Part 6 out of 6
gentle and determined, with the look in his eyes of one who intended
to own one way or the other--Live? How was she to live? He had given
her a choice between something that was impossible and something
that all Nature held her back from. She was locked into a lonely
house as far away from help as though they were out at sea.
"We hold it death to falter not to die." The words seemed suddenly
to stand out in blazing letters over the mantelpiece, as they did in
Martin's room--Martin, Martin. . . . With a mighty effort she wound
the reins round her hands and pulled herself up. In this erotic and
terrible position she must not falter or show fear or exaggerate
this man's sudden derangement by cries or struggles. He must be
humored, kept gentle and quiet, and she must pray for heip. God
loved young things, and if she had forgotten Him until the very
moment of great danger, He might forgive. She must, with courage and
practicality, gain time so that some one might be sent. The servants
might return. Harry Oldershaw might have followed them. He hadn't
liked the look of Gilbert. He had said so. But if that was too good,
there was Martin, Martin . . .
She saw herself sitting in a dressing gown on the arm of a chair in
Martin's room in the little New York house. She heard Martin come
along the passage with his characteristic light tread and saw him
draw up short. He looked anxious. "You wanted me?" she heard him
"I did and do, Marty. But how did you guess?"
"I didn't guess. I knew."
"Isn't that wonderful? Do you suppose I shall always be able to get
you when I want you very much?"
"I dunno. It's like that. It's something that can't be explained. .
Gilbert turned and smiled at her. She smiled back. Martin was not
far away, Martin. "How quiet the night is," she said, and went over
to a window. Hope gleamed like a star. And then, with all her
strength and urgency she gave a silent cry. "Martin, Martin. I want
you, so much, oh, so much. Come to me, quickly, quickly. Martin,
The crickets and the frogs vied with each other to fill the silence
with sound. The moon was up and had laid a silver carpet under the
trees. Fireflies flashed their little lights among the undergrowth
like fairies signalling.
Joan had sent her S. O. S. into the air and with supreme confidence
that it would reach Martin wherever he might be, left the window,
went to the pew in which Gilbert had arranged the cushions and sat
down . . . Martin had grown tired of waiting for her. She had lost
him. But twice before he had answered her call, and he would come.
She knew it. Martin was like that. He was reliable. And even if he
held her in contempt now, he had loved her once. Oh, what it must
have cost him to leave her room that night--it seemed so long ago--
she had clung to being a kid and had conceived it to be her right to
stay on the girlhood side of the bridge. To be able to live those
days over again--how different she would be.
Without permitting Gilbert to guess what she was doing, she must
humor him and gain time. She gave thanks to God that he was in this
gentle, exalted mood, and was treating her with a sort of reverence.
Behind the danger and the terror of it all she recognized the wonder
of his love.
"Gilbert," she said softly.
"Well, my little spring girl?"
"Come and sit here, where I can see you."
"You have only to tell me what I'm to do," he said and obeyed at
How different from the old affected Gilbert--this quiet man with the
burning eyes who sat with his elbows on his knees and his back bent
towards her and the light of one of the lanterns on his handsome
face. She had played with a soul as well as with a heart, and also,
it appeared, with a brain. How fatal had been her effect upon men--
Martin out of armor and Gilbert on the wrong side of the thin
dividing line. Men's love--it was too big and good a thing to have
played with, if she had only stopped to think, or some one had been
wise and kind enough to tell her. Who cares? These two men cared and
so did she, bitterly, terribly, everlastingly.
Would Martin hear--oh, would he hear? Martin, Martin!
There was a long, strange silence.
"Well, my little Joan?"
He picked up her hand and put his lips to it. "Still thinking?" he
asked, with a curious catch in his voice.
"Yes, Gilbert, give me time."
He gave back her hand. "The night is ours," he said, but there was
pain in his eyes.
And there they sat, these two, within an arm's reach, on the edge of
the abyss. And for a little while there was silence--broken only by
the crickets and the frogs and the turning of many leaves by the
puffs of a sudden breeze.
Was she never going to hear the breaking of twigs and the light
tread outside the window? Martin, Martin.
And then Gilbert began to speak. "I can see a long way to-night,
Joan," he said, in a low voice. "I can see all the way back to the
days when I was a small boy--years away. It's a long stretch."
"Yes, Gilbert," said Joan. (Martin, Martin, did you hear?)
"It's not good for a boy to have no father, my sweet. No discipline,
no strong hand, no man to imitate, no inspiration, no one to try and
keep step with. I see that now. I suffered from all that."
"Did you, Gilbert?" Oh, when would the twigs break and the light
step come? Martin, Martin.
"A spoilt boy, a mother's darling, unthrashed, unled. What a cub at
school with too much money! What a conceited ass at college, buying
deference and friends. I see myself with amazement taking to life
with an air of having done it all, phrase-making and paying
deference to nothing but my excellent profile. God, to have those
years over again! We'd both do things differently given another
chance, eh, Joan?"
"Yes, Gilbert." He wasn't coming. He wasn't coming. Martin, Martin.
She strained her ears to catch the sound of breaking twigs. The
crickets and the frogs had the silence to themselves. She got up and
went to the window, with Gilbert at her elbow. She felt that he was
instantly on his feet. Martin's face was not pressed against the
screen. He had heard. She knew that he had heard, because she was
always able to make him hear. But he didn't care. When he had come
before it was for nothing. She had lost him. She was un-Martined.
She was utterly without help. She must give up. What was the good of
making a fight for it now that Martin cared so little as to turn a
deaf ear to her call? He had even forgotten that he had loved her
once. Death was welcome then. Yes, welcome. But there was one way to
make some sort of retribution--just one. She would remain true to
Gilbert touched her on the arm. "Come, Joan," he said. "The night's
running away. Is it so hard to decide?"
But against her will Nature, to whom life is so precious, put words
into her mouth. "I want you to try and understand something more
about me," she said eagerly.
"The time has gone for arguing," he replied, stiffening a little.
"I'm not going to argue," she went on quickly, surprised at herself,
deserted as she was. "I only want you to think a little more deeply
about all this."
He drew his hand across his forehead. "Think? I've thought until my
brain's hot, like an overheated engine."
She leaned forward. Spring was fighting her battle. "I'm not worth a
love like yours," she said. "I'm too young, too unserious. I'm not
half the woman that Alice is."
"You came to me in spirit that night in Paris. I placed yuu m my
heart. I've waited all these years."
"Yes, but there's Alice--no, don't turn away. Let me say what's in
my mind. This is a matter of life or death, you said."
He nodded. "Yes, life or death, together."
"Alice doesn't disappoint," she went on, the words put upon her
lips. "I may, I shall. I already have, remember. This is your night,
Gilbert, not mine, and whichever step we decide to take matters more
to you than to me. Let it be the right one. Let it be the best for
But he made a wild sweeping gesture. His patience was running out.
"Nothing is best for me if you're not in it. I tell you you've got
me, whatever you are. You have your choice. Make it, make it. The
night won't last for ever."
Once more she listened for the breaking twig and the light step.
There was nothing but the sound of the crickets and the frogs.
Martin had forgotten. He had heard, she was sure of that, but he
didn't care. Nature had its hand upon her arm, but she pushed it
away. Her choice was easy, because she wouldn't forget. She would be
true to Martin.
"I've made my choice," she said.
"Joan, Joan--what is it?"
"I don't love you."
He went up to her, with his old note of supplication. "But I can
teach you, Joan, I can teach you, my dear."
"No. Never. I love Martin. I always have and always shall."
"Oh, my God," he said.
"That's the truth. . . . Please be quick. I'm very tired!" She drew
herself up like a young lily.
For a moment he stood irresolute, swaying. Everything seemed to be
running past him. He was spinning like a top. He had hoped against
hope, during her silence and her argument. But now to be told not
only that she would never love him but that she loved another man. .
He staggered across the room to the sideboard, opened the drawer,
and the thing glistened in his hand.
Joan was as cold as ice. "I will be true," she whispered to herself.
"I will be true. Martin, oh, Martin."
With a superhuman effort Gilbert caught hold of himself. The cold
thing in his hand helped him to this. His mouth became firm again
and his face gentle and tender. And he stood up with renewed dignity
and the old strange look of exaltation. "I claim you then," he said.
"I claim you, Joan. Here, on this earth, we have both made mistakes.
I with Alice. You with Martin Gray. In the next life, whatever it
may be, we will begin again together. I will teach you from the
beginning. Death and the Great Emotion. It will be very beautiful.
Shut your eyes, my sweet, and we will take the little step
together." The thing glistened in his grasp.
And Joan shut her eyes with her hands to her breast. "I love you,
Martin," she whispered. "I love you. I will wait until you come."
And Gilbert cried out, in a loud ringing voice, "Eternity, oh, God!"
and raised his hand.
There was a crash, a ripping of window screen. Coatless, hatless,
his shirt gaping at the neck, his deep chest heaving, Martin swept
into the room like a storm, flung himself in front of Joan,
staggered as the bullet hit him, cried out her name, crumpled into a
heap at her feet.
And an instant later lay beneath the sweet burden of the girl whose
call he had answered once again and to whom life broke like a glass
ball at the sight of him and let her through into space.
"You may go in," said the doctor.
And Joan, whiter than a lily, rose from the corner in which she had
been crouching through all the hours of the night and went to the
doorway of the room to which Martin had been carried by the Nice Boy
and Gilbert, the man who had been shocked back to sanity.
On a narrow bed, near a window through which a flood of sunlight
poured, lay Martin from whom Death had turned away,--honest, normal,
muscular, reliable Martin, the bullet no longer in his shoulder. His
eyes, eager and wistful, lit up as he saw her standing there and the
brown hand that was outside the covers opened with a sort of quiver.
With a rush Joan went forward, slipped down on her knees at the side
of the bed, broke into a passion of weeping and pressed her lips to
that outstretched hand.
Making no bones about it, being very young and very badly hurt,
Martin cried too, and their tears washed the bridge away and the
barriers and misunderstandings and criss-crosses that had sprung up
between them during all those adolescent months.
"Martin, Martin, it was all my fault."
"No, it wasn't, Joany. It was mine. I wasn't merely your pal, ever.
I loved and adored you from the very second that I found you out on
the hill. You thought it was a game, but it wasn't. It was the real
thing, and I was afraid to say so."
She crept a little nearer and put her head on his chest. "I was all
wrong, Marty, from the start. I was a fool and a cheat, and you and
Gilbert and Alice have paid my bill. I've sent Gilbert back to
Alice, and they'll forget, but it will take me all my life to earn
my way back to you." She flung her arm across his body, and her
tears fell on his face.
"Oh, God," he cried out, "don't you understand that I love you,
Joany? Send all your bills to me. They're mine, because I'm yours,
my baby, just all yours. You were so young and you had to work it
off. I knew all that and waited. Didn't you know me well enough to
be dead sure that I would wait?"
The burden on her shoulders fell with a crash, and with a great cry
of pent-up gratitude and joy her lips went down to his lips.
But the doctor was not so old that he had forgotten love and youth,
and he left those two young clinging things alone again and went
back into the sun.