Part 3 out of 7
Jack has played the elder brother role to me for so long that the
habit of obedience to him is second nature to me.
"Yes," I said faintly.
"Over me?" The question was quick and sharp.
"You showed him my letter? Of course, I wished you to do so."
"How serious is the quarrel? I see you have a bag with you."
"It depends upon my husband's attitude how serious it is," I replied.
"He made an issue of my not doing something which I felt I must
do. Then he lost his temper and said things which if they are to be
repeated, will keep me away forever!"
I saw Jack's fists clench, and into his eyes there flashed a queer
light. I knew what it was. Before he knew I was married he had told me
of his long secret love for me. That he was fighting the temptation to
let the breach between Dicky and me widen, I knew as well as if he had
Another moment, however, and he was master of himself again.
"Sit down," he commanded tersely, and when I had obeyed he drew a
chair close to my side.
"My poor child," he said tenderly, "I know nothing about your husband,
so I cannot judge this quarrel. But I am afraid in this marriage game
you will learn that there must be a lot of giving up on both sides.
Now I know you to be absolutely truthful. Tell me, is there any
possibility that the overtures for a reconciliation ought to come from
"He told me that if I went out of the door, I must go out of it for
good," I said hotly, and could have bitten my tongue out for the words
the next moment.
Jack drew a long breath.
"Did he think you were going to see me?"
"I believe he had that idea, yes."
"Is he the sort of a man who always says what he means or does he
say outrageous things when he is angry that he does not mean in the
"He has a most ungovernable temper, but he gets over the attacks
quickly, and I know he doesn't mean all he says."
"That settles it." Jack sprang up, and going to a stand in the corner
took his hat and coat and stick.
"What are you going to do, Jack?" I gasped.
"I am going to find your husband and send him after you," he said
"Jack, you mustn't," I said wildly.
"But I must," he returned firmly. "You have quarrelled over me. I
could not cross the water leaving you in an unsettled condition like
He came swiftly to my side, and took my hands firmly in his.
"Margaret, remember this, if I die or live, all I am and all I have is
at your service. If I die there will be enough, thank heaven, to make
you independent of any one. If I live--"
He hesitated for a long moment, then stooped closer to me.
"This may be a caddish thing to do, but it is borne in upon me that
I ought to tell you this before I go. I hope the settling of this
quarrel will be the beginning of a happier life for you. But if
things should ever get really unbearable in your life, bad enough for
divorce, I mean, remember that the dearest wish of my life would be
fulfilled if I could call you wife. Good-by, Margaret. God bless and
I felt the touch of his lips against my hair.
Then he released me and went quickly out of the room.
It was hard work for me to obey Mrs. Stewart's command to eat the
supper that she soon brought me on a tray. Every nerve was tense in
anticipation of the meeting between Dicky and Jack, which I could not
avoid, and which I so dreaded. What was happening at my home while I
sat here, my hands tied by my own foolish act?
I did not realize that Mrs. Stewart's suspense was also intense until
the door bell rang and she ran to answer it.
I stole to the door and noiselessly opened it just enough to be able
to hear the voices in the lower hall. I heard the hall door open and
then a sound of a voice that sent me back to my chair breathless with
Dicky had arrived!
He ran up the stairs, two steps at a time, and knocked at the door of
the room in which I sat.
"Come in," I said faintly.
I felt as if my feet were shod with lead. Much as I loved him, great
as was my joy at seeing him, I could no more have stirred from where I
was sitting than I could have taken wings and flown to him.
There was no need for my moving, however. Dicky has the most
abominable temper of any person I know, but he is as royal in his
repentance as in his rages.
He crossed the room at almost a bound, his eyes shining, his face
aglow, his whole handsome figure vibrant with life and love.
"Sweetheart! sweetheart!" he murmured, as he folded me in his arms,"
will you forgive your bad boy this once more? I have been a jealous,
insulting brute, but I swear to you--"
I put up my hand and covered his lips. I had heard him say something
like this too many times before to have much faith in his oath.
Besides, there is something within me that makes me abhor anything
which savors of a scene. Dicky was mine again, my old, impulsive,
kingly lover. I wanted no promises which I knew would be made only to
It was a long time before either of us spoke again, and then Dicky
drew a deep breath.
"I have a confession to make about your cousin, Madge," he began,
carefully avoiding my eyes, "and I might as well get it over with
before we go home. Mother's probably asleep, but she might wake up,
and then there would be no chance for any talk by ourselves."
"Don't tell me anything unless you wish to do so, Dicky," I replied
gently. "I am content to leave things just as they are without
"No," Dicky said stubbornly, "it's due you and it's due your cousin
that I tell you this. I don't often make a bally ass of myself, but
when I do I am about as willing a person to eat dirt about it as you
I never shall get used to Dicky's expressions. The language in which
he couched his repentance seemed so uncouth to me that I mentally
shivered. Outwardly I made no sign, however.
"When he came to the apartment," Dicky went on, "I was just about as
nearly insane as a man could be. I had no idea where you had gone and
I had just had the devil's own time with my mother and Katie over your
"What did your mother say to all this?"
I asked the question timorously.
Dicky laughed. "Well! of course she didn't go into raptures over
the affair," he said, "but I think she learned a lesson. At least I
endeavored to help her learn one. I read the riot act to her after you
"Oh! Dicky!" I protested, "that was hardly fair?"
"I know it," he admitted shamefacedly. "I am afraid I did rather take
it out on the mater when I found you had really gone. But she deserved
a good deal of it. You have done everything in your power to make
things pleasant for her since she came, and she has treated you about
as shabbily as was possible."
"Oh! not that bad, Dicky," I protested again, but I knew in my heart
that what he said was true. His mother had treated me most unfairly.
I could not help a little malicious thrill of pleasure that he had
finally resented it for me.
"Just that bad, little Miss Forgiveness," Dicky returned, smiling at
My heart leaped at the words. When Dicky is in good humor he coins all
sorts of tender names for me. I knew that to Dicky our quarrel was as
if it had never happened.
"I'll give you a pointer about mother, Madge," Dicky went on. "When
you see her, act as if nothing had happened at all, it's the only
way to manage her. She can be most charming when she wants to be,
but every once in a while she takes one of those silent tantrums, and
there is no living with her until she gets over it."
I didn't make any comment on this speech, fearing to say the wrong
"But I didn't start to tell you about Katie." Dicky switched the
subject determinedly. "I might as well get it off my chest. When your
cousin came in and introduced himself the first thing I did was to
attempt to strike him."
"Oh, Dicky, Dicky," I moaned, horrified, "what did he do?"
Dicky's lips twisted grimly.
"Just put out his hand and caught my arm, saying with that calm and
quiet voice of his:
"'I shall not return any blow you may give me, Mr. Graham, so please
do not do anything you will regret when you recover yourself!'
"I realized his strength of body and the grip he had on my arm and
even my half-crazed brain recognized the power of his spirit. I came
to, apologized, and we had a long talk that made me realize what a
thundering good fellow he must be.
"I don't see why you never fell in love with him," Dicky continued.
"He's a better man than I am," he paraphrased half wistfully.
"But I love YOU," I whispered.
Across Dicky's face there fell a shadow. I realized that thoughtlessly
I had wounded him.
"Margaret!" My mother-in-law's tone was almost tragic. "Richard has
gone off with my trunk checks."
"Why, of course, he has," I returned, wondering a little at her
anxious tone. "I suppose he expects to give them to an expressman and
have the trunks brought up this morning."
"Richard never remembered anything in his life," said his mother
tartly. "Those trunks ought to be here before I leave for the day."
"Oh, I don't think it would be possible for them to arrive here before
we have to start, even if Dicky gives them to an expressman right
away, as I am sure he will do."
It seemed queer to be defending Dicky to his mother, but I felt a
curious little thrill of resentment that she should criticise him.
I sometimes may judge Dicky harshly myself, but I don't care to hear
criticism of him from any other lips, even those of his mother.
"Richard will carry those checks in his pocket until he comes home
again, if he is lucky enough not to lose them," said his mother
decidedly. "I wish you would telephone him at his studio and remind
him that they must be looked after."
Obediently I went to the telephone. I knew Dicky had had plenty
of time to get to the studio, as it was but a short walk from our
"Madison Square 3694," I said in answer to Central's request for
When the answer came I almost dropped the receiver in my surprise. It
was not Dicky's voice that came to my ears, but that of a stranger, a
woman's voice, rich and musical.
"Yes?" with a rising inflection, "this is Mr. Graham's studio. He has
not yet reached here. What message shall I give him, please, when he
"Please ask him to call up his home." Then I hung up the receiver and
turned from the telephone, putting down my agitation with a firm hand
until I could be alone.
"Dicky has not yet reached the studio," I said to his mother calmly.
"I think very probably he has gone first to see an expressman about
your trunks. If you will pardon me I have a few things to attend to
before we start on our trip. Is there anything I can do for you?"
"No, thank you." Mrs. Graham's tone was still the cold, courteous one
that she used in addressing me. "I suppose I can ring for Katie when I
am ready to have my dress fastened?"
"Oh! by all means," I returned. I thought bitterly of the little
services I used to perform for my own mother. How gladly I would
anticipate the wants of Dicky's mother if she would only show me
affection instead of the ill-concealed aversion with which she
My mother-in-law went into her room, and I, walking swiftly to mine,
closed and locked the door behind me. I threw myself face downward on
the bed, my favorite posture when I wished to think things out.
The voice of the woman at the studio haunted me. It was strange, but
familiar, and I could not remember where I had heard it.
What was a woman doing in Dicky's studio at this time in the morning,
anyway? I knew that Dicky employed feminine models, but I also knew
that he always made it a point to be at the studio before the model
was due to arrive.
"I suppose I am an awful crank," he had laughed once, "but no models
rummaging among my things for mine."
I knew that Dicky employed no secretary, or at least he had told me
that he did not I had heard him laughingly promise himself that when
his income reached $10,000 a year he would hire one.
All at once the solution to the mystery dawned upon me. The rich,
musical voice belonged to Grace Draper, the beautiful girl whom Dicky
had seen first on a train on our memorable trip to Marvin.
Why hadn't Dicky told me that she was at the studio? The question
rankled in the back of my brain.
That was not my main concern, however. What swept me with a sudden
primitive emotion, which I know must be jealousy, was the picture
of that beautiful face, that wonderful figure in daily close
companionship with my husband.
Suppose she should fall in love with Dicky! To my mind I did not
see how any woman could help it. Would she have any scruples about
endeavoring to win Dicky's love from me?
My common sense told me that this was the veriest nonsense. But I
could no more help my feelings than I could control the shape of my
The ring of the telephone bell put a temporary end to my speculations.
I pulled myself together in order to talk calmly to Dicky, for I knew
it must be he who was calling.
"Madge, is this you? Whatever has happened?"
"Nothing is the matter," I said quickly, "but you have your mother's
trunk checks, and she is anxious about them."
"By Jove!" Dicky's voice was full of consternation. "I forgot
everything about those trunk checks until this minute. I should
have attended to them yesterday, but"--he hesitated, then finished
lamely--"I didn't have time."
I felt my face flush as though Dicky could see me. The reason why
he did not have time to see to his mother's trunks on the day of her
arrival, touched a subject any allusion to which would always bring a
flush to my face.
I was still too shaken with the varying emotions I had experienced the
day before to bear well any reference to them, no matter how casual.
Fortunately, Dicky was too much taken up with his own remissness to
notice my silence.
"I'll go out this minute and attend to them," he said. "Try to keep
the mater's mind diverted from them if you can. Better get her away on
your sight-seeing trip as soon as possible."
Having thus shifted his responsibilities to my shoulders, Dicky
blithely hung up the receiver. I turned to his mother.
"Well!" she demanded.
"He is going out now to attend to the trunks," I said.
"There! I knew he had forgotten them," she exclaimed, with a little
malicious feminine triumph running through her tones. "When will they
"Not before noon at the earliest," I repeated Dicky's words in as
matter-of-fact way as possible. "Probably not until 2 or 3 o'clock in
the afternoon. We might as well start on our trip. Katie is perfectly
capable of attending to them."
Then she said, "How soon will you be ready?"
"I am afraid it will be half an hour before I can start," I said
"That will be all right," my mother-in-law returned good humoredly.
She was evidently much pleased at the prospect of the trip.
"It's wonderful! Wonderful!" she said as the full view of New York
harbor burst upon our eyes when we came out of the subway and rounded
the Barge office into Battery Park.
"Wait a moment. I want to fill my soul with it."
I felt my heart warm toward her. I have always loved the harbor. Many
treasured hours have I spent watching it from the sea wall or from
the deck of one of the Staten Island ferries. To me it is like a
loved friend. I enjoy hearing its praises, I shrink from hearing it
criticised. Mrs. Graham's hearty admiration made me feel more kindly
toward her than I had yet done.
Neither of us spoke again for several minutes. My gaze followed my
mother-in-law's as she turned from one marvel of the view to another.
At last she turned to me, her face softened. "I am ready to go on
now," she said. "I have always loved the remembrance of this harbor
since I first saw it years ago."
We walked slowly on toward the Aquarium, both of us watching the ships
as they came into the bay from the North river. The fussy, spluttering
little tugs, the heavily laden ferries, the lazy fishing boats, the
dredges and scows--even the least of them was made beautiful by its
setting of clear winter sun and sparkling water.
"How few large ocean steamers there seem to be!" commented my
mother-in-law, as a large ocean-going vessel cast off its tug and
glided past us on its way out to sea. "I suppose it is on account of
the war," she continued indifferently.
At this moment I heard a comment from a passing man that brought back
to me the misery of the day before.
"I guess that's the Saturn," he said to his companion as they walked
near us. "She was due to sail this morning. Got a lot of French
reservists on board. Poor devils! Anybody getting into that hell over
there has about one chance in a million to get out again."
Forgetful of my mother-in-law's presence, indeed, of everything else
in the world, I turned and gazed at the steamer making its way out to
sea. I knew that somewhere on its decks stood Jack, my brother-cousin,
the best friend my mother and I had ever known. When he had come back
from a year's absence to ask me to be his wife he had found that I
had married Dicky. Then he had announced his intention of joining the
French engineering corps.
What had that man said just now? Not one chance in a million! I felt
as if it were my hand that was pushing him across the ocean to almost
When I could no longer see the Saturn as she churned her way out to
sea, I turned around quickly with a sense of guilt at having ignored
my mother-in-law's presence, and then a voice sounded in my ear.
"You don't seem delighted to see me. I am surprised at you."
Harry Underwood towered above me, his handsome face marred by the
little, leering smile he generally wears, his bold, laughing eyes
staring down into my horrified ones.
I do not believe that ever a woman of a more superstitious time
dreaded the evil eye as I do the glance of Harry Underwood.
How to answer him or what to do I did not know. He evidently had been
drinking enough to make himself irresponsible.
He did not give me time to ponder long, however, "Who is your lady
friend," he burlesqued. "Introduce me."
A man less audacious than Harry Underwood would have been daunted by
the picture my mother-in-law presented as he turned toward her. Her
figure was drawn up to its extreme height, and she was surveying him
through her lorgnette with an expression that held disgust mingled
with the curiosity an explorer might feel at meeting some strange
specimen of animal in his travels.
"Mrs. Graham, this is Mr. Underwood," I managed to stammer. "Mr.
Underwood, Mrs. Graham, Dicky's mother."
My mother-in-law may overawe ordinary people, but Harry Underwood
minded her disdain no more than he would have the contempt of a
stately Plymouth Rock hen. She had lowered the lorgnette as I spoke,
and he grabbed the hand which still held it, shaking it as warmly as
if it belonged to some long-lost friend.
"Well! Well!" he said effusively. "But this is great. Dear old Dicky's
mother!" He stopped and fixed a speculating stare upon her. "You mean
his sister," he said reprovingly to me. "Don't tell me you mean his
mother. No, no, I can't believe that."
He shook his head solemnly. Evidently he was much impressed with
himself. If I had not been so miserable I could have smiled at the
idea of Harry Underwood trying on the elder Mrs. Graham the silly
specious flatteries he addressed to most women. My mother-in-law did
not deign to answer him. Her manner was superb in its haughty reserve,
although I could not say much for her courtesy. As he released her
hand she let it drop quietly to her side and stood still, gazing at
him with a quiet, disdainful look that would have made almost any
other man wince.
But it did not bother Harry Underwood in the least. He gave her a
shrewd appraising look and then turned to me with an air of dismissal
that was as complete as her ignoring of him.
"Say!" he demanded, "aren't you a bit curious about what brought me
down here? You ought to be. The funniest thing in the world, my being
His silly repetitions, his slurred enunciation, his slightly unsteady
figure made me realize with a quick horror that the man was more
intoxicated than I supposed. How to get away from him as quickly as
possible was the problem I faced. I decided to humor him as I would
any other insane person I dreaded.
"I am never curious," I responded lightly. "I suppose, of course, that
you are here to visit the Aquarium, as we are. Good-by."
"No you don't--goin' to take you and little lady here on nice ferry
trip," he announced genially. "Sorry, yacht's out of commission this
morning, but ferry will do very well."
I have not much reason to like my mother-in-law, but I shall always
be grateful to her for the way she cut the Gordian knot of my
"Young man, you are impertinent and intoxicated," she said haughtily.
"Please step aside."
And taking me firmly by the arm my mother-in-law walked steadily with
me toward the door of the women's rest room. Her manner of conducting
me was much the same as the matron of a reformatory would use in
taking a charge from one place to another, but I was too relieved
to care. The leering face of Harry Underwood was no longer before my
eyes, and his befuddled words no longer jarred upon my ears. Those
were the only things that mattered to me for the moment. In my relief
I felt strong enough to brave the weight of my mother-in-law's anger,
which I was very sure was about to descend upon me.
A DANGER AND A PROBLEM
Safe in the shelter of the Aquarium rest room my mother-in-law faced
me. Her eyes were cold and hard, her tones like ice, as she spoke.
"Margaret! What is the meaning of this outrageous scene to which you
have just subjected me? Am I to understand that this man is typical of
your associates and friends? If so, I am indeed sorrier than ever that
my son was ever inveigled into marrying you."
For the moment I had a primitive instinct to scream and to smash
things generally, a sort of Berserk rage. The insult left me deadly
cold. Fortunately we were alone in the room, but I lowered my voice
almost to a whisper as I replied to her:
"Mrs. Graham," I said. "I never in my life knew there was a man like
Mr. Underwood until I married your son. He and his wife, Lillian Gale,
are your son's most intimate friends. He has almost forced me to meet
them time and again against my own inclinations. Of course, after
what you have just said, there can be no further question of our trip
together. If you will kindly wait here I will telephone your son to
come and get you at once."
I started for the door, but a little gasping cry from my mother-in-law
stopped me. She was feebly beating the air with her hands, her eyes
were distended, and her cheeks and lips had the ashen color which I
had learned to associate with my own little mother's frequent attacks.
Filled with remorse, I flew to her side and lowered her gently into an
arm chair which stood near. Snatching her handbag I opened it and
took out a little bottle of volatile salts which I knew she carried.
I pressed it into her hands, and then took out a tiny bottle of drops
with a familiar label. They were the same that my mother had used for
years. Taking a spoon which I also found in the bag, I measured the
drops, added a bit of water from the faucet in the adjoining room,
and gave them to her. As I came toward her I heard her murmuring to
"Lillian Gale! Lillian Gale!" she was saying. "How blind I've been."
Even in my anxiety for her condition I found time to wonder as to the
significance of her exclamations. Evidently the name of Lillian Gale
was familiar to her. From her tones also I knew that it was not a
welcome name. What was there in this past friendship of Dicky and
Mrs. Underwood to cause his mother so much emotion? I remembered the
comments I had heard at the theatre about my husband's friendship with
All my old doubts and misgivings which had been smothered by the very
real admiration I had felt for Lillian Gale's many good qualities
revived. What was the secret in the lives of these two? I felt that
for my own peace of mind I must know.
The color was gradually coming back to my mother-in-law's face. I
stood by her chair, forgetting her insults, remembering nothing save
that she was old and a sick woman.
"Is there anything I can get for you?" I asked as I saw the strained
look in her eyes die out.
"Nothing, thank you," she said. Then to my surprise she reached up her
hand, took mine in hers, and pressed it feebly. I could not understand
her quick transition from bitter contempt to friendly warmth.
Evidently something in my words had startled her and had changed her
viewpoint. But I put speculation aside until some more opportune time.
The imperative thing for me was to minister to her needs, mentally and
"How do you feel now?" I asked.
"Much better, thank you," she replied. Then in a tone I had never
heard from her lips before: "Come here, my child."
I could hardly credit my own ears. Surely those gentle words, that
soft tone, could not belong to my husband's mother, who, in the short
time she had been an inmate of our home, had lost no opportunity to
show her dislike for me, and her resentment that her son had married
But I obeyed her and came to her side. She put up her hand and took
mine, and I saw her proud old face work with emotion.
"I was unjust to you a few moments ago, Margaret," she said, "and I
want to beg your pardon."
If she had not been old, in feeble health and my husband's mother, I
would have considered the words scant reparation for the contemptuous
phrases with which she had scourged my spirit a few moments before.
But I was sane enough to know that the simple "I beg your pardon" from
the lips of the elder Mrs. Graham was equivalent to a whole torrent of
apologies from any ordinary person. I knew my mother-in-law's type of
mind. To admit she was wrong, to ask for one's forgiveness, was to her
a most bitter thing.
So I put aside from me every other feeling but consideration of the
proud old woman holding my hand, and said gently:
"I can assure you that I cherish no resentment. Let us not speak of it
"I am afraid we shall have to speak of it, at least of the incident
which led me to say the things to you I did," she returned. I saw with
amazement that she was trying to conquer an emotion, the reason for
which I felt certain had something to do with her discovery that the
Underwoods were Dick's friends.
"I have a duty to you to perform," she went on, "a very painful duty,
which involves the reviving of an old controversy with my son. I beg
that you will not try to find out anything concerning its nature. It
is far better that you do not."
I felt smothered, as if I were being swathed in folds upon folds
of black cloth. What could this mystery be, this secret in the past
friendship of my husband and Lillian Gale, the woman whom he had
introduced to me as his best friend, and into whose companionship
and that of her husband, Harry Underwood, he had thrown me as much as
A hot anger rose within me. What right had anyone to deny knowledge
of such a secret, or to discourage me in any attempt to find out its
nature. I resolved to lose no time in probing the unworthy thing to
My mother-in-law's next words crystallized my determination.
"I think I ought to see Richard at once," she said. "I am sorry to
give up our trip. I had quite counted upon seeing some of old New York
today, but I wish to lose no time in seeing him. Besides, I do not
think I am equal to further sightseeing."
"It will be of no use for you to go home," I said smoothly, "for
Richard will not be there, and he has left the studio by now, I am
sure. He has an engagement with an art editor this afternoon. We may
not be able to look at the churches you wished to see, but you ought
to have some luncheon before we go home. I will call a cab and we will
go over to Fraunces's Tavern, one of the most interesting places in
New York. You know Washington said farewell to his officers in the
long room on the second floor."
The first part of my sentence was a deliberate falsehood. I had no
reason to believe Dicky would not be at his studio all day, but I had
resolved that no one should speak to my husband on the subject of the
secret which his past and that of Lillian Gale shared until I had had
a chance to talk to him about it.
I do not know when a simple problem has so perplexed me as did the
dilemma I faced while sitting opposite my mother-in-law at lunch in
With the obstinacy of a spoiled child the elder Mrs. Graham was
persisting in sitting with her heavy coat on while she ate her
luncheon, although our table was next to the big, old fireplace, in
which a good fire was burning. Indeed, it was the table's location,
which she had selected herself, that was the cause of her obstinacy.
She had construed an innocent remark of mine into a slur upon her
choice, and had evidently decided to wear her coat to emphasize the
fact that in spite of the fire she was none too warm, and there she
had sat all through lunch with her heavy coat on.
As I watched the beads of perspiration upon her forehead, and her
furtive dabbing at them with her handkerchief, I realized that
something must be done. I saw that she would soon be in a condition to
receive a chill, which might prove fatal.
Suddenly her imperious voice broke into my thoughts.
"Where is the Long Room of which you spoke? On the second floor?"
"Yes. Would you like to see it?"
"Very much." She rose from her chair, crossed the dining room into
the hall and ascended the staircase, and I followed her upward, noting
again, with a quick remorsefulness, her slow step, the way she leaned
upon the stair rail for support and her quickened breathing as she
neared the top. It was a little thing, after all, I told myself
sharply, to subordinate my individuality and cater to her whims. I
resolved to be more considerate of her in the future. But my native
caution made me make a reservation. I would yield to her wishes
whenever my self-respect would let me do so. I had a shrewd notion
that a person who would cater to every whim of my husband's mother
would be little better than a slave.
She spent so much time over the old letters in Washington's
handwriting, the snuff boxes and keys and coins with which the cases
were filled that I was alarmed lest she should over-tire herself. But
I did not dare to venture the suggestion that she should postpone her
inspection until another time.
But when I saw her shiver and draw her cloak more closely about her, I
resolved to brave her possible displeasure.
"I am afraid you are taking cold," I said, going up to her. "Do you
think we had better leave the rest of these things for another visit?"
Her face as she turned it toward me frightened me. It was gray and
drawn, and her whole figure was shaking as with the ague.
"I am afraid I am going to be ill," she said faintly. "I am so cold."
I put her in a chair and dashed down the stairs.
"Please call a taxi for me at once, and bring some brandy or wine
upstairs," I said to the attendant. "My mother-in-law is ill."
As the taxi hurried us homeward I became more and more alarmed at her
condition. Her very evident suffering now heightened my fears.
"Are we nearly there?" she said faintly. "I am so cold."
"Only a few blocks more." I tried to speak reassuringly. Then I
ventured on something which I had wanted to do ever since we left the
tavern, but which my mother-in-law's dislike of being aided in any way
I slipped off my coat, and, turning toward her, wrapped it closely
around her shoulders, and took her in my arms as I would a child. To
my surprise she huddled closer to me, only protesting faintly:
"You must not do that. You will take cold."
"Nonsense," I replied. "I never take cold, and we are almost there."
"I am so glad," she sighed, and leaned more heavily against me.
As I felt her weight in my arms and realized that she was actually
clinging to me, actually depending upon me for help and comfort, I
felt my heart warm toward her.
I have never worked faster in my life than when I helped my
mother-in-law undress before the blazing gas log, put her nightgown
and heavy bathrobe around her and immersed her feet in the foot bath
of hot mustard water which Katie had brought to me.
As I worked over her I came to a decision. I would get her safe and
warm in bed, leave Katie within call, then slip out and telephone
Dicky from the neighboring drug store. I did not dare to send for a
physician against my mother-in-law's expressed prohibition. On the
other hand, I knew that Dicky would be very angry if I did not send
The hot footbath and the steaming drink which I had given her when she
first came in, together with the warmth of the gas log seemed to make
my mother-in-law more comfortable. As I dried her feet and slipped
them into a pair of warm bedroom slippers she smiled down at me.
"At least I am not cold now," she said.
"Don't you think you had better come and lie down now?" I asked.
"Yes, I think it would be better," she asserted, and with Katie and me
upon either side, she walked into her room and got into bed.
I slipped the bedroom slippers off, put one hot water bag to her
feet and the other to her back, covered her up warmly and lowered the
Her eyes closed immediately. I stood watching her breathing for two or
three minutes. It was heavier, I fancied than normal. As I went out
of the room I spoke in a low tone to Katie, directing her to watch her
till I returned.
As I descended the stairs all the doubts of the morning rushed over
me. It was long after 2 o'clock, the hour when Dicky usually returned
to the studio. I had jumped at the conclusion that Dicky was lunching
with Grace Draper, the beautiful art student who was his model and
It was not so much anger that I felt at Dicky's lunching with another
woman as fear. I faced the issue frankly. Grace Draper was much too
beautiful and attractive a girl to be thrown into daily intimate
companionship with any man. I felt in that moment that I hated her as
much as I feared her. I hoped that it would not be her voice which I
would hear over the 'phone. I felt that I could not bear to listen to
those deep, velvety tones of hers.
But when I reached the drug store and entered the telephone booth, it
was her voice which answered my call of Dicky's number.
"Yes, this is Mr. Graham's studio," she said smoothly. "No, Mr. Graham
is not here, he has not been here since 11 o'clock. Pardon me, is this
not Mrs. Graham to whom I am speaking?"
"I am Mrs. Graham, yes," I replied, trying to put a little cordiality
into my voice. "You are Miss Draper, are you not?"
"Yes," she replied. "Mr. Graham wished me to give you a message. He
was called away to a conference with one of the art editors about 11
o'clock. He expected to lunch with him and said he might not be in the
studio until quite late this afternoon."
"Have you any idea where he is lunching or where I could reach him?" I
"Why! no, Mrs. Graham, I have not. Is there anything wrong?"
"His mother has been taken ill and I am very much worried about her.
If Mr. Graham comes in or telephones will you ask him to come home at
once, 'phoning me first if he will."
"Of course I will attend to it. Is there anything else I can do?"
"Nothing, thank you, you are very kind," I returned, and there was
genuine warmth in my voice this time.
For the discovery that I had been mistaken in my idea of Dicky's
luncheon engagement made me so ashamed of myself that I had no more
rancor against my husband's beautiful protege.
I laughed bitterly at my own silliness as I turned from the telephone.
While I had been tormenting myself for hours at the picture I had
drawn of Dicky and his beautiful model lunching vis-a-vis, Dicky had
been keeping a prosaic business engagement with a man, and his model
had probably lunched frugally and unromantically on a sandwich or two
brought from home.
"CALL ME MOTHER--IF YOU CAN"
"Will you kindly tell me who is the best physician here?"
"Why--I--pardon me--" the drug store clerk stammered. "Wait a moment
and I'll inquire. I'm new here."
"The boss says this chap's the best around here." He held out a
penciled card to me. "Dr. Pettit. Madison Square 4258."
"Dr. Pettit!" I repeated to myself. "Why! that must be the physician
who came to the apartment the night of my chafing dish party, when the
baby across the hall was brought to us in a convulsion."
A sudden swift remembrance came to me of the tact and firmness with
which the tall young physician had handled the difficult situation he
had found in our apartment. He was just the man, I decided, to handle
my refractory mother-in-law. So I called him up and he promised to
call as soon as his office hours were over.
My feet traveled no faster than my thoughts as I hurried back to
my own apartment and the bedside of my mother-in-law. I dreaded
inexpressibly the conflict I foresaw when the autocratic old woman
should find out that I had sent for a physician against her wishes.
As I entered the living room Katie rose from her seat at the door of
my mother-in-law's room.
"She not move while you gone," she said. "She sleep all time, but I
'fraid she awful seeck, she breathe so hard."
I went lightly into the bedroom and stood looking down upon the
austere old face against the pillow. It was a flushed old face now,
and the eyelids twitched as if there were pain somewhere in the body.
Her breathing, too, was more rapid and heavy than when I had left her,
or so I fancied.
My inability to do anything for her depressed me. By slipping my hand
under the blankets I had ascertained that the hot water bags were
sufficiently warm. There was nothing more for me to do but to sit
quietly and watch her until the physician's arrival.
I wanted to bring Dr. Pettit to her bedside before she should
awaken. Then I would let him deal with her obstinate refusal to see a
physician. But how I wished that Dicky would come home.
As if I had rubbed Aladdin's lamp, I heard the hall door slam, and my
husband came rushing into the room.
"What is the matter with mother?" Dicky demanded, his face and voice
filled with anxiety.
I sprang to him and put my hand to his lips, for he had almost shouted
"Hush! She is asleep," I whispered. "Don't waken her if you can help
"Why isn't there a doctor here?" he demanded fiercely.
"Dr. Pettit will be here in a very few moments," I whispered rapidly.
"Your mother said she would not have a physician, but she appeared
so ill I did not dare to wait until your return to the studio. I
telephoned you, and when Miss Draper said she did not know where to
get you, I 'phoned to Dr. Pettit on my own authority."
"You don't think mother is in any danger, do you, Madge?"
"Why, I don't think I am a good judge of illness," I answered,
evasively, unwilling to hurt Dicky by the fear in my heart. "The
physician ought to be here any minute now, and then we will know."
A sharp, imperative ring of the bell and Katie's entrance punctuated
my words. Dicky started toward the door as Katie opened it to admit
the tall figure of Dr. Pettit.
"Ah, Dr. Pettit I believe we have met before," Dicky said easily.
"When Mrs. Graham spoke of you I did not remember that we had seen you
so recently. I am glad that we were able to get you."
"Thank you," the physician returned gravely. "Where is the patient?"
"In this room." Dicky turned toward the bedroom door, and Dr. Pettit
at once walked toward it. I mentally contrasted the two men as I
followed them to my mother-in-law's room. There was a charming ease
of manner about Dicky which the other man did not possess. He was,
in fact, almost awkward in his movements, and decidedly stiff in his
manner. But there was an appearance of latent strength in every
line of his figure, a suggestion of power and ability to cope with
emergencies. I had noticed it when he took charge of the baby in
convulsions who had been brought to my apartment by its nurse. I
marked it again as Dicky paused at the door of his mother's room.
"I don't know how you will manage, doctor." He smiled deprecatingly.
"My mother positively refuses to see a physician, but we know she
"You are her nearest relative?" Dr. Pettit queried gravely, almost
formally. His question had almost the air of securing a legal right
for his entrance into the room.
"Very well," and he stepped lightly to the side of the bed and stood
looking down upon the sick woman.
He took out his watch, and I knew he was counting her respirations.
Then, with the same impersonal air, he turned to Dicky.
"It will be necessary to rouse her. Will you awaken her, please? Do
not tell her I am here. Simply waken her."
Dicky bent over his mother and took her hand.
"Mother, what was it you wished me to get for you?"
The elder Mrs. Graham opened her eyes languidly.
"I told you quinine," she said impatiently. As she spoke, Dr. Pettit
reached past Dicky. His hand held a thermometer.
"Put this in your mouth, please." His air was as casual as if he had
made daily visits to her for a fortnight.
But the elder Mrs. Graham was not to be so easily routed. She scowled
up at him and half rose from her pillow.
"I do not wish a physician. I forbade having one called. I am not ill
enough for a physician."
Dr. Pettit put out his left hand and gently put her back again upon
her pillow. It was done so deftly that I do not think she realized
what he had done until she was again lying down.
"You must not excite yourself," he said, still in the same grave,
impersonal tone, "and you are more ill than you think. It is
absolutely necessary that I get your temperature and examine your
lungs at once."
As if the words had been a talisman of some sort, her opposition
dropped from her. Into her face came a frightened look.
"Oh, doctor, you don't think I am going to have pneumonia, do you?"
I was amazed at the cry. It was like that of a terrified child. Dr.
Pettit smiled down at her.
"We hope not. We shall do our best to keep it away. But you must help
me. Put this in your mouth, please."
My mother-in-law obeyed him docilely. But my heart sank as I watched
the physician's face.
Suddenly she cried out, "Richard! Richard, if I am in danger of
pneumonia, as this doctor thinks, I want a trained nurse here at once,
one who has had experience in pneumonia cases. Margaret means
well, but threatened pneumonia with my heart needs more than good
"Of course, mother," Dicky acquiesced. "I was just about to suggest
one to Dr. Pettit."
"But, doctor," Dicky said anxiously when we followed him into the
living room, "where are we to find a nurse?"
"Fortunately," Dr. Pettit rejoined, "I have just learned that
absolutely the best nurse I know is free. Her name is Miss Katherine
Sonnot, and her skill and common sense are only equalled by her
exquisite tact. She is just the person to handle the case, and if you
will give me the use of your 'phone I think I can have her here within
"Of course," assented Dicky, and led the way to the telephone.
I did not hear what the physician said at first, but as he closed the
conversation a note in his voice arrested my attention.
"You are sure you are not too tired? Very well. I will see you here
Woman-like, I thought I detected a romance. The tenderness in his
voice could mean but one thing, that he admired, perhaps loved the
woman he had praised so extravagantly.
After he went away, promising to return in the evening, I busied
myself with the services to my mother-in-law he had asked me to
perform, and then sat down to wait for Miss Sonnot. Dicky wandered
in and out like a restless ghost until I wanted to shriek from very
But the first glimpse of the slender girl who came quietly into the
room and announced herself as Miss Sonnot steadied me. She was a "slip
of a thing," as my mother would have dubbed her, with great, wistful
brown eyes that illumined her delicate face. But there was an air of
efficiency about her every movement that made you confident she would
succeed in anything she undertook.
I have always been such a difficult, reserved sort of woman that I
have very few friends. I did not understand the impulse that made me
resolve to win this girl's friendship if I could.
One thing I knew. The grave, sweet face, the steady eyes told me. One
could lay a loved one's life in those slim, capable hands and rest
assured that as far as human aid could go it would be safe.
"Keep her quiet. Above all things, do not let her get excited over
Miss Sonnot was giving me my parting instructions as to the care of my
sick mother-in-law before taking the sleep which she so sorely needed,
on the day that Dr. Pettit declared my mother-in-law had passed the
danger point. Thanks to her ministrations I had been able to sleep
dreamlessly for hours. Now refreshed and ready for anything, I had
prepared my room for her, and had accompanied her to it that I might
see her really resting.
She was so tired that her eyes closed even as she gave me the
admonition. I drew the covers closer about her, raised the window a
trifle, drew down the shades, and left her.
As I closed the door softly behind me, I heard the querulous voice of
"Margaret! Margaret! Where are you?"
As I bent over my husband's mother she smiled up at me. Her
illness had done more to bridge the chasm, between us than years of
companionship could have done. One cannot cherish bitterness toward
an old woman helplessly ill and dependent upon one. And I think in
her own peculiar way she realized that I was giving her all I had of
strength and good will.
"What can I do for you?" I asked, returning her smile.
"I want something to eat, and after that I want to have a talk with
Richard. Where is he?"
"He is asleep," I answered mechanically. In a moment my thoughts had
flown back to the day my mother-in-law and I had met Harry Underwood
in trip Aquarium, and she had discovered he was Lillian Gale's
What was it Dicky's mother had said that day in the Aquarium rest
"I have a duty to you to perform," she had declared, "a very painful
duty, which involves the reviving of an old controversy with my son. I
beg that you will not try to find out anything concerning its nature.
It is better far that you do not."
She had wished to go home at once and talk to Dicky. I had persuaded
her to go first to Fraunces's Tavern for luncheon. There she had been
taken ill, and in the days that had intervened between that time and
the moment I leaned over her bedside she and we around her had
been fighting for her life. There had been no opportunity for a
confidential talk between mother and son. And I was determined that
there should be none yet.
In the first place, she was in no condition to discuss any subject,
let alone one fraught with so many possibilities of excitement. In
the second place, I was determined that no one should discuss that old
secret with my husband before I had a chance to talk to him concerning
"Well, you needn't go to sleep just because Richard is."
My mother-in-law's impatient voice brought me back to myself. I
I have never seen any one enjoy food as my mother-in-law did the
simple meal I had prepared for her. She ate every crumb, drank the
wine, and drained the pot of tea before she spoke.
"How good that tasted!" she said gratefully as she finished, sinking
back against my shoulder. I had not only propped her up with pillows,
but had sat behind her as she ate, that she might have the support of
"I think I can take a long nap now," she went on. "When I awake send
Richard to me."
I laid her down gently, arranged her pillows, and drew up the covers
over her shoulders. She caught my hand and pressed it.
"My own daughter could not have been kinder to me than you have been,"
"I am glad to have pleased you, Mrs. Graham," I returned. I suppose
my reply sounded stiff, but I could not forget the day she came to us,
and her contemptuous rejection of Dicky's proposal that I should call
She frowned slightly. "Forget what I said that day I came," she said
quickly. "Call me Mother, that is, if you can."
For a moment I hesitated. The memory of her prejudice against me would
not down. Then I had an illuminative look into the narrowness of my
own soul. The sight did not please me. With a sudden resolve I bent
down and kissed the cheek of my husband's mother.
"Of course, Mother," I said quietly.
It must have been two hours at least that I sat watching the sick
woman. She left her hand in mine a long time, then, with a drowsy
smile, she drew it away, turned over with her face to the wall, and
fell into a restful sleep. I listened to her soft, regular breathing
until the sunlight faded and the room darkened.
I must have dozed in my chair, for I did not hear Katie come in or
go to the kitchen. The first thing that aroused me was a voice that I
knew, the high-pitched tones of Lillian Gale Underwood.
"I tell you, Dicky-bird, it won't do. She's got to know the truth."
As Mrs. Underwood's shrill voice struck my ears, I sprang to my feet
My first thought was of the sick woman over whom I was watching. Both
Dr. Pettit and the nurse, Miss Sonnot, had warned us that excitement
might be fatal to their patient.
And the one thing in the world that might be counted on to excite my
mother-in-law was the presence of the woman whose voice I heard in
conversation with my husband.
I rose noiselessly from my chair and went into the living room,
closing the door after me. Then with my finger lifted warningly for
silence I forced a smile of greeting to my lips as Lillian Underwood
saw me and came swiftly toward me.
"Dicky's mother is asleep," I said in a low tone. "I am afraid I must
ask you to come into the kitchen, for she awakens so easily."
Lillian nodded comprehendingly, but Dicky flushed guiltily as they
followed me into the kitchen. Katie had left a few minutes before to
run an errand for me.
Dicky's voice interrupted the words Lillian was about to speak to me.
I hardly recognized it, hoarse, choked with feeling as it was.
"Lillian," he said, "you shall not do this. There is no need for you
to bring all those old, horrible memories back. You have buried them
and have had a little peace. If Madge is the woman I take her for she
will be generous enough not to ask it, especially when I give her my
word of honor that there is nothing in my past or yours which could
"You have the usual masculine idea of what might concern a woman,"
Lillian retorted tartly.
But I answered the appeal I had heard in my husband's voice even more
than in his words.
"You do not need to tell me anything, Mrs. Underwood," I said gently,
and at the words Dicky moved toward me quickly and put his arm around
I flinched at his touch. I could not help it. It was one thing to
summon courage to refuse the confidence for which every tortured nerve
was calling--it was another to bear the affectionate touch of the man
whose whole being I had just heard cry out in attempt to protect this
Dicky did not notice any shrinking, but Mrs. Underwood saw it. I
think sometimes nothing ever escapes her eyes. She came closer to me,
"You are very brave, Mrs. Graham, very kind, but it won't do. Dicky,
keep quiet." She turned to him authoritatively as he started to speak.
"You know how much use there is of trying to stop me when I make up my
mind to anything."
She put one hand upon my shoulder.
"Dear child," she said earnestly, "will you trust me till tomorrow?
I had thought that I must tell you right away, but your splendid
generous attitude makes it possible for me to ask you this. I can see
there is no place here where we can talk undisturbed. Besides, I must
take no chance of your mother-in-law's finding out that I am here.
Will you come to my apartment tomorrow morning any time after 10?
Harry will be gone by then, and we can have the place to ourselves."
"I will be there at 10," I said gravely. I felt that her honesty and
directness called for an explicit answer, and I gave it to her.
"Thank you." She smiled a little sadly, and then added: "Don't imagine
all sorts of impossible things. It isn't a very pretty story, but I am
beginning to hope that after you have heard it we may become very real
Preposterous as her words seemed in the light of the things I had
heard from the lips of my husband's mother, they gave me a sudden
feeling of comfort.
LILLIAN UNDERWOOD'S STORY
"Well, I suppose we might as well get it over with."
Lillian Underwood and I sat in the big tapestried chairs on either
side of the glowing fire in her library. She had instructed Betty,
her maid, to bring her neither caller nor telephone message, until our
conference should be ended. The two doors leading from the room
were locked and the heavy velvet curtains drawn over them, making us
absolutely secure from intrusion.
"I suppose so." The answer was banal enough, but it was physically
impossible for me to say anything more. My throat was parched, my
tongue thick, and I clenched my hands tightly in my lap to prevent
Mrs. Underwood gave me a searching glance, then reached over and laid
her warm, firm hand over mine.
"See here, my child," she said gently, "this will never do. Before I
tell you this story there is something you must be sure of. Look at
me. No matter what else you may think of me do you believe me to be
capable of telling you a falsehood when a make a statement to you upon
Her eyes met mine fairly and squarely. Mrs. Underwood has wonderful
eyes, blue-gray, expressive. They shone out from the atrocious mask of
make-up which she always uses, and I unreservedly accepted the message
they carried to me.
"I am sure you would not deceive me," I returned quickly, and meant
"Thank you. Then before I begin my story I am going to assure you of
one thing, upon--my--honor."
She spoke slowly, impressively, her eyes never wavering from mine.
"You have heard rumors about Dicky and me; you will hear things from
me today which will show you that the rumors were justified in part,
and yet--I want you to believe me when I tell you that there is
nothing in any past association of your husband and myself which would
make either of us ashamed to look you straight in the eyes."
I believed her! I would challenge anyone in the world to look into
those clear, honest eyes and doubt their owner's truth.
There was a long minute when I could not speak. I had not known the
full measure of what I feared until her words lifted the burden from
Then I had my moment, recognized it, rose to it. I leaned forward and
returned the earnest gaze of the woman opposite to me.
"Dear Mrs. Underwood," I said. "Why tell me any more? I am perfectly
satisfied with what you have just told me. Be sure that no rumors will
trouble me again."
Her clasp of my hand tightened until my rings hurt my flesh. Into her
face came a look of triumph.
"I knew it," she said jubilantly. "I could have banked on you. You're
a big woman, my dear, and I believe we are going to be real friends."
She loosened her clasp of my hands, leaned back in her chair and
looked for a long, meditative moment at the fire.
"You cannot imagine how much easier your attitude makes the telling of
my story," she began finally.
"But I just assured you that there was no need for the telling," I
"I know. But it is your right to know, and it will be far better if
you are put in possession of the facts. It is an ugly story. I think I
had better tell you the worst of it first."
I marvelled at the look that swept across her face. Bitter pain and
humiliation were written there so plainly that I looked away. Then
my eyes fell upon her strong, white, shapely hands which were resting
upon the arms of the chair. They were strained, bloodless, where the
fingers gripped the tapestried surface.
When she spoke, her voice was low, hurried, abashed. "Seven years
ago," she said, "my first husband sued me for divorce, and named Dicky
as a co-respondent."
I sprang from my seat.
"Oh, no, no, no," I cried, hardly knowing what I said. "Surely not. I
remember reading the old story when you were married to Mr. Underwood,
three years ago--I've always admired your work so much that I've read
every line about you--and surely Dicky's name wasn't mentioned. I
would have remembered it when I met him, I know."
"There, there." She was on her feet beside me and with a gentle yet
compelling hand put me back in my chair. Her voice had the same tone
a mother would use to a grieving child. "Dicky's name wasn't mentioned
when the story was printed the last time, because at the time the
divorce was granted, Mr. Morten withdrew the accusation that he had
made against him."
"Why?" The question left my lips almost without volition. I sensed
something tragic, full of meaning for me behind the statement she had
She did not answer me for a minute or two.
"I can only answer that question on your word of honor not to tell
Dicky what I am going to tell you," she said. "It is something he
suspects, but which I would never confirm."
She paused expectantly. "Upon honor, of course," I answered simply.
She rose and moved swiftly toward one of the built-in bookcases. I saw
that she put her hand upon one of the sections and pulled upon it. To
my astonishment it moved toward her, and I saw that behind it was a
cleverly constructed wall safe. She turned the combination, opened the
door and took from the safe an inlaid box which, as she came toward
me, I saw was made of rare old woods.
She sat down again in the big chair and looked at the box musingly,
tenderly. I leaned forward expectantly. Again I had the sense of
tragedy near me.
Drawing the key from her dress she opened the box and took from it a
miniature, gazed at it a minute, and then handed it to me.
"Oh, Mrs. Underwood," I exclaimed. "How exquisite."
The miniature was of the most beautiful child I had ever seen, a tiny
girl of perhaps two years. She stood poised as if running to meet one,
her baby arms outstretched. It was a picture to delight or break a
I looked up from the miniature to the face of the woman who had handed
it to me.
"Yes," she answered my unspoken query, "my little daughter; my only
child. She is the price I paid for Dicky's immunity from the scandal
which the unjust man that I called husband brought upon me."
My first impulse was one of horror-stricken sympathy for her. Then
came the reaction. A flaming jealousy enveloped me from head to foot.
"How she must have loved Dicky to do this for him!" The thought beat
upon my brain like a sledge hammer.
"Don't think that, my dear, for it isn't true." I had not spoken, but
with her almost uncanny ability to divine the thoughts of other people
she had fathomed mine. "I was always fond of Dicky, but I never was in
love with him."
"Then why did you make such a sacrifice?" I stammered.
"Why! There was absolutely no other way," she said, opening her
wonderful eyes wide in amazement that I had not at once grasped her
point of view. "Dicky was absolutely innocent of any wrongdoing, but
through a combination of circumstances of which I shall tell you, my
husband had gathered a show of evidence which would have won him the
divorce if it had been presented."
"He bargained with me: I to give up all claim to the baby. He to
withdraw Dicky's name, and all other charges except that of desertion.
Thus Dicky was saved a scandal which would have followed and hampered
him all his life, and I was spared the fastening of a shameful verdict
upon me. Of course, everybody who read about the case and did not know
me, believed me guilty anyway, but my friends stood by me gallantly,
and that part of it is all right. But every time I look at that baby
face I am tempted to wish that I had let honor, the righting of Dicky,
everything go by the boards, and had taken my chance of having her,
even if it were only part of the time."
Her voice was rough, uneven as she finished speaking, but that was the
only evidence of the emotion which I knew must have her stretched upon
Right there I capitulated to Lillian Underwood. Always, through my
dislike and distrust of her, there had struggled an admiration which
would not down, even when I thought I had most cause to fear her.
But this revelation of the real bigness of the woman caught my
allegiance and fixed it. She had sacrificed the thing which was most
precious to her to keep her ideal of honor unsullied. I felt that I
could never have made a similar sacrifice, but I mentally saluted her
for her power to do it.
I realized, too, the reason for Dicky's deference to Mrs. Underwood,
which had often puzzled and sometimes angered me. Once when she had
given him a raking over for the temper he displayed toward me in her
presence, he had said:
"You know I couldn't get angry at you, no matter what you said; I owe
you too much."
I had wondered at the time what it was that my husband "owed" Mrs.
Underwood. The riddle was solved for me at last.
I am not an impetuous woman, and I do not know how I ever mustered
up courage to do it. But the sight of Lillian Underwood's face as
she looked at her baby's picture was too much for me. Without any
conscious volition on my part I found my arms around her, and her face
pressed against my shoulder.
I expected a storm of grief, for I knew the woman had been holding
herself in with an iron hand. But only a few convulsive movements of
her shoulders betrayed her emotion and when she raised her face to
mine her eyes were less tear-bedewed than my own.
Something stirred me to quick questioning.
"Oh, is there a chance of your having her again?"
"I am always hoping for it," she answered quietly. "When her father
married again, several years ago--that was before my marriage to
Harry--I hoped against hope that he would give her to me. For he
knew--the hound--knew better than anybody else that all his vile
charges were false."
Her eyes blazed, her voice was strident, her hands clasped and
unclasped. Then, as if a string had been loosened, she sank back in
her chair again.
"But he would not give her to me," she went on dully, "and he could
not even if he would. For his mother, who has the child, is old and
devoted to her. It would kill her to take Marion away from her."
"You saw my pink room?" she demanded abruptly.
I nodded. The memory of that rose-colored nest and the look in my
hostess's eyes when on my other visit she had said she had prepared
the room for a young girl was yet vivid.
"I spent weeks preparing it for her when I heard of her father's
remarriage," she said, "When I finally realized that I could not have
her, I lay ill for weeks in it. On my recovery I vowed that no one
else but she or I should ever sleep there. I have another bedroom
where I sleep most of the time. But sometimes I go in there and spend
the night, and pretend that I have her little body snuggled up close
to me just as it used to be."
The crackling of the logs in the grate was the only sound to be heard
for many minutes.
With her elbow resting on the arm of her chair, her chin cupped in her
hand, her whole body leaning toward the warmth of the fire, she sat
gazing into the leaping flames as if she were trying to read in them
the riddle of the future.
I patiently waited on her mood. That she would open her heart to me
further I knew, but I did not wish to disturb her with either word or
"I might as well begin at the beginning." There was a note in her
voice that all at once made me see the long years of suffering which
had been hers. "Only the beginning is so commonplace that it lacks
interest. It is the record of a very mediocre stenographer with
That she was speaking of herself her tone told me, but I was genuinely
surprised. Mrs. Underwood was the last woman in the world one would
picture as holding down a stenographer's position.
"I can't remember when I didn't have in the back of my brain the idea
of learning to draw," she went on, "but it took years and years of
uphill work and saving to get a chance. I was an orphan, with nobody
to care whether I lived or died, and nothing but my own efforts to
depend on. But I stuck to it, working in the daytime and studying
evenings and holidays till at last I began to get a foothold, and then
when I had enough to put by to risk it I went to Paris."
Her voice was as matter of fact as if she were describing a visit to
the family butcher shop. But I visualized the busy, plucky years with
their reward of Paris as if I had been a spectator of them.
"Of course, by the time I got there I was almost old enough to be the
mother, or, at least, the elder sister of most of the boys and girls
I met, and I had learned life and experience in a good, hard school.
Some of the youngsters got the habit of coming to me with all their
troubles, fancied or real. I made some stanch friends in those days,
but never a stancher, truer one than Dicky Graham.
"Tell me, dear girl, when you were teaching those history classes, did
any of your boy pupils fall in love with you?"
I answered her with an embarrassed little laugh. Her question called
up memories of shy glances, gifts of flowers and fruit, boyish
confidences--all the things which fall to the lot of any teacher of
"Well, then, you will understand me when I tell you that in the studio
days in Paris Dicky imagined himself quite in love with me."
There was something in her tone and manner which took all the sting
out of her words for me. All the jealousy and real concern which I had
spent on this old attachment of my husband for Mrs. Underwood vanished
as I listened to her. She might have been Dicky's mother, speaking of
his early and injudicious fondness for green apples.
"I shall always be proud of the way I managed Dicky that time." Her
voice still held the amused maternal note. "It's so easy for an older
woman to spoil a boy's life in a case like that if she's despicable
enough to do it. But, you see, I was genuinely fond of Dicky, and
yet not the least bit in love with him, and I was able, without his
guessing it, to keep the management of the affair in my own hands.
So when he woke up, as boys always do, to the absurdity of the idea,
there was nothing in his recollections of me to spoil our friendship.
"Then there came the early days of my struggle to get a foothold in
New York in my line. There were thousands of others like me. Six or
seven of the strugglers had been my friends in Paris. We formed a sort
of circle, "for offence and defence," Dicky called it; settled down
near each other, and for months we worked and played and starved
together. When one of us sold anything we all feasted while it lasted.
I tell you, my dear, those were strenuous times but they had a zest of
I saw more of the picture she was revealing than she thought I did.
I could guess that the one who most often sold anything was the woman
who was so calmly telling me the story of those early hardships. I
knew that the dominant member of that little group of stragglers, the
one who heartened them all, the one who would unhesitatingly go hungry
herself if she thought a comrade needed it, was Lillian Underwood.
"And then I spoiled my life. I married."
"Don't misunderstand me," she hastened to say. "I do not mean that I
believe all marriages are failures. I believe tremendously in
married happiness, but I think I must be one of the women who are
temperamentally unfitted to make any man happy."
Her tone was bitter, self-accusing.
"You cannot make me believe that," I said stoutly. "I would rather
believe that you were very unwise in your choice of husbands."
She laughed ironically.
"Well, we will let it go at that! At any rate there is only one word
that describes my first marriage. It was hell from start to finish."
The look on her face told me she was not exaggerating. It was a look,
only graven by intense suffering.
"When the baby came my feeling for Will changed. He had worn me out.
The love I had given him I lavished upon the child. Will's mother came
to live with us--she had been drifting around miserably before--and
while she failed me at the time of the divorce, yet she was a tower of
strength to me during the baby's infancy. I was very fond of her and
I think she sincerely liked me. But Will, her only son, could always
make her believe black was white, as I later found out to my sorrow.
"With the vanishing of the hectic love I had felt for Will, things
went more smoothly with me. I worked like a slave to keep up the
expenses of the home and to lay by something for the baby's future. My
husband was away so much that the boys and girls gradually came back
to something like their old term of intimacy. I never gave the matter
of propriety a thought. My mother-in-law, a baby and a maid, were
certainly chaperons enough.
"Afterward I found out that my husband, equipped with his legal
knowledge, had set all manner of traps for me, had bribed my maid, and
diabolically managed to twist the most innocent visits of the boys of
the old crowd to our home to his own evil meanings.
"Then came the crash. Dicky came in one Sunday afternoon and I saw at
once that he was really ill. You know his carelessness. He had let a
cold go until he was as near pneumonia as he could well be. A sleet
storm was raging outside, and when Dicky, after shivering before the
fire, started to go back to his studio, Will's mother, who liked Dicky
immensely, joined with me in insisting that he must not go out at all,
but to bed. Dicky was really too ill to care what we did with him,
so we got him into bed, and I took care of him for two or three days
until he was well enough to leave.
"Of course, the greater part of his care fell on me, for Will's mother
was old and not strong. I am not going to tell you the accusations
which my unspeakable husband made against me, or the affidavits which
the maid was bribed to sign about Dicky and me. You can guess. Worst
of all, Will's mother turned against me, not because of anything she
had observed, but simply because her son told her I was guilty.
"'I never would have thought it of you, Lillian,' she said to me with
the tears streaming down her wrinkled, old face. 'I never saw anything
out of the way, but of course Will wouldn't lie. And I loved you so.'
"Poor old woman. Those last few words of affection made it easier for
me to give the baby up to her when the time came. She idolizes Marion.
She gives her the best of care, and I do not think she will teach her
to hate me as Will would.
"But there has never been a moment since I kissed Marion and gave her
into the arms of her grandmother that I have not known exactly how
she was treated," she said. "I have made it my business to know, and I
have paid liberally for the knowledge. You see, about the time of the
divorce Mr. Morten had a legacy left him, so that life has been easy
for him financially. His mother had always kept a maid. Every servant
she has had has been in my employ. There has scarcely been a day since
I lost my baby that from some unobserved place I have not seen her
in her walks. I know every line of her face, every curve of her body,
every trick of movement and expression. I shall know how to win her
love when the time comes, never fear."
Her voice was dauntless, but her face mirrored the anguish that must
be her daily companion.
One thing about her recital jarred upon me. This paying of servants,
this furtive espionage was not in keeping with the high resolve that
had led the mother to "keep her word" to the man who had ruined her
life. And yet--and yet--I dared not judge her. In her place I could
not imagine what I would have done.
One thing I knew. Never again would I doubt Lillian Underwood. The
ghost of the past romance between my husband and the woman before
me was laid for all time, never to trouble me again. Remembering
the sacrifice she had made for Dicky, considering the gallant fight
against circumstances she had waged since her girlhood, I felt
suddenly unworthy of the friendship she had so warmly offered me.
I turned to her, trying to find words, which should fittingly express
my sentiments, but she forestalled me with a kaleidoscopic change of
manner that bewildered me.
"Enough of horrors," she said, springing up and giving a little
expressive shake of her shoulders as if she were throwing a weight
from them. "I'm going to give you some luncheon."
"Oh, please!" I put up a protesting hand, but she was across the room
and pressing a bell before I could stop her.
I thought I understood. The grave of her past life was closed again.
She had opened it because she wished me to know the truth concerning
the old garbled stories about herself and Dicky. Having told me
everything, she had pushed the grisly thing back into its sepulchre
again and had sealed it. She would not refer to it again.
One thing puzzled me, something to which she had not referred--why had
she married Harry Underwood? Why, after the terrible experience of
her first marriage, had she risked linking her life with an unstable
creature like the man who was now her husband?
I put all questionings aside, however, and tried to meet her brave,
LITTLE MISS SONNOT'S OPPORTUNITY
My mother-in-law's convalescence was as rapid as the progress of
her sudden illness had been. By the day that I gave my first history
lecture before the Lotus Study Club she was well enough to dismiss Dr.
Pettit with, one of her sudden imperious speeches, and to make plans
that evening for the welcoming and entertaining of her daughter
Harriet and her famous son-in-law Dr. Edwin Braithwaite, who were
expected next day on their way to Europe, where Doctor was to take
charge of a French hospital at the front.
That night I could not sleep. The exciting combination of happenings
effectually robbed me of rest. I tried every device I could think of
to go to sleep, but could not lose myself in even a doze. Finally, in
despair, I rose cautiously, not to awaken Dicky, and slipping on my
bathrobe and fur-trimmed mules, made my way into the dining-room.
Turning on the light, I looked around for something to read until I
should get sleepy.
"What is the matter, Mrs. Graham? Are you ill?"
Miss Sonnet's soft, voice sounded just behind me. As I turned I
thought again, as I had many times before, how very attractive the
little nurse was. She had on a dark blue negligee of rough cloth, made
very simply, but which covered her night attire completely, while
her feet, almost as small as a child's, were covered with fur-trimmed
slippers of the same color as the negligee. Her abundant hair was
braided in two plaits and hung down to her waist.
"You look like a sleepy little girl," I said impulsively.
"And you like a particularly wakeful one," she returned,
mischievously. "I am glad you are not ill. I feared you were when I
heard you snap on the light."
"No, you did not waken me. In fact, I have been awake nearly an hour.
I was just about to come out and rob the larder of a cracker and a sip
of milk in the hope that I might go to sleep again when I heard you."
"Splendid!" I ejaculated, while Miss Sonnot looked at me wonderingly.
"Can your patient hear us out here?"
"If you could hear her snore you would be sure she could not," Miss
Sonnot smiled. "And I partly closed her door when I left. She is safe
"Then we will have a party," I declared triumphantly, "a regular
boarding school party."
"Then on to the kitchen!" She raised one of her long braids of hair
and waved it like a banner. We giggled like fifteen-year-old school
girls as we tiptoed our way into the kitchen, turned on the light and
searched refrigerator, pantry, bread and cake boxes for food.
"Now for our plunder," I said, as we rapidly inventoried the eatables
we had found. Bread, butter, a can of sardines, eggs, sliced bacon and
a dish of stewed tomatoes.
"I wish we had some oysters or cheese; then we could stir up something
in the chafing dish," I said mournfully.
"Do you know, I believe I have a chafing dish recipe we can use in a
scrap book which I always carry with me," responded Miss Sonnot. "It
is in my suit case at the foot of my couch. I'll be back in a minute."
She noiselessly slipped into the living room and returned almost
instantly with a substantially bound book in her hands. She sat down
beside me at the table and opened the book.
"I couldn't live without this book," she said extravagantly. "In it I
have all sorts of treasured clippings and jottings. The things I need
most I have pasted in. The chafing dish recipes are in an envelope. I
just happened to have them along."
She was turning the pages as she spoke. On one page, which she passed
by more hurriedly than the others, were a number of Kodak pictures. I
caught a flash of one which made my heart beat more quickly. Surely I
had a print from the same negative in my trunk.
The tiny picture was a photograph of Jack Bickett or I was very much
What was it doing in the scrap book of Miss Sonnot?
I put an unsteady hand out to prevent her turning the page.
It was Jack Bickett's photograph. I schooled my voice to a sort of
"Why! Isn't this Jack Bickett?"
She started perceptibly. "Yes. Do you know him?"
"He is the nearest relative I have," I returned quickly, "a distant
cousin, but brought up as my brother."
Her face flushed. Her eyes shone with interest.
"Oh! then you must be his Margaret?" she cried.
As the words left Miss Sonnot's lips she gazed at me with a
half-frightened little air as if she regretted their utterance.
"I beg your pardon, Mrs. Graham," she said contritely; "you must think
I have taken leave of my senses. But I have heard so much about you."
"From Mr. Bickett?" My head was whirling. I had never heard Jack speak
the name of "Sonnot." Indeed, I would never have known he had met her,
save for the accidental opening of her scrap book to his picture when
she and I were searching for chafing dish recipes.
"Oh! No, indeed. I have never seen Mr. Bickett myself."
A rosy embarrassed flush stole over her face as she spoke. Her eyes
were starry. Through my bewilderment came a thought which I voiced.
"That is his loss then. He would think so if he could see you now."
She laughed confusedly while the rosy tint of her cheeks deepened.
"I must explain to you," she said simply. "I have never seen
Mr. Bickett, but my brother is one of his friends. They used to
correspond, and I enjoyed his letters as much as Mark did. I think his
is a wonderful personality, don't you?"
"Naturally," I returned, a trifle dryly. The little nurse was
revealing more than she dreamed. There was romantic admiration in
every note in her voice. I was not quite sure that I liked it.
But I put all selfish considerations down with an iron hand and smiled
in most friendly fashion at her.
"Isn't it wonderful that after hearing so much of each other we should
meet in this way?" I said heartily. "If only our brothers were here."
Miss Sonnet's face brightened again. "Is Mr. Bickett in this country?
" she asked, her voice carefully nonchalant. "I have not heard
anything about him for two or three years."
"He sailed for France a week ago," I answered slowly. "He intends to
join the French engineering corps."
There was a long moment of silence. Then Miss Sonnot spoke slowly, and
there was a note almost of reverence in her voice.
"That is just what he would do," and then, impetuously, "how I envy
"Envy him?" I repeated incredulously.
"Yes, indeed." Her voice was militant, her eyes shining, her face
aglow. "How I wish I were a man ever since this war started! I am just
waiting for a good chance to join a hospital unit, but I do not happen
to know any surgeon who has gone, and of course they all pick their
own nurses. But my chance will come. I am sure of it, and then I
am going to do my part. Why! my great-grandfather was an officer in
Napoleon's army. I feel ashamed not to be over there."
* * * * *
I saw very little of Dicky's sister and her husband during the week
they spent in New York before sailing for France. True, Harriet spent
some portion of every day with her mother, but she ate at our table
only once, always hurrying back to the hotel to oversee the menu of
her beloved Edwin.
Reasoning that in a similar situation I should not care for the
presence of an outsider, I left the mother and daughter alone
together as much as I could without appearing rude. I think they both,
appreciated my action, although, with their customary reserve, they
said very little to me.
Dr. Braithwaite came twice during the week to see us, each time
making a hurried call. Harriet appeared to wish to impress us with the
importance of these visits from so busy and distinguished a man. But
the noted surgeon himself was simple and unaffected in his manner.
One thing troubled me. I had done nothing, said nothing to further
Miss Sonnot's desire to go to France as a nurse. She had left us the
day after Dicky's sister and brother-in-law arrived, left with the
admiration and good wishes of us all. The big surgeon himself, after
watching her attention to his mother-in-law upon the day of arrival,
made an approving comment.
"Good nurse, that," he had said. I took the first opportunity to
repeat his words to the little nurse, who flushed with pleasure. I
knew that I ought to at least inquire of the big surgeon or his wife
about the number of nurses he was taking with him, but there seemed no
fitting opportunity, and--I did not make one.
I did not try to explain to myself the curious disinclination I
felt to lift a hand toward the sending of Miss Sonnot to the French
hospitals. But every time I thought of the night she had told me of
her wish I felt guilty.
Jack was already "somewhere in France." If Miss Sonnot entered the
hospital service, there was a possibility that they might meet.
I sincerely liked and admired Miss Sonnot. My brother-cousin had been
the only man in my life until Dicky swept me off my feet with his
tempestuous wooing. My heart ought to have leaped at the prospect
of their meeting and its possible result. But I felt unaccountably
depressed at the idea, instead.
The last day of the Braithwaites' stay Harriet came unusually early to
see her mother.
"I can stay only a few minutes this morning, mother," she explained,
as she took off her heavy coat. "I know," in answer to the older
woman's startled protest. "It is awful this last day, too. I'll come
back toward night, but I must get back to Edwin this morning. He is
so annoyed. One of his nurses has fallen ill at the last moment and
cannot go. He has to secure another good one immediately, that he may
get her passport attended to in time for tomorrow's sailing. And he
will not have one unless he interviews her himself. I left him eating
his breakfast and getting ready to receive a flock of them sent him by
some physicians he knows. I must hurry back to help him through."
Miss Sonnet's opportunity had come! I knew it, knew also that I must
speak to my sister-in-law at once about her. But she had finished
her flying little visit and was putting on her coat before I finally
forced myself to broach the subject.
"Mrs. Braithwaite"--to my disgust I found my voice trembling--"I
think I ought to tell you that Miss Sonnot, the nurse your mother had,
wishes very much to enter the hospital service. She could go tomorrow,
I am sure. And I remember your husband spoke approvingly of her."
My sister-in-law rushed past me to the telephone.
"The very thing!" She threw the words over her shoulder as she took
down the receiver. "Thank you so much." Then, as she received her
connection, she spoke rapidly, enthusiastically.
"Edwin, I have such good news for you. Dicky's wife thinks that little
Miss Sonnot who nursed mother could go tomorrow. She said while she
was here that she wanted to enter the hospital service. Yes. I thought
you'd want her. All right. I'll see to it right away and telephone
you. By the way, Edwin, if she can go, you won't need me this
forenoon, will you? That's good. I can stay with mother, then. Take
care of yourself, dear. Good-by."
She hung up the receiver and turned to me.
"Can you reach her by 'phone right away, and if she can go tell her to
go to the Clinton at once and ask for Dr. Braithwaite?"
I paid a mental tribute to my sister-in-law's energy as I in my turn
took down the telephone receiver. I realized how much wear and tear
she must save her big husband.
"Miss Sonnot!" I could not help being a bit dramatic in my news. "Can
you sail for France tomorrow? One of Dr. Braithwaite's nurses is ill,
and you may have her place, if you wish."
There was a long minute of silence, and then the little nurse's voice
sounded in my ears. It was filled with awe and incredulity.
"If I wish!" and then, after a pregnant pause, "Surely, I can go.
Where do I learn the details?"
I gave her full directions and hung up the receiver with a sigh.
She came to see me before she sailed, and after she had left me, I
went into my bedroom, locked the door, and let the tears come which I
had been forcing back. I did not know what was the matter with me. I
felt a little as I did once long before when a cherished doll of
my childhood had been broken beyond all possibility of mending.
Unreasonable as the feeling was, it was as if a curtain had dropped
between me and any part of my life that lay behind me.
LIFE'S JOG-TROT AND A QUARREL
Life went at a jog-trot with me for a long time after the departure
for France of the Braithwaites and Miss Sonnot.
My mother-in-law missed her daughter, Mrs. Braithwaite, sorely. I
believe if it had not been for her pride in her brilliant daughter
and her famous son-in-law she would have become actually ill with
fretting. I found my hands full in devising ways to divert her mind
and planning dishes to tempt her delicate appetite.
Because of her frailty and consequent inability to do much
sightseeing, or, indeed, to go far from the house, Dicky and I spent a
very quiet winter.
Our evenings away from home together did not average one a week. And
Dicky very rarely went anywhere without me.
"What a Darby and Joan we are getting to be!" he remarked one night as
we sat one on each side of the library table, reading. His mother, as
was her custom, had gone to bed early in the evening.
"Yes! Isn't it nice?" I returned, smiling at him.