LOVER’S SELF

Old David was going to die. The sunshine knew it and danced over him
caressingly, touching his hands, his face, his hair each day, as if for
the last time. It spilled pretty pools of gold on the floor and
painted the walls with golden patches. And the plants at the window
ledge knew it, two primroses and a pot of yellow jonquils, and for that
reason they bloomed constantly, perfuming the air with a delicate
freshness.

Old David was going to die, but because those who watched him practised
an art of cheerful concealment, it was a very happy time for him, quite
the happiest time he had known since boyhood.

Propped up in bed, he watched all that went on about him, and he looked
at the flowers in the window. He knew who had sent the flowers and,
when he appeared, Simon Hart had to bear the scrutiny of a pair of old
eyes that surveyed him unwaveringly from the pillow. When Rachel
brought the visitor around to the bedside, a look of sly satisfaction
radiated from the old man’s features. Interest and an eager zest for
life still flourished in him; though Death held him hand and foot he
was too true a poet to heed the approach of so material a guest. The
last days of his life were enveloped in ineffable peace. Wrapped about
in comforts, he had no knowledge of the tragedy of Rachel’s existence,
but rested in the serene belief that Heaven itself provided him with
doctors, medicines, luxuries. His poor darkened brain worked with
incredible slowness, and it was touching to behold him enjoying a
dainty meal that Rachel had contrived to provide for him. Smiling and
fresh, with a napkin tucked under his chin, he would point out such
food on the tray as appealed to his fancy; then she would lift it to
his lips, feeding him as one feeds a bird. And often the poor child’s
face was far paler than his and her hands trembled with hunger.

Only her absorbing, desperate love for him sustained her. For this
grandfather, who in the enthusiasm of his heart was so like a little
child, Rachel willingly would have laid down her life. No sacrifice
was beyond her; and as the old man’s soul was enveloped in that
atmosphere of rare and delicate perceptions that heralds the final
liberation, her soul, through its love, was permitted entrance into the
same region of mysterious joys; so that up to the last moment they bore
each other company.

Sometimes, troubled by the thickness of his speech, old David looked at
his young companion with piteous eyes; but the condition was the result
of weakness, she assured him; later the words would come. To amuse him
she searched the papers for humorous anecdotes and even invented funny
little stories of her own. Then how they laughed together! The room
reëchoed with such merry peals it seemed Death took the hint and kept
at a distance. Indeed, the old man entering that world of which we
know nothing, and the young girl surrounded by the evils of this, by
their very innocence and helplessness held at bay all the menacing
powers of darkness, and under that attic roof, in the midst of a sordid
city, they lived a life more profound and universal than its thousands
of passionate men and women thronging the streets below.

When Simon Hart called, as he did every evening, it seemed to him that
all the needs of the sick man were met. He sent flowers and fruit for
old David, but a sense of delicacy kept him from offering Rachel
financial assistance. Though he had disliked particularly asking a
favour of his cousin, Julia Burgdorf, through her influence he was able
to obtain for the young girl piece-work in an establishment that made a
specialty of hand-painted trifles. This appealed to him as the most
considerate way of helping her. Little did he realize that nursing
left Rachel scant opportunity for the painting which required
concentration. But by forcing herself to do without rest and almost
without food, by employing every spare moment in doing all sorts of
simple, ill-paid work that could be carried on at home, such as the
directing of circulars and envelopes, mending and sewing for the
neighbours, the impossible thing was accomplished. In quarters,
half-dollars, dollars, the necessary money was swept together to cover
the needs of the sick man. It was one of those prodigious, superhuman
struggles constantly attempted by love. But of this struggle, though
he came daily to the apartment, Simon Hart realized little. With the
instinctive dread that characterizes persons of supersensitive nature,
he had trained himself not to see to the bottom of things, not to
investigate hearts too deeply. While watching Rachel with melancholy,
ambiguous eyes, he was practically blind to the difficulty of her
situation.

His sense of loneliness, always painful, was aggravated now, and in her
presence he was tormented by an inexpressible need of intimate
companionship. He could not bear to have her leave the room; he was
jealous of the doctor and Emily Short, since they took something of her
from him. And how little he received!–a word when he came and when he
left and now and then a smile. When Rachel cast on him a smile from
swiftly-parted tremulous lips, a smile that vanished ere it had scarce
taken form, Simon’s restlessness increased and his desire for affection
became a feverish demand. Fortunate for her that it was himself rather
than another who saw her placed as she was. And reflecting that many a
man of the ravening-wolf type, in his place would have sought to take
advantage of her poverty, of her unprotected state, he grew hot with
anger. But she stood small chance of meeting such a one, and after all
Emily Short was a defence. Then the idea of marrying the girl
presented itself, looming mirage-like on the horizon of his mind, and
he felt that he was becoming ridiculous. He saw himself with the eyes
of that world in which Julia Burgdorf and his business associates were
the chief figures. The victim of a little unknown waif–not merely her
victim, her slave. In order to break the spell he forbade himself to
go to see her, and, that he might keep to the resolution, he started
without warning on a trip to Bermuda.

At first Nora Gage, influenced by shrewd calculations, acted in an
unexpected fashion. During the fortnight that old David lay between
life and death, Nora each day doled out a little money to Rachel. But
later, as the invalid began to improve, she stole into his room a
hundred times a day and noted the gathering life in his face with eyes
as watchful as a snake’s. Sometimes she even extended a hand and
tested his pulse. Devotion to comfort was the ruling motive of Nora’s
life, and, foreseeing a future wherein comfort was threatened, fear
seized upon her very vitals; and an agitation spread outward through
the whole bulk of her flesh. Nor was her situation undeserving of
sympathy. In vain Emily Short promised to reimburse her for all
expenditures on old David’s account when the fall trade in hats should
open; Nora was sceptical of the security, as she was sceptical,
finally, of Simon Hart’s intentions.

“He don’t mean a thing, I’m sure of it,” she muttered. “The idea of
thinking he’d marry her! I’ve been a fool.” And Nora sighed heavily
as the alluring vision of the permanent home she had intended to demand
in Simon Hart’s house, in return for the assistance she had rendered
old David, vanished in thin air.

Her generosity came abruptly to an end. The doctor might order new
medicines and old David, with the innocent egotism of the sick, demand
the comforts to which he had become accustomed, Nora was unmoved.
Gloating, she waited for Rachel to make an appeal. But the other,
aware of the nature with which she had to deal, was silent.

“Proud–proud to the end! Well, let her starve,” Nora soliloquized,
and took herself to the public parks,–anywhere to escape the
atmosphere of gloom and terror that for her pervaded the apartment.

Simon Hart’s continued absence awoke in Rachel a troubled amazement,
the more, as her grandfather constantly asked for him and she had to
invent excuses for his non-appearance; but she had little time for
reflection as the household in the Street of Masts was now put to sad
shifts. Poor folk are ever separated from want by the meagrest of
protections. They are like soldiers cowering behind a crumbling
embankment. Time, bringing the ever recurrent needs, is their
indefatigable enemy, and when these needs are multiplied, as in
sickness, with small chance for patching the wall, they can ill
withstand the siege. Finally there came an evening when Emily Short,
with a look of shame on her open countenance, repaired to a certain
shop around the corner, and thereafter no day passed when old David
lacked for any comfort, as no day passed when some article was not
missing from the bare little rooms.

“Let me go just this once,” Rachel besought one evening early in
February, confronting the toy-maker, who was preparing to go out. “If
you wait to go around there–you know where I mean–you’ll be late at
Madame Stedenthal’s. You know she said eight o’clock; and you wouldn’t
want to miss getting that order.”

“But I don’t like to have you,” Emily protested.

Rachel motioned toward the room: “Run along. Grandfather’s asleep;
I’ll slip out and be back before he ‘wakes.” …

She quitted the shop, pressing a hand to her burning cheeks. Then,
thrilled by the consciousness of the silver in her pocket, she hurried
forward. She had gone only a few steps when someone touched her arm.
She turned and saw Simon Hart.

Manifestly he had been following her: on his face was stamped a look of
commiseration and embarrassment.

At once her old imperious pride was alive. Shrinking fiercely from the
observation and sympathy of this man, she spoke curtly:

“I’m very glad to have met you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll say
good-night; Grandfather is alone.”

She swung round so that he could no longer see her deeply wounded face;
he saw only her hat and part of her veil and her long shabby cloak.

“Miss Beckett–Rachel!” he exclaimed, in a note of despairing appeal.
“May I not go up to see your grandfather? I have been away–I have
just returned. I did not wait; I was so anxious,” he concluded. And
he looked anxious.

She paused. After all, her grandfather would be pleased to see him.
Already her short-lived resentment that he had witnessed her
humiliation was merged in bodily languor.

They mounted the stairs and as he saw how she clung to the railing with
her hand, Simon Hart was seized afresh with surprise and horror. The
pencilings of fatigue under her eyes accentuated her pallor and this
morbid diminution in her beauty, lent her a poignant charm. She laid a
hand on the door.

Amazed at the change in the dismantled room, which was no less than the
change in her, he stood rooted to the threshold. Then he dropped his
head in his hands.

Rachel, who suffered a faint return of embarrassment, refrained from
looking at him.

“There,” she said nervously, laying aside her wraps, “now I’ll go and
see if Grandfather’s awake.”

He was beside her: “Rachel, why–why didn’t you let me know?”

“Let you know what?” and she stood back against the wall, striving to
repell him with her eyes.

“That you were in want–in need. You could have written–” he
floundered helplessly; then swept on almost in tears–“Didn’t you know
that I would help you gladly–thankfully? Oh where were my eyes! And
you have been struggling!–Oh God, forgive me.” He drew her bended
wrist against his breast, and the shudders of his frame went to hers.

She tried to withdraw the hand. “I don’t understand.”

“So thin–” he continued, perusing her face, “so thin; almost starved.
And no one to help you–not anyone. And I left you; I didn’t even
write–”

He did not finish the sentence. He was on his knees, kissing the hem
of her dress.

She stared at him in a trance of amazement and at that moment a voice
sounded from the room across the passage.

“Rachel, be that ye? Why don’t ye come in here?”

Simon Hart rose to his feet. “Let me help you, Rachel.”

She moved her lips, though no sound passed them. He threw his hands on
her shoulders and his eyes into the depths of hers. “I ask nothing
that you cannot give,” he said with mournful softness. “I know that
you do not–love me–but later, if you became my wife–”

She shook her head, trying to twist free.

“If you were my future wife,” he amended, “I could give your
grandfather every care.”

He had struck the right note.

Perceiving it, desperately he followed up his advantage. Later he
would feel shame, but not now with her frightened breath on his face
and her lips so close. His gentleness was transformed into boldness.
Love wrought madness in him who had never before known its mystery or
its power.–“He should lack for nothing.”

At that moment her grandfather’s voice, high-pitched, querulous,
sounded from the other room.

“I hear ye, Rachel–both of ye; why don’t ye come in here?”

Slowly her frozen look gave place to one of tense questioning. “He
shall lack for nothing? you promise it?”

Simon Hart bowed his head: “I promise.”

“Very well, then;” and all the life and youth dropped from her voice.

“Shall I go in to him?” he asked, stunned by his victory.

She nodded.

He moved to the door. Then retracing his steps, he passed his arms
about her and pressed her to him. “You shall never regret this,
Rachel. Oh, how I love you!” he muttered, with his lips on her head.

Pushing the hair back from her temples as if its weight annoyed her, in
the silent room she paced restlessly. Presently she paused and looked
her problem in the face. She was alone, powerless, penniless. But for
herself she was not afraid!–and she folded her arms on her
breast,–but for him who was dying?

Her arms fell.

The doctor had said that he might linger months, even years. And oh
the relief, the unspeakable happiness, of being able to give him every
luxury! She smiled; then sickened. The very blood in her veins
repudiated the sacrifice. It was long since she had thought of Emil
St. Ives as she had been accustomed to think of him during the blissful
time at Pemoquod Point. Now the memory of him suddenly beat all over
her weakened frame. She belonged to her love as the wood belongs to
the flame. Wringing her hands together, she cast herself on the couch.
And over and over her in a flood waves of pain, of joy, of despair, of
triumph, of agony, of gladness, of self-immolation, of selfishness
rolled and rolled.

Out of her ordeal she emerged, brought to a sense of the immediate
present by hearing her name called. She stood up. But even through
her misery she was conscious of the amazing strength of her
grandfather’s voice.

She ran to him.

A magnetic current of happiness had penetrated his paralyzed frame, for
when she leaned over him, he addressed her with a tongue no longer
trammelled.

“I told ye he’d come back,” he exulted. “I heared ye when ye both come
in and I knew it was him. Now ain’t ye got anything to tell me,
Rachel?” And he smiled up at her slyly.

“I don’t know what you mean, Grandfather,” she said.

“I mean–What have ye two been talkin’ about in t’other room?” he broke
off. “I know it was about somethin’ important; and he don’t deny it,”
with a gesture toward Simon.

Simon Hart stood with one hand resting on the table. Rachel avoided
his glance.

“He said perhaps you’d tell me,” urged the old man. “Now, what is it?”

She was silent.

“What is it?” he repeated. “Did he ask you to marry him?” and he
plucked at her hand.

“Yes, he did.”

“I knew it–I knew it,” he cried excitedly. “And you said you would,
didn’t you, Rachel?” he asked, peering at her anxiously. “Somehow I
should like to feel as if it was settled,” he added wistfully.

Then she understood. In spite of his cheerfulness, old David knew
quite well that he was going to die; and so great was his love for her,
it had triumphed over the barriers imposed by his disease. With his
poor clouded faculties he was trying to make provision for her.

Unable to stand, she rested her forehead on the pillow. He touched her
hair and suddenly her heart expanded. All her thought was for him now.
The danger that had threatened him was averted. They could not take
him away from her, they could not carry him away and place him in a
spotless, terrible ward, on a little bed, to die among strangers.
Instead, she would be able to care for him until the end came. It was
enough. What more could she ask? And tightening her grip on his
sleeve, she wept the tears which the constant, torturing thought of
weeks, the unwearying, ceaseless attempts to earn money, had not wrung
from her. In an ecstasy of tenderness, she received the old man back
from the verge of a lonely, unattended death.

Simon Hart had dropped into a chair. His elbow was among the medicine
vials; his hand over his face. Old David looked doubtfully from one to
the other; after an instant, exerting himself, he caught at Simon’s
free hand and placed Rachel’s in it. “There!” he sighed, and while
they watched him, he settled back on the pillows, his lids drooping.
Exhausted, he fell asleep, his parted lips giving to his face the aloof
expression of death.

It was as if he had been waiting the consummation of this one hope, for
after that he sank rapidly. During the anguished days that followed,
Rachel never permitted herself to question the step she had taken. She
expected to fulfil her promise, meanwhile she preferred not to
calculate the price of her sacrifice. She thought only of her
grandfather, and if she had been told to die in order to save him, she
would have been dead.

Simon Hart had lost standing in his own eyes. He tried to view the
situation complacently, to find in it cause for self-justification.
Then came the conviction that he must release her. For the present,
however, let the engagement stand. It quieted the old man’s fears and
left Rachel free to receive at his hands the assistance she otherwise
would have hesitated to accept.

Upon his advice a trained nurse was secured and lodgings in the
neighbourhood were found for Nora Gage. As the last hours of old
David’s existence approached, Simon began to nourish timid hopes, for
Rachel appeared to regain confidence in him. In spite of the part he
had played, she relied on him, and drew comfort from his eyes in which
she detected so much sympathy.

The physician had made his last visit; her grandfather would scarcely
last until dawn. His eyes, partly concealed by their flaccid lids,
held that look which is not to be misunderstood; his head on its
strained and swollen neck lay twisted to the side on the pillow; the
fingers of one hand, already cold, plucked constantly at the coverlid
with that melancholy, mechanical movement of the dying, as if his
spirit, longing to be free, would fain rid itself of all encumbrances.
The left side, instead of the right, was now stricken.

A few minutes before sunrise, there came a change. He had lain so
quiet for many hours that they thought he slept, but suddenly Rachel
perceived that his eyes were wide open and that he was listening
intently to the wind whistling in the space between the houses. Its
rushing passage produced a last flicker in the fantastic mind.

“The cars! We’re whirlin’–” His mouth opened in astonishment.
“Stop, look, listen!” he muttered faintly, turning his eyes to hers.
Then the air ceased to undulate, grew quiet, above his still and amazed
face.

The first golden beams of the sun peeped in at the windows as old
David’s soul, in the majesty of its innocence, passed from earth.

When Simon Hart agreed to his cousin’s plan, and Rachel, despite her
protests, was conveyed from the hospital to Julia Burgdorf’s house, he
did not experience the unpleasantness he had anticipated. The
personality of his cousin was not agreeable to him. He had never liked
her; partly, because he was jealous of a social prestige which he
himself had never been able to attain; partly, because he disapproved
of her dropping her family name, for Julia, when a child, had adopted
the cognomen of a distant relative from whom she had inherited a
fortune. But the fundamental reason for his disapprobation lay deeper,
concealed in the current of their common blood.

Though diametrically opposed to Julia in character, Simon was able to
comprehend in her traits which he especially disliked. They were like
two compounds containing different proportions of the same ingredient.
In Simon the strain of their common ancestry had been fused with a
widely alien current. From his mother, a pale-featured, down-looking
woman, much given to keeping her own counsel, he had inherited his air
of secrecy, his pallor, as well as his capacity for profound and
delicate feeling. But in Julia the original current of the Hart blood
retained all its primitive strength; plainly, she was one whose
forefathers had loved “wine and women and wild boars,” and in every
trait she was more closely related to old Nicholas than was Simon.
Though Nicholas now quaveringly sought the beauties of a butterfly’s
wing, time was when he had pursued woman’s glances with the same
ardour; in fact, he had been in his day a cup of lusty life. It was
the very irony of fate that this legacy of the Hart spirit had passed
his own son and descended in all its troubled richness on his sister’s
child. The only difference between uncle and niece was that which is
accounted for by sex. Julia, being no fool, accepted the restraints
that hamper the existence of a conventional woman. Like Nicholas she
had slight sympathy with Simon. The antagonism of the cousins was
mutual. In speaking of Julia, Simon habitually employed an ironical
tone; while Julia treated Simon with condescension, and, behind his
back, with ridicule. But now one subject united them.

Immediately after the death of old David, Rachel, exhausted and
ill-nurtured, was conveyed to a private hospital, a victim of typhoid
fever. For a time the outcome of the struggle appeared dubious, but
three weeks after the fever declared itself, she rallied. Then it was
that Simon went to Julia with the general points of her story and a
hesitating request.

The girl was absolutely alone, without relatives or friends. Would
Julia visit her? The picture was a pathetic one, and marvelling at
Simon’s newly developed powers of eloquence, she consented. At sight
of the invalid, her curiosity, already lively, increased to a point
that assured decisive action. Moreover, she conceived for the young
girl, with her forlorn face, one of those superficial attachments with
which such women sometimes seek to fill their empty lives.

As soon as Rachel was convalescent Julia insisted, nay, commanded, that
she be transferred to her own house. A visit of a few days in novel
and comfortable surroundings, she argued, would tend to hasten her
recovery. The fact was, Julia desired further opportunity to study the
girl who had made a conquest of her cousin. Simon’s ill-concealed
interest in her afforded Julia delicious amusement. She had never
deemed him capable of falling in love. When he announced that he hoped
sometime to marry Miss Beckett, Julia’s amazement was complete. Hoped!
She gasped, then shrugged. What did he mean by taking that tone, a man
of his position? It was mock humility–hypocrisy more disgusting than
any of which she had dreamed him capable. But she soon discovered that
his lack of assurance was justified.

At first she doubted. The “young person” (for it was thus Julia in
thought designated Rachel) but cherished deep-laid plans, holding Simon
the more securely by appearing not to desire to hold him. It was
clever acting, and notwithstanding that she felt bound to oppose the
ridiculous match, Julia could but admire the fair schemer who used her
weakness and illness as additional bait for hooking such a fine fish.
Then this theory exploded and she saw the situation in its piquancy:

Rachel was actually indifferent to the entire question of the marriage.

Having made the astonishing discovery, Julia renounced her worldliness
for the time. Had the circumstances been other than just what they
were, had the stranger been as eager for the marriage as Simon himself,
Julia assuredly would have employed every means to frustrate their
plans, and would have taken a malicious pleasure in her own manoeuvring
because of rooted antipathy to Simon. As matters stood, however, she
resolved to do the ignorant and unambitious young thing a service in
spite of herself. Instead of a few days, Julia begged to keep the
invalid indefinitely, and it was owing to her entreaties, rather than
to Simon’s arguments, that Rachel finally consented to remain a
fortnight.

Then Julia applied herself, with the utmost discretion, to furthering
the romance. She attempted to prick the girl to interest by discreetly
praising Simon. He was very much looked up to by members of the
Jewellers’ Association of which he was the president; as a business
man, as a member of society at large, he was irreproachable: and she
made these statements without a curl of the lip. Rachel listened in
silence. Then Julia employed other tactics. She waxed spiteful in her
remarks about her cousin; she even laughed at his peculiarities. An
oyster was not more secretive, and save for his trick of running his
fingers through his hair in moments of agitation or excitement, one
would never dream that he knew an emotion. At that, the other raised
resentful eyes. She saw nothing ridiculous about Mr. Hart; on the
contrary, his manner was unusually dignified. In justice to him she
avowed the fact, then would say no more.

As yet Rachel was too weak to consider her situation. Grief had
excluded every other emotion; even memory of Emil had flagged. Ill at
ease and oppressed by the luxury around her, she strove to conceal
every sign of her desperate sorrow and it was only at night that she
relaxed command over herself. Then, convulsed with sobs, she lay in
the darkness and, stretching out her hands, whispered, “Grandfather,
are you there?” Her despair was the deeper because of the fantastic
conceit that old David’s simple soul was kept away by the richness of
her surroundings. Had she remained in the poor rooms of the tenement,
his spirit could have found her readily, descending out of that patch
of pure sky visible through the dormer windows, even as the souls of
saints and angels descend out of the blue in old pictures.

These woful imaginings, incident to physical weakness, for a time
oppressed her; but later, as her strength came, she turned from them.
She began to look at life with apprehensive eyes, though she still said
little.

Simon felt that she was reading him and agonized under her gaze.
Vainly he tried to speak the word that honour, pity, decency demanded.
Could he have beheld her existing without masculine companionship, he
would have released her, but the possibility of an unknown rival in the
shrouded future, a rival whose love she would return, sealed his lips.
Out of her presence the tension of the situation was relieved. When no
longer confronted by her helpless and mutely accusing youth, it was a
simple matter for him to convince himself that the step he had
contemplated was unnecessary. Girls as young as she were material
easily moulded; if she did not love him now, she would later.
Meanwhile the situation was ambiguous, and for that reason, if for no
other, an early marriage was advisable.

Despite these arguments, he began to show the effect of mental torture.
The man was passing through fire. At last even Julia was moved by his
look. As Rachel was the cause of the unnatural, strained situation,
she proposed that something be done to rouse her spirits.

“Give her a taste of pleasure,” Julia advised, “She’s a little frozen
ghost now, but I’ve yet to see the girl whose gloom won’t yield to
amusement and excitement.”

With an eagerness almost pathetic, Simon agreed to this proposal. But
just what could they do?

The answer came promptly: “Dress her properly and carry her off to some
gay resort for the early spring. I will take her in charge, if you say
so?”

But before they had developed a plan, the problem was unexpectedly
solved. Emily Short was the curative agent.

It was a cold morning in March, and Emily, barring the interruption of
the doctor’s visit, had been with Rachel for an hour when Simon
arrived. As he entered his cousin’s hall he met the physician who was
just getting into his great-coat. Simon paused to consult him.

“These women are certainly astonishing creatures,” the physician
remarked, settling his muffler. “The more experience I have in the
medical profession, the more I feel that, owing to their nervous
vitality, their recuperative power is prodigious. Miss Beckett has
just had some news, I gather,” he explained, “and it’s done more for
her than any amount of tonics. I imagine she knows very clearly what
she wants to do, and my advice is, don’t oppose her. Good morning, Mr.
Hart.” And the doctor passed out through the door which was opened for
him by the obsequious butler.

Simon felt a sense of gnawing irritation.

“Now does that mean that he advises allowing her to return to that
unsanitary tenement, if that chances to be her wish,” he asked himself,
“or has Julia set something on foot without consulting me?”

It was not without a struggle that Simon had brought himself to trust
his cousin; and now, in spite of her continued kindness and avowed
interest in his plans, he constantly dreaded her interference.

It being the usual hour for his visit, he did not have himself
announced, but proceeded directly to Julia’s sitting room where Rachel
usually spent the morning. As he went toward the door, the thick
carpet deadened his footsteps and he heard Rachel speaking in a voice
wrought to a high pitch:

“I never imagined things happened this way outside of novels. But is
Father alive? What do you say?”

“I should hardly say that he is,” replied Emily. “If he were merely
sending the money to you by this person, who is so afraid of telling
his name, he’d have been apt to write and explain things.”

“Yes, of course. But I must do what I can to find this John Smith.
Oh, I shall get well now! And isn’t it providential, all this money,
and from my own Father? I can pay my debts now.” The tone was
jubilant.

Simon Hart, with a sensation of fear and guilt, did not wait to hear
more. Pushing aside the strings of beads, the rattling of which jarred
intolerably on his nerves, he entered the coquettish apartment. As he
approached Rachel, avoiding collision with the divers chairs, screens,
tables with which the place was littered, his face revealed little of
what he was feeling.

On perceiving him, she half rose. Her breath grew short–or did he
imagine it?–her eyes narrowed, then filled once more with the
irradiating light of happiness. As their hands met he observed that
her cheeks were glowing. Only her extreme slenderness and her cropped
head told the story of recent illness.

“Oh, such news!” she cried, striving to repress her excitement. “Here,
sit down,” indicating a chair beside her own, “and Emily, you tell
him.” And as the little toy-maker took up the tale, Rachel looked into
his face. But hardly had Emily opened her lips than she was silenced.

“No, no, I’ll tell him myself. What do you think! _I’ve heard from my
Father_! He has never seen me, I have never seen him, but suddenly he
sends some money.” Here Rachel’s eyes shot a question–or again, did
he imagine it?

“But you haven’t exactly heard from him,” Emily Short interrupted; “you
don’t know anything positively.”

At these words, to Simon’s relief, Rachel turned from him. “But I tell
you I do know something positively, and that’s enough,” with a gesture
of pride, “if I never hear anything more. He sent this money to my
mother. Do you suppose that explains nothing to me?”

All at once she was the incarnation of tenderness and defiance. She
had retained from childhood a picture of her father limned in the
quaint language of old David. Now she in turn presented the portrait
to these strangers. In the light of that mystical tribunal, buttressed
so strongly by love and imagination, Thomas Beckett stood forth a
figure vastly human, passionate and compelling; and she defied them to
judge him otherwise.

But all at once she ceased twisting the tassels which adorned her
girdle and dropped her chin in the cup of her hand.

“Sometimes I feel that it was all owing to the sea,” she continued;
“had we lived further inland I believe Father wouldn’t have left us.
For the land is stationary, even the trees are tied to it by the foot;
while the sea–every drop is free. It can dash and gnaw its way
through the hardest substances. But man is not like the sea. He may
hurl himself upon life, yes–” The sentence concluded in a sigh.

At the beginning of this agitated speech Simon had gazed at her with
anxious curiosity; then he grew jealous of this father who drew her
thoughts so far afield from all he knew or sympathized with. He began
to congratulate her.

She did not heed him.

“So you can see how it came about, can’t you?” and she looked first at
him and then at Emily. “Restless, dissatisfied, tormented, that’s what
Father was. He asked something of life which life didn’t give him, and
when the new ship he had helped to build was finished, he simply sailed
away in her.”

This defence was painful to Simon, and Rachel all at once felt his
attitude.

“See,” she said in an altered voice, “all this gold; seven hundred
dollars of it,” and she indicated a box on the table. “It came from a
place in Massachusetts. Read this,” thrusting into his hand a card on
which were printed the words:

“To Mrs. Lavina Beckett from her husband Thomas Beckett.”

“And there was no letter of explanation? Do you mean to say that you
have no clue as to who forwarded the money?” Simon asked the question
because it seemed to be demanded of him. In reality he was not curious.

“Yes, we have a clue, but there was no letter except one which André
Garins, my old school friend, said was written to the postmaster at Old
Harbour by a man signing himself John Smith. This man asked if my
mother was still living there, but the postmaster is new to the place,
and doesn’t know much about the people at the Point anyway; so he wrote
back that Mother was dead and that André Garins at Pemoquod could
probably give him information about the daughter, that is, about me.”

“Yes; and just as soon as he gets this letter, that John Smith, or
whatever his rightful name is, sends his box of gold post-haste to your
friend, and directs on the outside that it be forwarded to you. I tell
Rachel that the man, whoever he may be, isn’t anxious to have her get
in touch with him,” added Emily, addressing herself to Simon. “It’s my
opinion he’s keeping back part of the money her father gave him, and I
think it’s foolish for her to go and get all keyed up.”

Simon was saved the necessity of answering.

“But why, if he’s dishonest, did he send any money at all? But that’s
not the point,” Rachel went on; “I shan’t rest until I’ve been to that
town in Massachusetts to see what I can learn about Father. Why do you
both try to discourage me? Oh, you don’t understand!” And suddenly
the tears were streaming. She was too weak to combat them further.

Simon could not endure the sight of suffering; even the constant and to
a degree superficial tragedies of the lower animals and insects
tortured him; for that reason he never went near his father’s room
where flies, still living, impaled on pins, seemed appealing to him for
the help he dared not give. Now his face twitched.

“But I assure you I do understand,” he protested, “and I will either go
myself and make the necessary investigation, or I will accompany you
when you are sufficiently strong.”

At these words she pressed his fingers warmly, though she shook her
head: “No, I should prefer–I should rather go alone.”

“Rachel!” he cried, and looked his pain.

“Or I will take Emily.”

She rose and pausing beside the table turned over a gold piece; then
she passed to a window where she stood.

“Grandfather always said that we should hear from Father sometime,” she
exulted, “and I’ve a feeling that he knows _now_” and she glanced round
at them with a bright, almost crafty expression.

Simon drummed fingers on a knee. What effect would this wind-fall have
on their relationship? That she intended to free herself from her
financial obligation he gathered from the words he had chanced to
overhear. But as their interests would soon be identical, why did she
not ignore so small a matter? unless– He threw an examining,
wretched look toward her and took her decision from the independent
bearing of her pretty shoulders.

At this point his reflections were interrupted. Julia had just
returned from an early round of the most fashionable shops. She came
in, briskly ungloving her hands; then stood still. Rachel sprang
toward her. The girl flushed, talked with her hands, laughed. At last
she had no unenthusiastic listener. Unaccustomed to the sight of gold,
Emily Short, ever since the opening of the box, had been fairly awed.
To think that she had left it under the bed the night before, and that
morning had conveyed it openly through the streets! Happiness at
Rachel’s good fortune surged high, none the less her impulse was to
temper the other’s excitement. Julia was wiser. She smothered Rachel
in an embrace. Pushing up her veil she kissed her on both cheeks and
even shed a few tears over her. At that moment, despite his dejection,
Simon warmed to something like affection for his cousin.

After much argument Rachel was allowed to follow her own course.
Accompanied by Emily Short she departed for the mill town from which
John Smith had written. She spent a week in a vain search, then giving
the matter into the hands of a local detective, she returned to New
York.

Simon met the two women at the station. The greetings over, he
possessed himself of Rachel’s bag and led the way to a cab. She
touched his arm.

“Not to Miss Burgdorf’s–to Emily’s, please.”

Each paled. Her eyes as ever read right in.

When she was seated in the cab, she leaned forward: “And you will come
this evening?”

He bowed, stiff as a ramrod, strained about the lips.

During the days of Rachel’s absence his soul had been a field of
conflict. He had written her letters only to destroy them. Why be so
certain of her attitude? Women were inexplicable; he might be
mistaken. He postponed the decision. Now he must release her; now
when the issue was forced, when there was no semblance of generosity in
the act. And he despaired of making her believe what he strove to make
himself believe, as a last stay to self-respect, that the circumstance
of her illness had alone delayed the step. The make-shift engagement
had rested on her dire need of money, on his ability to supply it. Why
blink the fact?

When the cab containing Rachel and her companion rolled away, he walked
toward Fifth Avenue, without realizing what he was doing, stunned as if
he had received a blow. For an hour he walked in a sort of stupour.
Then he entered a cafe. As the blood circulated sluggishly in his
veins, he had fallen into the habit of drinking moderate but constantly
repeated quantities of liquor; the stimulant was no more manifest
through the pallor of his countenance than wine that is poured into an
opaque vessel, but it seemed to quicken his faculties. Summoning an
attendant, he gave an order. He remained in the cafe until evening.

When he entered Emily Short’s room, Rachel stood near the table well in
the light of the lamp. She greeted him with a touch of constraint.
More than usual her eyes kept a watch on him. Her whole countenance
announced subtly and triumphantly that she had it in her power to
redeem her debt: then, perhaps he would release her! This thought
seemed to flash even from her hands.

He looked swiftly at her hands. She was fingering a small packet of
which his misery divined the nature. She had wrapped it in tissue
paper. This girlish device to render the thing she planned to do less
distressful, struck a blow at his heart.

“One word–listen to me!” he cried, keeping an agonized gaze on the
packet, “I no longer wish–I realize that to unite your life with
mine–I know the very thought is painful–”

Lifting his eyes, he saw an expression like a darting of light.

Conscious that he was not speaking as he had intended to speak, he drew
his fingers through his hair. “You are free,” he stammered, “it was
never my intention to hold you to your promise. But it is impossible
that you should comprehend my struggle–”

He broke off, striving for his usual calm, and this effort to place a
mask over his anguish produced on her much the same effect as the
concealing piece of paper had produced on him.

Caught in a tide of emotion, she extended a hand: “But I can–I do
understand. Haven’t you shown your feeling for me constantly? You
have been kind–kind!”

He shook his head. “No, no,” he muttered, “not kind; helpless. I
tried more than once to release you; I beg you to believe this. But I
loved you too much.” His face expressed acute suffering; his lower lip
trembling so that he could scarcely pronounce the words.

“Can you forgive me?”

No concealment now. A naked, humble, imploring, despairing soul looked
from his eyes.

It was not in her to resist such an appeal. Her heart flamed with
pity, pity that annihilated all selfish exultation. “There is nothing
to forgive.”

“But you do forgive me?” he insisted.

“I thank you–I thank you from the bottom of my soul.”

Again he shook his head disowning his right to gratitude. His eyes
once more watched what she held.

All at once, reading his look, the discrepancy between the nature of
her indebtedness and the sordid return she had planned, struck her.
She laid the packet on the table.

He looked up, questioningly.

So repugnant did the action she had contemplated now appear to her that
she hung her head.

“I no longer wish to give it to you,” she said in a stifled voice.
“Grandfather’s happiness, my own life–can money pay for such things?”

He took her by the hand.

It was some moments before he could regain command of himself. Then he
said:

“I am always your friend, Rachel.”

She nodded.

For some moments longer they stood, their hands joined. Presently he
touched her forehead with his lips. “Good-bye.”

She stood as he had left her, her bosom rising and falling softly and
heavily, her eyes betraying all that was passing within her. Never did
countenance more plainly announce a struggle. By this final act, he
had erased from the scroll any charge against him of dishonour and
selfishness. Her instinctive trust of him, persisting in the face of
his weakness, was vindicated. The flame of her liking leapt higher.
Open-lipped, open-eyed, open-eared, she listened to his retreating
steps.

Momentarily the consciousness of her debt to him increased. She was
allowing him to go–this man who had aided her in the blackest hour of
her life; who loved her, who offered her all a man can offer a woman.
She placed him high, herself low. She saw him noble, herself craven.
To receive so much and to give nothing! It was contrary to her nature.
But one return she could make! Above waves of confusion the thought
flashed and flashed.

Was she capable of the sacrifice? Deeply she sounded her heart. Her
life was empty, irretrievably, permanently empty and desolate, she told
herself with the sureness of the tragic young. To what better use put
its fruitless days? The idea assumed the brightness of a star above
troubled deeps. She sprang to the door, calling.

He did not answer, though his step was still faintly distinguishable in
the hall.

Bending over the well of the staircase, she repeated her call.

The footsteps halted: then from the darkness below she heard him
ascending.