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Other Things Being Equal by Emma Wolf

Part 4 out of 5

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overpowered him. The words of the letter repeated themselves to him.
"Paradise with some other, better woman," --she might have left that out;
she knew better; she was only trying to cheat herself. "I too shall be
happy." Not that, not some other man's wife, --the thought was demoniacal.
He caught his reflection in the glass in passing. "I must get out of
this," he laughed with dry, parched lips. He seized his hat and went out.
The wind was blowing stiffly; for hours he wrestled with it, and then came
home and wrote to her: --

I can never forgive you; love's litany holds no such word. Be happy if you
can, my santa Filomena; it will help me much, --the fact that you are
somewhere in the world and not desolate will make life more worth the
living. If it will strengthen you to know that I shall always love you,
the knowledge will be eternally true. Wherever you are, whatever the need,
remember--I am at hand.

HERBERT KEMP.

Mr. Levice's face was more haggard than Ruth's when, after this answer was
received, she came to him with a gentle smile, despite the heavy shadows
around her eyes.

"It is all over, Father," she said; "we have parted forever. Perhaps I did
not love him enough to give up so much for him. At any rate I shall be
happier with you, dear."

"Are you sure, my darling?"

"Quite sure; and there is no more to be said of it. Remember, it is dead
and buried; we must never remind each other of it again. Kiss me, Father,
and forget that it has been."

Mr. Levice drew a long sigh, partly of relief, partly of pain, as he looked
into her lovely, resolute face.

Chapter XX

We do not live wholly through ourselves. What is called fate is but the
outcome of the spinning of other individuals twisted into the woof of our
own making; so no life should be judged as a unit.

Ruth Levice was not alone in the world; she was neither recluse nor a
genius, but a girl with many loving friends and a genial home-life. Having
resolved to bear to the world an unchanged front, she outwardly did as she
had always done. Her mother's zealous worldliness returned with her
health; and Ruth fell in with all her plans for a gay winter, --that is,
the plans were gay; Ruth's presence could hardly be termed so. The old
spontaneous laugh was superseded by a gentle smile, sympathetic perhaps,
but never joyous. She listened more, and seldom now took the lead in a
general conversation, though there was a charm about a t te- -t te with her
that earnest persons, men and women, felt without being able to define it.
For the change, without doubt, was there. It was as if a quiet hand had
been passed over her exuberant, happy girlhood and left a serious,
thoughtful woman in its stead. A subtile change like this is not speedily
noticed by outsiders; it requires usage before an acquaintance will account
it a characteristic instead of a mood. But her family knew it. Mrs.
Levice, wholly in the dark as to the cause, wondered openly.

"You might be thirty, Ruth, instead of twenty-two, by the staidness of your
demeanor. While other girls are laughing and chatting as girls should, you
look on with the tolerant dignity of a woman of grave concerns. If you had
anything to trouble you, there might be some excuse; but as it is, why
can't you go into enjoyments like the rest of your friends?"

"Don't I? Why, I hardly know another girl who lives in such constant
gayety as I. Are we not going to a dinner this evening and to the ball
to-morrow night?"

"Yes; but you might as well be going to a funeral for all the pleasure you
seem to anticipate. If you come to a ball with such a grandly serious air,
the men will just as soon think of asking a statue to dance as you. A
statue may be beautiful in its niche, but people do not care to study its
meaning at a ball."

"What do you wish me to do, Mamma? I should hate the distinction of a
wall-flower, which you think imminent. I am afraid I am too big a woman to
be frolicsome."

"You never were that, but you were at least a girl. People will begin to
think you consider yourself above them, or else that you have some secret
trouble."

The smile of incredulity with which she answered her would have been
heart-breaking had it been understood. No flush stained the ivory pallor
of her face at these thrusts in the dark; Louis was never annoyed in this
way now. Her old-time excited contradictions never obtruded themselves in
their conversations. A silent knowledge lay between them which neither, by
word or look, ever alluded to. Mrs. Levice noted with delight their
changed relations. Louis's sarcasm ceased to be directed at Ruth; and
though the familiar sparring was missing, Mrs. Levice preferred his
deferential bearing when he addressed her, and Ruth's grave graciousness
with him. She drew her own conclusions, and accepted Ruth's quietness with
more patience on this account.

Louis understood somewhat; and in his manliness he could not hide that her
suffering had cost him a new code of actions. But he could not understand
as her father did. Despite her brave smile, Levice could almost read her
heart-beats, and the knowledge brought a hardness and a bitter regret. He
grew to scanning her face surreptitiously, looking in vain for the old,
untroubled delight in things; and when the unmistakable signs of secret
anguish would leave traces at times, he would turn away with a groan. Yet
there was nothing to be done. He knew that her love had been no light
thing nor could her giving up be so; but feeling that no matter what the
present cost, the result would compensate, he trusted to time to heal the
wound. Meanwhile his own self-blame at these times left its mark upon him.

For Ruth lived a dual life. The real one was passed in her quiet chamber,
in her long solitary walks, and when she sat with her book, apparently
reading. She would look up with blank, despairing eyes, clinched hands,
and hard-set teeth when the thought of him and all her loss would steal
upon her. Her father had caught many such a look upon her face. She had
resolved to live without him, but accomplishment is not so easy. Besides,
it was not as if she never saw him. San Francisco is not so large a city
but that by the turning of a corner you may not come across a friend. Ruth
grew to study the sounds the different kinds of vehicles made; and the
rolling wheels of a doctor's carriage behind her would set her pulses
fluttering in fright.

She was walking one day along Sutter Street toward Gough from Octavia. The
street takes a sudden down-grade midway in the block. She was approaching
this declension just before the Boys' High School when a carriage drove
quickly up the hill toward her. The horses gave a bound as if the reins
had been jerked; there was the momentary flash of a man's stern, white face
as he raised his hat; and Ruth was walking down the hill, trembling and
pale. It was the first time; and for one minute her heart seemed to stop
beating and then rushed wildly on. Whether she had bowed or made any sign
of recognition, she did not know. It did not matter, though; if he thought
her cold or strange or anything, what difference could it possibly make?
For her there would be left forever this dead emptiness. These casual
meetings were inevitable; and she would come home after them worn-out and
heavy-eyed. "A slight headache" was a recurrent excuse with her.

They had common friends, and it would not have been surprising had she met
him at the different affairs to which she went, always through her mother's
desire. But the dread of coming upon him slowly departed as the months
rolled by and with them all token of him. Time and again she would hear
allusions to him. "Dr. Kemp has developed into a misogynist," pouted
Dorothy Gwynne. "He was one of the few decided eligibles on the horizon,
but it requires the magnet of illness to draw him now. I really must look
up the symptoms of a possible ache; the toilet and expression of an invalid
are very becoming, you know."

"Dr. Kemp made a splendid donation to our kindergarten to-day. I have not
seen him since we were in the country, and he thought me looking very well.
He inquired after the family, and I told him we had a residence, at which
he smiled." This from Mrs. Levice. Ruth would have given much to have
been able to ask after him with self-possession, but the muscles of her
throat seemed to swell and choke her while silent. She went now and then
to see Bob Bard in his flower-store; he would without fail inquire after
"our friend" or tell her of his having passed that day. Here was her one
chance of inquiring if he was looking well, to which the answer was
invariably "yes."

She sat one night at the opera in her wonted beauty, with her soft, dusky
hair rolled from her sweet Madonna face. Many a lorgnette was raised a
second and a third time toward her. Louis, seated next to her, resented
with unaccountable ferocity this free admiration that she did not see or
feel.

As the curtain went down on the first act, he drew her attention to some
celebrity then passing out. She raised her glass, but her hand fell
nerveless in her lap. Immediately following him came Dr. Kemp. Their eyes
met, and he bowed low, passing on immediately. The rest of the evening
passed like a nightmare; she heard nothing but her heart-throbs, saw
nothing but his beloved face regarding her with simple courtesy. Louis
knew that for her the opera was over; the tell-tale bistrous shadows grew
around her eyes, and she became deadly silent.

"What a magnificent man he is," murmured Mrs. Levice, "and what an
impressive bow he has!" Ruth did not hear her; but when she reached her
own room, she threw herself face downward on her bed in intolerable
anguish. She was not a girl who cried easily. If she had been, her
suffering would not have been so intense, --when the flood-gates are
opened, the river finds relief. Over and over again she wished she might
die and end this eager, passionate craving for some token of love from him,
or for the power of letting him know how it was with her. And it would
always be thus as long as she lived. She did not deceive herself; no mere
friendship would have sufficed, --all or nothing after what had been.

Physically, however, she bore no traces of this continual restraint. On
the contrary, her slender figure matured to womanly proportions. Little
children, seeing her, smiled responsively at her, or clamored to be taken
into her arms, there was such a tender mother-look about her. By degrees
her friends began to feel the repose of her intellect and the sympathy of
her face, and came to regard her as the queen of confidantes. Young girls
with their continual love episodes and excitements, ambitious youths with
their whimsical schemes of life and aspirations of love, sought her out
openly. Few of these latter dared hope for any individual thought from
her, though any of the older men would have staked a good deal for the
knowledge that she singled him for her consideration.

Arnold viewed it all with inward satisfaction. He regarded memory but as a
sort of palimpsest; and he was patiently waiting until his own name should
appear again, when the other's should have been sufficiently obliterated.

It was a severe winter, and everybody appreciated the luxury of a warm
home. December came in wet and cold, and la grippe held the country in its
disagreeable hold. The Levices were congratulating themselves one evening
on their having escaped the epidemic.

"I suppose the secret of it lies in the fact that we do not coddle
ourselves," observed Levice.

"If you were to coddle yourself a little more," retorted his wife, "you
would not cough every morning as you do. Really, Jules, if you do not
consult a physician, I shall send for Kemp myself. I actually think it is
making you thin."

"Nonsense!" he replied carelessly; "it is only a little irritation of the
throat every morning. If the weather is clear next week, I must go to New
York. Eh, Louis?"

"At this time of the year!" cried Mrs. Levice, in expostulation.

"Some one has to go, and the only one that should is I."

"I think I could manage it," said Louis, "if you would see about the other
adjustment while I am gone."

"No, you could not,"--when Levice said "no," it seldom meant an ultimate
"yes." "Besides, the trip will do me good."

"I shall go with you," put in Mrs. Levice, decidedly.

"No, dear; you could not stand the cold in New York, and I could not be
bothered with a woman's grip-sack."

"Take Ruth, then."

"I should love to go with you, Father," she replied to the questioning
glance of his eyes. He seemed to ponder over it for a while, but shook his
head finally.

"No," he said again; "I shall be very busy, and a woman would be a nuisance
to me. Besides, I wish to be alone for a while."

They all looked at him in surprise; he was so unused to making testy
remarks.

"Grown tired of womankind?" asked Mrs. Levice, playfully. "Well, if you
must, you must; don't overstay your health and visit, and bring us
something pretty. How long will you be gone?"

"That depends on the speediness of the courts. No more than three weeks at
the utmost, however."

So the following Wednesday being bright and sunny, he set off; the family
crossed the bay with him.

"Take care of your mother, Ruth," he said at parting, "and of yourself, my
pale darling."

"Don't worry about me, Father," she said, pulling up his furred collar;
"indeed, I am well and happy. If you could believe me, perhaps you would
love me as much as you used to."

"As much! My child, I never loved you better than now; remember that. I
think I have forgotten everybody else in you."

"Don't, dear! it makes me feel miserable to think I should cause you a
moment's uneasiness. Won't you believe that everything is as I wish it?"

"If I could, I should have to lose the memory of the last four months.
Well, try your best to forgive me, child."

"Unless you hate me, don't hurt me with that thought again. I forgive you?
I, who am the cause of it all?"

He kissed her tear-filled eyes tenderly, and turned with a sign to her
mother.

They watched to the last his loved face at the window, Ruth with a sad
smile and a loving wave of her handkerchief.

Over at the mole it is not a bad place to witness tragedies. Pathos holds
the upper hand, and the welcomes are sometimes as heart-rending as the
leave-takings. A woman stood on the ferry with a blank, working face down
which the tears fell heedlessly; a man, her husband, turned from her, drew
his hat down over his eyes, and stalked off toward the train without a
backward glance. Parting is a figure of death in this respect, --that only
those who are left need mourn; the others have something new beyond.

Chapter XXI

The fire-light threw grotesque shadows on the walls. Ruth and Louis in the
library made no movement to ring for lights; it was quite cosey as it was.
They had both drawn near the crackling wood-blaze, Ruth in a low rocker,
Arnold in Mr. Levice's broad easy-chair.

"I surely thought you intended going to the concert this evening, Louis,"
she said, looking across at him. "I fancy Mamma expected you to accompany
her."

"What! Voluntarily put myself into the cold when there is a fire blazing
right here? Ah, no. At any rate, your mother is all right with the
Lewises, and I am all right with you."

"I give you a guarantee I shall not bite; you look altogether too hard for
my cannibalistic propensities."

"It is something not to be accounted soft. I think a redundancy of flesh
overflows in trickling sentimentality. My worst enemy could not accuse me
of either fault."

"But your best friend would not mind a little thaw now and then. One of
the girls confided to me today that walking on and over-waxed floor was
nothing to attempting an equal footing in conversation with you."

"I am sorry I am such a slippery customer. Does not the fire burn your
face? Shall I hand you a screen?"

"No; I like to toast."

"But your complexion might char; move your chair a little forward."

"In two minutes I intend to have lights and to bring my work down. Will it
make you tired to watch me?"

"Exceedingly. I prefer your undivided attention; it is not often we are
alone, Ruth."

She looked up slightly startled; he seldom made personal remarks. Her
pulses began to flutter with the premonition that reference to a tacitly
buried secret was going to be made.

"We have been going out and receiving a good deal lately, though somehow I
don't feel festive, with Father away in freezing New York. Mamma would
gladly have stayed at home to-night if Jennie had not insisted."

"You think so? I fancy she was a very willing captive; she intimated as
much to me."

"How?"

"Not in words, but her eyes were interesting reading: first, capitulation
to Jennie, then, in rapid succession, inspiration, command, entreaty, a
challenge and retreat, all directed at me. Possibly this eloquence was
lost upon you."

"Entirely. What was your interpretation?"

"Ah, that was confidential. Perhaps I even endowed her with these
thoughts, knowing her desires were in touch with my own."

"It is wanton cruelty to arouse a woman's curiosity and leave it
unsatisfied."

"It is not cruelty; it is cowardice."

She gazed at him in wonder. His apple-blossom cheeks wore a rosier glow
than usual. He seized a log from the box, threw it on the blaze that
illumined their faces, grasped the poker, and leaning forward in his chair
let it grow hot as he held it to the flames. His glasses fell off,
dangling from the cord; and as he adjusted them, he caught the curious,
half-amused smile on Ruth's attentive face. He gave the fire a sharp
raking and addressed her, gazing into the leaping flames.

"I was wondering why, after all, you could not be happy as my wife."

A numbness as of death overspread her.

"I think I could make you happy, Ruth."

In the pregnant silence that followed he looked up, and meeting her sad,
reproachful eyes, laid down the poker softly but resolutely; there was
method in the action.

"In fact, I know I could make you happy."

"Louis, have you forgotten?" she cried in sharp pain.

"I have forgotten nothing," he replied incisively. "Listen to me, Ruth.
It is because I remember that I ask you. Give me the right to care for
you, and you will be happier than you can ever be in these circumstances."

"You do not know what you ask, Louis. Even if I could, you would never be
satisfied."

"Try me, Ruth," he entreated.

She raised herself from her easy, reclining position, and regarded him
earnestly.

"What you desire," she said in a restrained manner, "would be little short
of a crime for me. What manner of wife should I be to you when my every
thought is given to another?"

His face put on the set look of one who has shut his teeth hard together.

"I anticipated this repulse," he said after a pause; "so what you have just
assured me of does not affect my wish or my resolution to continue my
plea."

"Would you marry a woman who feels herself as closely bound to another, or
the memory of another, as if the marriage rite had been actually performed?
Oh, Louis, how could you force me to these disclosures?"

"I am seeking no disclosure, but it is impossible for me to continue silent
now."

"Why?"

"Why? Because I love you."

They sat so close together he might have touched her by putting out his
hand, but he remained perfectly still, only the pale excitement of long
repression speaking from his face; but she shrank back at his words and
raised her hand as if about to receive a blow.

"Do not be alarmed," he continued, noticing the action; "my love cannot
hurt you, or it would have killed you long ago."

"Oh, Louis," she murmured, "forgive me; I never thought you cared so much."

"How should you? I am not a man to wear my heart upon my sleeve. I think
I have always loved you; but living as familiarly as we have lived, seeing
you whenever I wished, the thought that some day this might end never
occurred to me. It was only when the possibility of some other man's
claiming your love and taking you from me presented itself, that my heart
rose up in arms against it, --and then I asked you to be my wife."

"Yes," she replied, raising her pale face; "and I refused. The same cause
that moved me then, and to which you submitted without protest, rules me
now, and you know it."

"No; I do not know it. What then might have had a possible issue is now
done with--or do I err?"

Her mouth trembled piteously, but no tears came as she lowered her head.

"Then listen to me. You may think me a poor sort of a fellow even to wish
you to marry me when you assure me that you love another. That means that
you do not love me as a husband should be loved, but it does not prove that
you never could love me so."

"It proves just that."

"No, you may think so now, but let me reason you into seeing the falsity of
your thought, --for I do not wish to force or impel you to do a thing
repugnant to your reason as well as to your feelings. To begin with, you
do not dislike me?"

His face was painful in its eagerness.

"I have always loved you as a dear brother."

"Some people would consider that worse than hostility; I do not. Another
question: Is there anything about my life or personality to which you
object, or of which your are ashamed?"

"You know how proud we all are of you in your bearing in every relation of
life."

"I was egotist enough to think as much at any rate; otherwise I could not
approach you so confidently. Well, love--indifferent if you will--and
respect are not a bad foundation for something stronger. Will you, for the
sake of argument, suppose that for some reason you have forgotten your
opposition and have been led into marrying me?"

The sad indulgence of her smile was not inspiriting, but he continued, --

"Now, then, say you are my wife; that means I am your husband, and I love
you. You do not return my love, you say; you think you would be wretched
with me because you love another. Still, you are married to me; that gives
me rights that no other man can possess, no matter how much you love him.
You are bound to me, I to you and your happiness; so I pledge myself to
make you happier than you are now, because I shall make you forget this
man."

"You could not, and I should only grow to hate you."

"Impossible," the pallor of his face intensifying; "because I should so act
that my love would wait upon your pleasure: it would never push itself into
another's place, but it would in time overshadow the other. For, remember,
I shall be your husband. I shall give you another life; I shall take you
away with me. You will leave all your old friends and associations for a
while, and I shall be with you always, --not intrusively, but necessarily.
I shall give you every pleasure and novelty that the Old World can afford.
I shall shower my love on you, not myself. In return I shall expect your
tolerance. In time I will make you love me."

His voice shook with the strength of his passion, while she listened in
heart-sick fear. Carried away by his manner, she almost felt as if he had
accomplished his object. He quieted down after this.

"Don't you see, Ruth, that all this change must make you forget? And if
you tried to put the past from you for no other reason than that your
wifehood would be less untrue, you would be but following the instincts of
a truly honorable woman. After that, all would be easy. In every instance
you would be forced to look upon me as your husband, for you would belong
to me. I should be the author of all your surroundings; and always keeping
in mind how I want you to regard me, I should woo you so tenderly that
without knowing it you would finally yield. Then, and only then, when I
had filled your thought to the exclusion of every other man, I should bring
you home; and I think we should be happy."

"And you would be satisfied to give so much and receive so little?"

"The end would repay me."

"It is a pretty story," she said, letting her hands fall listlessly into
her lap, "but the denouement is a castle in Spain that we should never
inhabit. You think your love is strong enough to kill mine first of all;
well, I tell you, nothing is strong enough for that. With this fact
established the rest is needless to speak of. It is only your dream,
Louis; forgive me that I unwittingly intruded into it; reality would mean
disillusion, --we are happy only when we dream."

"You are bitter."

"Our relations are turned, then; I have put into practice your old theories
of the uselessness of life. No; I am wrong. It is better to die than not
to have loved."

"You think you have lived your life, then. I can't convince you otherwise
now; but I am going to beg you to think this over, to try to imagine
yourself my wife. I will not hasten your decision, but in a week's time
you should be able to answer me yes or no. If anything can help my cause,
I cannot overlook it; so I may tell you now that for some occult reason
your mother's one wish is to see you my wife."

"And my father?" her voice was harsh now.

"Your father has expressed to your mother that such a course would make him
happy."

She rose suddenly as if oppressed. Her face looked hard to a degree. She
stood before him, tall and rigid. He stood up and faced her, reading her
face so intently that he straightened himself as if to receive an attack.

"I will consider what you have said," she said mechanically.

The reaction was so unexpected that he turned giddy and caught on to the
back of a chair to steady himself.

"It will not take me a week," she went on with no change in her monotone;
"I can give you an answer in a day or two. To-morrow night, perhaps."

He made a step forward, a movement to seize her hand; but she stepped back
and waved him off.

"Don't touch me," she cried in a suppressed voice; "at least you are not my
husband--yet."

She turned hastily toward the door without another word.

"Wait!"

His vibrant voice compelled her to turn.

"I want no martyr for a wife, nor yet a tragedy queen. If you can come to
me and honestly say, 'I trust my happiness to you,' well and good. But as
I told you once before, I am not a saint, and I cannot always control
myself as I have been forced to do tonight. If this admission is damaging,
it is too true to be put lightly aside. I shall not detain you longer."

He looked haughty and cold regarding her from this dim distance. Her
gentleness struggled to get the better of her, and she came back and held
out her hand.

"I am sorry if I offended you, Louis; good-night. Will you not pardon my
selfishness?"

His eyes gleamed behind their glasses; he did not take her hand, but merely
bent over the little peace-offering as over a sacrament. Seeing that he
had no intention of doing more, her hand fell passively to her side, and
she left the room.

As the door closed softly, Arnold sank with a hopeless gesture into a chair
and buried his face in his hands. He was not a stoic, but a man, --a
Frenchman, who loved much; but Arnold, half-blinded by his own love,
scarcely appreciated the depths of self-forgetfulness to which Ruth would
have to succumb in order to accept the guaranty of happiness which he
offered her.

The question now presented itself in the light of a duty: if by this action
she could undo the remorse that her former offence had inflicted, had she
the right to ignore the opportunity? A vision of her own sad face obtruded
itself, but she put it sternly from her. If she were to do this thing, the
motive alone must be considered; and she rigidly kept in view the fact that
her marriage would be the only means by which her father might be relieved
of the haunting knowledge of her lost peace of mind. Had she given one
thought to Louis, the possibility of the act would have been abhorrent to
her. One picture she kept constantly before her, --her father's happy
eyes.

Chapter XXII

Mrs. Levice's gaze strayed pensively from the violets she was embroidering
to Ruth's pale face. Every time the latter stirred, her mother started
expectantly; but the anxiously awaited disclosure was not forthcoming.
Outside the rain kept up a sullen downpour, deepening the feeling of
comfort indoors; but Mrs. Levice was not what one might call
comfortably-minded. Her frequent inventories of Ruth's face had at last
led her to believe that the pallor there depicted and the heavy, dark
shadows about her eyes meant something decidedly not gladsome.

"Don't you feel well, Ruth?" she asked finally with some anxiety.

Ruth raised her heavy eyes.

"I? Oh, I feel perfectly well. Why do you ask? Do I look ill?"

"Yes, you do; your face is pale, and your eyes look tired. Did you sit up
late last night?"

This was a leading move, but Ruth evaded the deeper meaning that was so
evident to her now.

"No," she replied; "I believe it could not have been nine when I went
upstairs."

"Why? Were you too fatigued to sit up, or was Louis's company unpleasant?"

"Oh, no," was the abrupt response, and her eyes fell on the open page
again.

Mrs. Levice, once started on the trail, was not to be baffled by such
tactics. Since Ruth was not ill, she had had some mental disturbance of
which her weary appearance was the consequence. She felt almost positive
that Louis had made some advances last night, from the flash of
intelligence with which he had met her telegraphic expression. It was
natural for her to be curious; it was unnatural for Ruth to be so reserved.
With feelings not a little hurt she decided to know something more.

"For my part," she observed, as if continuing a discussion, "I think Louis
charming in a tete-a-tete, --when he feels inclined to be interesting he
generally succeeds. Did he tell you anything worth repeating? It is a
dull afternoon, and you might entertain me a little."

She looked up from the violet petal she had just completed and encountered
Ruth's full, questioning gaze.

"What is it you would like to know, Mamma?" she asked in a gentle voice.

"Nothing that you do not wish to tell," her mother answered proudly, but
regarding her intently.

Ruth passed her hand wearily across her brow, and considered a moment
before answering.

"I did not wish to hurt you by my silence, Mamma; but before I had decided
I hardly thought it necessary to say anything. He asked me to--marry him."

The avowal was not made with the conventional confusion and trembling.

Mrs. Levice was startled by the dead calm of her manner.

"You say that as if it were a daily occurrence for a man like Louis Arnold
to offer you his hand and name."

"I hope not."

"But you do. I confess I think you are not one tenth as excited as I am.
Why didn't you tell me before? Any other girl would have sat up to tell
her mother in the night. Oh, Ruth darling, I am so glad. I have been
looking forward to this ever since you grew up. What did you mean by
saying you wished to wait till you had decided? Decided what?"

"Upon my answer."

"As if you could question it, you fortunate girl! Or were you waiting for
me to help you to it? I scarcely need tell you how you have been honored."

"Honor is not everything, Mamma."

At that moment a desperate longing for her mother's sympathy seized her;
but the next minute the knowledge of the needless sorrow it would occasion
came to her, and her lips remained closed.

"No," responded her mother, "and you have more than that; surely Louis did
not neglect to tell you."

"You mean his love, I suppose, --yes, I have that."

"Then what else would you have? You probably know that he can give you
every luxury within reason, --so much for honest practicality. As to Louis
himself, the most fastidious could find nothing to cavil at, --he will make
you a perfect husband. You are familiar enough with him to know his
faults; but no man is faultless. I hope you are not so silly as to expect
some girlish ideal, --for all the ideals died in the Golden Age, you know."

"As mine did. No; I have outgrown imagination in that line."

"Then why do you hesitate?" Her mother's eyes were shining; her face was
alive with the excitement of hope fulfilled. "Is there anything else
wanting?"

"No," she responded dully; "but let us not talk about it any more, please.
I must see Louis again, you know."

"If your father were here, he could help you better, dear;" there was no
reproach in Mrs. Levice's gentle acceptance of the fact; "he will be so
happy over it. There, kiss me, girlie; I know you like to think things out
in silence, and I shall not say another word about it till you give me
leave."

She kept her word. The dreary afternoon dragged on. By four o-clock it
was growing dark, and Mrs. Levice became restless.

"I am going to my room to write to your father now, --he shall have a good
scolding for the non-receipt of a letter to-day;" and forthwith she betook
herself upstairs.

Ruth closed her book and moved restlessly about the room. She wandered
over to the front window, and drawing aside the silken curtain, looked out
into the storm-tossed garden. The pale heliotropes lay wet and sweet
against the trellises; some loosened rose-petals fluttered noiselessly to
the ground; only the gorgeous chrysanthemums looked proudly indifferent to
the elements; and the beautiful, stately palm-tree just at the side of the
window spread its gracious arms like a protecting temple. She felt
suddenly oppressed and feverish, and threw open the long French window.
The rain had ceased for the time, and she stepped out upon the veranda.
The fragrance of the rain-soaked flowers stole to her senses; the soft,
sweet breeze caressed her temples; she stood still in the perfumed
freshness and enjoyed its peace. By and by she began to walk up and down.
Evening was approaching, and Louis would soon be home. She had decided to
meet him on his return and have it over with. She must school herself to
some show of graciousness. The thing must not be done by halves or it must
not be done at all. Her father's happiness; over and over she repeated it.
She went so far as to picture herself in his arms; she heard the old-time
words of blessing; she saw his smiling eyes; and a gentleness stole over
her whole face, a gentle nobility that made it strangely sweet. The soft
patter of rain on the gravel roused her, and she went in; but she felt
better, and wished Louis might come in while the mood was upon her.

It was nearing six when Mrs. Levice came back humming a song.

"I thought you would still be here. Make a light, will you, Ruth; it is as
pitchy as Hades, only that smouldering log looks purgatorial."

Ruth lit the gas; and as she stood with upturned eyes adjusting the burner,
her mother noticed that the heaviness had departed from her face. She sank
into a rocker and took up the evening paper.

"What time is it, Ruth?"

"Twenty minutes to six," she answered, glancing at the clock.

"As late as that?" She meant to say, "And Louis not home yet?" but forbore
to mention his name.

"It is raining heavily now," said Ruth, throwing a log upon the fire. Mrs.
Levice unfolded the crackling newspaper, and Ruth moved over to the window
to draw down the blinds. As she stood looking out with her hand on the
chair, she saw the gate swing slowly open, and a messenger-boy came
dawdling up the walk as if the sun were streaming full upon him.

Ruth stepped noiselessly out, meaning to anticipate his ring. A vague
foreboding drove the blood from her lips as she stood waiting at the open
hall-door. Seeing the streaming light, the boy managed to accelerate his
snail's pace.

"Miss Ruth Levice live here?" he asked, stopping in the doorway.

"Yes." She took the packet he handed her. "Any charges or answers?" she
asked.

"Nom," answered the boy; and noticing her pallor and apprehension, "I'll
shet the door for you," he added , laying his hand on the knob.

"Thank you. Here, take two cars if necessary; it is too wet to walk." She
handed him a quarter, and the boy went off, gayly whistling.

She closed the heavy door softly and sat down on a chair. She recognized
Louis's handwriting on the wrapper, and her heart fluttered ominously. She
tore off the damp covering, and the first thing she encountered was another
wrapper on which was written in large characters: --

DEAR RUTH, --Do not be alarmed; everything is all right. I had to leave
town on the overland at 6 P.M. Read the letter first, then the telegram;
they will explain.

LOUIS

The kindly feeling that had prompted this warning was appreciated; one fear
was stilled. She drew out the letter; she saw in perplexity that it was
from her father. She hurriedly opened it and read:

NEW YORK, Jan. 21, 188--.

DEAR LOUIS, --I am writing this from my bed, where I have been confined for
the last week with pneumonia, although I managed to write a daily postal.
Have been quite ill, but am on the mend and only anxious to start home
again. I really cannot rest here, and have made arrangements to leave
to-morrow. Have taken every precaution against catching cold, and apart
from feeling a trifle weak and annoyed by a cough, am all right. Shall
come home directly. Say nothing of this to Esther or Ruth; shall apprise
them by telegram of my home-coming. Had almost completed the business, and
can leave the rest to Hamilton.

My love to you all.

Your loving Uncle,

JULES LEVICE.

Under this Louis had pencilled,

Received this this morning at 10.30.

Ruth closed her eyes as she unfolded the telegram; then with every nerve
quivering she read the yellow missive: --

RENO, Jan. 27, 188--.

LOUIS ARNOLD, San Francisco, Cal.:

Have been delayed by my cough. Feeling too weak to travel alone. Come if
you can.

JULES LEVICE.

Her limbs shook as she sat; her teeth chattered; for one minute she turned
sick and faint. Under the telegram Arnold had written: --

Am sure it is nothing. He has never been ill, and is more frightened than
a more experienced person would be. There is no need to alarm your mother
unnecessarily, so say nothing till you hear from me. Shall wire you as
soon as I arrive, which will be to-morrow night.

LOUIS.

How could she refrain from telling her mother? She felt suddenly weak and
powerless. O God, good God, her heart cried, only make him well!

The sound of the library door closing made her spring to her feet; her
mother stood regarding her.

"What is it, Ruth?" she asked.

"Nothing," she cried, her voice breaking despite her effort to be calm, --
"nothing at all. Louis has just sent me word that he had to leave town
this evening, and says not to wait dinner for him."

"That is very strange," mused her mother, moving slowly toward her and
holding out her hand for the note; but Ruth thrust the papers into her
pocket.

"It is to me, Mamma; you do not care for second-hand love-letters, do you?"
she asked, assuming a desperate gayety. "There is nothing strange about
it; he often leaves like this."

"Not in such weather and not after_ There won't be a man in the house
to-night. I wish your father were home; he would not like it if he knew."
She shivered slightly as they went into the dining-room.

Chapter XXIII

The next day passed like a nightmare. To add to the misery of her secret,
her mother began to fidget over the continued lack of any communication
from her husband. Had the weather been fair, Ruth would have insisted on
her going out with her; but to the rain of the day before was added a heavy
windstorm that made any unnecessary expedition from home absurd.

Mrs. Levice worried herself into a headache, but would not lie down. She
was sure that the next delivery would bring something. Was it not time for
the second delivery? Would not Ruth please watch for the postman? By
half-past one she took up her station at the window only to see the jaunty
little rubber-encased man go indifferently by. At half-past four this
scene was repeated, and then she decided to act.

"Ring up the telegraph-office, Ruth; I am going to send a despatch."

"Why, Mamma, probably the mail is delayed; it always is in winter.
Besides, you will only frighten Father."

"Nonsense; two days is a long delay without the excuse of a blockade. Go
to the telephone, please."

"The telephone was broken yesterday, you know."

"I had forgotten. Well, one of the girls must go; I can't stand it any
longer."

"You can't send any of the girls in such weather; both the maids have
terrible colds, and Mary would not go if you asked her. Listen! It is
frightful. I promise to go in the morning if we don't get a letter, but we
probably shall. Let us play checkers for a while." With a forced stoicism
she essayed to distract her mother's thoughts, but with poor success. The
wretched afternoon drew to a close; and immediately after a show of dining,
Mrs. Levice went to bed. At Ruth's suggestion she took some headache
medicine.

"It will make me sleep, perhaps; and that will be better than worrying
awake and unable to do anything."

The opiate soon had its effect; and with a sigh of relief Ruth heard her
mother's regular breathing. It was now her turn to suffer openly the
fox-wounds. Louis had said she would hear to-night; but at what time? It
was now eight o'clock, and the bell might ring at any moment. Mrs. Levice
slept; and Ruth sat dry-eyed and alert, feeling her heart rise to her
throat every time the windows shook or the doors rattled. It was one of
the wildest nights San Francisco ever experienced; trees groaned, gates
slammed, and a perfect war of the elements was abroad. The wailing wind
about the house haunted her like the desolate cry of some one begging for
shelter. The ormolu clock ticked on and chimed forth nine. Still her
mother slept. Ruth from her chair could see that her cheeks were
unnaturally flushed and that her breathing was hurried; but any degree of
oblivion was better than the impatient outlook for menacing tidings.
Despite the heated room, her hands grew cold, and she wrapped them in the
fleecy shawl that enveloped her. The action brought to her mind the way
her father used to tuck her little hands under the coverlet when a child,
after they had clung around his neck in a long good-night, and how no
sooner were they there than out they would pop for "just one squeeze more,
Father;" how long the good-nights were with this play! She had never
called him "papa" like other children, but he had always liked it best so.
She brushed a few drops from her lashes as the sweet little chimer rang out
ten bells; she began to grow heart-sick with her thoughts; her limbs ached
with stiffness, and she began a gentle walk up and down the room. Would it
keep up all night? There! surely somebody was crunching up the
gravel-walk. With one look at her sleeping mother, she quickly left the
room, closing the door carefully behind her. With a palpitating heart she
leaned over the balustrade; was it a false alarm, after all? The next
instant there was a violent pull at the bell, as startling in the dead of
the night as some supernatural summons. Before Ruth could hurry down,
Nora, looking greatly bewildered, came out of her room and rushed to the
door. In a trice she was back again with the telegram and had put it into
Ruth's hands.

"Fifteen cents' charges," she said.

"Pay it," returned Ruth.

As the maid turned away, she tore open the envelope. Before she could open
the form, a firm hand was placed upon hers.

"Give me that," said her mother's voice.

Ruth recoiled; Mrs. Levice stood before her unusually quiet in her white
night-dress; with a strong hand she endeavored to relax Ruth's fingers from
the paper.

"But, Mamma, it was addressed to me"

"It was a mistake, then; I know it was meant for me. Let go instantly, or
I shall tear the paper. Obey me, Ruth."

Her voice sounded harsh as a man's. At the strange tone Ruth's fingers
loosened, and Mrs. Levice, taking the telegram, re-entered the room; Ruth
followed her closely.

Standing under the chandelier, Mrs. Levice read. No change came over her
face; when she had finished, she handed the paper without a word to Ruth.
This was the message: --

RENO, Jan. 28, 188--

MISS RUTH LEVICE, San Francisco, Cal."

Found your father very weak and feverish and coughing continually. Insists
on getting home immediately. Says to inform Dr. Kemp, who will understand,
and have him at the house on our arrival at 11.30 Thursday. No present
danger.

LOUIS ARNOLD

"Explain," commanded her mother, speaking in her overwrought condition as
if to a stranger.

"Get into bed first, Mamma, or you will take cold."

Mrs. Levice suffered herself to be led there, and in a few words Ruth
explained what she knew.

"You knew that yesterday before the train left?"

"Yes, Mamma."

"And why didn't you tell me? I should have gone to him. Oh, why didn't
you tell me?"

"It would have been too late, dear."

"No, it is too late now; do you hear? I shall never see him again, and it
is all your fault--what do you know? Stop crying! will you stop crying,
or--"

"Mamma, I am not crying; you are crying, and saying things that are not
true. It will not be too late; perhaps it is nothing but the cough. Louis
says there is no danger."

"Hush!" cried her mother, her whole figure trembling. "I know there is
danger now, this minute. Oh, what can I do, what can I do?" With this cry
all her strength seemed to give way; she sobbed and laughed with the
hysteria of long ago; when Ruth strove to put her arms around her, she
shook her off convulsively.

"Don't touch me!" she breathed; "it is all your fault--he wants me--needs
me--and, oh, look at me here! Why do you stand there like a ghost? Go
away. No, come here--I want Dr. Kemp; now, at once, he said to have him;
send for him, Ruth."

"On Thursday morning," she managed to answer.

"No, now--I must, must, must have him! You won't go? Then I shall; move
aside."

Ruth, summoning all her strength, strove to hold her in her arms, all to no
avail.

"Lie still," she said sternly; "I shall go for Dr. Kemp."

"You can't; it is night and raining. Oh," she continued, half deliriously,
"I know I am acting strangely, and he will calm me. Ruth, I want to be
calm; don't you understand?"

The two maids, frightened by the noise, stood in the doorway. Both had
their heads covered with shawls; both were suffering with heavy colds.

"Come in, girls. Stay here with my mother; I am going for the doctor."

"Oh, Miss Ruth, ain't you afraid? It's a awful night, and black as pitch,
and you all alone?" asked one, with wide, frightened eyes.

"I am not afraid," said the girl, a great calmness in her voice as she
spoke above her mother's sobbing; "stay and try to quiet her. I shall not
be gone long."

She flew into her room, drew on her overshoes and mackintosh, grasped a
sealskin hood, which she tied securely under her chin, and went out into
the howling, raging night.

She had but a few blocks to go, but under ordinary circumstances the
undertaking would have been disagreeable enough. The rain came down in
heavy, wild torrents; the wind roared madly, wrapping her skirts around her
limbs and making walking almost an impossibility; the darkness was
impenetrable save for the sickly, quavering light shed by the few
street-lamps, as far apart as angel visitants. Lowering her head and
keeping her figure as erect as possible, she struggled bravely on. She met
scarcely any one, and those she did meet occasioned her little uneasiness
in the flood of unusual emotions that overwhelmed her soul. At any other
time the thought of her destination would have blotted out every other
perception; now this was but one of many shuddering visions. Trouble was
making her hard; life could offer her little that would find her unequal to
the test. Down the broad, deserted avenue, with its dark, imposing
mansions, she hurried as if she were alone in the havocking elements. The
rain beat her and lashed her in the face; she faced it unflinchingly as a
small part of her trials. Without a tremor she ran up Dr. Kemp's steps.
It was only when she stood with her finger on the bell-button that she
realized whom she was about to encounter. Then for the first time she gave
one long sob of self-recollection, and pushed the button.

Burke almost immediately opened the door. Ruth had no intention of
entering; it would be sufficient to leave her message and hurry home.

"Who's there?" asked Burke, peering out into the darkness. "It's a divil
of a night for any one but--"

"Is Dr. Kemp in?" The sweet woman-voice so startled him that he opened the
door wide.

"Come in, mum," he said apologetically; "come in out of the night."

"No. Is the doctor in?"

"I don't know," he grumbled, "and I can't stand here with the door open."

"Close it, then, but see if he is in, please."

"I'll lave it open, and ye can come in or stay out according if ye are
dry-humored or wet-soled;" and he shuffled off. The door was open! Her
father had assured her of this once long ago. Inside were warmth and
light; outside, in the shadow, were cold and darkness. Here she stood.
Would the man never return? Ah, here he came hurrying along; she drew
nearer the door; within a half-foot she stood still with locked jaw and
swimming senses.

"My good woman," said the grave, kindly voice which calmed while it
unnerved her, "come in and speak to me here. Am I wanted anywhere? Come
in, please; the door must be closed."

With almost superhuman will she drew herself together and came closer.
Seeing the dark, moving figure, he opened the door wide, and she stepped
in; then as it closed she faced him, turning up her white, haggard face to
his.

"You!"

He recoiled as if stunned, but quickly recovered himself.

"What trouble has brought you to me?" he cried.

"My mother," she replied in a low, stifled voice, adding almost instantly
in a distant and formal tone, "can you come at once? She is suffering with
hysteria and calls you incessantly."

He drew himself up and looked at her with a cold, grand air. This girl had
been the only woman who had signally affected his life; yet if her only
recognition of it was this cold manner, he could command the same.

"I will come," he replied, looking unbendingly, with steely gray eyes, into
her white passionless face, framed in its dark hood.

She bowed her head--further words were impossible--and turned to the door.

He watched her tugging in blind stupefaction at the strange bolt, but did
not move to her assistance. Her head was bent low over the intricate
thing; but it was useless, --it would not move, and she suddenly raised her
eyes beseechingly to him; with a great revulsion of feeling he saw that
they were swimming in tears. His own lips trembled, and his heart gave a
wild leap. Then one of those unaccountable moods that sometimes masters
the best swayed him strongly.

She was alone with him there; he could keep her if he wished. One look at
her lovely, beloved face, and his higher manhood asserted itself. He
unlatched the door, and still holding it closed, said in a deferential
tone, --

"Will you not wait till I ring for my carriage?"

"I would rather go at once."

Nothing was left but for him to comply with her wishes; and as she walked
out, he quickly got himself into his proper vestments, seized a vial from
his office, and hurried after her. At this juncture the storm was
frightful. Up the street he could see come one trying ineffectually to
move on. Being a powerful man, he strode on, though the great gusts
carried his breath away. In a few minutes he came alongside of Ruth, who
was making small progress.

"Will you take my arm?" he asked quietly. "It will help you."

She drew back in alarm.

"There is no necessity," he indistinctly heard in the roar of the gale.

He kept near enough to her, however, to see her. All along this block of
Van Ness Avenue is a row of tall, heavy-foliaged eucalyptus-trees; they
tossed and creaked and groaned in the furious wind. A violent gust almost
took the two pedestrians off their feet, but not too quickly for Dr. Kemp
to make a stride toward Ruth and drag her back. At the same moment, one of
the trees lurched forward and fell with a crash upon them. By a great
effort he had turned and, holding her before him, received the greater blow
upon his back.

"Are you hurt?" he asked, bending his head so near her face that his short
wet beard brushed her cheek.

"No," she said, wresting herself from him; "I thank you--but you have hurt
yourself."

"You are mistaken," he said abruptly. "Take my arm, please."

He did not wait for her yea or nay; but drawing her arm through his, he
strode on in silence, holding it closely pinioned against his heart. When
they reached the house, they were both white and breathless. Nora opened
the door for them.

"Oh, Miss Ruth, do hurry up!" she cried, wringing her hands as the doctor
threw off his coat and hat; "all she does now is to stare at us with her
teeth all chattering."

The doctor sprang up three steps at a time, Ruth quickly following.

The room was in a blaze of light; Mrs. Levice sat up in bed, her large dark
eyes staring into vacancy, her face as white as the snowy counterpane.

Kemp looked like a pillar of strength as he came up to the bedside.

"Well?" he said, holding out his hand and smiling at her.

As he took her hand in his, she strove to speak; but the sobbing result was
painful.

"None of that!" he said sternly, laying his hand on her shoulders. "If you
try, you can stop this. Now see, I am holding you. Look at me, and you
will understand you must quiet down."

He used his well-known power of magnetism. Gradually the quivering
shoulders quieted beneath his hands; the staring eyes relaxed, and he
gently laid her head upon the pillow.

"Don't go away!" she implored piteously, as she felt his hands move from
her.

"No, indeed," he replied in a bright, soothing voice; "see, I am going to
give you a few drops of this, which will make you all right in a short
time. Now then, open your mouth."

"But, Doctor, I wish to speak to you."

"After you have taken this and rested awhile."

"And you won't go away?" she persisted.

"I shall stay right here." She obediently swallowed the dose; and as he
drew up an easy-chair and seated himself, the drawn lines on her face
relaxed.

"It is so strengthening to have you here," she murmured.

"It will be more strengthening for you to close your eyes."

Ruth, who still stood in her wet clothes, lowered the lights.

"You had better change your clothes immediately," said Kemp, in a low tone
from his chair.

She did not look at him, but at his voice she left the room.

Quickly removing her wet garments, she slipped into a loose, dull red gown.
As the dry warmth of it reached her senses, she suddenly remembered that
his feet might be wet. She lit a candle, and going into Louis's room,
appropriated a pair of slippers that stood in his closet.

It was now past midnight; but no thought of sleep occurred to her till,
entering her mother's room, she perceived in the semi-darkness that the
doctor lay back with closed eyes. He was not asleep, however, for he
opened his eyes at her light footfall. She looked very beautiful in her
unconfined gown, the red tone heightening the creamy colorlessness of her
face.

"Will you put them on?" she asked in a hushed voice, holding out the
slippers.

"You are very kind," he replied, looking with hungry eyes into her face.
Seeing that he did not take them, she placed them on the carpet. The
action recalled him to himself, and wishing to detain her, he said, --

"Do they belong to a man as big as I?"

"They are my cousin's."

She had half turned to leave.

"Ah," he returned, "and will he relish the idea of my standing in his
shoes?"

No double-entendre was intended, but Ruth's thoughts gave one miserable
bound to Arnold.

"He will be pleased to add to your comfort," spoke Mrs. Levice from the
bed, thus saving Ruth an answer.

"I do not need them," said the doctor, turning to her swiftly; "and, Mrs.
Levice, if you do not go to sleep, I shall leave."

"I want Ruth to stay in the room," she murmured petulantly.

"Very well, Mamma," said Ruth, wearily, seating herself in a low,
soft-cushioned chair in a remote corner. She knew how to sit perfectly
still. It was a peculiar situation, --the mother, who had been the means
of drawing these two together first and last, slept peacefully; and he and
she, the only waking mortals in the house, with the miserable gulf between
them, sat there without a word.

Ruth's temples throbbed painfully; she felt weak and tired; toward morning
she sank into a heavy sleep. Kemp did not sleep; he kept his face turned
from her, trying to quiet his thoughts with the dull lullaby of the rain.
But he knew when she slept; his gaze wandered searchingly around the room
till it fell upon a slumber-robe thrown across a divan. He arose softly
and picked it up; his light step made no sound in the soft carpet. As he
came up to Ruth, he saw with an inward groan the change upon her sleeping
face. Great, dark shadows lay about her eyes not caused by the curling
lashes; her mouth drooped pathetically at the corners; her temples, from
which her soft hair was rolled, showed the blue veins; he would have given
much to touch her hair with his hand, but he laid the cover over her
shoulders without touching her, and tucked it lightly about her knees and
feet. Then he went back to his chair. It was five o'clock before either
mother or daughter opened her eyes; they started up almost simultaneously.
Ruth noticed the warm robe about her, and her eyes sped to the doctor. He,
however, was speaking to Mrs. Levice, who in the dim light looked pale but
calm.

"I feel perfectly well," she was saying, "and shall get up immediately."

"Where is the necessity?" he inquired. "Lie still to-day; it is not bad
weather for staying in bed."

"Did not Ruth tell you?"

"Tell me?" he repeated in surprise.

"Of the cause of this attack?"

"No."

"Then I must. Briefly, my husband has been in New York for the past five
weeks; he suffered there with acute pneumonia for a week, told us nothing,
but hurried home as soon as possible, --too soon, I suppose. Day before
yesterday my nephew received a letter stating these facts, and, later, a
telegram asking him to come to Reno, where he was delayed, feeling too ill
to go farther alone. The first I heard of this was last night, when Ruth
received this telegram from Louis." She handed it to him.

As Kemp read, an unmistakable gravity settled on his face. As he was
folding the paper thoughtfully, Mrs. Levice addressed him again in her
unfamiliar, calm voice, --

"Will you please explain what he means by your understanding?"

"Yes; I suppose it is expedient for me to tell you at once," he said
slowly, reseating himself and pausing as if trying to recall something.

"Last year," he began, "probably as early as February, your husband came to
me complaining of a cough that annoyed him nights and mornings; he further
told me that when he felt it coming, he went to another apartment so as not
to disturb you. I examined him, and found he was suffering with the first
stages of asthma, and that one of his lungs was slightly diseased already.
I treated him and gave him directions for living carefully. You knew
nothing of this?"

"Nothing," she answered hoarsely.

"Well," he went on gently, "there was no cause for worry; if checked in
time, a man may live to second childhood with asthma, and the loss of a
small portion of a lung is not necessarily fatal. He knew this, and was
mending slowly; I examined him several times and found no increase in the
loss of tissue, while he told me the cough was not so troublesome."

"But for some weeks before he left," said Mrs. Levice, "he coughed every
morning and night. When I besought him to see a doctor, he ridiculed me
out of the idea. How did you find him before he left?"

"I have not seen Mr. Levice for some months," he replied gravely.

Mrs. Levice eyed him questioningly, but he offered no explanation.

"Then do you think," she continued, "that this asthma made the pneumonia
more dangerous?"

"Undoubtedly."

Her fingers clutched at the sheet convulsively; but the strength of her
voice and aspect remained unbroken.

"Thank you," she said, "for telling me so candidly. Then will you be here
to-morrow morning?"

"I shall manage to meet him at Oakland with a closed carriage."

"May I go with you?"

"Pardon me; but it will be best for you to receive him quietly at home.
There must be nothing whatever to disturb him. Have all ready, especially
yourself."

"I understand," she said. "And now, Doctor, let me thank you for your
kindness to me;" she held out both hands. "Will you let Ruth show you to a
room, and will you breakfast with us when you have rested?"

"I thank you; it is impossible," he replied, looking at his watch. "I
shall hurry home now. Good-morning, Mrs. Levice. There may be small cause
for anxiety; and, remember, the less excited you remain, the more you can
help him."

He turned from her.

"Ruth, will you see the doctor to the door?"

She followed him down the broad staircase, as in former days, but with a
difference. Then he had waited for her to come abreast with him, and they
had descended together, talking pleasantly. Now not a word was said till
he had put on his heavy outer coat. As he laid his hand on the knob, Ruth
spoke, --

"Is there anything I can do for my father, do you think?"

She started as he turned a tired, haggard face to hers.

"I can think of nothing but to have his bed in readiness and complete quiet
about the house."

"Yes; and--and do you think there is any danger?"

"No, no! at least, I hope not. I shall be able to tell better when I see
him. Is there anything I can do for you?"

She shook her head; she dared not trust herself to speak in the light of
his tender eyes. He hastily opened the door, and bowing, closed it quickly
behind him.

Chapter XXIV

The sun shone with its usual winter favoritism upon San Francisco this
Thursday morning. After the rain the air felt as exhilarating as a day in
spring. Young girls tripped forth "in their figures," as the French have
it; and even the matrons unfastened their wraps under the genial wooing of
sunbeams.

Everything was quiet about the Levice mansion. Neither Ruth nor her mother
felt inclined to talk; so when Mrs. Levice took up her position in her
husband's room, Ruth wandered downstairs. The silence seemed vocal with
her fears.

"So I tell ye's two," remarked the cook as her young mistress passed from
the kitchen, "that darter and father is more than kin, they is soul-kin, if
ye know what that means; an' the boss's girl do love him more'n seven times
seven children which such a man-angel should 'a' had." For the "boss" was
to those who served him "little lower than the angels;" and their prayers
the night before had held an eloquent appeal for his welfare.

Ruth, with her face against the window, watched in sickening anxiety. She
knew they were not to be expected for some time, but it was better to stand
here than in the fear-haunted background.

Suddenly and almost miraculously, it seemed to her, a carriage stood before
the gate. She flew to the door, and as she opened it leaned for one second
blindly against the wall.

"Tell my mother they have come," she gasped to the maid, who had entered
the hall.

Then she looked out. Two men were carrying one between them up the walk.
As they came nearer, she saw how it was. That bundled-up figure was her
father's; that emaciated, dark, furrowed face was her father's; but as they
carefully helped him up the steps, and the loud, painful, panting breaths
came to her, were they her father's too? No need, Ruth, to rush forward
and vainly implore some power to tear from yourself the respiration
withheld from him. Air, air! So, man, so; one step more and then relief.
Ah!

She paused in agony at the foot of the stairs as the closing door shut out
the dreadful sound. We never value our blessings till we have lost them;
who thinks it a boon to be able to breathe without thinking of the action?

He had not seen her; his eyes had been closed as if in exhaustion as they
gently helped him along, and she had understood at once that the only
thing to be thought of was, by some manner of means, to remove the choaking
obstacle from his lungs. Oh, to be able in her young strength to hold the
weak, loved form in her arms and breathe into him her overflowing
life-breath! She walked upstairs presently; he would be expecting her. As
she reached the upper landing, Kemp came from the room, closing the door
behind him. His bearing revealed a gravity she had never witnessed before.
In his tightly buttoned morning-suit, with the small white tie at his
throat, he might have been officiating at some solemn ceremonial. He stood
still as Ruth confronted him at the head of the stairs, and met her lovely,
miserable eyes with a look of sympathy. She essayed to speak, but
succeeded only in gazing at him in speechless entreaty.

"Yes, I know," he responded to her silent appeal; "you were shocked at what
you heard: it was the asthma that has completely overpowered him. His
illness has made him extremely weak."

"And you think--"

"We must wait till he has rested; the trip was severe for one in his
condition."

"Tell me the truth, please, with no reservations; is there danger?"

Her eager, abrupt questions told clearly what she suffered.

"He has never had any serious illness; if the asthma has not overleaped
itself, we have much to hope for."

The intended consolation conveyed a contrary admission which she
immediately grasped.

"That means--the worst," she said, her clasped fingers speaking the
language of despair. "Oh, Doctor, you who know so much, can't you help
him? Think, think of everything; there must be something! Only do your
best, do your utmost; you will, won't you?"

His deep, grave eyes answered her silently as he took both her little
clasped hands in his one strong one, saying simply, --

"Trust me, but only so far as lies within my human power. He is somewhat
eased, and asks for you. Look at your mother: she is surpassing herself;
if your love for him can achieve one half such a conquest, you will but be
making good your inheritance. I shall be in again at one, and will send
some medicines up at once." He ended in his usual businesslike tone, and
walked hastily downstairs.

There was perfect quiet in the room as Ruth entered. Propped high by many
pillows, Jules Levice lay in his bed; his wife's arm was about him; his
head rested on her bosom; with her one disengaged hand she smoothed his
white hair. Never was the difference between them more marked than now,
when her beautiful face shone above his, which had the touch of the
destroyer already upon it; never was the love between them more marked than
now, when he leaned in his weakness upon her who had never failed him in
all their wedded years.

His eyes were half closed as if in rest; but he heard her enter, and Mrs.
Levice felt the tremor that thrilled him as Ruth approached.

"My child."

The softly whispered love-name of old made her tremble; she smiled through
her tears, but when his feeble arms strove to draw her to him, she stooped,
and laying them about her neck, placed her cheek upon his. For some
minutes these three remained knit in a close embrace; love, strong and
tender, spoke and answered in that silence.

"It is good to be at home," he said, speaking with difficulty.

"It was not home without you, dear," murmured his wife, laying her lips
softly upon his forehead. Ruth, kneeling beside the bed, noticed how
loosely the dark signet-ring he wore hung upon his slender finger.

"You look ill, my Ruth," he said, after a pause. "Lay my head down, Esther
love; you must be tired. Sit before me, dear, I want to see your two faces
together."

His gaunt eyes flitted from one to the other.

"It is a fair picture to take with one," he whispered.

"To keep with one," softly trembled his wife's voice; his eyes met hers in
a commiserating smile.

Suddenly he started up.

"Ruth," he gasped, "will you go to Louis? He must be worn out."

She left the room hurriedly. Her faint knock was not immediately answered,
and she called softly; receiving no reply, she turned the knob, which
yielded to her hand. Sunbeams danced merrily about the room of the young
man, who sat in their light in a dejected attitude. He evidently had made
no change in his toilet; and as Ruth stood unnoticed beside him, her eyes
wandered over his gray, unshaven face, travel-stained and weary to a
degree. She laid her hand upon his shoulder.

"Louis," she called gently.

He shook under her touch, but made no further sign that he knew of her
presence.

"You must be so tired, Louis," she continued sympathetically.

It may have been the words, it may have been the tone, it may have been
that she touched some hidden thought, for suddenly, without premonition,
his breast heaved, and he sobbed heavily as only a man can sob.

She started back in pain. That such emotion could so unstring Louis Arnold
was a marvel. It did not last long; and as he rose from his chair he spoke
in his accustomed, quiet tone.

"Forgive my unmanliness," he said; "it was kind of you to come to me."

"You look very ill, Louis; can't I bring you something to refresh you, or
will you lie down?"

"We shall see; is there anything you wish to ask me?

"Nothing."

After a pause he said, --

"You must not be hopeless; he is in good hands, and everything that can be
done will be done. Is he resting now?"

"Yes; if to breathe like that is to rest. Oh, Louis, when I think how for
months he has suffered alone, it almost drives me crazy."

"Why think of it, then? Or, if you must, remember that in his surpassing
unselfishness he saved you much anxiety; for you could not have helped
him."

"Not with our sympathy?"

"Not him, Ruth; to know that you suffered for him was--would have been his
crowning sorrow. Is there anything I can do now?"

"No, only think of yourself for a moment; perhaps you can rest a little,
for you need it, dear."

A flame of color burned in his cheek at the unusual endearment.

"I shall bring you a cup of tea presently," she said as she left him.

The morning passed into afternoon. Silence hung upon the house. A card
had been pinned under the door-bell; and the many friends, who in the short
time since the sick man's arrival had heard of his illness, dropped in
quietly and left as they came.

Dr. Kemp came in after luncheon. Mr. Levice was sleeping, --in all truth,
one could say easily, but the doctor counted much from the rest. He
expected Dr. H----- for a consultation. This he had done as a voucher and
a sort of comforting assurance that nothing would be left undone. Dr.
H----- came in blandly; he went out gravely. There was little to be said.

Kemp walked thoughtfully upstairs after his colleague had left, and went
straight to Arnold's room. the freedom of the house was his; he seemed to
have established himself here simply through his earnestness and devotion.

"Mr. Arnold," he said to the Frenchman, who quickly rose from his desk, "I
want you to prepare your aunt and your cousin for the worst. You know
this; but if he should have a spell of coughing, the end might be sudden."

A cold pallor overspread Louis's face at the confirmation of his secret
fears.

He bowed slightly and cleared his throat before answering.

"There will be no necessity," he said; "my uncle intends doing so himself."

"He must not hasten it by excitement," said Kemp, moving toward the door.

"That is unavoidable," returned Arnold. "You must know he had an object in
hurrying home."

"I did not know; but I shall prevent any unnecessary effort to speak. If
you can do this for him, will you not?"

"I cannot."

"And you know what it is in detail?"

"I do."

"Then for his sake --"

"And for the others, he must be allowed to speak."

Kemp regarded him steadily, wondering wherein lay the impression of
concealed power which emanated from him. He left the room without another
word.

"Dr. H----- must have gone to school with you," panted Levice, as Dr. Kemp
entered; "even his eyes have been educated to express the same feeling;
except for a little --"

"There, there," quieted Kemp; "don't exhaust yourself. Miss Levice, that
fan, please. A little higher? How's that?"

"Do not go, Doctor," he said feebly; "I have something to say, to do, and
you--I want you--give me something--I must say it now. Esther, where are
you?"

"Here, love."

"Mr. Levice, you must not talk now," put in Kemp, authoritatively;
"whatever you have to say will last till morning."

"And I?"

"And you. Now go to sleep."

Mrs. Levice followed him to the door.

"You spoke just now of a nurse," she said through her pale lips; "I shall
not want one: I alone can nurse him."

"There is much required; I doubt if you are strong enough."

"I am strong."

He clasped her hand in assent; he could not deny her.

"I shall come in and stay with you to-night," he said simply.

"You. Why should you?"

"Because I too love him."

Her mouth trembled and the lines of her face quivered, but she drew her
hand quickly over it.

Kemp gave one sharp glance over to the bed; Ruth had laid her head beside
her father's and held his hand. In such a house, in every Jewish house,
one finds the best nurses in the family.

Chapter XXV

Shafts of pale sunlight darted into the room and rested on Mr. Levice's
hair, covering it with a silver glory, --they trailed along the silken
coverlet, but stopped there; one little beam strayed slowly, and almost as
if with intention, toward Arnold, seated near the foot of the bed. Ruth,
lovely in her pallor, sat near him; Mrs. Levice, on the other side of the
bed, leaned back in her chair placed close to her husband's pillow; more
remote, though inadvertently so, sat Dr. Kemp. It was by Mr. Levice's
desire that these four had assembled here.

He was sitting up, supported by many pillows; his face was hollow and
colorless; his hands lay listlessly upon the counterpane. No one touches
him; bathed in sunlight, as he was, the others seemed in shadow. When he
spoke, his voice was almost a whisper, but it was distinctly audible to the
four intent listeners; only the clock seemed to accompany his staccato
speech, running a race, as it were, with his failing strength.

"It is a beautiful world," he said dreamily, "a very beautiful world;" the
sunbeams kissed his pale hands as if thanking him; no one stirred, letting
the old man take his time. Finally he realized that all were waiting for
him, and thought sprang, strong and powerful, to his face.

"Dr. Kemp," he began, "I have something to say to you, --to you in
particular, and to my daughter Ruth. My wife and nephew know in brief what
I have to say; therefore I need not dwell on the painful event that
happened here last September; you will pardon me, when you see the
necessity, for my reverting to it at all."

Every one's eyes rested upon him, --that is, all but Arnold's, which seemed
holding some secret communion with the cupids on the ceiling, --and the
look of convulsive agony that swept across Ruth's face was unnoticed.

"In all my long, diversified life," he went on, "I had never suffered as I
did after she told me her decision, --for in all those years no one had
ever been made to suffer through me; that is, so far as I knew.
Unconsciously, or in anger, I may have hurt many, but never, as in this
case, with knowledge aforethought, --when the blow fell upon my own child.
You will understand, and perhaps forgive, when I say I gave no thought to
you. She came to me with her sweet, renunciating hands held out, and with
a smile of self-forgetfulness, said, 'Father, you are right; I could not be
happy with this man.' At the moment I believed her, thinking she had
adopted my views; but with all her bravery, her real feelings conquered
her, and I saw. Not that she had spoken untruly, but she had implied the
truth only in part, I knew my child loved me, and she meant honestly that
my pain would rob her of perfect happiness with you, --my pain would form
an eclipse strong enough to darken everything. Do you think this knowledge
made me glad or proud? Do you know how love, that in the withholding
justifies itself, suffers from the pain inflicted? But I said, 'After all,
it is as I think; she will thank me for it some day.' I was not altogether
selfish, please remember. Then, as I saw her silent wrestling, came
distrust of myself; I remembered I was pitted against two, younger and no
more fallible than myself. As soon as doubt of myself attacked me, I
strove to look on the other side; I strove to rid myself of the old
prejudices, the old superstitions, the old narrowness of faith; it was
useless, --I was too old, and my prejudices had become part of me. It was
in this state of perturbation that I had gone one day up to the top floor
of the Palace Hotel. Thank you, Doctor."

The latter had quietly risen and administered a stimulant. As he resumed
his seat, Levice continued:

"I was seated at a window overlooking Market Street. Below me surged a
black mass of crowding, jostling, hurrying beings, so far removed they
seemed like little dots, each as large and no larger than his fellows.
Above them stretched the same blue arch of heaven, they breathed the same
air, trod in each other's footsteps; and yet I knew they were all so
different, --ignorance walked with enlightenment, vice with virtue, rich
with poor, low with high, --but I felt, poised thus above them, that they
were creatures of the same God. Go once thus, and you will understand the
feeling. And so I judged these aliens. Which was greater; which was less?
This one, who from birth and inheritance is able to stand the equal of any
one, or this one, who through birth and inheritance blinks blindly at the
good and beautiful? Character and circumstance are not altogether of our
own making; they are, to a great degree, results of inherited tendencies
over which we have no control, --accidents of birthplace, in the choosing
of which we had no voice. The high in the world do not shine altogether by
their own light, not do the lowly grovel altogether in their own
debasement, --I felt the excuse for humanity. I was overwhelmed with one
feeling, --only God can weigh such circumstantial evidence; we, in our
little knowledge of results, pronounce sentence, but final judgment is
reserved for a higher court, that sees the cross-purposes in which we are
blindly caught. So with everything. Below me prayed Christian and Jew,
Mohammedan and Brahmin, idolater and agnostic. Why was one man different
in this way from his fellows? Because he was born so, because his parents
were so, because he was bred so, because it seemed natural and convenient
to remain so, --custom and environment had made his religion. Because
Jesus Christ dared to attack their existing customs and beliefs, the Jews,
then powerful, first reviled, then feared, then slew him; because the Jews
could not honestly say, 'I believe this man to be a God,' they were hurled
from their eminence and dragged, living, for centuries in the dust. And
yet why? Because God withheld and still withholds from this little band
the power of believing in Christ as his son. Christians call this a wilful
weakness; Jews call it strength. After all, who is to be praised or blamed
for it? God. Then instead of beating the Jew, and instead of sneering at
the Christian, let each pity the other; because one, I know not which, is
weak, and because the other, I know not which, is strong. I left the
building; I came upon the street. I felt like saluting every one as my
brother. A little ragged child touched me, and as I laid my hand upon her
curly head, the thrill of humanity shot through me.

"It was not until I went to New York that the feelings I then experienced
took on a definite shape. There, removed from my old haunts, I wandered
alone when I could. Then I thought of you, my friend, of you, my child,
and beside you I was pitiful, --pitiful, because in my narrowness I had
thought myself strong enough to uphold a vanishing restriction. I resolved
to be practical; I have been accused of being a dreamer. I grasped your
two images before me and drew parallels. Socially each was as high as the
other. Mentally the woman was as strong in her sphere as the man was in
his. Physically both were perfect types of pure, healthy blood. Morally
both were irreproachable. Religiously each held a broad love for God and
man. I stood convicted; I was in the position of a blind fool who, with a
beautiful picture before him, fastens his critical, condemning gaze upon a
rusting nail in the rusting wall behind, --a nail even now loosened, and
which in another generation will be displaced. Yet what was I to do? Come
back and tell you that I had been needlessly cruel? What would that avail?
True, I might make you believe that I no longer thought marriage between
you wrong; but that would not remove the fact that the world, which so
easily makes us happy or otherwise, did not see as I saw. In this vortex I
was stricken ill. All the while I wanted to hasten to you, to tell you how
it was with me, and it seemed as if I never could get to you. 'Is this
Nemesis,' I thought, 'or divine interposition?' So I struggled till Louis
came. Then all was easier. I told him everything and said, 'Louis, what
shall I do?' "only this,' he answered simply: 'tell them that their happy
marriage will be your happiness, and the rest of the world will be as
nothing to these two who love each other.'"

The old man paused; the little sunbeam had reached the end of the coverlet
and gave a leap upon Louis's shoulder like an angle's finger, but his gaze
remained fixed upon the cupids on the ceiling. Ruth had covered her face
with her hands. Mrs. Levice was softly weeping, with her eyes on Louis.
Dr. Kemp had risen and stood, tall and pale, meeting Levice's eyes.

"I believe--and my wife believes," said Levice, heavily, as if the words
were so many burdens, "that our child will be happy only as your wife, and
that nothing should stand in the way of the consummation of this happiness.
Dr. Kemp, you have assured me you still love my daughter. Ruth!"

She sprang to her feet, looking only at her father.

"Little one," he faltered, "I have been very cruel in my ignorance."

"Do not think of this, Father," she whispered.

"I must," he said, taking her hand in his. "Kemp, your hand, please."

He grasped the strong white hand and drew the two together; and as Kemp's
large hand closed firmly over her little one, Levice stooped his head,
kissed them thus clasped, and laid his hand upon them.

"There is one thing more," he said. "At the utmost I have but a few days
to live. I shall not see your happiness: I shall not see you, my Ruth, as
I have often pictured you. Ah, well, darling, a father may be permitted
sweet dreams of his only child. You have always been a good girl, and now
I am going to ask you to do one thing more--you also, Doctor. Will you be
married now, this day, here, so that I may yet bless your new life? Will
you let me see this? And listen, --will you let the world know that you
were married with my sanction, and did not have to wait till the old man
was dead? Will you do this for me, my dear ones?"

"Will you, Ruth?" asked Kemp, softly, his fingers pressing hers gently.

Ruth stifled a sob as she met her father's eager eyes.

"I will," she answered so low that only the intense silence in the room
made it audible.

Levice separated their hands and held one on each of his cheeks.

"Always doing things for her ugly old father," he murmured; "this time
giving up a pretty wedding-day that all girls so love."

"Oh, hush, my darling."

"You will have no guests, unless, Doctor, there is some one you would like
to have."

"I think not," he decided, noting with a pang the pale, weary face of
Levice; "we will have it all as quiet as possible. You must rest now, and
leave everything to me. Would you prefer Dr. Stephens or a justice?"

"Either. Dr. Stephens is a good man, whom I know, however; and one good
man with the legal right is as good as another to marry you."

There was little more said then. Kemp turned to Mrs. Levice and raised her
hand to his lips. Arnold confronted him with a pale, smiling face; the two
men wrung each other's hands, passing out together immediately after.

Chapter XXVI

Herbert Kemp and Dr. Stephens stood quietly talking to Mr. Levice. The
latter seemed weaker since his exertion of the morning, and his head lay
back among the pillows as if the support were grateful. Still his eager
eyes were keenly fastened upon the close-lipped mouth and broad, speaking
brow of the minister who spoke so quietly and pleasantly. Kemp, looking
pale and handsome, answered fitfully when appealed to, and kept an
expectant eye upon the door. When Ruth entered, he went forward to meet
her, drawing her arm through his. They had had no word together, no
meeting of any kind but right here in the morning; and now, as she walked
toward the bed, the gentle smile that came as far as her eyes was all for
her father. Thought could hold no rival for him that day.

"This is Miss Levice, Dr. Stephens," said Kemp, presenting them. A swift
look of wonderment passed under the reverend gentleman's beetle-brows as he
bent over her hand. Could this tall, beautiful girl be the daughter of
little Jules Levice? Where did she get that pure Madonna face, that regal
bearing, that mobile and expressive mouth? The explanation was sufficient
when Mrs. Levice entered. They stood talking, not much, but in that
wandering, obligatory way that precedes any undertaking. they were waiting
for Arnold; he came in presently with a bunch of pale heliotropes. He
always looked well and in character when dressed for some social event; it
was as if he were made for this style of dress, not the style for him. The
delicate pink of his cheeks looked more like the damask skin of a young
girl than ever; his eyes, however, behind their glasses, were veiled. As
he handed Ruth the flowers, he said, --

"I asked the doctor to allow me to give you these. Will you hold them with
my love?"

"They are both very dear to me," she replied, raising the flowers to her
lips.

Their fragrance filled the room while the simple ceremony was being
performed. It was a striking picture, and one not likely to be forgotten.
Levice's eyes filled with proud, pardonable tears as he looked at his
daughter, --for never had she looked as to-day in her simple white gown,
her face like a magnolia bud, a fragrant dream; standing next to Kemp, the
well-mated forms were noticeable. Even Arnold, with his heart like a
crushed ball of lead, acknowledged it in bitter resignation. For him the
scene was one of those silent, purgatorial moments that are approached with
senses steeled and thought held in a vice. To the others it passed, as if
it had happened in a dream. Even when Kemp stooped and pressed his lips
for the first time upon his wife's, the real meaning of what had taken
place seemed far away to Ruth; the present held but one thing in
prominence, --the pale face upon the pillow. She felt her mother's arms
around her; she knew that Louis had raised her hand to his lips, that she
had drawn his head down and kissed him, that Dr. Kemp was standing silently
beside her, that the minister had spoken some gravely pleasant words; but
all the while she wanted to tear herself away from it all and fold that
eager, loving, dying face close to hers. She was allowed to do so finally;
and when she was drawn into the outstretched arms, there was only the long
silence of love.

Kemp had left the room with Dr. Stephens, having a further favor to intrust
to him. The short announcement of this marriage, which Dr. Stephens gave
for insertion in the evening papers, created a world of talk.

When Kemp re-entered, Levice called him to him, holding out his hand. The
doctor grasped it in that firm clasp which was always a tonic.

"Will you kneel?" asked Levice; Kemp knelt beside his wife, and the old
father blessed them in the words that held a double solemnity now: --

"'The Lord bless thee and keep thee.

"'The Lord make his face to shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee.

"'The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee and give thee peace.'"

"I think if you don't mind, dear, I shall close my eyes now," he said as
they arose.

Ruth moved about, closing the blinds.

"Don't close out all the sun," said her father; "I like it, --it is an old
friend. After all, I don't think I'll sleep; let me lie here and look at
you all awhile. Louis, my boy, must you go?"

"Oh, no," he replied, turning back from the door and gliding into a chair.

"Thank you; and now don't think of me. Go on talking; it will be a
foretaste of something better to lie here and listen. Esther, are you
cold? I felt a shudder go through your hand, love. Ruth, give your mother
a shawl; don't forget that sometimes some one should see that your mother
is not cold. Just talk, will you?"

So they talked, --that is, the men did. Their grave, deep voices and the
heavily breathing of the invalid were the only sounds in the room.
Finally, as the twilight stole in, it was quite still. Levice had dropped
into a sort of stupor. Kemp arose then.

"I shall be back presently," he said, addressing Mrs. Levice, who started
perceptibly as he spoke. "I have some few directions to give to my man
that I entirely forgot."

"Could not we send some one? You must not stay away now."

"I shall return immediately. Mr. Levice does not need me while he sleeps,
and these instructions are important. Don't stir, Arnold; I know my way
out."

Nevertheless Arnold accompanied him to the door. Ruth gave little heed to
their movements. Her agitated heart had grasped the fact that the lines
upon her father's face had grown weaker and paler, his breathing shorter
and more rasping; when she passed him and touched his hand, it seemed cold
and lifeless.

At nine the doctor came in again; the only appreciable difference in his
going or coming was that no one rose or made any formal remarks. He went
up to the bed and placed his hand on the sleeping head. Mrs. Levice moved
her chair slightly as he seated himself on the edge of the bed and took
Levice's hand. Ruth, watching him with wide, distended eyes, thought he
would never drop it. Her senses, sharpened by suffering, read every change
on his face. As he withdrew his hand, she gave one long, involuntary moan.
He turned quickly to her.

"What is it?" he asked, his grave eyes scanning her anxiously.

"Nothing," she responded. It was the first word she had spoken to him
since the afternoon ceremony. He turned back to Levice, lowering his ear
to his chest. After a faint, almost imperceptible pause he arose.

"I think you had all better lie down," he said softly. "I shall sit with
him, and you all need rest."

"I could not rest," said Mrs. Levice; "this chair is all I require."

"If you would lie on the couch here," he urged, "you would find the
position easier."

"No, no! I could not."

He looked at Ruth.

"I shall go by and by," she answered.

Arnold had long since gone out.

Ruth's by and by stretched on interminably. Kemp took up the "Argonaut"
that lay folded on the table. He did not read much, his eyes straying from
the printed page before him to the "finis" writing itself slowly on Jules
Levice's face, and thence to Ruth's pale profile; she was crying, --so
quietly, though, that but for the visible tears an onlooker might not have
known it; she herself did not, --her heart was silently overflowing.

Toward morning Levice suddenly sprang up in bed and made as if to leap upon
the floor. Kemp's quick, strong hand held him back.

"Where are you going?" he asked. Mrs. Levice stood instantly beside him.

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