to be just as true to Herbert as I can Not that he
makes it very easy for me, because he has broken altogether with Uncle
Jarrott--and that seems to me the maddest thing. I certainly sha'n't get
my trousseau from Aunt Helen now. I don't see what we're all coming to.
Everybody is so queer, and they keep hinting things they won't say out, as
if there was some mystery. I do wish I could talk to Billy about it. Of
course I can't--the way matters stand. And speaking of Billy, that rich
Mr. Bird--you remember I told you about him last winter--has asked me to
marry him. Just think! I forget how much he has a year, but it's something
awful. Of course I told him I couldn't give him a definite answer yet--but
that if he insisted on it I should have to make it No. He said he didn't
insist--that he'd rather wait till I had time to make up my mind, if I
didn't keep him dangling. I told him I wouldn't keep him doing anything
whatever, and that if he dangled at all it would be entirely of his own
accord. I think he liked my spirit, so he said he'd wait. We left it
there, which was the wisest way--though I must say I didn't like his
presuming on his money to think I would make a difference between him and
the others. Money doesn't mean anything to me, though dear mamma hoped she
would live to see me well established. She didn't, poor darling, but
that's no reason why I shouldn't try to carry out her wishes. All the
same, I mean to be true to Herbert just as long as possible; and so you
may expect me on the twenty-ninth."
* * * * *
If there was much in this letter that Miriam found disturbing, it was not
the thought that Evie might be false to Ford, or that Ford might suffer,
which alarmed her most. There was something in her that cried out in fear
before the possibility that Norrie Ford might be free again. Her strength
having sprung so largely from the hope of restoring the plans she had
marred, the destruction of the motive left her weak; but worse than that
was the knowledge that, though she had tried to empty her heart completely
of its cravings, only its surface had been drained. It was to get
assurance rather than to give information that she read fragments of
Evie's letter to Conquest, on the evening of his return from Omaha. He had
come to give her the news of his success. That it was good news was
evident in his face when he entered the room; and, almost afraid to hear
it, she had broached the subject of her anxiety about Evie first.
"She's going to give him the sack; that's what _she's_ going to give him,"
Conquest said, conclusively, while Miriam folded the dashingly scribbled
sheets. "You needn't be worried about her in the least. Miss Evie knows
her way about as cleverly as a homing bee. She'll do well for herself
whatever else she may not do. _Come now_!"
"I'm not thinking of that so much as that she should do her duty."
"Duty! Pooh! That sort of little creature has no duty--the word doesn't
apply to it. Evie is the most skilful mixture of irresponsible impulse and
shrewd calculation you'll find in New York. She'll use both her gifts with
perfect heartlessness, and yet in such a way that even her guardian angel
won't know just where to find fault with her."
"But she must marry Mr. Ford--now."
He was too busy with his own side of the subject to notice that her
assertion had the intensity of a cry. He had a man's lack of interest in
another man's love-affairs while he was blissfully absorbed in his own.
"You might as well tell a swallow that it must migrate--now," he laughed.
"Poor Ford will feel it, I've no doubt; but we shall make up to him for a
good deal of it. We're going to pull him through."
For the instant her anxiety was diverted into another channel. "Does that
mean that Amalia Gramm has told you anything?"
"She's told us everything. I thought she would. I don't feel at liberty to
give you the details before they come out at the proper time and place;
but there's no harm in saying that my analysis of the old woman's
psychological state was not so very far wrong. There's no question about
it any longer. We'll pull him through. And, by George, he's worth it!"
The concluding exclamation, uttered with so much sincerity, took her by
surprise, transmuting the pressure about her heart into a mist of sudden
tears. Tears came to her rarely, hardly, and seldom with relief. She was
especially unwilling that Conquest should notice them now; but the attempt
to dash them away only caused them to fall faster. She could see him
watching her in a kind of sympathetic curiosity, slightly surprised in his
turn at the unexpected emotion, and trying to divine its cause. Unable to
bear his gaze any longer, she got up brusquely from her chair, retreating
into the bay-window, where--the curtains being undrawn--she stood looking
down on the sea of lights, as beings above the firmament might look down
on stars. He waited a minute, and came near her only when he judged that
he might do so discreetly.
"You're unnerved," he said, with tender kindliness. "That's why you're
upset. You've had too much on your mind. You're too willing to take all
the care on your own shoulders, and not let other people hustle for
She was pressing her handkerchief against her lips, so she made no reply.
The moment seemed to him one at which he might go forward a little more
boldly. All the circumstances warranted an advance from his position of
"You need me," he ventured to say, with that quiet assurance which in a
lover means much. "I understand you as no one else does in the world."
Her brimming eyes gave him a look which was only pathetic, but which he
took to be one of assent.
"I've always told you I could help you," he went on, with tranquil
earnestness, "and I could. You've too many burdens to carry alone--burdens
that don't belong to you, but which, I know, you'll never lay down. Well,
I'll share them. There's Wayne, now. He's too much for you, by yourself--I
don't mean from the material point of view, but--the whole thing. It wears
on you. It's bound to. Wayne is my friend just as much as yours. He's my
responsibility--so long as you take it in that light. I've been thinking
of him a lot lately--and I see how, in my house--could put him
Still pressing her handkerchief against her lips with her right hand, she
put out her left in a gesture of deprecation. He understood it as one of
encouragement, and went on.
"You must come and look at my house. You've never really seen it, and I
think you'd like it. I think you'd like--everything I've got everything to
make you happy; and if you'll only let me do it, you'll make me happy,
She felt able to speak at last. Her eyes were still brimming as she turned
toward him, but brimming only as pools are when the rain is over.
"I want you to be happy. You're so good ... and kind ... and you've done
so much for me ... you deserve it."
She turned away from him again. With her arm on the woodwork of the
window, she rested her forehead rather wearily on her hand. He understood
so little of what was passing within her that she found it a relief to
suspend for the minute her comedy of spontaneous happiness, letting her
heart ache unrestrainedly. Her left hand hanging limp and free, she made
no effort to withdraw it when she felt him clasp it in his own. Since she
had subscribed to the treaty months ago, since she had insisted on doing
it rightly or wrongly, it made little difference when and how she carried
the conditions out. So they stood hand in hand together, tacitly, but, as
each knew, quite effectually, plighted. In her silence, her resignation,
her evident consent he read the proof of that love which, to his mind, no
longer needed words.
* * * * *
Late that night, after he had gone away, she wrote to Evie, beseeching her
to be true to Ford. The letter was so passionate, so little like herself,
that she was afraid of destroying it if she waited till morning, so she
posted it without delay. The answer came within forty-eight hours, in the
shape of a telegram from Evie. She was coming to town at once, though it
wanted still three or four days to Ford's arrival.
It was a white little Evie, with drawn face, who threw herself into
Miriam's arms at the station, clutching at her with a convulsive sob.
"Miriam, I can't do it," she whispered, in a kind of terror. "They say
he's going to be put in--_jail_!"
Her voice rose on the last word, so that one or two people paused in their
rush past to glance at the pitifully tragic little face.
"Hush, darling," Miriam whispered back. "You'll tell me about it as we go
But in the motor Evie could only cry, clinging to Miriam as she used to do
in troubled moments in childhood. Arrived at the apartment, Wayne had to
be faced with some measure of self-control, and then came dinner. At table
Evie, outwardly mistress of herself by this time, talked feverish
nonsense about their common friends in Lenox, after which she made an
excuse for retiring early. It was only in the bedroom, when they were
secure from interruption that Miriam heard what Evie had to tell. She was
tearless now, and rather indignant.
"I've had the strangest letter from Herbert," she declared excitedly, as
soon as Miriam entered the room. "I couldn't have believed he wrote it in
his senses if Aunt Queenie hadn't heard the Same thing from Uncle Jarrott.
He says he's got to go to--_jail_."
There was the same rising inflexion on the last word, suggestive of a
shriek of horror, that Miriam had noticed in the station. In her white
peignoir, her golden hair streaming over her shoulders, and her hands
flung wide apart with an appealing dramatic gesture, Evie was not unlike
some vision of a youthful Christian martyr, in spite of the hair-brush in
her hand. Miriam sat down sidewise on the edge of the couch, looking up at
the child in pity. She felt that it was useless to let her remain in
darkness any longer.
"Of course he has to," she said, trying to make her tone as matter of fact
as might be. "Didn't you know it?"
"Know it! Did _you_?"
Evie stepped forward, bending over Miriam as if she meant to strike her.
"I knew it in a general way, darling. I suppose, when he gives himself to
"The police!" Evie screamed. "Am I to be engaged to a man who--gives
himself up to the police?"
"It will only be for a little while, dear--"
"I don't care whether it's for a little while or foreverit can't _be_.
What is he thinking of? What are _you_ thinking of? Don't you _see_? How
can I face the world--with all my invitations--when the man I'm engaged to
Evie's hands flew up in a still more eloquent gesture, while the blue
eyes, usually so soft and veiled, were wide with flaming interrogation.
"I knew that--in some ways--it might be hard for you--"
Evie laughed, a little silvery mirthless ripple of scorn.
"I must say, Miriam, you choose your words skilfully. But you're wrong, do
you see? There's no way in which it can be hard for me, because there's no
way in which it's possible."
"Oh yes, there is, dear--if you love him."
"That has nothing to do with it. Of course I love him. Haven't I said so?
But that doesn't make any difference. Can't I love him without being
engaged to--to--to a man who has to go to jail?"
"Certainly; but you can't love him if you don't feel that you must--that
you simply _must_--stand by his side."
"There you go again, Miriam, with your queer ideas. It's exactly what any
one would expect you to say."
"I hope so."
"Oh, you needn't hope so, because they would--any one who knew you. But I
have to do what's right. I know what I feel in my conscience--and I have
to follow it. And besides, I couldn't--I couldn't"--her voice began to
rise again--"I couldn't face it--I couldn't bear it--not if I loved him a
great deal better than I do."
"That's something you must think about very seriously, dear--"
"I don't have to!" she cried, with a stamp of her foot. "I know it
already. It wouldn't make any difference if I thought about it a thousand
years. I couldn't be engaged to a man who was in jail, not if I worshipped
the ground he trod on."
"But when he's innocent, darling--"
"It's jail, just the same. I can't be engaged to people just because
they're innocent. It isn't right to expect it of me. And, anyhow," she
added, passionately, "I can't do it. It would kill me. I should never lift
my head again. I can't--I can't. It's hateful of any one to say I ought
to. I'm surprised at you, Miriam, when you know how dear mamma would have
forbidden it. It's all very well for you to give advice, when you have no
family--and no one to think about--and hardly any invitations-- Well, I
can't, and there's an end of it. If that's your idea of love, then, I must
say, my conception is a little different. I've always had high ideals, and
I feel obliged to hold to them, however you may condemn me."
She ended with a catch in her breath something like a sob.
"But I'm not condemning you, Evie dear. If you feel what you say, there's
nothing for it but to see Mr. Ford and tell him so."
At this suggestion Evie sobered. She was a long time silent before she
observed, in a voice that had become suddenly calm and significantly
casual, "That's easy for you to say."
"If you speak to him as decidedly as to me, I should think it would be
easy for you to do."
"And still easier for you."
Evie spoke in that tone of unintentional intention which is most pointed.
It was not lost on Miriam, who recoiled from the mere thought. It seemed
to her better to ignore the hint, but Evie, with feverish eagerness,
refused to let it pass.
"Did you hear what I said?" she persisted, sharply.
"I heard it, dear; but it didn't seem to me to mean anything."
"That would depend on whether you heard it only with the ear or in the
"You know that everything that has to do with you is in my heart."
"But if you mean by that that I should tell Mr. Ford you're not going to
marry him--why, it's out of the question."
"Then who's to tell him? _I_ can't. It's not to be expected."
"But, darling, you must. This is awful."
Miriam got up and went toward her, but Evie, who was nervously brushing
her hair, edged away.
"Of course it's awful, but I don't see the use of making it worse than it
need be. He'll feel it a great deal more if he sees me, and so shall I."
"And what shall I feel?" Miriam spoke unguardedly, but Evie was too
preoccupied to notice the bitterness of the tone.
"I don't see why you should feel anything at all. It's nothing to you--or
very little. It wouldn't be your fault; not any more than it's the
postman's if he has to bring you a letter with bad news."
Miriam went back to her place on the edge of the couch, where with her
forehead bowed for a minute on her hand she sat reflecting. An
overwhelming desire for confidence, for sympathy perhaps, for the
clearing up of mysteries in any case, was impelling her to tell Evie all
that had ever happened between Ford and herself. It had been necessary to
maintain so many reserves that possibly this new light would enable Evie
to see her own duty more straightforwardly.
"Darling," she began, "I want to tell you something--"
But before she could proceed Evie flung the hair-brush on the floor and
uttered a great swelling sob. With her hands hanging at her sidess and her
golden head thrown back, she wept with the abandonment of a child, while
suggesting the seraphic suffering of a grieving angel by some old master.
In an instant Miriam had her in her arms. It was the appeal she had never
been able to resist.
"There, there, my pet," she said, soothingly, drawing her to the couch.
"Come to Miriam, who loves you. There, there."
Evie clung to her piteously, with flower-like face tilted outward and
upward for the greater convenience of weeping.
"Oh, I'm so lonely!" she sobbed. "I'm so lonely ... I I wish dear mamma
... hadn't died."
Miriam pressed her the more closely.
"I'm so lonely ... and everything's so strange ... and I don't know what
to do ... and he's going to be put in jail ... and you're so unkind to
me.... Oh, dear! ... I can't tell him ... I can't tell him ... I can't ...
I can't ..."
She pillowed her head on Miriam's shoulder, like a child that would force
a caress from the hand that has just been striking it. The action filled
Miriam with that kind of self-reproach which the weak creature inspires so
easily in the strong. In spite of her knowledge to the contrary, she had
the feeling of having acted selfishly.
"No, darling," she said, at last, as Evie's sobs subdued into convulsive
tremblings, "you needn't tell him. I'll see him. He'll understand how hard
it's been for you. It's been hard for every one--and especially for you,
darling. I'll do my best. You know I will. And I'm sure he'll understand.
There, there," she comforted, as Evie's tears broke out afresh. "Have your
cry out, dear. It will do you good. There, there."
* * * * *
So Evie went back next day to Lenox, while Miriam waited for Ford.
A few days later she read his name, in a morning paper, in the _Asiatic's_
list of passengers the steamer having arrived at quarantine the night
before: Mr. John Norrie Ford. Though flung carelessly into a paragraph
printed in small type, it seemed to blaze in fire on the page! It was as
if all America must rise at it. As she looked from the window it was with
something like surprise that she saw the stream of traffic roaring onward,
heedless of the fact that this dread name was being hawked in the streets
and sold at the news-stands. She sent out for the evening papers that
appear at midday, being relieved and astonished to find that as yet it had
created no sensation.
She was not deceived by his ease of manner when he appeared at the
apartment in the afternoon. Though he carried his head loftily, and smiled
with his habitual air of confidence, she could see that the deep waters of
the proud had gone over his soul. Their ebb had streaked his hair and
beard with white, and deepened the wrinkles that meant concentrated will
into the furrows that come of suffering. She was more or less prepared for
that. It was the outward manifestation of what she had read between the
lines of the letters he had written her. As he crossed the room, with hand
outstretched, her one conscious thought was of the chance to be a woman
and a helpmeet Evie had flung away. She had noticed how, on the very
threshold, he had glanced twice about the room, expecting to find her
They did not speak of her at once. They talked of commonplace introductory
things--the voyage, the arrival, the hotel at which he was
staying--anything that would help her, and perhaps him, to control the
preliminary nervousness. There was no sign of it, however, on his part,
while she felt her own spirit rising, as it always did, to meet
emergencies. Presently she mentioned her fears regarding his use of his
"No; it isn't dangerous," he assured her, "because I'm out of danger now.
Thank the Lord, that's all over. I don't have to live with a great hulking
terror behind me any longer. I'm a man like any other. You can't imagine
what it means to be yourself, and not to care who knows it. I'm afraid I
parade my name just like a boy with a new watch, who wants to tell every
one the time. So far no one has paid any particular attention; but I dare
say that will come. Is Evie here?"
"She's not here--to-day."
"Why not?" he asked, sharply. "She said she would be. She said she'd come
"She did come to town, but she thought she'd better not--stay."
"Not stay? Why shouldn't she stay? Is anything up? You don't mean that
"No; Miss Jarrott had nothing to do with it. I know her brother has
written to her, in the way you must be prepared for. But she couldn't have
kept Evie from waiting for you, if Evie herself--"
"Had wanted to," he finished, as she seemed to hesitate at the words.
Since she said nothing to modify this assertion, she hoped he would
comprehend its gravity. Indeed, he seemed to be trying to attenuate that
when he spoke next.
"I suppose she had engagements--or something."
"She did have engagements--but she could have put them off."
"Only she didn't care to. I see."
She allowed him time to accept this fact before going on.
"Her return to Lenox," she said then, "wasn't because of her engagements."
"Then it must have been because of me. Didn't she want to see me?"
"She didn't want to tell you what she felt she would have to say."
"Oh! So that was it."
He continued to sit looking at her with an expression of interrogation,
though it was evident from his eyes that his questions had been answered.
They sat in the same relative positions as on the night of their last long
talk together, he in his big arm-chair, she in her low one. It struck her
as strange--while he stared at her with that gaze of inquiry from which
the inquiry was gone--that she, who meant so little to his inner life,
should be called on again to live through with him minutes that must
forever remain memorable in his existence.
"Poor little thing! So she funked telling me."
The comment was made musingly, to himself, but she took it as if addressed
"She wasn't equal to it."
"But you are. You're equal to anything. Aren't you?" He smiled with that
peculiar twisted smile which she had noticed at other times, when he was
"One is generally equal to what one has to do. All the same," she added,
with an impulse she could not repress, "I'm sorry to be always associated
in your mind with things that must be hard for you."
"You're associated in my mind with everything that's high and noble.
That's the only memory I shall ever have of you. You've been with me
through some of the dark spots of my life; but if it hadn't been for you I
shouldn't have found the way."
"Thank you. I'm glad you can say that. I should be even more sorry than I
am to give you this news to-day, if it were not that perhaps I can explain
things a little better than Evie could."
"I don't imagine that they require much explanation. I've seen from Evie's
"That she was afraid of--the situation. She hasn't changed toward you."
"Do you mean by that that she still--cares anything about me?"
"She says she does."
"But you don't believe her."
"I'm not entitled to an opinion. It's something you and she must work out
together. All I can do is to tell you what may give you a little hope."
She watched for the brightening effect of these words upon him, but he sat
looking absently at the floor, as if he had not heard them.
"Evie is afraid," she continued, "but I think it's only fair to remember
that the circumstances might well frighten any young girl of her sort."
He showed that he followed her by nodding assent, though he neither lifted
his head nor spoke.
"She wanted me to tell you that while the--the trial--and other
things--are going on, she couldn't be engaged to you--I'm using her own
expression, but she didn't say that, when it was all over and you were
free, she wouldn't marry you. I noticed that."
He looked up quickly.
"I'm not sure that I catch your drift."
"I mean that when it's all over, and everything has ended as you hope it
will, it may be quite possible for you to win her back."
He stared at her, with an incredulous lifting of the eyebrows
"Would you advise me to try?"
"It isn't a matter I could give advice about. I'm showing you what might
be possible, but--"
"No, no. That sort of thing doesn't work. There was just a chance that
Evie might have stuck to me spontaneously but since she didn't--"
"Since she didn't--what?"
"She was quite right not to. I admit that. It's in the order of things.
She followed her instinct rather than her heart--I'm ready to believe
that--but there are times in life when instinct is a pretty good guide."
"Am I to understand that you're not--hurt?--or disappointed? Because in
"I don't know whether I am or not. That's frank. I'm feeling so many
things all at once that I can hardly distinguish one emotion from another,
or tell which is strongest. I only know--it's become quite plain to
me--that a little creature like Evie couldn't find a happy home in my
life, any more than a humming-bird, as you once called her, could make its
nest among crags."
"Do you mean by that," she asked, slowly, "that
you're--definitely--letting her go?"
"I mean that, Evie being what she is, and I being what life has made
me--Isn't it perfectly evident? Can you fancy us tied together--now?"
"I never could fancy it. I haven't concealed that from you at any time.
But since you loved her, and she loved you--"
"That was true enough--in its way. In its way, it's still true. Evie still
loves the man I was, perhaps, and the man I was loves her. The difference
is that the man I was isn't sitting here in front of you."
"One changes with years, of course. I didn't suppose one could change in a
few months, like that."
"One changes with experience--above all, with that kind of experience
which people generally call--suffering. That's the great Alchemist; and he
often transmutes our silver into gold. In my case, Evie was silver; but
I've found there's something else that stands for--"
"So that," she interposed, quickly, "you're not sorry that Evie--?"
He got up, restlessly, and stood with his back to the empty fireplace.
"It isn't a case for sorrow," he replied, after a minute's thinking, "as
it isn't one for joy. It's one purely for acceptance. When I first knew
Evie I was still something of a kid. It was so all the more because the
kid element in me had never had full play. I was arrogant, and cock-sure
and certain of my ability to manipulate the world to suit myself. That was
all Evie saw, and she liked it. In as far as she had it in her to fall in
love with anything, she fell in love with it."
He took a turn or two across the room, coming back to his stand on the
"I've travelled far since then," he continued; "I've _had_ to travel far.
Evie hasn't been able to come with me; and that's all there is to the
story. It isn't her fault; because when I asked her, I had no intention of
taking this particular way."
"It was I who drove you into that," she said, with a hint of remorse.
"Yes--you--and conscience--and whatever else I honor most. I give you the
credit first of all, because, if it hadn't been for you, I shouldn't have
had the moral energy to assert my true self against the false one. Isn't
it curious that, after having made me Herbert Strange, it should be you
who turned me into Norrie Ford again? It means that you exercise supreme
power over me--a kind of creative power. You can make of me what you care
to. It's no wonder that I've come to see----" He paused, in doubt as to
how to express himself, while her eyes were fixed on him in troubled
questioning. "It's no wonder," he went on again, "that I've come to see
everything in a truer light--Evie as well as all the rest of it."
With a renewed impulse to move about, he strode toward the bay-window,
where he stood for a few seconds, looking out and trying to co-ordinate
his thoughts. Wheeling round again, he drew up a small chair close to
hers, seating himself sidewise, with his arm resting on the back. He
looked like a man anxious to explain himself.
"You're blaming me, I think, because I don't take Evie's defection more to
heart. Isn't that so?"
"I'm not blaming you. I may be a little surprised at it."
"You wouldn't be surprised at it, if you knew all I've been through. It's
difficult to explain to you--"
"There's no reason why you should try."
"But I want to try. I want you to know. You see," he pursued, speaking
slowly, as if searching for the right words--"you see, it's largely a
question of progress--of growth. Trouble has two stages. In the first, you
think it hard luck that you should have to meet it. In the second, you see
that, having met it, and gone through it, you come out into a region of
big experience, where everything is larger and nobler than you thought it
was before. Now, you'd probably think me blatant if I said that I feel
myself emerging into--_that_."
"No, I shouldn't. As a matter of fact, I know you're doing it."
"Well, then, having got there--out into that new kind of world"--he
sketched the vision with one of his Latin gestures--"I discover that--for
one reason or another--poor little Evie has stayed on the far side of it.
She couldn't pass the first gate with me, or the second, or the third, to
say nothing of those I have still to go through. You know I'm not
criticising, or finding fault with her, don't you?"
She assured him of that.
"And yet, I must go on, you see. There's no waiting or turning back for
me, any more than for a dying man. No matter who goes or who stays, I must
press forward. If Evie can't make the journey with me, I can only feel
relieved that she's able to slip out of it--but I must still go on. I
can't look back; I can't even be sorry--because I'm coming into the new,
big land. You see what I mean?"
She signified again that she followed him.
"But the finding of a new land doesn't take anything from the old one. It
only enlarges the world. Europe didn't become different because they
discovered America. The only change was in their getting to know a country
where the mountains were higher, and the rivers broader, and the sunshine
brighter, and where there was a chance for the race to expand. Evie
remains what she was. The only difference is that my eyes have been opened
to--a new ideal."
It was impossible for her not to guess at what he meant. Independently of
words, his earnest eyes told their tale, while he bent toward her like a
man not quite able to restrain himself. In the ensuing seconds of silence
she had time to be aware of three distinct phases of emotion within her
consciousness, following each other so rapidly as to seem simultaneous. A
throb of reckless joy in the perception that he loved her was succeeded by
the knowledge that loyalty to Conquest must make rejoicing vain, while it
flashed on her that, having duped herself once in regard to him, she must
not risk the humiliating experience a second time. It was this last
reflection that prevailed, keeping her still and unresponsive. After all,
his new ideal might be something--or some one--quite different from what
her fond imagining was so ready to believe.
"I suppose," she said, vaguely, for the sake of saying something, "that
trial is the first essential to maturity. We need it for our ripening, as
the flowers and fruit need wind and rain."
"And there are things in life," he returned, quickly, "that no immature
creature can see. That's the point I want you to notice. It explains me.
In a way, it's an excuse for me."
"I don't need excuses for you," she hastened to say, "any more than I
require to have anything explained."
"No; of course not. You don't care anything about it. It's only I who do.
But I care so much that I want you to understand why it was that--that--I
didn't care before."
She felt the prompting to stop him, to silence him, but once more she held
herself back. There was still a possibility that she was mistaking him,
and her pride was on its guard.
"It was because I didn't know any better," he burst out, in naA-ve
self-reproach. "It was because I couldn't recognize the high, the fine
thing when I saw it. I've had that experience in other ways, and with just
the same result. It was like that when I first began to hear good music. I
couldn't make it out--it was nothing but a crash of sounds. I preferred
the ditties and dances of a musical comedy; and it was only by degrees
that I began to find them flat. Then my ear caught something of the
wonderful things in the symphonies that used to bore me. You see, I'm
"Not at all," she smiled. "It's quite a common experience."
"But I'm like that all through, with everything. I've been like that--with
women. I used to be attracted by quite an ordinary sort. It's taken me
years--all these years, till I'm thirty-three--to see that there's a
perfect expression of the human type, just as there's a perfect expression
of any kind of art. And I've found it."
He bent farther forward, nearer to her. There was a light in his face that
seemed to her to denote enthusiasm quite as much as love. To her wider
experience in emotions this discovery of himself, which was involved in
his discovery of her, was rather youthful, provoking a faint smile.
"You're to be congratulated, then," she said, with an air of distant
friendliness. "It isn't every one who's so fortunate."
"That's true. There's only one man in the world who's more fortunate than
I. That's Conquest."
In the brusqueness with which she started she pushed her chair slightly
back from him. It was to conceal her agitation that she rose, steadying
herself on the back of the chair in which she had been seated.
"Conquest saw what I didn't--till it was too late."
He was on his feet now, facing her, with the chair between them.
"I wish you wouldn't say any more," she begged, though without
overemphasis of pleading. She was anxious, for her own sake as well as for
his, to keep to the tone of the colloquial.
"I don't see why I shouldn't. I'm not going to say anything to shock you.
I know you're going to marry Conquest. You told me so before I went away,
"I should like to remind you that Mr. Conquest is the best friend you
have. When you hear what he's done for you, you will see that you owe him
more than you do any man in the world."
"I know that. I'm the last to forget it. But it can't do any harm to tell
the woman--who's going to be his wife--that I owe her even more than I do
"It can't do any harm, perhaps; but when I ask you not to----"
"I can't obey you. I shouldn't be a man if I went through life without
some expression of my--gratitude; and now's the only time to make it.
There are things which I wasn't free to say before, because I was bound
to Evie--and which it will soon be too late for you to listen to, because
you'll be bound to him. You're not bound to him yet----"
"I _am_ bound to him," she said, in a tone in which there were all the
regrets he had no reason to divine. "I don't know what you think of
saying; but whatever it is, I implore you not to say it."
"It's precisely because you don't know that I feel the necessity of
telling you. It's something I owe you. It's like a debt. It isn't as if we
were just any man and any woman. We're a man and a woman in a very special
relation to each other. No matter what happens, nothing can change that.
And it isn't as if we were going to live in the same world, in the same
way. You will be Conquest's wife--a great lady in New York. I shall
be--well, Heaven only knows what I shall be, but nothing that's likely to
cross your path again. All the same, it won't hurt you, it wouldn't hurt
any woman, however good, to hear what I'm going to tell you. It wouldn't
hurt any man--not even Conquest--that it should be said to his wife--in
the way that I shall say it. If it could, I wouldn't----"
"Wait a minute," she said, suddenly. "Let me ask you something." She took
a step toward him, though her hand rested still on the back of the chair.
"If I know it already," she continued, looking him in the eyes, "there
would be no necessity for you to speak?"
He took the time to consider this in all its bearings.
"I'd rather tell you in my own words," he said, at last; "but if you
assure me that you know, I shall be satisfied."
She took a step nearer to him still. Only the tips of her fingers now
rested on the back of the chair, to which she held, as to a bulwark.
Before she spoke she glanced round the room, as though afraid lest the
doors and walls might mistake her words for a confession.
"Then I do know," she said, quietly.
"The old lady was willing enough to talk," Conquest assured Ford, in his
narrative of the taking of Amalia Gramm's testimony. "There's nothing more
loquacious than remorse. I figured on that before going out to Omaha."
"But if she had no hand in the crime, I don't see where the remorse comes
"It comes in vicariously. She feels it for Jacob, since Jacob didn't live
to feel it for himself. It involves a subtle element of wifely devotion
which I guess you're too young, or too inexperienced, to understand. She
was glad old Jacob was gone, so that she could make his confession with
impunity. She was willing to make any atonement within _her_ power, since
it was too late to call _him_ to account."
"Isn't that a bit far-fetched?"
"Possibly--except to a priest, or a lawyer, or a woman herself. It isn't
often that a woman's heroism works in a straight line, like a soldier's,
or a fireman's. It generally pops at you round some queer corner, where it
takes you by surprise. Before leaving Omaha I'd come to see that Amalia
Gramm was by no means the least valiant of her sex."
Conquest's smoking-room, with its space and height, its deep leather
arm-chairs, its shaded lamps, its cheerful fire, suggested a club rather
than a private dwelling, and invited the most taciturn guest to
confidence. Ford stretched himself before the blaze with an enjoyment
rendered keener by the thought that it might be long before he had
occasion to don a dinner-jacket again, or taste such a good Havana. Though
it was only the evening of his arrival, he was eager to give himself up.
Now that he had "squared himself," as he expressed it, with Miriam
Strange, he felt he had put the last touch to his preparations. Kilcup and
Warren were holding him back for a day or two, but his own promptings were
"I admit," Conquest continued to explain, as he fidgeted about the room,
moving a chair here, or an ash-tray there, with the fussiness of an old
bachelor of housekeeping tastes--"I admit that I thought the old woman was
trying it on at first. But I came to the conclusion that she had told a
true story from the start. When she gave her evidence at your trial she
thought you were--the man."
"There's nothing surprising in that. They almost made me think so, too."
"It did look fishy, my friend. You won't mind my saying that much. Clearer
heads than your jury of village store-keepers and Adirondack farmers might
have given the same verdict. But old lady Gramm's responsibility hadn't
begun then. It was a matter of two or three years before she came to
see--as women do see things about the men they live with--that the hand
which did the job was Jacob's. By that time you had disappeared into
space, and she didn't feel bound to give the old chap away. She says she
would have done it if it could have saved you; but since you had saved
yourself, she confined her attentions to shielding Jacob. You may credit
as much or as little of that as you please; but I believe the bulk of it.
In any case, since it does the trick for us we have no reason to complain.
"I'm not going to complain of anything. It's been a rum experience all
through, but I can't say that, in certain aspects, I haven't enjoyed it. I
_have_ enjoyed it. If it weren't for the necessity of deceiving people who
are decent to you, I'd go through it all again."
"That's game," Conquest said, approvingly, as he worked round to the
hearth-rug, where he stood cutting the end of a cigar, with Ford's long
figure stretched out obliquely before him.
"I would," Ford assured him. "I'd go through it all again, like a shot.
It's been a lark from--I won't say from start to finish--but certainly
from the minute--let me see just when!--certainly from the minute when
Miss Strange beckoned to me, over old Wayne's shoulder."
An odd look came by degrees into Conquest's face--the look of pitying
amusement with which one listens to queer things said by some one in
delirium. He kept the cutter fixed in the end of the cigar, too much
astonished to complete his task.
"Since Miss Strange did--_what_?"
Ford was too deeply absorbed in his own meditations to notice the tone.
"I mean, since she pulled me through."
Conquest's face broke into a broad smile.
"Are you dreaming, old chap? Or have you 'got 'em again'?"
"I'm going back in the story," Ford explained, with a hint of impatience.
"I'm talking about the night when Miss Strange saved me."
"Miss Strange saved you? How?"
Ford raised himself slowly in his chair, his long legs stretched out
straight before him, and his body bent stiffly forward, as he stared up at
Conquest, in puzzled interrogation.
"Do you mean to say," he asked, incredulously, "that she hasn't told
"Perhaps you'll be good enough to tell me yourself. I'll be hanged if I
know what you're talking about."
There was suppressed irritation in the way in which he tore off the end of
the cigar and struck a match. Ford let himself sink back into the chair
"So she never told you! By George, that's like her! It's just what I might
"Look here," Conquest said, sharply, "did you know Miss Strange before you
came up here from South America?" He stood with his cigar unlighted, for
he had let the match burn down to his fingers before attempting to apply
it. "Was your taking the name of Strange," he demanded with sudden
inspiration, "merely an accident, as I've supposed it was--or had it
anything to do with her?"
"It wasn't an accident, and it did have something to do with her."
"Just so! And you kept it dark!"
Something in Conquest's intonation caused Ford to look up. He saw a man
with face suddenly growing gray, as though a light had gone out of it. He
was disturbed only to the point of feeling that he had spoken tactlessly,
and proceeded to repair the error.
"I kept it dark for obvious reasons. If Miss Strange didn't tell you about
it, it's because she isn't the kind of person to talk of an incident in
which her own part was so noble. I'll give you the whole story now."
"I should be obliged to you," Conquest said, dryly.
He sat down on the very edge of one of the big arm-chairs, leaning
forward, and fingering his still unlighted cigar nervously, as he watched
Ford puff out successive rings of smoke before beginning. He was less on
his guard to screen the intenseness with which he listened, because Ford
spoke at first in a dreamy way, without looking in his direction.
With more insight into the circumstances surrounding him Ford would have
told his tale with greater reticence. As it was he spoke with enthusiasm,
an enthusiasm born of an honest desire that Conquest should see the woman
he was about to marry in the full beauty of her character. In regard to
this he himself had made the discovery so slowly and so recently that he
was animated by something like a convert's zeal. Beginning his narrative
quietly, in a reminiscent vein, with intervals in which he lapsed
altogether into meditation, he was presently fired with all the animation
in a story-teller when he perceives he is holding his hearer spellbound.
As a matter of fact, he was moved not so much by the desire of convincing
Conquest of Miriam Strange's nobility, as by the impulse to do her
justice, once in his life at least, in language of his own.
It was a naA-ve bit of eloquence, of which no detail was lost on the
experienced man of the world, who sat twirling his cigar with nervous
fingers, his eyes growing keener in proportion as his face became more
gray. It was part of his professional acquirement to be able to draw his
deductions from some snatch of human drama as he listened to its
unfolding. His quickness and accuracy of judgment had, indeed, been a
large element in his success; so that the habit of years enabled him to
preserve a certain calmness of comprehension now. It lost nothing in being
a studied calmness, since the forcing of his faculties within restraint
concentrated their acumen.
Ford concluded with what for him was an almost lyric outburst.
"By George! Conquest, I didn't know there were such women in the world.
She's been a revelation to me--as art and religion are revelations to
other people. She came to me as the angel came to Peter in the prison;
but, like Peter, I didn't know it was an angel. There's a sort of glory
about her--a glory which it takes a higher sense than any I've got to see
and understand. After all she's done for me--after all this time--I'm only
now beginning to get glimpses of it; but it's merely as we get glimpses of
an infinite beyond, because we see the stars. She's a mystery to me, in
the same way that genius is a mystery, or holiness. I didn't appreciate
her because I hadn't the soul, and yet it's in seeing that I hadn't the
soul that I begin to get it. That's curious, isn't it? She's like some
heavenly spirit that's passed by me, and touched me into newness of life."
His ardor was so sincere, his hymn of praise so spontaneous that he
expected some sort of echo back. It seemed to him that even if Conquest
did not join in this chant in honor of the woman who presumably loved him,
whom more presumably still he loved, it would be but natural for him to
applaud it. Ford knew that if any one else had sung of Miriam Strange as
he had just been singing, he would have leaped to his feet and wrung the
man's hand till it ached. It surprised him, therefore, it disappointed
him, that Conquest should sit unmoved, unless the spark-like twinkle of
his little eyes could be taken as emotion.
It was a relief to Conquest to get up, scratch another match, and light
his cigar at last, turning his back so that it should not be seen that his
fingers trembled. When he was sure of himself he faced about again, taking
"It's the most amazing story I ever heard," was his only comment, in
response to Ford's look of expectation.
"I hoped it might strike you as something more than--amazing," Ford
ventured, after a minute's waiting for a more appreciative word.
"Perhaps it will when I get my breath. You must give me time for that. Do
you actually tell me that she kept you in her studio for weeks----?"
"Three weeks and four days, to be exact."
"And that she furnished you with food and clothing----?"
"And money--but I paid that back."
"And got you away in that ingenious fashion----?"
"Just as I've told you."
"Amazing! Simply amazing! And," he added, with some bitterness, "you came
back here--and you and she together--took us all in."
Ford drew his cigar from his lips, and, turning in his chair, faced
Conquest in an attitude and with a look which could not be misinterpreted.
"I came back here, and took you all in--if you like. Miss Strange had
nothing to do with it. She didn't even expect me."
The last sentence gave Conquest the opening he was looking for, but now
that he had it, he hesitated to make use of it. In his memory were the
very words Miriam Strange had stammered out to him in the sort of
confession no woman ever makes willingly: "Things happened ... such as
don't generally happen ... and even if he never comes ... I'd rather go on
waiting for him ... uselessly." It was all growing clear to him, and yet
not so clear but that there was time even now to let the matter drop into
the limbo of things it is best not to know too much about. It was against
his better judgment, then--his better judgment as a barrister-at-law--that
he found himself saying:
"She didn't expect you at that day and date, perhaps: but she probably
looked for you some time."
"Possibly; but if so, I know little or nothing about it."
The reply, delivered with a certain dignified force of intention, recalled
Conquest to a sense of his own interests. He had too often counselled his
clients to let sleeping dogs lie, not to be aware of the advantage of
doing it himself; and so, restraining his jealous curiosity, he turned the
conversation back to the evidence of Amalia Gramm.
During the next half-hour he manifested that talent--partly native and
partly born of practice--which he had often commended in himself, of
talking about one thing and thinking of another. His exposition of the
line to be adopted in Ford's defence was perfectly lucid, when all the
while he was saying to himself that this was the man whom Miriam Strange
had waited for through eight romantic years.
The fact leaped at him, but it was part of his profession not to be afraid
of facts. If they possessed adverse qualities one recognized them boldly,
in the practise of law, chiefly with a view of circumventing them. The
matter presented itself first of all, not as one involving emotional or
moral issues, but as an annoying arrangement of circumstances which might
cheat him out of what he had honestly acquired. He had no intention of
being cheated by any one whatever; and as he made a rapid summary of the
points of the case he saw that the balance of probabilities was in his
favor. It was to make that clear to Ford that he led the conversation back
again to the subject of his adventures, tempting him to repeat at least a
portion of his hymn of praise. By the time he had finished it Conquest was
able to resume the friendly, confidential tone with which they had begun
"It's very satisfactory to me, old man," he said, between quiet puffs at
his cigar, "to know that you think so highly of Miss Strange, because--I
don't know whether you have heard it--she and I are to be married before
He looked to see Ford disconcerted by this announcement and was surprised
to see him take it coolly.
"Yes; I knew that. I've meant to congratulate you when the time came. I
should say it had come now."
There was a candor about him that Conquest could scarcely discredit,
though he was unwilling to trust it too far.
"Thanks, old man. I scarcely expected you to be so well posted. May I ask
"Oh, I've known it a long time. Miss Strange told me before I went to
South America last spring."
This evidence of a confidential relation between the two gave him a second
shock, but he postponed its consideration, contenting himself for the
moment with making it plain to Ford that "Hands off!" must be the first
rule of the game. His next move was meant to carry the play into the
"As a matter of fact, I've never congratulated _you_," he said, with
apparent tranquillity. "I've known about you and Evie for some time past,
"Oh, that's all off. In the existing circumstances Evie didn't feel
like--keeping the thing up."
"That's too bad. You've been pretty hard hit--what? When a fellow is as
game as you a girl should stand by him, come now! But I know Evie. I've
known her from her cradle. She'll back round, you'll see. When we've
pulled you through, as we're going to, she'll take another view of things.
I know for a fact that she's been head over heels in love with you ever
since her trip to Buenos Aires."
As Ford made no remark, Conquest felt it well to drive the point home.
"We can all help in that, old boy; and you can count on us--both on Miss
Strange and me. No one has such influence over Evie as Miriam, and I know
she's very keen on seeing you and her--you and Evie, I mean--hit it off. I
don't mind telling you that, as a matter of fact, it's been Miriam's
anxiety on Evie's account that has mixed me up in your case at all. I
don't say that I haven't got interested in you for your own sake; but it
was she who stirred me up in the first place. It's going to mean a lot to
her to see you get through--and marry Evie."
Ford smiled--his odd, twisted smile--but as he said nothing, Conquest
decided to let the subject drop. He had, in fact, gone as far as his
present judgment would carry him, and anything farther might lead to a
false step. In a situation alive with claims and counter-claims, with
yearnings of the heart and promptings of the higher law, he could preserve
his rights only by a walk as wary as the treading of a tight-rope.
This became clearer to him later in the night, when Ford had gone away,
and he was left free to review the circumstances with that clarity of
co-ordination he had so often brought to bear on other men's affairs. Out
of the mass of data he selected two conditions as being the only ones of
If Miriam Strange was marrying him because she loved him, nothing else
needed to be considered. This fact would subordinate everything to itself;
and there were many arguments to support the assumption that she was doing
so. One by one he marshalled them before him, from the first faint
possibility up to the crowning proof that there was no earthly reason for
her marrying him at all, unless she wanted to. He had pointed that out to
her clearly, on the day when she came to him to make her terms. He had
been guilty on that occasion of a foolish generosity, for that it went
with a common-sense honesty to take advantage of another's ignorance, or
impulsiveness, was part of his business creed. Nevertheless, having shown
her this uncalled-for favor, he did not regret it now, since it put the
spontaneous, voluntary nature of her act beyond dispute.
To a late hour of the night he wandered about the great silent rooms of
the house which he had made the expression of himself. Stored with costly,
patiently selected comforts, it lacked only the last requisite which was
to impart the living touch. Having chosen this essential with so much
care, and begun to feel for her something far more vital than the pride of
possession which had been his governing emotion hitherto, it was an agony
with many aspects to think he might have to let her go.
That there was this possibility was undeniable. It was the second of the
two paramount considerations. Though Ford's enthusiasm tried to make
itself enthusiasm and no more, there had been little difficulty in seeing
what it was. All the same, it would be a passion to pity and ignore, if on
Miriam's side there was nothing to respond to it. But it was here that,
in spite of all his arguments, Conquest's doubts began. With much curious
ignorance of women, there was a point of view from which he knew them
well. It was out of many a poignant bit of domestic history, of which his
profession had made him the confidant, that he had distilled the
observation made to Ford earlier in the evening: "It isn't often that a
woman's heroism works in a straight line, like a soldier's or a
fireman's." Notwithstanding her directness, he could see Miriam Strange as
just the type of woman to whom these words might be applicable. If by
marrying a man whom she did not love she thought she could help another
whom she did love, a culpable sacrifice was just the thing of which she
would be capable. He called it culpable sacrifice with some emphasis for
in his eyes all sacrifice was culpable. It was more than culpable, in that
it verged on the absurd. There were few teachings of an illogical
religion, few promptings of a misdirected energy, for which he had a
greater scorn than the precept that the strong should suffer for the weak,
or one man for another. Every man for himself and the survival of the
fittest was the doctrine by which he lived; and his abhorrence of anything
else was the more intense for the moment because he found himself in a
situation where he might be expected to repudiate his faith.
But there it was, that something in public opinion which, in certain
circumstances, might challenge him--might ask him for magnanimity, might
appeal to him for mercy, might demand that he make two other human beings
happy while he denied himself. It was preposterous, it was grotesque, but
it was there. He could hear its voice already, explaining that since
Miriam Strange had given him her word in an excess of self-devotion, it
was his duty to let her off. He could see the line of argument; he could
hear the applause following on his noble act. He had heard it
before--especially in the theatre--and his soul had shaken with laughter.
He had read of it in novels, only to toss such books aside. "The beauty of
renunciation," he had often said, "appeals to the morbid, the sickly, and
the sentimental. It has no function among the healthy and the sane." He
had not only said that, but he had believed it. He believed it still, and
lived by it. By doing so he had amassed his modest fortune and won a
respected position in the world. He had not got on into middle life
without meeting the occasion more than once when he could have saved
others--a brother, or a sister, or a friend--and forborne to save himself.
He had felt the temptation and resisted it, with the result that he was up
in the world when he might have been down in it, and envied by those who
would have despised him without hesitation when they had got out of him
all he could give. He could look back now and see the folly it would have
been had he yielded to impulses that every sentimentalist would have
praised. He was fully conscious that the moment of danger might be on the
point of returning again, and that he must be prepared for it.
He was able to strengthen himself with the greater conviction because of
his belief in the sanctity of rights. The securing of rights, the defining
of rights, the protection of rights, had been his trade ever since he was
twenty-five. The invasion of rights was among the darkest crimes in his
calendar. In the present case his own rights could not be called into
question; they were inviolable. Miriam Strange had come to him
deliberately, and for due consideration had signed herself away. He had
spared nothing, in time, pains, or money, to fulfil his part of the
compact. It would be monstrous, therefore, if he were to be cheated of his
reward. That either Ford or Miriam would attempt this he did not believe,
even if between them the worst, from his point of view, was at the worst;
but that an absurd, elusive principle which called itself chivalry, but
really was effeminacy of will, might try to disarm him by an appeal to
scruples he contemned, was the possibility he feared. He feared it because
he estimated at its worth the force of restraint a sentimental
civilization and a naA-ve people can bring to bear, in silent pressure,
upon the individual. While he knew himself to be strong in his power of
resistance, he knew too that the mightiest swimmer can go down at last in
a smiling, unrippled sea.
His exasperation was as much with his doubt about himself as with the
impalpable forces threatening him, as he strode fiercely from room to
room, turning out the flaring lights before going to bed. After all, his
final resolutions were pitifully insufficient, in view of the tragic
element--for he took it tragically--that had suddenly crept into his life.
While his gleam of happiness was in danger of going out, the sole means he
could find of keeping it aglow was in deciding on a prudent ignoring of
whatever did not meet the eye, on a discreet assumption that what he had
been dreaming for the past few months was true. As a matter of fact, there
was nothing to show him that it wasn't true; and it was only common sense
to let the first move toward clearing his vision come from the other side
rather than from his.
And yet it was precisely this passive attitude which he found himself next
day least able to maintain. If he needed anything further to teach him
that love was love, it was this restless, prying jealousy, making it
impossible to let well enough alone. After a trying day at the office,
during which he irritated his partners and worried his clerks, he
presented himself late in the afternoon at Miriam's apartment at the hour
when he generally went to his club, and he knew she would not expect him.
Thinking to surprise Ford with her--like the suspicious husband in a
French play, he owned to himself, grimly--he experienced something akin to
disappointment to find her drinking tea with two old ladies, whom he
outstayed. During the ceremonies of their leave-taking he watched Miriam
closely, seeking for some impossible proof that she either loved Ford or
did not love him, and getting nothing but a renewed and maddening
conviction of her grace and quiet charm.
* * * * *
"What about Evie's happiness?"
Miriam raised her eyebrows inquiringly at the question before stooping to
put out the spirit-lamp.
"Well, what about it?" she asked, without looking up.
"Oh, nothing--except that we don't seem to be securing it."
She gazed at him now, with an expression frankly puzzled. He had refused
tea, but she kept her accustomed place behind the tea-table, while he
stretched himself comfortably in the low arm-chair by the hearth, which
she often occupied herself.
"Don't you remember?" he went on. "Evie's happiness was the motive of our
He endeavored to make his tone playful, but there was a something sharp
and aggressive in his manner, at which she colored slightly, no less than
at his words.
"I suppose," she said, as if after meditation, "Evie's happiness isn't in
"True; but there's a good deal that _is_ in our hands. There's, for
"Up to a point--yes."
"And up to that point we should take care of it. Shouldn't we?"
"I dare say. But I don't know what you mean."
He gave the nervous little laugh which helped him over moments of
"Ford was with me last night. He said it was all off between him and
"I thought he might tell you that."
"So that," he went on, forcing a smile, with which his voice and manner
were not in accord, "our undertaking having failed, the bottom's out of
everything. Don't you see?"
She was so astonished that she walked into his trap, just as he expected.
"I don't see in the least. I thought our undertaking--as you call it--was
going to be particularly successful."
He dropped his smile and looked interrogative, his bit of acting still
keeping her off her guard.
"Why, if Amalia Gramm's testimony is all you think it's going to be----"
"Oh, I see. That's the way you look at it."
"Isn't it the way you look at it, too?"
He smiled again, indulgently, but with significance.
"No; I confess it isn't--at least, it hasn't been. I thought--perhaps I
was wrong--that our interest was in getting Ford off, so that he could
marry Evie. Since he isn't going to marry her, why--naturally--we don't
care so much--whether he gets off or not."
She checked herself; she even grew a little pale. She began to see dimly
whither he was leading her.
"Of course I don't say we should chuck him over," he went on; "but it
isn't the same thing any longer, is it? I think it only fair to point that
out to you, because it gives you reasonable ground for reconsidering
"Oh, but I don't want to."
While she had said exactly what he hoped to hear, she had not said it as
he hoped to hear it. There were shades of tone even to impetuosity, and
this one lacked the note his ear was listening for. None the less, he told
himself, a wise man would have stopped right there; and he was conscious
of his folly in persisting, while he still persisted.
"That's for you to decide, of course. Only if we go on, it must be
understood that we've somewhat shifted our ground."
"I haven't shifted mine."
"Not as you understand it yourself--as, possibly, you've understood it all
along. But you have, as I see things. When you came to me--to my
She put up her hand as though she would have screened her face, but
controlled herself to listen quietly.
"Your object, then," Conquest continued, cruelly, "was to get Ford off, so
that he might marry Evie. Now, I understand it to be simply--to get him
She looked at him with eyes full of distress or protest. It was a minute
or two before she spoke.
"I don't see the necessity for such close definition."
"I do. I want you to know exactly what you're doing. I want you to see
that you're paying a higher price than you need pay--for the services
He had got her now just where he had been trying to put her. He had snared
her, or given her an opportunity, according as she chose to take it. She
could have availed herself of the latter by a look or a simple intonation,
for the craving of his heart was such that his perceptions were acute for
the slightest hint. Had she known that, it would have been easy for her to
respond to him, playing her part with the loyalty with which she had begun
it. As it was, his cold manner and his slightly mocking tone betrayed her.
Her answer was meant to give him the kind of assurance she thought he was
looking for; and she couched it in the language she supposed he would most
easily understand. In the things it said and did not say her very
sincerity was what stabbed him.
"I hope it won't be necessary to bring this subject up again. I know what
I undertook, and I'm anxious to fulfil it. I should be very much hurt if I
wasn't allowed to, just because you had scruples about taking me at my
word. You've been so--so splendid--in doing your part that I should feel
humiliated if I didn't do mine."
There was earnestness in her regard and a suggestion of haughtiness in the
tilt of her head. The Wise Man within him bade him be content, and this
time he listened to the voice. He did her the justice to remember, too,
that she was offering him all he had ever asked of her; and if he was
dissatisfied, it was because he had increased his demands without telling
It was by a transition of topic that he saw he could nail her to her
"By-the-way," he said, when they had got on neutral ground again, and
were speaking of Wayne, "I wish you would come and see what I think of
doing for him. There are two rooms back of my library--too dark for my
use--but that wouldn't matter to him, poor fellow--"
He saw that she was nerving herself not to flinch at this confrontation
with the practical. He saw too that her courage and her self-command would
have deceived any one but him. The very pluck with which she nodded her
comprehension of his idea, and her sympathy with it, enraged him to a
point at which, so it seemed to him, he could have struck her. Had she
cried off from her bargain he could have borne it far more easily. That
would at least have given him a sense of superiority, and helped him to be
magnanimous; while this readiness to pay put him in the wrong, and drove
him to exact the uttermost farthing of his rights. On a weak woman he
might have taken pity; but this strong creature, who refused to sue to him
by so much as the quiver of an eyelid, and rejected his concessions before
he had time to put them forth, exasperated every nerve that had been wont
to tingle to his sense of power. Since she had asked no quarter, why
should he give it?--above all, when to give quarter was against his
"And perhaps," he pursued, in an even voice, showing no sign of the
tempest within, "that would be as good a time as any for you to look over
the entire house. If there are any changes you would like to have
"I don't think there will be."
"All the same, I should like you to see. A man's house, however well
arranged, isn't always right for a woman's occupancy; and so----"
"Very well; I'll come."
"I'll come to-morrow."
"Yes; about four. That would suit me perfectly."
She spoke frankly, and even smiled faintly, with just such a shadow of a
blush as the situation called for. The Wise Man within him begged him once
more to be content. If, the Wise Man argued, this well-poised serenity was
not love, it was something so like it that the distinction would require a
splitting of hairs. Conquest strove to listen and obey; but even as he did
so he was aware again of that rage of impotence which finds its easiest
outlet in violence. As he rose to take his leave, with all the outward
signs of friendly ceremoniousness, he had time to be appalled at the
perception that he, the middle-aged, spick-and-span New-Yorker, should so
fully understand how it is that a certain type of frenzied brute can kill
the woman whom he passionately loves, but who is hopelessly out of reach.
Except when his business instincts were on the alert, Ford's slowness of
perception was perhaps most apparent in his judgment of character and his
analysis of other people's motives. Taking men and women as he found them,
he had little tendency to speculate as to the impulses within their lives,
any more than as to the furnishings behind their house-fronts. A human
being was all exterior to him, something like a street. Even in matters
that touched him closely, the act alone was his concern; and he dealt with
its consequences, without, as a rule, much inquisitive probing of its
So when Miriam Strange elected to marry Conquest, he accepted the settled
fact, for the time being, in the spirit in which he would have taken some
disastrous manifestation of natural phenomena. Investigation of the motive
of such a step was as little in his line as it would have been in the case
of a destructive storm at sea. To his essentially simple way of viewing
life it was something to be lamented, but to be borne as best one was
able, while one said as little as one could about it.
And yet, somewhere in the wide, rarely explored regions of his nature
there were wonderings, questionings, yearnings protests, cries, that
forced themselves to the surface now and then, as the boiling waters
within the earth gush out in geyser springs. It required urgent pressure
to impel them forth, but when they came it was with violence. Such an
occasion had been his night on Lake Champlain; such another was the
evening when he announced to Miriam his intention of becoming Norrie Ford
again. When these moments came they took him by surprise, even though
afterward he was able to recognize the fact that they had been long
It was in this way, without warning, that his heart had sprung on him the
question: Why should she marry him? At the minute when Conquest was
leaving Miriam, he, Ford, was tramping the streets of New York, watching
them grow alive with light, in glaring, imaginative ugliness--ugliness so
dazzling in its audacity and so fanciful in its crude commercialism that
it had the power to thrill. It was perhaps the electric stimulus of sheer
light that quickened the pace of his slow mentality from the march of
acceptance to the rush of protest, at an instant when he thought he had
resigned himself to the facts.
Why should she marry Conquest? He was shouldering his way through the
crowds when the question made itself heard, with a curious illuminating
force that suggested its own answer. He was walking, partly to work off
the tension of the strain under which these few days were passing, and
partly because he had got the idea that he was being shadowed. He had no
profound objection to that, though he would have preferred to give himself
up of his own free will rather than to be arrested. Perhaps, after all, it
was only an accident that had caused him to catch sight of the same two
men at different moments through the day, and just now it amused him to
put them to the test by leading them a dance. He had come to the
conclusion that he had been mistaken, or that he had outwitted them, when
this odd question, irrelevant to anything he had directly in his thoughts,
presented itself as though it had been asked by some voice outside him:
Why should she marry him?
Up to the present his unanalytical mind would have replied--as it would
have replied to the same query concerning any one else--that she was
marrying him "because she wanted to." That would have seemed to him to
cover the whole ground of any one's affairs; but all at once it had become
insufficient. It was as if the street had suddenly become insufficient as
a highway, breaking into a chasm. He stopped abruptly, confronting, as it
were, that bewildering void which a psychological situation invariably
seemed to him. To get into a place where his few straightforward formulA|
did not apply gave him that sense of distress which every creature feels
out of its native element.
It was a proof of the dependence with which, in matters requiring mental
or emotional experience, he had come to lean on Miriam Strange, as well as
of the directness with which he appealed to her for help, that he should
face about on the instant, and turn his steps toward her.
* * * * *
Only a few minutes earlier she had seen Conquest go, and in the interval
since his departure she had had time to detect the windings of his
strategy, and to be content with the skill with which she had met them.
She understood him thoroughly, both in his fear of letting her go and his
shame at holding her. Standing in her wide bay-window, her slight figure
erect, her hands behind her back, she looked down, without seeing it, on
the spangled city, as angels intent on their own high thoughts might pass
over the Milky Way. She smiled faintly to herself, thinking how she
should lead this kindly man, who for her sake had done so much for Norrie
Ford, back to a sense of security and self-respect. When Norrie Ford went
free she meant to live for nothing else but the happiness of the man who
had cleared his name and given him back to the world. It would be a kind
of consecration to her, like that of the nun who forsakes the dearest ties
for a life of good works and prayer. Conquest had told her that she was
paying a bigger price than she needed to pay for the services rendered,
but that depended somewhat on the value one set on the services. In this
case she would not have been content in paying less. To do so would seem
to indicate that she was not grateful. Since perceiving his compunction as
to claiming his reward, she was aware of an elation, an exaltation, in
forcing it upon him.
She was in the glow of this sentiment when Ford was ushered in. He was so
vitally in her thoughts that, though she did not expect him, his presence
gave her no surprise. It helped her, in fact, to sustain the romantic
quality in her mood to treat his coming as a matter of course, and make it
a natural incident to the moment.
"Come and look down on the stars," she said, in the tone she might have
used to another member of her household who had appeared accidentally.
"The view here, in the evening, makes one feel as if one had been wafted
above the sky."
She half-turned toward him, but did not offer her hand as he took his
place by her side. For a few seconds he said nothing, and when he spoke
she accepted his words in the manner in which she had taken his coming.
"So you're going to marry Conquest!"
It was to show that the abrupt remark had not perturbed her that she
nodded her head assentingly, still with the smile that had greeted his
In spite of her efforts she manifested some surprise.
"What makes you ask that question--now?"
"Because it never occurred to me before that there might be a special
"Well, there is one."
"Has it anything to do with me?"
She backed away from him slightly, to the side curve of the window, where
it joined the straight line of the wall. In this position she had him more
directly in view.
"I said there was a reason," she answered, after some hesitation. "I
didn't say I would tell you what it was."
"No, but you will, won't you?"
"I don't see why you should want to know."
"Is that quite true?" he queried, with a somewhat startling fixing of his
eyes upon her. "Don't you see? Can't you imagine?"
"I don't see why--in such circumstances as these--any man should want to
know what a woman doesn't tell him."
"Then I'll explain to you. I want to know, because ... I think ... you're
marrying Conquest ... when you don't love him ..."
"He never asked me to love him. He said he could do without that."
"... while ... you do love ... some one else."
She reflected before speaking. Under his piercing look she took on once
more the appealing expression of forest creatures at bay.
"Even if that were true," she said, at last, "there would be no harm in
it as long as there was what you asked me for at first--a special reason."
"Is there ever a reason for a step like that? I don't believe it."
"But I do believe it, you see. That makes a difference."
"It would make a still greater difference if I begged you not to do it,
She shook her head. "It wouldn't--now."
"I let you see yesterday that I--I loved you."
"Since you force me to acknowledge it--yes."
"And you've shown me," he ventured, "within the last minute, that
Her figure grew more erect against the background of exterior darkness.
Even the hand that rested on the woodwork of the window became tense.
Lambent fire in her eyes--the light that he used to call non-Aryan--took
the place of the fugitive glance of the woodland animal; but she kept her
"Well, what then?"
"Then you'd be committing a sacrilege against yourself--if you married any
one else but me."
If her heart bounded at the words, she did nothing to betray it.
"You say that, because it seems so to you. I take another view of it. Love
to me does not necessarily mean marriage, any more than marriage
necessarily implies love. There have been happy marriages without love,
and there can be honorable love that doesn't ask marriage as its object.
If I married you now, I should seem to myself to be deserting a high
impulse for a lower one."
"There's only one sort of impulse to love."
"Not to my love. I know what you mean--but my love has more than one
prompting, and the highest is--or I hope it is--to try to do what's
"But this would not be right."
"I'm the only judge of that."
"Not if we love each other. In that case I become a judge of it, too."
Once more she reflected. In speaking she lifted her head and looked at him
"Very well; I'll admit it. Perhaps it's true. In any case, I'd rather
things were clear to you. It will help us both. I'll tell you what I'm
doing, and why I'm doing it."
It was one of those occasions when a woman's emotion is so great that she
seems to have none at all. As iron is said to come to a degree of heat so
intense that it does not burn, so Miriam Strange seemed to herself to have
reached a stage where the sheer truth, simple and without reserve, could
bring no shame to her womanhood. Words that could not have passed her lips
either before that evening or after it escaped her in the subsequent
minutes as a matter of course.
"I entered into your life twice, and each time I did you harm. On the
first occasion I turned you into Herbert Strange, and sent you out on a
career of deception; on the second, I came between you and Evie, and
brought you to the present pass, where you're facing death again, as you
were eight or nine years ago. It's no use to tell you that I wanted to do
my best, because good intentions are not much excuse for the trouble they
often cause. But I'm ready to say this: that whenever you've suffered,
I've suffered more. That's especially true of what's happened in the last
six months. And when I saw how much I had put wrong, it was a comfort to
think there was something at least that I could put right again."
"But you've put nothing wrong. That's what I should like to convince you
"I've put you in a position of danger. When I see that, I see enough to
"It's a very slight danger."
"It is now, because I've made it slight. It wasn't--before I went to Mr.
"You went to him--what for?"
"He wanted me to marry him. He had wanted it for a long time. I told him I
would do so, on condition that he found the evidence that would prove you
Ford laughed harshly, and rather loudly, stopping suddenly, as though he
had ceased to see the joke.
"So that's it! That's why Conquest has been so devilishly kind. I wondered
at his interest--or at least I should have wondered if I'd had the time.
As a matter of fact, I took it for granted that he should help me, as a
drowning man takes it for granted that the chance passer-by should pull
him out. It wasn't till this evening--about half an hour ago--By Jove! I
ran right up against it."
"You ran right up against--what?"
"Against the truth. It came in a flash--just like that." He snapped his
fingers. "You're selling yourself--to get me off."
She seemed to grow straighter, taller. For the minute he saw nothing but
the blaze of her eyes.
"Well? Why shouldn't I? My mother sold herself--to get a man off. He was
my father. I'm proud of her. She did the best she could with her life. I'm
doing the best I can with mine."
"But I shouldn't be doing the best I can with mine--if I let you
"Isn't it too late for you to stop me? If I've sold myself as you put it,
the price has been paid in. Mr. Conquest has secured the evidence that
will acquit you. It will be used. That's all I care about--much."
She saw the hot color surge into his cheeks and brows. It seemed to her
that his eyes grew red as the blood left his lips. She had never before
been called on to confront a man angry with a passion beyond his control,
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