Part 6 out of 7
With trembling fingers I broke the seal and drew out the closely
written pages which the envelope contained.
"Mother's Only Comfort," the letter began, and at the sight of the
dear familiar words, which I had so often heard from my mother's
lips--it was the name she had given me when a tiny girl, and which she
used until the day of her death--tears again blinded my eyes.
"When you read this I shall have left you forever. It is my prayer
that when the time comes for you to read it, it will be because you
have forgiven your father, not because you are in desperate need. How
I wish I could have seen you safe in the shelter of a good man's love
before I had to go away from you forever!"
"Safe in the shelter of a good man's love," I repeated the words
thoughtfully. Had my mother been given her wish when she could no
longer witness its fulfilment? I was angry and humiliated at myself
that I could not give a swift, unqualified assent to my own question.
A "good man" Dicky certainly was, and I was in the "shelter of his
love" at present. But "safe" with Dicky I was afraid I could never
be. Mingled always with my love for him, my trust in him, was a
tiny undercurrent of uncertainty as to the stability of my husband's
affection for me.
As I turned to my mother's letter again, there was a tiny pang at my
heart at the thought that by my marriage with Dicky I had thwarted the
dearest wish of my little mother's heart.
For between the lines I could read the unspoken thought that had been
in her mind since I was a very young girl. "Safe in the shelter of a
good man's love" meant to my mother only one thing. If she had written
the words "safe in the shelter of Jack Bickett's love," I could not
have grasped her meaning more clearly.
But my mother's wish must forever remain ungranted. Jack was
"somewhere in France," and for me, safe or not safe, stable or
unstable, Dicky was "my man," the only man I had ever loved, the only
man I could ever love. "For better or worse," the dear old minister
had said who performed our wedding ceremony, and my heart reaffirmed
the words as I bent my eyes again to the closely written pages I held
in my hands.
"Because you have always been so bitter, Margaret, against your
father, and because it has always caused me great anguish to speak of
him, I have allowed you to rest under the impression that I had never
heard anything concerning him since his disappearance, and that I do
not know whether he be living or dead. The last statement is true, for
years ago I definitely refused to receive any communication from him,
but I must tell you that I believe him to be living, and that I know
that living or dead he has provided money for your use if you should
ever wish to claim it.
"The address he last sent me, and that of the firm of lawyers who
has the management of the property intended for you, are sealed in
envelopes in this box. In it also are all the things necessary to
establish your identity, my marriage certificate, your birth record,
pictures of your father and of me, and of the three of us taken when
you were two years old, before the shadow of the awful tragedy that
came later had begun to fall."
I sprang from my chair, dropping the pages of the letter unheeded in
the shock of the revelation they brought me. My father had planned for
me; had provided for me; had tried to communicate with my mother! He
must have been repentant; he was not all the heartless brute I had
thought him. As though a cloud had been lifted, from my life and a
weary weight had rolled from my heart, I turned again to mother's
"Remember, it is my last wish, Margaret, that if your father be
living, sometime you may be reconciled, to him. I have been weak and
bitter enough during all these years to be meanly comforted by your
stanch championship of me, and your detestation of the wrong your
father did me. But death brings clearer vision, my child, and I cannot
wish that your father's last years,--if, indeed, he be living--should
be desolated by not knowing you. I want you to know that there were
many things which, while they did not extenuate your father, yet might
in some measure explain his action.
"I was much to blame--I can see it now, for not being able to hold
his love. You are so much like me, my darling, that I tremble for your
happiness if you should happen to marry the wrong kind of man. I have
wondered often if the story of my tragedy, terrible as it is for me to
think of it, might not help you. And yet--it might do more harm than
good. At any rate, I have written it all out, and put it with the
other things in the box. I feel a curious sort of fatalism concerning
this letter. It is borne in upon me that if you ever need to read it
you will read it. It will help you to understand your father better.
It may help you to understand your husband; although, God grant,
knowledge like mine may never come to you.
"Of one thing I am certain, you will never have anything to do with
the woman who abused my friendship and took your father from me. I
cannot carry my forgiveness far enough, even in the presence of death,
to bid you go to him if she be still a part of his life.
"I can write no more, my darling. I want you to know that you have
been the dearest child a mother could have, and that you have never
given me moment's uneasiness in my life. God bless and keep you.
I did not weep when I had finished the letter. There was that in its
closing words that dried my tears. I put the pages reverently in
the envelope, laid it in the old box, closed and locked the lid, and
replaced it in the trunk. For my mother's bitter mention of the woman
who had stolen my father from her had brought back the old, wild
hatred I had felt for so many years.
"Whatever Robert Gordon can tell me of you, mother darling, I will
gladly hear," I whispered, as I locked her old trunk, "but I never
want to hear him talk of the woman who so cruelly ruined your life."
THE WORD OF JACK
"O, pray do not let me disturb you."
Mother Graham drew back from the open door of the living room with
a little affected start of surprise at seeing me sitting before the
fire. Her words were courteous, but her manner brought the temperature
of the room down perceptibly.
She had managed to keep out of my way in clever fashion since the
scene of the day before, when she had attacked me concerning the
interest taken in me by Robert Gordon.
"You are not disturbing me in the least," I said, pleasantly, "I was
simply watching the fire. Jim certainly has outdone himself in the
matter of logs this time."
"Yes, he has," she admitted, grudgingly, as she came forward slowly
and took the chair I proffered her. "I only hope he doesn't set the
house afire with such a blaze. I must tell Richard to speak to him
Always the pin prick, the absolute ignoring of me as the mistress of
the house. I could not tell whether she had deliberately done it, or
whether long usage to dominance in a household had made her speak as
she did unconsciously.
I made no reply, and, for a long time, we sat staring at the fire
until Dicky's entrance came as a welcome interruption.
I went sedately to the door to meet him, although I was so glad to
see him that a dance step would more appropriately have expressed my
feelings, and returned his warm kiss and greeting. He kept my hand in
his as he came down to the fire, not even releasing it when he kissed
his mother, who still maintained the rigid dignity with which she
surrounded herself when displeased.
"Well," Dicky said, manfully ignoring any hint of unpleasantness,
"this is what I call comfortable, coming home to a fire and a welcome
like this on a dreary day."
There was a note of forced jollity in his voice that made me look up
quickly into his eyes. As they looked into mine, I caught a glimpse of
something half-hidden, half-revealed, something fiercely sombre, which
"What had happened," I asked myself, with a little clutch at my heart,
"to make Dicky look at me in this way?" I had a longing to take him
away where we could be alone.
I was glad when my mother-in-law rose stiffly from her chair.
"If you are too much occupied, Margaret," she remarked, icily, "I will
go and tell Katie that Richard is here, and that she may serve dinner
She swept out of the room majestically, and as the door closed after
her Dicky caught me in his arms and clasped me so closely that I was
"Tell me you love me," he said tensely, "better than anybody in the
world or out of it." His eyes were glowing with some emotion I could
not understand. I felt my vague uneasiness of his first entrance
deepen into real foreboding of something unknown and terrible coming
"Why, of course, you know that, sweetheart," I replied. "There is no
one for me but just you! But what is the matter? Something must be the
"Where did you get that idea?" he evaded. "I just wanted to be sure,
that's all. Wait here for me--I'll dash up and get some of the dust
off in a jiffy before dinner."
I spent an anxious interval before, he came down, for, despite his
denials, I felt that something out of the ordinary must have happened
to cause his queer, passionate outburst.
When he returned to, the living room, it was with no trace of any
emotion, and throughout the dinner, while not so given to conversation
as usual, he showed no indication that he was at all disturbed.
But I was very glad when the dinner was over, and we returned to the
living-room fire. And when, after a few minutes, my mother-in-law
yawned sleepily and went to her room, I drew a deep breath of relief.
Dicky drew my chair close to his, and we sat for a long time looking
at the leaping flames, only occasionally speaking.
It was at the end of a long silence that Dicky turned toward me, with
eyes so troubled that all my fears leaped up anew. I sprang to my
"What is it, Dicky?" I entreated, wildly. "Oh! I know something
terrible is the matter!"
He rose from his chair, and clasped my hands tightly.
"I suppose I'd better tell you quickly, dear," he replied. "Your
cousin, Jack Bickett, is reported killed."
"Killed!" I repeated faintly. "Jack Bickett killed! Oh, no, no,
Dicky; no, no, no!"
I heard my own voice rise to a sort of shriek, felt Dicky release my
hands and seize my shoulders, and then everything went black before
me, and I knew nothing more.
When I came to myself, I was lying on the couch before the fire, with
my face and the front of my gown dripping with water, the strong smell
of hartshorn in the room, and Dicky with stern, white face, and Katie
in tears, hovering over me.
Dicky was trying to force a spoon between my teeth when I opened my
eyes. He promptly dropped it, and the brandy it contained trickled
down my neck. I raised my hand to wipe it away, and Dicky uttered a
low, "Thank God!"
"Oh, she no dead, she alive again!" Katie cried out, and threw herself
on her knees by my side, sobbing.
"Get up, Katie, and stop that howling!" Dicky spoke sternly. "Do you
want to get my mother down here? Go upstairs at once and prepare Mrs.
Graham's bed for her. I will carry her up directly. Are you all right
His tone was anxious, but there was a note of constraint in it, which
I understood even through the returning anguish at Dicky's terrible
news, which was possessing me with returning consciousness.
He believed that my feeling for my brother-cousin, Jack Bickett, was a
deeper one than that which I had always professed, a sisterly love for
the only near relative I had in the world. This was the reason for his
sudden, passionate embrace of me when he entered the house, his demand
that I tell him I loved him better than anybody in the world or out of
He had been jealous of Jack living, he would still be jealous of him
dead! But as the realization again swept over me that Jack, steadfast,
manly Jack, the only near relative I had, was no longer in the same
world with me, that never again would I see his kind eyes, hear his
deep, earnest voice, all thoughts of anything else but my loss fled
from me, and I gave a little moan.
I felt Dicky's arm which was around my shoulders shrink away
instinctively, then tighten again. He turned my face against his
shoulder, and, gathering me in his arms, lifted me from the couch.
"Oh, Dicky, I am sure I can walk," I protested faintly.
He stopped and looked at me fixedly.
"Don't you want my arms around you?" he asked, and there was that in
his voice which made me answer hastily:
"Of course I do, but I am afraid I am too heavy."
"Let me be the judge of that," he returned sternly, and forthwith
carried me up the stairs, down the hall, and laid me on the bed in my
"Now you must get that wet gown off," he said practically. "Katie
emptied nearly a gallon of water over you in her fright."
He smiled constrainedly, and I made a brave effort to return the
smile, but I could not accomplish it. Indeed, I was glad to be able to
keep back the tears, which I knew instinctively would hurt him.
He undressed me as tenderly as a woman could have done, and, wrapping
a warm bathrobe over my nightdress, for I was shivering as if from
a chill, tucked me in between the blankets of my bed. Then he drew a
chair to the bedside and sat down.
"Are you sure you are all right now?" he asked. "Your color is coming
"Perfectly sure," I returned, "and I am so sorry to have made you so
"Don't say that," he returned, a trifle sharply. "It is so
meaningless. Try to sleep a little, can't you?"
"Not yet, Dicky," I returned. "I am feeling much better, however. Of
course, the shock was terrible at first, for, as you know, Jack was
the only brother I ever knew. But I am all right now and I want you to
tell me how you learned the news."
"Mrs. Stewart telephoned to me," he said. "It seems your cousin gave
her as the 'next of kin,' to be notified in case of his death, and
she received the notice this morning. There was nothing but the usual
I caught my breath, stifling the moan that rose to my lips. Somewhere
in France lay buried the tenderest heart, the manliest man God ever
put into the world. And I had sent him to his death. Despite the
comforting assurance Jack had written me, just before his departure
for France, that his discovery of my marriage, with the consequent
blasting of the hope he had cherished for years, had not been the
cause of his sailing, I knew he would never have left me if I had not
I think Dicky must have read my thoughts in my face, for, after a
moment, he said gently, yet with a tenseness which told me he was
putting a rigid control over his voice:
"You must not blame yourself so harshly. Your cousin would probably
have gone to the war even if--circumstances had been different."
There was that in Dicky's voice and eyes which told me that he, too,
was suffering. I gathered my strength together, made a supreme effort
to put the sorrow and remorse I felt behind me until I could be alone.
I knew that I must strive at once to eradicate the false impression
my husband had gained as a result of my reception of the news of my
So I forced my lips to words which, while not utterly false, yet did
not at all reveal the truth of what I was feeling.
"I know that, Dicky," I returned, and I tried to hold my voice to a
conversational tone. "He went with his dearest friend, a Frenchman,
you know. I had nothing to do with his going. It isn't that which
makes me feel as I do. It is because his death brings back my mother's
so plainly. He was always so good to her, and she loved him so much."
Dicky bent his face so quickly to mine that I could not catch his
expression. He kissed me tenderly, and, kneeling down by the side of
the bed, gathered my head up against his shoulder.
"Cry it all out, if you want to, sweetheart," he said, and I fancied
the tension was gone from his voice. "It will do you good."
So, "cry it out" I did, against the blessed shelter of my husband's
shoulder. And the tears seemed to wash away all the shock of the
news I had, heard, all the bitter, morbid remorse I had felt, all
the secret wonder as to whether I might have loved and married my
brother-cousin if Dicky had not come into my life. There was left only
a sane, sisterly sorrow for a loved brother's death, and a tremendous
surge of love for my husband, and gratitude for his tenderness.
"Try to sleep if you can," he said.
I tried to obey his injunction, but I could not. I could see the hands
of my little bedroom clock, and after the longest quarter of an hour I
had ever known I turned restlessly on my pillow.
"It's no use, Dicky," I said, "I cannot go to sleep. I would rather
talk. Tell me, did Mrs. Stewart's voice sound as if she were much
upset? She is an old woman, you know, and she was very fond of Jack."
Dicky hesitated, and a curious, intent expression came into his eyes.
"Yes, I think she was pretty well broken up," he answered, "but the
thing about which she seemed most anxious was that you should not lose
any time in attending to the property your cousin left. I believe he
wrote you concerning his disposition of it before he sailed."
I looked up, startled. Dicky's words brought something to my mind
that I had completely forgotten. I was the heiress to all that Jack
possessed, not great wealth, it is true, but enough to insure me a
modest competence for the rest of my life.
"Do you object to my taking this money, Dicky?" I asked, and my voice
was tense with emotion.
"Object!" the words came from Dicky's mouth explosively, then he
jumped to his feet and paced up and down the room rapidly for a moment
or two, his jaw set, his eyes stern. When he stopped by the bed he had
evidently recovered his hold on himself, but his words came quickly,
jerkily, almost as if he were afraid to trust himself to speak.
"You are in no condition to discuss this tonight," he said, dropping
his hand on my hair, "we will speak of it again tomorrow, when you
have somewhat recovered. Now you must try to go to sleep. I shall have
to call a physician if you don't."
I lay awake for hours, debating the problem which had come to me. I
saw clearly that Dicky did not wish me to take this bequest of Jack's.
Indeed, I knew that he expected me to refuse it, and that he would be
bitterly disappointed if I did not do so.
My heart was hot with rebellion. It seemed like a profanation of
Jack's last wish, like hurling a gift into the face of the dead, to do
as Dicky wished.
And yet--Dicky was my husband. I had sworn to love and honor him. I
knew that he felt sincerely, however wrongly, that my acceptance of
Jack's gift would be a direct slap at him. I felt as if my heart were
being torn in two, with my desire to do justice both to the living
and the dead. It was not until nearly daylight that the solution of my
problem came to me. Then I fell asleep, exhausted, and did not awaken
until Dicky came into the room, dressed for the journey which he took
daily to the city.
"I wouldn't disturb you, sweetheart," he said, "only it's time for
me to go in to the studio, and I did not want to leave you without
knowing how you are."
"Oh, have I slept so late?" I returned, contritely, springing up in
Dicky put me back with a firm hand.
"Lie still," he commanded, gently. "Katie will bring you up some
breakfast shortly, and there is no need of your getting up for hours."
He bent down to kiss me good-by. There was a restraint in both
his voice and his caress that told me he was still thinking of the
conversation of the night before. I put my arms about his neck and
drew his face down to mine.
"Sweetheart," I whispered, "I want to tell you what I've decided about
"Not now," Dicky interrupted hurriedly.
"Yes, now," I returned decidedly. "I am going to accept it"--I gripped
his hands firmly as I felt them drawing away from mine, "but I am not
going to use any of it for myself. I will see that it all goes to the
orphaned kiddies of the soldiers with whom Jack fought."
Dicky started, looked at me a bit wildly, then stooped, and, gathering
me to him convulsively, pressed a long, tender kiss upon my lips.
"My own girl!" he murmured. "I shall not forget that you have done
this for me!"
"What's the big idea?"
Dicky looked up from the breakfast table with a mildly astonished air
as I came hurriedly into the room dressed for the street, wearing my
hat, and carrying my coat over my arm.
"I'm going into town with you," I returned quietly.
"Shopping, I suppose." The words sounded idle enough, but I, who knew
Dicky so well, recognized the note of watchfulness in the query.
"I shall probably go into some of the shops before I return," I said
carelessly, "but the real reason of my going into the city is Mrs.
Stewart. I should have gone to see her yesterday."
Dicky frowned involuntarily, but his face cleared again in an instant.
It was the second day after he had brought me the terrible news that
Jack Bickett, my brother-cousin, was reported killed "somewhere in
France." I knew that Dicky, in his heart, did not wish me to go to see
Mrs. Stewart, but I also knew that he was ashamed to give voice to his
When Dicky spoke at last, it was with just the right shade of cordial
acquiescence in his voice.
"Of course you must go to see her," he said, "but are you sure you're
feeling fit enough? It will try your nerves, I imagine."
Far better than Dicky could guess I knew what the day's ordeal would
be. Mrs. Stewart had been very fond of my brother-cousin. With my
mother, she had hoped that he and I would some day care for each
other. With her queer partisan ideas of loyalty, when Dicky had been
so cruelly unjust to me about Jack, she had wished me to divorce Dicky
and marry Jack, even though Jack himself had never whispered such a
solution of my life's problem. That she believed me to be responsible
for his going to the war I knew. I dreaded inexpressibly the idea of
But when, after a rather silent trip to the city with Dicky, I stood
again in Mrs. Stewart's little upstairs sitting-room, I found only a
very sorrowful old woman, not a reproachful one.
"I thought you'd come today," she said, and her voice was tired,
dispirited. I felt a sudden compunction seize me that my visits to her
had been so few since Jack's going.
"I couldn't have kept away," I said, and then my old friend dropped my
hand, which she had been holding, and, sinking into a chair, put her
wrinkled old hands up to her face. I saw the slow tears trickling
through her fingers, and I knelt by her side and drew her head against
my shoulder, comforting her as she once had comforted me.
Mrs. Stewart was never one to give way to emotion, and it was but a
few moments before she drew herself erect, wiped her eyes, and said
"I'll show you the cablegram."
She went to her desk, and drew out the message, clipped, abbreviated
in the puzzling fashion of cablegrams:
"Regret inform you, Bickett killed, action French front. Details
"Caillard? Caillard?" Where had I heard that name? Then I suddenly
remembered. Paul Caillard was the friend with whom Jack had gone
across the ocean to the Great War. I examined the paper carefully.
"I thought Dicky said you received the usual official notification," I
"That's what I told him," she replied. "That's it."
"But this isn't an official message," I persisted.
"Why isn't it?"
I explained the difference haltingly, and spoke of the wonderful
system of identification in the French army, with every man tagged
with a metal identification check.
"You will probably receive the official notification in a few days," I
A queer, startled expression flashed into her face. She opened her
mouth, as if to speak, and then, looking at me sharply, closed
it again. Reaching out her hand for the cablegram, she folded it
mechanically, as if thinking of something far away, then going to her
desk, put it away, and stood as if thinking deeply for two or three
minutes, which seemed an hour to me.
At last I saw her body straighten. She gave a little shake of her
shoulders, as if rousing herself, and, turning from the desk, came
toward me. I saw that she held in her hand a bundle of letters.
"I understand that you and Jack made some fool agreement that he was
not to write to you, and that you were not even to read his letters
to me. I'm not expressing my opinion about it, but now that he's gone,
I'm going to turn these letters over to you. I'm not blind, you know.
Most of them were all really written to you, even if I did receive
them. Poor lad! It seems such a pity he should be struck down just as
a little happiness seemed coming his way."
She put the letters in my hands, and, turning swiftly, went out of
the room. I knew her well enough to realize that she would not return
until I had read the messages from Jack. But what in the world did she
mean by her last words?
I drew a big, easy chair to the fireside, and began to read the
missives. Some were short, some were long, but all were filled with
a quiet courage and cheerfulness that I knew had illuminated not only
Jack's letters to his old friend, but his life and the lives of others
wherever he had been. Every one of them had some reference to me--an
inquiry after my health, an injunction to Mrs. Stewart to be sure to
keep track of my happiness, a little kodak print or other souvenir
marked "For Margaret if I do not come back."
I felt guilty, remorseful, that I had seen so little of Mrs. Stewart
since his departure. My own affairs, especially my long, terrible
summer's experience with Grace Draper, had shut everything else from
One letter in particular made my eyes brim with sudden tears. The
first of it had been cheery, with entertaining little accounts of the
few poor bits of humor which the soldiers in the trenches extracted
from their terrible every day round. Along toward the end a sudden
impulse seemed to have swept the writer's pen into a more sombre
"I have been thinking much, dear old friend," he wrote, "of the
futility of human desires. Life in the trenches is rather conducive to
that form of mediation, as you may imagine. You know, none better,
how I loved Margaret, how I wanted to make her my wife--I often wonder
whether if I had not delayed so long, 'fearing my fate too much,'
I might not have won her. But thoughts, like that are worse than
"Instead, there has come to me a clearer understanding of Margaret, a
better insight into the golden heart of her. If she had never met
the other man, or some one like him, I believe I could have made her
happy, kept her contented. But I realize fully that having met him
there could never be any other man for her but him. Her love for him
is like a flame, transforming her. I could never have called forth
such passion from her. I see clearly now how foolish it was in me to
have hoped it. There was nothing in the humdrum, commonplace brotherly
affection which she thought I gave her to arouse the romance which I
know slumbers under that calm, cold exterior of hers.
"Sometimes I query, too, whether my love for Margaret had that
flame-like quality which characterizes her love for her husband.
Margaret has always been so much a part of my life that my love for
her began I could not tell when, and grew and strengthened with the
years. There never has been any other woman but Margaret in my life.
Even if I should ever come out of this living hell, which I doubt, I
do not believe there ever will be another.
"I have just been summoned for duty. Good-by, dear friend, until the
next time. Lovingly yours, Jack Bickett."
I laid the letter aside with a queer little startled feeling at my
Those two little words, "and yet," at the end of Jack's letter gave me
much food for thought. Was it possible that before his death Jack had
realized that his love for me was not the consuming passion he had
thought it, but partook more of the fraternal affection that I had had
I hoped for Jack's sake that this was so.
I ran through the rest of the letters rapidly. One, the third from the
last, arrested my attention sharply.
"Such a pleasant thing happened to me today," Jack wrote, "one of the
unexpected gleams of sunlight that are so much brighter because of the
general gloom against which they are reflected.
"I was given a week's furlough last Saturday and went up to Paris with
my friend, Paul Caillard. He had a friend in a hospital on the way
there, headed by Dr. Braithwaite, the celebrated surgeon of Detroit."
I caught my breath. As well as if I had already read the words, I knew
what was coming.
"At an unexpected turn in the corridor I almost knocked over a
little nurse who was hurrying toward the office. She looked up at
me startled, out of the prettiest brown eyes I ever saw, and then
stopped, staring at me as if I had been a ghost. I stared back,
frankly, for her face was familiar to me, although for the moment I
could not tell where I had seen her before.
"Then, half-shyly, she spoke, and her voice matched her eyes.
"'You are Mr. Bickett, are you not, Mrs. Graham's cousin?'
"For a moment I did not realize that 'Mrs. Graham' was Margaret. But
that gave me no clue to the identity of the girl. Then all at once it
came to me.
"'I know you now,' I said. 'You are Mark Earle's little sister,
So they had met at last, Jack Bickett, my brother-cousin, and
Katherine Sonnot, the little nurse who had taken care of my
mother-in-law, and whom I had learned to love as a dear friend.
Was I glad or sorry, I wondered, as I picked up Jack's letter again
that I had crushed any feeling I might have had in the matter, and
had spoken the word to Dr. Braithwaite that resulted in Katharine's
joining the eminent surgeon's staff of nurses? It seemed a pity to
have these two meet only to be torn apart so soon by death.
"I cannot begin to tell you how delighted I was when we recognized
each other. You can imagine over here that to one American the meeting
with another American, especially if both have the same friends, is
an event. Luckily, Miss Sonnot was just about to have an afternoon off
when we met, and if she had an engagement--which she denied--she was
kind enough to break it for me. I need not tell you that I spent the
most delightful afternoon I have had since coming over here.
"You can be sure that I at once exerted all the influence I had
through my friend, Caillard, and his friend in the hospital to secure
as much free time for Miss Sonnot as possible for the time I was to be
on furlough. It is like getting home after being away so long to talk
to this brave, sensible, beautiful young girl--for she deserves all of
In the two letters which were the last ones numbered by Mrs. Stewart,
Jack spoke again and again of the little nurse. Almost the last line
of his last letter, written after he returned to the front, spoke of
"Little Miss Sonnot and I correspond," he wrote, "and you can have
no idea how much good her letters do me. They are like fresh, sweet
breezes glowing through the miasma of life in the trenches."
I folded the letters, put them back into their envelopes, and arranged
them as Mrs. Stewart had given them to me. When she came back into the
room she found me still holding them and staring into the fire.
"Did you read them all?" she asked.
"Yes," I replied.
"Don't you think those last ones sounded as if he were really getting
interested in that little nurse?" she demanded.
There was a peculiar intonation in her voice which told me that in
her own queer little way she was trying to punish me for my failure
to come to see her oftener with inquiries about Jack. She evidently
thought that my vanity would be piqued at the thought of Jack becoming
interested in any other woman after his life-long devotion to me.
But I flatter myself that my voice was absolutely non-committal as I
"Yes, I do," I agreed, "and what a tragedy it seems that he should be
snatched away from the prospect of happiness."
The words were sincere. I was sure.
A CHANGE IN LILLIAN UNDERWOOD
"Well, children, have you made any plans for Dicky's birthday yet?"
I nearly fell off my chair in astonishment at the friendliness in my
mother-in-law's tones. She had been sulky ever since we had come home
from our autumn outing in the Catskills, a sulkiness caused by her
resentment of what she chose to consider the indiscreet interest
taken in me by Robert Gordon, the mysterious millionaire whom I had
discovered to be an old friend of my parents. I shrewdly suspected,
however, that her continued resentment was more because Dicky chose
to take my part in the matter against her, than because of any real
feeling toward Mr. Gordon.
Nearly a year's experience, however, had taught me how best to manage
my mother-in-law. When she indulged herself in one of her frequent
"tantrums" I adopted a carefully courteous, scrupulously formal
attitude toward her, and dismissed her from my mind. Thus I saved
myself much worry and irritation, and deprived her of the pleasure
of a quarrel, something which I knew she would be glad to bring on
sometimes for the sheer pleasure of combat.
Her question was so sudden, her cordiality so surprising, that I could
frame no answer. Instead I looked helplessly at Dicky. To tell
the truth, I rather distrusted this sudden amiability. From past
experiences, I knew that when Mother Graham made a sudden change from
sulkiness to cheerfulness, she had some scheme under way.
Dicky's answer was prompt.
"That's entirely up to Madge, mother," he said, and smiled at me.
Although his mother tried hard she could not keep the acerbity out of
her tones as she turned to me. She always resented any deference of
Dicky to my opinion.
"Well, as Richard has no opinion of his own, what are your plans,
"Why, I have made none so far," I stammered, wishing with all my heart
that I had made some definite plan for Dicky's birthday. I could see
from my mother-in-law's manner that she had some cherished scheme in
mind, and my prophetic soul told me that it would be something which I
would not particularly like.
"Good," she returned. "Then I shall not be interfering with any plan
of yours. I have already written to Elizabeth asking them to come out
here for a week's visit. This is an awful shack, of course, but it
is the country, and the children will enjoy the woods and brooks and
fields, even if it is cold."
Dicky turned to her abruptly, his brow stormy, his eyes flashing.
"Mother, do you mean to say that you have already written to Elizabeth
without first consulting Madge as to whether it would be convenient?"
I trod heavily on his toes under the table in the vain hope that I
would be able to stop him from saying the words which I knew would
inflame his mother's temper. Failing in that, I hastened to throw a
sentence or two of my own into the breach in the desire to prevent
"Dicky, stop talking nonsense!" I said sharply. "I am sure Mother
Graham," turning to my mother-in-law who sat regarding her son with
the most traditional of "stony stares," "we shall be delighted to have
your daughter and her family. You must tell me how many there are
so we can arrange for beds and plenty of bedding. This is a rather
draughty house, you know."
"I am better aware of that than you are," she returned, ungraciously
making no response to my proffer of hospitality. Then she turned her
attention to Dicky.
"Richard," she said sternly, "I have never been compelled to consult
anybody yet, before inviting guests to my home, whether it be a
permanent or a temporary one. I am too old to begin. I do not notice
that you or Margaret take the trouble to consult me before inviting
your friends here."
Dicky opened his mouth to reply, but I effectually stopped him, by a
swift kick, which I think found a mark, for he jumped perceptibly
and flashed me a wrathful look. I knew that he was thinking of the
strenuous objection his mother had made to our entertaining the
Underwoods, and to the proposed visit of Robert Gordon to our home.
But I knew also that it was no time to rake up old scores. I foresaw
trouble enough in this proposed visit of my relatives-in-law whom I
had never seen, without having things complicated by a row between
Dicky and his mother.
There was trouble, too, in all the housecleaning, the re-arrangement
of our rooms and in the laying in of a stock of provisions to meet
the requirements of the menu for each meal that Mother Graham insisted
upon deciding in advance to please her daughter and the children. And
then, the day they were to arrive, she received a special delivery
letter calmly announcing that they were not coming. But my
annoyance was forgotten in Mother Graham's very apparent and utter
When I broke the news to Dicky he suggested that we have a party
anyway, and Mother Graham sweetly acquiesced in our plans to invite
Lillian's voice over the telephone, however, made me forget all my
contentment, and filled me with misgiving. It was tense, totally
unlike her usual bluff, hearty tones, and with an undercurrent in it
that spelled tragedy.
"What is the trouble, Lillian?" I asked, as soon as I had heard her
greeting; "I know something is the matter by your voice."
"Yes, there is," she replied, "but nothing of which I can speak
over the 'phone. Tell me, are you going to have any strangers there
How like Lillian the bluff, honest speech was! Almost any other woman
would have hypocritically assured me that nothing was the matter. But
not Lillian Underwood!
"Nobody but the Durkees," I assured her. "They have already promised
to be here. But, Lillian, you surely must get here as soon as you can.
I shall be so worried until I see you. If you don't get here early
tomorrow morning I shall come in after you."
"You couldn't keep me away, you blessed child, if you are going to
have no strangers there," Lillian returned. "I don't mind the Durkees.
But I need you, my dear, very much. Now I must tell you something,
don't be shocked or surprised when you see me, for I shall be somewhat
changed in appearance. Run along to Dicky now. I'll be with you some
time tomorrow forenoon. Good-by."
I almost forgot to hang up the telephone receiver in my bewilderment.
What trouble could have come to Lillian that she needed me? She was
the last person in the world to need any one, I thought--she, whose
sterling good sense and unfailing good-nature had helped me so
many times. And what change in her appearance did she mean when she
cautioned me against being shocked and surprised at seeing her?
My anxiety concerning Lillian stayed with me all through the evening.
I awoke in the night from troubled dreams of her to equally troubled
thoughts concerning her. And my concern was complicated by a message
which Dicky received the next forenoon.
We had barely finished breakfast when the telephone rang and Dicky
"Hello," I heard him say. "Yes, this is Graham. Oh! Mr. Gordon! how do
My heart skipped a beat.
"Why! that's awfully kind of you," Dicky was saying, "but we couldn't
possibly accept, because we have guests coming ourselves. We expect to
have a regular old-fashioned country dinner here at home. But, why
do you not come out to us? Oh, no, you wouldn't disturb any plans at
all--they've been thoroughly upset already. We had planned to have
my sister and her family, six in all, spend this holiday with us, but
yesterday we found they could not come. So we're inviting what friends
we can find who are not otherwise engaged to help us eat up the
turkey. You will be more than welcome if you will join us. All right,
then. Do you know about trains? Yes, any taxi driver can tell you
where we are. Good-by."
I did not dare to look at my mother-in-law as Dicky came toward us
after answering Robert Gordon's telephone message.
I think Dicky was a trifle afraid, also, of his mother's verdict, for
his attitude was elaborately apologetic as he explained his invitation
"Your friend, Gordon, has just gotten in from one of those mysterious
voyages of his to parts unknown," he said. "He was delayed in reaching
the city, only got in last night, too late to telephone us. Seems
he had some cherished scheme of having us his guests at a blowout.
Wouldn't mind going if we hadn't asked these people here, for they say
his little dinners are something to dream about, they're so unique. Of
course, there was nothing else for me to do but to invite him out. I
thought you wouldn't mind."
In Dicky's tone there was a doubtful inflection which I read
correctly. He knew of my interest in the elderly man of mystery who
had known my parents so well, and I was sure that he thought I would
be overjoyed because he had extended the invitation.
I was glad that I could honestly disabuse his mind of this idea, for I
had a curious little feeling that Dicky disliked more than he appeared
to do the attentions paid to me by Mr. Gordon.
It was less than an hour before the taxi bearing the first of our
guests swung into the driveway and Lillian and Harry Underwood stepped
Lillian's head and face were so swathed in veils that I did not
realize what the change in her appearance of which she had warned me
was until I was alone with her in my room, which I intended giving up
to her and her husband while they stayed. Then, as she took off her
hat and veils, I almost cried out in astonishment--for at my first,
unaccustomed glance, instead of the rouged and powdered face, and dyed
hair, which to me had been the only unpleasant things about Lillian
Underwood, the face of an old woman looked at me, and the hair above
it was gray!
There were the remnants of great youthful beauty in Lillian's face.
Nay, more, there were wonderful possibilities when the present crisis
in her life, whatever it might be, should have passed. But the effect
of the change in her was staggering.
"Awful, isn't it?" she said, coming up to me. "No, don't lie to me,"
as she saw a confused, merciful denial rise to my lips. "There are
mirrors everywhere, you know. There's one comfort, I can't possibly
ever look any worse than I do now, and when my hair gets over the
effect of its long years of dyeing, and my present emotional crisis
becomes less tense I probably shall not be such a fright. But oh, my
dear, how glad I am to be with you. I need you so much just now."
She put her head on my shoulder as a homesick child might have done,
and I felt her draw two or three long, shuddering breaths, the dry
sobs which take the place of tears in the rare moments when Lillian
Underwood gives way to emotion. I stroked her hair with tender,
pitiful fingers, noticing as I did so what ravages her foolish
treatment of her hair had made in tresses that must once have been
beautiful. Originally of the blonde tint she had tried to preserve,
her locks were now an ugly mixture of dull drab and gray. As I stood
looking down at the head pillowed against my shoulder I realized what
this transformation in Lillian must mean to Harry Underwood.
He it was who had always insisted that she follow the example of the
gay Bohemian crowd of which he was a leader, and disguise her fleeting
youth, with dye and rouge. It was to please him, or, as she once
expressed it to me, "to play the game fairly with Harry" that she
outraged her own instincts, her sense of what was decent and becoming,
and constantly made up her face into a mask like that of a woman of
the half-world. No one could deny that it disguised her real age, but
her best friends, including Dicky and myself, had always felt that the
real mature beauty of the woman was being hidden.
"Of course, this is terribly rough on Harry," Lillian said at last,
raising her head from my shoulder, and speaking in as ordinary and
unruffled a tone as if she had not just gone through what in any other
woman would have been a hysterical burst of tears.
"It really isn't fair to him, and under any other conditions in the
world I would not do it. He's pretty well cut up about it, so much so
that he cannot always control his annoyance when he is speaking about
it. But I know you will overlook any little outbreaks of his, won't
you? He wanted to come down here with me, you know he's always anxious
to see you, or I would have run away by myself."
Her tone was anxious, wistful, and my heart ached for her. I could
guess that when Harry Underwood could not "control his annoyance" he
could be very horrid indeed. But I winced at her casual remark that
her husband was always anxious to see me. Harry Underwood held in
restraint by his very real admiration for his brilliant wife had been
annoying enough to me. I did not care to think what he might be when
enraged at her as I knew he must be now.
Nothing of my feeling, however, must I betray to the friend who had
come to me for help and comfort. I drew closer the arms that had not
yet released her.
"Dear girl," I said softly, "don't worry any more about your husband
or anything else. Just consider that you've come home to your sister.
I'm going to keep you awhile now I've got you, and we'll straighten
everything out. Don't even bother to tell me anything about it until
you are fully rested. I can see you've been under some great strain."
"No one can ever realize how great," she returned. "You see--"
What revelation she meant to make to me I did not then learn, for just
at that moment a knock sounded on the door, and in answer to my "come
in," Katie appeared and announced the arrival of the Durkees and
"Tell me, Madge," Dicky's tone was tense, and I recognized the note of
jealous anger which generally preceded his scenes, "are you going to
have that old goat take you out to dinner? Because if you are--"
He broke off abruptly, as if he thought an unspoken threat would be
more terrifying than one put into words. I knew to what he referred.
As hostess, I, of course, should be escorted in to dinner by the
stranger in our almost family party, Robert Gordon, who was also the
oldest man present. Ordinarily, Dicky would have realized that his
demand to have me change this conventional arrangement was a most
ill-bred and inconsiderate thing. But Dicky sane and Dicky jealous,
however, were two different men.
Always before this day Dicky had regarded with tolerant amusement the
strange interest shown in me by the elderly man of mystery who had
known my mother. But the magnificent chrysanthemums which Mr. Gordon
had brought me, dozens of them, costing much more money than the
ordinary conventional floral gift to one's hostess ought to cost, had
roused his always smouldering jealousy to an unreasoning pitch.
Fear of hurting Robert Gordon's feelings was the one consideration
that held me back from defying Dicky's mandate. Experience had taught
me the best course to pursue with Dicky.
"If, as I suppose, you are referring to Mr. Gordon, it may interest
you to know that I have not the faintest intention of going in to
dinner with him," I retorted coolly. "Lillian wants to talk with him
about South America, and I shall have your friend, Mr. Underwood, as
"Gee, how happy you'll be," sneered Dicky, but I could see that he was
relieved at my information. "You're so fond of dear old Harry, aren't
"To tell you the truth, I have to fight all the time against becoming
too fond of him," I returned mockingly. "He can be dangerously
fascinating, you know."
Dicky laughed in a way that showed me his brainstorm over Robert
Gordon had been checked. But there was a startled look in his eyes
which changed to a more speculative scrutiny before he moved away.
"Oh, old Harry's all right," he said. "He's my pal, and he never means
anything, anyway." But I noticed that he said it as if he were trying
to convince himself of the truth of his assertion.
When I told Harry Underwood that he was to take me in to dinner, and
we were leading the way into the dining room, his brilliant black eyes
looked down into mine mockingly, and he said:
"You see it is Fate. No matter how you struggle against it you cannot
"Do I look as if I were struggling?" I laughed back, and saw a sudden
expression of bewilderment in his eyes, followed instantly by a flash
Everything that was cattishly feminine in me leaped to life at that
look in the eyes of the man whom I detested, whom I had even feared.
I could read plainly enough in his eyes that he thought the assiduous
flatteries he had always paid me were commencing to have their result,
that I was beginning to recognize the dangerous fascination he was
reputed to have for women of every station. I had a swift, savage
desire to avenge the women he must have made suffer, to hurt him as
before dinner he had wounded Lillian.
So instead of turning an impassive face to Mr. Underwood's remark, I
listened with just the hint of an elusive mischievous smile twisting
"No, you don't look very uncomfortable. You look"--he caught his
breath as if with some emotion too strong for utterance, and then said
a trifle huskily:
"Will you let me tell you how you look to me?"
I had to exercise all my self-control to keep from laughing in
his face. He was such a poseur, his simulation of emotion was
so melodramatic that I wondered if he really imagined I would be
impressed by it.
A spirit of mischievous daring stirred in me.
"Don't tell me just now," I said softly. "Wait till after dinner."
"Afraid?" he challenged.
"Perhaps," I countered.
He gave my hand lying upon his arm a swift, furtive pressure and
released it so quickly that there was no possibility of his being
observed. I had no time to rebuke him, had I been so disposed, for we
had almost reached our places at the table.
I do not remember much of the dinner over which Mother Graham, Katie
and I had worked so assiduously. That everything went off smoothly, as
we had planned, that from the Casaba melons which were served first to
the walnuts of the last course, everything was delicious in flavor and
perfect in service I was gratefully but dimly aware.
For I felt as if I were on the brink of a volcano. Not because of
Harry Underwood's elaborate show of attention to me to which I was
pretending to respond, much to the disgust of my mother-in-law, but on
account of the queer behavior of Robert Gordon.
Lillian, who was making a pitifully brave attempt to bring to the
occasion all the airy brightness with which she was wont to make any
gathering favored by her presence a success, secured only the briefest
responses from him, although he had taken her out to dinner. Sometimes
he made no answer at all to her remarks, evidently not hearing them.
He watched me almost constantly, and so noticeable was his action that
I saw every one at the table was aware of it. It was a gaze to set any
one's brain throbbing with wild conjectures, so mournful, so elusive
it was. The fantastic thought crossed my mind that this mysterious
elderly friend of my dead mother's looked like a long famished man,
coming suddenly in sight of food.
By the time the dinner was over I was intensely nervous. Katie
served us our coffee in the living room, and when I took mine my hand
trembled so that the tiny cup rattled against the saucer. I rose from
my chair and walked to the fireplace, set the cup upon the mantel and
stood looking into the blazing logs Jim had heaped against the old
chimney. My guests could not see my face, and I hoped to be able to
pull myself together.
"Ready to have me tell you how you look to me, now?" said Harry
Underwood's voice, softly, insidiously in my ear.
I started and moved a little away from him, which brought me nearer
to the fire. The next moment I was wildly beating at little tongues of
flame running up the flimsy fabric of my dress.
I heard hoarse shouts, shrill screams, felt rough hands seize me, and
wrap me in heavy, stifling cloth, which seemed to press the flames
searingly down into my flesh, and then for a little I knew no more.
It seemed only a moment that I lost consciousness. When I came back to
myself I was lying on the couch with Lillian Underwood's deft, tender
fingers working over me. From somewhere back of me Dicky's voice
sounded in a hoarse, gasping way that terrified me.
"For God's sake, Lil, is she--"
Lillian's voice, firm, reassuring, answered:
"No, Dicky, no, she's pretty badly burned, I fear, but I am sure she
will be all right. Now, dear boy, get your mother to her room and make
her lie down. Mrs. Durkee and I can take care of Madge better with you
all out of the way. Did you get a doctor, Alfred?"
"Coming as soon as he can get here," Alfred Durkee replied.
"Good," Lillian returned. "Now everybody except Mrs. Durkee get out
of here. Katie, bring a blanket, some sheets, and one of Mrs. Graham's
old nightdresses from her room. I shall have to cut the gown."
Even through the terrible scorching heat which seemed to envelop my
body I realized that Lillian, as always, was dominating the situation.
I could hear the snip of her scissors as she cut away the pieces of
burned cloth, and the low-toned directions to Mrs. Durkee, which told
me that Lillian already had secured our first aid kit and was giving
me the treatment necessary to alleviate my pain until the physician
I am sorry to confess it, but I am a coward where physical pain is
concerned. I am not one of those women who can bear the torturing
pangs of any illness or accident without an outcry. And, struggle as I
might, I could not repress the moan which rose to my lips.
"I know, child." Lillian's tender hands held my writhing ones, her
pitying eyes looked into mine; but she turned from me the next moment
in amazement, for Robert Gordon, the mysterious man who had loved my
mother, appeared, as if from nowhere, at her side, twisting his hands
together and muttering words which I could not believe to be real,
so strange and disjointed were they. I felt that they must be only
fantasies of my confused brain.
"Mr. Gordon, this will never do," Lillian said sternly. "I thought I
had sent every one out of the room except Mrs. Durkee."
"I know--I am going right away again. But I had to come this time. Is
she going to die?"
"Not if I can get a chance to attend to her without everybody
bothering me. I am very sure she is not seriously injured. Now, you
must go away."
Mr. Gordon fled at once. And Lillian, and Mrs. Durkee worked so
swiftly and skillfully that when the physician, a kindly, elderly
practitioner from Crest Haven arrived, my pain had been assuaged.
By his direction I was carried to my own room. I must have fainted
before they moved me, for the next thing I remember was the sound of
the doctor's voice.
"There is nothing to be alarmed over," the physician was saying to a
shadowy some one at the head of my bed, a some one who was breathing
heavily, and the trembling of whose body I could feel against the bed.
"Of course, the shock has been severe, and the pain of moving her was
too much for her. But she is coming round nicely. You may speak to her
The shadowy some one moved forward a little, resolved itself to my
clearing sight as my husband. He knelt beside the bed and put his lips
to my uninjured hand.
"Sweetheart! Sweetheart!" he murmured, "my own girl! Is the pain very
"Not now," I answered faintly, trying to smile, but only succeeding
in twisting my mouth into a grimace of pain. The flames had mercifully
spared my hair and most of my face, but there was one burn upon
one side of my throat, extending up into my cheek, which made it
uncomfortable for me to move the muscles of my face.
"Don't try to talk," Dicky replied. "Just lie still and let us take
care of you. Lil will stay, I know, until we can get a nurse here,
won't you, Lil?"
As a frightened child might do, I turned my eyes to Lillian,
"No--nurse--just--Lillian," I faltered.
Lillian stooped over me reassuringly.
"No one shall touch you but me," she said decisively, and then turning
to the physician, said demurely:
"Do you think I can be trusted with the case, doctor?"
"Most assuredly," the physician returned heartily. "Indeed, if you can
stay it is most fortunate for Mrs. Graham. Good trained nurses are at
a premium just now, and great care will be necessary in this case to
A quick, stifled exclamation of dismay came from Dicky.
"Is there any danger of her face being scarred?" he asked worriedly.
"Not while I'm on the job," Lillian returned decisively, and there was
no idle boasting in her statement, simply quiet certainty.
But there was another note in her voice, or so it seemed to my
feverish imagination, a note of scorn for Dicky, that he should be
thinking of my possible disfigurement when my very life had been in
question but a moment before.
A sick terror crept over me. Did my husband love me only for what poor
claims to pulchritude I possessed? Suppose the physician should be
mistaken, and I be hideously scarred, after all, as I had seen fire
victims scarred, would I see the love light die in his eyes, would I
never again witness the admiring glances Dicky was wont to flash at me
when I wore something especially becoming?
I had often wondered since my marriage whether Dicky's love for me was
the real lasting devotion which could stand adversity. I knew that no
matter how old or gray or maimed or disfigured Dicky might become he
would be still my royal lover. I should never see the changes in him.
But if I should suddenly turn an ugly scarred face to Dicky would he
shrink from me?
An epigram from one of the sanest and cleverest of our modern
humorists flashed into my mind. Dicky and I had read it together only
a few weeks before.
"Heaven help you, madam, if your husband does not love you because of
your foibles instead of in spite of them."
Did all women have this experience I wondered, and then as Lillian's
face bent over me I caught my breath in an understanding wave of pity
This was what she was undergoing, this experience of seeing her
husband turn away his eyes from her, as if the very sight of her was
painful to him.
Dicky would never do that, I knew. He had not the capacity for cruelty
which Harry Underwood possessed. But I was sure it would torture
me more to know that he was disguising his aversion than to see him
openly express it.
HARRY CALLS TO SAY GOOD-BY
Lillian Underwood kept her promise to Dicky that I should suffer no
scar as the result of the burns I received when my dress caught fire
on the night of my dinner.
Never patient had a more faithful nurse than Lillian. She had a cot
placed in my room where she slept at night, and she rarely left my
I found my invalidism very pleasant in spite of the pain and
inconvenience of my burns. Everyone was devoted to my comfort. Even
Mother Graham's acerbity was softened by the suffering I underwent
in the first day or two following the accident, although I soon
discovered that she was actually jealous because Lillian and not she
was nursing me.
"It is the first time in my life that I have ever found my judgment in
nursing set aside as of no value," she said querulously to me one day
when she was sitting with me while Lillian attended to the preparation
of some special dish for me in the kitchen.
"Oh, Mother Graham," I protested, "please don't look at it that way.
You know how careful you have to be about your heart. We couldn't let
you undertake the task of nursing me, it would have been too much for
"Well, if your own mother were alive I don't believe any one could
have kept her from taking care of you," she returned stubbornly.
There was a wistful note in her voice that touched and enlightened
me. Beneath all the crustiness of my mother-in-law's disposition there
must lie a very real regard--I tremulously wondered if I might not
call it love--for me.
My heart warmed toward the lonely, crabbed old woman as it had never
done before. I put out my uninjured hand, clasped hers, and drew her
"Mother dear," I said softly, "please believe me, it would be no
different if my own little mother were here. She, of course, would
want to take care of me, but her frailness would have made it
impossible. And I want you to know that I appreciate all your
She bent to kiss me.
"I'm a cantankerous old woman, sometimes," she said quaveringly, "but
I am fond of you, Margaret."
She released me so abruptly and went out of the room so quickly that
I had no opportunity to answer her. But I lay back on my pillows,
warm with happiness, filled with gratitude that in spite of the many
controversies in which my husband's mother and I had been involved,
and the verbal indignities which she had sometimes heaped upon me,
we had managed to salvage so much real affection as a basis for our
future relations with each other.
The reference to my own little mother, which I had made, brought back
to me the homesickness, the longing for her which comes over me often,
especially when I am not feeling well. When Lillian returned she found
me weeping quietly.
"Here, this will never do!" she said kindly, but firmly. "I'm not
going to ask you what you were crying about, for I haven't time to
listen. I must fix you up to see two visitors. But"--she forestalled
the question I was about to ask--"before you see one of them I must
tell you that Harry and I have about come to the parting of the ways."
"The parting of the ways!" I gasped. "Harry and you?"
Lillian Underwood nodded as calmly as if she had simply announced
a decision to alter a gown or a hat, instead of referring to a
separation from her husband.
"It will have to come to that, I am afraid," she said, and looking
more closely at her I saw that her calmness was only assumed, that
humiliation and sadness had her in their grip.
"I have always feared that when the time came for me to be 'my honest
self' instead of a 'made-up daisy'"--she smiled wearily as she quoted
the childish rhyme--"Harry would not be big enough to take it well.
Of course I could and would stand all his unpleasantness concerning my
altered appearance, but the root of his actions goes deeper than that,
I am afraid. He dislikes children, and I fear that he will object to
my having my little girl with me. And if he does--"
Her tone spelled finality but I had no time to bestow upon the
probable fate of Harry Underwood. With a glad little cry, I drew
Lillian down to my bedside and kissed her.
"Oh! Lillian!" I exclaimed, "are you really going to have your baby
girl after all?"
She nodded, and I held her close with a little prayer of thanksgiving
that fate had finally relented and had given to this woman the desire
of her heart, so long kept from her.
I saw now, and wondered why I had not realized before the reason for
Lillian's sudden abandonment of the rouge and powder and dyed hair
which she had used so long. Once she had said to me, "When my baby
comes home, she shall have a mother with a clean face and pepper and
salt hair, but until that time, I shall play the game with Harry."
And so for Harry's sake, for the man who was not worthy to tie her
shoes, she had continued to crucify her real instincts in an effort
to hide the worst feminine crime in her husband's calendar--advancing
"When will she come to you?" I asked, and then with a sudden
remembrance of the only conditions under which Lillian's little
daughter could be restored to her, I added, "then her father is--"
"Not dead, but dying," Lillian returned gravely, "but oh, my dear, he
sent for me two weeks ago and acknowledged the terrible wrong he did
me. I am vindicated at last, Madge--at last."
Her voice broke, and as she laid her cheek against my hand, I felt the
happy tears which she must have kept back all through the excitement
of my accident. How like her to put by her own greatest experiences as
of no consequence when weighed against another's trouble!
I kissed her happily. "Do you feel that you can tell me about it?" I
"You and Dicky are the two people I want most to know," she returned.
"Will confessed everything to me, and better still, to his mother.
I would have been glad to have spared the poor old woman, for she
idolizes her son, but you remember I told you that although she loved
me, he had made her believe the vile things he said of me. It was
necessary that she should know the truth, if after Will's death I was
to have any peace in my child's companionship.
"Marion loves her grandmother dearly, and the old woman fairly
idolizes the child, although her feebleness has compelled her to leave
most of the care of the child to hired nurses. There is where I am
going to have my chance with my little girl. I never shall separate
her from her grandmother while the old woman lives, but from the
moment she comes to me, no hireling's hand shall care for her--she
shall be mine, all mine."
Her voice was a paean of triumphant love. My heart thrilled in
sympathy with hers, but underneath it all I was conscious of a
strong desire to have Harry Underwood reconciled to this new plan of
Lillian's. The calmness with which she had spoken of their parting had
not deceived me. I knew that Lillian's pride, already dragged in the
dust by her first unhappy marital experience, would suffer greatly
if she had to acknowledge that her second venture had also failed.
I tried to think of some manner in which I could remedy matters.
Unconsciously Lillian played directly into my hands.
"But here I am bothering you with all of my troubles," she said, "when
all the time gallant cavaliers wait without, anxious to pay their
Her voice was as gay, as unconcerned, as if she had not just been
sounding the depths of terrible memories. I paid a silent tribute to
her powers of self-discipline before answering curiously.
"Gallant cavaliers?" I repeated. "Who are they?"
"Well, Harry is at the door, and Mr. Gordon at the gate," she returned
merrily. "In other words, Harry is downstairs, waiting patiently
for me to give him permission to see you, while Mr. Gordon took up
quarters at a country inn near here the day after your accident
and has called or telephoned almost hourly since. He begged me this
morning to let him know when you would be able to see him. If Harry's
call does not tire you, I think I would better 'phone him to come
"Lillian!" I spoke imperatively, as a sudden recollection flashed
through my mind. "Was I delirious, or did I hear Mr. Gordon exclaim
something very foolish the night of my accident?"
She looked at me searchingly.
"He said, 'My darling, have I found you only to lose you again?'" she
"What did he mean?" I gasped.
"That he must tell you himself, Madge," she said gravely. "For me to
guess his meaning would be futile. Shall I telephone him to come over,
and will you see Harry for a moment or two now?"
"Yes! to both questions," I answered.
"Well, lady fair, they haven't made you take the count yet, have they?
By Jove, you're prettier than ever."
Ushered by Lillian, Harry Underwood came into my room with all his
usual breeziness, and stood looking down at me as I lay propped
against the pillows Lillian had piled around me. It was the first time
I had seen him since the night of our dinner, when with the wild idea
of punishing Dicky for his foolishness regarding elderly Mr. Gordon I
had carried on a rather intense flirtation with Harry Underwood.
I had been heartily sorry for and ashamed of the experiment before
the dinner was half over, and many times since the accident which
interrupted the evening I had wondered, half-whimsically, whether my
dress catching fire was not a "judgment on me." I had deeply dreaded
seeing Mr. Underwood again, but as I looked into his eyes I saw
nothing but friendly cheeriness and pity.
Lillian drew a chair for him to my bedside, and for a few moments he
chatted of everything and nothing in the entertaining manner he knows
so well how to use.
"You may have just three minutes more, Harry," Lillian said at
last. "Stay here while I go down to telephone. Then you will have to
vamoose. Mr. Gordon is coming over, and I can't have her too tired."
Her husband gave a low whistle, and I saw a quick look of
understanding pass between him and Lillian. I did not have time to
wonder about it, however, for Lillian went out of the room, and the
moment she closed the door he said tensely:
"Tell me you forgive me. If I had not teased you that night you would
not have moved toward the fire, and your dress would not have caught.
Why! you might have been killed or horribly disfigured. I've been
suffering the tortures of Hades ever since. But you will forgive me,
won't you? I'll do any penance you name."
Through all the extravagance of his speech there ran a deeper note
than I had believed Harry Underwood to be capable of sounding. As his
eyes met mine and I saw that there was something as near suffering in
them as the man's self-centred careless nature was capable of feeling
I saw my opportunity.
"Yes, I'll forgive you--everything--if you'll promise me one thing,
which will make me very happy."
He bit his lip savagely--I think he guessed my meaning--but he did not
"Name it," he said shortly.
"Don't hurt Lillian any more about the change in her appearance or
object to her having her child with her," I pleaded.
He thought a long minute, then with a quick gesture he caught my
uninjured hand in his, carried it to his lips, and kissed it, then
laid it gently back upon the bed again.
"Done," he said gruffly. "It won't bother me much for awhile anyway.
Your friend Gordon, wants me to go with him on a long trip to South
America. I'm the original white-haired boy with him just now for some
reason or other, and it's just the chance I have wanted to look up the
theatrical situation down there. Perhaps I can persuade the old boy
to loosen up on some of his bank roll and play angel. But anyway I'm
going to be gone quite a stretch, and when I come back I'll try to be
a reformed character. But remember, wherever I am 'me art is true to
He bowed mockingly with his old manner, and walked toward the door,
meeting Lillian as she came in.
"So long, Lil," he said carelessly. "I'm going for a long walk. See
She looked at him searchingly. "All right," she answered laconically,
and then came over to me.
"Mr. Gordon will be here in a half-hour," she said. "Please try to
rest a little before he comes."
She lowered the shades, and my pillows, kissed me gently, and left the
room. But I could neither rest nor sleep. The wildest conjectures went
through my brain. Who was Robert Gordon, and why was he so strangely
interested in me?
MADGE FACES THE PAST AND HEARS A DOOR SOFTLY CLOSE
It seemed a very long time to me, as I tossed on my pillows, beset by
the problem that even the name Robert Gordon always presents to me,
before Lillian came back to my room. But when she entered she said
that Mr. Gordon would soon arrive and that I must be prepared to see
him, so she bathed my hands and face and gave me an egg-nog before
propping me up against my pillows to receive my visitor.
"Of course you will stay with me, Lillian, while he is here," I said.
She smiled enigmatically. "Part of the time," she said.
But when Mr. Gordon came, bringing with him an immense sheaf of roses,
she left the room almost at once, giving as an excuse her wish to
arrange the flowers.
My visitor's eyes were burning with a light that almost frightened me
as he sat down by my bedside and took my hand in his.
"My dear child," he said, and though the words were such as any
elderly man might address to a young woman, yet there was an intensity
in them that made me uncomfortable. "Are you sure everything is all
right with you?"
"Very sure," I replied, smiling. "If Mrs. Underwood would permit me to
do so, I am certain I could get up now."
"You must not think of trying it," he returned sharply, and with a
note in his voice, almost like authority, which puzzled me.
"Thank God for Mrs. Underwood!" he went on. "She is a woman in a
thousand. I am indebted to her for life."
I shrank back among my pillows, and wished that Lillian would return
to the room. I began to wonder if Mr. Gordon's brain was not slightly
turned. Surely, the fact that he had once known and loved my mother
was no excuse for the extravagant attitude he was taking.
He saw the movement, and into his eyes flashed a look so mournful, so
filled with longing that I was thrilled to the heart. The next moment
he threw himself upon his knees by the side of my bed, and cried out
"Oh, my darling child, don't shrink from me. You will kill me. Don't
you see? Can't you guess? I am your father!"
My father! Robert Gordon my father!
I looked at the elderly man kneeling beside my bed, and my brain
whirled with the unreality of it all. The "man of mystery," the
"Quester" of Broadway, the elderly soldier of fortune, about whose
reputed wealth and constant searching of faces wherever he was the
idle gossip of the city's Bohemia had whirled--to think that this man
was the father I had never known, the father, alas! whom I had hoped
never to know.
Everything was clear to me now--the reason for his staring at me when
he first caught sight of me in the Sydenham Hotel, his trailing of my
movements until he had found out my name and home, the introduction
he obtained to Dicky, and through him to me, his emotion at hearing
my mother's name, his embarrassing attentions to me ever since--the
explanation for all of which had puzzled me had come in the choking
words of the man whose head was bowed against my bed, and whose whole
frame was shaking with suppressed sobs.
I felt myself trembling in the grip of a mighty surge of longing to
gather that bowed gray head into my arms and lavish the love he longed
for upon my father. My heart sang a little hymn of joy. I, who had
been kinless, with no one of my own blood, had found a father!
And then, with my hand outstretched, almost touching my father's head,
the revulsion came.
True, this man was my father, but he was also the man who had made my
mother's life one long tragedy. All my life I had schooled myself to
hate the man who had deserted my mother and me when I was four years
old, who had added to the desertion the insult of taking with him the
woman who had been my mother's most intimate friend. My love for my
mother had been the absorbing emotion of my life, until she had left
me, and because of that love I had loathed the very thought of the man
who had caused her to suffer so terribly.
My father lifted his head and looked at me, and there was that in his
eyes which made me shudder. It was the look of a prisoner in the dock,
waiting to receive a sentence.
"Of course, I know you must hate the very sight of me, Margaret," he
said brokenly. "I had not meant to tell you so soon. But I have to go
away almost at once to South America, and it is very uncertain when I
shall return. I could not bear to go without your knowing how I have
loved and longed for you.
"Never so great a sinner as I, my child," the weary old voice went
on, "but, oh, if you could know my bitter repentance, my years of
His voice tore at my heart strings, but I steeled myself against him.
One thing I must know.
"Where is the person with whom--" I could not finish the words.
"I do not know." The words rang true. I was sure he was not lying to
me. "I have not seen or heard of her in over twenty years."
Then the association had not lasted. I had a sudden clairvoyant
glimpse into my father's soul. My mother had been the real love of
his life. His infatuation for the other woman had been but a temporary
madness. What long drawn out, agonized repentance must have been his
for twenty years with wife, child and home lost to him!
I leaned back and closed my eyes for a minute, overwhelmed with the
problem which confronted me. And then--call it hallucination or what
you will--I heard my mother's voice, as clearly as I ever heard it in
life, repeating the words I had read weeks before in the letter she
had left for me at her death.
"Remember it is my last wish, Margaret, that if your father be living
sometime you may be reconciled to him."
I opened my eyes with a little cry of thanksgiving. It was as if my
mother had stretched out her hand from heaven to sanction the one
thing I most longed to do.
"Father!" I gasped. "Oh, my father, I have wanted you so."
He uttered a little cry of joy, and then my father's arms were around
me, my face was close to his, and for the first time since I was a
baby of four years I knew my father's kisses.
A smothered sound, almost like a groan, startled me, and then the door
"What was that?" I asked. "Is there any one there?"
My father raised his head. "No, there is no one there," he said. "See,
the wind is rising. It must have been that which slammed the door. I
think I would better shut the window."
He moved over to the window, which Lillian had kept partly ajar for
air, and closed it. Then he returned to my bedside.
"There is one thing I must ask you to do, my child," he said
hesitatingly, "and that is to keep secret the fact that instead of
being Robert Gordon, I am in reality Charles Robert Gordon Spencer,
and your father. Of course your husband must know and Mrs. Underwood,
as her husband is going with me to South America. But I should advise
very strongly against the knowledge coming into the possession of any
"I cannot explain to you now, why I dropped part of my name, or why I
exact this promise," he went on, "but it is imperative that I do ask
it, and that you heed the request. You will respect my wishes in this
matter, will you not, my daughter?"
It was all very stilted, almost melodramatic, but my father was so
much in earnest that I readily gave the promise he asked. With a look
of relief he took a package from his pocket and handed it to me.
"Keep this carefully," he said. "It contains all the data which you
will need in case of my death. Rumor says that I am a very rich man.
As usual rumor is wrong, but I have enough so that you will always
be comfortable. And for fear that something might happen to you in
my absence I have placed to your account in the Knickerbocker money
enough for any emergency, also for any extra spending money you may
wish. The bank book is among these papers. I trust that you will use
it. I shall like to feel that you are using it. And now good-by. I
shall not see you again."
He kissed me, lingeringly, tenderly, and went out of the room. I lay
looking at the package he had given me, wondering if it were all a
WHY DID DICKY GO?
"Margaret, I have the queerest message from Richard. I cannot make it
My mother-in-law rustled into my room, her voice querulous, her face
expressing the utmost bewilderment.
"What is it, mother?" I asked nervously. It was late afternoon of the
day in which Robert Gordon had revealed his identity as my father, and
my nerves were still tense from the shock of the discovery.
"Why, Richard has left the city. He telephoned me just now that he
had an unexpected offer at an unusual sum to do some work in San
Francisco, I think, he said, and that he would be gone some months. If
he accepted the offer he would have no time to come home. He said he
would write to both of us tonight. What do you suppose it means?"
"I--do--not--know," I returned slowly and truthfully, but there was a
terrible frightened feeling at my heart. Dicky gone for months without
coming to bid me good-by! My world seemed to whirl around me. But I
must do or say nothing to alarm my mother-in-law. Her weak heart made
it imperative that she be shielded from worry of any kind.
I rallied every atom of self-control I possessed. "There is nothing
to worry about, mother," I said carelessly. "Dicky has often spoken
recently about this offer to go to San Francisco. It was always
tentative before, but he knew that when it did come he would have to
go at a minute's notice. You know he always keeps a bag packed at the
studio for just such emergencies."
The last part of my little speech was true. Dicky did keep a bag
packed for the emergency summons he once in a while received from his
clients. But I had never heard of the trip to San Francisco. But I
must reassure my mother-in-law in some way.
"Well, I think it's mighty queer," she grumbled, going out of the
"You adorable little fibber!" Lillian said tenderly, rising, and
coming over to me. Her voice was gay, but I who knew its every
intonation, caught an undertone of worry.
"Lillian!" I exclaimed sharply. "What is it? Do you know anything?"
"Hush, child," she said firmly. "I know nothing. You will hear all
about it tomorrow morning when you receive Dicky's letters. Until then
you must be quiet and brave."
It was like her not to adjure me to keep from worrying. She never did
the usual futile things. But all through my wakeful night, whenever I
turned over or uttered the slightest sound, she was at my side in an
Never until death stops my memory will I forget that next morning with
its letters from Dicky.
There was one for my mother-in-law, none for me, but I saw an envelope
in Lillian's hand, which I was sure was from my husband, even before I
had seen the shocked pallor which spread over her face as she read it.
"Oh, Lillian, what is it?" I whispered in terror.
"Wait," she commanded. "Do not let your mother-in-law guess anything
But when Mother Graham's demand to know what Dicky had written to me
had been appeased by Lillian's offhand remark that country mails were
never reliable, and that my letter would probably arrive later, the
elder woman went to her own room to puzzle anew over her son's letter,
which simply said over again what he had told her over the telephone.
When she had gone Lillian locked the door softly behind her, then
coming over to me, sank down by my bedside and slipped her arm around
"You must be brave, Madge," she said quietly. "Read this through and
tell me if you have any idea what it means."
I took the letter she held out to me, and read it through.
"Dear Lil," the letter began. "You have never failed me yet, so I know
you'll look after things for me now.
"I am going away. I shall never see Madge again, nor do I ever expect
to hear from her. Will you look out for her until she is free from me?
She can sue me for desertion, you know, and get her divorce. I will
put in no defence.
"Most of her funds are banked in her name, anyway. But for fear she
will not want to use that money I am going to send a check to you each
month for her which you are to use as you see fit, with or without her
knowledge. I am enclosing the key of the studio. The rent is paid a
long ways ahead, and I will send you the money for future payments
and its care. Please have it kept ready for me to walk in at any time.
Mother always goes to Elizabeth's for the holidays, anyway. Keep her
from guessing as long as you can. I'll write to her after she gets to
"I guess that's all. If Madge doesn't understand why I am doing this I
can't help it. But it's the only thing to do. Yours always. DICKY."
The room seemed to whirl around me as I read. Dicky gone forever,
arranging for me to get a divorce! I clung blindly to Lillian as I
moaned: "Oh, what does it mean?"
"Think, Madge, Madge, have you and Dicky had any quarrel lately?"
"Nothing that could be called a quarrel, no," I returned, "and, not
even the shadow of a disagreement since my accident."
"Then," Lillian said musingly, "either Dicky has gone suddenly mad--"
She stopped and looked at me searchingly. "Or what, Lillian," I
pleaded. "Tell me. I am strong enough to stand the truth, but not
"I believe you are," she said, "and you will have to help me find out
the truth. Now remember this may have no bearing on the thing at all,
but Harry saw Grace Draper talking to Dicky the other day. He said
Dicky didn't act particularly well pleased at the meeting, but that
the girl was, as Harry put it, 'fit to put your eyes out,' she looked
so stunning. But it doesn't seem possible that if Dicky had gone away
with her he would write that sort of a note to me and leave no word
"Fit to put your eyes out!" The phrase stung me. With a quick
movement, I grasped the hand mirror that lay on the stand by my bed,
and looked critically at the image reflected there. Wan, hollow-eyed,
with one side of my face and neck still flaming from my burns, I had a
quick perception of the way in which my husband, beauty-lover that he
is, must have contrasted my appearance with that of Grace Draper.
Lillian took the mirror forcibly from me, and laid it out of my reach.
"This sort of thing won't do," she said firmly. "It only makes matters
worse. Now just be as brave as you possibly can. Remember, I am right
here every minute."
I could only cling to her. There seemed in all the world no refuge for
me but Lillian's arms.
The weeks immediately following Dicky's departure are almost a blank
memory to me. I seemed stunned, incapable of action, even of thinking
If it had not been for Lillian, I do not know what I should have done.
She cared for me with infinite tenderness and understanding, she
stood between me and the imperative curiosity and bewilderment of
my mother-in-law, and she made all the arrangements necessary for my
taking up my life as a thing apart from my husband.
It seemed almost like an interposition of Providence that two days
after Dicky's bombshell, his mother received a letter from her
daughter Elizabeth asking her to go to Florida for the rest of the
winter. One of the children had been ordered south by the family
physician, and Dicky's sister was to accompany her little daughter,
while the other children remained at home under the care of their
father and his mother. Mother Graham dearly loves to travel, and
I knew from Lillian's reports and the few glimpses I had of my
mother-in-law that she was delighted with the prospect before her.
How Lillian managed to quiet the elder woman's natural worry about
Dicky, her half-formed suspicion that something was wrong, and her
conviction that without her to look after me I should not be able to
get through the winter, I never knew.
I do not remember seeing my mother-in-law but once or twice in the
interval between the receipt of Dicky's letter and her departure. The
memory of her good-by to me, however, is very distinct.
She came into the room, cloaked and hatted, ready for the taxi which
was to take her to the station. Katie was to go into New York with
her, and see her safely on the train. Her face was pale, and I noticed
listlessly that her eyelids were reddened as if she had been weeping.
She bent and kissed me tenderly, and then she put her arms around me,
and held me tightly.
"I don't know what it is all about, dear child," she said. "I hope all
is as it seems outwardly. But remember, Margaret, I am your friend,
whatever happens, and if it will help you any, you may remember that
I, too, have had to walk this same sharp paved way."
Then she went away. I remembered that she had said something of the
kind once before, giving me to understand that Dicky's father had
caused her much unhappiness. Did she believe too, I wondered, that
Dicky was with Grace Draper, that his brief infatuation for the girl
had returned when he had seen her again?
For days after that, I drifted--there is no other word for it--through
the hours of each day. When it was absolutely necessary for Lillian to
know some detail, which I alone could give her, she would come to
me, rouse me, and holding me to the subject by the sheer force of her
will, obtain the information she wished, and then leave me to myself,
or rather to Katie again. Katie was my devoted slave. She waited on
me hand and foot, and made a most admirable nurse when Lillian was
compelled to be absent.
When I thought about the matter at all, I realized that Lillian was
preparing to have me share her apartment in the city when I should
be strong enough to leave my home. Harry Underwood had gone with my
father to South America for a trip which would take many months, so
I made no protest. I knew also, because of questions she had made me
answer, that she had arranged with the Lotus Study Club to have an old
teaching comrade of mine, a man who had experience in club lectures,
take my place until I should be well enough to go back to the work.
In so far as I could feel anything, the knowledge that I was still
to have my club work gratified me. The twenty dollars a week which it
paid me, while not large, would preserve my independence until I could
gain courage to go back to my teaching.
For one feeling obsessed me, was strong enough to penetrate the
lethargy of mind and body into which Dicky's letter had thrown me. I
spoke of it to Lillian one day.
"Do--not--use--any--of--Dicky's--money," I said slowly and painfully.
She took it out, and I also gave her the bank book and papers my
father had given me the day before he left for South America.
"Keep--them--for--me," I whispered, and then at her tender
comprehending smile, I had a sudden revelation.
"Then--you--know--" Astonishment made my voice stronger.
"That Robert Gordon is your father?" she returned briskly. "Bless you,
child, I've suspected it ever since I first heard of his emotion on
hearing the names of your parents. But nobody else knows, I didn't
think it necessary to tell your mother-in-law or Katie, unless, of
course, you want me to do so."
Her smile was so cheery, so infectious, that I could not help but
smile back at her. There was still something on my mind, however.
"This house must be closed," I told her. "Try to find positions for
Katie and Jim."
"I'll attend to everything," she promised, and I did not realize that
her words meant directly opposite to the interpretation I put upon
them, until after myself and all my personal belongings had been moved
to Lillian's apartment in the city, and I had thrown off the terrible
physical weakness and mental lethargy which had been mine.
"I had to do as I thought best about the house in Marvin, Madge," she
said firmly. "I thoroughly respect your feeling about using any of
Dicky's money for your own expenses, but you are not living in