Part 3 out of 5
"It's good to get back here," he said at last. "To me, anyway. How about
it, Stella? You haven't got so much of a grievance with the world in
general as you had when we left, eh?"
"No, thank goodness," she responded fervently.
"You don't look as if you had," he observed, his eyes admiringly upon
Nor had she. There was a bloom on the soft contour of her cheek, a
luminous gleam in her wide, gray eyes. All the ill wrought by months of
drudging work and mental revolt had vanished. She was undeniably good to
look at, a woman in full flower, round-bodied, deep-breasted, aglow with
the unquenched fires of youth. She was aware that Jack Fyfe found her so
and tolerably glad that he did so find her. She had revised a good many
of her first groping estimates of him that winter. And when she looked
over the port bow and saw in behind Halfway Point the huddled shacks of
her brother's camp where so much had overtaken her, she experienced a
swift rush of thankfulness that she was--as she was. She slid her gloved
hand impulsively into Jack Fyfe's, and his strong fingers shut down on
They sat silent until the camp lay abeam. About it there was every sign
of activity. A chunky stern-wheeler, with blow-off valve hissing, stood
by a boom of logs in the bay, and men were moving back and forth across
the swifters, making all ready for a tow. Stella marked a new bunkhouse.
Away back on the logging ground in a greater clearing she saw the
separate smoke of two donkey engines. Another, a big roader, Fyfe
explained, puffed at the water's edge. She could see a string of logs
tearing down the skid-road.
"He's going pretty strong, that brother of yours," Fyfe remarked. "If
he holds his gait, he'll be a big timberman before you know it."
"He'll make money, I imagine," Stella admitted, "but I don't know what
good that will do him. He'll only want more. What is there about
money-making that warps some men so, makes them so grossly
self-centered? I'd pity any girl who married Charlie. He used to be
rather wild at home, but I never dreamed any man could change so."
"You use the conventional measuring-stick on him," her husband answered,
with that tolerance which so often surprised her. "Maybe his ways are
pretty crude. But he's feverishly hewing a competence--which is what
we're all after--out of pretty crude material. And he's just a kid,
after all, with a kid's tendency to go to extremes now and then. I kinda
like the beggar's ambition and energy."
"But he hasn't the least consideration for anybody or anything," Stella
protested. "He rides rough-shod over every one. That isn't either right
"It's the only way some men can get to the top," Fyfe answered quietly.
"They concentrate on the object to be attained. That's all that counts
until they're in a secure position. Then, when they stop to draw their
breath, sometimes they find they've done lots of things they wouldn't do
again. You watch. By and by Charlie Benton will cease to have those
violent reactions that offend you so. As it is--he's a youngster,
bucking a big game. Life, when you have your own way to hew through it,
with little besides your hands and brain for capital, is no silk-lined
She fell into thought over this reply. Fyfe had echoed almost her
brother's last words to her. And she wondered if Jack Fyfe had attained
that degree of economic power which enabled him to spend several
thousand dollars on a winter's pleasuring with her by the exercise of a
strong man's prerogative of overriding the weak, bending them to his own
inflexible purposes, ruthlessly turning everything to his own advantage?
If women came under the same head! She recalled Katy John, and her face
burned. Perhaps. But she could not put Jack Fyfe in her brother's
category. He didn't fit. Deep in her heart there still lurked an abiding
resentment against Charlie Benton for the restraint he had put upon her
and the license he had arrogated to himself. She could not convince
herself that the lapses of that winter were not part and parcel of her
brother's philosophy of life, a coarse and material philosophy.
Presently they were drawing in to Cougar Point, with the
weather-bleached buildings of Fyfe's camp showing now among the
upspringing second-growth scrub. Fyfe went forward and spoke to the man
at the wheel. The _Panther_ swung offshore.
"Why are we going out again?" Stella asked.
"Oh, just for fun," Fyfe smiled.
He sat down beside her and slipped one arm around her waist. In a few
minutes they cleared the point. Stella was looking away across the lake,
at the deep cleft where Silver Creek split a mountain range in twain.
"Look around," said he, "and tell me what you think of the House of
There it stood, snow-white, broad-porched, a new house reared upon the
old stone foundation she remembered. The noon sun struck flashing on the
windows. About it spread the living green of the grassy square, behind
that towered the massive, darker-hued background of the forest.
"Oh," she exclaimed. "What wizard of construction did the work. _That_
was why you fussed so long over those plans in Los Angeles. I thought it
was to be this summer or maybe next winter. I never dreamed you were
having it built right away."
"Well, isn't it rather nice to come home to?" he observed.
"It's dear. A homey looking place," she answered. "A beautiful site, and
the house fits,--that white and the red tiles. Is the big stone
fireplace in the living room, Jack?"
"Yes, and one in pretty nearly every other room besides," he nodded.
"Wood fires are cheerful."
The _Panther_ turned her nose shoreward at Fyfe's word.
"I wondered about that foundation the first time I saw it," Stella
confessed, "whether you built it, and why it was never finished. There
was moss over the stones in places. And that lawn wasn't made in a
single season. I know, because dad had a country place once, and he was
raging around two or three summers because the land was so hard to get
"No, I didn't build the foundation or make the lawn," Fyfe told her. "I
merely kept it in shape. A man named Hale owned the land that takes in
the bay and the point when I first came to the lake. He was going to be
married. I knew him pretty well. But it was tough going those days. He
was in the hole on some of his timber, and he and his girl kept waiting.
Meantime he cleared and graded that little hill, sowed it to grass, and
laid the foundation. He was about to start building when he was killed.
A falling tree caught him. I bought in his land and the timber limits
that lie back of it. That's how the foundation came there."
"It's a wonder it didn't grow up wild," Stella mused. "How long ago was
"About five years," Fyfe said. "I kept the grass trimmed. It didn't seem
right to let the brush overrun it after the poor devil put that labor of
love on it. It always seemed to me that it should be kept smooth and
green, and that there should be a big, roomy bungalow there. You see my
hunch was correct, too."
She looked up at him in some wonder. She hadn't accustomed herself to
associating Jack Fyfe with actions based on pure sentiment. He was too
intensely masculine, solid, practical, impassive. He did not seem to
realize even that sentiment had influenced him in this. He discussed it
too matter-of-factly for that. She wondered what became of the
bride-to-be. But that Fyfe could not tell her.
"Hale showed me her picture once," he said, "but I never saw her. Oh, I
suppose she's married some other fellow long ago. Hale was a good sort.
He was out-lucked, that's all."
The _Panther_ slid in to the float. Jack and Stella went ashore. Lefty
Howe came down to meet them. Thirty-five or forty men were stringing
away from the camp, back to their work in the woods. Some waved greeting
to Jack Fyfe, and he waved back in the hail-fellow fashion of the camps.
"How's the frau, Lefty?" he inquired, after they had shaken hands.
"Fine. Down to Vancouver. Sister's sick," Howe answered laconically.
"House's all shipshape. Wanta eat here, or up there?"
"Here at the camp, until we get straightened around," Fyfe responded.
"Tell Pollock to have something for us in about half an hour. We'll go
up and take a look."
Howe went in to convey this message, and the two set off up the path. A
sudden spirit of impishness made Jack Fyfe sprint. Stella gathered up
her skirt and raced after him, but a sudden shortness of breath overtook
her, and she came panting to where Fyfe had stopped to wait.
"You'll have to climb hills and row and swim so you'll get some wind,"
Fyfe chuckled. "Too much easy living, lady."
She smiled without making any reply to this sally, and they entered the
house--the House of Fyfe, that was to be her home.
If the exterior had pleased her, she went from room to room inside with
growing amazement. Fyfe had finished it from basement to attic without a
word to her that he had any such undertaking in hand. Yet there was
scarcely a room in which she could not find the visible result of some
expressed wish or desire. Often during the winter they had talked over
the matter of furnishings, and she recalled how unconsciously she had
been led to make suggestions which he had stored up and acted upon. For
the rest she found her husband's taste beyond criticism. There were
drapes and rugs and prints and odds and ends that any woman might be
proud to have in her home.
"You're an amazing sort of a man, Jack," she said thoughtfully. "Is
there anything you're not up to? Even a Chinese servant in the kitchen.
"I'm glad you like it," he said. "I hoped you would."
"Who wouldn't?" she cried impulsively. "I love pretty things. Wait till
I get done rearranging."
They introduced themselves to the immobile-featured Celestial when they
had jointly and severally inspected the house from top to bottom. Sam
Foo gazed at them, listened to their account of themselves, and
disappeared. He re-entered the room presently, bearing a package.
"Mist' Chol' Bentlee him leave foh yo'."
Stella looked at it. On the outer wrapping was written:
_From C.A. Benton to Mrs. John Henderson Fyfe_
_A Belated Wedding Gift_
She cut the string, and delved into the cardboard box, and gasped. Out
of a swathing of tissue paper her hands bared sundry small articles. A
little cap and jacket of knitted silk--its double in fine, fleecy
yarn--a long silk coat--a bonnet to match,--both daintily embroidered.
Other things--a shoal of them--baby things. A grin struggled for
lodgment on Fyfe's freckled countenance. His blue eyes twinkled.
"I suppose," he growled, "that's Charlie's idea of a joke, huh?"
Stella turned away from the tiny garments, one little, hood crumpled
tight in her hand. She laid her hot face against his breast and her
shoulders quivered. She was crying.
"Stella, Stella, what's the matter?" he whispered.
"It's no joke," she sobbed. "It's a--it's a reality."
IN WHICH EVENTS MARK TIME
From that day on Stella found in her hands the reins over a smooth,
frictionless, well-ordered existence. Sam Foo proved himself such a
domestic treasure as only the trained Oriental can be. When the labor of
an eight-room dwelling proved a little too much for him, he urbanely
said so. Thereupon, at Fyfe's suggestion, he imported a fellow
countryman, another bland, silent-footed model of efficiency in personal
service. Thereafter Stella's task of supervision proved a sinecure.
A week or so after their return, in sorting over some of her belongings,
she came across the check Charlie had given her: that two hundred and
seventy dollars which represented the only money she had ever earned in
her life. She studied it a minute, then went out to where her husband
sat perched on the verandah rail.
"You might cash this, Jack," she suggested.
He glanced at the slip.
"Better have it framed as a memento," he said, smiling. "You'll never
earn two hundred odd dollars so hard again, I hope. No, I'd keep it, if
I were you. If ever you should need it, it'll always be good--unless
Charlie goes broke."
There never had been any question of money between them. From the day
of their marriage Fyfe had made her a definite monthly allowance, a
greater sum than she needed or spent.
"As a matter of fact," he went on, "I'm going to open an account in your
name at the Royal Bank, so you can negotiate your own paper and pay your
own bills by check."
She went in and put away the check. It was hers, earned, all too
literally, in the sweat of her brow. For all that it represented she had
given service threefold. If ever there came a time when that hunger for
independence which had been fanned to a flame in her brother's kitchen
should demand appeasement--she pulled herself up short when she found
her mind running upon such an eventuality. Her future was ordered. She
was married--to be a mother. Here lay her home. All about her ties were
in process of formation, ties that with time would grow stronger than
any shackles of steel, constraining her to walk in certain ways,--ways
that were pleasant enough, certain of ease if not of definite purpose.
Yet now and then she found herself falling into fits of abstraction in
which Roaring Lake and Jack Fyfe, all that meant anything to her now,
faded into the background, and she saw herself playing a lone hand
against the world, making her individual struggle to be something more
than the petted companion of a dominant male and the mother of his
children. She never quite lost sight of the fact that marriage had been
the last resort, that in effect she had taken the avenue her personal
charm afforded to escape drudgery and isolation. There was still
deep-rooted in her a craving for something bigger than mere ease of
living. She knew as well as she knew anything that in the natural
evolution of things marriage and motherhood should have been the big
thing in her life. And it was not. It was too incidental, too
incomplete, too much like a mere breathing-place on life's highway.
Sometimes she reasoned with herself bluntly, instead of dreaming, was
driven to look facts in the eye because she did dream. Always she
encountered the same obstacle, a feeling that she had been defrauded,
robbed of something vital; she had forgone that wonderful, passionate
drawing together which makes the separate lives of the man and woman who
experiences it so fuse that in the truest sense of the word they become
Mostly she kept her mind from that disturbing introspection, because
invariably it led her to vague dreaming of a future which she told
herself--sometimes wistfully--could never be realized. She had shut the
door on many things, it seemed to her now. But she had the sense to know
that dwelling on what might have been only served to make her morbid,
and did not in the least serve to alter the unalterable. She had chosen
what seemed to her at the time the least of two evils, and she meant to
abide steadfast by her choice.
Charlie Benton came to visit them. Strangely enough to Stella, who had
never seen him on Roaring Lake, at least, dressed otherwise than as his
loggers, he was sporting a natty gray suit, he was clean shaven, Oxford
ties on his feet, a gentleman of leisure in his garb. If he had started
on the down grade the previous winter, he bore no signs of it now, for
he was the picture of ruddy vigor, clear-eyed, brown-skinned, alert,
bubbling over with good spirits.
"Why, say, you look like a tourist," Fyfe remarked after an appraising
"I'm making money, pulling ahead of the game, that's all," Benton
retorted cheerfully. "I can afford to take a holiday now and then. I'm
putting a million feet a month in the water. That's going some for small
fry like me. Say, this house of yours is all to the good, Jack. It's got
class, outside and in. Makes a man feel as if he had to live up to it,
eh? Mackinaws and calked boots don't go with oriental rugs and oak
"You should get a place like this as soon as possible then," Stella put
in drily, "to keep you up to the mark, on edge aesthetically, one might
"Not to say morally," Benton laughed. "Oh, maybe I'll get to it by and
by, if the timber business holds up."
Later, when he and Stella were alone together, he said to her:
"You're lucky. You've got everything, and it comes without an effort.
You sure showed good judgment when you picked Jack Fyfe. He's a
"Oh, thank you," she returned, a touch of irony in her voice, a subtlety
of inflection that went clean over Charlie's head.
He was full of inquiries about where they had been that winter, what
they had done and seen. Also he brimmed over with his own affairs. He
stayed overnight and went his way with a brotherly threat of making
the Fyfe bungalow his headquarters whenever he felt like it.
"It's a touch of civilization that looks good to me," he declared. "You
can put my private mark on one of those big leather chairs, Jack. I'm
going to use it often. All you need to make this a social center is a
good-looking girl or two--unmarried ones. You watch. When the summer
flock comes to the lake, your place is going to be popular."
That observation verified Benton's shrewdness. The Fyfe bungalow did
become popular. Two weeks after Charlie's visit, a lean, white cruiser,
all brass and mahogany above her topsides, slid up to the float, and two
women came at a dignified pace along the path to the house. Stella had
met Linda Abbey once, reluctantly, under the circumstances, but it was
different now--with the difference that money makes. She could play
hostess against an effective background, and she did so graciously. Nor
was her graciousness wholly assumed. After all, they were her kind of
people: Linda, fair-haired, perfectly gowned, perfectly mannered,
sweetly pretty; Mrs. Abbey, forty-odd and looking thirty-five, with that
calm self-assurance which wealth and position confer upon those who hold
it securely. Stella found them altogether to her liking. It pleased her,
too, that Jack happened in to meet them. He was not a scintillating
talker, yet she had noticed that when he had anything to say, he never
failed to attract and hold attention. His quiet, impersonal manner never
suggested stolidness. And she was too keen an observer to overlook the
fact that from a purely physical standpoint Jack Fyfe made an
impression always, particularly on women. Throughout that winter it had
not disturbed her. It did not disturb her now, when she noticed Linda
Abbey's gaze coming back to him with a veiled appraisal in her blue eyes
that were so like Fyfe's own in their tendency to twinkle and gleam with
no corresponding play of features.
"We'll expect to see a good deal of you this summer," Mrs. Abbey said
cordially at leave-taking. "We have a few people up from town now and
then to vary the monotony of feasting our souls on scenery. Sometimes we
are quite a jolly crowd. Don't be formal. Drop in when you feel the
When Stella reminded Jack of this some time later, in a moment of
boredom, he put the _Panther_ at her disposal for the afternoon. But he
would not go himself. He had opened up a new outlying camp, and he had
directions to issue, work to lay out.
"You hold up the social end of the game," he laughed. "I'll hustle
So Stella invaded the Abbey-Monohan precincts by herself and enjoyed
it--for she met a houseful of young people from the coast, and in that
light-hearted company she forgot for the time being that she was married
and the responsible mistress of a house. Paul Abbey was there, but he
had apparently forgotten or forgiven the blow she had once dealt his
vanity. Paul, she reflected, was not the sort to mourn a lost love long.
She had the amused experience too of beholding Charlie Benton appear an
hour or so before she departed and straightway monopolize Linda Abbey in
his characteristically impetuous fashion. Charlie was no diplomat. He
believed in driving straight to any goal he selected.
"So _that's_ the reason for the outward metamorphosis," Stella
Altogether she enjoyed the afternoon hugely. The only fly in her
ointment was a greasy smudge bestowed upon her dress--a garment she
prized highly--by some cordage coiled on the _Panther's_ deck. The black
tender had carried too many cargoes of loggers and logging supplies to
be a fit conveyance for persons in party attire. She exhibited the
soiled gown to Fyfe with due vexation.
"I hope you'll have somebody scrub down the _Panther_ the next time I
want to go anywhere in a decent dress," she said ruefully. "That'll
never come out. And it's the prettiest thing I've got too."
"Ah, what's the odds?" Fyfe slipped one arm around her waist. "You can
buy more dresses. Did you have a good time? That's the thing!"
That ruined gown, however, subsequently produced an able, forty-foot,
cruising launch, powerfully engined, easy in a sea, and comfortably,
even luxuriously fitted as to cabin. With that for their private use,
the _Panther_ was left to her appointed service, and in the new boat
Fyfe and Stella spent many a day abroad on Roaring Lake. They fished
together, explored nooks and bays up and down its forty miles of length,
climbed hills together like the bear of the ancient rhyme, to see what
they could see. And the _Waterbug_ served to put them on intimate terms
with their neighbors, particularly the Abbey crowd. The Abbeys took to
them wholeheartedly. Fyfe himself was highly esteemed by the elder
Abbey, largely, Stella suspected, for his power on Roaring Lake. Abbey
_pere_ had built up a big fortune out of timber. He respected any man
who could follow the same path to success. Therefore he gave Fyfe double
credit,--for making good, and for a personality that could not be
overlooked. He told Stella that once; that is to say, he told her
confidentially that her husband was a very "able" young man. Abbey
senior was short and double-chinned and inclined to profuse perspiration
if he moved in haste over any extended time. Paul promised to be like
him, in that respect.
Summer slipped by. There were dances, informal little hops at the Abbey
domicile, return engagements at the Fyfe bungalow, laughter and music
and Japanese lanterns strung across the lawn. There was tea and tennis
and murmuring rivers of small talk. And amid this Stella Fyfe flitted
graciously, esteeming it her world, a fair measure of what the future
might be. Viewed in that light, it seemed passable enough.
Later, when summer was on the wane, she withdrew from much of this
activity, spending those days when she did not sit buried in a book out
on the water with her husband. When October ushered in the first of the
fall rains, they went to Vancouver and took apartments. In December her
son was born.
A CLOSE CALL AND A NEW ACQUAINTANCE
With the recurrence of spring, Fyfe's household transferred itself to
the Roaring Lake bungalow again. Stella found the change welcome, for
Vancouver wearied her. It was a little too crude, too much as yet in the
transitory stage, in that civic hobbledehoy period which overtakes every
village that shoots up over-swiftly to a city's dimensions. They knew
people, to be sure, for the Abbey influence would have opened the way
for them into any circle. Stella had made many friends and pleasant
acquaintances that summer on the lake, but part of that butterfly clique
sought pleasanter winter grounds before she was fit for social activity.
Apart from a few more or less formal receptions and an occasional
auction party, she found it pleasanter to stay at home. Fyfe himself had
spent only part of his time in town after their boy was born. He was
extending his timber operations. What he did not put into words, but
what Stella sensed because she experienced the same thing herself, was
that town bored him to death,--such town existence as Vancouver
afforded. Their first winter had been different, because they had sought
places where there was manifold variety of life, color, amusement. She
was longing for the wide reach of Roaring Lake, the immense
amphitheater of the surrounding mountains, long before spring.
So she was quite as well pleased when a mild April saw them domiciled at
home again. In addition to Sam Foo and Feng Shu, there was a nurse for
Jack Junior. Stella did not suggest that; Fyfe insisted on it. He was
quite proud of his boy, but he did not want her chained to her baby.
"If the added expense doesn't count, of course a nurse will mean a lot
more personal freedom," Stella admitted. "You see, I haven't the least
idea of your resources, Jack. All I know about it is that you allow me
plenty of money for my individual expenses. And I notice we're acquiring
a more expensive mode of living all the time."
"That's so," Fyfe responded. "I never have gone into any details of my
business with you. No reason why you shouldn't know what limits there
are to our income. You never happened to express any curiosity before.
Operating as I did up till lately, the business netted anywhere from
twelve to fifteen thousand a year. I'll double that this season. In
fact, with the amount of standing timber I control, I could make it
fifty thousand a year by expanding and speeding things up. I guess you
needn't worry about an extra servant or two."
So, apart from voluntary service on behalf of Jack Junior, she was free
as of old to order her days as she pleased. Yet that small morsel of
humanity demanded much of her time, because she released through the
maternal floodgates a part of that passionate longing to bestow love
where her heart willed. Sometimes she took issue with herself over that
wayward tendency. By all the rules of the game, she should have loved
her husband. He was like a rock, solid, enduring, patient, kind, and
generous. He stood to her in the most intimate relation that can exist
between a man and a woman. But she never fooled herself; she never had
so far as Jack Fyfe was concerned. She liked him, but that was all. He
was good to her, and she was grateful.
Sometimes she had a dim sense that under his easy-going exterior lurked
a capacity for tremendously passionate outbreak. If she had been
compelled to modify her first impression of him as an arrogant, dominant
sort of character, scarcely less rough than the brown firs out of which
he was hewing a fortune, she knew likewise that she had never seen
anything but the sunny side of him. He still puzzled her a little at
times; there were odd flashes of depths she could not see into, a
quality of unexpectedness in things he would do and say. Even so,
granting that in him was embodied so much that other men she knew
lacked, she did not love him; there were indeed times when she almost
Why, she could not perhaps have put into words. It seemed too fantastic
for sober summing-up, when she tried. But lurking always in the
background of her thoughts was the ghost of an unrealized dream, a
nebulous vision which once served to thrill her in secret. It could
never be anything but a vision, she believed now, and believing,
regretted. The cold facts of her existence couldn't be daydreamed away.
She was married, and marriage put a full stop to the potential
adventuring of youth. Twenty and maidenhood lies at the opposite pole
from twenty-four and matrimony. Stella subscribed to that. She took for
her guiding-star--theoretically--the twin concepts of morality and duty
as she had been taught to construe them. So she saw no loophole, and
seeing none, felt cheated of something infinitely precious. Marriage and
motherhood had not come to her as the fruits of love, as the
passionately eager fulfilling of her destiny. It had been thrust upon
her. She had accepted it as a last resort at a time when her powers of
resistance to misfortune were at the ebb.
She knew that this sort of self-communing was a bad thing, that it was
bound to sour the whole taste of life in her mouth. As much as possible
she thrust aside those vague, repressed longings. Materially she had
everything. If she had foregone that bargain with Jack Fyfe, God only
knew what long-drawn agony of mind and body circumstances and Charlie
Benton's subordination of her to his own ends might have inflicted upon
her. That was the reverse of her shield, but one that grew dimmer as
time passed. Mostly, she took life as she found it, concentrating upon
Jack Junior, a sturdy boy with blue eyes like his father, and who grew
steadily more adorable.
Nevertheless she had recurring periods when moodiness and ill-stifled
discontent got hold of her. Sometimes she stole out along the cliffs to
sit on a mossy boulder, staring with absent eyes at the distant hills.
And sometimes she would slip out in a canoe, to lie rocking in the lake
swell,--just dreaming, filled with a passive sort of regret. She could
not change things now, but she could not help wishing she could.
Fyfe warned her once about getting offshore in the canoe. Roaring Lake,
pent in the shape of a boomerang between two mountain ranges, was
subject to squalls. Sudden bursts of wind would shoot down its length
like blasts from some monster funnel. Stella knew that; she had seen the
glassy surface torn into whitecaps in ten minutes, but she was not
afraid of the lake nor the lake winds. She was hard and strong. The
open, the clean mountain air, and a measure of activity, had built her
up physically. She swam like a seal. Out in that sixteen-foot Peterboro
she could detach herself from her world of reality, lie back on a
cushion, and lose herself staring at the sky. She paid little heed to
Fyfe's warning beyond a smiling assurance that she had no intention of
courting a watery end.
So one day in mid-July she waved a farewell to Jack Junior, crowing in
his nurse's lap on the bank, paddled out past the first point to the
north, and pillowing her head on a cushioned thwart, gave herself up to
dreamy contemplation on the sky. There was scarce a ripple on the lake.
A faint breath of an offshore breeze fanned her, drifting the canoe at a
snail's pace out from land. Stella luxuriated in the quiet afternoon. A
party of campers cruising the lake had tarried at the bungalow till
after midnight. Jack Fyfe had risen at dawn to depart for some distant
logging point. Stella, once wakened, had risen and breakfasted with him.
She was tired, drowsy, content to lie there in pure physical
relaxation. Lying so, before she was aware of it, her eyes closed.
She wakened with a start at a cold touch of moisture on her face,--rain,
great pattering drops. Overhead an ominously black cloud hid the face of
the sun. The shore, when she looked, lay a mile and a half abeam. To the
north and between her and the land's rocky line was a darkening of the
lake's surface. Stella reached for her paddle. The black cloud let fall
long, gray streamers of rain. There was scarcely a stirring of the air,
but that did not deceive her. There was a growing chill, and there was
that broken line sweeping down the lake. Behind that was wind, a summer
gale, the black squall dreaded by the Siwashes.
She had to buck her way to shore through that. She drove hard on the
paddle. She was not afraid, but there rose in her a peculiar tensed-up
feeling. Ahead lay a ticklish bit of business. The sixteen-foot canoe
dwarfed to pitiful dimensions in the face of that snarling line of
wind-harried water. She could hear the distant murmur of it presently,
and gusty puffs of wind began to strike her.
Then it swept up to her, a ripple, a chop, and very close behind that
the short, steep, lake combers with a wind that blew off the tops as
each wave-head broke in white, bubbling froth. Immediately she began to
lose ground. She had expected that, and it did not alarm her. If she
could keep the canoe bow on, there was an even chance that the squall
would blow itself out in half an hour. But keeping the canoe bow on
proved a task for stout arms. The wind would catch all that forward
part which thrust clear as she topped a sea and twist it aside, tending
always to throw her broadside into the trough. Spray began to splash
aboard. The seas were so short and steep that the Peterboro would rise
over the crest of a tall one and dip its bow deep in the next, or leap
clear to strike with a slap that made Stella's heart jump. She had never
undergone quite that rough and tumble experience in a small craft. She
was being beaten farther out and down the lake, and her arms were
growing tired. Nor was there any slackening of the wind.
The combined rain and slaps of spray soaked her thoroughly. A puddle
gathered about her knees in the bilge, sloshing fore and aft as the
craft pitched, killing the natural buoyancy of the canoe so that she
dove harder. Stella took a chance, ceased paddling, and bailed with a
small can. She got a tossing that made her head swim while she lay in
the trough. And when she tried to head up into it again, one comber
bigger than its fellows reared up and slapped a barrel of water inboard.
The next wave swamped her.
Sunk to the clamps, Stella held fast to the topsides, crouching on her
knees, immersed to the hips in water that struck a chill through her
flesh. She had the wit to remember and act upon Jack Fyfe's coaching,
namely, to sit tight and hang on. No sea that ever ran can sink a canoe.
Wood is buoyant. So long as she could hold on, the submerged craft would
keep her head and shoulders above water. But it was numbing cold. Fed by
glacial streams, Roaring Lake is icy in hottest midsummer.
What with paddling and bailing and the excitement of the struggle,
Stella had wasted no time gazing about for other boats. She knew that if
any one at the camp saw her, rescue would be speedily effected. Now,
holding fast and sitting quiet, she looked eagerly about as the swamped
canoe rose loggily on each wave. Almost immediately she was heartened by
seeing distinctly some sort of craft plunging through the blow. She had
not long to wait after that, for the approaching launch was a lean-lined
speeder, powerfully engined, and she was being forced. Stella supposed
it was one of the Abbey runabouts. Even with her teeth chattering and
numbness fastening itself upon her, she shivered at the chances the man
was taking. It was no sea for a speed boat to smash into at thirty miles
an hour. She saw it shoot off the top of one wave and disappear in a
white burst of spray, slash through the next and bury itself deep again,
flinging a foamy cloud far to port and starboard. Stella cried futilely
to the man to slow down. She could hang on a long time yet, but her
voice carried no distance.
After that she had not long to wait. In four minutes the runabout was
within a hundred yards, open exhausts cracking like a machine gun. And
then the very thing she expected and dreaded came about. Every moment
she expected to see him drive bows under and go down. Here and there at
intervals uplifted a comber taller than its fellows, standing, just as
it broke, like a green wall. Into one such hoary-headed sea the white
boat now drove like a lance. Stella saw the spray leap like a cascade,
saw the solid green curl deep over the forward deck and engine hatch
and smash the low windshield. She heard the glass crack. Immediately the
roaring exhausts died. Amid the whistle of the wind and the murmur of
broken water, the launch staggered like a drunken man, lurched off into
the trough, deep down by the head with the weight of water she had
The man in her stood up with hands cupped over his mouth.
"Can you hang on a while longer?" he shouted. "Till I can get my boat
"I'm all right," she called back.
She saw him heave up the engine hatch. For a minute or two he bailed
rapidly. Then he spun the engine, without result. He straightened up at
last, stood irresolute a second, peeled off his coat.
The launch lay heavily in the trough. The canoe, rising and clinging on
the crest of each wave, was carried forward a few feet at a time, taking
the run of the sea faster than the disabled motorboat. So now only a
hundred-odd feet separated them, but they could come no nearer, for the
canoe was abeam and slowly drifting past.
Stella saw the man stoop and stand up with a coil of line in his hand.
Then she gasped, for he stepped on the coaming and plunged overboard in
a beautiful, arching dive. A second later his head showed glistening
above the gray water, and he swam toward her with a slow, overhand
stroke. It seemed an age--although the actual time was brief
enough--before he reached her. She saw then that there was method in
his madness, for the line strung out behind him, fast to a cleat on the
launch. He laid hold of the canoe and rested a few seconds, panting,
smiling broadly at her.
"Sorry that whopping wave put me out of commission," he said at last.
"I'd have had you ashore by now. Hang on for a minute."
He made the line fast to a thwart near the bow. Holding fast with one
hand, he drew the swamped canoe up to the launch. In that continuous
roll it was no easy task to get Stella aboard, but they managed it, and
presently she sat shivering in the cockpit, watching the man spill the
water out of the Peterboro till it rode buoyantly again. Then he went to
work at his engine methodically, wiping dry the ignition terminals, all
the various connections where moisture could effect a short circuit. At
the end of a few minutes, he turned the starting crank. The multiple
cylinders fired with a roar.
He moved back behind the wrecked windshield where the steering gear
"Well, Miss Ship-wrecked Mariner," said he lightly, "where do you wish
to be landed?"
"Over there, if you please." Stella pointed to where the red roof of the
bungalow stood out against the green. "I'm Mrs. Fyfe."
"Ah!" said he. An expression of veiled surprise flashed across his face.
"Another potential romance strangled at birth. You know, I hoped you
were some local maiden before whom I could pose as a heroic rescuer.
Such is life. Odd, too. Linda Abbey--I'm the Monohan tail to the Abbey
business kite, you see--impressed me as pilot for a spin this afternoon
and backed out at the last moment. I think she smelled this blow. So I
went out for a ride by myself. I was glowering at that new house through
a glass when I spied you out in the thick of it."
He had the clutch in now, and the launch was cleaving the seas, even at
half speed throwing out wide wings of spray. Some of this the wind
brought across the cockpit. "Come up into this seat," Monohan commanded.
"I don't suppose you can get any wetter, but if you put your feet
through this bulkhead door, the heat from the engine will warm you. By
Jove, you're fairly shivering."
"It's lucky for me you happened along," Stella remarked, when she was
ensconced behind the bulkhead. "I was getting so cold. I don't know how
much longer I could have stood it."
"Thank the good glasses that picked you out. You were only a speck on
the water, you know, when I sighted you first."
He kept silent after that. All his faculties were centered on the seas
ahead which rolled up before the sharp cutwater of the launch. He was
making time and still trying to avoid boarding seas. When a big one
lifted ahead, he slowed down. He kept one hand on the throttle control,
whistling under his breath disconnected snatches of song. Stella studied
his profile, clean-cut as a cameo and wholly pleasing. He was almost as
big-bodied as Jack Fyfe, and full four inches taller. The wet shirt
clinging close to his body outlined well-knit shoulders, ropy-muscled
arms. He could easily have posed for a Viking, so strikingly blond was
he, with fair, curly hair. She judged that he might be around thirty,
yet his face was altogether boyish.
Sitting there beside him, shivering in her wet clothes, she found
herself wondering what magnetic quality there could be about a man that
focussed a woman's attention upon him whether she willed it or no. Why
should she feel an oddly-disturbing thrill at the mere physical nearness
of this fair-haired stranger? She did. There was no debating that. And
she wondered--wondered if a bolt of that lightning she had dreaded ever
since her marriage was about to strike her now. She hoped not. All her
emotions had lain fallow. If Jack Fyfe had no power to stir her,--and
she told herself Jack had so failed, without asking herself why,--then
some other man might easily accomplish that, to her unutterable grief.
She had told herself many a time that no more terrible plight could
overtake her than to love and be loved and sit with hands folded,
foregoing it all. She shrank from so tragic an evolution. It meant only
pain, the ache of unfulfilled, unattainable desires. If, she reflected
cynically, this man beside her stood for such a motif in her life, he
might better have left her out in the swamped canoe.
While she sat there, drawn-faced with the cold, thinking rather amazedly
these things which she told herself she had no right to think, the
launch slipped into the quiet nook of Cougar Bay and slowed down to the
Monohan helped her out, threw off the canoe's painter, and climbed back
into the launch.
"You're as wet as I am," Stella said. "Won't you come up to the house
and get a change of clothes? I haven't even thanked you."
"Nothing to be thanked for," he smiled up at her. "Only please remember
not to get offshore in a canoe again. I mightn't be handy the next
time--and Roaring Lake's as fickle as your charming sex. All smiles one
minute, storming the next. No, I won't stay this time, thanks. A little
wet won't hurt me. I wasn't in the water long enough to get chilled, you
know. I'll be home in half an hour. Run along and get dressed, Mrs.
Fyfe, and drink something hot to drive that chill away. Good-by."
Stella went up to the house, her hand tingling with his parting grip.
Over and above the peril she had escaped rose an uneasy vision of a
greater peril to her peace of mind. The platitudes of soul-affinity, of
irresistible magnetic attraction, of love that leaped full-blown into
reality at the touch of a hand or the glance of an eye, she had always
viewed with distrust, holding them the weaknesses of weak, volatile
natures. But there was something about this man which had stirred her,
nothing that he said or did, merely some elusive, personal attribute.
She had never undergone any such experience, and she puzzled over it
now. A chance stranger, and his touch could make her pulse leap. It
filled her with astonished dismay.
Afterward, dry-clad and warm, sitting in her pet chair, Jack Junior
cooing at her from a nest among cushions on the floor, the natural
reaction set in, and she laughed at herself. When Fyfe came home, she
told him lightly of her rescue.
He said nothing at first, only sat drumming on his chair-arm, his eyes
steady on her.
"That might have cost you your life," he said at last. "Will you
remember not to drift offshore again?"
"I rather think I shall," she responded. "It wasn't a pleasant
"Monohan, eh?" he remarked after another interval. "So he's on Roaring
"Do you know him?" she asked.
"Yes," he replied briefly.
For a minute or so longer he sat there, his face wearing its habitual
impassiveness. Then he got up, kissed her with a queer sort of
intensity, and went put. Stella gazed after him, mildly surprised. It
wasn't quite in his usual manner.
It might have been a week or so later that Stella made a discovery which
profoundly affected the whole current of her thought. The long twilight
was just beginning. She was curled on the living-room floor, playing
with the baby. Fyfe and Charlie Benton sat by a window, smoking,
conversing, as they frequently did, upon certain phases of the timber
industry. A draft from an open window fluttered some sheet music down
off the piano rack, and Stella rescued it from Jack Junior's tiny,
clawing hands. Some of the Abbeys had been there the evening before. One
bit of music was a song Linda had tried to sing and given up because it
soared above her vocal range. Stella rose to put up the music. Without
any premeditated idea of playing, she sat down at the piano and began to
run over the accompaniment. She could play passably.
"That doesn't seem so very hard," she thought aloud. Benton turned at
sound of her words.
"Say, did you never get any part of your voice back, Stell?" he asked.
"I never hear you try to sing."
"No," she answered. "I tried and tried long after you left home, but it
was always the same old story. I haven't sung a note in five years."
"Linda fell down hard on that song last night," he went on. "There was a
time when that wouldn't have been a starter for you, eh? Did you know
Stella used to warble like a prima donna, Jack?"
Fyfe shook his head.
"Fact. The governor spent a pot of money cultivating her voice. It was
some voice, too. She--"
He broke off to listen. Stella was humming the words of the song, her
fingers picking at the melody instead of the accompaniment.
"Why, you can," Benton cried.
"Can what?" She turned on the stool.
"Sing, of course. You got that high trill that Linda had to screech
through. You got it perfectly, without effort."
"I didn't," she returned. "Why, I wasn't singing, just humming it over."
"You let out a link or two on those high notes just the same, whether
you knew you were doing it or not," her brother returned impatiently.
"Go on. Turn yourself loose. Sing that song."
"Oh, I couldn't," Stella said ruefully. "I haven't tried for so long.
It's no use. My voice always cracks, and I want to cry."
"Crack fiddlesticks!" Benton retorted. "I know what it used to be.
Believe me, it sounded natural, even if you were just lilting. Here."
He came over to the piano and playfully edged her off the stool.
"I'm pretty rusty," he said. "But I can fake what I can't play of this.
It's simple enough. You stand up there and sing."
She only stood looking at him.
"Go on," he commanded. "I believe you can sing anything. You have to
show me, if you can't."
Stella fingered the sheets reluctantly. Then she drew a deep breath and
It was not a difficult selection, merely a bit from a current light
opera, with a closing passage that ranged a trifle too high for the
ordinary untrained voice to take with ease. Stella sang it effortlessly,
the last high, trilling notes pouring out as sweet and clear as the
carol of a lark. Benton struck the closing chord and looked up at her.
Fyfe leaned forward in his chair. Jack Junior, among his pillows on the
floor, waved his arms, kicking and gurgling.
"You did pretty well on that," Charlie remarked complacently. "Now
_sing_ something. Got any of your old pieces?"
"I wonder if I could?" Stella murmured. "I'm almost afraid to try."
She hurried away to some outlying part of the house, reappearing in a
few minutes with a dog-eared bundle of sheets in her hand. From among
these she selected three and set them on the rack.
Benton whistled when he glanced over the music.
"The Siren Song," he grunted. "What is it? something new? Lord, look at
the scale. Looks like one of those screaming arias from the 'Flying
Dutchman.' Some stunt."
"Marchand composed it for the express purpose of trying out voices,"
Stella said. "It _is_ a stunt."
"You'll have to play your own accompaniment," Charlie grinned. "That's
too much for me."
"Oh, just so you give me a little support here and there," Stella told
him. "I can't sing sitting on a piano stool."
Benton made a face at the music and struck the keys.
It seemed to Stella nothing short of a miracle. She had been mute so
long. She had almost forgotten what a tragedy losing her voice had been.
And to find it again, to hear it ring like a trumpet. It did! It was too
big for the room. She felt herself caught up in a triumphant ecstasy as
she sang. She found herself blinking as the last note died away. Her
brother twisted about on the piano stool, fumbling for a cigarette.
"And still they say they can't come back," he remarked at last. "Why,
you're better than you ever were, Stella. You've got the old sweetness
and flexibility that dad used to rave about. But your voice is bigger,
somehow different. It gets under a man's skin."
She picked up the baby from the floor, began to play with him. She
didn't want to talk. She wanted to think, to gloat over and hug to
herself this miracle of her restored voice. She was very quiet, very
much absorbed in her own reflections until it was time--very shortly--to
put Jack Junior in his bed. That was a function she made wholly her own.
The nurse might greet his waking whimper in the morning and minister to
his wants throughout the day, but Stella "tucked him in" his crib every
night. And after the blue eyes were closed, she sat there, very still,
thinking. In a detached way she was conscious of hearing Charlie leave.
Later, when she was sitting beside her dressing table brushing her hair,
Fyfe came in. He perched himself on the foot rail of the bed, looking
silently at her. She had long grown used to that. It was a familiar
trick of his.
"How did it happen that you've never tried your voice lately?" he asked
after a time.
"I gave it up long ago," she said. "Didn't I ever tell you that I used
to sing and lost my voice?"
"No," he answered. "Charlie did just now. You rather took my breath
away. It's wonderful. You'd be a sensation in opera."
"I might have been," she corrected. "That was one of my little dreams.
You don't know what a grief it was to me when I got over that throat
trouble and found I couldn't sing. I used to try and try--and my voice
would break every time. I lost all heart to try after a while. That was
when I wanted to take up nursing, and they wouldn't let me. I haven't
thought about singing for an age. I've crooned lullabies to Jacky
without remembering that I once had volume enough to drown out an
accompanist. Dad was awfully proud of my voice."
"You've reason to be proud of it now," Fyfe said slowly. "It's a voice
in ten thousand. What are going to do with it?"
Stella drew the brush mechanically through her heavy hair. She had been
asking herself that. What could she do? A long road and a hard one lay
ahead of her or any other woman who essayed to make her voice the basis
of a career. Over and above that she was not free to seek such a career.
Fyfe himself knew that, and it irritated her that he should ask such a
question. She swung about on him.
"Nothing," she said a trifle tartly. "How can I? Granting that my voice
is worth the trouble, would you like me to go and study in the East or
abroad? Would you be willing to bear the expense of such an undertaking?
To have me leave Jack to nursemaids and you to your logs?"
"So that in the fullness of time I might secure a little reflected glory
as the husband of Madame Fyfe, the famous soprano," he replied slowly.
"Well, I can't say that's a particularly pleasing prospect."
"Then why ask me what I'm going to do with it?" she flung back
impatiently. "It'll be an asset--like my looks--and--and--"
She dropped her face in her hands, choking back an involuntary sob. Fyfe
crossed the room at a bound, put his arms around her.
"Stella, Stella!" he cried sharply. "Don't be a fool."
"D--don't be cross, Jack," she whispered. "Please. I'm sorry. I simply
can't help it. You don't understand."
"Oh, don't I?" he said savagely. "I understand too well; that's the
devil of it. But I suppose that's a woman's way,--to feed her soul with
illusions, and let the realities go hang. Look here."
He caught her by the shoulders and pulled her to her feet, facing him.
There was a fire in his eye, a hard shutting together of his lips that
frightened her a little.
"Look here," he said roughly. "Take a brace, Stella. Do you realize what
sort of a state of mind you're drifting into? You married me under more
or less compulsion,--compulsion of circumstances,--and gradually you're
beginning to get dissatisfied, to pity yourself. You'll precipitate
things you maybe don't dream of now, if you keep on. Damn it, I didn't
create the circumstances. I only showed you a way out. You took it. It
satisfied you for a while; you can't deny it did. But it doesn't any
more. You're nursing a lot of illusions, Stella, that are going to make
your life full of misery."
"I'm not," she sobbed. "It's because I haven't any illusions
that--that--Oh, what's the use of talking, Jack? I'm not complaining. I
don't even know what gave me this black mood, just now. I suppose that
queer miracle of my voice coming back upset me. I feel--well, as if I
were a different person, somehow; as if I had forfeited any right to
have it. Oh, it's silly, you'll say. But it's there. I can't help my
feeling--or my lack of it."
Fyfe's face whitened a little. His hands dropped from her shoulders.
"Now you're talking to the point," he said quietly. "Especially that
last. We've been married some little time now, and if anything, we're
farther apart in the essentials of mating than we were at the
beginning. You've committed yourself to an undertaking, yet more and
more you encourage yourself to wish for the moon. If you don't stop
dreaming and try real living, don't you see a lot of trouble ahead for
yourself? It's simple. You're slowly hardening yourself against me,
beginning to resent my being a factor in your life. It's only a matter
of time, if you keep on, until your emotions center about some other
"Why do you talk like that?" she said bitterly. "Do you think I've got
neither pride nor self-respect?"
"Yes. Both a-plenty," he answered. "But you're a woman, with a rather
complex nature even for your sex. If your heart and your head ever clash
over anything like that, you'll be in perfect hell until one or the
other gets the upper hand. You're a thoroughbred, and high-strung as
thoroughbreds are. It takes something besides three meals a day and
plenty of good clothes to complete your existence. If I can't make it
complete, some other man will make you think he can. Why don't you try?
Haven't I got any possibilities as a lover? Can't you throw a little
halo of romance about me, for your own sake--if not for mine?"
He drew her up close to him, stroking tenderly the glossy brown hair
that flowed about her shoulders.
"Try it, Stella," he whispered passionately. "Try wanting to like me,
for a change. I can't make love by myself. Shake off that infernal
apathy that's taking possession of you where I'm concerned. If you can't
love me, for God's sake fight with me. Do _something_!"
Looking back at that evening as the summer wore on, Stella perceived
that it was the starting point of many things, no one of them definitely
outstanding by itself but bulking large as a whole. Fyfe made his
appeal, and it left her unmoved save in certain superficial aspects. She
was sorry, but she was mostly sorry for herself. And she denied his
premonition of disaster. If, she said to herself, they got no raptures
out of life, at least they got along without friction. In her mind their
marriage, no matter that it lacked what she no less than Fyfe deemed an
essential to happiness, was a fixed state, final, irrevocable, not to be
altered by any emotional vagaries.
No man, she told herself, could make her forget her duty. If it should
befall that her heart, lacking safe anchorage, went astray, that would
be her personal cross--not Jack Fyfe's. _He_ should never know. One
might feel deeply without being moved to act upon one's feelings. So she
She never dreamed that Jack Fyfe could possibly have foreseen in Walter
Monohan a dangerous factor in their lives. A man is not supposed to have
uncanny intuitions, even when his wife is a wonderfully attractive
woman who does not care for him except in a friendly sort of way.
Stella herself had ample warning. From the first time of meeting, the
man's presence affected her strangely, made an appeal to her that no man
had ever made. She felt it sitting beside him in the plunging launch
that day when Roaring Lake reached its watery arms for her. There was
seldom a time when they were together that she did not feel it. And she
pitted her will against it, as something to be conquered and crushed.
There was no denying the man's personal charm in the ordinary sense of
the word. He was virile, handsome, cultured, just such a man as she
could easily have centered her heart upon in times past,--just such a
man as can set a woman's heart thrilling when he lays siege to her. If
he had made an open bid for Stella's affection, she, entrenched behind
all the accepted canons of her upbringing, would have recoiled from him,
viewed him with wholly distrustful eyes.
But he did nothing of the sort. He was a friend, or at least he became
so. Inevitably they were thrown much together. There was a continual
informal running back and forth between Fyfe's place and Abbey's.
Monohan was a lily of the field, although it was common knowledge on
Roaring Lake that he was a heavy stock-holder in the Abbey-Monohan
combination. At any rate, he was holidaying on the lake that summer.
There had grown up a genuine intimacy between Linda and Stella. There
were always people at the Abbeys'; sometimes a few guests at the Fyfe
bungalow. Stella's marvellous voice served to heighten her popularity.
The net result of it all was that in the following three months source
three days went by that she did not converse with Monohan.
She could not help making comparisons between the two men. They stood
out in marked contrast, in manner, physique, in everything. Where Fyfe
was reserved almost to taciturnity, impassive-featured, save for that
whimsical gleam that was never wholly absent from his keen blue eyes,
Monohan talked with facile ease, with wonderful expressiveness of face.
He was a finished product of courteous generations. Moreover, he had
been everywhere, done a little of everything, acquired in his manner
something of the versatility of his experience. Physically he was fit as
any logger in the camps, a big, active-bodied, clear-eyed, ruddy man.
What it was about him that stirred her so, Stella could never determine.
She knew beyond peradventure that he had that power. He had the gift of
quick, sympathetic perception,--but so too had Jack Fyfe, she reminded
herself. Yet no tone of Jack Fyfe's voice could raise a flutter in her
breast, make a faint flush glow in her cheeks, while Monohan could do
that. He did not need to be actively attentive. It was only necessary
for him to be near.
It dawned upon Stella Fyfe in the fullness of the season, when the first
cool October days were upon them, and the lake shores flamed again with
the red and yellow and umber of autumn, that she had been playing with
fire--and that fire burns.
This did not filter into her consciousness by degrees. She had steeled
herself to seeing him pass away with the rest of the summer folk, to
take himself out of her life. She admitted that there would be a gap.
But that had to be. No word other than friendly ones would ever pass
between them. He would go away, and she would go on as before. That was
all. She was scarcely aware how far they had traveled along that road
whereon travelers converse by glance of eye, by subtle intuitions,
eloquent silences. Monohan himself delivered the shock that awakened her
to despairing clearness of vision.
He had come to bring her a book, he and Linda Abbey and Charlie
together,--a commonplace enough little courtesy. And it happened that
this day Fyfe had taken his rifle and vanished into the woods
immediately after luncheon. Between Linda Abbey and Charlie Benton
matters had so far progressed that it was now the most natural thing for
them to seek a corner or poke along the beach together, oblivious to all
but themselves. This afternoon they chatted a while with Stella and then
gradually detached themselves until Monohan, glancing through the
window, pointed them out to his hostess. They were seated on a log at
the edge of the lawn, a stone's throw from the house.
"They're getting on," he said. "Lucky beggars. It's all plain sailing
There was a note of infinite regret in his voice, a sadness that stabbed
Stella Fyfe like a lance. She did not dare look at him. Something rose
chokingly in her throat. She felt and fought against a slow welling of
tears to her eyes. Before she sensed that she was betraying herself,
Monohan was holding both her hands fast between his own, gripping them
with a fierce, insistent pressure, speaking in a passionate undertone.
"Why should we have to beat our heads against a stone wall like this?"
he was saying wildly. "Why couldn't we have met and loved and been
happy, as we could have been? It was fated to happen. I felt it that day
I dragged you out of the lake. It's been growing on me ever since. I've
struggled against it, and it's no use. It's something stronger than I
am. I love you, Stella, and it maddens me to see you chafing in your
chains. Oh, my dear, why couldn't it have been different?"
"You mustn't talk like that," she protested weakly. "You mustn't. It
"I suppose it's right for you to live with a man you don't love, when
your heart's crying out against it?" he broke out. "My God, do you think
I can't see? I don't have to see things; I can feel them. I know you're
the kind of woman who goes through hell for her conceptions of right and
wrong. I honor you for that, dear. But, oh, the pity of it. Why should
it have to be? Life could have held so much that is fine and true for
you and me together. For you do care, don't you?"
"What difference does that make?" she whispered. "What difference can it
make? Oh, you mustn't tell me these things, I mustn't listen. I
"But they're terribly, tragically true," Monohan returned. "Look at me,
Stella. Don't turn your face away, dear. I wouldn't do anything that
might bring the least shadow on you. I know the pitiful hopelessness of
it. You're fettered, and there's no apparent loophole to freedom. I know
it's best for me to keep this locked tight in my heart, as something
precious and sorrowful. I never meant to tell you. But the flesh isn't
always equal to the task the spirit imposes."
She did not answer him immediately, for she was struggling for a grip on
herself, fighting back an impulse to lay her head against him and cry
her agony out on his breast. All the resources of will that she
possessed she called upon now to still that tumult of emotion that
racked her. When she did speak, it was in a hard, strained tone. But she
faced the issue squarely, knowing beyond all doubt what she had to face.
"Whether I care or not isn't the question," she said. "I'm neither
little enough nor prudish enough to deny a feeling that's big and clean.
I see no shame in that. I'm afraid of it--if you can understand that.
But that's neither here nor there. I know what I have to do. I married
without love, with my eyes wide open, and I have to pay the price. So
you must never talk to me of love. You mustn't even see me, if it can be
avoided. It's better that way. We can't make over our lives to suit
ourselves--at least I can't. I must play the game according to the only
rules I know. We daren't--we mustn't trifle with this sort of a feeling.
With you--footloose, and all the world before you--it'll die out
"No," he flared. "I deny that. I'm not an impressionable boy. I know
He paused, and the grip of his hands on hers tightened till the pain of
it ran to her elbows. Then his fingers relaxed a little.
"Oh, I know," he said haltingly. "I know it's got to be that way. I have
to go my road and leave you to yours. Oh, the blank hopelessness of it,
the useless misery of it. We're made for each other, and we have to grin
and say good-by, go along our separate ways, trying to smile. What a
devilish state of affairs! But I love you, dear, and no matter--I--ah--"
His voice flattened out. His hands released hers, he straightened
quickly. Stella turned her head. Jack Fyfe stood in the doorway. His
face was fixed in its habitual mask. He was biting the end off a cigar.
He struck a match and put it to the cigar end with steady fingers as he
walked slowly across the big room.
"I hear the kid peeping," he said to Stella quite casually, "and I
noticed Martha outside as I came in. Better go see what's up with him."
Trained to repression, schooled in self-control, Stella rose to obey,
for under the smoothness of his tone there was the iron edge of command.
Her heart apparently ceased to beat. She tried to smile, but she knew
that her face was tear-wet. She knew that Jack Fyfe had seen and
understood. She had done no wrong, but a terrible apprehension of
consequences seized her, a fear that tragedy of her own making might
stalk grimly in that room.
In this extremity she banked with implicit faith on the man she had
married rather than the man she loved. For the moment she felt
overwhelmingly glad that Jack Fyfe was iron--cool, unshakable. He would
never give an inch, but he would never descend to any sordid scene. She
could not visualize him the jealous, outraged husband, breathing the
conventional anathema, but there were elements unreckonable in that
room. She knew instinctively that Fyfe once aroused would be deadly in
anger and she could not vouch for Monohan's temper under the strain of
feeling. That was why she feared.
So she lingered a second or two outside the door, quaking, but there
arose only the sound of Fyfe's heavy body settling into a leather chair,
and following that the low, even rumble of his voice. She could not
distinguish words. The tone sounded ordinary, conversational. She prayed
that his intent was to ignore the situation, that Monohan would meet him
halfway in that effort. Afterward there would be a reckoning. But for
herself she neither thought nor feared. It was a problem to be faced,
that was all. And so, the breath of her coming in short, quick
respirations, she went to her room. There was no wailing from the
nursery. She had known that.
Sitting beside a window, chin in hand, her lower lip compressed between
her teeth, she saw Fyfe, after the lapse of ten minutes, leave by the
front entrance, stopping to chat a minute with Linda and Charlie Benton,
who were moving slowly toward the house. Stella rose to her feet and
dabbed at her face with a powdered chamois. She couldn't let Monohan go
like that; her heart cried out against it. Very likely they would never
She flew down the hall to the living room. Monohan stood just within
the front door, gazing irresolutely over his shoulder. He took a step or
two to meet her. His clean-cut face was drawn into sullen lines, a deep
flush mantled his cheek.
"Listen," he said tensely. "I've been made to feel like--like--Well, I
controlled myself. I knew it had to be that way. It was unfortunate. I
think we could have been trusted to do the decent thing. You and I were
bred to do that. I've got a little pride. I can't come here again. And I
want to see you once more before I leave here for good. I'll be going
away next week. That'll be the end of it--the bitter finish. Will you
slip down to the first point south of Cougar Bay about three in the
afternoon to-morrow? It'll be the last and only time. He'll have you for
life; can't I talk to you for twenty minutes?"
"No," she whispered forlornly. "I can't do that. I--oh,
"Stella, Stella," she heard his vibrant whisper follow after. But she
ran away through dining room and hall to the bedroom, there to fling
herself face down, choking back the passionate protest that welled up
within her. She lay there, her face buried in the pillow, until the
sputtering exhaust of the Abbey cruiser growing fainter and more faint
told her they were gone.
She heard her husband walk through the house once after that. When
dinner was served, he was not there. It was eleven o'clock by the
time-piece on her mantel when she heard him come in, but he did not come
to their room. He went quietly into the guest chamber across the hall.
She waited through a leaden period. Then, moved by an impulse she did
not attempt to define, a mixture of motives, pity for him, a craving for
the outlet of words, a desire to set herself right before him, she
slipped on a dressing robe and crossed the hall. The door swung open
noiselessly. Fyfe sat slumped in a chair, hat pulled low on his
forehead, hands thrust deep in his pockets. He did not even look up. His
eyes stared straight ahead, absent, unseeingly fixed on nothing. He
seemed to be unconscious of her presence or to ignore it,--she could not
"Jack," she said. And when he made no response she said again,
tremulously, that unyielding silence chilling her, "Jack."
He stirred a little, but only to take off his hat and lay it on a table
beside him. With one hand pushing back mechanically the straight,
reddish-tinged hair from his brow, he looked up at her and said briefly,
in a tone barren of all emotion:
She was suddenly dumb. Words failed her utterly. Yet there was much to
be said, much that was needful to say. They could not go on with a cloud
like that over them, a cloud that had to be dissipated in the crucible
of words. Yet she could not begin. Fyfe, after a prolonged silence,
seemed to grasp her difficulty. Abruptly he began to speak, cutting
straight to the heart of his subject, after his fashion.
"It's a pity things had to take his particular turn," said he. "But now
that you're face to face with something definite, what do you propose to
do about it?"
"Nothing," she answered slowly. "I can't help the feeling. It's there.
But I can thrust it into the background, go on as if it didn't exist.
There's nothing else for me to do, that I can see. I'm sorry, Jack."
"So am I," he said grimly. "Still, it was a chance we took,--or I took,
rather. I seem to have made a mistake or two, in my estimate of both you
and myself. That is human enough, I suppose. You're making a bigger
mistake than I did though, to let Monohan sweep you off your feet."
There was something that she read for contempt in his tone. It stung
"He hasn't swept me off my feet, as you put it," she cried. "Good
Heavens, do you think I'm that spineless sort of creature? I've never
forgotten I'm your wife. I've got a little self-respect left yet, if I
was weak enough to grasp at the straw you threw me in the beginning. I
was honest with you then. I'm trying to be honest with you now."
"I know, Stella," he said gently. "I'm not throwing mud. It's a damnably
unfortunate state of affairs, that's all. I foresaw something of the
sort when we were married. You were candid enough about your attitude.
But I told myself like a conceited fool that I could make your life so
full that in a little while I'd be the only possible figure on your
horizon. I've failed. I've known for some time that I was going to fail.
You're not the thin-blooded type of woman that is satisfied with
pleasant surroundings and any sort of man. You're bound to run the gamut
of all the emotions, sometime and somewhere. I loved you, and I thought
in my conceit I could make myself the man, the one man who would mean
everything to you."
"Just the same," he continued, "you've been a fool, and I don't see how
you can avoid paying the penalty for folly."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"You haven't tried to play the game," he answered tensely. "For months
you've been withdrawing into your shell. You've been clanking your
chains and half-heartedly wishing for some mysterious power to strike
them off. It wasn't a thing you undertook lightly. It isn't a
thing--marriage, I mean--that you hold lightly. That being the case, you
would have been wise to try making the best of it, instead of making the
worst of it. But you let yourself drift into a state of mind where
you--well, you see the result. I saw it coming. I didn't need to happen
in this afternoon to know that there were undercurrents of feeling
swirling about. And so the way you feel now is in itself a penalty. If
you let Monohan cut any more figure in your thoughts, you'll pay bigger
in the end."
"I can't help my thoughts, or I should say my feelings," she said
"You think you love him," Fyfe made low reply. "As a matter of fact, you
love what you think he is. I daresay that he has sworn his affection by
all that's good and great. But if you were convinced that he didn't
really care, that his flowery protestations had a double end in view,
would you still love him?"
"I don't know," she murmured. "But that's beside the point. I do love
him. I know it's unwise. It's a feeling that has overwhelmed me in a
way that I didn't believe possible, that I had hoped to avoid. But--but
I can't pretend, Jack. I don't want you to misunderstand. I don't want
this to make us both miserable. I don't want it to generate an
atmosphere of suspicion and jealousy. We'd only be fighting about a
shadow. I never cheated at anything in my life. You can trust me still,
"Absolutely," Fyfe answered without hesitation.
"Then that's all there is to it," she replied, "unless--unless you're
ready to give me up as a hopeless case, and let me go away and blunder
along the best I can."
He shook his head.
"I haven't even considered that," he said. "Very likely it's unwise of
me to say this,--it will probably antagonize you,--but I know Monohan
better than you do. I'd go pretty far to keep you two apart--now--for
"It would be the same if it were any other man," she muttered. "I can
understand that feeling in you. It's so--so typically masculine."
"No, you're wrong there, dead wrong," Fyfe frowned. "I'm not a
self-sacrificing brute by any means. Still, knowing that you'll only
live with me on sufferance, if you were honestly in love with a man that
I felt was halfway decent, I'd put my feelings in my pocket and let you
go. If you cared enough for him to break every tie, to face the
embarrassment of divorce, why, I'd figure you were entitled to your
freedom and whatever happiness it might bring. But Monohan--hell, I
don't want to talk about him. I trust you, Stella. I'm banking on your
own good sense. And along with that good, natural common sense, you've
got so many illusions. About life in general, and about men. They seem
to have centered about this one particular man. I can't open your eyes
or put you on the right track. That's a job for yourself. All I can do
is to sit back and wait."
His voice trailed off huskily.
Stella put a hand on his shoulder.
"Do you care so much as all that, Jack?" she whispered. "Even in spite
of what you know?"
"For two years now," he answered, "you've been the biggest thing in my
life. I don't change easy; I don't want to change. But I'm getting
"I'm sorry, Jack," she said. "I can't begin to tell you how sorry I am.
I didn't love you to begin with--"
"And you've always resented that," he broke in. "You've hugged that
ghost of a loveless marriage to your bosom and sighed for the real
romance you'd missed. Well, maybe you did. But you haven't found it yet.
I'm very sure of that, although I doubt if I could convince you."
"Let me finish," she pleaded. "You knew I didn't love you--that I was
worn out and desperate and clutching at the life line you threw. In
spite of that,--well, if I fight down this love, or fascination, or
infatuation, or whatever it is,--I'm not sure myself, except that it
affects me strongly,--can't we be friends again?"
"Friends! Oh, hell!" Fyfe exploded.
He came up out of his chair with a blaze in his eyes that startled her,
caught her by the arm, and thrust her out the door.
"Friends? You and I?" He sank his voice to a harsh whisper. "My
God--friends! Go to bed. Good night."
He pushed her into the hall, and the lock clicked between them. For one
confused instant Stella stood poised, uncertain. Then she went into her
bedroom and sat down, her keenest sensation one of sheer relief. Already
in those brief hours emotion had well-nigh exhausted her. To be alone,
to lie still and rest, to banish thought,--that was all she desired.
She lay on her bed inert, numbed, all but her mind, and that traversed
section by section in swift, consecutive progress all the amazing turns
of her life since she first came to Roaring Lake. There was neither
method nor inquiry in this back-casting--merely a ceaseless, involuntary
activity of the brain.
A little after midnight when all the house was hushed, she went into the
adjoining room, cuddled Jack Junior into her arms, and took him to her
own bed. With his chubby face nestled against her breast, she lay there
fighting against that interminable, maddening buzzing in her brain. She
prayed for sleep, her nervous fingers stroking the silky, baby hair.
IN WHICH THERE IS A FURTHER CLASH
One can only suffer so much. Poignant feeling brings its own
anaesthetic. When Stella Fyfe fell into a troubled sleep that night, the
storm of her emotions had beaten her sorely. Morning brought its
physical reaction. She could see things clearly and calmly enough to
perceive that her love for Monohan was fraught with factors that must be
taken into account. All the world loves a lover, but her world did not
love lovers who kicked over the conventional traces. She had made a
niche for herself. There were ties she could not break lightly, and she
was not thinking of herself alone when she considered that, but of her
husband and Jack Junior, of Linda Abbey and Charlie Benton, of each and
every individual whose life touched more or less directly upon her own.
She had known always what a woman should do in such case, what she had
been taught a woman should do: grin, as Monohan had said, and take her
medicine. For her there was no alternative. Fyfe had made that clear.
But her heart cried out in rebellion against the necessity. To her,
trying to think logically, the most grievous phase of the doing was the
fact that nothing could ever be the same again. She could go on. Oh,
yes. She could dam up the wellspring of her impulses, walk steadfast
along the accustomed ways. But those ways would not be the old ones.
There would always be the skeleton at the feast. She would know it was
there, and Jack Fyfe would know, and she dreaded the fruits of that
knowledge, the bitterness and smothered resentment it would breed. But
it had to be. As she saw it, there was no choice.
She came down to breakfast calmly enough. It was nothing that could be
altered by heroics, by tears and wailings. Not that she was much given
to either. She had not whined when her brother made things so hard for
her that any refuge seemed alluring by comparison. Curiously enough, she
did not blame her brother now; neither did she blame Jack Fyfe.
She told herself that in first seeking the line of least resistance she
had manifested weakness, that since her present problem was indirectly
the outgrowth of that original weakness, she would be weak no more. So
she tried to meet her husband as if nothing had happened, in which she
succeeded outwardly very well indeed, since Fyfe himself chose to ignore
any change in their mutual attitude.
She busied herself about the house that forenoon, seeking deliberately a
multitude of little tasks to occupy her hands and her mind.
But when lunch was over, she was at the end of her resources. Jack
Junior settled in his crib for a nap. Fyfe went away to that area back
of the camp where arose the crash of falling trees and the labored
puffing of donkey engines. She could hear faint and far the voices of
the falling gangs that cried: "Tim-ber-r-r-r." She could see on the
bank, a little beyond the bunkhouse and cook-shack, the big roader
spooling up the cable that brought string after string of logs down to
the lake. Rain or sun, happiness or sorrow, the work went on. She found
it in her heart to envy the sturdy loggers. They could forget their
troubles in the strain of action. Keyed as she was to that high pitch,
that sense of their unremitting activity, the ravaging of the forest
which produced the resources for which she had sold herself irritated
her. She was very bitter when she thought that.
She longed for some secluded place to sit and think, or try to stop
thinking. And without fully realizing the direction she took, she walked
down past the camp, crossed the skid-road, stepping lightly over main
line and haul-back at the donkey engineer's warning, and went along the
A path wound through the belt of brush and hardwood that fringed the
lake. Not until she had followed this up on the neck of a little
promontory south of the bay, did she remember with a shock that she was
approaching the place where Monohan had begged her to meet him. She
looked at her watch. Two-thirty. She sought the shore line for sight of
a boat, wondering if he would come in spite of her refusal. But to her
great relief she saw no sign of him. Probably he had thought better of
it, had seen now as she had seen then that no good and an earnest chance
of evil might come of such a clandestine meeting, had taken her stand as
She was glad, because she did not want to go back to the house. She did
not want to make the effort of wandering away in the other direction to
find that restful peace of woods and water. She moved up a little on the
point until she found a mossy boulder and sat down on that, resting her
chin in her palms, looking out over the placid surface of the lake with
And so Monohan surprised her. The knoll lay thick-carpeted with moss. He
was within a few steps of her when a twig cracking underfoot apprised
her of some one's approach. She rose, with an impulse to fly, to escape
a meeting she had not desired. And as she rose, the breath stopped in
Twenty feet behind Monohan came Jack Fyfe with his hunter's stride,
soundlessly over the moss, a rifle drooping in the crook of his arm. A
sunbeam striking obliquely between two firs showed her his face plainly,
the faint curl of his upper lip.
Something in her look arrested Monohan. He glanced around, twisted
about, froze in his tracks, his back to her. Fyfe came up. Of the three
he was the coolest, the most rigorously self-possessed. He glanced from
Monohan to his wife, back to Monohan. After that his blue eyes never
left the other man's face.
"What did I say to you yesterday?" Fyfe opened his mouth at last. "But
then I might have known I was wasting my breath on you!"
"Well," Monohan retorted insolently, "what are you going to do about it?
This isn't the Stone Age."
Fyfe laughed unpleasantly.
"Lucky for you. You'd have been eliminated long ago," he said. "No, it
takes the present age to produce such rotten specimens as you."
A deep flush rose in Monohan's cheeks. He took a step toward Fyfe, his
"You wouldn't say that if you weren't armed," he taunted hoarsely.
"No?" Fyfe cast the rifle to one side. It fell with a metallic clink
against a stone. "I do say it though, you see. You are a sort of a
yellow dog, Monohan. You know it, and you know that I know it. That's
why it stings you to be told so."
Monohan stepped back and slipped out of his coat. His face was crimson.
"By God, I'll teach you something," he snarled.
He lunged forward as he spoke, shooting a straight-arm blow for Fyfe's
face. It swept through empty air, for Fyfe, poised on the balls of his
feet, ducked under the driving fist, and slapped Monohan across the
mouth with the open palm of his hand.
"Tag," he said sardonically. "You're It."
Monohan pivoted, and rushing, swung right and left, missing by inches.
Fyfe's mocking grin seemed to madden him completely. He rushed again,
launching another vicious blow that threw him partly off his balance.
Before he could recover, Fyfe kicked both feet from under him, sent him
sprawling on the moss.
Stella stood like one stricken. The very thing she dreaded had come
about. Yet the manner of its unfolding was not as she had visualized it
when she saw Fyfe near at hand. She saw now a side of her husband that
she had never glimpsed, that she found hard to understand. She could
have understood him beating Monohan senseless, if he could. A murderous
fury of jealousy would not have surprised her. This did. He had not
struck a blow, did not attempt to strike.
She could not guess why, but she saw that he was playing with Monohan,
making a fool of him, for all Monohan's advantage of height and reach.
Fyfe moved like the light, always beyond Monohan's vengeful blows,
slipping under those driving fists to slap his adversary, to trip him,
mocking him with the futility of his effort.
She felt herself powerless to stop that sorry exhibition. It was not a
fight for her. Dimly she had a feeling that back of her lay something
else. An echo of it had been more than once in Fyfe's speech. Here and
now, they had forgotten her at the first word. They were engaged in a
struggle for mastery, sheer brute determination to hurt each other,
which had little or nothing to do with her. She foresaw, watching the
odd combat with a feeling akin to fascination, that it was a losing game
for Monohan. Fyfe was his master at every move.
Yet he did not once attempt to strike a solid blow, nothing but that
humiliating, open-handed slap, that dexterous swing of his foot that
plunged Monohan headlong. He grinned steadily, a cold grimace that
reflected no mirth, being merely a sneering twist of his features.
Stella knew the deadly strength of him. She wondered at his purpose, how
it would end.
The elusive light-footedness of the man, the successive stinging of
those contemptuous slaps at last maddened Monohan into ignoring the
rules by which men fight. He dropped his hands and stood panting with
his exertions. Suddenly he kicked, a swift lunge for Fyfe's body.
Fyfe leaped aside. Then he closed. Powerful and weighty a man as Monohan
was, Fyfe drove him halfway around with a short-arm blow that landed
near his heart, and while he staggered from that, clamped one thick arm
about his neck in the strangle-hold. Holding him helpless, bent
backwards across his broad chest, Fyfe slowly and systematically choked
him; he shut off his breath until Monohan's tongue protruded, and his
eyes bulged glassily, and horrible, gurgling noises issued from his
"Jack, Jack!" Stella found voice to shriek. "You're killing him."
Fyfe lifted his eyes to hers. The horror he saw there may have stirred
him. Or he may have considered his object accomplished. Stella could not
tell. But he flung Monohan from him with a force that sent him reeling a
dozen feet, to collapse on the moss. It took him a full minute to regain
his breath, to rise to unsteady feet, to find his voice.
"You can't win all the time," he gasped. "By God, I'll show you that you
With that he turned and went back the way he had come. Fyfe stood
silent, hands resting on his hips, watching until Monohan pushed out a
slim speed launch from under cover of overhanging alders and set off
down the lake.
"Well," he remarked then, in a curiously detached, impersonal tone.
"The lightning will begin to play by and by, I suppose."
"What do you mean?" Stella asked breathlessly.
He did not answer. His eyes turned to her slowly. She saw now that his
face was white and rigid, that the line of his lips drew harder together
as he looked at her; but she was not prepared for the storm that broke.
She did not comprehend the tempest that raged within him until he had
her by the shoulders, his fingers crushing into her soft flesh like the
jaws of a trap, shaking her as a terrier might shake a rat, till the
heavy coils of hair cascaded over her shoulders, and for a second fear
tugged at her heart. For she thought he meant to kill her.
When he did desist, he released her with a thrust of his arms that sent
her staggering against a tree, shaken to the roots of her being, though
not with fear. Anger had displaced that. A hot protest against his brute
strength, against his passionate outbreak, stirred her. Appearances were
against her, she knew. Even so, she revolted against his cave-man
roughness. She was amazed to find herself longing for the power to
She faced him trembling, leaning against the tree trunk, staring at him
in impotent rage. And the fire died out of his eyes as she looked. He
drew a deep breath or two and turned away to pick up his rifle. When he
faced about with that in his hand, the old mask of immobility was in
place. He waited while Stella gathered up her scattered hairpins and
made shift to coil her hair into a semblance of Order. Then he said
"I won't break out like that again."
"Once is enough."
"More than enough--for me," he answered.
She disdained reply. Striking off along the path that ran to the camp,
she walked rapidly, choking a rising flood of desperate thought. With
growing coolness paradoxically there burned hotter the flame of an
elemental wrath. What right had he to lay hands on her? Her shoulders
ached, her flesh was bruised from the terrible grip of his fingers. The
very sound of his footsteps behind her was maddening. To be suspected
and watched, to be continually the target of jealous fury! No, a
thousand times, no. She wheeled on him at last.
"I can't stand this," she cried. "It's beyond endurance. We're like
flint and steel to each other now. If to-day's a sample of what we may
expect, it's better to make a clean sweep of everything. I've got to get
away from here and from you--from everybody."
Fyfe motioned her to a near-by log.
"Sit down," said he. "We may as well have it out here."
For a few seconds he busied himself with a cigar, removing the band with
utmost deliberation, biting the end off, applying the match, his brows
"It's very unwise of you to meet Monohan like that," he uttered finally.
"Oh, I see," she flashed. "Do you suggest that I met him purposely--by
appointment? Even if I did--"
"That's for you to say, Stella," he interrupted gravely. "I told you
last night that I trusted you absolutely. I do, so far as really vital
things are concerned, but I don't always trust your judgment. I merely
know that Monohan sneaked along shore, hid his boat, and stole through
the timber to where you were sitting. I happened to see him, and I
followed him to see what he was up to, why he should take such measures
to keep under cover."
"The explanation is simple," she answered stiffly. "You can believe it
or not, as you choose. My being there was purely unintentional. If I had
seen him before he was close, I should certainly not have been there. I
have been at odds with myself all day, and I went for a walk, to find a
quiet place where I could sit and think."
"It doesn't matter now," he said. "Only you'd better try to avoid things
like that in the future. Would you mind telling me just exactly what you
meant a minute ago? Just what you propose to do?"
He asked her that as one might make any commonplace inquiry, but his
quietness did not deceive Stella.
"What I said," she began desperately. "Wasn't it plain enough? It seems
to me our life is going to be a nightmare from now on if we try to live
it together. I--I'm sorry, but you know how I feel. It may be unwise,
but these things aren't dictated by reason. You know that. If our
emotions were guided by reason and expediency, we'd be altogether
different. Last night I was willing to go on and make the best of
things. To-day,--especially after this,--it looks impossible. You'll
look at me, and guess what I'm thinking, and hate me. And I'll grow to
hate you, because you'll be little better than a jailer. Oh, don't you
see that the way we'll feel will make us utterly miserable? Why should
we stick together when no good can come of it? You've been good to me.
I've appreciated that and liked you for it. I'd like to be friends. But
I--I'd hate you with a perfectly murderous hatred if you were always on
the watch, always suspecting me, if you taunted me as you did a while
ago. I'm just as much a savage at heart as you are, Jack Fyfe. I could
gladly have killed you when you were jerking me about back yonder."
"I wonder if you are, after all, a little more of a primitive being than
Fyfe leaned toward her, staring fixedly into her eyes--eyes that were
bright with unshed tears.
"And I was holding the devil in me down back there, because I didn't
want to horrify you with anything like brutality," he went on
thoughtfully. "You think I grinned and made a monkey of _him_ because it
pleased me to do that? Why, I could have--and ached to--break him into
little bits, to smash him up so that no one would ever take pleasure in
looking at him again. And I didn't, simply and solely because I didn't
want to let you have even a glimpse of what I'm capable of when I get
started. I wonder if I made a mistake? It was merely the reaction from
letting him go scot-free that made me shake you so. I wonder--well,
never mind. Go on."
"I think it's better that I should go away," Stella said. "I want you to
agree that I should; then there will be no talk or anything disagreeable
from outside sources. I'm strong, I can get on. It'll be a relief to
have to work. I won't have to be the kitchen drudge Charlie made of me.
I've got my voice. I'm quite sure I can capitalize that. But I've got to
go. Anything's better than this; anything that's clean and decent. I'd
despise myself if I stayed on as your wife, feeling as I do. It was a
mistake in the beginning, our marriage."
"Nevertheless," Fyfe said slowly, "I'm afraid it's a mistake you'll have
to abide by--for a time. All that you say may be true, although I don't
admit it myself. Offhand, I'd say you were simply trying to welch on a
fair bargain. I'm not going to let you do it blindly, all wrought up to
a pitch where you can scarcely think coherently. If you are fully
determined to break away from me, you owe it to us both to be sure of
what you're doing before you act. I'm going to talk plain. You can
believe it and disdain it if you please. If you were leaving me for a
man, a real man, I think I could bring myself to make it easy for you
and wish you luck. But you're not. He's--"
"Can't we leave him out of it?" she demanded. "I want to get away from
you both. Can you understand that? It doesn't help you any to pick _him_
"No, but it might help you, if I could rip off that swathing of
idealization you've wrapped around him," Fyfe observed patiently. "It's
not a job I have much stomach for however, even if you were willing to
let me try. But to come back. You've got to stick it out with me,
Stella. You'll hate me for the constraint, I suppose. But until--until
things shape up differently--you'll understand what I'm talking about
by and by, I think--you've got to abide by the bargain you made with me.
I couldn't force you to stay, I know. But there's one hold you can't
break--not if I know you at all."
"What is that?" she asked icily.
"The kid's," he murmured.
Stella buried her face in her hands for a minute.
"I'd forgotten--I'd forgotten," she whispered.
"You understand, don't you?" he said hesitatingly. "If you leave--I keep
"Oh, you're devilish--to use a club like that," she cried. "You know I
wouldn't part from my baby--the only thing I've got that's worth
"He's worth something to me too," Fyfe muttered. "A lot more than you
think, maybe. I'm not trying to club you. There's nothing in it for me.
But for him; well, he needs you. It isn't his fault he's here, or that
you're unhappy. I've got to protect him, see that he gets a fair shake.
I can't see anything to it but for you to go on being Mrs. Jack Fyfe
until such time as you get back to a normal poise. Then it will be time
enough to try and work out some arrangement that won't be too much of a
hardship on him. It's that--or a clean break in which you go your own
way, and I try to mother him to the best of my ability. You'll
understand sometime why I'm showing my teeth this way."
"You have everything on your side," she admitted dully, after a long
interval of silence. "I'm a fool. I admit it. Have things your way. But
it won't work, Jack. This flare-up between us will only smoulder. I
think you lay a little too much stress on Monohan. It isn't that I love
him so much as that I don't love you at all. I can live without
him--which I mean to do in any case--far easier than I can live with
you. It won't work."
"Don't worry," he replied. "You won't be annoyed by me in person. I'll
have my hands full elsewhere."
They rose and walked on to the house. On the porch Jack Junior was being
wheeled back and forth in his carriage. He lifted chubby arms to his
mother as she came up the steps. Stella carried him inside, hugging the
sturdy, blue-eyed mite close to her breast. She did not want to cry, but
she could not help it. It was as if she had been threatened with
irrevocable loss of that precious bit of her own flesh and blood. She
hugged him to her, whispering mother-talk, half-hysterical, wholly
Fyfe stood aside for a minute. Then he came up behind her and stood
resting one hand on the back of her chair.
"I got word from my sister and her husband in this morning's mail. They
will very likely be here next week for a three days' stay. Brace up.
Let's try and keep our skeleton from rattling while they're here. Will
"All right, Jack. I'll try."
He patted her tousled hair lightly and left the room. Stella looked
after him with a surge of mixed feeling. She told herself she hated him
and his dominant will that always beat her own down; she hated him for
his amazing strength and for his unvarying sureness of himself. And in
the same breath she found herself wondering if,--with their status
reversed,--Walter Monohan would be as patient, as gentle, as
self-controlled with a wife who openly acknowledged her affection for
another man. And still her heart cried out for Monohan. She flared hot
against the disparaging note, the unconcealed contempt Fyfe seemed to
have for him.
Yet in spite of her eager defence of him, there was something ugly about
that clash with Fyfe in the edge of the woods, something that jarred. It
wasn't spontaneous. She could not understand that tigerish onslaught of
Monohan's. It was more the action she would have expected from her
It puzzled her, grieved her, added a little to the sorrowful weight that
settled upon her. They were turbulent spirits both. The matter might not
In the next ten days three separate incidents, each isolated and
relatively unimportant, gave Stella food for much puzzled thought.
The first was a remark of Fyfe's sister in the first hours of their
acquaintance. Mrs. Henry Alden could never have denied blood kinship
with Jack Fyfe. She had the same wide, good-humored mouth, the blue eyes
that always seemed to be on the verge of twinkling, and the same fair,
freckled skin. Her characteristics of speech resembled his. She was
direct, bluntly so, and she was not much given to small talk. Fyfe and
Stella met the Aldens at Roaring Springs with the _Waterbug_. Alden
proved a genial sort of man past forty, a big, loose-jointed individual
whose outward appearance gave no indication of what he was
professionally,--a civil engineer with a reputation that promised to
spread beyond his native States.
"You don't look much different, Jack," his sister observed critically,
as the _Waterbug_ backed away from the wharf in a fine drizzle of rain.
"Except that as you grow older, you more and more resemble the pater.
Has matrimony toned him down, my dear?" she turned to Stella. "The last
time I saw him he had a black eye!"
Fyfe did not give her a chance to answer.
"Be a little more diplomatic, Dolly," he smiled. "Mrs. Jack doesn't
realize what a rowdy I used to be. I've reformed."
"Ah," Mrs. Alden chuckled, "I have a vision of you growing meek and
They talked desultorily as the launch thrashed along. Alden's profession
took him to all corners of the earth. That was why the winter of Fyfe's
honeymoon had not made them acquainted. Alden and his wife were then in
South America. This visit was to fill in the time before the departure
of a trans-Pacific liner which would land the Aldens at Manila.
Presently the Abbey-Monohan camp and bungalow lay abeam. Stella told
Mrs. Alden something of the place.
"That reminds me," Mrs. Alden turned to her brother. "I was quite sure I
saw Walter Monohan board a train while we were waiting for the hotel car
in Hopyard. I heard that he was in timber out here. Is he this Monohan?"
"How odd," she remarked, "that you should be in the same region. Do you
still maintain the ancient feud?"
Fyfe shot her a queer look.
"We've grown up, Dolly," he said drily. Then: "Do you expect to get back
to God's country short of a year, Alden?"
That was all. Neither of them reverted to the subject again. But Stella
pondered. An ancient feud? She had not known of that. Neither man had
ever dropped a hint.
For the second incident, Paul Abbey dropped in to dinner a few days
later and divulged a bit of news.
"There's been a shake-up in our combination," he remarked casually to
Fyfe. "Monohan and dad have split over a question of business policy.
Walter's taking over all our interests on Roaring Lake. He appears to be
going to peel off his coat and become personally active in the logging
industry. Funny streak for Monohan to take, isn't it? He never seemed
to care a hoot about the working end of the business, so long as it
Lastly, Charlie Benton came over to eat a farewell dinner with the
Aldens the night before they left. He followed Stella into the nursery
when she went to tuck Jack Junior in his crib.
"Say, Stella" he began, "I have just had a letter from old man Lander;
you remember he was dad's legal factotum and executor."
"Of course," she returned.