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A Sappho of Green Springs by Bret Harte

Part 4 out of 4

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handle of the door was turned, but she resisted it with the fullest
strength of her small hand until a voice, which startled her,
called in a hurried whisper:--

"Open quick, 'tis I."

She stepped back quickly, flung the door open, and beheld Somers on
the threshold!

The astonishment, agitation, and above all, the awkward confusion
of this usually self-possessed and ready man, was so unlike him,
and withal so painful, that Grace hurried to put an end to it, and
for an instant forgot her own surprise at seeing him. She smiled
assuringly, and extended her hand.

"Grace--Miss Nevil--I beg your pardon--I didn't imagine"--he began
with a forced laugh. "I mean, of course--I cannot--but"-- He
stopped, and then assuming a peculiar expression, said: "But what
are YOU doing here?"

At any other moment the girl would have resented the tone, which
was as new to her as his previous agitation, but in her present
self-consciousness her situation seemed to require some
explanation. "I came here," she said, "to see Mr. Rushbrook on
business. Your business--OUR business," she added, with a charming
smile, using for the first time the pronoun that seemed to indicate
their unity and interest, and yet fully aware of a vague
insincerity in doing so.

"Our BUSINESS?" he repeated, ignoring her gentler meaning with a
changed emphasis and a look of suspicion.

"Yes," said Grace, a little impatiently. "Mr. Leyton thought he
ought to write to my uncle something positive as to your prospects
with Mr. Rushbrook, and"--

"You came here to inquire?" said the young man, sharply.

"I came here to stop any inquiry," said Grace, indignantly. "I
came here to say I was satisfied with what you had confided to me
of Mr. Rushbrook's generosity, and that was enough!"

"With what I had confided to you? You dared say that?"

Grace stopped, and instantly faced him. But any indignation she
might have felt at his speech and manner was swallowed up in the
revulsion and horror that overtook her with the sudden revelation
she saw in his white and frightened face. Leyton's strange
inquiry, Rushbrook's cold composure and scornful acceptance of her
own credulousness, came to her in a flash of shameful intelligence.
Somers had lied! The insufferable meanness of it! A lie, whose
very uselessness and ignobility had defeated its purpose--a lie
that implied the basest suspicion of her own independence and
truthfulness--such a lie now stood out as plainly before her as his
guilty face.

"Forgive my speaking so rudely," he said with a forced smile and
attempt to recover his self-control, "but you have ruined me unless
you deny that I told you anything. It was a joke--an extravagance
that I had forgotten; at least, it was a confidence between you and
me that you have foolishly violated. Say that you misunderstood
me--that it was a fancy of your own. Say anything--he trusts you--
he'll believe anything you say."

"He HAS believed me," said Grace, almost fiercely, turning upon him
with the paper that Rushbrook had given her in her outstretched
hand. "Read that!"

He read it. Had he blushed, had he stammered, had he even kept up
his former frantic and pitiable attitude, she might at that supreme
moment have forgiven him. But to her astonishment his face
changed, his handsome brow cleared, his careless, happy smile
returned, his graceful confidence came back--he stood before her
the elegant, courtly, and accomplished gentleman she had known. He
returned her the paper, and advancing with extended hand, said
triumphantly:--

"Superb! Splendid! No one but a woman could think of that! And
only one woman achieve it. You have tricked the great Rushbrook.
You are indeed worthy of being a financier's wife!"

"No," she said passionately, tearing up the paper and throwing it
at his feet; "not as YOU understand it--and never YOURS! You have
debased and polluted everything connected with it, as you would
have debased and polluted ME. Out of my presence that you are
insulting--out of the room of the man whose magnanimity you cannot
understand!"

The destruction of the guarantee apparently stung him more than the
words that accompanied it. He did not relapse again into his
former shamefaced terror, but as a malignant glitter came into his
eyes, he regained his coolness.

"It may not be so difficult for others to understand, Miss Nevil,"
he said, with polished insolence, "and as Bob Rushbrook's
generosity to pretty women is already a matter of suspicion,
perhaps you are wise to destroy that record of it."

"Coward!" said Grace, "stand aside and let me pass!" She swept by
him to the door. But it opened upon Rushbrook's re-entrance. He
stood for an instant glancing at the pair, and then on the
fragments of the paper that strewed the floor. Then, still holding
the door in his hand, he said quietly:--

"One moment before you go, Miss Nevil. If this is the result of
any misunderstanding as to the presence of another woman here, in
company with Mr. Somers, it is only fair to him to say that that
woman is here as a friend of MINE, not of his, and I alone am
responsible."

Grace halted, and turned the cold steel of her proud eyes on the
two men. As they rested on Rushbrook they quivered slightly. "I
can already bear witness," she said coldly, "to the generosity of
Mr. Rushbrook in a matter which then touched me. But there
certainly is no necessity for him to show it now in a matter in
which I have not the slightest concern."

As she swept out of the room and was received in the respectable
shadow of the waiting James, Rushbrook turned to Somers.

"And I'M afraid it won't do--for Leyton saw you," he said curtly.
"Now, then, shut that door, for you and I, Jack Somers, have a word
to say to each other."

What that word was, and how it was said and received, is not a part
of this record. But it is told that it was the beginning of that
mighty Iliad, still remembered of men, which shook the financial
camps of San Francisco, and divided them into bitter contending
parties. For when it became known the next day that Somers had
suddenly abandoned Rushbrook, and carried over to a powerful
foreign capitalist the secret methods, and even, it was believed,
the LUCK of his late employer, it was certain that there would be
war to the knife, and that it was no longer a struggle of rival
enterprise, but of vindictive men.

CHAPTER VII

For a year the battle between the Somers faction and the giant but
solitary Rushbrook raged fiercely, with varying success. I grieve
to say that the proteges and parasites of Maecenas deserted him in
a body; nay, they openly alleged that it was the true artistic
nature and refinement of Somers that had always attracted them, and
that a man like Rushbrook, who bought pictures by the yard,--
equally of the unknown struggling artist and the famous masters,--
was no true patron of Art. Rushbrook made no attempt to recover
his lost prestige, and once, when squeezed into a tight "corner,"
and forced to realize on his treasures, he put them up at auction
and the people called them "daubs;" their rage knew no bounds. It
was then that an unfettered press discovered that Rushbrook never
was a Maecenas at all, grimly deprecated his assumption of that
title, and even doubted if he were truly a millionaire. It was at
this time that a few stood by him--notably, the mill inventor from
Siskyou, grown plethoric with success, but eventually ground
between the upper and nether millstone of the Somers and Rushbrook
party. Miss Nevil had returned to the Atlantic States with Mrs.
Leyton. While rumors had played freely with the relations of
Somers and the Signora as the possible cause of the rupture between
him and Rushbrook, no mention had ever been made of the name of
Miss Nevil.

It was raining heavily one afternoon, when Mr. Rushbrook drove from
his office to his San Francisco house. The fierce struggle in
which he was engaged left him little time for hospitality, and for
the last two weeks his house had been comparatively deserted. He
passed through the empty rooms, changed in little except the
absence of some valuable monstrosities which had gone to replenish
his capital. When he reached his bedroom, he paused a moment at
the open door.

"James!"

"Yes, sir," said James, appearing out of the shadow.

"What are you waiting for?"

"I thought you might be wanting something, sir."

"You were waiting there this morning; you were in the ante-room of
my study while I was writing. You were outside the blue room while
I sat at breakfast. You were at my elbow in the drawing-room late
last night. Now, James," continued Mr. Rushbrook, with his usual
grave directness, "I don't intend to commit suicide; I can't afford
it, so keep your time and your rest for yourself--you want it--
that's a good fellow."

"Yes, sir."

"James!"

"Yes, sir."

Rushbrook extended his hand. There was that faint, rare smile on
his handsome mouth, for which James would at any time have laid
down his life. But he only silently grasped his master's hand, and
the two men remained looking into each other's eyes without a word.
Then Mr. Rushbrook entered his room, lay down, and went to sleep,
and James vanished in the shadow.

At the end of an hour Mr. Rushbrook awoke refreshed, and even
James, who came to call him, appeared to have brightened in the
interval. "I have ordered a fire, sir, in the reserved room, the
one fitted up from Los Osos, as your study has had no chance of
being cleaned these two weeks. It will be a change for you, sir.
I hope you'll excuse my not waking you to consult you about it."

Rushbrook remained so silent that James, fancying he had not heard
him, was about to repeat himself when his master said quickly,
"Very well, come for me there when dinner is ready," and entered
the passage leading to the room. James did not follow him, and
when Mr. Rushbrook, opening the door, started back with an
exclamation, no one but the inmate heard the word that rose to his
lips.

For there, seated before the glow of the blazing fire, was Miss
Grace Nevil. She had evidently just arrived, for her mantle was
barely loosened around her neck, and upon the fringe of brown hair
between her bonnet and her broad, low forehead a few drops of rain
still sparkled. As she lifted her long lashes quickly towards the
door, it seemed as if they, too, had caught a little of that
moisture. Rushbrook moved impatiently forward, and then stopped.
Grace rose unhesitatingly to her feet, and met him half-way with
frankly outstretched hands. "First of all," she said, with a half
nervous laugh, "don't scold James; it's all my fault; I forbade him
to announce me, lest you should drive me away, for I heard that
during this excitement you came here for rest, and saw no one.
Even the intrusion into this room is all my own. I confess now
that I saw it the last night I was here; I was anxious to know if
it was unchanged, and made James bring me here. I did not
understand it then. I do now--and--thank you."

Her face must have shown that she was conscious that he was still
holding her hand, for he suddenly released it. With a heightened
color and a half girlish naivete, that was the more charming for
its contrast with her tall figure and air of thoroughbred repose,
she turned back to her chair, and lightly motioned him to take the
one before her. "I am here on BUSINESS; otherwise I should not
have dared to look in upon you at all."

She stopped, drew off her gloves with a provoking deliberation,
which was none the less fascinating that it implied a demure
consciousness of inducing some impatience in the breast of her
companion, stretched them out carefully by the fingers, laid them
down neatly on the table, placed her elbows on her knees, slightly
clasped her hands together, and bending forward, lifted her honest,
handsome eyes to the man before her.

"Mr. Rushbrook, I have got between four and five hundred thousand
dollars that I have no use for; I can control securities which can
be converted, if necessary, into a hundred thousand more in ten
days. I am free and my own mistress. It is generally considered
that I know what I am about--you admitted as much when I was your
pupil. I have come here to place this sum in your hands, at your
free disposal. You know why and for what purpose."

"But what do you know of my affairs?" asked Rushbrook, quickly.

"Everything, and I know YOU, which is better. Call it an
investment if you like--for I know you will succeed--and let me
share your profits. Call it--if you please--restitution, for I am
the miserable cause of your rupture with that man. Or call it
revenge if you like," she said with a faint smile, "and let me
fight at your side against our common enemy! Please, Mr.
Rushbrook, don't deny me this. I have come three thousand miles
for it; I could have sent it to you--or written--but I feared you
would not understand it. You are smiling--you will take it?"

"I cannot," said Rushbrook, gravely.

"Then you force me to go into the Stock Market myself, and fight
for you, and, unaided by YOUR genius, perhaps lose it without
benefiting you."

Rushbrook did not reply.

"At least, then, tell me why you 'cannot.'"

Rushbrook rose, and looking into her face, said quietly with his
old directness:--

"Because I love you, Miss Nevil."

A sudden instinct to rise and move away, a greater one to remain
and hear him speak again, and a still greater one to keep back the
blood that she felt was returning all too quickly to her cheek
after the first shock, kept her silent. But she dropped her eyes.

"I loved you ever since I first saw you at Los Osos," he went on
quickly; "I said to myself even then, that if there was a woman
that would fill my life, and make me what she wished me to be, it
was you. I even fancied that day that you understood me better
than any woman, or even any man, that I had ever met before. I
loved you through all that miserable business with that man, even
when my failure to make you happy with another brought me no nearer
to you. I have loved you always. I shall love you always. I love
you more for this foolish kindness that brings YOU beneath my roof
once more, and gives me a chance to speak my heart to you, if only
once and for the last time, than all the fortune that you could put
at my disposal. But I could not accept what you would offer me
from any woman who was not my wife--and I could not marry any woman
that did not love me. I am perhaps past the age when I could
inspire a young girl's affection; but I have not reached the age
when I would accept anything less." He stopped abruptly. Grace
did not look up. There was a tear glistening upon her long
eyelashes, albeit a faint smile played upon her lips.

"Do you call this business, Mr. Rushbrook?" she said softly.

"Business?"

"To assume a proposal declined before it has been offered."

"Grace--my darling--tell me--is it possible?"

It was too late for her to rise now, as his hands held both hers,
and his handsome mouth was smiling level with her own. So it
really seemed to a dispassionate spectator that it WAS possible,
and before she had left the room, it even appeared to be the most
probable thing in the world.

. . . . . .

The union of Grace Nevil and Robert Rushbrook was recorded by local
history as the crown to his victory over the Ring. But only he and
his wife knew that it was the cause.

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