In Which the Remorseless and Inexorable Results
Psychical Research Are Revealed to the Very Young
At intervals for the next ten minutes
her fresh, sweet, fascinating voice came to him where he stood in
the yard; then he heard it growing fainter, more distant, receding;
Listening, he suddenly
heard a far, rushing sound from subterranean depths--like a load
of coal being put in--then a frightened cry.
He sprang into the
basement, ran through laundry and kitchen. The cellar door swung
wide open above the stairs which ran down into darkness; and as
he halted to listen Clarence dashed up out of the depths, scuttled
around the stairs and fled upward into the silent regions above.
"Betty!" he cried,
forgetting in his alarm the lesser conventions, "where are you?"
"Oh, dear--oh, dear!"
she wailed. "I am in such a dreadful plight. Could you help me,
"Are you hurt?" he
asked. Fright made his voice almost inaudible. He struck a match
with shaking fingers and ran down the cellar stairs.
"Betty! Where are you?"
"Oh, I am here--in
"I--I can't seem to
get out; I stepped into the coal pit in the dark and it all--all
slid with me and over me and I'm in it up to the shoulders."
Another match flamed;
he saw a stump of a candle, seized it, lighted it, and, holding
it aloft, gazed down upon the most heart rending spectacle he had
The next instant he
grasped a shovel and leaped to the rescue. She was quite calm about
it; the situation was too awful, the future too hopeless for mere
tears. What had happened contained all the dignified elements of
a catastrophe. They both realized it, and when, madly shoveling,
he at last succeeded in releasing her she leaned her full weight
on his own, breathing rapidly, and suffered him to support and guide
her through the flame-shot darkness to the culinary regions above.
Here she sank down
on a chair for one moment in utter collapse. Then she looked up,
resolutely steadying her voice:
"Could anything on
earth more awful have happened to a girl?" she asked, lips quivering
in spite of her. She stretched out what had once been a pair of
white gloves, she looked down at what had been a delicate summer
gown of white. "How," she asked with terrible calmness, "am I to
get to Oyster Bay?"
He dropped on to a
kitchen chair opposite her, clasping his coal-stained hands between
his knees, utterly incapable of speech.
She looked at her shoes--once
snowy white; with a shudder she stripped the soiled gloves from
elbow to wrist and flung them aside. Her arms and hands formed a
starling contrast to the remainder of the ensemble.
"What," she asked,
"am I to do?"
"The thing to do,"
he said, "is to telephone to your family at Oyster Bay."
"The telephone has
been disconnected. So has the water--we can't even w-wash our hands!"
He said: "I can go
out and telephone to your family to send a maid with some clothes
for you--if you don't mind being left alone in an empty house for
a little while."
"No, I don't; but,"
she gazed uncertainly at the black opening of the cellar, "but,
please, don't be gone very long, will you?"
He promised fervidly.
She gave him the number and her family's name, and he left by the
He was gone a long
time, during which, for a while, she paced the floor, unaffectedly
wringing her hands and contemplating herself and her garments in
the laundry looking-glass.
At intervals she tried
to turn on the water, hoping for a few drops at least; at intervals
she sat down to wait for him; then, the inaction becoming unendurable,
musing goaded her into motion, and she ascended to the floor above,
groping through the dimness in futile search for Clarence. She heard
him somewhere in obscurity, scurrying under furniture at her approach,
evidently too thoroughly demoralized to recognize her voice. So,
after a while, she gave it up and wandered down to the pantry, instinct
leading her, for she was hungry and thirsty; but she knew there
could be nothing eatable in a house closed for the summer.
She lifted the pantry
window and opened the blinds; noon sunshine flooded the place, and
she began opening cupboards and refrigerators, growing hungrier
Then her eyes fell
upon dozens of bottles of Apollinaris, and with a little cry of
delight she knelt down, gathered up all she could carry, and ran
upstairs to the bathroom adjoining her own bedchamber.
"At least," she said
to herself, "I can cleanse myself of this dreadful coal!" and in
a few moments she was reveling, elbow deep, in a marble basin brimming
As the stain of the
coal disappeared she remembered a rose-colored morning gown reposing
in her bedroom clothespress; and she found more than that there--rose
stockings and slippers and a fragrant pile of exquisitely fine and
more intimate garments, so tempting in their freshness that she
hurried with them into the dressing room; then began to make rapid
journeys up and downstairs, carrying dozens of quarts of Apollinaris
to the big porcelain tub, into which she emptied them, talking happily
to herself all the time.
"If he returns I can
talk to him over the banisters!... He's a nice boy.... Such a funny
boy not to remember me.... And I've thought of him quite often....
I wonder if I've time for just one, delicious plunge?" She listened;
ran to the front windows and looked out through the blinds. He was
nowhere in sight.
Ten minutes later,
delightfully refreshed, she stood regarding herself in her lovely
rose-tinted morning gown, patting her bright hair into discipline
with slim, deft fingers, a half-smile on her lips, lids closing
a trifle over the pensive violet eyes.
"Now," she said aloud,
"I'll talk to him over the banisters when he returns; it's a little
ungracious, I suppose, after all he has done, but it's more conventional....
And I'll sit here and read until they send somebody from Sandcrest
with a gown I can travel in.... And then we'll catch Clarence and
call a cab----"
A distant tinkling
from the area bell interrupted her.
"Oh, dear," she exclaimed,
"I quite forgot that I had to let him in!"
Another tinkle. She
cast a hurried and doubtful glance over her attire. It was designed
for the intimacy of her boudoir.
talk to him out of the window! I've been shocking enough as it is!"
she thought; and, finger tips on the banisters, she ran down the
three stairs and appeared at the basement grille, breathless, radiant,
forgetting, as usual, her self-consciousness in thinking of him,
a habit of this somewhat harebrained and headlong girl which had
its root in perfect health of body and wholesomeness of mind.
"I found some clothes--not
the sort I can go out in!" she said, laughing at his astonishment,
as she unlocked the grille. "So, please, overlook my attire; I was
so full of coal dust! and I found sufficient Apollinaris
for my necessities.... What did they say at Sandcrest?"
He said very soberly:
"We've got to discuss this situation. Perhaps I had better come
in for a few minutes--if you don't mind."
"No, I don't mind....
Shall we sit in the drying room?" leading the way. "Now tell me
what is the matter? You rather frighten me, you know. Is--is anything
wrong at Sandcrest?"
"No, I suppose not."
He touched his flushed face with his handkerchief; "I couldn't get
Oyster Bay on the 'phone."
"The wires are out
of commission as far as Huntington; there's no use--I tried everything!
Telegraph and telephone wires were knocked out in this morning's
electric storm, it seems."
She gazed at him, hands
folded on her knee, left leg crossed over, foot swinging.
"This," she said calmly,
"is becoming serious. Will you tell me what I am to do?"
"Haven't you anything
to travel in?"
"Not one solitary rag."
to stay here to-night and send for some of your friends--you surely
know somebody who is still in town, don't you?"
"I really don't. This
is the middle of July. I don't know a woman in town."
He was silent.
"Besides," she said,
"we have no light, no water, nothing to eat in the house, no telephone
to order anything----"
He said: "I foresaw
that you would probably be obliged to remain here, so when I left
the telephone office I took the liberty of calling a taxi and visiting
the electric light people, the telephone people and the nearest
plumber. It seems he is your own plumber--Quinn, I believe his name
is; and he's coming in half an hour to turn on the water."
"Did you think of doing
all that?" she asked, astonished.
"Oh, that wasn't anything.
And I ventured to telephone the Plaza to serve luncheon and dinner
here for you----"
"And I wired to Dooley's
Agency to send you a maid for to-day----"
"That was perfectly
splendid of you!"
"They promised to send
one as soon as possible.... And I think that may be the plumber
now," as a tinkle came from the area bell.
It was not the plumber;
it was waiters bearing baskets full of silver, china, table linen,
ice, fruits, confections, cut flowers, and, in warmers, a most delectable
Four impressive individuals
commanded by a butler formed the processional, filing solemnly up
the basement stairs to the dining room, where they instantly began
to lay the table with dexterous celerity.
In the drying room
below Betty and Beekman Brown stood confronting each other.
"I suppose," began
Brown with an effort, "that I had better go now."
Betty said thoughtfully:
"I suppose you must."
Brown, "you think I had better remain--somewhere on the premises--until
your maid arrives."
"That might be safer,"
said Betty, more thoughtfully.
"Your maid will probably
be here in a few minutes."
"Probably," said Betty,
head bent, slim, ringless fingers busy with the sparkling drop that
glimmered pendant from her neckchain.
board between them--she standing, bright head lowered, worrying
the jewel with childish fingers; he following every movement, fascinated,
After a moment, without
looking up: "You have been very, very nice to me-- in the nicest
possible way," she said.... "I am not going to forget it easily--even
if I might wish to."
"I can never forget
you!... I d-don't want to."
The sparkling pendant
escaped her fingers; she picked it up again and spoke as though
gravely addressing it:
"Some day somewhere,"
she said, looking at the jewel, "perhaps chance-- the hazard of
life--may bring us to--togeth--to acquaintance--a more formal acquaintance
than this.... I hope so. This has been a little-- irregular, and
perhaps you had better not wait for my maid.... I hope we may meet--sometime."
"I hope so, too," he
managed to say, with so little fervor and so successful an imitation
of her politely detached interest in convention that she raised
her eyes. They dropped immediately, because his quiet voice and
speech scarcely conformed to the uncontrolled protest in his eyes.
For a moment she stood,
passing the golden links through her white fingers like a young
novice with a rosary. Steps on the stairs disturbed them; the recessional
had begun; four solemn persons filed out the area gate. At the same
moment, suave and respectful, her butler pro tem. presented himself
at the doorway:
"Luncheon is served,
"Thank you." She looked
uncertainly at Brown, hesitated, flushed a trifle.
"I will stay here and
admit the plumber and then--then--I'll g-go," he said with a heartbroken
"I suppose you took
the opportunity to lunch when you went out?" she said. Her inflection
made it a question.
Without answering he
stepped back to allow her to pass. She moved forward, turned, undecided.
"Please don't feel
that you ought to ask me," he began, and checked himself as the
vivid pink deepened in her cheeks. Then she freed herself of embarrassment
with a little laugh.
said, "that we have been chasing cats on the back fences together
and that, subsequently, you dug me out of the coal in my own cellar,
I can't believe it is very dreadful if I ask you to luncheon with
me.... Is it?"
"It is ador--it is,"
he corrected himself firmly, "exceedingly civil of you to ask me!"
"Then--will you?" almost
"I will. I shall not
pretend any more. I'd rather lunch with you than be President of
The butler pro tem.
"You see," she said,
"a place had already been laid for you." And with the faintest trace
of malice in her voice: "Perhaps your butler had his orders to lay
two covers. Had he?"
"From me?" he protested,
"You don't suspect
me, do you?" she asked, adorably mischievous. Then
glancing over the masses of flowers in the center and at the corners
of the lace cloth: "This is deliciously pretty. But you are either
dreadfully and habitually extravagant or you believe I am. Which
"I think both are true,"
he said, laughing.
And a little while
later when he returned from the basement after admitting Mr. Quinn,
"Do you know that this
is a most heavenly luncheon?" she said, greeting his return with
delightfully fearless eyes. "Such Astrakan caviar! Such salad! Everything
I care for most. And how on earth you guessed I can't imagine....
I'm beginning to think you are rather wonderful."
They lifted the long,
slender glasses of iced Ceylon tea and regarded one another over
the frosty rims--a long, curious glance from her; a straight gaze
from him, which she decided not to sustain too long.
Later, when she gave
the signal, they rose as though they had often dined together, and
moved leisurely out through the dim, shrouded drawing-rooms where,
in the golden dusk, the odor of camphor hung.
She had taken a great
cluster of dewy Bride's roses from the centerpiece, and as she walked
forward, sedately youthful, beside him, her fresh, young face brooded
over the fragrance of the massed petals.
she murmured to herself, and as they reached the end of the vista
she half turned to face him, dreamily, listless, confident.
They looked at one
another, she with chin brushing the roses.
"The strangest of all,"
she said, "is that it seems all right--and--and we
know that it is all quite wrong.... Had you better
"Unless I ought to
wait and make sure your maid does not fail you.... Shall I?" he
She did not answer.
He drew a linen-swathed armchair toward her; she absently seated
herself and lay back, caressing the roses with delicate lips and
Twice she looked up
at him, standing there by the boarded windows. Sunshine filtered
through the latticework at the top--enough for them to see each
other as in a dull afterglow.
"I wonder how soon
my maid will come," she mused, dropping the loose roses on her knees.
"If she is going to be very long about it perhaps-- perhaps you
might care to find a chair--if you have decided to wait."
He drew one from a
corner and seated himself, pulses hammering his throat.
Through the stillness
of the house sounded at intervals the clink of glass from the pantry.
Other sounds from above indicated the plumber's progress from floor
"Do you realize," she
said impulsively, "how very nice you have been to
me? What a perfectly horrid position I might have been in, with
poor Clarence on the back fence! And suppose I had dared follow
him alone to the cellar? I--I might have been there yet--up to my
neck in coal?"
She gazed into space
with considerable emotion.
"And now," she said,
"I am safe here in my own home. I have lunched divinely, a maid
is on the way to me, Clarence remains somewhere safe indoors, Mr.
Quinn is flitting from faucet to faucet, the electric light and
the telephone will be in working order before very long--and it
is all due to you!"
"I--I did a few things
I almost w-wish I hadn't," stammered Brown, "b-because I can't,
somehow, decently t-tell you how tremendously I--I--" He stuck fast.
"It would look as though
I were presuming on a t-trifling service rendered, and--oh, I can't
say it; I want to, but I can't."
"Say what? Please,
I don't mind what you are--are going to say."
"It's--it's that I----"
"Y-es?" in soft encouragement.
"W-want to know you
most tremendously now. I don't want to wait several years for chance
"O-h!" as though the
information conveyed a gentle shock to her. Her low- breathed exclamation
nearly finished Brown.
"I knew you'd think
it unpardonable for me--at such a time--to venture to--to--ask--say--express--convey----"
"Why do you--how can
I--where could we--" She recovered herself resolutely. "I do not
think we ought to take advantage of an accident like this.... Do
you? Besides, probably, in the natural course of social events----"
"But it may be years!
months! weeks!" insisted Brown, losing control of himself.
"I should hope it would
at least be a decently reasonable interval of several weeks----"
"But I don't know what
to do if I never see you again for weeks! I c-care so much--for--you."
She shrank back in
her chair, and in her altered face he read that he had disgraced
"I knew I was going
to," he said in despair. "I couldn't keep it--I couldn't stop it.
And now that you see what sort of a man I am I'm going to tell you
"You need not," she
"I must. Listen! I--I
don't even know your full name--all I know is that it is Betty,
and that your cat's name is Clarence and your plumber's name is
Quinn. But if I didn't know anything at all concerning you it would
have been the same. I suppose you will think me insane if I tell
you that before the car, on which you rode, came into sight I knew
you were on it. And I--cared--for--you--before I
ever saw you."
"I don't understand----"
"I know you don't.
I don't. All I understand is that what you and I have
done has been done by us before, sometime, somewhere--part only--
down to--down to where you changed cars. Up to that moment, before
you took the Lexington Avenue car, I recognized each incident as
it occurred.... But when all this happened to us before I must have
lost courage--for I did not recognize anything after that except
that I cared for you.... Do you understand one single
word of what I have been saying?"
The burning color in
her face had faded slowly while he was speaking; her lifted eyes
grew softer, serious, as he ended impetuously.
She looked at him in
retrospective silence. There was no mistaking his astonishing sincerity,
his painfully earnest endeavor to impart to her some rather unusual
ideas in which he certainly believed. No man who looked that way
at a woman could mean impertinence; her own intelligence satisfied
her that he had not meant and could never mean offense to any woman.
"Tell me," she said
quietly, "just what you mean. It is not possible for you to--care--for--me....
He disclosed to her,
beginning briefly with his own name, material and social circumstances,
a pocket edition of his hitherto uneventful career, the advent that
morning of the emissary from The Green Mouse, his discussion with
Smith, the strange sensation which crept over him as he emerged
from the tunnel at Forty-second Street, his subsequent altercation
with Smith, and the events that ensued up to the eruption of Clarence.
He spoke in his most
careful attorney's manner, frank, concise, convincing, free from
any exaggeration of excitement or emotion. And she listened, alternately
fascinated and appalled as, step by step, his story unfolded the
links in an apparently inexorable sequence involving this young
man and herself in a predestined string of episodes not yet ended--
if she permitted herself to credit this astounding story.
there was no escaping the significance of the only possible deduction.
She drew it and blushed furiously. For a moment, as the truth clamored
in her brain, the self-evidence of it stunned her. But she was young,
and the shamed recoil came automatically. Incredulous, almost exasperated,
she raised her head to confront him; the red lips parted in outraged
protest--parted and remained so, wordless, silent--the soundless,
virginal cry dying unuttered on a mouth that had imperceptibly begun
Her head sank slowly;
she laid her white hands above the roses heaped in her lap.
For a long while she
remained so. And he did not speak.
First the butler went
away. Then Mr. Quinn followed. The maid had not yet arrived. The
house was very still.
And after the silence
had worn his self-control to the breaking point he rose and walked
to the dining room and stood looking down into the yard. The grass
out there was long and unkempt; roses bloomed on the fence; wistaria,
in its deeper green of midsummer, ran riot over the trellis where
Clarence had basely dodged his lovely mistress, and, after making
a furry pin wheel of himself, had fled through the airhole into
Somewhere above, in
the silent house, Clarence was sulkily dissembling.
"I suppose," said Brown,
quietly coming back to where the girl was sitting in the golden
dusk, "that I might as well find Clarence while we are waiting for
your maid. May I go up and look about?"
And taking her silence
as assent, he started upstairs.
He hunted carefully,
thoroughly, opening doors, peeping under furniture, investigating
clothespresses, listening at intervals, at intervals calling with
misleading mildness. But, like him who died in malmsey, Clarence
remained perjured and false to all sentiments of decency so often
protested purringly to his fair young mistress.
opened doors of closets, knowing, if he had stopped to think, that
cats don't usually turn knobs and let themselves into tightly closed
In one big closet on
the fifth floor, however, as soon as he opened the door there came
a rustle, and he sprang forward to intercept the perfidious one;
but it was only the air stirring the folds of garments hanging on
As he turned to step
forth again the door gently closed with an ominous click, shutting
him inside. And after five minutes' frantic fussing he realized
that he was imprisoned by a spring lock at the top of a strange
house, inhabited only by a cat and a bewildered young girl, who
might, at any moment now that the telephone was in order, call a
cab and flee from a man who had tried to explain to her that they
were irrevocably predestined for one another.
Calling and knocking
were dignified and permissible, but they did no good. To kick violently
at the door was not dignified, but he was obliged to do it. Evidently
the closet was too remote for the sound to penetrate down four flights
He tried to break down
the door--they do it in all novels. He only rebounded painfully,
ineffectively, which served him right for reading fiction.
It irked him to shout;
he hesitated for a long while; then sudden misgiving lest she might
flee the house seized him and he bellowed. It was no use.
The pitchy quality
of the blackness in the closet aided him in bruising himself; he
ran into a thousand things of all kinds of shapes and textures every
time he moved. And at each fresh bruise he grew madder and madder,
and, holding the cat responsible, applied language to Clarence of
which he had never dreamed himself capable.
Then he sat down. He
remained perfectly still for a long while, listening and delicately
feeling his hurts. A curious drowsiness began to irritate him; later
the irritation subsided and he felt a little sleepy.
His heart, however,
thumped like an inexpensive clock; the cedar-tainted air in the
closet grew heavier; he felt stupid, swaying as he rose. No wonder,
for the closet was as near air-tight as it could be made. Fortunately
he did not realize it.
And, meanwhile, downstairs,
Betty was preparing for flight.
She did not know where
she was going--how far away she could get in a rose-silk morning
gown. But she had discovered, in a clothespress, an automobile duster,
cap, and goggles; on the strength of these she tried the telephone,
found it working, summoned a coupé, and was now awaiting
its advent. But the maid from Dooley's must first arrive to take
charge of the house and Clarence until she, Betty, could summon
her family to her assistance and defy The Green Mouse, Beekman Brown,
and Destiny behind her mother's skirts.
Flight was, therefore,
imperative--it was absolutely indispensable that she put a number
of miles between herself and this young man who had just informed
her that Fate had designed them for one another.
She was no longer considering
whether she owed this amazing young man any gratitude, or what sort
of a man he might be, agreeable, well-bred, attractive; all she
understood was that this man had suddenly stepped into her life,
politely expressing his conviction that they could not, ultimately,
hope to escape from each other. And, beginning to realize the awful
import of his words, the only thing that restrained her from instant
flight on foot was the hidden Clarence. She could not abandon her
cat. She must wait for that maid. She waited. Meanwhile she hunted
up Dooley's Agency in the telephone book and called them up. They
told her the maid was on the way--as though Dooley's Agency could
thwart Destiny with a whole regiment of its employees!
She had discarded her
roses with a shudder; cap, goggles, duster, lay in her lap. If the
maid came before Brown returned she'd flee. If Brown came back before
the maid arrived she'd tell him plainly what she had decided on,
thank him, tell him kindly but with decision that, considering the
incredible circumstances of their encounter, she must decline to
encourage any hope he might entertain of ever again seeing her.
At this stern resolve
her heart, being an automatic and independent affair, refused to
approve, and began an unpleasantly irregular series of beats which
"It is true," she admitted
to herself, "that he is a gentleman, and I can scarcely be rude
enough, after what he has done for me, to leave him without any
explanation at all.... His clothes are ruined. I must remember that."
Her heart seemed to
approve such sentiments, and it beat more regularly as she seated
herself at a desk, found in it a sheet of notepaper and a pencil,
and wrote rapidly:
"Dear Mr. Brown:
"If my maid comes before
you do I am going. I can't help it. The maid will stay to look after
Clarence until I can return with some of the family. I don't mean
to be rude, but I simply cannot stand what you told me about our--about
what you told me.... I'm sorry you tore your clothes.
"Please believe my
flight has nothing to do with you personally or your conduct, which
was perfectly ('charming' scratched out) proper. It is only that
to be suddenly told that one is predestined to ('marry' scratched
out) become intimately acquainted (all this scratched out and a
new line begun).
"It is unendurable
for a girl to think that there is no freedom of choice in life left
her--to be forced, by what you say are occult currents, into--friendship--with
a perfectly strange man at the other end. So I don't think we had
better ever again attempt to find anybody to present us to each
other. This doesn't sound right, but you will surely understand.
"Please do not misjudge
me. I must appear to you uncivil, ungrateful, and childish--but
I am, somehow, a little frightened. I know you are perfectly nice--but
all that has happened is almost, in a way, terrifying to me. Not
that I am cowardly; but you must understand. You will--won't you?....
But what is the use of my asking you, as I shall never see you again.
"So I am only going
to thank you, and say ('with all my heart' crossed out) very cordially,
that you have been most kind, most generous and considerate--most--most----"
Her pencil faltered;
she looked into space, and the image of Beekman Brown, pleasant-eyed,
attractive, floated unbidden out of vacancy and looked at her.
She stared back at
the vision curiously, more curiously as her mind evoked the agreeable
details of his features, resting there, chin on the back of her
hand, from which, presently, the pencil fell unheeded.
What could he be doing
upstairs all this while. She had not heard him for many minutes
now. Why was he so still?
She straightened up
at her desk and glanced uneasily across her shoulder, listening.
Not a sound from above;
she rose and walked to the foot of the stairs.
Why was he so still?
Had he found Clarence? Had anything gone wrong? Had Clarence become
suddenly rabid and attacked him. Cats can't annihilate big, strong
young men. But where was he? Had he, pursuing his
quest, emerged through the scuttle on to the roof--and--and--fallen
Scarcely knowing what
she did she mounted on tiptoe to the second floor, listening. The
silence troubled her; she went from room to room, opening doors
and clothespresses. Then she mounted to the third floor, searching
more quickly. On the fourth floor she called to him in a voice not
quite steady. There was no reply.
Alarmed now, she hurriedly
flung open doors everywhere, then, picking up her rose-silk skirts,
she ran to the top floor and called tremulously.
A faint sound answered;
bewildered, she turned to the first closet at hand, and her cheeks
suddenly blanched as she sprang to the door of the cedar press and
tore it wide open.
He was lying on his
face amid a heap of rolled rugs, clothes hangers and furs, quite
She knew enough to
run into the servants' rooms, fling open the windows and, with all
the strength in her young body, drag the inanimate youth across
the floor and into the fresh air.
"O-h!" she said, and
said it only once. Then, ashy of lip and cheek, she took hold of
Brown and, lashing her memory to help her in the emergency, performed
for that inanimate gentleman the rudiments of an exercise which,
if done properly, is supposed to induce artificial respiration.
It certainly induced
something resembling it in Brown. After a while he made unlovely
and inarticulate sounds; after a while the sounds became articulate.
He said: "Betty!" several times, more or less distinctly. He opened
one eye, then the other; then his hands closed on the hands that
were holding his wrists; he looked up at her from where he lay on
the floor. She, crouched beside him, eyes still dilated with the
awful fear of death, looked back, breathless, trembling.
"That is a devil of
a place, that closet," he said faintly.
She tried to smile,
tried wearily to free her hands, watched them, dazed, being drawn
toward him, drawn tight against his lips--felt his lips on them.
Then, without warning,
an incredible thrill shot through her to the heart, stilling it--silencing
pulse and breath--nay, thought itself. She heard him speaking; his
words came to her like distant sounds in a dream:
"I cared for you. You
give me life--and I adore you.... Let me. It will not harm you.
The problem of life is solved for me; I have solved it; but unless
some day you will prove it for me--Betty--the problem of life is
but a sorry sum--a total of ciphers without end.... No other two
people in all the world could be what we are and what we have been
to each other. No other two people could dare to face
what we dare face." He paused: "Dare we, Betty?"
Her eyes turned from
his. He rose unsteadily, supported on one arm; she sprang to her
feet, looked at him, and, as he made an awkward effort to rise,
suddenly bent forward and gave him both hands in aid.
"Wait--wait!" she said;
"let me try to think, if I can. Don't speak to me again--not yet--not
But, at intervals,
as they descended the flights of stairs, she turned instinctively
to watch his progress, for he still moved with difficulty.
In the drawing-room
they halted, he leaning heavily on the back of a chair, she, distrait,
restless, pacing the polished parquet, treading her roses under
foot, turning from time to time to look at him--a strange, direct,
pure-lidded gaze that seemed to freshen his very soul.
Once he stooped and
picked up one of the trodden roses bruised by her slim foot; once,
as she passed him, pacing absently the space between the door and
him, he spoke her name.
But: "Wait!" she breathed.
"You have said everything. It is for me to reply--if I speak at
all. C-can't you wait for--me?"
"Have I angered you?"
She halted, head high,
superb in her slim, young beauty.
"Do I look it?"
"I don't know."
"Nor I. Let me find
The room had become
dimmer; the light on her hair and face and hands glimmered dully
as she passed and re-passed him in her restless progress-- restless,
dismayed, frightened progress toward a goal she already saw ahead--close
ahead of her--every time she turned to look at him. She already
knew the end.
man! And she knew that already he must be, for her, something that
she could never again forget--something she must reckon with forever
and ever while life endured.
She paused and inspected
him almost insolently. Suddenly the rush of the last revolt overwhelmed
her; her eyes blazed, her white hands tightened into two small clenched
fists--and then tumult died in her ringing ears, the brightness
of the eyes was quenched, her hands relaxed, her head sank low,
lower, never again to look on this man undismayed, heart free, unafraid--never
again to look into this man's eyes with the unthinking, unbelieving
tranquillity born of the most harmless skepticism in the world.
She stood there in
silence, heard his step beside her, raised her head with an effort.
Her hands quivered,
refusing surrender. He bent and lifted them, pressing them to his
eyes, his forehead. Then lowered them to the level of his lips,
holding them suspended, eyes looking into hers, waiting.
Suddenly her eyes closed,
a convulsive little tremor swept her, she pressed both clasped hands
against his lips, her own moved, but no words came--only a long,
sweet, soundless sigh, soft as the breeze that stirs the crimson
maple buds when the snows of spring at last begin to melt.
From a dark corner
under the piano Clarence watched them furtively.