Part 5 out of 7
eyes to find that the physician's arm was supporting my shoulder and
his hand holding the spoon to my lips.
"Oh, thank God, thank God," some one groaned brokenly on the other
side of me, and I turned my eyes to meet Dicky's face bent close to
mine and working with emotion.
"She is all right now," the physician said, reassuringly. "She will
suffer far more from the shock than from any real damage by her
immersion. Get her into the tent." He turned to Mrs. Underwood and
said: "Rub her down hard, and if there are any extra wraps in the
party put them around her. Give her a stiff little dose of this." He
handed Lillian the brandy flask. "Then bring her out into the sunshine
again. She'll be all right in a little while."
Dicky picked me up in his arms as the physician spoke, as if I had
been a child, and strode with me toward the improvised tent Dr. Pettit
"Sweetheart, sweetheart, suppose I had lost you," he said brokenly,
and then, manlike, reproachfully even in the intensity of his emotion:
"What possessed you to go out so far? If it hadn't been for Grace
Draper being on hand when you went down, you would never have come
back. Harry and I were too far away when Lil screamed to be of any
use. But by the time we got there Miss Draper had you by the hair and
was towing you in."
My brain was too dazed to comprehend much of what Dicky was saying,
but one remark smote on my brain like a sledge hammer.
Grace Draper had saved my life! Why, if I had any memory left at all,
Grace Draper had--
Lillian came forward swiftly and placed a restraining finger on my
"You mustn't talk yet," she admonished; then to Dicky, "Run away now,
Dicky-bird, and give Mrs. Durkee and me a chance to take care of her."
Little Mrs. Durkee's sweet, anxious face was close to Lillian's. "Yes,
Dicky," she echoed, "hurry out now."
Dicky waited long enough to kiss me, a long, lingering, tender kiss
that did more to revive me than the brandy, and then went obediently
away while Mrs. Durkee and Lillian ministered to me as only tender and
efficient women can.
When I was nearly dressed again, Lillian turned to Mrs. Durkee: "Would
you mind getting a cup of coffee for this girl?" she asked. "I know
Jim and Katie have some in preparation out there."
"Of course," Mrs. Durkee returned, and fluttered away.
She had no sooner gone than Lillian gathered me in her arms with
a protecting, maternal gesture, as if I had been her own daughter
restored to her.
"Quick," she demanded fiercely, "tell me just what happened out there
when you went under. Did you get a cramp or what?"
I waited a moment before answering. The suspicion that had come to my
brain was so horrible that I did not wish to utter it even to Lillian.
"I think it must have been the undertow," I said feebly. "I felt
something like a clutch at my feet dragging me down."
Lillian's face hardened. Into her eyes came a revengeful gleam.
"Undertow!" she ejaculated, "you poor baby! Your undertow was that
Draper devil's calculating hand!"
I stared at Lillian, horrified.
"But Lillian," I protested, faintly, "how is it that they all say she
saved my life? If she really tried to drown me why didn't she let me
"Got cold feet," returned Lillian, laconically. "You see she isn't
naturally evil enough deliberately to plan to kill you. I give her
credit for that with all her devilishness, but something happened
today between her and Dicky. I don't know what it was that drove her
nearly frantic. I saw her look at you two or three times in a way that
chilled my blood. I didn't like the idea of your going out there with
her, but I didn't see any way of stopping you.
"Now, there's one thing I want you to promise me," she went on,
hurriedly. "Although I know you well enough to know it's something you
would do anyway without a promise. I don't want you to hint to anyone,
even Dicky, what you know of the Draper's attempt to put you out of
commission. It's the chance I've been looking for, the winning card I
needed so badly. I won't need to stay a week with you, my dear, as I
thought when I first planned my little campaign to get Dicky out of
the Draper's clutches. I can go home tonight if I wish to, with my
"Why, what do you mean?" I asked.
"Just this," retorted Lillian, "that I'm going to spring the nicest
little case of polite blackmail on Grace Draper before the day is over
that you ever saw.
"I shall need you when I do it, so be prepared, although you won't
need to say anything.
"But here comes Mrs. Durkee with the coffee. Do you think, after you
drink it, you'll feel strong enough to have me tackle Grace Draper?"
I shivered inwardly, but bent my head in assent. Lillian had proved
too good a friend of mine for me to go against her wishes in anything.
After I had drunk the steaming coffee, with Mrs. Durkee looking on in
smiling approval, Lillian made another request of the cheery little
"Would you mind asking Miss Draper to come here a moment?" she said
quietly. "Mrs. Graham wants to thank her, and then do hunt up that
husband of mine and tell him to rig up some sort of couch for Mrs.
Graham, so she can lie down while we have our dinner. We can all take
turns feeding her."
As Mrs. Durkee hurried out, eager to help in any way possible, Lillian
turned to me grimly.
"That will keep her out of the way while we have our seance with the
Draper. Now brace up, my dear; just nod or shake your head when I give
you the cue."
It seemed hours, although in reality it was only a moment or two
before Grace Draper parted the improvised sail curtains and stood
before us. I think she knew something of what we wished, for her face
held the grayish whiteness that had been there when she heard Dicky's
impatient words concerning her. But her head was held high, her eyes
were unflinching as she faced us.
"Miss Draper," Lillian began, her voice low and controlled, but deadly
in its icy grimness, "we won't detain you but a moment, for we are
going to get right down to brass tacks.
"I know exactly what happened out there in the surf a little while
ago. I was watching from the shore, and saw enough to make me
suspicious, and what I have learned from Mrs. Graham has confirmed my
suspicions." She glanced toward me.
"You felt a hand clutch your foot and then drag you down, did you not,
I nodded weakly, conscious only of the terrible burning eyes of Miss
Draper fixed upon me.
"It is a lie," Miss Draper began, fiercely, but Lillian held up her
hand in a gesture that appeared to cow the girl.
"Don't trouble either to deny or affirm it," she said icily. "There is
but one thing I wish to hear from your lips; it is the answer to this
question: Will you take the offer Mr. Underwood made you, to get you
that theatrical engagement, and, having done this, will you keep out
of Dicky Graham's way for every day of your life hereafter? I don't
mind telling you that if you do this I shall keep my mouth closed
about this thing; if you do not, I shall call the rest of the party
here now and tell them what I know."
"Mr. Graham will not believe you," the girl said through stiff lips.
Her attitude was like the final turning of an animal at bay.
"Don't fool yourself," Lillian retorted caustically. "I am Mr.
Graham's oldest friend. He would believe me almost more quickly than
he would his wife, for he might think that his wife was prejudiced
"I am not a patient woman, Miss Draper. Don't try me too far. Take
this offer, or take the consequences."
The girl stood with bent head for a long minute, as Lillian flared
out her ultimatum, then she lifted it and looked steadily into Mrs.
"Remember, I admit nothing," she said defiantly, "but, of course, I
accept your offer. There is nothing else for me to do in the face of
the very ingenious story which you two have concocted between you."
She turned and walked steadily out of the tent.
Her words, the blaze in her eyes, the very motion of her body, was
"She's a wonder!" Lillian admitted, drawing a deep breath, as the girl
vanished. "I didn't think she had bravado enough to bluff it out like
"And now my dear," Lillian spoke briskly, "just lean your head against
my shoulder, shut your eyes, and try to rest for a little; I know that
sand with a rain coat covering doesn't make the most comfortable couch
in the world, but I think I can hold you so that you may be able to
take a tiny nap."
What Dicky surmised concerning the events of the afternoon, I do not
know. He must have known that the girl was madly in love with him.
Something had happened to put an end to the infatuation into which he
had been slipping so rapidly.
Had he become tired of the girl's open pursuit of him? Had he guessed
to what lengths her desperation had driven her? Had the shock of my
narrow escape from drowning startled him into a fresh realization of
his love for me?
I felt too weak even to guess the solution of the riddle. All I wanted
to do was to nestle close to Dicky's side, to be taken care of and
petted like a baby.
The ride home through the sunset was a quiet one. To me it was one of
the happiest hours of my life.
Dicky, fussing over me as if I were a fragile piece of china, sat in
the most sheltered corner of the boat, and held me securely against
him, protecting me with his arm from any sudden lurch or jolt the boat
Seemingly by a tacit agreement, the others of the party left us to
ourselves. They talked in subdued tones, apparently unwilling to spoil
the wonderful beauty of the twilight ride home with much conversation.
When the boat landed, Harry Underwood, at Dicky's suggestion,
telephoned for taxis to meet the little trolley, upon which we
journeyed from the beach to Crest Haven. One of these bore the Durkees
and Grace Draper to their homes; the other was to carry Harry and
Lillian, with Dicky and me, to the old Brennan house.
Dr. Pettit, who was to take a train back to the city, came up to us
after we were seated in the taxi:
"I would advise that you go directly to bed, Mrs. Graham," he said,
with his most professional air. "You have had an unusual shock, and
rest is the one imperative thing."
I felt that common courtesy demanded that I extend an invitation to
the physician to call at our home when next he came to Marvin, but
fear of Dicky's possible displeasure tied my tongue. I could not do
anything to jeopardize the happiness so newly restored to me.
To my great surprise, however, Dicky impulsively extended his hand and
smiled upon the young physician:
"Thanks ever so much, old man," he said cordially, "for the way you
pulled the little lady through this afternoon. Don't forget to come to
see us when next you're in Marvin."
I was tucked safely into Dicky's bed, which he insisted on my sharing,
saying that he could take care of me better there than in my own room,
when he gave me the explanation of his cordiality.
"I'm not particularly stuck on that doctor chap," he said, tucking
the coverlet about me with awkward tenderness, "but I'm so thankful
tonight I just can't be sour on anybody."
"Sweetheart, sweetheart!" He put his cheek to mine. "To think how
nearly I lost you!" And my heart echoed the exclamation could not
"Ah! Dicky, to think how nearly I lost YOU."
A DARK NIGHT AND A TROUBLED DAWN
"How many more trains are there tonight?"
Lillian Underwood's voice was sharp with anxiety. My voice reflected
worry, as I answered her query.
"Two, one at 12:30, and the last, until morning, 2 o'clock."
"Well, I suppose we might as well lie down and get some sleep. They
probably will be out on the last train."
"You don't suppose," I began, then stopped.
"That they've slipped off the water wagon?" Lillian returned grimly.
"That's just what I'm afraid of. We will know in a little while,
anyway. Harry will begin to telephone me, and keep it up until he gets
too lazy to remember the number. Come on, let's get off these clothes
and get into comfortable negligees. We probably shall have a long
night of worry before us."
I obeyed her suggestion, but I was wild with an anxiety which Lillian
did not suspect. My question, which she had finished for me, had not
meant what she had thought at all. In fact, until she spoke of it,
that possibility had not occurred to me.
It was a far different fear that was gripping me. I was afraid that
Grace Draper had failed to keep the bargain she had made with Lillian
to keep out of Dicky's way, in return for Lillian's silence concerning
the Draper girl's mad attempt to drown me during our "desert island
Whether or not my narrow escape from death had brought Dicky to a
realization of what we meant to each other, I could not tell. At any
rate, he never had been more my royal lover than in the five days
since my accident. Indeed, since that day he had made but one trip to
the city beside this with Harry Underwood, the return from which we
were so anxiously awaiting. When the men left in the morning they had
told us not to plan dinner at home, but to be ready to accompany them
to a nearby resort for a "shore dinner," as they were coming out on
the 5 o'clock train. No wonder that at 10:30 Lillian and I were both
anxious and irritated.
Dicky's behavior toward me, since death so nearly gripped me,
certainly had given me no reason to doubt that his infatuation
for Grace Draper was at an end. But no one except myself knew how
apparently strong her hold had been on Dicky through the weeks of the
late summer, nor how ruthless her own mad passion for him was. Had she
reconsidered her bargain? Was she making one last attempt to regain
her hold upon Dicky?
The telephone suddenly rang out its insistent summons. I ran to it,
but Lillian brushed past me and took the receiver from my trembling
I sank down on the stairs and clutched the stair rail tightly with
both hands to keep from falling.
"Yes, yes, this is Lil, Harry. What's the matter?
"Where are you?
"Yes, we were coming, anyway. Yes, we'll bring Miss Draper's sister.
Don't bother to meet us. We'll take a taxi straight from the station."
Staggering with terror, I caught her hand, and prevented her putting
the receiver back on its hook.
"Is Dicky dead?" I demanded.
"No, no, child," she said soothingly.
"I don't believe it," I cried, maddened at my own fear. "Call him to
the 'phone. Let me hear his voice myself, then I'll believe you."
She took the receiver out of my grip, put it back upon the hook,
and grasped my hands firmly, holding them as she would those of a
"See here, Madge," she said sternly, "Dicky is very much alive, but he
is hurt slightly and needs you. We have barely time to get Mrs. Gorman
and that train. Hurry and get ready."
* * * * *
Dicky's eager eyes looked up from his white face into mine. His voice,
weak, but thrilling with the old love note, repeated my name over and
over, as if he could not say it enough.
I sank on my knees beside the bed in which Dicky lay. I realized in a
hazy sort of fashion that the room must be Harry Underwood's own bed
chamber, but I spent no time in conjecture. All my being was fused in
the one joyous certainty that Dicky was alive and in my arms, and
that I had been assured he would get well. I laid my face against
his cheek, shifted my arms so that no weight should rest against his
bandaged left shoulder, which, at my first glimpse of it, had caused
me to shudder involuntarily.
"If you only knew how awful I felt about this," Dicky murmured,
contritely, and, as I raised my eyes to look at him, his own
contracted as with pain.
"It's a fine mess I've brought you into by my carelessness this
summer, but I swear I didn't dream--"
I laid my hand on his lips.
"Don't, sweetheart," I pleaded. "It is enough for me to know that you
are safe in my arms. Nothing else in the world matters. Just rest and
get well for me."
He kissed the hand against his lips, then reached up the unbandaged
arm, and with gentle fingers pulled mine away.
"But there is one thing I must talk about," he said solemnly,
"something you must do for me, Madge, for I cannot get up from here
to see to it. It's a hard thing to ask you to do, but you are so brave
and true, I know you will understand. Tell me, is that poor girl going
"I--I don't know, Dicky," I faltered, salving my conscience with
the thought that he must not be excited with the knowledge of Grace
Draper's true condition.
"Poor girl," he sighed. "I never dreamed she looked at things in the
light she did, but I feel guilty anyhow, responsible. She must have
the best of care, Madge, best physicians, best nurses, everything. I
must meet all expenses, even to the ones which will be necessary if
she should die."
He brought out the last words fearfully. Little drops of moisture
stood on his forehead. I saw that the shock of the girl's terrible act
had unnerved him.
Nerving myself to be as practical and matter-of-fact as possible, I
wiped the moisture from his brow with my handkerchief and patted his
"I will attend to everything," I promised, "just as if you were able
to see to it. But you must do something for me in return; you must
promise not to talk any more and try and go to sleep."
"My own precious girl," he sighed, happily, and then drowsily--
I pressed my lips to his. His eyes closed, and with his hand clinging
tightly to mine, he slept.
How long I knelt there I do not know. No one came near the room, but
through the closed door I could hear the hushed hurry and movement
which marks a desperate fight between life and death.
I felt numbed, bewildered. I tried to visualize what was happening
outside the room, but I could not. I felt as if Dicky and I had come
through some terrible shipwreck together and had been cast up on this
friendly piece of shore.
I knew that later I would have to face my own soul in a rigid
inquisition as to how far I had been to blame for this tragedy. I had
been married less than a year, and yet my husband was involved in a
horrible complication like this.
But my brain was too exhausted to follow that line of thought. I was
content to rest quietly on my knees by the side of Dicky's bed, with
his hand in mine and my eyes fixed on his white face with the long
lashes shadowing it.
At first I was perfectly comfortable, then after a while little
tingling pains began to run through my back and limbs.
I dared not change my position for fear of disturbing Dicky, so I
set my teeth and endured the discomfort. The sharpness of the pain
gradually wore away as the minutes went by, and was succeeded by a
distressing feeling of numbness extending all over my body.
Just as I was beginning to feel that the numbness must soon extend to
my brain, the door opened and some one came quietly in.
My back was to the door, and so careful were the footsteps crossing
the room that I could not tell who the newcomer was until I felt a
firm hand gently unclasping my nervous fingers from Dicky's. Then I
looked up into the solicitous face of Dr. Pettit.
"How is it that you have been left alone here so long?" he inquired
indignantly, yet keeping his voice to the professional low pitch of a
sick room. He put his strong, firm hands under my elbows, raised me to
my feet and supported me to a chair, for my feet were like pieces of
wood. I could hardly lift them.
"How long have you been kneeling there?" he demanded. "You would have
fainted away if you had stayed there much longer."
"I do not know," I replied faintly, "but it doesn't matter. Tell me,
is my husband all right, and how badly is he hurt?"
"He is not hurt seriously at all," the physician replied. "The bullet
went through the fleshy part of his left arm. It was a clean wound,
and he will be around again in no time."
He walked to Dicky's bed, bent over him, listened to his breathing,
straightened, and came back to me.
"He is doing splendidly," he said, "but you are not. You are on the
point of collapse from what you have undergone tonight. You must lie
down at once. If there is no one else to take care of you, I must do
I felt as if I could not bear to answer him, even to raise my eyes
to meet his. I do not know how long the intense silence would have
continued. Just as I felt that I could not bear the situation any
longer, Lillian Underwood came into the room, bringing with her, as
she always does, an atmosphere of cheerful sanity.
"What is the matter?" she asked. Her tone was low and guarded, but in
it there was a note of alarm, and the same anxiety shown from her eyes
as she came swiftly toward me.
"Mrs. Graham is in danger of a nervous collapse if she does not have
rest and quiet soon," Dr. Pettit returned gravely. "Will you see that
she is put to bed at once? Mr. Graham will do very well for a while
alone, although when you have made Mrs. Graham comfortable, I wish you
would come back and sit with him."
Lillian put her strong arms around me and led me through the door into
the outer hall.
"But who is with Miss Draper?" I protested faintly, as we started down
the stairs toward the first floor.
"Her sister and one of the best trained nurses in the city," Lillian
responded. "Besides, Dr. Pettit will go immediately back to her room."
"But Dicky, there is no one with Dicky," I said, struggling feebly in
an attempt to go back up the stairs again.
"Don't be childish, Madge." The words, the tone, were impatient,
the first I had ever heard from Lillian toward me. But I mentally
acknowledged their justice and braced myself to be more sensible, as
she guided me to her room, and helped me into bed.
I found her sitting by my bedside when I opened my eyes. Through the
lowered curtains I caught a ray of sunlight, and knew that it was
"Dicky?" I asked wildly, staring up from my pillows.
Lillian put me back again with a firm hand.
"Lie still," she said gently. "Dicky is fine, and when you have eaten
the breakfast Betty has prepared and which Katie is bringing you, you
may go upstairs and take care of him all day."
"But it is daylight," I protested. "I must have slept all night. And
you? Have you slept at all?"
"Don't bother about me," she returned lightly. "I shall have a good
long nap as soon as you are ready to take care of Dicky."
"But I meant to sleep only two or three hours. I don't see how I ever
could have slept straight through the night."
I really felt near to tears with chagrin that I should have left Dicky
to the care of any one else while I soundly slept the night through.
Lillian looked at me keenly, then smiled.
"Can't you guess?" she asked significantly.
"You mean you put something in the mulled wine to make me sleep?"
"Of course. You have been through enough for any one woman. Dicky was
in no danger, and I had no desire to have you ill on my hands."
I flushed a bit resentfully. I was not quite sure that I liked her
high-handed way of disposing of me as if I were a child. Then as I
felt her keen eyes upon me I knew that she was reading my thoughts,
and I felt mightily ashamed of my childish petulance.
"You must forgive my arbitrary way of doing things," she resumed, a
I put out my hand pleadingly. "Don't, Lillian," I said earnestly.
"I'll be good, and I do thank you. You know that, don't you?"
Her face cleared. "Of course, goosie," she answered. "But I must help
you dress. Your breakfast will be here in a moment."
I sprang out of bed before she could prevent me, and gave her a
regular "bear hug."
"Help me dress!" I exclaimed indignantly. "Indeed, you will do no
such thing. I feel as strong as ever, and I am going to put you to bed
before I go to Dicky. But tell me, how is--"
She spared me from speaking the name I so dreaded.
"Miss Draper is no worse. Indeed, Dr. Pettit thinks she has rallied
slightly this morning. She is resting easily now, has been since about
3 o'clock, when Dr. Pettit went home."
I was hurrying into my clothes as she talked. "Have you found out yet
how it happened?" I asked.
"I know what Harry does," she answered. "He says that yesterday the
girl appeared as calm, even cheerful, as ever, went with him to the
manager's office, performed her dancing stunt as cleverly as she did
the other night, and in response to the very good offer the manager
made her, asked for a day to consider it. As she was leaving the
office, she asked Harry if Dicky were in his studio, saying she had
left there something she prized highly and would like to get it.
Something in the way she said it made Harry suspicious. Of course,
I had told him confidentially of her attempt to drown you, so he
remarked nonchalantly that he was also going to the studio. He said
she seemed nonplussed for a moment, then coolly accepted his escort.
"They went to the studio, and Harry stuck close to Dicky, never
permitting the Draper girl to be alone with him for a minute. After a
few moments she bade them a commonplace goodby and left, but she must
have stayed near by and cleverly shadowed them when they left.
"At any rate, she appeared at the door of our house shortly after
Harry and Dicky had entered--Harry wanted to get some things
before coming out to Marvin again--and asked Betty to see Dicky.
Unfortunately, Harry was in his rooms and did not hear the request,
so that Dicky went into the little sitting room off the hall with her,
and Betty says the girl herself closed the door. What was said no one
knows but Dicky and the girl.
"Harry heard a shot, rushed downstairs, and found Dicky, with the
blood flowing from his arm, struggling with the girl in an attempt
to keep her from firing another shot. Harry took the revolver away,
unloaded and pocketed it, and could have prevented any further tragedy
only for Dicky's growing faint from loss of blood.
"Harry turned his attention to Dicky, and the girl picked up a
stiletto, which Harry uses for a paper cutter--you know he has the
house filled with all sorts of curios from all over the world--and
drove it into her left breast. She aimed for her heart, of course, and
she almost turned the trick. I imagine she has a pretty good chance of
pulling through if infection doesn't develop. The stiletto hadn't been
used for some time, and there were several small rust spots on it. But
here comes your breakfast."
Her voice had been absolutely emotionless as she told me the story. As
she busied herself with setting out attractively on a small table the
delicious breakfast Katie had brought, I had a queer idea that if it
were not for the publicity that would inevitably follow, Lillian would
not very much regret the ultimate success of Grace Draper's attempt at
"BUT YOU WILL NEVER KNOW--"
I do not believe that ever in my life can I again have an experience
so horrible as that which followed the development of infection in the
dagger wound which Grace Draper had inflicted upon herself after her
unsuccessful attempt to shoot Dicky.
Against the combined protest of Dicky and Lillian, I shared the care
of the girl with the trained nurse whom Lillian's forethought had
provided and Dicky's money had paid for.
The reason for my presence at her bedside was a curious one.
At the close of the third day following the girl's attempt at murder
and self-destruction, Lillian came to the door of the room where I was
reading to Dicky, who was now almost recovered, and called me out into
"Madge," she said abruptly, "that poor girl in there has been calling
for you for an hour. We tried every way we could think of to quiet
her, but nothing else would do. She must see you. I imagine she has
made up her mind she's going to die and wants to ask your forgiveness
or something of that sort."
"I will go to her at once," I said quietly. As I moved toward the door
my knees trembled so I could hardly walk.
Lillian came up to me quickly and put her strong arm around me.
We went down the hall to a wonderful room of ivory and gold, which I
knew must be Lillian's guest room. In a big ivory-tinted bed the girl
lay, a pitiful wreck of the dashing, insolent figure she had been.
Her face was as white as the pillows upon which she lay, while her
hands looked utterly bloodless as they rested listlessly upon the
coverlet. Only her eyes held anything of her old spirit. They looked
unusually brilliant. I wondered uneasily if their appearance was the
result of their contrast to her deathly white face or whether the
fever which the doctor dreaded had set in.
She looked at me steadily for a long minute, then spoke huskily--I was
surprised at the strength of her voice.
"Of course I have no right to ask anything of you, Mrs. Graham," she
said, "but death, you know, always has privileges, and I am going to
I saw the nurse glance swiftly, sharply, at her, and then go quietly
out of the room.
"She's hurrying to get the doctor," the girl said, with the uncanny
intuition of the very sick, "but he can't do me any good. I'm going to
die and I know it. And I want you to promise to stay with me until the
end comes. I shall probably be unconscious, and not know whether you
are here or not, but I know you. You're the kind that if you give a
promise you won't break it, and I have a sort of feeling that I'd like
to go out holding your hand. Will you promise me that?"
Her eyes looked fiercely, compelling, into mine. I stepped forward and
laid my hand on hers, lying so weak on the bed.
"Of course I promise," I said pitifully.
There was a quick, savage gleam in her eyes which I could not fathom,
a gleam that vanished as quickly as it came. I told myself that the
look I had surprised in her eyes was one of ferocious triumph, and
that as my hand touched hers she had instinctively started to draw her
hand away from mine, and then yielded it to my grasp.
"All right," she said indifferently, closing her eyes. "Remember now,
don't go away."
"Dicky! Dicky! what have I done that you are so changed? How can
you be so cold to me when you remember all that we have been to each
other? Don't be so cruel to me. Kiss me just once, just once, as you
used to do."
Over and over again the plaintive words pierced the air of the room
where Grace Draper lay, while Dr. Pettit and the nurse battled for her
The theme of all her delirious cries and mutterings was Dicky. She
lived over again all the homely little humorous incidents of their
long studio association. She went with him upon the little outings
which they had taken together, and of which I learned for the first
time from her fever-crazed lips.
"Isn't this delicious salad, Dicky?" she would cry. "What a
magnificent view of the ocean you can get from here? Wouldn't Belasco
envy that moonlight effect?"
Then more tender memories would obsess her. To me, crouching in my
corner, bound by my promise to stay in the room, it seemed a most
cruel irony of fate that I should be compelled to listen to this
unfolding of my husband's faithlessness to me within so short a time
of our tender reconciliation.
I do not think Dr. Pettit knew I was in the room when he first entered
it, anxious because of his imperative summons by the nurse. Lillian's
guest room had the alcove characteristic of the old-fashioned New York
houses, and she and I were seated in that.
The physician bent over the bed, carefully studying the patient.
Through his professional mask I thought I saw a touch of bewilderment.
He studied the girl's pulse and temperature, listened to her
breathing, then turned to the nurse sharply.
"How long has she been delirious?"
"Since just after I called you," the girl replied.
"Did you notice anything unusual about her before that? You said
something over the telephone about her talking queerly."
The nurse looked quickly over to the alcove where Lillian and I
sat. Dr. Pettit's eyes followed her glance. With a quick muttered
exclamation he strode swiftly to where we sat and towered angrily
"What does this mean?" he asked imperatively. "Why are you here
listening to this stuff? It is abominable."
"I agree with you, Dr. Pettit. It is abominable, but she made
Madge promise to stay," Lillian said quietly. She made an almost
imperceptible gesture of her head toward the bed, and her voice was
full of meaning. He started, looked her steadily in the eyes, then
nodded slightly as if asserting some unspoken thought of hers.
"Dicky darling," the voice from the bed rose pleadingly, "don't you
remember how you promised me to take me away from all this, how we
planned to go far, far away, where no one would ever find us again?"
Dr. Pettit turned almost savagely on me.
"Promise or no promise," he said, "I will not allow this any longer.
You must go out of this room and stay out."
I stood up and faced him unflinchingly.
"I cannot, Dr. Pettit," I answered firmly. "I must keep my promise."
"Then I will get your release from that promise at once," he said and
strode toward the bed.
I watched him with terrified fascination. Had he gone suddenly mad?
What did he mean to do?
As Dr. Pettit turned from Lillian and me, and strode toward the bed
where the sick girl lay, apparently raving in delirium, I called out
to him in horror.
"Oh, don't disturb that delirious, dying girl!"
I made an impetuous step forward to try to stop him when Lillian
caught my arm and whirled me into a recess of the alcove.
"You unsuspecting little idiot," she said, giving me a tender little
shake that robbed the words of their harshness, "can't you see that
that girl is shamming?"
For a moment I could not comprehend what she meant; then the full
truth burst upon me. If what Lillian said were true, if the girl was
pretending delirium that she might utter words concerning Dicky's
infatuation for her which would torture me, then it was more than
probable, almost certain, in fact, that there was no word of truth in
her pretended delirious mutterings.
Dicky was not faithless to me, as I had feared during the tortured
moments in which I had listened to, the girl's ravings.
The joy of the sudden revelation almost unnerved me. I believe I would
have swooned and fallen had not Lillian caught me.
"Listen," she said in my ear, pinching my arm almost cruelly to arouse
me, "listen to what Dr. Pettit is saying, and you'll see that I am
My eyes followed hers to the bed where Dr. Pettit stood gazing
down upon the seemingly unconscious girl and speaking in measured,
"This won't do, my girl," he was saying, and his tone and manner
of address seemed in some subtle fashion to strip all semblance of
dignity from the girl and leave her simply a "case" of the doctor's,
of a type only too familiar to him.
"It _won't_ do," he repeated. "You are simply shamming this delirium,
and you are lessening your chances for life every minute you persist
in it. I'm sorry to be hard on you, but I'm going to give you an
ultimatum right now. Either you will release Mrs. Graham from her
promise at once and quit this nonsense, or I shall call an officer,
report the truth of this occurrence, and you will be arrested not only
upon a charge of attempted suicide, but of attempted murder.
"Of course, you will then be removed to the jail hospital, where I am
afraid you may not enjoy the skilful care you are getting now. And,
if you live, the after effects of these charges will be exceedingly
unpleasant for you."
My heart almost stopped beating as I listened to the physician's
Suppose Dr. Pettit was mistaken and the girl should be really
delirious, after all. But just as I had reached the point of torturing
doubt hardly to be borne, the girl stopped her delirious muttering,
opened her eyes and looted steadily up at the physician.
"You devil," she said, at last, with quiet malignity. "You've called
the turn. I throw up my hands."
"I thought so." This was the physician's only response. He stood
quietly waiting while the girl gazed steadily, unwinkingly at him.
"Tell me," she said at last, coolly, "am I going to die?"
"I do not know," the physician returned, as coolly. "You have a slight
temperature, and I am afraid infection has developed. But I can tell
you that your performance of the last hour or two has not helped your
chances any. You must be perfectly quiet and obedient, conserve every
bit of strength if you wish to live."
"How about that very chivalric threat you made just now," the girl
retorted, sneeringly. "If I live, are you going to have me arrested
for this thing?"
"Not if you behave yourself and promise to make no more trouble," the
physician replied gravely.
There was another long silence. The girl lay with eyes closed. The
physician stood watching her keenly. Presently she opened her eyes
"Call Mrs. Graham over here," she said peremptorily.
"What are you going to say to her?" the physician shot back.
"That's my business and hers," Miss Draper returned, with a flash of
her old spirit. "If you want a release from that promise you'd better
let her come over here, otherwise I'll hold her to it."
Disregarding Lillian's clutch upon my arm I moved swiftly to the side
of the bed and looked down into the sick girl's eyes, brilliant with
"Did you wish to speak to me?" I asked gently.
"Yes," she said abruptly, "I release you from your promise, and you
are free to believe or not what I have said during my--delirium."
She emphasized the last word with a little mocking smile. The same
smile was on her lips as she added, slowly, sneeringly:
"But you will never know, will you, Madgie dear, just how much of what
I said was false and how much true?"
Her eyes held mine a moment longer, and the malignance in their
feverish brightness frightened me. Then she closed them wearily.
As I turned away from her bedside I realized that she had prophesied
only too truthfully. There would be times in my life when I would
believe Dicky only. But I was also afraid there would be others when
her words would come back to me with intensified power to sear and
THE WEEKS THAT FOLLOWED
Grace Draper did not die. Thanks to the assiduous care of Dr. Pettit
and the two trained nurses Dicky had provided she gradually struggled
up from the "valley of the shadow of death" in which she had lain to
As soon as she was able to travel she went to the home of the relative
in the country whom she had visited in the summer. One of the nurses
went with her to see that she was settled comfortably, and upon
returning reported that she was getting strong fast, and in a month or
two more would be her usual self again.
Neither Dicky nor I had seen her before she left. Indeed, Dicky
appeared to have taken an uncontrollable aversion to the girl since
her attempt to kill him and herself and disliked hearing even her name
mentioned. As for me, I had a positive dread of ever looking into the
girl's beautiful false face again.
It was Lillian who made all the necessary arrangements both for the
girl's stay in her own home and her transfer to the country.
But between the time of my mother-in-law's arrival at our house in
Marvin and the departure of Grace Draper from Lillian's home lay an
interval of a fortnight in which what we all considered the miraculous
happened. My mother-in-law grew to like Lillian Underwood.
For the first three or four days after the ultimatum which I had given
her that she should respect our guests if she stayed in our house she
was like a sulky child. She kept to her room, affecting fatigue, and
demanding her meals be carried up to her by Katie.
Of course Lillian and Harry wanted to go away at once, but Dicky and
I overruled them. I was resolved to see the thing through. I felt
that if my mother-in-law did not yield her prejudices at this time she
never would, and that I would simply have to go through the same thing
Lillian saw the force of my reasoning and agreed to stay, although
I knew that the sensitive delicacy of feeling which she concealed
beneath her rough and ready mask made her uncomfortable in a house
which held such a disapproving element as my mother-in-law.
Then, one day the little god of chance took a hand. Harry and Dicky
had gone to the city. It was Katie's afternoon off, and she and Jim,
who had become a regular caller at our kitchen door, had gone away
Mother Graham was still sulking in her room, and Lillian was busy in
Dicky's improvised studio with some drawings and jingles which were a
The day was a wonderful autumn one, and I felt the need of a walk.
"I think I will run down to the village," I said to Lillian. "This is
the day the candy kitchen makes up the fresh toasted marshmallows. I
think we could use some, don't you?"
"Lovely," agreed Lillian enthusiastically.
"I don't think Mother Graham will come out of her room while I'm
gone," I went on. "Just keep an eye out for her if she should need
"She'd probably bite me if I offered her any assistance," returned
Lillian, laughing, "but I'll look out for her."
But when I came back with the marshmallows, after a longer walk than
I had intended, I found Lillian sitting by my mother-in-law's bedside,
watching her as she slept. When she saw me she put her finger to her
lips and stole softly out into the hall.
"She had a slight heart attack while you were gone, and I was
fortunate enough to know just what to do for her. It was not serious
at all. She is perfectly all right now and"--she hesitated and smiled
a bit--"I do not think she dislikes me any more."
"Oh, I'm so glad!" I exclaimed, ecstatically hugging her. "Everything
will come out all right now."
During the rest of the Underwoods' stay it seemed as if my words
had come true. The ice once broken, my mother-in-law's heart thawed
perceptibly toward Lillian.
By the time the day came when Harry and Lillian left us to go back
to their apartment the elder Mrs. Graham had so far gotten over
her prejudices as to bid Lillian a reluctant farewell and express a
sincere wish that she might soon see her again.
Toward Harry Underwood my mother-in-law's demeanor remained rigid.
She treated him with formal, icy politeness which irritated Dicky, but
appeared greatly to amuse Mr. Underwood. He took delight in paying her
the most elaborate attentions, laying fresh nosegays of flowers at
her plate at each meal. If he had been a lover besieging a beautiful
girl's heart he could not have been more attentive, while he was
absolutely impervious to all the chilling rebuffs she gave him.
I think that the touch of malice which is always a part of this man's
humor was gratified by the frigid annoyance which the elder Mrs.
Graham exhibited toward his attentions. At any rate, he kept them up
until the very hour of his departure.
It was when he happened to be alone with me on the veranda a few
moments before the coming of the taxi which was to bear them to their
homeward train that he gave me the real explanation of his conduct.
"Tell me, loveliest lady," he said, with the touch of exaggeration
which his manner always holds toward me, "tell me, haven't I squared
up part of your account with the old girl this last week?"
"Why, what do you mean?" I stammered.
"Don't pretend such innocence," he retorted. "If you want me to tell
you in so many words, I beg leave to inform you that I've been doing
my little best to annoy your august mother-in-law to pay her off for
her general cussedness toward you, and, incidentally, me."
"But she hasn't been cross to me," I protested.
"Not the last three or four days perhaps, but I'll bet you've had
quite a dose since she came to live at your house, and you'll have
another if she ever finds out my wicked designs upon you." He smiled
mockingly and took a step nearer to me. "Don't forget you owe me a
kiss," he said, with teasing maliciousness, referring to the time when
he had threatened to "kiss me under water." "Don't you think you had
better give in to me now?"
Dicky's step in the hall prevented my rebuking him as I wished. I
told myself that, of course, his persistent reference to that kiss was
simply one of mockery and I also admitted to myself that as much as I
loved Lillian I was glad that her husband was to be no longer a guest
in our house.
A MYSTERIOUS STRANGER
"Well, my dear, what are you mooning over that you didn't see me come
in? I beg your pardon, Madge, what is the matter? Tell me."
Lillian Underwood stood before me a week after her visit to us.
Lillian, whose entrance into the small reception room of the Sydenham,
at which we had an appointment, I had not even seen. She stood looking
down at me with an anxious, alarmed expression in her eyes.
"There is nothing the matter," I returned, evasively.
"Don't tell me a tarradiddle, my dear," Lillian countered smoothly.
"You're as white as a sheet, and I can see your hands trembling this
minute. Something has happened to upset you. But, of course, if you'd
rather not tell me--"
There was a subtle hint of withdrawal in her tone. I was afraid that I
had offended her. After all, why not tell her of the stranger who had
so startled me?
"Look over by the door, Lillian," I said, in a low voice, "not
suddenly as if I had just spoken to you about it, but carelessly. Tell
me if there is a man still standing there staring at us."
Lillian whistled softly beneath her breath, a little trick she has
"Oh-h-h!" she breathed, and turning, she looked swiftly at the place I
"I see a disappearing back which looks as though it might belong to
a 'masher.' I just caught sight of him as he turned--well set-up man
about middle age, hair sprinkled with gray, rather stunning looking."
"Yes, that is the man," I returned, faintly, "but, Lillian, I'm sure
he isn't an ordinary 'masher.' He had the strangest, saddest, most
mysterious look in his eyes. It was almost as if he knew me or thought
he did, and I have the most uncanny feeling about him, as if he were
some one I had known long ago. I can't describe to you the effect he
had upon me."
"Nonsense," Lillian said, brusquely, "the man is just an ordinary
common lady-killer of the type that infests these hotels, and ought to
be horsewhipped at sight. You're getting fanciful, and I don't wonder
at it. You've had a terrible summer, with all that trouble the Draper
caused you, and I imagine you haven't been having any too easy a time
with dear mamma-in-law, I'm mighty glad you're going to get away
with Dicky by yourself. A week in the mountains ought to set you
up wonderfully, and you certainly need it when you start weaving
mysterious tragedies about the commoner garden variety of 'masher.'"
Lillian's rough common sense steadied me, as it always does. I felt
ashamed of my momentary emotion.
"I fancy you're right, Lillian," I said nonchalantly. "Let's forget
about it and have some lunch. Where shall we go?"
"There's a bully little tea room down the street here." she said.
"It's very English, with the tea cozies and all that sort of frills,
and some of their luncheon dishes are delicious. Shall we try it?"
"By all means," I returned, and we went out of the hotel together.
Although I looked around furtively and fearfully as we left the hotel
entrance, I could see no trace of the man who had so startled me.
Scoring myself for being so foolish as to imagine that the man might
still be keeping track of me, I put all thought of his actions away
from me and kept up with Lillian's brisk pace, chatting with her gayly
over our past experience in buying hats and the execrable creations
turned out by milliners generally.
The tea room proved all that Lillian had promised. Fortunately, we
were early enough to escape the noon hour rush and secure a good table
near a window looking out upon the street.
"I like to look out upon the people passing, don't you?" Lillian said,
as she seated herself.
"Yes, I do," I assented, and then we turned our attention to the menu
"I'm fearfully hungry," Lillian announced. "I've been digging all
morning. Oh! it's chicken pie here today." Her voice held all the glee
of a gormandizing child. "I don't think these individual chicken pies
they serve here can be beaten in New York," she went on. "You know the
usual mess--potatoes and onions, and a little bit of chicken mixed
up with a sauce they insult with the name gravy. These are the real
article--just the chicken meat with a delicious gravy covering it,
baked in the most flaky crust you can imagine. What do you say to
those, with some baked potatoes, new lima beans, sliced tomatoes and
an ice for dessert?"
"I don't think it can be improved upon," I said, gayly, and then I
clutched Lillian's arm. "Look quickly," I whispered, "the other side
of the street!"
Lillian's eyes followed mine to the opposite side of the street,
where, walking slowly along, was the man I had seen in the hotel. He
did not once look toward the tea room, but as he came opposite to it
he turned from the pavement and crossed the street leisurely toward
"Oh! I believe he is coming in," I gasped, and my knees began to
tremble beneath me.
"Suppose he is," Lillian snapped back. Her tone held a contemptuous
impatience that braced me as nothing else could. "The man has a right
to come in here if he wishes. It may be a mere coincidence, or he may
have followed you. You're rather fetching in that little sport rig,
my dear, as your mirror probably told you this morning. Unless he
obtrudes himself there is nothing you can do or say, and if he should
attempt to get fresh--well, I pity him, that's all."
Lillian's threatening air was so comical that I lost my nervousness
and laughed outright at her belligerency. The laugh was not a loud
one, but it evidently was audible to the man entering the door, for
he turned and cast a quick, sharp look upon me before moving on to a
table farther down the room. The waitress indicated a chair, which,
if he had taken it, would have kept his back toward us. He refused it
with a slight shake of the head, and passing around to the other side
of the table, sat down in a chair which commanded a full view of us.
Lillian's foot beat a quick tattoo beneath the table. "The insolent
old goat," she murmured, vindictively. "He'd better look out. I'd hate
to forget I'm a perfect lady, but I'm afraid I may have to break loose
if that chap stays around here."
"Oh, don't say anything to him, Lillian," I pleaded, terribly
distressed and upset at the very thought of a possible scene. "Let's
hurry through our luncheon and get out."
"We'll do nothing of the kind," Lillian said. "Don't think about the
man at all, just go ahead and enjoy your luncheon as if he were
not here at all. I'll attend to his case good and plenty if he gets
In spite of Lillian Underwood's kindly admonition I could not enjoy
the delicious lunch we had ordered. The presence of a mysterious man
at the table opposite ours robbed the meal of its flavor and me of my
I could not be sure, of course, that the man had purposely followed me
from the little reception room of the Sydenham, where I had waited for
Lillian. There I had first seen him staring frankly at me with such
a sad, mysterious, tragic look in his eyes that I had been most
bewildered and upset by it. But his appearance at the tea room within
a few minutes of our entering it, and his choice of a chair which
faced our table indicated rather strongly that he had purposely
Whether or not Lillian's flashing eyes and the withering look she gave
him deterred him from gazing at me as steadily as he had at the hotel
I had no means of knowing. At any rate, he did not once stare openly
at me. I should have known it if he had, for his position was such
that unless I kept my eyes steadily fixed upon my plate, I could not
help but see him. He was unobtrusive, but I received the impression
that he was keeping track of every movement in the furtive glances he
cast at us from time to time.
Although he had ordered after us, his meal kept pace with our own. In
fact, he called for his check, paid it and left the restaurant before
we did. As he passed out of the door I drew a breath of relief and
fell to my neglected lunch.
"I hope I've seen the last of him," I said vindictively.
Lillian did not answer. I looked up surprised to see her chin cupped
in her hands, in the attitude which was characteristic of her when she
was studying some problem, her eyes following the man as he made his
way slowly down the street, swinging his stick with a pre-occupied
air. She continued to stare after him until he was out of sight, then
with a start, she came back to herself.
"You were right, Madge, and I was wrong," she said reflectively, still
as if she were studying her problem; "that man is no 'masher.'"
I looked up startled. "What makes you think so?" I asked breathlessly.
"I don't know," she returned, "but he either thinks he knows you,
or you remind him of some dead daughter, or sister--or sweetheart,
or--oh, there might be any one of a dozen reasons why he would want
to stare at you. I think he's harmless, though. He probably won't
ever try to speak to you--just take it out in following you around and
looking at you."
"Oh," I gasped, "do you think he's going to keep this up?"
"Looks like it," Lillian returned, "but simply ignore him. He has all
the ear-marks of a gentleman. I don't think he will annoy you. Now
forget him and enjoy your ice, and then we'll go and get that hat."
Under Lillian's guidance the selection of the hat proved an easy task.
Lillian bade me good-by at the door of the hat shop.
"You don't need me any longer, do you?" she asked, "now that this hat
question is settled?"
"No, no, Lillian," I returned, "and I am awfully grateful to you for
giving me so much of your time."
"'Til Wednesday, then," Lillian said, "good-by."
I had quite a long list in my purse of small purchases to be made. At
last even the smallest item on my list was attended to, and, wearied
as only shopping can tire a woman, I went over to the railroad
station. In my hurry of departure in the morning I had forgotten my
mileage ticket, so that I had to go to the ticket office to purchase a
ticket to Marvin.
I had forgotten all about the man who had annoyed me in the reception
room of the Sydenham, and the little English tea room, so, when I
turned from buying my ticket to find him standing near enough to me to
have heard the name of Marvin, I was startled and terrified.
He did not once glance toward me, however, but strolled away quickly,
as if in finding out the name of my home town he had learned all he
I was thoroughly upset as I hurried to my train, and all through my
hour's journey home to Marvin the thought of the man troubled me. What
was the secret of his persistent espionage? The coincidences of the
day had been too numerous for me to doubt that the man was following
me around with the intention of learning my identity.
When the train stopped at Marvin I was aghast to see the mysterious
stranger alight from it hurriedly and go into the waiting room of the
station. I thought I saw his scheme. From the window of the station he
could see me as I alighted, and either ascertain my identity from the
station agent or from the driver of whatever taxi I took.
I had only felt terror of the man before, but now I was thoroughly
indignant. "The thing had gone far enough," I told myself grimly.
Instead of getting off the train I passed to the next car, resolving
to stop at the next village, Crest Haven, and take a taxi home from
The ruse succeeded. As the train sped on toward Crest Haven I had
a quiet little smile at the way I had foiled the curiosity of the
I debated for some time whether or not I ought to tell Dicky of
the incident. I had so much experience of his intensely jealous
temperament that I feared he might magnify and distort the incident.
Finally I temporized by resolving to say nothing to Dicky unless the
man's tracking of me reached the point of attempting to speak to
me. But the consciousness of keeping a secret from Dicky made me
pre-occupied during our dinner.
Dicky reached home an hour after I did, and all through the dinner
hour I noticed him casting curious glances at me from time to time.
"What's the matter?" he asked, as after dinner he and I went out to
the screened porch to drink our coffee.
"Why, nothing," I responded guiltily. "Why do you ask?"
"You act as if you thought you had the responsibility of the great war
on your shoulders," Dicky returned.
"I haven't a care in the world," I assured him gayly, and
arousing myself from my depression I spent the next hour in gay,
inconsequential chatter in an attempt to prove to Dicky that I meant
what I said.
In the kitchen I heard the voices of Jim and Katie. They were raised
earnestly as if discussing something about which they disagreed.
Presently Katie appeared on the veranda.
"Plees, Missis Graham, can you joost coom to kitchen, joost one little
"Certainly, Katie," I replied, rising, while Dicky mumbled a
half-laughing, half-serious protest.
"I'll be back in a minute, Dicky," I promised, lightly.
It was full five before I returned, for Jim had something to tell me,
which confirmed my impression that the mysterious stranger's spying
upon me was something to be reckoned with.
"I didn't think I ought to worry you with this, Mrs. Graham, but Katie
thinks you ought to know it, and what she says goes, you know." He
cast a fatuous smile at the girl, who giggled joyously. "To-night,
down at Crest Haven, I overheard one of the taxi drivers telling
another about a guy that had come down there and described a woman
whom he said must have gotten off at Crest Haven and taken a taxi back
to Marvin. The description fitted you all right, and the driver gave
him your name and address. He said he got a five spot for doing it."
My face was white, my hands cold, as I listened to Jim, but I
controlled myself, and said, quietly:
"Thank you, Jim, very much for telling me, but I do not think it
amounts to anything."
"THE DEAREST FRIEND I EVER HAD"
Dinner with Dicky in a public dining room is almost always a delight
to me. He has the rare art of knowing how to order a perfect dinner,
and when he is in a good humor he is most entertaining. He knows by
sight or by personal acquaintance almost every celebrity of the
city, and his comments on them have an uncommon fascination for me
because of the monotony of my life before I met Dicky.
But the very expression of my mother-in-law's back as I followed her
through the glittering grill room of the Sydenham told me that our
chances for having a pleasant evening were slender indeed.
"Well, mother, what do you want to eat?" Dicky began genially, when an
obsequious waiter had seated us and put the menu cards before us.
"Please do not consider me in the least," my mother-in-law said with
her most Christian-martyr-like expression. "Whatever you and Margaret
wish will do very well for me."
Dicky turned from his mother with a little impatient shrug.
"What about you, Madge?" he asked.
"Chicken a la Maryland in a chafing dish and a combination salad with
that anchovy and sherry dressing you make so deliciously," I replied
promptly. "The rest of the dinner I'll leave to you."
My mother-in-law glared at me.
"It strikes me there isn't much left to leave to him after an order of
that kind," she said, tartly.
"You haven't eaten many of Dicky's dinners then," I said audaciously,
with a little moue at him. "He orders the most perfect dinners of any
one I know."
"Of course, with your wide experience, you ought to be a critical
judge of his ability," my mother-in-law snapped back.
Her tone was even more insulting than her words. It tipped with
cruel venom her allusion to the quiet, almost cloistered life of my
I drew a long breath as I saw my mother-in-law adjust her lorgnette
and proceed to gaze through it with critical hauteur at the other
diners. I hoped that her curiosity and interest in the things going on
around her would make her forget her imaginary grievances, but my hope
was destined to be short lived.
It was while we were discussing our oysters, the very first offered of
the season, that she spoke to me, suddenly, abruptly:
"Margaret, do you know that man at the second table back of us? He
hasn't taken his eyes from you for the last ten minutes."
My heart almost stopped beating, for my intuition told me at once the
identity of the gazer. It must be the man whose uncanny, mournful look
had so distressed me when I was waiting for Lillian Underwood in the
little reception room at the Sydenham the preceding Monday, the man
who had followed us to the little tea room, who had even taken the
same train to Marvin with me.
I felt as if I could not lift my eyes to look at the man my
mother-in-law indicated, and yet I knew I must glance casually at
him if I were to avert the displeased suspicion which I already saw
creeping into her eyes.
When my eyes met his he gave not the slightest sign that he knew I was
looking at him, simply continued his steady gaze, which had something
of wistful mournfulness in it. I averted my eyes as quickly as
possible, and tried to look absolutely unconcerned.
"I am sure he cannot be looking at me," I said, lightly. "I do not
know him at all."
I hoped that my mother-in-law would not notice my evasion, but she was
too quick for me.
"You may not know him, but have you ever seen him before?" she asked,
"Really, mother," Dicky interposed, his face darkening, "you're going
a little too far with that catechism. Madge says she doesn't know the
man, that settles it. By the way, Madge, is he annoying you? If he is,
I can settle him in about two seconds."
"Oh, no," I said nervously, "I don't think the man's really looking at
me at all; he's simply gazing out into space, thinking, and happens
to be facing this way. It would be supremely ridiculous to call him to
account for it."
My mother-in-law snorted, but made no further comment, evidently
silenced by Dicky's reproof.
I may have imagined it, but it seemed to me that Dicky looked at me
a little curiously when I protested my belief that the man was simply
absorbed in thought and not looking at me at all.
When we were dallying with the curiously moulded ices which Dicky had
ordered for dessert, I saw his eyes light up as he caught sight of
some one he evidently knew.
"Pardon me just a minute, will you?" he said, turning to his mother
and me, apologetically, "I see Bob Simonds over there with a bunch of
fellows. Haven't seen him in a coon's age. He's been over across the
pond in the big mixup. Didn't know he was back. I don't want any more
of this ice, anyway, and when the waiter comes, order cheese, coffee
and a cordial for us all."
He was gone in another instant, making his way with the swift,
debonair grace which is always a part of Dicky, to the group of men at
a table not far from ours, who welcomed him joyously.
My mother-in-law's eyes followed mine, and I knew that for once, at
least, we were of one mind, and that mind was full of pride in the man
so dear to, us both. He was easily the most distinguished figure at
the table full of men who greeted him so joyously. I knew that his
mother noted with me how cordial was the welcome each man gave Dicky,
how they all seemed to defer to him and hang upon his words.
Then across my vision came a picture most terrifying to me. It was
as if my mother-in-law and I were spectators of a series of motion
picture films. Toward the table, where Dicky stood surrounded by his
friends, there sauntered the mysterious stranger, who had attracted my
mother-in-law's attention by his scrutiny of me.
But he was no stranger to the men surrounding Dicky. Most of them
greeted him warmly. Of course, I was too far away to hear what was
said, but I saw the pantomime in which he requested an introduction to
Dicky of one of his friends!
Then I saw the stranger meet Dicky and engage him in earnest
conversation. I did not dare to look at my mother-in-law. I knew she
was gazing in open-mouthed wonder at her son, but I hoped she did not
know the queer mixture of terror and interest with which I watched the
picture at the other table.
For it was no surprise to me when, a few minutes later, Dicky came
back toward our table. With him, talking earnestly, as if he had been
a childhood friend, walked the mysterious stranger. I told myself that
I had known it would be so from the first.
From the moment I had first seen this man's haunting eyes gazing at me
in the reception room of the Sydenham I had felt that a meeting with
him was inevitable. How or where he would touch my life I did not
know, but that he was destined to wield some influence, sinister or
favorable, over me, I was sure, and I trembled with vague terror as I
saw him drawing near.
"Mother, may I present Mr. Gordon? My wife, Mr. Gordon."
Dicky's manner was nervous, preoccupied, as he spoke. His mother's
face showed very plainly her resentment at being obliged to meet the
man upon whose steady staring at me she had so acidly commented a few
For my own part, I was so upset that I felt actually ill, as the eyes
of the persistent stranger met mine. How had this man, who had so
terrified me by his persistent pursuit and scrutiny, managed to obtain
an introduction to Dicky?
Dicky made a place for the man near me, and signalled the waiter.
"I know you have dined," he said, courteously, "but you'll at least
have coffee and a cordial with us, will you not?"
"Thank you," Mr. Gordon said, in a deep, rich voice, "I have not yet
had coffee. If you will be so kind, I should like a little apricot
brandy instead of a cordial."
Dicky gave the necessary order to the waiter, and we all sat back in
I, for one, felt as though I were a spectator at a play, waiting for
the curtain to run up upon some thrilling episode. For the few minutes
while we waited for our coffee, Dicky had to carry the burden of the
conversation. His mother, with her lips pressed together in a tight,
thin line, evidently had resolved to take no part in any conversation
with the stranger. I was really too terrified to say anything, and,
besides the briefest of assents to Dicky's observations, the stranger
There was something about the man's whole personality that both
attracted and repelled me. With one breath I felt that I had a curious
sense of liking and admiration for him, and was proud of the interest
in me, which he had taken no pains to conceal. The next moment a real
terror and dislike of him swept over me.
I waited with beating heart for him to finish his coffee. It seemed
to me that I could hardly wait for him to speak. For I had a psychic
presentiment that before he left the table he would make known to us
the reason for his rude pursuit of me.
His first words confirmed my impression:
"I am afraid, Mrs. Graham," he said, courteously, turning to me, as
he finished his coffee, "that I have startled and alarmed you by my
endeavor to ascertain your identity."
I did not answer him. I did not wish to tell him that I had been
frightened; neither could I truthfully deny his assertion. And I
wished that I had not evaded my mother-in-law's query concerning him.
He did not appear to heed my silence however, but went on rapidly:
"It is a very simple matter, after all," he said. "You see, you
resemble so closely a very dear friend of my youth, in fact, the
dearest I ever had, that when I caught sight of you the other day
in the reception room of the Sydenham, it seemed as if her very self
stood before me."
There was a vibrant, haunting note in his voice that told me, better
than words, that, whoever this woman of his youth might have been, her
memory was something far more to him than of a mere friend.
"I could not rest until I found out your identity, and secured an
introduction to you," he went on. "You will not be offended if I ask
you one or two rather personal questions, will you?"
"Indeed, no," I returned mechanically.
Mr. Gordon hesitated. His suave self-possession seemed to have
deserted him. He swallowed hard twice, and then asked, nervously:
"May I ask your name before you were married, Mrs. Graham?"
"Margaret Spencer," I returned steadily.
There was a cry of astonishment from Dicky. Mr. Gordon had reeled in
his chair as if he were about to faint, then, with closed eyes and
white lips, he sat motionless, gripping the table as if for support.
"Do not be alarmed--I am all right--only a momentary faintness, I
Mr. Gordon opened his eyes and smiled at us wanly.
I knew that Dicky was as much relieved as I at our guest's return
to self-command. That he was resentful as well as mystified at the
singular behavior of Mr. Gordon I also gleaned from his darkened face,
and a little steely glint in his eyes.
"I hope that you will forgive me," Mr. Gordon went on, and his rich
voice was so filled with regret and humility that I felt my heart
soften toward him.
"I trust you have not gained the impression that my momentary
faintness had anything to do with your name," he said. "My attack at
that time was merely a coincidence. I am subject to these spells of
faintness. I hope this one did not alarm you."
He looked at me directly, as if expecting an answer.
"I am not easily alarmed," I returned, trying hard to keep out of my
voice anything save the indifferent courtesy which one would bestow
upon a stranger, for the atmosphere of mystery seemed deepening about
this stranger and me. I did not believe he had spoken the truth,
when he said that my utterance of my maiden name, in response to his
question, had nothing to do with his faintness. I was as certain as I
was of anything that it was the utterance of that name, the revelation
of my identity thus made to him, that caused his emotion. I sat
thrilled, tense, in anticipation of revelations to follow.
Mr. Gordon's voice was quiet, but a poignant little thrill ran through
it, which I caught as he spoke again.
"Was not your mother's name Margaret Bickett and your father's,
Charles Spencer?" he asked.
"You are quite correct." I forced the words through lips stiffened by
I saw Dicky look at me curiously, almost impatiently, but I had no
eyes, no ears, save for the mysterious stranger who was quizzing me
about my parents.
One of Mr. Gordon's hands was beneath the table; as he was sitting
next to his I saw what no one else did--that the long, slender,
sensitive fingers pressed themselves deeply, quiveringly, into the
palm at my affirmation of his question. But except for that momentary
grip there was no evidence of excitement in his demeanor as he turned
"I thought so," he said quietly. "I have found the daughter of
the dearest friends I ever had. Your resemblance to your mother is
marvelous. I remember that you looked much like her when you were a
"You were at our home in my childhood, then?" I asked, wondering if
this might be the explanation of my uncanny notion that I had sometime
in my life seen this man bending over his demitasse as he had done a
few minutes before.
"Oh, yes," he said, "your mother, as I have told you, was the dearest
friend I ever had. And your father was my other self--then--"
His emphasis upon the word "then" gave me a quick stab of pain, for
it recalled the odium with which every one who had known my childhood
seemed to regard the memory of my father.
I, myself, had no memories of my father. My mother had never spoken
of him to me but once, when she had told me the terrible story of his
When I was four years old he had run away from us both with my
mother's dearest friend, and neither she, nor any of his friends, had
ever heard of him afterward. I had always felt a sort of hatred of my
unknown father, who had deserted me and so cruelly treated my mother,
and the knowledge that this man was an intimate of his turned me
But if Mr. Gordon's inflection meant anything it meant that even if he
had been my father's "other self," my mother's desertion had aroused
in him the same contempt for my father that all the rest of our little
world had felt. I felt my indefinable feeling of repulsion against
the man melt into warm approval of him. He had loved the mother I had
idolized, had resented her wrongs, and I felt my heart go out to him.
"I cannot tell you what this finding of your wife means to me,"
said Mr. Gordon, turning to Dicky. The inflection of his voice, the
movement of his hand, spelled a subtle appeal to the younger man.
"I have been a wanderer for years," the deep, rich voice went on. "I
have no family ties"--he hesitated for a moment, with a curious little
air of indecision--"no wife, no child. I am a very lonely man. I wonder
if it would be asking too much to let me come to see you once in a
while and renew the memories of my youth in this dear child?"
He turned to me with the most fascinating little air of deferential
admiration I had ever seen.
But I looked in vain for any answer to his appeal in Dicky's eyes. My
husband still retained the air of formal, puzzled courtesy with which
he had brought Mr. Gordon to our table and introduced him to us. I
could see that the mysterious stranger's appeal to be made an intimate
of our home did not meet with Dicky's approval.
I could not understand the impulse that made me turn toward the
stranger and say, earnestly: "I shall be so glad to have you come to
see us, Mr. Gordon. I want you to tell me about my mother's youth."
"MOTHER" GRAHAM HAS SOMETHING TO SAY
It may have been the preparation we were making for an autumn vacation
in the Catskills, or it may have been that Dicky was becoming more
the master of himself, that he did not voice to me the very real
uneasiness with which I knew he viewed Robert Gordon's attitude toward
me. But whatever may have been the cause, the fact is that during
the preparations for our trip and during the vacation itself in the
gorgeous autumn-clad mountains Dicky did not refer to Robert Gordon.
It was my mother-in-law who brought his name up the day of our return.
She had moved from the hotel where we had left her in the city to
the house at Marvin, and when we arrived there her greeting of me was
almost icy. As soon as we had taken off our wraps, she explained her
departure from the hotel without any questioning from us.
"I never have been so insulted and annoyed in my life," she began
abruptly, "and it is all your fault, Richard. If you never had brought
the unspeakable person over he would not have had the chance to annoy
me. And as for you, Margaret, I cannot begin to tell you what I think
of your conduct in leading your husband to believe you had never seen
the man before--"
"For heaven's sake, mother!" Dicky exploded, his slender patience
evidently worn to its last thread by his mother's incoherence, "what
on earth are you talking about?"
"Don't pretend ignorance," she snapped. "You introduced the man to
me yourself the night before you went on your trip. You cannot have
forgotten his name so soon."
"Robert Gordon!" Dicky exclaimed in amazement.
"Yes, Robert Gordon!" his mother returned grimly. "And let me tell
you, Richard Graham, that if you do not settle that man he will make
you the laughing stock and the scandal of everybody. The way he talks
of Margaret is disgusting."
Dicky's face became suddenly stern and set.
"He didn't exhibit his lack of good taste the first time he came over
to my table in the dining room," my mother-in-law went on. "But the
second time he sat down with me he began to talk of Margaret in the
most fulsome, extravagant manner. From that time his sole topic of
conversation was Margaret, the wonderful woman she had grown into, the
wonderful attraction she has for him. You would have thought him a
man who had discovered his lost sweetheart after years of wandering.
Imagine the lack of decency and good taste the man must have to say
such things to me, the mother of Margaret's husband!"
"Is that all you have to say, mother?" he asked.
She looked at him in amazement.
"Are you lost to all decency that you do not resent such extravagant
praise and admiration of your wife from the lips of another man?" she
demanded, and then in the same breath went on rapidly:
"Richard, you are perfectly hopeless! The man may have been in love
with Margaret's mother, I do not doubt that he was, but have you never
heard of such men falling in love with the daughters of the women they
once loved hopelessly?"
"Don't make the poor man out a potential Mormon, mother!" Dicky jibed.
"Jeer at your old mother if you wish, Richard," his mother went on
icily, "but let me tell you that Mr. Gordon is madly in love with
Margaret and if you do not look out you will have a scandal on your
"You are going a bit too far in your excitement, mother," Dicky said
sternly. "You may not realize it, but you are insinuating that there
might be a possible chance of Madge's returning the man's admiration."
"I am not insinuating anything," his mother returned, white-lipped
with anger, "but I certainly think Margaret owes both you and me an
explanation of the untruth she told us at the supper table the night
you introduced Mr. Gordon to us."
I sprang to my feet with my cheeks afire.
"Mother Graham, I have listened to you with respect as long as I can,"
I exclaimed. "Whatever else you have to say to my husband about me you
can say in my absence. If he at any time wishes an explanation of any
action of mine he has only to ask me for it."
White with rage I dashed out of the room, up the stairs and into my
own room, locking the door behind me. In a few minutes Dicky's step
came swiftly up the stairs; his knock sounded on my door.
"Madge, let me in," he commanded, but the note of tenderness in his
voice was the influence that hurried my fingers in the turning of the
As I opened the door he strode in past me, closed and locked the door
again, and, turning, caught me in his arms.
"Don't you dare to cry!" he stormed, kissing my reddened eyelids.
"Aren't you ever going to get used to mother's childish outbursts?
You know she doesn't mean what she says in those tantrums of hers.
She simply works herself up to a point where she's absolutely
irresponsible, and she has to explode or burst. You wouldn't like to
see a perfectly good mother-in-law strewn in fragment all over the
room, simply because she had restrained her temper, would you?" he
added, with the quick transition from hot anger to whimsical good
nature that I always find so bewildering in him.
I struggled for composure. My mother-in-law's words had been too
scathing, her insult too direct for me to look upon it as lightly as
Dicky could, but the knowledge that he had come directly after me, and
that he had no part in the resentment his mother showed, made it easy
for me to control myself.
"I ought to remember that your mother is an old woman, and an invalid,
and not allow myself to get angry at some of the unjust things she
says," I returned, swallowing hard. "So we'll just forget all about it
and pretend it never happened."
"You darling!" Dicky exclaimed, drawing me closer, and for a moment or
two I rested in his arms, gathering courage for the confession I meant
to make to him.
"Dicky, dear," I murmured at last, "there is something I want to tell
you about this miserable business, something I ought to have told you
before, but I kept putting it off."
Dicky held me from him and looked at me quizzically, "'Confession is
good for the soul,'" he quoted, "so unburden your dreadful secret."
He drew me to an easy chair and sat down, holding me in his arms as if
I were a little child. "Now for it," he said, smiling tenderly at me.
"It isn't so very terrible," I smiled at him reassured by his
tenderness. "It is only that without telling you a deliberate untruth,
that I gave both you and your mother the impression I had never seen
Mr. Gordon before that night at the Sydenham."
"Is that all?" mocked Dicky. "Why, I knew that the moment you spoke
as you did that night! You're as transparent as a child, my dear, and
besides, your elderly friend let the cat out of the bag when he said
he feared he had annoyed you by trying to find out your identity. I
knew you must have seen him somewhere."
"You don't know all," I persisted, and then without reservation I told
him frankly the whole story of Mr. Gordon's spying upon me. I omitted
When I had finished, Dicky's face had lost its quizzical look. He was
frowning, not angrily, but as if puzzled.
"Don't think I blame you one bit," he said slowly; "but it looks to me
as if mother's dope might be right, as if the old guy is smitten with
you after all."
"I cannot hope to make your understand, Dicky," I began, "how confused
my emotions are concerning Mr. Gordon. I think perhaps I can tell you
best by referring to something about which we have never talked but
once--the story I told you before we were married of the tragedy in my
"I believe you told me that neither your mother nor you had ever heard
anything of your father since he left." Dicky's voice was casual, but
there was a note in it that puzzled me.
"That is true," I answered, and then stopped, for the conviction had
suddenly come to me that while I had never seen nor heard from my
father since he left us--indeed, I had no recollection of him--yet
I was not sure whether or not my mother had ever received any
communication from him. I had heard her say that she had no idea
whether he was living or dead, and I had received my impression from
that. But even as I answered Dicky's question there came to my mind
the memory of an injunction my mother had once laid upon me,
an injunction which concerned a locked and sealed box among her
I felt that I could not speak of it even to Dicky, so put all thought
of it aside until I should be alone.
"I do not think I can make you understand," I began, "how torn between
two emotions I have always been when I think of my father. Of course,
the predominant feeling toward him has always been hatred for the
awful suffering he caused my mother. I never heard anything to foster
this feeling, however, from my mother. She rarely spoke of him, but
when she did it was always to tell me of the adoration he had felt for
me as a baby, of the care and money he had lavished on me. But while
with one part of me I longed to hear her tell me of those early days,
yet the hatred I felt for him always surged so upon me as to make me
refuse to listen to any mention of him.
"But since she went away from me the desire to know something of
my father has become almost an obsession with me. My hatred of his
treachery to my mother is still as strong as ever, but in my mother's
last illness she told me that she forgave him, and asked me if ever he
came into my life to forget the past and to remember only that he
was my father. I am afraid I never could do that, but yet I long so
earnestly to know something of him.
"So now you see, Dicky," I concluded, "why Mr. Gordon has such a
fascination for me. He knew my father and my mother--from his own
words I gather that he was the nearest person to them. He is the only
link connecting me with my babyhood, for Jack Bickett, my nearest
relative, was but a young boy himself when my father left, and
remembered little about it. I don't want to displease you, Dicky, but
I would so like to see Mr. Gordon occasionally."
Dicky held me close and kissed me.
"Why, certainly, sweetheart," he exclaimed. "Whenever you wish I'll
arrange a little dinner down-town for Mr. Gordon. What do you think
about inviting the Underwoods, too? They could entertain me while
you're talking over your family history."
"That would be very nice," I agreed, but I had an inward dread of
talking to Robert Gordon with the malicious eyes of Harry Underwood
upon me. Indeed, I felt intuitively that if ever Mr. Gordon were to
reveal the history of his friendship for my mother to me, it would be
when no other ears, not even Dicky's, were listening.
Dicky kissed me again and then he rose and went out of the room
quickly, closing the door behind him. I waited until I heard his
footsteps descending the stairs before turning the key in the lock.
Then I went directly to a little old trunk which I had kept in my own
room ever since my mother's death, and, kneeling before it unlocked it
with reverent fingers.
A MESSAGE FROM THE PAST
It was my mother's own girlhood trunk, one in which she had kept
her treasures and mementoes all her life. The chief delight of my
childhood had been sitting by her side when she took out the different
things from it and showed them to me.
Dear, thoughtful, little mother of mine! Almost the last thing she did
before her strength failed her utterly was to repack the little trunk,
wrapping and labeling each thing it contained, and putting into
it only the things she knew I would not use, but wished to keep as
memories of her and of my own childhood.
"I do not wish you to have to look over these things while your grief
is still fresh for me," she had said, with the divine thoughtfulness
that mothers keep until the last breath they draw. "There is nothing
in it that you will have to look at for years if you do not wish to
do so--that is, except one package that I am going to tell you about
She stopped to catch the breath which was so pitifully short in those
torturing days before her death, and over her face swept the look of
agony which always accompanied any mention by her of my father.
"In the top tray of this trunk," she said, "you will find the inlaid
lock box that was your grandmother's and that you have always
admired so much. I do not wish to lay any request or command upon you
concerning it--you must be the only judge of your own affairs after I
leave you--but I would advise you not to open that box unless you are
in desperate straits, or until the time has come when you feel that
you no longer harbor the resentment you now feel toward your father."
The last words had come faintly through stiffened white lips, for her
labor at packing and the emotional strain of talking to me concerning
the future had brought on one of the dreaded heart attacks which
were so terribly frequent in the last weeks of her life. We had never
spoken of the matter afterward, for she did not leave her bed again
until the end.
At one time she had motioned me to bring from her desk the
old-fashioned key ring on which she kept her keys. She had held up
two, a tiny key and a larger one, and whispered hoarsely: "These keys
are the keys to the lock box and the little trunk--you know where
the others belong." Then she had closed her eyes, as if the effort of
speaking had exhausted her, as indeed it had.
In the wild grief which followed my mother's death there was no
thought of my unknown father except the bitterness I had always felt
toward him. I knew that the terrible sorrow he had caused my mother
had helped to shorten her life, and my heart was hot with anger
I had never opened the trunk since her death. The exciting, almost
tragic experiences of my life with Dicky had swept all the old days
into the background. I could not analyze the change that had come over
me. As I lifted the lid of the trunk and took from the top tray the
inlaid box which my mother's hands had last touched, my grief for her
was mingled with a strange new longing to find out anything I could
concerning the father I had never known.
"For my daughter Margaret's eyes alone."
The superscription on the envelope which I held in my hand stared up
at me with all the sentience of a living thing. The letters were in
the crabbed, trembling, old-fashioned handwriting of my mother--the
last words that she had ever written. It was as if she had come back
from the dead to talk to me.
With the memory of my mother's advice, I hesitated for a long time
before breaking the seal. With the letters pressed close against my
tear-wet cheeks I sat for a long time, busy with memories of my mother
and debating whether or not I had the right to open the letter.
I certainly was not in desperate straits, and I could not
conscientiously say that I no longer harbored any resentment
toward^the father of whom I had no recollection. I felt that never in
my life could I fully pardon the man who had made my mother suffer so
terribly. But the longing to know something of my father, which I had
felt since the coming into my life of Robert Gordon, had become almost
an obsession, with me.
"Little mother," I whispered, "forgive me if I am doing wrong, but I
must know what is in this letter to me."