Part 3 out of 3
impressionable creature like Christine the prey to so finished a villain
as Linburne? You are not so ignorant of the ways of the world as not to
know his intentions. Most people are saying you deserve everything that
is happening to you. I try to explain, but I know you saw enough while
you were here to be put upon your guard. Why don't you come? I must warn
you that if you do not come at once you need not come at all."
Riatt had just come in; it was late in the afternoon. The letters were
lying on his writing table; and as he finished this one, he raised his
eyes and looked at Christine's picture.
He did not believe Laura's over-wrought picture. Christine was no fool,
Linburne no villain. There was probably a little flirtation, and a good
deal of gossip. But that would all be put a stop to by the announcement
of Christine's engagement to Hickson. He did not even feel annoyed at his
cousin's suggestion that he did not know his way about the world. He knew
it rather better than she did, he fancied.
And having so disposed of his mail, he took up the evening paper which
lay beneath it, and read the first headline:
Mrs. Lee Linburne to seek divorce: Wife of well-known multimillionaire
now at Reno--
As he read this a blind rage swept over Riatt. He did not stop to inquire
why if he were willing to give Christine up to Hickson he was infuriated
at the idea of Linburne's marrying her; nor why, as he had allowed
himself to be made use of, he was angry to find that he had been far more
useful than he had supposed. He only knew that he was angry, and with an
anger that demanded instant action.
He looked at his watch. He had time to catch a train to Chicago. He went
upstairs and packed. He knew that what he was doing was foolish, that he
would poignantly regret it, but he never wavered an instant in his
He reached New York early in the afternoon. He had notified no one of his
departure, and he did not announce his arrival. He went straight to the
Fenimers' house--not indeed expecting to find Christine at home at that
hour, but resolved to await her return.
The young man at the door, who had known Riatt before, appeared confused,
but was decided.
Miss Fenimer, he insisted, was out.
Glancing past him Riatt saw a hat and stick on the hall table. He had no
doubt as to their owner.
"I'll wait then," he said, coming in, and handing his own things to the
footman, who seemed more embarrassed still.
Taking pity on him, Riatt said:
"You mean Miss Fenimer is at home, but has given orders that she won't
see any one?"
Such, the man admitted, was the case.
"She'll see me," Riatt answered, "take my name up."
The footman, looking still more wretched, obeyed. Riatt heard him go into
the little drawing-room overhead, and then there was a long pause. Once
he thought he heard a voice raised in anger. As may be imagined his own
anger was not appeased by this reception.
While he was waiting, the door of a room next the front-door opened and
Mr. Fenimer came out. His astonishment at seeing Riatt was so great that
with all his tact he could not repress an exclamation, which somehow did
not express pleasure.
"You here, my dear Riatt!" he said, grasping him cordially by the hand.
"Christine, I'm afraid--"
"I've sent up to see," said Max, curtly.
"Ah, well, my dear fellow," Mr. Fenimer went on easily, "come, you know,
a man really can't go off in the casual way you did and expect to find
everything just as he likes when he comes back. I have a word to say to
you myself. Shall we walk as far as the corner together?"
To receive his dismissal from Mr. Fenimer was something that Riatt had
"I should prefer to wait until the footman comes down," he answered.
"No use, no use," said Mr. Fenimer, suddenly becoming jovial, "I happen
to know that Christine is out. Come back a little later--"
"And whose hat is that, then?" asked Max.
It had been carelessly left on its crown and the initials "L.L." were
Mr. Fenimer could not on the instant think of an answer, and Riatt
decided to go upstairs unannounced.
As he opened the drawing-room door he heard Christine's voice saying:
"Thank you, I shall please myself, Lee, even without your kind
The doors in the Fenimer house opened silently, so that though Christine,
who was facing the door, saw him at once, Linburne, whose back was turned
to it, was unaware of his presence, and answered:
"You ought to have more pride than to want to see a fellow who has made
it so clear he doesn't care sixpence about seeing you."
Christine openly smiled at Max, as she answered: "Well, I do want to see
him," and Linburne turning to see at what her smile was directed found
himself face to face with Riatt.
Max made a gesture to the footman, and shut the door behind his hasty
retreat, then he came slowly into the room.
"In one thing you are mistaken, Mr. Linburne," he said. "I do care
whether or not I see Miss Fenimer."
Linburne was angry at Christine, not only for insisting on seeing Riatt,
but for the lovely smile with which she had greeted him. He was glad of
an outlet for his feelings.
He almost shrugged his shoulders. "An outsider can only judge by your
conduct, Mr. Riatt," he answered. "And I may tell you that you have
subjected Miss Fenimer to a good deal of disagreeable gossip by your
apparently caring so little."
"And others by apparently caring so much," said Max.
Christine was the only one who recognized at once the fact that both men
were angry; and she did not pour oil on the waters by laughing gaily.
"You can't find any subject for argument there," she observed, "for you
are both perfectly right. You have both made me the subject of gossip;
but don't let it worry you, for my best friends have long ago accustomed
me to that."
"I hope you won't think I'm asking too much, Mr. Riatt," said Linburne,
with a politeness that only accentuated his irritation, "in suggesting
that as your visit is, I believe, unexpected, and as mine is an
appointment of some standing, that you will go away and let me finish my
conversation with Miss Fenimer."
Max smiled. "Oddly enough," he said, "I was about to make the same
request to you. But I suppose we must let Miss Fenimer settle the
Christine smiled like an angel. "Can't we have a nice time as we are?"
This frivolous reply was properly ignored by both men, and Riatt went on:
"Don't you think you ought to consider the fact that Miss Fenimer and I
"Miss Fenimer assures me she does not intend to marry you."
"And may I ask if you consider that she does intend to marry you--that is
if you should happen to become marriageable?"
"That is a question between her and me," returned Linburne.
Riatt laughed. "I see," he said. "The matrimonial plans of my future wife
are no affair of mine?" And for an instant he felt his most proprietary
rights were being invaded.
"Miss Fenimer is not your future wife."
"Well, Mr. Linburne, I hear you say so."
"You shall hear _her_ say so," answered Linburne. "Christine," he added
peremptorily, "tell Riatt what you have just been telling me."
There was a long painful silence. Both men stood looking intently at
Christine, who sat with her head erect, staring ahead of her like a
sphinx, but saying nothing. After a moment she glanced up at Max's face,
as if she expected to find there an answer to her problem. She did not
look at Linburne.
"Christine," said Max very gently, "what have you told Mr. Linburne?"
"She has told me everything," answered Linburne impetuously, and then
seeing by the glance that the two others exchanged that such was not the
case, his temper got the best of him.
"Do you mean you've been lying to me?" he asked.
"Just what did you tell him, Christine?" said Riatt, finding it easier
and easier to be calm and protecting as his adversary grew more violent.
Christine looked up at him with the innocence of a child. "I told him
that we did not love each other, and that our engagement was really
broken, but that no one was to know until March."
"Why did you tell him that?"
"It's the truth, Max--almost the truth."
"Almost the truth!" cried Linburne. "Do you want me to think you care
something for this man after all?"
"In the simple section of the country from which I come," observed Riatt,
"we often care a good deal for the people we marry."
Linburne turned on him. "Really, Mr. Riatt," he said, "you don't take an
idea very quickly. You have just heard Miss Fenimer say that she did not
love you and that she considered your engagement at an end."
"I heard her say she had told you that."
"You mean to imply that she said what was untrue?"
"I could answer your question better," said Riatt, "if I understood a
little more clearly what your connection with this whole situation is."
"The connection of any old friend who does not care to see Miss Fenimer
neglected and humiliated," answered Linburne, all the more hotly because
he knew it was an awkward question.
Perhaps the young poet had not been so wrong in attaching the name
of Helen to Miss Fenimer, for she sat now as calmly interested in
the conflict developing before her, as Helen when she sat on the
walls of Troy and designated the Greek heroes for the amusement of
her newer friends.
"May I ask, Mr. Riatt, what rights in the matter you consider that you
have?" Linburne pursued.
For Riatt, too, the question was an awkward one, but he had his answer
ready. "The rights," he said, "of a man who certainly was once engaged to
Miss Fenimer, and who came East ignorant that the engagement was already
at an end."
Christine laughed. "Very neatly put," she said.
"Neatly put," exclaimed Linburne. "You talk as if we were playing a
"You have the reputation of playing all games well, my dear Lee," she
returned. The obvious fact that she was enjoying the interview, made both
men eager to end it--but, unfortunately, they wished to end it in
diametrically opposite ways.
"Christine," said Linburne, "will you ask Mr. Riatt to be so kind as to
let me have ten minutes alone with you?"
Riatt spoke to her also. "I will do exactly as you say," he said, "but
you understand that if I go now, I shall not come back."
Christine smiled. "Is that a threat or a promise?" she asked, the
sweetness of her smile almost taking away the sting of her words.
Seeing that she hesitated, Riatt went on: "Since I have come more than a
thousand miles to see you, don't you think you might suggest to Mr.
Linburne that he let me have my visit undisturbed?"
There was a long and rather terrible pause, terrible that is to the two
men. Christine probably enjoyed every second of it. There was nothing in
Linburne's experience of life to make him think that any woman whom he
had honored with his preference was likely to prefer another man to
himself. So the pause was terrible to him, not because he doubted what
the climax would be, but because he felt his dignity insulted by even an
appearance of hesitation. Max, on the other hand, was still a good deal
in doubt as to her ultimate intentions.
It was to him, finally, that she spoke.
"Max," she said, "do you remember that while we were staying at the
Usshers' we composed a certain document together?"
He nodded, and then as she did not continue, he opened his pocketbook and
took out the release.
She made no motion to take it; on the contrary, she leaned back and
crossed her hands in her lap.
"Yes," she said, "that's it. Well, you may stay, if you care to burn that
scrap of paper."
It was now Max's turn to hesitate, for the decision of freedom or
captivity was in his own hands; the crisis he had so recklessly rushed to
meet was now upon him.
"What is in that paper?" asked Linburne, as one who has a right to
Christine was perfectly good-tempered as she answered: "Well, Lee, it
still belongs to Mr. Riatt; but if he decides not to burn it, I promise
to tell you all about it as we drink our tea."
"Do you promise me that, Christine?"
"Most solemnly, Lee." She looked up at Linburne, and before Max knew what
he was doing he found he had dropped the paper into the fire.
Strangely enough, though the fire was hot, the paper did not catch at
once, but curled and rocked an instant in the heat, before it disappeared
in flame and smoke. Not until it was a black crisp did Christine turn to
Linburne, and hold out her hand.
"Good-by, Lee," she said pleasantly. But he did not answer or take her
hand. He left the room in silence.
When the door had shut behind him, Christine glanced at her remaining
visitor. "And now," she said, "I suppose you are wishing you had not."
"What sort of a woman are you?" Riatt exclaimed. "Will you take any
man that offers, me or Hickson, or Linburne or me again, just as luck
will have it?"
"I take the best that offers, Max--and that's no lie."
The implied compliment did not soften Riatt. He went on: "If you and I
are really to be married--"
"If, my dear Max! What could be more certain?"
"Since, then, we are to be married, you must tell me exactly what has
taken place between you and Linburne."
"With pleasure. Won't you sit down?" She pointed to a chair near her own,
but Riatt remained standing. "Shall we have tea first?"
"We'll have the story."
"Oh, it's not much of a story. Lee and I have known each other since
we were children. I suppose I always had it in mind that I might
"You loved him?"
"Certainly not. He always had too high an opinion of himself, and I used
to enjoy taking it out of him--and making it up to him afterwards, too. I
used to enjoy that as well. Sometimes, of course, he found the process
too unbearable; and in one of his fits of anger at me, just after he left
college, he went and blundered into this marriage with Pauline. She, you
see, took him at his own valuation. His marriage seemed to put an end to
everything between us--"
"You surprise me."
Christine laughed. "Ah, I was younger then."
"You kept on seeing him?"
"Naturally we met now and then. Sometimes he used to tell me how I was
the only woman--"
"That is your idea of putting an end to everything?"
"Oh, if one took seriously all the men who say that--I did not think
much about Lee's feelings for me, until my engagement was announced.
Then it appeared that the notion of my marrying some one else was
intolerable to him."
"A high order of affection," exclaimed Riatt. "He was content enough
until there seemed some chance of your being happy."
"Perhaps he did not consider that life with you would promise absolute
"I don't call that love. I call it jealousy."
At this Christine laughed outright. "And what emotion, may I ask, has
just brought you here in such haste?"
The thrust went home. Riatt changed countenance.
"But I," he said, "never pretended to love you."
"Why then are you marrying me?"
"I know, too," she answered, unperturbed by his rudeness, "and some day
if you're good I'll tell you."
Her calm assumption that everything was well seemed to him unbearable. "I
don't know that I feel very much inclined to chat," he said, turning
toward the door. "I'll see you sometime to-morrow."
She said nothing to oppose him, and he left the room. Downstairs the same
footman was waiting to let him out. To him, at least, Riatt seemed a
triumphant lover, only as Linburne had long since heavily subsidized him,
even his admiration was tinctured with regret.
As for Max, himself, he left the house even more restless and
dissatisfied than he had entered it.
To be honest, he had, he knew, sometimes imagined a moment when he would
take Christine in his arms and say: "Marry me anyhow." Such an action he
knew would be reckless, but he had supposed it would be pleasant. But now
there was nothing but bitterness and jealousy in his mood. What did he
know or care for such people? he said to himself. What did he know of
their standards and their histories? How much of Christine's story about
Linburne was to be believed? What more natural than that they had always
loved each other? Some one knew the truth--every one, very likely, except
himself. But whom could he ask? He could have believed Nancy on one side
as little as Laura on the other.
And as he thought this, he saw coming down the street, Hickson--a witness
prejudiced, perhaps, but strictly honest.
For the first time in their short acquaintance, Hickson's face brightened
at the sight of Riatt, and he called out with evident sincerity: "I am
glad to see you."
"I came on rather unexpectedly."
"I'm glad you did. Quite right." Hickson stopped at this, and looked at
his companion with such wistful uncertainty, that it seemed perfectly
natural for Riatt, answering that look, to say:
"You may speak frankly to me, you know."
Ned took a long breath. "I believe that I may," he said. "I hope so,
anyhow. I haven't had any one I could be frank with. Between ourselves,
Fenimer is no good at all."
"What, my future father-in-law?"
"Is that what he is?" Hickson asked with, for him, unusual directness.
Riatt's affirmative was not very decided, and Ned went on:
"I can't even talk to Nancy about it. She's keen, but she does not
understand Christine. She attributes the most shocking motives to her,
and when I object, she says every one is like that, only I haven't sense
enough to see it. Well, I never pretended to have as much sense as Nancy,
but I see some things that she doesn't. I see, for instance, that there's
something noble in Christine, in spite of--I beg your pardon for talking
to you like this, but you must remember that I have known her a good deal
longer than you have, and that in a different way perhaps I care for her
almost as much as you do."
"I told you to speak frankly," answered Riatt. "What is it that Mrs.
Almar says of Christine?"
At first Hickson refused to answer, but the suffering and anxiety he had
been undergoing pushed him toward self-expression, and Riatt did not have
to be very skilful to extract the whole story. Nancy had asserted that
Christine had never intended for a minute to marry Riatt--that she had
just used him to excite Linburne's jealousy to such a point that he would
arrange matters so that he could marry her himself. For once Riatt found
himself in accord with Nancy.
"Do more people than your sister think that?"
Hickson was not without his reserves. "Oh, I dare say, but I don't care
about that sort of gossip. It's absurd to say she and Linburne are
engaged. How can a girl be engaged to a married man?"
"We must move with the times, my dear Hickson," said Riatt bitterly.
"Linburne's no good," Ned went on, "not where women are concerned. He
wouldn't treat her well if he did marry her. Why, Riatt," he added
solemnly, "I'd far rather see her married to you than to him."
If Max felt disposed to smile at this innocent endorsement, he suppressed
the inclination, and merely answered:
"You may have your wish."
"I hope so," said Ned. "But you mustn't go off to kingdom-come, and leave
Linburne a clear field. He's a man who knows how to talk to women, and
what with the infatuation she has always had for him--"
"You think she has always cared for him?" asked Max. He tried to smooth
his tone down to one of calm interest, but it alarmed Hickson.
"I don't know," he returned hastily. "I used to think so, but I may be
wrong. I thought the same thing about you at the Usshers'. She kept
saying she wasn't a bit in love with you, but it seemed to me she was
different with you from what she had ever been with any one else. I
suppose I oughtn't to have said that either. Upon my word, Riatt, it is
awfully good of you to let me talk like this! I can assure you it is a
great relief to me."
His companion could hardly have echoed this sentiment. As he walked back
alone to his hotel, he found that Hickson's words had put the last
touches to his mental discomfort.
At first his own conduct had seemed inexplicable to him. Everything had
been going well, he had been just about to be free from the whole
entanglement, when an impulse of primitive jealousy and fierce masculine
egotism had suddenly brought him to New York and bound him hand and foot.
It had not been an agreeable prospect--to live among people whose
standards he did not understand, with a woman whom he did not love. But,
since his conversation with Hickson, his eyes were opened, and he saw the
situation in far more tragic colors.
He _did_ love her. He did not believe in her or trust her; he had no
illusions as to her feeling for him, but his for her was clear--he loved
her, loved her with that strange mingling of passion and hatred so often
found and so rarely admitted.
He could imagine a man's learning, even under the most suspicious
circumstances, to conquer jealousy of a woman who loved him. Or he could
imagine having confidence in a woman who did not pretend love. But to be
married to a woman whom you love, without a shed of belief either in her
principles or her affection, seemed to Riatt about as terrible a prospect
as could be offered to a human being.
There was just one chance for him--that Christine might be willing to
release him. If she really loved Linburne, if there had been some sort of
understanding between them in the past, if his coming had only
precipitated a lovers' quarrel, then certainly Christine had too much
intelligence to let such a chance slip through her fingers just on the
eve of Linburne's divorce. Nor was she, he thought bitterly, too proud to
stoop to ask a man to reconsider; nor did it seem likely, however deeply
Linburne's vanity had been wounded, that he would refuse to listen.
With this in mind, as soon as he reached his hotel, he sat down and wrote
her a letter:
"My dear Christine:
"What was it, according to your idea, that happened this afternoon? I
believed that for the first time I asked you to marry me, and that you,
for the first time definitely accepted me. But as I think over your
manner, I am led to think you supposed it was just a continuation of
our old joke.
"Did you accept me, Christine? And if so, why? Why commit yourself to a
marriage without affection, at the psychological moment when a man for
whom you have always cared is about to be free?
"If you still need me in the game, I am ready enough to be of use, but
I will not be bound to a relation unless you, too, consider it
He told the messenger to wait for an answer, but he thought that
Christine would hardly be willing to commit herself on such short notice,
or without an interview with Linburne.
But, within a surprisingly short interval, her letter was in his
"I will not be so cruel as to leave you one moment longer in the false
hope that your little break for freedom may be successful. Face the fact,
bravely, my dear. I am going to marry you. We are both irrevocably
bound--at least as irrevocably as the marriage tie can bind nowadays. If
this afternoon my manner seemed less portentous than you expected, that
must have been because I have always counted on just this termination to
our little adventure. You must do me the justice to confess that I have
always told you so. As for Lee, in spite of Nancy (I suppose it was Nancy
to whom you rushed for information from my very doorstep) I have never
cared sixpence for him.
"Yours till death us do part,
Max read the letter which was brought to him while he was at dinner. He
put it into his pocket, finished an excellent salad, went to the theater,
came back to the hotel and went to bed and to sleep rather congratulating
himself on the fact that he had become callous to the whole situation,
and that, so far as he was concerned, the crisis was past.
But of course it wasn't. With the rattle of the first milkcart, which in
a modern city has taken the place of the half-awakened bird, he woke up,
and if he had been in jail he could not have felt a more choking sense of
imprisonment. There was no escape for him, no hope.
He got up and looked out at the city far below, all outlined like a great
electric sign that said nothing. There must be some way of being free,
besides jumping from the twelfth story window. He lit a cigarette, and
stood thinking. Men disappeared every day; it could be done. What were
the chances, he wondered, of being identified if he shipped as steward,
or engineer for that matter, on a South American freighter?
It was full daylight before he found himself in possession of a possible
scheme. He remembered the legend of a certain Saint, told him by his
nurse in his early days. She had been beautiful, too beautiful for her
religious ideals; the number of her suitors was distracting; so to one of
them who had extravagantly admired her eyes she sent them on a salver.
Riatt did not intend sending Christine his worldly goods, but recognizing
that they were the source of the whole trouble, he decided to get rid of
the major part. The problem was simply to lose his money before the date
set for the wedding. And that was not so difficult, after all. There were
a number of people in the metropolis he thought who would give him every
The problem of getting it back again at some future time was more
complicated, but even that he thought he could accomplish. He had made
one fortune and he supposed he could some day make another.
The practical question was: What sum would make him impossible to
Christine as a husband? Twenty thousand a year would be out of the
question. But to be perfectly safe he decided to leave himself only
fifteen thousand. He would begin operation as soon as the exchange opened
in the morning. In the meantime what about that mine of Welsley's? There
was an easy means of sinking almost any sum.
He took up the telephone and sent a telegram at once.
"Plans for my wedding prevent trip to mine. Have, however, decided after
minute investigation here to invest $500,000 in it. Believe we shall make
He stood an instant with the instrument still in his hand. "Suppose the
damned thing succeeds," he thought, "I shall be worse off than ever."
Then his faith returned to him. "Nothing of Welsley's ever did
succeed," he thought; and with this conclusion he went back to bed and
slept like a child.
With his definite decision and unalterable plan of action, wonderful
peace of mind has come to Riatt. He said to himself that he was now to
have a few weeks--whatever time it should take him to lose his fortune
decently--of being engaged to a woman whom, he now acknowledged, he
passionately loved. He intended to make the best of it.
The next day as he walked up Fifth Avenue on his way to lunch with her,
another inspiration came to him; it was not necessary to lose his money;
spending it would be quite as effective. Acting on this idea, he went
into a celebrated jeweler's shop, and with astonishing celerity chose,
paid for and pocketed a string of brilliant pearls.
It was a present that might have made any man welcome--and Christine had
never been accused of not being able to express herself when she wanted
to--but Christine had already welcomed him for his changed demeanor; his
brilliant smile and unruffled brow told her as soon as she saw him that
he was a very different person from the tortured and irritable creature
who had left her the preceding afternoon.
Never were two people more disposed to find each other and themselves
agreeable, and Riatt was in process of clasping the pearls about
Christine's neck (for she had had some unaccountable difficulty in doing
it for herself) when the drawing-room door opened and Nancy Almar
Her jaw did not actually drop at the scene that met her eyes, for that
did not happen to be her method of expressing surprise, but her manner
conveyed none the less an astonishment not very agreeable.
"Was I mistaken," she said, "in thinking I was to stop and take you to
"Quite right, my dear. Only Max's return has put everything else out
of my head."
"What, you didn't ever expect him to come back?"
"You talk, Nancy, as if you had never heard that we were engaged."
"If you really are, Christine, why are the Linburnes being divorced?"
"Because they loathe each other, I imagine."
"What a changeable creature you are, Christine! It seems only the other
day that you were crying your eyes out because Lee was engaged."
Without glancing at Max, Christine became aware that some of the gaiety
had gone from his expression.
"Have you seen my pearls, dear?" she said.
It was a complete answer, so far as Nancy was concerned, for she was one
of the women who can never harden herself to the sight of another
"How beautiful, love," she answered. "If they were only a trifle larger
they might be mistaken for your old imitation string." Then feeling that
she could never better this, she took her departure.
"Oh, dear," sighed Christine, "do you think I shall ever get so superior
that Nancy can't tease me when she says things like that?"
"Did you really cry, Christine?"
"The night you went away?"
"When you first heard of Linburne's engagement?"
She nodded at him, like a child who would like to lie its way out
of a scrape.
"But then I often cry over trifles," she added.
"Like my going away?"
"Really, Max, you ought to be able to understand why I cried over Lee's
engagement. It was Nancy who brought me the news, and she was so
triumphant over it. She said every one would think he had been making a
fool of me. You know she has the power of teasing me more than any one in
the world--except, perhaps, you."
"I have a piece of news for you, Christine."
"Good or bad?"
"Indifferent, I think you would say. It's a scientific discovery."
"An invention, Max? Could I understand it?"
"I think you can if you make an effort."
"What is it?"
He put his arms suddenly about her. "I find I'm in love with you," he
said, and added a moment later: "And just think that I've been engaged to
you so long and that's the first time I've kissed you."
Christine with her head still buried on his shoulders murmured, "But it
won't be the last."
Riatt's expression changed. "Not absolutely the last, perhaps," he
answered with something that just wasn't a sigh.
She looked up at him. "That piece of indifferent news of yours--" she
"Didn't I describe it correctly?"
"It wasn't news to me."
"You mean you had already guessed that I loved you?"
"I've always known it."
"You can't think I would ever have let you go away at all, if I had not
felt sure. And if you hadn't loved me, I couldn't have brought you back."
"I came back because--"
"Because the Linburnes were getting a divorce, and because Laura
wrote you a letter. Do you fancy I had nothing to do with either of
And Riatt found himself answering almost in the word of Cyrano:
"_Non, non, mon cher amour, je ne vous aimais pas_."
The days that followed were the happiest that Riatt had ever known. Only
those who have lived in a brief and agreeable present can understand the
fullness of joy that he was able to extract from it. If he had been
under sentence of death he could not have given less thought to the
future. He gave himself up wholly to the two excitements of making love
and losing money.
At first he prospered more at the former than the latter. For at first,
for some time after he had acquired the stock of the mine, the reports
from it grew more and more favorable and old friends came to him and
begged him to allow them to take up a little of it. His curt refusal to
all such propositions increased the impression that he knew he had a very
good thing and meant to keep it all for himself.
But he did not have very long to wait for the turn of the tide. Within a
few weeks he received a letter from Welsley, alarming only because its
intention was so obviously to allay alarm. It appeared that a liberal
revolution was threatened; the concession from the government then in
power would not bear the scrutiny of an impartial witness such as our own
State Department. If, in other words, the present government fell, the
concession would fall, too.
"However," Welsley wrote cheerfully, "though the revolution has the
support of the uneducated element of the population, which comprises most
of the people, as they have neither arms, ammunition nor money, they
can't do much, unless some fool in the north is induced to finance them.
You could help us a lot by looking about and seeing if there is any
danger of such a thing."
On receipt of this, Riatt instantly telegraphed to Welsley as follows:
"Count upon me. What is the name and address of the revolutionary
The next day in a back bedroom of a down-town hotel, $10,000 changed
hands between a slight, dark, very finished gentleman who spoke English
with the slightest possible accent, and a tall, fine-looking young
American whose name never appeared in the transaction. Within a month a
shipment of arms had been smuggled into a certain South American country,
with the result that the revolution was completely successful--as indeed
it deserved to be. One of the first acts of the new government was to
revoke the iniquitous concession of the San Pedro gold mine, made to "a
group of greedy North American capitalists by the former corrupt and evil
Riatt's bearing during this unhappy experience was universally praised.
As he went in and out of his broker's office, not a trace of anxiety
visible upon his countenance, men would nudge each other and whisper,
"Did you ever see such nerve? He stands to lose a million."
The only moment of regret that he suffered was when one day, when things
first began to look badly, he met Linburne and another man in Wall
Street, and there was something subtly insulting and triumphant in the
former's manner of condoling with him about the situation.
Rumors of it reached Christine. She liked the picture of Riatt's courage
and calm, and hated the danger of his losing money.
"You're not risking too much, are you, Max?" she asked.
"Wouldn't you enjoy love in a cottage, Christine?" he answered.
She tried to make it clear to him how little such a prospect would tempt
her, and gathered from the fact that he hardly listened to her reply that
he felt confident there was no real danger.
With the success of the revolution, Riatt realized that his holiday was
over, that he must tell Christine the truth and then retire to his old
home and begin a new method of life on his decreased income.
It was now early April--a warm advanced spring--when he decided that the
next day should see the end of his little drama. But, as we all know, it
sometimes happens that those who set a mine are the most startled by the
explosion; and Riatt, at an early breakfast (for he and Christine were
going into the country for the day), with a mind occupied with the
phrases in which he should bid her good-by and eyes lazily reading the
newspaper, was suddenly startled beyond words by a short paragraph on the
financial page. This stated in the baldest terms the failure of his
brokers at home.
There was no country expedition for Riatt that day. He rushed
down-town, leaving a short message for Christine, and by night he knew
the worst, knew that the liabilities of the firm far exceeded any
possible assets, knew positively that the comfortable sum he had
intended to preserve for himself had been swept away, knew that he now
really had to begin life over.
That night when he came back to his hotel, he understood for the first
time that he had throughout been cherishing an unrecognized hope; that he
had not been honest with himself, and that all the time beneath his great
scheme had lain the belief that when the truth was known Christine would
prefer him and his moderate income to Linburne and his wealth; that, in
short, the great scheme had been all the time not a method of freeing
himself, but a test of her affection.
Now any such possibility was over. Now he himself was facing the problem
of mere existence--at least he would be as soon as he had collected his
wits enough to face anything.
The next day, which was Sunday, he spent entirely with his lawyer. When
he came back to his hotel, between the entrance and the elevator a figure
rose in his path. It was Hickson.
"Riatt, I'm awfully sorry about this," he said.
"Thank you, Hickson. It's very decent of you to be," Max answered as
cordially as he could, but he was tired and wanted to be let alone, and
there was not as much real gratitude in his heart as there should have
been. He did not ask Ned to sit down until he had explained with his
accustomed simplicity that he had something of importance to say. Then
Riatt let him lead the way to one of those remote and stuffy
sitting-rooms in which all hotels abound. He saw at once that Hickson
found it difficult to say what he had come to say, but Riatt was in no
humor this time to help him out.
"I'm awfully sorry this has happened," Hickson went on, "not only on your
account, but on Christine's. I mean that I did begin to hope that life
with you meant peace and happiness for her--"
To cut him short, Riatt said quickly: "Now, of course, the marriage is
out of the question."
Hickson's face brightened, as if the difficult words had been said for
him. "You do feel that?" he said, nodding a little as if to encourage
Max did not answer at first in words; he laughed rather bitterly, and
then after a pause he said, "Yes, Hickson, I do."
Ned was clearly relieved. "Of course," he said, "I did not know how that
would be. But I own it did occur to me. The world is very censorious of
poor Christine. Every one will say that she is the kind of woman who
can't stick to a man in adversity. Yes, I assure you, Riatt, lots of
these women who can't put down one of their motors without having nervous
prostration will pillory Christine for breaking her engagement,
unless--" he paused.
"I don't follow your idea, Ned."
Hickson sighed. "Why, as long as you recognize the impossibility of the
marriage, couldn't you in some way make it appear that the breaking of
the engagement came from you--as--if--"
"I see," said Riatt. There was a short silence, and then he asked in a
tone that sounded perfectly calm to Hickson: "Is this a message from
"Oh, no. Not a message from Christine, though she has been trying to
communicate with you for two days. She can't see why you won't even
answer her letters. I told her I would find you--"
"In fact, it _is_ a message, or at least you are her messenger?"
"No, Riatt, at least not from her. I have a message for you, but not
"From Linburne. He has the greatest admiration for your power, abilities,
in spite of any differences you may have had. He wants to offer you a
position, only he felt awkward about doing it himself after what has
taken place. He asked me to speak to you. It's a good salary, only it
means going to Manchuria, no--"
"One moment," said Riatt. "These two messages, are they in any way
"I don't understand."
"Linburne's offer is not by any chance the reward for my giving Christine
a suitable release?"
Hickson was really shocked. "How can you think such a thing, Riatt?"
"Where did you see Linburne?"
Hickson hesitated, but confessed after some protest that it had been at
"But you don't understand, you really don't," he said. "She has been
distracted by your reverses, and not hearing from you she has turned to
me, to Jack Ussher, to any one who could give her news and help you, as
"I understand quite enough," answered Riatt. "Thank Mr. Linburne for his
kind offer and say I have other plans; and tell Christine she can have
her absolution for nothing. I'll give her a letter that will put her
right with every one." And walking to a desk:
"My dear Christine," he wrote. "As you are aware, I have lost everything
I have in the world, and though I know that to a spirit like your own
poverty could not alter love, I must own that I, more experienced in
privation, find that the situation has had a somewhat chilling effect
upon my emotions. In short, my dear, I cannot begin life over again
hampered by a wife. Thanking you for the loyalty with which you have
stood by me in this crisis, and wishing you every happiness in the
future, believe me
He handed the note to Hickson. "I think that, taken externally, will
effect a cure," he said. "Good night, Hickson. I'm dead tired, so you
won't mind my going to bed. Oh, and I'm off to-morrow, so I shan't see
you again. Good-by."
"Are you going home?" Hickson asked. But Max maintained a certain
vagueness as to his plans, which Hickson, having accomplished his
purpose, did not notice. He was very much pleased with the results of his
diplomacy. No one could say a word against Christine now. It wasn't her
fault if the engagement was broken. Riatt was a noble fellow--only, the
noblest sometimes forgot these simple, practical details.
The next day Riatt paid his bill at the hotel and went away without
leaving an address.
Few of us have driven past rows of suburban cottages, or through streets
lined by city flats, without considering how easy it would be to sink
one's identity and become part of a new unknown life. Riatt certainly had
often thought of such a possibility and now he put his plans into
operation. He took no great precautions against discovery, for he had no
notion that any one would be particularly interested in knowing his
whereabouts. But he allowed those at home to suppose he was working in
New York, as he suggested to those in New York that he had very naturally
As a matter of fact, he had taken a position with a new company which was
constructing aeroplanes for the market, into which in past times he had
put a little money. He hired a small flat in Brooklyn, on the top floor,
so that he had a glimpse of the harbor from his sitting-room windows. He
spent the last of his ready money in buying out the dilapidated furniture
of his predecessor; and then with the assistance of the janitor's wife,
who gave him his breakfast and did what she called "redding up the
place," he began to live on the slim salary that his new job gave him.
Every afternoon he would take the new machines out and fly at sunset over
the sandy plains of Long Island, would dine cheaply at some neighboring
restaurant, and would return to his flat about ten, go to bed early and
be ready for work the next morning.
The only relaxation he allowed himself was the excitement of hating
Christine, to which he now devoted a great deal of time and thought. It
was the only thing that gave life any interest.
What was loss of money, after all, he said to himself, for an
able-bodied man? He could bear that well enough, if his life had not
been poisoned, if hope hadn't been taken from him. She had spoilt him
for everything else. His success, if ever he should succeed, would not
bring him what most men wanted of success--a companion and a home. He
had nothing to work for, and yet nothing to do except work. It was all
his own fault, he said; and blamed her all the more bitterly. He was
glad, he thought, that he had made it impossible for her to have a final
interview with him; and in his heart he could not forgive her for not
having overcome the obstacles to a meeting which he had set up in the
last frenzied days in New York.
"If I were of a revengeful disposition," he said to himself, "I should
ask nothing better than that she should marry Linburne"; and he concluded
that he was not revengeful because he found he did not want it. He made
up his mind after the most prolonged consideration that a woman such as
Christine exercised the maximum influence for evil; a thoroughly wicked
woman could not help inspiring distrust, but a nature like hers had
enough good to attach you and yet left you nothing to depend upon.
He read the papers, awaiting the announcement of her marriage, but found
no mention of her name except once, toward the end of May, a short
paragraph announcing that she had gone out of town for the season.
It was soon after he had read this that he came home earlier than usual
and let himself into his little flat. The day had been successful, a new
device in the engine was working well and the company had had a large
order from abroad. And as usual, with the prospect of success had come to
him a bitter sense of the emptiness of the future. He was thinking of
Christine, and when he turned the switch of the electric light, there she
was. She was sitting in a large shabby armchair, drawn close to the
window, so that she could look out at the river. She had taken off her
hat, and her hair shown particularly golden and her eyes looked brightly
blue in the sudden glare of light.
"You're dreadfully late," she said, quite as if she had charge of his
comings and goings. "I've been here hours and hours and hours."
Now that he actually saw her before him, it was neither love nor hate
that he felt, but an undefinable and overmastering emotion that seemed
to petrify him, so that he stood there quite silent with his hand on
"Well," she went on, "aren't you surprised to see me?"
He bent his head.
"Can you guess why I have come?"
He shook his head.
She looked a little distressed at this. "Then perhaps I've made a mistake
At this he spoke for the first time. "I should say that the chances were
that you had," he said, and his tone was not agreeable.
The edge of his words seemed to give her back all her confidence. "Now,
how strange that you should not know why I'm here! I've come, of course,
to return your pearls." He saw now, between the laces of her summer dress
that she was wearing them. "In common honesty I could hardly keep them."
She put up her hands to the clasp, but it did not yield at once to her
touch, and she looked up at him. "I think you'll have to undo it for me,"
she murmured, with bent head.
"I don't want them," he answered, with temper. "I never want to see
"Nor me, either, perhaps?"
"Nor you either--perhaps."
She rose and approached him. "I'll keep them on one condition, Max--that
you take permanent charge of both of us." Then seeing that she had
produced no change in his expression, she came very close indeed.
"There's no use in looking like a stone image, Max. It won't save you."
"Save me! And what is my danger?"
"I'm your danger, my dear."
"Not any longer, Christine."
"You mean you don't love me any more?"
"Not a bit."
At this she shifted her ground with admirable ease.
"In that case," she said cheerfully, "we can talk the whole subject over
"Quite, if there were anything to talk over."
"Only first," she said, "aren't you going to ask me to stay to dinner?
It's very late, you know--"
"I don't dine here," he answered, "and I doubt if you would eat very much
at the restaurant where I take my meals."
"Well, would you mind my going into the kitchen and making myself a
cup of tea?"
He gave his consent, but evinced no intention of accompanying her. To see
her like this, in his own home, where he had so often imagined her being
and where she would never be again, was torture to him.
After an interval that seemed to him an eternity, she came back
flushed and triumphant, carrying a tray on which were tea, toast and
"There," she said, "don't you think I've improved? Don't you think I'm
rather a good housewife?"
The element of pathos in her self-satisfaction was too much for him. "I'm
afraid I'm not in the mood either for comedy or for supper," he said.
Her face fell. "I thought you'd be so hungry," she observed gently. "But
no matter. Sit down and we'll talk."
"I know of nothing to talk about," he returned, but he dropped
reluctantly into a hard, stiff chair opposite her.
"I'll tell you what there is to talk about," said Christine. "Something
that has never been mentioned in all the discussions that have been
taking place. And that is my feelings."
"Your feelings," Riatt began, rather contemptuously, but she stopped him.
"No," she said, "you shan't say what you were going to. My feelings,
my feelings for you. You've told me that you did _not_ love me, that
you despised me, that you _did_ love me, but you've never asked how I
felt to you."
"But you've made it so clear. You felt that, in default of anything else,
I would do."
She leaned across the table and looked at him gravely. "Max," she said,
"I love you."
He made no motion, not even one of contempt, and so she got up, and
coming round the table, she knelt down beside him and put her arms
tightly about him. Still he did not move, except that his hands, which
had been hanging at his sides, now gripped the edges of the chair with
the rigidity of iron, and he said in a voice which sounded even in his
own ears like that of a total stranger:
"What folly this is, Christine!"
"Why is it folly?"
"If you had said this six weeks ago, while I still had enough money to--"
"If I had said it then you wouldn't have believed me." He looked at her;
it was true.
"But now," she went on rapidly, "you must believe me. If I come now to
live with you and work for you, no one can accuse me of mercenary
motives--not even you, Max. I shan't get anything from the bargain but
you, and that is all I want."
"This is madness," said Riatt, trying not very sincerely to free himself.
"Yes, of course it's mad, like all really logical things," she answered.
"But that's the way it's going to be. I love you, and I am going to stay
"I couldn't let you," he said. "I couldn't accept such a sacrifice."
"A sacrifice, Max. That's the first really stupid thing I ever heard you
say. It isn't a sacrifice; it's a result, a consequence of the fact that
I love you. It isn't a question of my doing it, or your letting me. It
simply can't be otherwise. The other things I used to value--parties and
pretty clothes and luxuries--they were a sort of game I played because I
did not know any other. But only part of me was alive then. I was like a
blind person; and they were my stick; but now that I can see, the stick
is just in my way. It isn't silly and romantic to believe in love, Max.
The hardest-headed, most practical people believe in it--every one who
has any sense really believes in it, when they find it. To be poor, to be
uncomfortable--it's a price, but a small one to pay for love. Isn't that
true--true, at least, as far as you're concerned?"
"Oh, yes, as far as I'm concerned--"
"Then what right have you to think it's not true to me? Don't be such a
moral snob, Max. If love's the best thing in the world for you, it's ever
so much more so for me--I need it more."
"Nobody could need it more than I do," he answered, suddenly clasping
her to him.
"It's the way it's going to be, anyhow," she murmured.
"I can't let you go," he said, as if arguing with an unseen auditor.
She nodded in a somewhat contracted space. "That's it," she announced.
"It has to be."
It was only a few days later that Nancy Almar, driving past a well-known
house-furnishing shop on her way home to tea, was surprised to observe
her brother standing, with a salesman at his elbow, in trancelike
contemplation of a small white enameled ice-box. With her customary
decision, Nancy ordered her chauffeur to stop, and entering the shop by
another door she stood close beside Hickson during his purchase of the
following articles: the ice-box, an improved coffee percolator and a
complete set of kitchen china of an extremely decorative pattern.
"Bless me, Ned," she said suddenly in his ear, "might one ask when you
are going to housekeeping, and with whom?"
There was no denying that Ned's start was guilty, and his manner confused
as he answered, "Oh, they're not for me--"
The salesman who, perhaps, lacked tact, or possibly only wanted to get
away to wait on another customer, said at this point:
"And the address, sir? I have the name--Mrs. Max Riatt."
"Riatt married!" cried Nancy. "But to whom? I thought he had nothing left
in the world."
"He hasn't," answered Ned, hastily scribbling the address on a card and
handing it to the man.
"Oh, then he's married some one who loves him for himself alone, I know.
That faithful sleek-headed girl from his home town. Won't Christine be
angry when she hears it! She always likes her old loves to pine a long
time before they console themselves. Let us go and tell her. Or is she
A rather sad smile lit up Hickson's countenance as he followed his sister
to her motor. "I think she knows it," he said.
Nancy put her hand on his arm. "Oh, dear, darling Ned," she said. "Get in
and drive home with me and tell me all about it. I knew he really never
cared for Christine. She dazzled and distressed him in about equal
proportions. And yet I doubt if Miss--Whatever-Her-Name-Was--will be very
"It is not Miss Lane, who, by the way, I like and admire very much," said
"Who is it? Some one I know?"
"Yes, you know her."
Something in his extreme solemnity transferred the idea to her.
"You don't mean that Christine--"
He nodded. "I was at their wedding yesterday."
"And where are they?"
"That's it, Nancy. They're living in a flat and they have no servant--"
His sister leaned back and laughed heartily, and then composing her
countenance with an effort, she said: "My poor dear! But it's really all
for the best. She won't stay with him six months."
"Nancy! She'll stay with him forever."
"Where is this flat?"
"I've promised not to tell. They don't want to be bothered by all of us."
"They want to conceal their deplorable situation, of course. Well, my
dear, I can wait. Six months from now I'll ask them to dine to meet
Linburne. Christine's dresses will be a little out of fashion, and
they'll come in a trolley car, and she'll have a veil over her head--"
"Six months from now Riatt may be on the way to making a nice little sum.
He has a very good thing, he thinks."
"He'd better be quick about it. A flat in summer! Oh, the cinders on the
window-sill, and the sun on the roof, and the knowledge that all of us
are going out of town to lawns and lakes--He'd better be quick, Ned."
The motor had stopped before the door of Nancy's little house which was
arrayed in its summer dress of red and white awnings, and red and white
window boxes. The footman had rung the bell, and was waiting with his eye
on the front door, so as to catch the right second for opening the door
of the motor.
"Nancy," said her brother, with real horror in his tone, "you talk as if
you wanted her to fail."
"I do. I do, of course."
"Why? Do you hate her?"
Nancy nodded. "Yes, I hate her now. I didn't used to."
"It seems to me this is just the moment to admire her. It may be foolish,
but surely what she has done is noble, Nancy."
The hall door opened and simultaneously the door of the motor, and Nancy,
putting out one foot, said over her shoulder:
"Oh, Ned, what a goose you are! Don't you know any woman would have done
what she's done, if she had the chance--the real chance?"
She ran up the steps and into her house, leaving her brother staring
after her in amazement.