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The Wild Olive by Basil King

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forced to. There's no way out of it."

"Because there's no way out of it isn't a reason for going further in."

"What does that matter? When you're in up to the eyes, what does it matter
if you go over your head?"

"In this case it would matter to Evie. That's my point. I have to protect
her--to save her. There's no one but me to do it--and you."

"Don't count on me," he said, savagely. "I've the right, in this wild
beast's life, to seize anything I can snatch."

He renewed his arguments, going over all the ground again. She listened
to him as she had once listened to his plea in his defence--her pose
pensive, her chin resting on her hand, her eyes pitiful. As far as she was
aware of her own feelings it was merely to take note that a kind of
yearning over him, an immense sorrow for him and with him, had
extinguished the fires that a few days ago were burning for herself. It
was hard to sit there heedless of his exposition and deaf to his
persuasion. Seeing her inflexible, he became halting in his speech, till
finally he stopped, still looking at her with an unresenting, dog-like
gaze of entreaty.

She made no comment when he ceased, and for a time they sat in silence.

"Do you know what this is?" he asked, holding the packet toward her.

She shook her head wonderingly.

"It's what I owe you." She made a gesture of deprecation. "It's the money
you lent me," he went on. "It's a tremendous satisfaction--that at
least--to be able to bring it back to you."

"But I don't want it," she stammered, in some agitation.

"Perhaps not. But I want you to have it." He explained to her briefly what
he had done in the matter.

"Couldn't you give it to something?" she begged, "to some church or

"You can, if you like. I mean to give it to you. You see, I'm not
returning it with expressions of gratitude, because anything I could say
would be so inadequate as to be absurd."

He left his chair and came to her, with the packet in his outstretched
hand. She shrank from it, rising, and retreating into the space of the

"But I don't want it," she insisted. "I never thought of your returning
it. I scarcely thought of the incident at all. It had almost passed from
my memory."

"That's natural enough; but it's equally natural that it shouldn't have
passed from mine." He came close to her and offered it again. "Do take

"Put it on the table. Please."

"That isn't the same thing. I want you to take it. I want to put it into
your own hand, as you put it into mine."

She remembered that she had put it into his hand by closing his fingers
forcibly upon it, and hastened to prevent anything of that kind now. She
took it unwillingly, holding it in both hands as if it were a casket.

"That's done," he said, with satisfaction. "You can't imagine what a
relief it is to have it off my mind."

"I'm sorry you should have felt about it like that."

"You would have felt like that yourself, if you were a man owing money to
a woman--and especially a woman who was your--enemy."

"Oh!" She cowered, as if he had threatened her.

"I repeat the word," he laughed, uneasily. "Any one is my enemy who comes
between me and Evie. You'll forgive me if I seem brutal--"

"Yes, I'll forgive you. I'll even accept the word." She was pale and
nervous, with the kind of nervousness that kept her smiling and still, but
sent the queer, lambent flashes into her eyes. "Let us say it. I'm your
enemy, and you pay me the money so as to feel free to strike me as hard as
you can."

He kept to his laugh, but there was a forced ring in it.

"I don't call that a fair way of putting it, but--"

"I don't see that the way of putting it matters, so long as it's the

"It's the fact twisted in a very ingenious fashion. I should say
that--since I'm going to marry Evie--I want--naturally enough--to feel
that--that"--he stammered and reddened, seeking a word that would not
convey an insult--"to feel--that I--met other claims--as well as I could."

He looked her in the eyes with significant directness. His steady gaze, in
which she saw--or thought she saw--glints of challenge toned down by
gleams of regret, seemed to say, "Whatever I owe you other than money is
out of my power to pay." She fully understood that he did not repudiate
the debt; he was only telling her that since he had given all to Evie, his
heart was bankrupt. What angered her and kept her silent, fearing she
would say something she would afterward repent, was the implication that
she was putting forth her claim for fulfilment.

He still confronted her, with an air of flying humiliation as a flag of
defiance, while she stood holding the packet in both hands, when the door
was pushed open, and Evie, radiant from her walk in the cold air and fine
in autumn furs and plumage, fluttered in. Her blue eyes opened wide on the
two in the bay-window, but she did not advance from the threshold.

"Dear me, dear me!" she twittered, in her dry little fashion, before they
had time to realize the fact that she was there. "I hope I'm not
interrupting you."

"Evie dear, come in." Miriam threw the packet on a table, and went
forward. Ford followed, trying to regain the appearance of "just making a

"No, no," Evie cried, waving Miriam back. "I only came--for nothing. That
is--But I'll go away and come back again. Do you think you'll be long? But
I suppose if you have secrets--"

Her hand was on the knob again, but Miriam caught her.

"No, darling, you must stay. You're absurd. Mr. Strange and I were

"Yes, so I saw. That's why I thought I might be _de trap_. How do you do!"
She put out her left hand carelessly to Ford, her right hand still holding
the knob, and twisted her little person impatiently. Ford held her hand,
but she snatched it away. "There's not the least reason why I should stay,
do you see?" she hurried on. "I only came with a message from Aunt

"I'm sure it's confidential," Ford laughed, "so I'll make myself scarce."

"You can do just as you like," Evie returned, indifferently. "Cousin
Colfax Yorke," she added, looking at Miriam, "has telephoned that he can't
come to dine; and, as it's too late to get anybody else, Aunt Queenie
thought you might come and make a fourth. It's only ourselves and--- him,"
she nodded toward Strange.

"Certainly, I'll come, dear--with pleasure."

"And I'll go," Ford said; "but I won't add with pleasure, because that
would be rude."

When he had gone Evie sniffed about the room, looking at the pictures and
curios as if she had never seen them before. It was evident that she had
spied the packet, and was making her way, by a seemingly accidental route,
toward it. Miriam drifted back to her place in the bay-window, where,
while apparently watching the traffic in the street below, she kept an eye
on Evie's manœuvres.

"What on earth can you two have to talk about?" Evie demanded, while she
seemed intent on examining a cabinet of old porcelain.

"If you're very good, dear," Miriam replied, trying to take an amused,
offhand tone, "I'll tell you. It was business."

"Business? Why, I thought you hardly knew him."

"You don't have to know people very well to transact business with them.
He came on a question of--money."

"No, but you don't start up doing business with a person that's just
dropped down from the clouds--like that." She snapped her fingers to
indicate precipitous haste.

"Sometimes you do."

"Well, _you_ don't. I know that for a fact." She was inspecting a vase on
a pedestal in a corner now. It was nearer to the packet. She wheeled round
suddenly, so that it should take her by surprise. "What's that?"

"You see. It's an envelope with papers in it."

"What sort of papers?"

"I haven't looked at them yet. They have to do with money, or investments,
or something. I'm never very clear about those things."

"I thought you did all that through Cousin Endsleigh Jarrott and Mr.

"This was a little thing I couldn't trouble them with."

"And you went straight off to _him_, when you'd only known him--let me
see!--how many days?--one, two, three, four--"

"I've gone to people I didn't know at all--sometimes. You have to. If you
only knew more about investing money--"

"I don't know anything about investing money; but I know this is very
queer. And you didn't like him--or you said you didn't."

"I said I did, dear--after a fashion--and so I do."

"In that case I should think a good deal would depend upon the fashion.
Look here. It's addressed--_Miss Strange._ That's his writing. That's how
he scribbles his name. And there's something written in tiny, tiny letters
in the corner. What is it?" Without touching the envelope she bent down to
see. "It's _The Wild Olive_. Now, what in this world can that mean? That's
not business, anyhow. That means something."

"No, that's not business, but I haven't an idea what it means." Miriam was
glad to be able to disclaim something. "It was probably on the envelope by
accident. Some clerk wrote it, and Mr. Strange didn't notice it."

Evie let the explanation pass, while continuing to stare at the object of
her suspicions.

"That's not papers," she said, at last, pointing as she spoke to something
protruding between the rubber bands. "There's something in there. It looks
like a"--she hesitated to find the right article--"it looks like a

"Perhaps it is," Miriam agreed. "But I'm sure I don't know why he should
bring me a card-case."

"Why don't you look?"

"I wasn't in a hurry; but you can look yourself if you want to."

Evie took offence. "I'm sure I don't want to. That's the last thing."

"I wish you would. Then you'd see."

"I only do it under protest," she declared--"because you force me to." She
took up the envelope, and began to unloose the rubber bands. "_The Wild
Olive_" she quoted, half to herself. "Ridiculous! I should think clerks
might have something better to do than write such things as that--on
envelopes--on people's business." But her indignation turned to surprise
when a small flat thing, not unlike a card-case, certainly, tumbled out.
"What in the name of goodness--?"

Only strong self-control kept Miriam from darting forward to snatch it
from the floor. She remembered it at once. It was a worn red leather
pocket-book, which she had last seen when it was fresh and new--sitting in
the sunset, on the heights above Champlain, and looking at the jewelled
sea. A card fell from it, on which there was something written. Evie
dropped on one knee to pick it up. Miriam was sorry to risk anything, but
she felt constrained to say, as quietly as possible:

"You'd better not read that, dear. It might be private."

Evie slipped the card back into the pocket-book, which she threw on the
table, where Miriam let it lie. "I won't look at anything else," Evie
said, with dignity, turning away.

"I want you to," Miriam said, authoritatively. "I beg you to."

Thus commanded, Evie drew forth a flat document, on which she read, in
ornamental letters, the inscription, _New York, Toronto, and Great Lakes
Railroad Company_. She unfolded it slowly, looking puzzled.

"It's nothing but a lot of little square things," she said, with some

"The little square things are called coupons, if you know what they are."

"I know they're things people cut--when they have a lot of money. I don't
know why they cut them; and still less do I know why he should be bringing
them to you."

Miriam had a sudden inspiration that made her face beam with relief.

"I'll tell you why he brought them to me, dear--though I do it under
protest, as you say yourself. Your curiosity forces my hand, and makes me
show it ahead of time. He brought them to me because it's a
wedding-present for you. When you get married--or begin to get
married--you can have all that money for your trousseau."

"Aunt Helen is going to give me my trousseau. She said so."

"Then you can have it for anything you like--for house-furnishings or a
pearl necklace. You know you wanted a pearl necklace--and there's plenty
for a nice one. Each of those papers is worth a thousand dollars, or
nearly. And there are--how many?"

"Three. You seem very keen on getting rid of them."

"So I am--to you, darling."

Evie prepared to depart, looking unconvinced.

"It's awfully nice of you--of course. But still--if that's what you had
meant at first--from the beginning--you would have--Well, I'll tell Aunt
Queenie you'll come."

Left alone, Miriam made haste to read the card in the pocket-book.

_As deep calls to deep, so Spirit speaks to Spirit. It is the only true
communion between mutually comprehending souls. But it is
unerring--pardoning all, because understanding all, and making the
crooked straight._

She read it more than once. She was not sure that it was meant for her.
She was not sure that it was in Ford's own handwriting. But in their
situation it had a meaning; she took it as a message to herself; and as
she read, and read again, she felt on her face the trickling of one or two
slow, hard tears.


The result of the dinner that evening was that Evie grew more fretful.
After the departure of her guests, she evolved a brief formula which she
used frequently during the next few weeks: "There's something!" With her
quick eyes and quicker intuitions, it was impossible for her not to see
that Ford and Miriam possessed common memories of the kind that
distinguish old acquaintances from new ones. When it did not transpire in
chance words she caught it in their glances or divined it in the mental
atmosphere. As autumn passed into early winter she became nervous,
peevish, and exacting; she lost much from her pretty ways and something
from her looks. In the family the change was ascribed to the fatigue
incidental to the sudden round of lunches, dinners, dances, suppers,
theatre-parties, opera-goings, and "teas" with which American boys and
girls of a certain age are surfeited pitilessly with pleasure, as
Strasburg geese are stuffed for paté de foie gras. Ford, however,
suspected the true reason, and Miriam knew it. They met as seldom as might
be; and yet, with the many things requiring explanation between them,
frank conversation became imperative.

"You see how it is already," Miriam said to him. "It's making her unhappy
from the start. You can't conceal the truth from her very long."

"She isn't fretting about the truth; she's fretting about what she

"She's fretting because she doesn't understand, and she'll go on fretting
till she does. I'm not sorry. It must show you--"

"It shows me the necessity of our being married as soon as possible, so
that I may take care of her, and put a stop to it."

"I agree with you that you'd put a stop to it. You'd put a stop to
everything. She wouldn't live a year--or you wouldn't. Either she'd
die--or she'd abhor you. And if she didn't die, you'd want to."

"I wish to the Lord I had died--eight years ago. The great mistake I made
was when the lumber-jacks loosed my hand-cuffs and started me through the
woods. They called it giving me a chance, and for a few minutes I thought
it was one. A chance! Good God! I remember feeling, as I ran, that I was
deserting something. I didn't know what it was just then, but I've
understood it since. It would have been a pluckier thing to have been in
my coffin as Norrie Ford--or even doing time--than to be here as Herbert

She said nothing for the moment, but as they walked along side by side he
shot a glance at her, and saw her coloring. They had met in the park. He
was going toward the house in Seventy-second Street when she was coming
away from it. Seizing the opportunity of a few words in private, he had
turned to stroll back with her.

"I didn't expect you to be here as Herbert Strange," she said, as though
in self-excuse. "I had to give you a name that was like my own, when I was
writing letters about your ticket, and sending checks. I had to do
everything to avoid suspicion at a time when Greenport was watched. I
thought you might be able to take your own name or something like it--"

He explained to her how that had never been possible.

"Evie fidgets about it," he continued. "She puts together the two facts
that you and I seem to have known each other, and that my name is
identical with your father's. She doesn't know what to make of it; she
only thinks 'there's something.' She hasn't said more than that in words,
but I see her little mind at work."

"Evie isn't the only one," she informed him. "There's Mr. Wayne. He has to
be reckoned with. He recognized your voice from the first minute of
hearing it, though he hasn't said yet that he knows whose it is. He may do
so at any time. He's very surprising at that sort of thing. I can see him
listening when you're there, not only to your words, but to your very
movements, trying to recapture--"

"The upshot of everything," he said, abruptly, "is that I must marry her,
take her back to the Argentine, where I found her, and where we shall both
be out of harm's way."

"You wouldn't be out of harm's way. You can't turn your back on it like
that. You alone might be able to slip through, but not if you have Evie."

"That will be my affair; I'll see to it. I take the full responsibility on

"I couldn't let you. Remember that. You can't marry her. Let me say it

"Oh, you've said it plainly enough."

"If I've said it too plainly, it's because you force me. You're so

"You mean, I'm so determined. What it amounts to is the clash of your
will against mine; and you refuse to see that I can't give way."

"I see that you must give way. It's in the nature of things. It's
inevitable. If I didn't know that, do you think I should interfere? Do you
think I should dare to run the risk of wrecking your happiness if I could
do anything else? If you knew how I hate doing anything at all--"

"But you needn't. You can just let things be."

"I can't let things be--with all I know; and yet it's impossible for me to
appeal to any one, except yourself. You put me in a position in which I
must either betray you or betray those who trust me. Because I can't do

"I profit by your noble-mindedness. I told you I would. I'm sorry to have
to do it--I'll even admit that I'm ashamed of it--and yet there's no other
course for me. I'm not taking you at an unfair advantage, because I've
concealed nothing from you from the first. You talk about the difficulty
of your position, but you don't begin to imagine mine. As if everything
else wasn't gall to me, I've got your disapproval to add wormwood."

"It isn't my disapproval; it's simply--the situation. My opinion counts
for nothing--"

"It counts for everything with me--and yet I have to ignore it. But, after
all," he flung out, bitterly, "it's the old story. I claim the right to
squeeze out of life such drops of happiness--if you can call it
happiness--as men have left to me, and you deny it. There it is in a
nutshell. Because other people have inflicted a great wrong on me, you
insist that I shall inflict a greater one on myself. And this time it
wouldn't be only on myself; it would be on poor little Evie. There's
where it cuts. No, no; I shall go on. I've the right to do it. You must
stop me if you can. If you don't, or won't--why, then--"

"I can stop you ... if you drive me to extremes ... but it wouldn't be by
doing ... any of the things you expect."

It was because of the catch in her voice that he stopped in his walk, and
confronted her. In spite of the little tremor he could see in her no sign
of yielding, and behind her veil he caught a gleam like that of anger. It
was at that minute, perhaps, that he became distinctly conscious for the
first time of a doubt as to the superiority of "his type of girl."
Notwithstanding the awakening of certain faint perceptions, he had
hitherto denied within himself that there was anything higher or more
lovely. But in this girl's unflinching loyalty, and in her tenacious
clinging to what she considered right, he was getting a new glimpse of
womanhood, which, however, in no way weakened his determination to resist

"As far as I see," he said, after long hesitation, "you and I have two
irreconcilable duties. My duty is to marry Evie; yours is to prevent me.
In that case there's nothing for either of us but to forge ahead, and see
who wins. If you win, I shall bear no malice; and I hope you'll be equally
generous if I do."

"But I don't want to win independently of you. If I did, nothing could be

"Then why not do it?"

He tossed up his hand with one of his fatalistic Latin gestures, drawing
the attention of the passers-by to the man and woman talking so earnestly.
For this reason, and because she was losing her self-command, she hastened
to take leave of him.

Arrived at home, it gave her no comfort to find Charles Conquest--the
most spick and span of middle-aged New-Yorkers--waiting in the

"I thought you might come in," he explained, "so I stayed. I have to get
your signature to the papers about that property in Montreal. I've fixed
the thing up and we'll sell."

"You said you'd send the papers--"

"That sounds as if you weren't glad to see me," he laughed, "but I'll
ignore the discourtesy. Here," he added, unfolding the documents, "you put
your name there--and there--near the L.S."

She carried the papers to her desk, and sat down to write. Conquest took
the liberty of old friendship to stroll about the room, with his hands
behind him, humming a little tune.

"Well," he said suddenly, "has he come back?"

He had not approached the subject, beyond alluding to it covertly, since
the day she had confided to him the confused story of her hopes. She
blotted her signature carefully thinking out her reply.

"I've given up expecting him," she said at last.

"Ho! ho! So that's out of the way."

She pretended to be scanning the documents before her so as to be able to
sit with her back to him.

"It isn't, for the reason that there's--no _way_," she said, after some

"Oh yes, there is," he laughed, "where there's a will."

"But I've no will."

"I have; I've enough for two."

"I'll tell you what you have got," she said, half turning and speaking to
him over the back of her chair. He drew near her. "You've got a great
deal of common sense, and I want to ask your advice."

"I can give that, as radium emits light--without ever diminishing the
original store."

"Then tell me. Has one ever the right to interfere where a man and a

"No, never. You needn't give me any more details, because it's one of the
questions an oracle finds easiest to answer. No one ever thanks you--"

"I shouldn't be doing it for thanks."

"And you get your own fingers burnt."

"That wouldn't matter. I'd let my fingers burn to the bone if it would do
any good."

"It wouldn't. You may take my word for it. I know who you're talking
about. It's Evie Colfax."

She started, looking guilty. "Why should you suppose that?"

"I've got eyes. I've watched her, and I know she's a little minx. Oh, you
needn't protest. She's a taking little minx, and this time she's in the

"I'm afraid I don't know what you mean."

"What has Billy Merrow got to offer her, even if he is my nephew? Come
now! He won't be in a position to marry for the next two or three years.
Whereas that fellow Strange--"

"Have you heard anything about him?" she asked, breathlessly.

"It isn't what I've heard, it's what I see. He's a very good chap, and a
first-rate man of business."

"Do you know him well--personally?"

"I meet him around--at the club and other places--and naturally I have
something to do with him at the office. I like him. If Evie can snap him
up she'll be doing well for herself. I'm sorry for Billy, of course; but
he'll have time to break his heart more than once before he'll have money
enough to do anything else with it. If I'd married at his age--"

This, however, was venturing on delicate ground, so that he broke off,
wheeling round toward the centre of the drawing-room. She folded the
documents and brought them to him.

"You know why I didn't send them?" he said, as he took them. "I thought if
I came myself, you might have something to tell me."

"I haven't; not anything special, that is."

"You've told me something special already--that you're not looking for him

"I'd rather not talk about it now, if you don't mind."

"Then we'll talk about what goes with it--the other side of the subject."

"There is no other side of the subject."

"Oh, come now, Miriam! You haven't heard all I've got to tell you. You've
never let me really present my case, as we lawyers say. If you could see
things as I do--"

"But I can't, and you mustn't ask me to-day. I'm tired--"

"It would rest you."

"No, no; not to-day. Don't you see I'm not--I'm not myself? I've had a
very trying morning."

"What's the matter? Tell me. I can keep a confidence even if I can't do
some other things. Come now! I don't like to think you're worried when
perhaps I could help you. That's what I should be good for, don't you see?
I could assist you to bear a lot of things--"

His tone, which was so often charged with a slightly mocking banter,
became tender, and he attempted to take her hand. For a minute it seemed
as if it might be a relief to trust him, to tell him the whole story and
follow his counsel; but a second's thought showed her that she could not
shift the responsibility from herself, and that in the end she should have
to act alone.

"Not to-day," she pleaded. "I'm not equal to it."

"Then I'll come another day."

"Yes, yes; if you like, only--"

"Some day soon?"

"When you like, only leave me now. Please go away. You won't think I'm
rude, will you? But I'm not--not as I generally am--"

"Good-bye." He put out his, hand frankly, and smiled so humbly, and yet
withal so confidently, that she felt as if in spite of herself she might
yield to his persistence through sheer weariness.

* * * * *

To her surprise, the next few weeks passed without incident bringing no
development in the situation. She saw little of Evie and almost nothing of
Ford. One or two encounters with Charles Conquest had no result beyond the
reiteration on his part of a set phrase, "You're coming to it, Miriam,"
which, while exasperating her nerves, had a kind of hypnotic effect upon
her will. She felt as if she might be "coming to it." Without calculating
the probabilities she saw clearly enough that if she married Conquest the
very act would furnish proof to Ford that her intervention in his affairs
had been without self-interest. It would even offer some proof to herself,
the sort of proof that strengthens the resolution and supports what is
tottering in the pride. Notwithstanding the valor with which she
struggled her victory over herself was not so complete that she could
contemplate the destruction of Ford's happiness with absolute confidence
in the purity of her motives in bringing it to ruin. It was difficult to
take the highest road when what was left of her own fiercest instincts
accompanied her on it. That she had fierce instincts she was quite aware.
It was not for nothing that she had been born almost beyond the confines
of the civilized earth, of parents for whom law and order and other men's
rights were as the dead letter. True, she was trying to train the
inheritance received from them to its finer purposes, as the vine draws
strange essences from a flinty soil and sublimates them into the
grape--but it was still their inheritance. While she was proud of it, she
was afraid of it; and the fact that it leaped with her to separate Norrie
Ford from Evie Colfax was a reason for distrusting the very impulse she
knew to be right. Marriage with Conquest presented itself, therefore as a
refuge--from Ford's suspicion and her own.

For the time being, however, the necessity for doing anything was not
pressing. Evie was caught into the social machine that had been set going
on her account, and was not so much whirling in it as being whirled. Her
energies were so taxed by the task of going round that she had only
snatches of time and attention to give to her own future. In one of these
she wrote to her uncle Jarrott, asking his consent to the immediate
proclamation of her engagement, with his approval of her marriage at the
end of the winter, though the reasons she gave him were not the same as
those she advanced to Miriam. To him she dwelt on the maturity of her
age--twenty by this time--the unchanging nature of her sentiments, and her
desire to be settled down. To Miriam she was content to say, "There's
something! and I sha'n't get to the bottom of it till we're married."

Of the opening thus unexpectedly offered her Miriam made full use,
pointing out the folly or verifying suspicions after marriage rather than

"Well, I'm going to do it, do you see?" was Evie's only reply. "I know it
will be all right in the end."

Still a few weeks were to pass, and it was early in the new year before
Uncle Jarrott's cablegram arrived with the three words, "_If you like_."
Miriam received the information at the opera, where she had been suddenly
called on to take the place of Miss Jarrott, laid low with "one of her
headaches." It was Ford who told her, during an entr'acte, when for a few
minutes Evie had left the box with the young man who made the fourth in
the party. Finding themselves alone, Ford and Miriam withdrew as far as
possible from public observation, speaking in rapid undertones.

"But you'll not let her do it?" Miriam urged.

"I shall, if you will. You can stop it--or posptone it. If you don't, I
have every right to forge ahead. It's no use going over the old arguments

"You put me in an odious position. You want me either to betray you or
betray the people who've been kind to me. It _would_ be betrayal if I were
to let you go on."

"Then stop me; it's in your power."

"Very well; I will."

He gave her a quick look, astonished rather than startled, but there was
no time for further speech before Evie and her companion returned.

It was Miriam's intention to put her plan into immediate execution, but
she let most of the next day go by without doing anything. Understanding
his driving her to extremes to be due less to deliberate defiance than to
a desperate braving of the worst, she was giving him a chance for
repentance. Just at the closing in of the winter twilight, at the hour
when he generally appeared, the door was flung open and Billy Merrow
rushed in excitedly.

"What's all this about Evie?" he shouted, almost before crossing the
threshold. "I've been there, and no one is at home. What's it about? Who
has invented the confounded lie?"

She could only guess at his meaning, but she forced him to shake hands and
calm himself. Turning on the electric light, she saw a young man with
decidedly tousled reddish hair, and features as haggard as a perfectly
healthy, honest, freckled face could be.

"Sit down, Billy, and tell me about it."

"I can't; I'm crazy."

"So I see; but tell me what you're crazy about."

"Haven't you heard it? Of course you have. They wouldn't be writing it to
Uncle Charlie if you didn't know all about it. But I'm hanged if I'll let
it go on."

Little by little she dragged the story from him. Miss Queenie Jarrott had
written to Charles Conquest as one of the oldest friends of the family to
inform him, "somewhat confidentially as yet," of her niece's engagement to
Mr. Herbert Strange, of Buenos Aires and New York. Uncle Charlie, knowing
what this would mean to him, had come to break the news and tell him to
"buck up and take it standing."

"I'll bet you I sha'n't take it lying down," he assured Miriam. "Evie is
engaged to _me_."

"Yes, Billy, but you see Miss Jarrott didn't know it. That's where the
mistake has been. You know I've always been opposed to the secrecy of the
affair, and I advised you and Evie to wait till you could both speak out."

"It isn't so very secret. You know it and so does Uncle Charlie."

"But Evie's own family have been kept in the dark, except that she told
her aunt in South America. But that's where the mistake comes in, don't
you see? Miss Jarrott, not having an idea about you, you see--"

"Spreads it round that Evie is engaged to some one else, when she isn't.
I'll show her who's engaged, when I can find her in. I'm going to sit on
her door-step till--"

"I wouldn't do anything rash, Billy. Suppose you were to leave it to me?"

"What good would that do? If that old witch is putting it round, the only
thing for Evie and me to do is to contradict her."

"Has Evie ever given you an idea that anything was wrong?"

"Evie's been the devil. I don't mind saying it to you, because you
understand the kind of devil she'd be. But Lord! I don't care. It's just
her way. She's told me to go to the deuce half a dozen times, but she
knows I won't till she comes with me. Oh, no. Evie's all right--"

"Yes, of course, Evie's all right. But you know, Billy dear, this thing
requires a great deal of management and straightening out, and I do wish
you'd let me take charge of it. I know every one concerned, you see, so
that I could do it better than any one--any one but you, I mean--"

"I understand that all right. I'm not going to be rough on them, but all
the same--"

She got him to sit down at last, made tea for him, and soothed him. At
the end of an hour he had undertaken not to molest Miss Jarrott, or to
fight that "confounded South-American," or to say a word of any kind to
Evie till she was ready to say a word to him. He became impressed with the
necessity for diplomatic action and, after some persuasion, promised to
submit to guidance--at any rate, for a time.

"And now, Billy, I'm going to write a note. The first thing to be done is
that you should find Mr. Strange and deliver it to him before nine o'clock
this evening. You'll do it quietly, won't you? and not let him see that
you are anything more than my messenger. No matter where he is, even in a
private house, you must see that he gets the note, if at all possible."

When he had sworn to this she wrote a few lines hurriedly. He carried them
away in the same tumultuous haste with which he had come. After his
departure she felt herself unexpectedly strong and calm.


The feeling of being equal to anything she might have to face continued
with her. Now that the moment for action had arrived she had confidence in
her ability to meet it, since it had to be done. At dinner she was able to
talk to Wayne on indifferent topics, and later, when he had retired to his
den to practise his Braile, she sat down in the drawing-room with a book.
Noticing that she wore the severe black dress in which she had assisted at
the "killing off" of Evie's family, she brightened it with a few
unobtrusive jewels, so as to look less like the Tragic Muse. The night
being cold, a cheerful fire burned on the hearth, beside which she sat
down and waited.

When he was shown in, about half-past eight, it seemed to her best not to
rise to receive him. Something in her repose, or in her dignity, gave him
the impression of arriving before a tribunal, and he began his
explanations almost from the doorway.

"I got your note. Young Merrow caught me at dinner. I was dining alone, so
that I could come at once."

"You're very kind. I'm glad you were able to do it. Won't you sit down?"

Without offering her hand, she indicated a high arm-chair suitable for a
man, on the other side of the hearth. He seated himself with an air of
expectation, while she gazed pensively at the fire, speaking at last
without looking up.

"I hear Miss Jarrott has begun to announce your engagement to Evie."

"I understood she was going to, to a few intimate friends."

"And you allowed it?"

"As you see."

"Didn't you know that I should have to take that for a signal?"

"I've never given you to understand that a signal wouldn't come--if you
required one."

"No; but I hoped--" She broke off, continuing to gaze at the fire. "Do you
remember," she began again--"do you remember telling me--that evening on
the shore of Lake Champlain--just before you went away--that if ever I
needed your life, it would be at my disposal?--to do with as I chose?"

"I do."

"Then I'm going to claim it." She did not look up, but she heard him
change his position in his chair. "I shouldn't do it if there was any
other way. I'm sure you understand that. Don't you?" she insisted,
glancing at him for an answer.

"I know you wouldn't do it, unless you were convinced there was a reason."

"I've tried to be just to you, and to see things from your point of view.
I do; I assure you. If I were in your position I should feel as you do.
But I'm not in your position. I'm in one of great responsibility, toward
Evie and toward her friends."

"I don't see what you owe to them."

[Illustration: Again there was a long silence.]

"I owe them the loyalty that every human being owes to every other."

"To every other--except me."

"I'm loyal to you, at least, whoever else may not be. But it wouldn't be
loyalty if I let you marry Evie. I'm going to ask you--not to do it--to go
away--to leave her alone--to go--for good."

There was a long silence. When he spoke, it was hoarsely but otherwise
without change of tone.

"Is that what you meant?--just now?"

"Yes. That's what I meant."

"Do you intend me to get out of New York, to go back to the South--?"

She lifted her hand in protestation.

"I'm not giving orders or making conditions. New York is large. There's
room in it for you and Evie, too."

"I dare say. One doesn't require much space to break one's heart in."

"Evie wouldn't break her heart. I know her better than you do. She'd
suffer for a while, but she'd get over it, and in the end, very soon
probably--marry some one else."

"How cruel you can be," he said, with a twisted smile.

"I can be, when it's right. In this case I'm only as cruel as--the truth.
I'm saying it because it must make things easier for you. Your own pain
will be the less from the knowledge that, in time, Evie will get over

"I suppose it ought to be, but--"

He did not finish his sentence, and again there was a long hush, during
which, while she continued to gaze pensively at the fire, she could hear
him shifting with nervous frequency in his chair. When at last she
ventured to look at him he was bowed forward, his elbow supported on his
knee, and his forehead resting on his hand.

"You'll keep your promise to me?" she persisted, softly, with a kind of
pitiful relentlessness.

"I'll tell you in a minute."

He jerked out the words in the brusque way in which a man says all that,
for the moment, he is physically able to utter. She allowed more time to
elapse. The roar of traffic and the clanging of electric trams came up
from the street below, but no sound seemed able to penetrate the stillness
in which they sat. As far as Miriam was conscious of herself at all, it
was simply to note the curious deadness of her emotions, as though she had
become a mere machine for doing right, like a clock that strikes
punctually. Nevertheless, it caused her some surprise when he raised
himself and said, in a voice that would have been casual on a common

"I suppose you think me a cad?"

"No; why should I?"

"Because I am one."

"I don't know why you should say that, or what it has to do

"It's about that--that--promise."


"Do you mind if we speak quite frankly? I should like to. I've been
bluffing that point ever since you and I met again. It's been torture to
have to do it--damned, humiliating torture; but it's been difficult to do
anything else. You see, I couldn't even speak of it without seeming to--to
insult you--that is, unless you took me in just the right way."

His look, his attitude, the tones of his voice, the something woe-begone
and yet boyish in his expression, recalled irresistibly the days in the
cabin, when he often wore just this air. She had observed before that when
they were alone together the years seemed to fall from his manner, while
he became the immature, inexperienced young fugitive again. She had
scarcely expected, however, that this lapse into youth would occur
to-night. She herself felt ages old--as though all the ends of the world
had come upon her.

"You may say anything you like. There's nothing you could possibly tell me
that I shouldn't understand."

"Well, then, when I made that promise, I meant to keep it, and to keep it
in a special way. I thought--of course we were both very young--but I
thought that, after what had happened--"

"Wait a minute. I want to tell you something before you go on." She
rallied her spirit's forces for a desperate step, gathering all her life's
possible happiness into one extravagant handful, and flinging it away, in
order to save her pride before this man, who was about to tell her that he
had never been able to love her. "What I am going to say may strike you as
irrelevant; but if it is, you can ignore it. I expect to be married--in a
little while--it's practically a settled thing--to Charles Conquest, whom
I think you know. Now, will you go on, please?"

He stared at her in utter blankness.

"Good God!"

He got up and took a few restless turns up and down the room, his head
bent, his hands behind his back. He reseated himself when his confused
impressions grew clearer.

"So that it doesn't matter what I thought about--that promise?"

"Not in the least." She had saved herself. "The one thing important to me
is that you should have made it."

"And that you can hold me to it," he added, tersely.

"I presume I can do that?"

"You can, unless--unless I find myself in a position to take the promise

"I can hardly see how that position could come about," she said, with an
air of wondering.

"I can. You see," he went on in an explanatory tone, "it was an unusual
sort of promise--a promise made, so to speak, for value received--for
unusual value received. It wasn't one that a common occasion would have
called forth. It was offered because you had given me--life."

He rested his arm now on a table that stood between them and, leaning
toward her, looked her steadily in the eyes.

"I haven't the faintest idea what you're going to say," she remarked,
rather blankly.

"No, but you'll see. You gave me life. I hold that life in a certain sense
at your pleasure. It is at your disposal. It must remain at your
disposal--- until I give it back."

She sat upright in her chair, leaning in her turn on the table, and
drawing nearer to him.

"I can't imagine what you mean," she said, under her breath and looking a
little frightened.

"You'll see presently. But don't be alarmed. It's going to be all right.
As long as I hold the life you gave me," he continued to explain, "I must
do your bidding. I'm not a free man; I'm--don't be offended--I'm your
creature. I don't say I was a free man before this came up. I haven't been
a free man ever since I've been Herbert Strange. I've been the slave of a
sort of make-believe. I've made believe, and I've felt I was justified.
Perhaps I was. I'm not quite sure. But I haven't liked it; and now I begin
to feel that I can't stand it any longer. You follow me, don't you?"

She nodded, still leaning toward him across the table, and not taking her
eyes from his. He remembered afterward though he paid no heed to it at the
time, how those eyes grew wide with awe and flashed with strange, lambent

"I told you a few days ago," he pursued, "that there were _times_ when it
was hell. That was putting it mildly--too mildly. There's been no time
when it wasn't hell--in here." He tapped his forehead. "I've struggled,
and fought, and pushed, and swaggered, and bluffed, and had ups and downs,
and taken heart, and swaggered and bluffed again, and lied all
through--and I've made Herbert Strange a respectable man of business on
the high road to success. But when I come near you it all goes to
pieces--like one of those curiously conserved dead bodies when they're
brought to the air. There's nothing to them. There's nothing to me--so
long as I'm Herbert Strange."

"But you _are_ Herbert Strange. You can't help yourself--now."

"Herbert Strange goes back into the nothingness out of which he was born
the minute I become Norrie Ford again."

"But you can't do that!"

She drew herself up hastily, with a gasp.

"It's exactly what I mean to do." He spoke very slowly "I'm going to be a
free man, and my own master, even if it leads me where--where they meant
to put me when you snatched me away. I'm going back to my fellow-men, to
the body corporate--"

She rose in agitation, and drew back from him toward the chimney-piece.
"So that if--if anything happens," she said, "I shall have driven you to
it. That's how you get your revenge."

"Not at all. I'm not coming to this decision suddenly, or in a spirit of
revenge, in any way." He followed her, standing near her, on the
hearth-rug. "I can truthfully say," he went on in his slow, explanatory
fashion, "that there's been no time, since the minute I made my first dash
for liberty, when I haven't known, in the bottom of my heart, what a good
thing it would have been if I hadn't done it. I've come to see--I've _had_
to--- that the death-chair would have been better, with self-respect, than
freedom to go and come, with the necessity to gag every one, every minute
of the day, and every day in the year, and all the time, with lies. If
that seems far-fetched to you--"

"No, it doesn't."

"Well, if it did you'd see it wasn't, if you were in my place for a month.
I didn't mind it so much at first. I stood it by day and just suffered by
night--till the Jarrotts began to be so kind to me, and I came to New
York--and--and--and Evie!"

"I'm sorry I've spoken to you as I have," she said, hastily. "If I'd known
you felt like that--"

"You were quite right. I always understood that. But I can't go on with
it. If Evie marries me now, it shall be knowing who I am."

"You don't mean that you could possibly tell her?"

"I'm going to tell every one."

She stifled a little cry. "Then it will be my doing!"

"It will be your doing--up to a point. But it will be something for you to
be proud of, not to regret. You've only brought my mistake so clearly
before me that even I can't stand it--when I've stood so much. You ask me
to turn my back on Evie and sneak away. You've got the right to command,
and there's nothing for me but to obey you. But I can't help seeing the
sort of life that would be left to me after I'd carried out your orders.
It wouldn't only be the loss of Evie--I may lose her in any case--it would
be the loss of everything within myself that's enabled me hitherto merely
to hold up my head--and bluff."

"I might withdraw what I've just asked you to do. Perhaps we could find
some other way."

He laughed with grim lightness.

"You're weakening. That's not like you. And it wouldn't do any good now.
Even if we did patch up some other scheme, there would still remain what
you talked about a minute ago--the loyalty that every human being owes to
every other."

"But I thought you didn't recognize that?"

"I said I didn't. But in here"--he tapped his fingers over the heart--"I
did, and I do. You've brought me to see it."

"That's very noble, but you saw it for yourself--"

"Through a glass--darkly; now I can look at the thing in clear daylight,
and see what I have to do."

She dropped into her chair again, looking up at him. He stood with his
back to the fire, holding his head high, his bearing marked by a dogged,
perhaps forced, serenity.

"But what _can_ you do?" she asked, after considering his words. "You're
so involved. All this business--and the people in South America--"

"Oh, there are ways and means. I haven't made plans, but I've thought,
from time to time, of what I should do if I ever came to just this pass.
The first thing would be to tell the few people who are most concerned,
confidentially. Then I should go back to South America, and settle things
give me your respect again--not even the little you've given me
hitherto--and God knows that can't have been much. I could stand anything
in the world--anything--rather than that you should come to that."

"But I shouldn't, when I myself had dissuaded you--"

"No, no; don't try. You'd be doing wrong. You've been to me so high and
holy that I don't like to think you haven't the strength to go on to the
end. I've got it, because you've given it me. Don't detract from your own
gift by holding me back from using it. You found me a prisoner--or an
escaped one--and I've been a prisoner all these years, the prisoner of
something worse than chains. Now I'm going free. Look!" he cried, with
sudden inspiration. "I'll show you how it's done. You'll see how easy it
will be."

He moved to cross the room.

"What are you going to do?"

She sprang up as if to hold him back, but his finger was on the bell.

"You don't mind, I hope?" he asked; but he had rung before she could give
an answer. The maid appeared in the doorway.

"Ask Mr. Wayne if he would be good enough to come in here a minute. Tell
him Mr. Strange particularly wants to see him."

He went back to his place by the fireside, where he stood apparently calm,
showing no sign of excitement except in heightened color and the stillness
of nervous tension Miriam sank into her chair again.

"Don't do anything rash," she pleaded. "Wait till to-morrow There will
always be time. For God's sake!"

If he heard her he paid no attention, and presently Wayne appeared. He
hesitated a minute on the threshold, and during that instant Ford could
see that he looked ashy and older, as if something had aged him suddenly.
His hands trembled, too, as he felt his way in.

"Good-evening," he said, speaking into the air as blind men do. "I thought
I heard your voice."

Having groped his way across the room and reached the table that stood
between the arm-chairs Miriam and Ford had occupied, he stopped. He stood
there, with fingers drumming soundlessly on the polished wood, waiting for
some one to speak.

In spite of the confidence with which he had rung the bell, Ford found it
difficult now to begin. It was only after one or two inarticulate attempts
that he was able to say anything.

"I asked you to come in, sir," he began, haltingly, "to tell you something
very special. Miss Strange knows it already.... If I've done wrong in not
telling you before ... you'll see I'm prepared to take my punishment....
My name isn't Strange ... it isn't Herbert."

"I know it isn't."

The words slipped out in a sharp tone, not quite nervous, but thin and
worn. Miriam's attitude grew tense. Ford took a step forward from the
fireside. With his arm flung over the back of his chair, and his knee
resting on the seat of it, he strained across the table, as if to
annihilate the space between Wayne and himself.

"You _knew_?"

The blind man nodded. When he spoke it was again into the air.

"Yes; I knew. You're Norrie Ford. I ought to say I've only known it
latterly--about a fortnight now."


"Oh, it just came to me--by degrees, I think."

"Why didn't you say something about it?"

"I thought I wouldn't. It has worried me, but I thought I'd keep still."

"Do you mean that you were going to let everything--go on?"

"I weighed all the considerations. That's the decision I came to. You must
understand," he went on to explain, in a voice that was now tremulous as
well as thin, "that I'd had you a good deal on my mind, during these past
eight years. I sentenced you to death when I almost knew you were
innocent. It was my duty. I couldn't help it. The facts told dead against
you. Every one admitted that. True, the evidence might have been twisted
to tell against old Gramm and his wife, but they hadn't been dissipated,
and they hadn't been indicted, and they hadn't gone round making threats
against Chris Ford's life like you."

"I didn't mean them. It was nothing but a boy's rage--"

"Yes, but you made them; and when the old man was found--But I'll not go
into that now. I only want to say that, while I couldn't acquit you with
my intelligence, I felt constrained to do it in my heart, especially when
everything was over, and it was too late. The incident has been the one
thing in my professional career that I've most regretted. I don't quite
blame myself. I had to do my duty. And yet it was a relief to me when you
got away. I don't know that I could have acted differently, but--but I
liked you. I've gone on liking you. I've often thought about you, and
wondered what had become of you. And one day--not long ago--as I was going
over the old ground once more, I saw I'd been thinking about--_you_.
That's how it came to me."

"And you were going to remain silent, and let me marry Evie?"

The blind man reflected.

"I saw what was to be said against it. But I weighed all the evidence
carefully. You were an injured man; you'd made a great fight and you'd
won--as far as one man can win against the world. I came to the conclusion
that I wasn't called on to strike you down a second time, after you'd
scrambled up so pluckily. Evie is very dear to me; I don't say that I
should see her married to you without some misgiving; but I decided that
you deserved her. It was a great responsibility to take, but I took it and
made up my mind to--let her go."

"Oh, you're a good man! I didn't think there was such mercy in the world."

Ford flung out the words in a cry that was half a groan and half a shout
of triumph. Miriam choked back a sob. The neat little man shrugged his
shoulders deprecatingly.

"There's one thing I should like to ask," he pursued, "among the many that
I don't know anything about, and that I don't care to inquire into. How
did you come by the name of this lady's father, my old friend Herbert

Ford and Miriam exchanged swift glances. She shook her head, and he took
his cue.

"I happened to see it in a--a sort of--paper. I had no idea it was that of
a real person. I fancied it had come out of a novel--- or something like
that. I didn't mean to keep it, but it got fastened on me."

"Very odd," was his only comment. "Isn't it, Miriam?

"Now," he _added_, "I suppose you've had all you want of me, so I'll say

He held out his hand, which Ford grasped, clinched rather, in both his

"God bless you!" Wayne murmured, still tremulously. "God bless you--my
boy, and bring everything out right. Miriam, I suppose you'll come in and
see me before you go to bed."

They watched him shuffle his way out of the room, and watched the door
long after he had closed it. When at last Miriam turned her eyes on Ford
they were luminous with the relief of her own defeat.

"You see!" she cried, triumphantly. "You see the difference between him
and me--between his spirit and mine! Now which of us was right?"

"You were."


The one thing clear to Miriam on the following day was that she had ruined
everything with astonishing completeness--a curious result to come from
what she was firmly convinced was "doing right." She had calculated that,
by a moderate measure of suffering to Evie, and a large one to Ford,
Evie's ultimate welfare at least would be secured. Now everything was
being brought to grief together. Out of such a wreck nothing could be

With Ford's desire to break the force which made him an impostor she had
sympathy, but his willingness to risk his life in order to be in harmony
with law and order again was not so easy for her to understand. While
education, training and taste kept her, in her own person, within the
restrictions of civilized life, yet the part of a free-lance in the world
appealed to her strongly atavistic instincts far more directly than
membership in a disciplined regular army. The guerilla fighter must of
necessity be put to shifts--even moral shifts--which the common soldier,
trained and commanded by others, can be spared; but her heart was with the
man roving in the hills on his own account. That Ford should deliberately
seek chains in barracks, when by her surrender on the subject of Evie she
had made it possible for him still to keep the liberty of the field, was
to her at once incomprehensible and awful. She had not only the sense of
watching a man rushing upon Fate, but the knowledge that she herself had
given him the impetus; while she was fully alive to the fact that when he
fell everything she cared for in the world would fall with him.

Her mind was too resourceful, her spirit too energetic, to permit of her
sitting in helpless anguish over his new determination. She was already
busy with plans for counteracting him, in one of which at least she saw
elements of hope. Having conceived its possibilities, she was eager to go
and test them; but she had decided not to leave the house until she knew
that Ford was really putting his plans into execution. The minute Evie
learned the fatal news she would have need of her, and she dared not put
herself out of the child's reach. Her first duty must be toward the
fragile little creature, who would be crushed like a trampled flower.

Shortly before noon she was summoned to the telephone, where Evie was
asking if she should find her in. Miriam judged from the tones of the
transmitted voice that the worst had been made known. She was not,
however, prepared for the briskness with which, ten minutes later, Evie
whisked into the room, her cheeks aglow with excitement and her heavenly
eyes dancing with a purely earthly sparkle.

"Isn't this awful?" she cried, before Miriam could take her into her
loving arms. "Isn't it appalling? But it's not a surprise to me--not in
the least. I knew there was something. Haven't I said so? I almost knew
that his name wasn't Strange. If I hadn't been so busy with my coming
out--and everything--I should have been sure of it. I haven't had time to
think of it--do you see? With a lunch somewhere every day at half-past
one," she hurried on, breathlessly, "and a tea at half-past four, and a
dinner at eight, and a dance at eleven, and very likely the theatre or the
opera in between--well, you can see I haven't been able to give much
attention to anything else; but I knew, from the very time when I was in
Buenos Aires, that there was something queer about that name. I never saw
a man so sensitive when any one spoke about his name, not in all my life
before--and you know down there it's the commonest thing--why, they're so
suspicious on that point that they'd almost doubt that mine was Evie

She threw her muff in one direction, her boa in another, and her gloves in
still another.

"But, Evie darling, you surely didn't think--"

"Of course I never thought of anything like this. I didn't really think of
anything at all. If I'd begun to give my mind to it, I should probably
have hit on something a great deal worse."

"What do you mean, dear? Worse--than what?"

"Worse than just being accused of shooting your uncle--and it was only his
great-uncle, too. I might have thought of forgery or something
dishonorable, though I should know he wasn't capable of it. Being accused
isn't much. You can accuse _any one_--you could accuse _me_. That doesn't
prove anything when he says he didn't do it. Of course he didn't do it.
Can't any one _see_? My goodness! I wish they'd let me make the laws. I'd
show them. Just think! To put a man like that in prison--- and say they'd
do such awful things to him--and make him change his name--and everything.
It's perfectly scandalous. It's an outrage. I shouldn't think such things
would be allowed. They wouldn't be allowed in the Argentine. Why, there
was a man out there who killed his father-in-law--actually _killed_
him--and they didn't do anything to him at all. I've seen him lots of
times. Aunt Queenie has pointed him out to me. He used to have the box
next but two to ours at the opera. And to think they should take a man
like Herbert, and worry him like that--it makes me so indignant I'd like

Evie ground her teeth, threw her clinched fists outward, and twitched her
skirts about the room in the prettiest possible passion of righteous

"But, darling," Miriam asked, in a puzzled voice, "what are you going to
do about it?"

Evie wheeled round haughtily.

"Do about it? What would you expect me to do about it? I'm going to tell
every one he didn't do it--that's what I'm going to do about it. But of
course we're not to speak of it just yet--outside ourselves, you know.
He's going to Buenos Aires to tell Uncle Jarrott he didn't do it--and when
he comes back we're going to make it generally known. Oh, there's to be
law about it--and everything. He means to change his name again to what it
was before--Ford, the name was--and I must say, Miriam, I like that a good
deal better than Strange, if you don't mind my telling you. It seems odd
to have so many Stranges--and I must say I never could get used to the
idea of having exactly the same name as yours. It was almost like not
being married outside the family--and I should hate to marry a relation.
That part of it comes as a pleasant surprise, do you see? I'd made up my
mind to Strange, and thought there was no way of getting rid of it, unless
I--but I wasn't looking ahead to anything of _that_ kind. I hope I shall

"So, darling, you're going to be true to him?"

"True to him? Of course I'm going to be true to him. Why shouldn't I be?
I'm going to be more true to him now than I was before. He's so noble
about it, too. I wish you could have seen the way he broke it to me. Aunt
Queenie said she never saw anything so affecting, not even on the stage.
She was there, you know. Herbert felt he couldn't go over it all twice,
and he thought I should need some one to support me through the shock. I
didn't--not a bit. But I wish you could have been there, just to see him."

"I can fancy it, dear."

"Of course I know now what you've been fidgeting about ever since he came
to New York. He says you recognized him--that you'd seen him at Greenport.
Oh, I knew there was something. But I must say, Miriam, I think you might
have told me confidentially, and not let it come on me as such a blow as
this. Not that I take it as a blow, though, of course, it upsets things
terribly. We can't announce our engagement for ever so long, and Aunt
Queenie is rushing round in the motor now to take back what she wrote to a
few people yesterday. I can't imagine what she'll tell them, because I
charged her on her sacred honor not to give them the idea it was broken
off, although I'd rather they thought it was broken off than that I hadn't
been engaged at all."

"Miss Jarrott takes it quietly, then?"

"Quietly! I wish you could see her. She thinks there never was anything so
romantic. Why, she cried over him, and kissed him, and said she'd always
be his friend if every one else in the world were to turn against him. As
a matter of fact, the poor old dear is head over heels in love with
him--do you see?--in that sort of old-maid way--you know the kind of
thing I mean. She thinks there's nobody like him, and neither there is. I
shall miss him frightfully while he's down there telling Uncle Jarrott. I
shall skip half my invitations and go regularly into retreat till he comes
back. There's lots more he's going to tell me then--all about what Popsey
Wayne had to do with it--and everything. I'm glad he doesn't want to do it
now, because my head is reeling as it is. I've so many things to think
of--and so much responsibility coming on me all at once--and--"

"Are you going to do anything about Billy?"

"Well, I can postpone that, at any rate. Thank goodness, there's _one_
silver lining to the cloud. I was going to give him a pretty strong hint
to-night, seeing Aunt Queenie has begun writing notes around, but now I
can let him simmer for a while longer. He won't be able to say I haven't
let him down easy, poor old boy. And, Miriam dear," she continued,
gathering up her various articles of apparel, preparatory to taking leave,
"you'll keep just as quiet about it as you can, like a dear, won't you? We
don't mean to say a word about it outside ourselves till Herbert comes
back from seeing Uncle Jarrott. That's my advice--and it's all our
advice--I mean, Aunt Queenie's, too. Then they're going to law--or
something. I know you _won't_ say anything about it, but I thought I'd
just put you on your guard."

* * * * *

If Evie's way of taking it was a new revelation to Miriam, of her own
miscalculation, it was also a new incentive to setting to work as promptly
as possible to repair what she could of the mischief she had made. With
Evie's limitations she might never know more of the seriousness of her
situation than a bird of the nature of the battle raging near its nest;
while if even Ford "went to law," as Evie put it, and he came off
victorious, there might still be chances for their happiness. To anything
else Miriam was indifferent, as a man in the excitement of saving his
children from fire or storm is dead to his own sensations. It was with
impetuous, almost frenzied, eagerness, therefore, that she went to the
telephone to ring up Charles Conquest, asking to be allowed to see him
privately at his office during the afternoon.

In what she had made up her mind to do the fact that she was planning for
herself an unnecessary measure of sacrifice was no deterrent. She was in a
mood in which self-immolation seemed the natural penalty of her mistakes.
She was not without the knowledge that money could buy the help she
purposed to obtain by direct intervention; but her inherited instincts,
scornful of roundabout methods, urged her to pay the price in something
more personal than coin. It replied in some degree to her self-accusation,
it assuaged the bitterness of her self-condemnation, to know that she was
to be the active agent in putting right that which her errors of judgment
had put wrong. To her essentially primitive soul atonement by proxy was as
much out of the question as to the devotee beneath the wheels of
Juggernaut. Somewhere in the background of her thought there were faint
prudential protests against throwing herself away; but she disdained them,
as a Latin or a Teuton disdains the Anglo-Saxon's preference for a court
of law to the pistol of the duellist. It was something outside the realm
of reason. Reckless impulses subdued by convent restraint or civilized
requirements awoke with a start all the more violent because of their long
sleep, driving her to do that which she knew other women would have done
otherwise or not at all.

She was aware, therefore, of limitations in the sacrifice she was making;
she was even aware that, in the true sense, it was no sacrifice whatever.
She was offering herself up because she chose to--in a kind of
wilfulness--but a passionate wilfulness which claimed that for her at
least there was no other way. Other women, wiser women, women behind whom
there was a long, moderation-loving past, might obey the laws that prompt
to the economy of one's self; she could only follow those blind urgings
which drove her forefathers to fight when they might have remained at
peace, or whipped them forth into the wild places of the earth when they
could have stayed in quiet homes. The hard way in preference to the easy
way was in her blood. She could no more have resisted taking it now than
she could have held herself back eight years ago from befriending Norrie
Ford against the law.

Nevertheless, it was a support to her to remember that Conquest's manner
on the occasions when business brought her to his office was always a
little different from that which he assumed when they met outside. He was
much more the professional man with his client, a little the friend, but
not at all the lover--if he was a lover anywhere. Having welcomed her now
with just the right shade of cordiality, he made her sit at a little
distance from his desk, while he himself returned to the revolving-chair
at which he had been writing when she entered. After the preliminary
greetings, he put on, unconsciously, the questioning air a business man
takes at the beginning of an interview which he has been invited to

"I came--about Evie."

Now that she was there it was less easy to begin than she had expected.

"Quite so. I knew there was a hitch. I've just had a mysterious note from
Queenie Jarrott which I haven't been able to make out. Can't they hit it

"It's a good deal more serious than that. Mr. Strange came to see Mr.
Wayne and me last night. I may as well tell you as simply as I can. His
name isn't Strange at all."

"Ho! ho! What's up?"

"Did you ever hear the name of--Norrie Ford?"

"Good Lord, yes! I can't quite remember--Let's see. Norrie Ford? I know
the name as well as I know my own. Wasn't that the case--why, yes, it must
have been--wasn't that the case Wayne was mixed up in six or eight years

"Yes, it was."

"The fellow gave 'em all the slip, didn't he?"

She nodded.

"Hadn't he been commuted to a life sentence--?"

"Mr. Wayne hoped it would be done, but it hadn't been done yet. He was
still under sentence of--death."

"Yes, yes, yes. It comes back to me. We thought Wayne hadn't displayed
much energy or ability of foresight--or something. I remember there was
talk about it, and in the newspapers there was even a cock-and-bull story
that Wayne had connived at his escape. Well, what has that got to do with

"It has everything to do with her."

Conquest's little gray-green eyes blinked as if against the blaze of their
own light, while his features sharpened to their utmost incisiveness.

"You don't mean to say--?"

"I do."

"Well, upon--my--!" The exclamation trailed off into a silent effort to
take in this extraordinary piece of intelligence "Do you mean to say the
scamp had the cheek--? Oh no, it isn't possible. Come now!"

"It was exactly as I'm going to tell you, but I don't think you should
call him a scamp. You see, he's engaged to Evie--"

"He's not engaged to her now?"

"He is. She means to be true to him. So do we all."

Two little scarlet spots burned in her cheeks, but it was not more in the
way of emotion than a warm partisanship on Evie's account demanded.

"Well, I'm blowed!" He swung one leg across the other, making his chair
describe a semicircle.

"Perhaps you won't be so much--blowed, when you hear all I have to tell

"Go ahead; I'm more interested than if it was a dime novel."

As lucidly as she could she gave him the outline of Ford's romance,
dwelling as he had done in relating it to her, less on its incidents than
on its mental and moral effect upon himself. She suppressed the narrative
of the weeks spent in the cabin and based her report entirely on
information received from Ford. For testimony as to his life and character
in the Argentine she had the evidence of Miss Jarrott, while on the
subject of his business abilities--no small point with a New York business
man, as she was astute enough to see--there could be no better authority
than Conquest himself, who, as Stephens and Jarrott's American legal
adviser, had had ample opportunity of judging. She was gratified to note
that as her story progressed it called forth sympathetic looks, and an
occasional appreciative exclamation, while now and then he slapped his
thigh as a mark of the kind of amused astonishment that verges on

"So we couldn't desert him now, after she's been so brave, could we?" she
pleaded, with some amount of confidence; "and especially when he's engaged
to Evie."

"I suppose we can't desert him, if he's sane."

"Oh, he's sane."

"Then why the deuce, when he was so well out of harm's way, didn't he stay

"Because of his love for Evie, don't you see?" She had to explain Ford's
moral development and psychological state all over again, until he could
see it with some measure of comprehension.

"It certainly is the queerest story I ever heard," he declared, in
enjoyment of its dramatic elements, "and we're all in it, aren't we? It's
like seeing yourself in a play."

"I thought you would look at it in that way. As soon as I began wondering
what we could do--this morning--I saw that, after Evie, you were the
person most concerned."

"Who? I? Why am I concerned? I've got nothing to do with it!"

"No, of course not, except as Stephens and Jarrott's lawyer. When their
representative in New York--"

"Oh, but my dear girl, my duties don't involve me in anything of this
kind. I'm the legal adviser to the firm, but I've nothing to do with the
private affairs of their employees."

"Mr. Jarrott is very fond of Mr. Strange--"

"Perhaps this will cool his affection."

"I don't think it will as long as Evie insists on marrying him. I'm sure
they mean to stand by him."

"They won't be able to stand by him long, if the law gives him--what it
meant to give him before."

"Oh, but you don't think there's any danger of that?"

"I don't know about it," he said, shaking his head, ominously. "The fact
that he comes back and gives himself up isn't an argument in favor of his
innocence. There's generally remorse behind that dodge."

"Then isn't that all the more reason why we should help him?"

"Help him? How?"

"By trying to win his case for him."

He looked at her with eyes twinkling while his fingers concealed the smile
behind his colorless mustache.

"And how would you propose to set about that?"

"I don't know, but I suppose you do. There must be ways. He's leaving as
soon as he can for South America. He thinks it may be months before he
gets back. I thought that--perhaps--in the mean time--while he won't be
able to do anything for himself--you might see--"

"Yes, yes; go on," he said, as she hesitated.

"You might see if there is any evidence that could be found--that wasn't
found before--isn't that the way they do it?--and have it ready--for him
when he came back."

"For a wedding present."

"It _would_ be a wedding present--to all of us. It would be for Evie's
sake. You know how I love her. She's the dearest thing to me in the world.
If I could only secure her happiness like that--"

"You mean, if I could secure it."

"You'd be doing it actively, but I should want to co-operate."

"In what way?"

She sat very still. She was sure he understood her by the sudden rigidity
of his pose, while his eyes stopped twinkling, and his fingers ceased to
travel along the line of his mustache. Her eyes fell before the scrutiny
in his, but she lifted them again for one of her quick, wild glances.

"In any way you like."

She tried to make her utterance distinct, matter of fact, not too
significant, but she failed. In spite of herself, her words conveyed all
their meaning. The brief pause that followed was not less eloquent, nor
did it break the spell when Conquest gave a short little laugh that might
have been nervous and, changing his posture, leaned forward on his desk
and scribbled on the blotting-pad. While he would never have admitted it,
it was a relief to him, too, not to be obliged to face her.

He was not shocked, neither was he quite surprised. He was accustomed to
the thought that a woman's love was a thing to purchase. One man bought it
from her father for a couple of oxen, another from herself for an
establishment and a diamond tiara. It was the same principle in both
cases. He had never considered Miriam Strange as being without a price;
his difficulty had been in knowing what it was. The establishment and the
diamond tiara having proved as indifferent to her as the yoke of oxen, he
was thrown back upon the alternative of heroic deeds. He had more than
once suspected that these might win her if they had only been in his line.
There being few opportunities for that kind of endeavor as the head of a
large and lucrative legal practice, the suggestion only left him cynical.
In the bottom of his heart he had long wished to dazzle, by some act of
prowess, the eyes that saw him only as a respectable man of middle age,
but the desire had merely mocked him with the kind of derision which
impotence gets from youth. It seemed now a stroke of luck which almost
merited being termed an act of Providence that there should have come a
call for exactly his variety of "derringdo" from the very quarter in which
he could make it tell.

"We've never gone in for any criminal business here," he said, after long
reflection, while he continued to scribble aimlessly, "but, of course,
we're in touch with the people who take it up."

"I thought you might be."

"But it's only fair to tell you that if your motive is to save time for
our friend in question--"

"That _is_ my motive--the only one."

"Then you could get in touch with them, too."

"But I don't want to."

"Still I think you should consider it. The best legal advice in the world
can be--bought--for money."

"I know that."

Lifting his eyes in a sharp look, he saw her head lilted back with her own
special air of deliberate temerity.

"Oh, very well, then," he said, quietly, resuming his scribbling again.
After this warning he felt justified in taking her at her word.

With that as a beginning she knew she had gained her first great point. In
answer to his questions she told the story over again, displaying, as he
remembered afterward--but long afterward--a surprising familiarity with
its details. She made suggestions which he noted as marked by some acumen,
and laid stress on the value of the aid they might expect privately from
Philip Wayne. The beauty and eagerness in her face fired the almost
atrophied enthusiasm in his own heart, while he could not but see that
this entirely altruistic interest had brought them in half an hour nearer
together than they had ever been before. It was what they had never had
till now--a bond in common. In spite of the persistency of his efforts and
his assertions, he had never hitherto got nearer her than a statue on a
pedestal gets to its neighbor in a similar situation but now at last they
were down on the same earth together. This was more than reason enough for
his taking up the cause of Norrie Ford, consecrating to it all his
resources, mental and material, and winning it.

In the course of an hour or two their understanding was complete, but he
did not refer again to the conditions of their tacit compact. It was she
who felt that sufficient had not been said--that the sincerity with which
she subscribed to it had not been duly emphasized. She was at the door on
the point of going away when she braced herself to look at him and say:

"You can't realize what all this means to me. If we succeed--that is, if
you succeed--I hardly dare to tell you of the extent to which I shall be

He felt already some of the hero's magnanimity as to claiming his reward.

"You needn't think about that," he smiled. "I sha'n't. If by making Evie
happy I can serve you, I shall not ask for gratitude."

She looked down at her muff and smoothed its fur, then glanced up swiftly.
"No; but I shall want to give it."

With that she was gone--lighter of heart than a few hours ago it had
seemed to her possible ever to be again. Her joy was the joy of the
captain who feels that he has saved his ship, though his own wound is

Part IV



Among the three or four qualities Conquest most approved of in himself,
not the least was a certain capacity for the patient acquisition of the
world's more enviable properties. He had the gift of knowing what he
wanted, recognizing it when he saw it, and waiting for it till it came
within his reach. From his youth upward he had been a connoisseur of
quality rather than a lover of abundance, while he owned to a talent for
seeing the value of things which other people overlooked, and throwing
them into relief when the objects became his. As far back as the time when
the modest paternal heritage had been divided between his brothers and
sisters and himself, he had been astute enough to leave the bulk of it to
them, contenting himself with one or two bits of ancestral furniture and a
few old books, which were now known by all to have been the only things
worth having. Throughout his life he had followed this principle of
acquiring unobtrusively but getting exactly what he wanted. It was so that
he bought his first horse, so that he bought his first motor, so that he
purchased the land where he afterward built his house--in a distant,
desolate stretch of Fifth Avenue which his acquaintances told him would be
hopelessly out of reach, but where, not many years after, most of them
were too late to join him.

In building his house, too, he took his time, allowing his friends to
make their experiments around him, while he studied the great art of "how
not to do it." One of his neighbors erected a Flemish château, another a
Florentine palazzo, and a third a François Premier _hôtel_; but his plot
of ground remained an unkempt tangle of mullein and blue succory. In the
end he put up a sober, handsome development on a style which the humbler
passers-by often called, with approval, "good, plain American," but whose
point of departure was Georgian. He had the instinct for that which
springs out of the soil. For this reason he did not shrink from an Early
Victorian note--the first note of the modern, prosperous New York--in
decoration; and the same taste impelled him toward the American in art.
While Neighbor Smith displayed his Gainsboroughs, and Neighbor Jones his
Rousseaus or Daubignys, Conquest quietly picked up a thing here and
there--always under excellent advice--which no picture-dealer had been
able to dispose of, because it came from some studio in Twenty-third
Street. Hung on his walls, it produced that much-sought-for effect of
"having been always there." He was not a Chauvinist, nor had he any
sympathy with the intolerantly patriotic. He was merely a lover of the

In much the same way he had sought for--and waited for--a wife. He had
been rashly put down as "not a marrying man," when he was only taking his
time. He had seen plainly of excellent possibilities--fine women, handsome
women, clever women, good women--any of whom presumably he could have had
for the asking; but none was, in his own phraseology, "just the right
thing." He wanted something unusual, and yet not exotic--something
obvious, which no one else had observed--something cultivated, and yet
native--something as exquisite as any hothouse orchid, but with the keen,
fresh scent of the American woods and waters on its bloom. It was not a
thing to be picked up every day, and so he kept on the lookout for it, and
waited. Even when he found it, he was not certain, on the spur of the
moment, that it would prove exactly what he had in mind. So he waited
longer. He watched the effect of time and experience upon it, until he was
quite sure. He knew the risk he was running that some one else might
snatch it up; but his principle had always been to let everything, no
matter how coveted, go, rather than buy in haste.

Lest such an attitude toward Miriam Strange should seem cold-blooded, it
should be said in his defence that he considered the aggregate of his
sentiments to be--love. She was to be more than "something better than his
dog, a little dearer than his horse," more than the living, responsive
soul among his chattels. There was that in her which appealed to his
desire, and to something more deeply seated in him still. After satisfying
ear, eye, and intelligence, there was in her nature a whole undiscovered
region, undivined, undefined, wakening the imagination, and stirring the
speculative faculties, like the subconscious elements in personality. In
her wild, non-Aryan glances he saw the flame of eyes that flashed on him
out of a past unknown to history; in the liquid cadences of her voice he
heard the echo of the speech that had sounded in the land before Plymouth
was a stockade or Manhattan was a farm; in her presence he found a claim
that antedated everything sprung of Hudson, Cabot, or Columbus. The
slender thread that attached her to the ages of nomadic mystery made her
for him the indigenous spirit, reborn in a woman of the world.

Knowing himself too old to be dominated by a passion, and too experienced
to be snared by wiles, he estimated his feelings as being those of love,
as he understood the word. He conceded the fact that love, like every
other desire, must work to win, and proceeded to set about his task
according to his usual methods of persistent, unobtrusive siege. It was
long before Miriam became aware of what he was doing, and her surprise as
she drew back was not quite so great as his to see her do it. He was so
accustomed to success--after taking the trouble to insure it--that he was
astonished, and a little angry, to find his usual tactics fail. He did not
believe that she was beyond his grasp; he perceived only that he had taken
the wrong way to get her. That there was a right way there could be no
question; and he knew that by patient, unremitting search he should find

He had, therefore, several sources of satisfaction in espousing the cause
of Norrie Ford. The amplitude of his legal knowledge would be to him as
gay feathers to the cock; while the contemplation of the prize added to
his self-approval in never doubting that it could be won.

* * * * *

It was early March when Ford sailed away, leaving his affairs in
Conquest's charge, at the latter's own request. He in his turn placed them
in the hands of Kilcup and Warren, who made a specialty of that branch of
the law. The reward was immediate, in that frequent talks with Miriam
became a matter of course.

His trained mind was prompt to seize the fact that these interviews took
place on a basis different from that of their meetings in the past. Where
he had been seeking to gain an end he was now on probation. He had been
told--or practically told--that what he had been asking would be granted,
as soon as certain conditions were fulfilled. It became to him, therefore,
a matter of honor, in some degree one of professional etiquette, to fulfil
the conditions before referring to the reward. Instead of a suitor
pressing his suit, he became the man of business recounting the points
scored, or still to be scored, in a common enterprise. In keeping her
informed of each new step that Kilcup and Warren were taking, he
maintained an attitude of distant respect, of which she could have nothing
to complain.

Expecting an equal reserve on her part, it was with some surprise that he
saw her assume the initiative in cordiality. He called it cordiality,
because he dared not make it a stronger word. Her manner went back to the
spontaneous friendliness that had marked their intercourse before she
began to see what he was aiming at, while into it she threw an infusion of
something that had not hitherto been there. When he came with the
information that a fresh bit of evidence had been discovered, or a new
light thrown on an old one, she listened with interest--just the right
kind of interest--and made pretexts to detain him, sometimes with Wayne as
a third, sometimes without, for the pleasure of his own company. Now and
then, as spring came on, they would all three, at her suggestion, cross
the street, and stroll in the park together. Leaving Wayne on some
convenient seat, they would prolong their own walk, talking with the
unguarded confidence of mutual trust. It was she who furnished the
topics--books, music, politics, people, anything that chanced to be
uppermost. When he decided to purchase an automobile a whole new world of
consultation was opened up. They visited establishments together, and
drove with Wayne into the country to test machines. Returning Conquest
would dine informally, in morning dress, with them; or else, from time to
time he would invite them to a restaurant. By-and-by he took to organizing
little dinners at his own house, ostensibly to cheer up Wayne, but really
to see Miriam at his table.

In all this there was nothing remarkable, as between old friends, except
the contrast with her bearing toward him during the past year. He had
expected that when Norrie Ford went finally free she would fulfil her
contract, and fulfil it well; but he had not expected this instalment of
graciousness in advance. It set him to pondering, to looking in the
mirror, to refining on that careful dressing which he had already made an
art. After all, a man in the fifties was young as long as he looked young,
and according as one took the point of view.

Except when Ford's affairs came directly under discussion he occupied,
seemingly, a secondary place in their thoughts. Miriam rarely spoke of him
at all, and if Conquest brought up his name more frequently it was because
his professional interest in the numerous "nice points" of the case was
becoming keen. He talked them over with her, partly because of his
pleasure in the intelligence with which she grasped them, and partly
because their intimacy deepened in proportion as the hope strengthened
that Ford's innocence would be proved.

It was June before Miriam heard from South America. Two or three letters
to Evie had already come, guardedly written, telling little more than the
incidents of Ford's voyage and arrival. It was to Miriam he wrote what he
actually had at heart.

* * * * *

"The great moment has come and gone," she read to Conquest. "I have seen
Mr. Jarrott, and made a clean breast of everything. It was harder than I
expected, though I expected it would be pretty hard. I think I felt
sorrier for him than for myself, which is saying a good deal. He not only
takes it to heart, but feels it as a cut to his pride. I can see that that
thought is uppermost. What he feels is not so much the fact that _I_
deceived him as that I deceived _him_. I can understand it, too. In a
country where there is such a lot of this sort of thing, he has never been
touched by it before. It has been a kind of boast that his men were always
the genuine article. If one of them is called Smith, it is because he _is_
a Smith, and not a Vere de Vere in hiding. But that isn't all. He took me
into his family--into his very heart. He showed that, when I told him. He
tried not to, but he couldn't help it. I tell you it hurt--_me_. I won't
try to write about it. I'll tell you everything face to face, when I get
up to the mark, if I ever do. Apparently my letters hadn't prepared him
for the thing at all. He thought it was to be something to do with Evie,
though he might have known I wouldn't have chucked up everything for that.
The worst of it is, he's no good at seeing things all round. He can't take
my point of view a bit. It is impossible to explain the fix I was put in,
because he can see nothing but the one fact that I pulled the wool over
his eyes--_his_ eyes, that had never suffered sacrilege before. I
sympathize with him in that, and yet I think he might try to see that
there's something to be said on my side. He doesn't, and he never
will--which only hurts me the more.

"As for Evie, he wouldn't let me mention her name. I didn't insist,
because it was too painful--I mean, too painful to see how he took it. He
said, in about ten words, that Evie had not been any more engaged than if
she had given her word to a man of air, and that there was no reason why
she should be spoken of. We left it there. I couldn't deny that, and it
was no use saying any more. The only reply to him must be given by Evie
herself. He is writing to her, and so am I. I wish you would help her to
see that she must consider herself quite free, and that she isn't to
undertake what she may not have the strength to carry out. I realize more
and more that I was asking her to do the impossible."

* * * * *

It was an hour or two after reading this, when Conquest had gone away,
that Evie herself--as dainty as spring, in flowered muslin and a Leghorn
hat crowned with a wreath of roses--came fluttering in.

"I've had the queerest letter from Uncle Jarrott," she began,
breathlessly. "The poor old dear--well, something must be the matter with
him. I can't for the life of me imagine what Herbert can have told him,
but he doesn't understand a bit."

Miriam locked her own letter in her desk, saying as she did so:

"How does he show it?--that he doesn't understand."

"Why, he simply talks wild--that's how he shows it. He says I am not to
consider myself engaged to Herbert--that I was never engaged to him at
all. I wonder what he calls it, if it isn't engaged, when I have a
ring--and everything."

"It is rather mystifying." Miriam tried to smile. "I suppose he means that
having given your word to Herbert Strange, you're not to consider yourself
bound to Norrie Ford, unless you want to."

"Pff! I don't care anything about that. I never liked the name of
Herbert--or Strange, either. I told you that before. All the same, I wish
Uncle Jarrott would have a little sense."

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