Part 7 out of 7
the Marvin house. It is simply Dicky's home, which as his friend,
commissioned to see after his affairs, I am going to keep in readiness
for his return, unless I receive other instructions from him. Jim
and Katie will stay there as caretakers until this horrible mistake,
whatever it may be, is cleared up. Thus your home will be always
waiting for you."
"Never my home again, I fear, Lillian," I said sadly.
There is no magic of healing like that held in the hands of a little
child. It was providential for me that, a short time after Lillian
took me to the apartment which had been home to her for years, her
small daughter, Marion, was restored to her.
The child's father died suddenly, after all, and to Lillian fell the
task of caring for and comforting the old mother of the man who had
done his best to spoil Lillian's life. She brought the aged and
feeble sufferer to the apartment, established her in the bedroom which
Lillian had always kept for herself, and engaged a nurse to care
for her. When I recalled Lillian's story, remembered that her first
husband's mother without a jot of evidence to go upon had believed her
son's vile accusations against Lillian, my friend's forgiveness seemed
almost divine to me. I am afraid I never could have equaled it. When I
said as much to Lillian, she looked at me uncomprehendingly.
"Why, Madge!" she said. "There was nothing else to do. Marion's
grandmother is devoted to her. To separate them now would kill the
old woman. Besides her income is so limited that she cannot have the
proper care unless I do take her in."
"I thought you said Mr. Morten had a legacy about the time of his
"He did, but most of it has been dissipated, I imagine, and what there
is left is in the possession of his wife, a woman with no more red
blood than a codfish. She would let his mother starve before she
would exert herself to help her, or part with any money. No, there
is nothing else to do, Madge. I'll just have to work a little harder,
that's all, and that's good for me, best reducing system there is, you
The sheer, indomitable courage of her, taking up burdens in her middle
age which should never be hers, and assuming them with a smile and
jest upon her lips! I felt suddenly ashamed of the weakness with which
I had met my own problems.
"Lillian!" I said abruptly, "you make me ashamed of myself. I'm going
to stop grieving--as much as I can--" I qualified, "and get to work.
Tell me, how can I best help you? I'm going back to my club work next
week--I am sure I shall be strong enough by then, but I shall have
such loads of time outside."
My friend came over to me impetuously, and kissed me warmly.
"You blessed child!" she said. "I am so glad if anything has roused
you. And I'm going to accept your words in the spirit in which I am
sure they were uttered. If you can share Marion with me for awhile, it
will help me more than anything else. I have so many orders piled
up, I don't know where to begin first. Her grandmother is too ill to
attend to her, and I don't want to leave her with any hired attendant,
she has had too many of those already."
"Don't say another word," I interrupted. "There's nothing on earth I'd
rather do just now than take care of Marion."
Thus began a long succession of peaceful days, spent with Lillian's
small daughter. She was a bewitching little creature of nine years,
but so tiny that she appeared more like a child of six. I had taught
many children, but never had been associated with a child at home.
I grew sincerely attached to the little creature, and she, in turn,
appeared very fond of me. Lillian told her to call me "Aunt Madge,"
and the sound of the title was grateful to me.
"Auntie Madge, Auntie Madge," the sweet childish voice rang the
changes on the name so often that I grew to associate my name with the
love I felt for the child. This made it all the harder for me to bear
when the child's hand all unwittingly brought me the hardest blow Fate
had yet dealt me.
It was her chief delight to answer the postman's ring, and bring me
the mail each day. On this particular afternoon I had been especially
busy, and thus less miserable than usual. I heard the postman's ring,
and then the voice of Marion.
"Auntie Madge, it's a letter for you this time."
I began to tremble, for some unaccountable reason. It was as though
the shadow of the letter the child was bringing had already begun to
fall on me. As she ran to me, and held out the letter, I saw that it
was postmarked San Francisco! But the handwriting was not Dicky's.
I opened it, and from it fell a single sheet of notepaper inscribed:
"She laughs best who laughs last. Grace Draper."
I looked at the thing until it seemed to me that the characters were
alive and writhed upon the paper. I shudderingly put the paper away
from me, and leaned back in my chair and shut my eyes. Then Marion's
little arms were around my neck, her warm, moist kisses upon my cheek,
her frightened voice in my ears.
"Oh! Auntie Madge," she said. "What was in the naughty letter that
hurt you so? Nasty old thing! I'm going to tear it up."
"No, no, Marion," I answered. "I must let your mother see it first.
Call her, dear, won't you, please?"
When Lillian came, I mutely showed her the note. She studied it
carefully, frowning as she did so.
"Pleasant creature!" she commented at last. "But I shouldn't put too
much dependence on this, Madge. She may be with him, of course. But
you ought to know that truth is a mere detail with Grace Draper. She
would just as soon have sent this to you if she had not seen him for
weeks, and knew no more of his address than you."
"But this is postmarked San Francisco," I said faintly.
Lillian laughed shortly. "My dear little innocent!" she said, "it
would be the easiest thing in the world for her to send this envelope
enclosed in one to some friend in San Francisco, who would re-direct
it for her."
"I never thought of that," I said, flushing. "But, oh! Lillian, if he
did not go away with her, what possible explanation is there of his
leaving like this?"
"Yes, I know, dear," she returned. "It's a mystery, and one in the
solving of which I seem perfectly helpless. I do wish someone would
drop from the sky to help us."
DAYS THAT CREEP SLOWLY BY
It was not from the sky, however, but from across the ocean that
the help Lillian had longed for in solving the mystery of Dicky's
abandonment of me, finally came. It was less than a week after the
receipt of Grace Draper's message, that Lillian and I, sitting in
her wonderful white and scarlet living room, one evening after little
Marion had gone to bed, heard Betty ushering in callers.
"Betty must know them or she wouldn't bring them in unannounced,"
Lillian murmured, as she rose to her feet, and then the next moment
there was framed in the doorway the tall figure of Dr. Pettit. And
with him, wonder of wonders! the slight form, the beautiful, wistful,
tired face of Katharine Sonnot, whose ambition to go to France as a
nurse I had been able to further.
"My dear, what has happened to you?" Katherine exclaimed solicitously.
"I received no answer to my letter saying I was coming home, so when I
reached New York, I went to Dr. Pettit. He thought you were at Marvin,
but when he telephoned out there, Katie said you had had a terrible
accident, and that you had left Marvin. I was not quite sure, for
she was half crying over the telephone, but I thought she said 'for
She stopped and looked at me with a hint of fright in her manner. I
knew she wanted to ask about Dicky's absence, and did not dare to do
"Everything you heard is true, Katherine," I returned, a trifle
unsteadily, as her arms went around me warmly. I was more than a
trifle upset by her coming, for associated with her were memories of
my brother-cousin, Jack Bickett, who had gone to the great war when
he had learned that I was married, and of whose death "somewhere in
France," I had heard through Mrs. Stewart.
"Where is your husband?" Dr. Pettit demanded, and there was that in
his voice which told me that he was putting an iron hand upon his own
Now the stock answer which Lillian and I returned to all inquiries of
this sort was "In San Francisco upon a big commission." It was upon
my lips, but some influence stronger than my will made me change it to
"I do not know," I said faintly. "He left the city very abruptly
several weeks ago, sending word in a letter to Mrs. Underwood that he
would never see me again. It is a terrible mystery."
Dr. Pettit muttered something that I knew was a bitter anathema
against Dicky, and then folded his arms tightly across his chest, as
if he would keep in any further comment. But I had no time to pay
any attention to him, for Katherine Sonnot was uttering words that
bewildered and terrified me.
"Oh! how terrible!" she said. "Jack will be so grieved. He had so
hoped to find you happy together when he came home."
Was the girl's brain turned, I wondered, because of grief for my
brother-cousin's death? I had known before I secured the chance for
her to go to France that she was romantically interested in the man
who had been her brother's comrade, although she had never seen
him. And from Jack's letters to Mrs. Stewart, I had learned of their
meeting in the French hospital, and of the acquaintance which promised
to ripen--which evidently had ripened--into love.
I looked at her searchingly, and then I spoke, hardly able to get the
words out for the wild trembling of my whole body.
"Jack grieved?" I said. "Why! Jack is dead! We had the notice of his
death weeks ago from his friend, Paul Caillard."
I saw them all look at me as if frightened. Dr. Pettit reached me
first and put something under my nostrils which vitalized my wandering
senses. I straightened myself and cried out peremptorily.
"What is it, oh! what is it?"
I saw Katherine look at Dr. Pettit, as if for permission, and the
young physician's lips form the words, "Tell her."
"No, dear. Jack isn't dead," she said softly. "He was missing for some
time, and was brought into our hospital terribly wounded, but he is
very much alive now, and will be here in New York in two weeks."
I felt the pungent revivifier in Dr. Pettit's hand steal under my
nostrils again, but I pushed it aside and sat up.
"I am not at all faint," I said abruptly, and then to Katherine
Sonnot. "Please say that over again, slowly."
She repeated her words slowly. "I should have waited to come over with
him," she added, "for he is still quite weak, but Dr. Braithwaite
had to send some one over to attend to business for the hospital. He
selected me, and so I had to come on earlier."
So it was true, then, this miracle of miracles, this return of the
dead to life! Jack, the brother-cousin on whom I had depended all my
life, was still in the same world with me! Some of the terrible burden
I had been bearing since Dicky's disappearance slipped away from me.
If anyone in the world could solve the mystery of Dicky's actions, it
would be Jack Bickett.
Dr. Pettit's voice broke into my reverie. I saw that Lillian and
Katherine Sonnot were deep in conversation. The young physician and I
were far enough away from them so that there was no possibility of
his low tones being heard. He bent over my chair, and his eyes were
burning with a light that terrified me.
"Tell me," he commanded, "do you want your husband back again. Take
your time in answering. I must know."
There was something in his voice that compelled obedience. I leaned
back in my chair and shut my eyes, while I looked at the question he
had put me fairly and squarely.
The question seemed to echo in my ears. I was surprised at myself that
I did not at once reply with a passionate affirmative. Surely I had
suffered enough to welcome Dicky's return at any time.
Ah! there was the root of the whole thing. I had suffered, how I had
suffered at Dicky's hands! As my memory ran back through our stormy
married life, I wondered whether it were wise--even though it should
be proved to me that Dicky had not gone away with Grace Draper--to
take up life with my husband again.
And then, woman-like, all the bitter recollections were shut out by
other memories which came thronging into my brain, memories of Dicky's
royal tenderness when he was not in a bad humor, of his voice, his
smile, his lips, his arms around me, I knew, although my reason
dreaded the knowledge, that unless my husband came back to me, I
should never know happiness again.
I opened my eyes and looked steadily at the young physician.
"Yes, God help me. I do!" I said.
Dr. Pettit winced as if I had struck him. Then he said gravely:
"Thank you for your honesty, and believe that if there be any way in
which I can serve you, I shall not hesitate to take it."
"I am sure of that," I replied earnestly, and the next moment, without
a farewell glance, a touch of my hand, he went over to Katherine, and,
in a voice very different in volume than the suppressed tones of his
conversation to me, I heard him apologize to her for having to go away
at once, heard her laughing reply that after the French hospitals she
did not fear the New York streets, and then the door had closed after
the young physician, whose too-evident interest in me had always
I hastened to join Lillian and Katherine. I did not want to be left
alone. Thinking was too painful.
"Just think!" Katherine said as I joined them, "I find that I'm living
only a block away. I'm at my old rooming place--luckily they had
a vacant room. Of course, I shall be fearfully busy with Dr.
Braithwaite's work, but being so near, I can spend every spare minute
with you--that is, if you want me," she added shyly.
"Want you, child!" I returned, and I think the emphasis in my voice
reassured her, for she flushed with pleasure, and the next minute with
embarrassment as I said pointedly:
"I imagine you have some unusually interesting and pleasant things to
tell me, especially about my cousin."
But, after all, it was left for Jack himself to tell me the
"interesting things." Katherine became almost at once so absorbed in
the work for Dr. Braithwaite that she had very little time to spend
with us. There was another reason for her absence, of which she spoke
half apologetically one night, about a week after her arrival.
"There's a girl in the room next mine who keeps me awake by her
moaning," she said. "I don't get half enough sleep, and the result is
that when I get in from my work I'm so dead tired I tumble into bed,
instead of coming over here as I'm longing to do. The housekeeper says
she's a student of some kind, and that she's really ill enough to need
a physician, although she goes to her school or work each morning.
I've only caught glimpses of her, but she strikes me as being rather
a stunning-looking creature. I wish she'd moan in the daytime, though.
Some night I'm going in there and give her a sleeping powder. Joking
aside, I'm rather anxious about her. Whatever is the matter with her,
physical or mental, it's a real trouble, and I wish I could help her."
The real Katherine Sonnot spoke in the last sentence. Like many
nurses, she had a superficial lightness of manner, behind which she
often concealed the wonderful sympathy with and understanding for
suffering which was hers. I knew that if the poor unknown sufferer
needed aid or friendship, she would receive both from Katherine.
It was shortly after this talk that I noticed the extraordinary
intimacy which seemed to have sprung up between Katherine and Lillian.
I seemed to be quite set aside, almost forgotten, when Katherine came
to the apartment. And there was such an air of mystery about their
conversation! If they were talking together, and I came within
hearing, they either abruptly stopped speaking, or shifted the
I was just childish and weak enough from my illness to be a trifle
chagrined at being so left out, and I am afraid my chagrin amounted
almost to sulkiness sometimes. Lillian and Katherine, however,
appeared to notice nothing, and their mysterious conferences increased
in number as the days went on.
There came a day at last when my morbidness had increased to such an
extent that I felt there was nothing more in the world for me, and
that there was no one to care what became of me. I was huddled in
one of Lillian's big chairs before the fireplace in the living room,
drearily watching the flames, through eyes almost too dim with tears
to see them. I could hear the murmur of voices in the hall, where
Katherine and Lillian had been standing ever since Katherine's
arrival, a few minutes before. Then the voices grew louder, there was
a rush of feet to the door, a "Hush!" from Lillian, and then, pale,
emaciated, showing the effects of the terrible ordeal through which he
had gone, my brother-cousin, Jack Bickett, who, until Katherine came
home, I had thought was dead, stood before me.
"Oh! Jack, Jack. Thank God! Thank God!"
As I saw my brother-cousin, Jack Bickett, whom I had so long mourned
as dead, coming toward me in Lillian Underwood's living room, I
stumbled to my feet, and, with no thought of spectators, or of
anything save the fact that the best friend I had ever known had come
back to me, I rushed into his arms, and clung to him wildly, sobbing
out all the heartache and terror that had been mine since Dicky had
left me in so cruel and mysterious a manner.
I felt as a little child might that had been lost and suddenly caught
sight of its father or mother. The awful burden that had been mine
lifted at the very sight of Jack's pale face smiling down at me. I
knew that someway, somehow, Jack would straighten everything out for
"There, there, Margaret." Jack's well-remembered tones, huskier,
weaker by far than when I had last heard them, soothed me, calmed me.
"Everything's going to come out all right. I'll see to it all. Sit
down, and let me hear all about it."
There was an indefinable air of embarrassment about him which I could
not understand at first. Then I saw beyond him the lovely flushed
face of Katharine Sonnot, and in her eyes there was a faintly troubled
I read it all in a flash. Jack was embarrassed because I had so
impetuously embraced him before Katherine. I withdrew myself from his
embrace abruptly, and drew a chair for him near my own.
"Are you sure you are fully recovered?" I asked, and I saw Jack look
wonderingly at the touch of formality in my tone.
"No, I cannot say that," he returned gravely, "but I am so much better
off than so many of the other poor chaps who survived, that I have no
right to complain. Mine was a body wound, and while I shall feel its
effects on my general health for years, perhaps all my life, yet I am
His tone was full of thankfulness, and all my pettiness vanished at
the sudden, swift vision of what he must have endured. The next moment
he had turned my thoughts into a new channel.
"Margaret," he said gravely, "I am terribly distressed to hear from
Katherine that your husband has gone away in such a strange manner."
So she had already told him! The little pang of unworthy jealousy came
back, but I banished it.
"Now, there must be no more time lost," he went on. "You have had no
man to look after things for you, but remember now, your old brother,
Jack, is on the job. First, I must know everything that occurred on
that last day. Did you notice anything extraordinary in his demeanor
on that last morning you saw him?"
This was the old Jack, going directly to the root of the matter,
wasting no time on his own affairs or feelings, when he saw a duty
before him. I felt the old sway of his personality upon me, and
answered his questions as meekly as a child might have done.
"He was just the same as he had been every morning since my accident,"
"H-m." Jack thought a long minute, then began again.
"Tell me everything that happened that day, every visitor you had;
don't omit the most trifling thing," he commanded.
He listened attentively as I recalled Harry Underwood's visit, and
Robert Gordon's. At my revelation that Robert Gordon had said he was
my father, his calm, judicial manner broke into excitement.
"Your father!" he exclaimed, and then, after a pause; "I always knew
he would come back some day. But go on. What happened when he told you
he was your father?"
I went on with the story of my struggle with my own rancor against my
father, of my conviction that I had heard my mother's voice urging my
reconciliation with him, of my father's first embrace and kisses, even
of the queer smothered sound like a groan and the slamming of a door
which I had heard. Then I told him of my father's gift of money to me,
which I had not yet touched, but I noticed that toward the last of my
narrative Jack seemed preoccupied.
"Did your husband come home to Marvin at all that day?" he asked.
"No, he never came back from the city after he had once gone in, until
"But are you sure that this day he did not return to Marvin?" he
persisted. "How do you know?"
"Because no one saw him," I returned, "and he could hardly have come
back without someone in the house seeing him."
He said no more, as Lillian and Katherine came up just then, and the
conversation became general.
To my great surprise, I did not see him again after that first visit.
Katherine explained to me that he had been called out of town on
urgent business, but the explanation seemed to me to savor of the
mysterious excitement that seemed to possess everybody around me.
Finally one morning, Lillian came to me, her face shining.
"I want you to prepare to be very brave, Madge," she said. "There is
some one coming whom I fear it will tax all your strength to meet."
"Dicky!" I faltered, beginning to tremble.
"No, child, not yet," she said, her voice filled with pity, "but
someone who has done you a great wrong, Grace Draper."
"TAKE ME HOME"
"Grace Draper coming to see me!"
My echo of Lillian's words was but a trembling stammer. The prospect
of facing the girl the thread of whose sinister personality had so
marred the fabric of my marital happiness terrified me. Her message
to me, posted in San Francisco, where Dicky was, flaunted its insolent
triumph again before my eyes:
"She laughs best who laughs last."
That she had intended me to believe she was with Dicky, I knew,
whether her boast were true or not. But how was it that she was coming
to see me? Lillian put a reassuring hand upon my shoulder as she saw
"Pull yourself together, Madge," she admonished me sharply. "Let me
make this clear to you. Grace Draper is not in San Francisco now.
Whether she has been, or what she knows about Dicky she has refused so
far to say. She has finally consented to see you, however."
"But, how?" I murmured, bewildered.
"Do you remember the girl of whom Katherine spoke when she first came,
the girl who moaned at night in the room next hers?"
"Oh, yes! And she was--?"
"Grace Draper. I do not know what made me think of the Draper when
Katherine spoke of the girl, but I did, although I said nothing about
it at the time. A little later, however, when the girl became really
ill and Katherine was caring for her as a mother or a sister would
have done, I told our little friend of my suspicion. Of course,
Katherine watched her mysterious patient very carefully after that,
and when she became ill enough to require a physician's services,
Katharine managed it so that Dr. Pettit was called, and he recognized
the girl at once.
"Ever since then, Katherine has been working on the substitute for
honor and conscience which the Draper carries around with her--but
she was hard as nails for a long time. She is terribly grateful to
Katherine, however, as fond of her as she can be of anyone, and she
has finally consented to come here. Don't anger her if you can help
When, a little later, Grace Draper and I faced each other, it was pity
instead of anger that stirred my heart. The girl was inexpressibly
wan, her beauty only a worn shadow of its former glory. But there was
the old flash of defiant hatred in her eyes as she looked at me.
"Please don't flatter yourself that I have come here for your sake,"
she said, with her old smooth insolence. "But this girl here"--she
indicated Katherine--"took care of me before she knew who I was. She
just about saved my life and reason, too, when there was nobody else
to care a whit whether I lived or died. Even my sister's gone back on
me. So when I saw how much it meant to her to find out the truth about
your precious husband, I promised her I'd come and tell you the little
She drew a long breath, and went on.
"In the first place, I didn't go to San Francisco with Dicky Graham,
although I'm glad if my little trick made you think so for awhile. I
didn't go anywhere with him except into a cafe for a few minutes, the
day he left New York. It was just after he got back from Marvin, and
he was pouring drinks into himself so fast that he was pretty hazy
about what had happened, but I made a pretty shrewd guess as to his
She turned to me, and I saw with amazement that contempt for me was
written on her face.
"You!" she snarled, "with your innocent face, and your high and mighty
airs, you must have been up to something pretty disgraceful, to
have your husband feel the way he did that day he started for San
Francisco! He had to go out to Marvin unexpectedly that morning,
almost as soon as he had arrived in the city. What or who he found
there, you know best."
"Stop!" said Lillian authoritatively, and for a long minute the two
women faced each other, Grace Draper defiant, Lillian, with all the
compelling, almost hypnotic power that is hers when she chooses to
The accusation which the girl had hurled at me stunned me as
effectually as an actual missile from her hand would have done. What
did she mean? And then, before my dazed brain could work itself back
through the mazes of memory, there came the whir of a taxi in the
street, an imperative ring of the bell, a tramp of masculine footsteps
in the hall, and then--my husband's arms were around me, his lips
murmuring disjointed, incoherent sentences against my cheek.
"Madge! Madge! little sweetheart!--no right to ask
forgiveness--deserve to lose you forever for my doubt of you--been
through a thousand hells since I left--"
Over Dicky's shoulder I saw Jack's dear face smiling tenderly,
triumphantly, at me, realized that he must have started after Dicky
as soon as he had heard my story of my husband's inexplicable
departure--and the light for which I had been groping suddenly
illuminated Grace Draper's words.
"So you saw my father embrace me that day!" I exclaimed, and at the
words the face of the girl who had caused me so much suffering grew
whiter, if possible, and she sank into a chair, as if unable to stand.
"Yes." A wave of shamed color swept my husband's face, his words were
low and hurried. "But you must believe this one thing,--I had made
up my mind to come back and beg your forgiveness, indeed, I was just
ready to start for New York, when your cousin found me and brought me
the true explanation of things.
"I--I--couldn't stand it any longer without you, Madge. I must have
been mad to go away like that. You won't shut me out altogether, will
I had thought that if Dicky ever came back me I should make him suffer
a little of what he had compelled me to endure. But, as I looked
from the white, drawn face of the girl, who I was sure still counted
Dicky's love as a stake for which no wager was too high, to the
anxious faces of the dear friends who had helped to bring him back to
me, I could do nothing but yield myself rapturously to the clasp of my
"I couldn't have stood it much longer without you, Dicky," I
whispered, and then, forgetting everything else in the world but
our happiness, my husband's lips met mine in a long kiss of
A half choked little cry startled me, and I saw Grace Draper get
to her feet unsteadily and start for the door, with her hands
outstretched gropingly before her, almost as if she were blind.
Katherine Sonnot hurried to her, and then Jack spoke to me for the
first time since he had brought Dicky into the room.
"Good-by, Margaret, until I see you again," he said hurriedly.
"Good-by, Dicky, I must go to Katherine."
"Good-by, old chap," Dicky returned heartily, and in his tone I read
the blessed knowledge that my cherished dream had come true, that my
husband and my brother-cousin were friends at last. And from the look
upon Jack's face as his eyes met Katharine's, I knew that he, too, had
I saw the trio go out of the room, the girl who had wronged me, and
the friends who had helped me. Then my eyes turned to the truest, most
loyal friend of all, Lillian, who stood near us, frankly weeping with
joy. I put out my hand to her, and drew her also into Dicky's embrace.
How long a cry it had been since the days when I was wildly jealous of
her old friendship with Dicky!
"Will you come away with me for a new honeymoon, sweetheart?" Dicky
asked, tenderly, after awhile, when Lillian had softly slipped away
and left us alone together.
Into my brain there flashed a sudden picture of the homely living room
in the Brennan house at Marvin, with the leaping fire, which I
knew Jim would have for us whenever we came, with Katie's impetuous
welcome. I turned to Dicky with a passionate little plea.
"Oh! Dicky," I said earnestly, "take me home."