"O, Designer Infinite, must Thou then Char the wood before Thou canst limn with it?"
J. CLINTON SHEPHERD
GROSSET & DUNLAP
PUBLISHERS —- NEW YORK
Made in the United States of America
The Reilly & Britten Co.
Published October 17, 1917
Reprinted December 10, 1917
Reprinted October 11, 1918.
I THE LADY OF THE TREE II MONSIGNORE III UNDER SUSPICION IV KILLIMAGA V WITH EMPTY HANDS VI WHO IS RUTH? VII BITTER BREAD VIII FATHER MURRAY OF SIHASSET IX THE BISHOP'S CONFESSION X AT THE MYSTERY TREE XI THIN ICE XII HIS EXCELLENCY SUGGESTS XIII THE ABDUCTION XIV THE INEXPLICABLE XV "I AM NOT THE DUCHESS!" XVI HIS EXCELLENCY IS WORRIED XVII THE OPEN DOOR XVIII SAUNDERS SCORES XIX CAPITULATION XX THE "DUCHESS" ABDICATES XXI THE BECKONING HAND XXII RUTH'S CONFESSION XXIII CHARRED WOOD
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
On Killimaga's Cliff. . . . . Frontispiece
Something white swished quickly past him and he stared, bewildered . . . She had stepped out of nowhere.
Saunders looked long and earnestly at his face. "He's the man!" he announced.
"God rest her," Father Murray said after what seemed an age to Mark; "it is not Ruth!"
[Transcriber's note: The Frontispiece and the "Something white..." illustration were missing from the book.]
THE LADY OF THE TREE
The man lay in the tall grass. Behind him the wall of the Killimaga estate, from its beginning some fifty yards to his left, stretched away to his right for over a thousand feet. Along the road which ran almost parallel with the wall was the remnant of what had once been a great woods; yearly the county authorities determined to cut away its thick undergrowth—and yearly left it alone. On the left the road was bare for some distance along the bluff; then, bending, it again sought the shelter of the trees and meandered along until it lost itself in the main street of Sihasset, a village large enough to support three banks and, after a fashion, eight small churches. In front, had the lounger cared to look, he would have seen the huge rocks topping the bluff against which the ocean dashed itself into angry foam. But the man didn't care to look—for in the little clearing between the wall of Killimaga and the bluff road was peace too profound to be wantonly disturbed by motion. And so he lay there lazily smoking his cigar, his long length concealed by the tall grass.
Hearing a slight click behind him and to his right, the man slowly, even languidly, turned his head to peer through the grass. But his energy was unrewarded, for he saw nothing he had not seen before—a long wall, its rough stones half hidden by creeping vines, at its base a rank growth of shrubs and wild hedge; behind it, in the near distance, the towers of a house that, in another land, perched amid jutting crags, would have inspired visions of far-off days of romance. Even in its New England setting the great house held a rugged charm, heightened by the big trees which gave it a setting of rich green. Some of the trees had daringly advanced almost to the wall itself, while one—a veritable giant—had seemingly been caught while just stepping through.
With a bored sigh, as if even so slight an effort were too great, the smoker settled himself more comfortably and resumed his indolent musing. Then he heard the sound again. This time he did not trouble to look around. Something white swished quickly past him and he stared, bewildered. It was a woman, young, if her figure were to be trusted. His cigar dropped in the grass, and there he let it lie. His gaze never left her as she walked on; and he could scarcely be blamed, for he was still under thirty-five and feminine early twenties has an interest to masculine full youth. He had never seen anyone quite so charming. And so he watched the lady as she walked to the edge of the bluff overlooking the sea, and turned to the left to go along the pathway toward the village.
Five hundred yards away she was met by a tall man wearing a long black coat. Was it the priest he had noticed that morning at the door of the Catholic church in the village? Yes, there was no doubt about that; it was the priest. He had just lifted his hat to the lady and was now turning to walk back with her by the way he had come. They evidently knew each other well; and the man watching them almost laughed at himself when he realized that he was slightly piqued at the clergyman's daring to know her while he did not. He watched the pair until they disappeared around the bend of the bluff path. Then he settled back to look for his cigar. But he did not find it, for other matters quickly absorbed his attention.
From out a clump of bushes on his left, where they evidently had been hiding, two men appeared. He recognized them both. One was a book agent who was stopping at the hotel in the village; the other was the local constable. The book agent had a paper in his hand.
"That her?" he asked.
"Yaas, sir!"—the constable was surely a native New Englander—"I seed her face plain."
"I didn't," said the agent, with annoyance. "I have never seen her without that confounded veil. This is the first time she's had it thrown back. But the description is right? Look at it."
He showed the paper to the constable, tapping it as he read.
"'Brown hair, blue eyes'—did you see her eyes?"
"I sure did," answered the constable; "and they wuz blue."
"All right, then. 'Blue eyes, regular features'—how about that?"
"Reg'lar enough," said the constable. "She'd no pug nose, I kin tell ya that."
"'Regular features,' then, is right. 'Five feet four inches tall'—that's right. 'Small hands and feet'—that's right. 'About twenty-three years old; good figure.'"
"She sure hez all them," vouchsafed the wearer of the star. "I knowed her right away, and I've seed her often. She's been in Sihasset well nigh on a month."
"But where—" the agent turned to look at the unbroken wall—"where in thunder did she come from?"
The constable, pushing back his helmet, scratched his head.
"Damfino," he said. "That's the rub. There's no gate on this side of Killimaga."
"A rich old Irishman built it and put a wall around it, too. We folks of Sihasset don't like that; it shuts off the view of the house and lawn. Lawn's what makes things purty. He wuz a queer old mug—wanted to shut hisself up."
"But how did she get out?" insisted the agent, coming back to the issue.
"Search me," offered the constable. He looked toward the top of the wall. "Clumb the fence, mebbe."
"With her dress looking as it does?"
"There's no other way. I dunno."
The agent was puzzled. "I want a closer inspection of that wall. We'll walk along this side."
Both agent and constable started off, keeping well behind the wild hedge along the wall so that they might not be seen from the bluff road.
The man lying in the grass was more puzzled than the agent. Why a book agent and a constable should be so anxious about a lady who was—well, just charming—but who had herself stepped out of nowhere to join a priest in his walk, was a problem for some study. He got up and walked to the wall. Then he laughed. Close examination showed him marks in the giant tree, the vertical cuts being cleverly covered by the bark, while the horizontal ones had creepers festooned over them. A door was well concealed. But the tree? It was large, yet there could not be room in it for more than one person, who would have to stand upright and in a most uncomfortable position. The man himself had been before it over an hour. How long had the lady been in the tree? He forgot his lost cigar in trying to figure the problem out.
Mark Griffin had never liked problems. That was one reason why he found himself now located in a stuffy New England inn just at the end of the summer season when all the "boarders" had gone except himself and the book agent.
Griffin himself, though the younger son of an Irish peer, had been born in England. The home ties were not strong and when his brother succeeded to the title and estates in Ireland Mark, who had inherited a fortune from his mother, went to live with his powerful English relatives. For a while he thought of going into the army, but he knew he was a dunce in mathematics, so he soon gave up the idea. He tried Oxford, but failed there for the same reason. Then he just drifted. Now, still on the sunny side of thirty-five, he was knocking about, sick of things, just existing, and fearfully bored. He had dropped into Sihasset through sheer curiosity—just to see a typical New England summer resort where the Yankee type had not yet entirely disappeared. Now that the season was over he simply did not care to pull out for New York and continue his trip to—nowhere. He was "seeing" America. It might take months and it might take years. He did not care. Then England again by way of Japan and Siberia—perhaps. He never wanted to lose sight of that "perhaps," which was, after all, his only guarantee of independence.
Siberia suited Mark Griffin's present mood, which was to be alone. He had never married, never even been in love, at least, not since boyhood. Of course, that had been mere puppy love. Still, it was something to look back to and sigh over. He liked to think that he could still feel a sort of consoling sadness at the thought of it. He, a timid, dreaming boy, had loved a timid, dreaming girl. Her brother broke up the romance by taunting Mark who, with boyish bashfulness, avoided her after that. Then her parents moved to London and Mark was sent to school. After school he had traveled. For the last ten years England had been merely a place to think of as home. He had been in India, and South America, and Canada—up on the Yukon. He would have stayed there, but somebody suggested that he might be a remittance man. Ye gods! a remittance man with ten thousand pounds a year! And who could have had much more, for Mark Griffin was a master with his pen. His imagination glowed, and his travels had fanned it into flame. Every day he wrote, but burned the product next morning. What was the use? He had plenty to live on. Why write another man out of a job? And who could be a writer with an income of ten thousand pounds a year? But, just the same, it added to Mark Griffin's self-hatred to think that it was the income that made him useless. Yet he had only one real failure checked against him—the one at Oxford. But he knew—and he did not deceive himself—why there had been no others. He had never tried.
But there was one thing in Mark's favor, too. In spite of his wandering, in spite of the men and women of all kinds he had met, he was clean. There was a something in the memory of his mother—and in the memory, too, of that puppy love of his—that had made him a fighter against himself.
"The great courage that is worth while before God," his mother used to say, "is the courage to run away from the temptation to be unclean. It is the only time you have the right to be a coward. That sort of cowardice is true courage."
Besides her sweet face, that advice was the great shining memory he had of his mother, and when he began to wander and meet temptations, he found himself treasuring it as his best and dearest memory of her. True, he had missed her religion—had lost what little he had had of it—but he had kept her talisman to a clean life.
His lack of religion worried him, though he had really never known much about his family's form of it. For that his mother's death, early boarding school, and his father's worse than indifference, were responsible. But as he grew older he felt vaguely that he had missed something the quality of which he had but tasted through the one admonition of his mother that he had treasured. His nature was full of reverence. His soul burned to respond to the call of faith, but something rebelled. He had read everything, and was humble enough to acknowledge that he knew little. He had given up the struggle to believe. Nothing seemed satisfactory. It worried him to think that he had reached such a conclusion, but he was consoled by the thought that many men had been of his way of thinking. He hoped this would prove excuse enough, but found it was not excuse enough for him. Here he was, rich, noble, with the English scales of caste off his eyes, doing nothing, indolent, loving only a memory, indifferent but still seeing a saving something of his mother and his child love in every woman to whom he spoke.
Now something else, yet something not so very different, had suddenly stepped into his life, and he knew it. The something was dressed in white and had stepped out of a tree. It was almost laughable. This woman had come into his dreams. The very sight of her attracted him—or was it the manner of her coming? She was just like an ideal he had often made for himself. Few men meet even the one who looks like the ideal, but he had seen the reality—coming out of a tree. He kept on wondering how long she had been there. He himself had been dreaming in front of the tree an hour before he saw her. Had she seen him before she came out? She had given no sign; but if she had seen him, she had trusted him with a secret. Mark looked at the tree. It was half embedded in the wall. Then he understood. The tree masked a secret entrance to Killimaga.
He was still smiling over his discovery when he heard the voices of the agent and constable. They were coming back, so he dropped into his hiding place in the tall grass.
"Well, Brown," the agent was saying, "I am going to tackle her. I've got to see that face. It's the only way! If I saw it once, I'd know for sure from the photograph they sent me."
"Ye'd better not," advised the constable. "She might be a-scared before—"
"But I've got to be sure," interrupted the agent.
"Aw, ye're sure enough, ain't ye? There's the photygraft, and I seed her."
"But she slipped me in Boston, and I nearly lost the trail. I can't take chances on this job—it's too important—and I've got to report something pretty soon. That damn veil! She always has it on."
"Yep, she had it when she come down here, too, and when she tuk the house. All right, see her if ye can! Ye're the jedge. She's coming around the bend of the road now." The constable was peering out from his hiding place among the bushes.
"Is the priest with her?" asked the agent.
"He's gone back to the village. She didn't go that far—she seldom does. But he goes to see her; and she goes to his church on Sundays."
"I wonder if he knows anything?"
"Trust that gent to know most everything, I guess." The constable was very positive. "Father Murray's nobody's fool," he added, "and she won't talk to nobody else. I'll bet a yearlin' heifer he's on; but nobody could drag nothing out of him."
"I know that," said the agent. "I've been up there a dozen times, and I've talked with him by the hour—but always about books; I couldn't get him to talk about anything else. Here she is! Go on back."
The constable disappeared behind the bushes, and his companion stood out in the little clearing to wait.
The woman saw him; Mark, watching from the long grass, thought she hesitated. Then she dropped her veil and came on. The agent stepped forward, and the woman seemed distressed. What the agent intended to do Mark could not guess, but he made up his mind at once as to what he would do himself. He arose and, just as the agent met the lady, Mark's arm went through his and he—not of his own volition—turned to face the ocean.
"Hello, Saunders!" Mark said heartily. "Who'd expect to see you here, with no one near to buy rare editions?"
Saunders looked at him with annoyance, but Mark was friendly. He slipped his arm out of the agent's and slapped him on the shoulder.
"Look out at that sea, you old money-grabber. There's a sight for your soul. Did you ever think of the beauty of it? Such a day!—no wonder you're loafing. Oh! I beg your pardon, Madam. I am in your way."
Keeping Saunders' back to the lady, Mark stepped aside to let her pass. Saunders could not even look back, as she walked quickly behind them. The agent stammered a reply to Mark's unwelcome greeting before he turned. But it was too late, for Mark heard the click that told him that the tree had closed. He looked for the constable, to see if he had been watching her and had discovered the secret door; but the constable was leisurely walking toward the village.
As the two men walked along, Mark Griffin, tall and of athletic build, offered a sharp contrast to the typical American beside him. With his gray tweeds, Mark, from his cap to shoes, seemed more English than Irish, and one instinctively looked for the monocle—but in vain, for the Irish-gray eyes, deep-set under the heavy straight brows, disdained artifice as they looked half-seriously, though also a bit roguishly, out upon the world. The brown hair clustered in curls above the tanned face with its clear-cut features, the mouth firm under the aquiline nose, the chin slightly squared—the face of one who would seek and find.
He looked at his companion, clad in a neat-fitting business suit of blue, his blond hair combed straight back under the carelessly-tilted Alpine, and felt that the smaller man was one not to be despised. "A man of brains," thought Mark, as he noted the keen intelligent look from the blue eyes set in a face that, though somewhat irregular in feature, bespoke strong determination.
Mentally, the two men were matched. Should they ever be pitted against each other, it would be impossible for anyone to determine offhand which would be the victor.
The agent was disposed to be surly during the walk to the hotel, for he had become suspicious. Why had the fool Englishman done this thing? Did he know or suspect that the supposed book agent was really a detective? Did he know the woman? Was he in her confidence? How had she disappeared so quickly?
Saunders found it difficult to keep up even a semblance of interest in the conversation, for Mark gave him little time to think. He plied him with friendly questions until the detective wondered if his companion were a fool, or someone "on the inside." He wished that Mark would stop his chattering long enough to let him do the questioning. But Mark went right on.
"How's the book trade? Bad, I'll wager, so far from town. Why aren't you working?"
Saunders had to think quickly.
"Oh, I took an afternoon off; business has off days, you know."
"Of course. Any success this morning?"
"One order. Took me a month to get it—from the Padre."
Mark gave the word the English sound, which convinced the detective that the speaker really was a fool who had stumbled into an affair he knew nothing about. But Mark kept up his questioning.
"Did you get to talk much with the Padre? You know, he interests me. By the way, why do you call him by that Spanish name?"
"Oh, I got into the habit in the Philippines; that's what they call a priest there. I was a soldier, you know. Did you ever meet him?"
"No; but I'd like to."
"Perhaps I could introduce you." They were walking through the village now, and Saunders glanced toward the rectory. "There he is."
The chance to get away attracted Saunders; and nothing suited Mark better than to meet the priest at that very time.
"Certainly," he said; "I'd be glad if you introduced me. I'll stop only a moment, and then go on to the hotel with you."
But this did not suit Saunders.
"Oh, no; you must talk to the Padre. He's your kind. You'll like him. I can't wait, though, so I'll have to leave you there."
"By the way," Mark went on with his questioning, "isn't the Padre rather—well, old—to be in such a small and out-of-the-way place? You know I rather thought that, in his church, priests as old as he were in the larger parishes."
"Why, you couldn't have been listening much to gossip since you came down here—not very much," said Saunders. "The Padre is here by choice—but only partially by choice."
"By choice, but only partially by choice?" Mark was curious by this time. "I don't quite understand."
Saunders smiled knowingly, and dropped his voice.
"It's like this," he whispered. "The Padre was a big man in the city six months ago. He was what they call a vicar general—next job to the bishop, you know. He was a great friend of the old Bishop who died three months before the Padre came here. A new Bishop came—"
"'Who knew not Joseph'?"
But the Scripture was lost on the agent.
"His name is not Joseph," he answered solemnly, "but Donald, Donald Murray. I read it on the book order I got."
"Donald! Funny name for a Catholic," commented Mark. "It sounds Presbyterian."
"That's what it is," said Saunders quickly. "The Padre is a convert to the Catholic Church. He was 'way up once, but he lost his big job as vicar general, and then he lost all his big jobs. I met a priest on the train once—a young fellow—who told me, with a funny sort of laugh that sounded a bit sad, too, that the Bishop had the Padre buried."
"I see," said Mark, though he didn't see any more than the agent. "But the priest doesn't take it hard, does he?"
"Not that you could notice," Saunders answered. "The Padre's jolly—smart, too—and a bookman. He has books enough in that little house to start a public library, but he's too poor now to buy many of the kind he's daffy over—old stuff, you know, first editions and the like."
They crossed the street to the rectory, an old-fashioned house nestling among the trees, the parapet and pillars of its broad veranda almost hidden by a heavy growth of ampelopsis. In front of the house, a stretch of well-kept lawn was divided from the public walk by a hawthorn hedge, and, cutting through its velvety green, a wide graveled pathway swept up to the steps whose sharp angle with the veranda was softened by a mass of low-growing, flowering shrubs. To the side, extending towards the church, the hedge was tripled, with a space of some six feet between. The lower branches of the evergreens forming the second row were scarcely higher than the hawthorn in front; while, in their turn, the evergreens were barely topped by the silver maples behind. That triple hedge had been the loving care of the successive priests for fifty years and served as an effectual bar to the curiosity of the casual passer-by. In the little yard behind its shelter the priest could read or doze, free from the intrusive gaze of the village.
Father Murray, who was comfortably reading on the veranda, arose as his two visitors approached.
Saunders spoke quickly. "Don't worry, Padre. I ain't goin' to get after you again to sell you another set. I just thought I'd like to have you meet my friend, Mr. Griffin. I know you'll like him. He's bookish, too, and an Englishman. Then, I'm off." Suiting the action to the word, the agent, raising his hat, walked down the graveled path and down toward the hotel.
Father Murray took Mark's hand with a friendly grip quite different from the bone-crushing handshake he so often met in America. Mark gazed thoughtfully at his host. With his thin but kindly face and commanding presence, the priest seemed almost foreign. What Mark saw was a tall—he was six feet at least of bone and muscle—and good-looking man, with an ascetic nose and mouth; with hair, once black, but now showing traces of white, falling in thick waves over a broad brow. Mark noticed that his cassock was old and faded, but that reddish buttons down its front distinguished it from the cassocks of other village priests he had seen on his travels.
"You are welcome, Mr. Griffin—very welcome." Mark found Father Murray's voice pleasing. "Sit down right over there. That chair is more comfortable than it looks. I call it 'Old Hickory' because, though it isn't hickory, yet it began life in this old house and has outlived three pastors. Smoke?"
"Thanks, I do—but a pipe, you know. I'm hopelessly British." Mark pulled out his pipe and a pouch of tobacco.
Turning to the wicker table beside him, the priest dug down into an old cigar box filled with the odds and ends that smokers accumulate. He found a pipe and filled it from Mark's extended tobacco pouch.
"It's poor hospitality, Mr. Griffin, to take your tobacco; but I offered you a cigar. You know, this cigar habit has so grown into me that it's a rare occasion that brings me back to old times and my pipe." Father Murray pressed the tobacco down into the bowl. "How long are you to be with us, Mr. Griffin?"
Mark was dropping into a lazy mood again; it was very comfortable on the veranda. "I haven't fixed a time for going on. I beg your pardon, but aren't those buttons significant? I once spent six months in Rome. Aren't you what they call a Monsignore?"
"Don't tell them so here, or I'll lose my standing. Yes, I am a prelate, a Domestic Prelate to His Holiness. I am afraid it is the domesticity of the title that sticks here in Sihasset, rather than the prelacy. My people are poor—mostly mill workers. I have never shown them the purple. It might frighten them out of saying 'Father.'"
"But surely—" Mark hesitated.
"Oh, yes, I know what you are thinking. I did like it at first, but I was younger then, and more ambitious. You know, Mr. Griffin, I find that the priesthood is something like a river. The farther you go from the source the deeper and wider it gets; and it's at its best as it nears the ocean. Even when it empties into the wider waters, it isn't quite lost. It's in the beginning that you notice the flowers on the bank. Coming toward the end, it's—well, different."
"You are not beginning to think you are old?"
"No." Father Murray was very positive. "I am not old yet; but I'm getting there, for I'm forty-five. Only five years until I strike the half-century mark. But why talk about priests and the priesthood? You are not a Catholic?"
"I don't know," said Mark. "The difference between us religiously, Monsignore, is that I was and am not; you were not and behold you are."
Father Murray looked interested.
"Yes, yes," he said; "I am a convert. It was long ago, though. I was a young Presbyterian minister, and it's odd how it came about. Newman didn't get me, though he shook his own tree into the Pope's lap; I wasn't on the tree. It was Brownson—a Presbyterian like myself—who did the business. You don't know him? Pity! He's worth knowing. I got to reading him, and he made it so plain that I had to drop. I didn't want to, either—but here I am. Now, Mr. Griffin, how did you happen to go the other way?"
"I didn't go—that is, not deliberately. I just drifted. Mother died, and father didn't care, in fact rather opposed; so I just didn't last. Later on, I studied the church and I could not see."
"Studied the church? You mean the Catholic Church?" Father Murray's mouth hid the ghost of a smile.
"No, it wasn't the Catholic Church in particular. When we worldlings say 'the church,' we mean religion in general, perhaps all Christianity in general and all Christians in particular."
"I know." The priest's voice held a touch of sorrow now. "I hope you will pardon me, Mr. Griffin, if I say one thing that may sound controversial—it's just an observation. I have noticed the tendency you speak of; but isn't it strange that when people go looking into the question of religion they can deliberately close their eyes to a 'City set upon a Mountain'?"
"I don't quite—"
"Get me?" Father Murray laughed. "I know that you wanted to use that particular expressive bit of our particularly expressive slang. What I mean is this: People study religion nowadays—that is, English-speaking people—with the Catholic Church left out. Yet she claims the allegiance of over three hundred million people. Without her, Christianity would be merely pitiful. She alone stands firm on her foundation. She alone has something really definite to offer. She has the achievements of twenty centuries by which to judge her. She has borne, during all those centuries, the hatred of the world; but to-day she is loved, too—loved better than anything else on earth. She has hugged the worst of her children to her breast, has borne their shame that she might save them, because she is a mother; yet she has saints to show by the thousands. She has never been afraid to speak—always has spoken; but the ages have not trapped her. She is the biggest, most wonderful, most mysterious, most awful thing on earth; and yet, as you say, those who study religion ignore her. I couldn't, and I have been through the mill."
Mark shifted a little uneasily. "I can't ignore her," he said, "but I am just a little bit afraid of her."
"Ah, yes." The priest caught his pipe by the bowl and used the stem to emphasize his words. "I felt that way, too. I like you, Mr. Griffin, and so I am going to ask you not to mind if I tell you something that I have never told anyone before. I was afraid of her. I hated her. I struggled, and almost cursed her. She was too logical. She was leading me where I did not want to go. But when I came she put her arms around me; and when I looked at her, she smiled. I came in spite of many things; and now, Mr. Griffin, I pay. I am alone, and I pay always. Yet I am glad to pay. I am glad to pay—even here—in Sihasset."
Mark was moved in spite of himself. "I wonder," he said softly, "if you are glad, Monsignore, to pay so much? Pardon me if I touch upon something raw; but I know that you were, even as a Catholic, higher than you are now. Doesn't that make it hard to pay?"
"To many it might appear that it would make things harder; but it doesn't. You have to be inside in order to understand it. The Church takes you, smiling. She gives to you generously, and then, with a smile, she breaks you; and, hating to be broken, you break, knowing that it is best for you. She pets you, and then she whips you; and the whips sting, but they leave no mark on the soul, except a good mark, if you have learned. But pardon me, here's a parishioner—" A woman, old and bent, was coming up the steps. "Come on, Mrs. O'Leary. How is the good man?"
The priest arose to meet the woman, whose sad face aroused in Mark a keen thrill of sympathy.
"He's gone, Father," she said, "gone this minute. I thank God he had you with him this morning, and went right. It came awful sudden."
"God rest him. I'm sorry—"
"Don't be sorry, Father," she answered, as he opened the door to let her go into the house ahead of him. "Sure, God was good to me, and to John and to the childer. Sure, I had him for thirty year, and he died right. I'm happy to do God's will."
She passed into the house. The priest looked over to where Mark was standing hat in hand.
"Don't go, Mr. Griffin, unless you really have to. I'll be away only a few minutes."
Mark sat down again and thought. The priest had said nothing about the lady of the tree, and Mark really wanted him to mention her; but Father Murray had given him something else that made him thoughtful and brought back memories. Mark did not have long to wait, for the door opened in five minutes and the priest came out alone.
"Mrs. O'Leary came to arrange for the funeral herself—brave, wasn't it?" he said. "I left her with Ann, my housekeeper, a good soul whose specialty is one in which the Irish excel—sympathy. Ann keeps it in stock and, though she is eternally drawing on it, the stock never diminishes. Mrs. O'Leary's troubles are even now growing less."
"Sympathy and loyalty," said Mark, "are chief virtues of the Irish I knew at home."
"Ann has both," said Father Murray, hunting for his pipe. "But the latter to an embarrassing degree. She would even run the parish if she could, to see that it was run to save me labor. Ann has been a priest's housekeeper for twenty-five years. She has condoled with hundreds; she loves the poor but has no patience with shams. We have a chronic sick man here who is her particular bete noir. And, as for organists, she would cheerfully drown them all. But Mrs. O'Leary is safe with Ann."
"Poor woman!" said Mark.
"That reminds me," said Father Murray. "I had a convert priest here a little while ago. His Bishop had sent him for his initial 'breaking in' to one of the poorest parishes in a great city. I questioned a little the advisability of doing that; so, after six months, when I met the priest—who, by the way, had been a fashionable minister like myself—I asked him rather anxiously how he liked his people. 'Charming people,' he answered, 'charming. Charming women, too—Mrs. O'Rourke, Mrs. Sweeney, Mrs. Thomasefski—' 'You speak of them,' I said, 'as if they were society ladies.' 'Better—better still,' he answered. 'They're the real thing—fewer faults, more faith, more devotion.' I tell you, Mr. Griffin, I never before met people such as these."
"Mrs. O'Leary seems to have her pastor's philosophy," ventured the visitor.
"Philosophy! That would seem a compliment indeed to Mrs. O'Leary. She wouldn't understand it, but she would recognize it as something fine. It isn't philosophy, though," he added, slowly; "rather, it's something bigger. It's real religion."
"She needs it!"
"So do we all need it. I never knew how much until I was so old that I had to weep for the barren years that might have bloomed." The priest sighed as he hunted for his pipe.
The discussion ended for, to Mark's amazement, who should come up the walk, veiled indeed, yet unmistakable, but the lady of the tree? Both the priest and his visitor stood up. Mark reached for his hat and gloves.
"Pardon me," said the lady, "for disturbing you, Monsignore."
Father Murray laughed and put up his hand. "Now, then—please, please."
"Well, Father, then. I like it better, anyway. I heard that poor man is dead. Can I do anything?"
"I think you can," said Father Murray. "Will you step in?"
"No, Father; let me sit here." She looked at Mark, who stood waiting to make his adieux. There was no mistaking the look, and the priest understood at once. Plainly astonished, he introduced Mark. The lady bowed and smiled. As she sat down, she raised her veil. Mark gazed timidly into her face. Though she was seemingly unconscious of the gaze, yet a flush crept up under the fair skin, and the low voice faltered for an instant as she addressed him.
"I am a stranger here, like yourself, I fancy, Mr. Griffin," she ventured, "but I have to thank you for a service."
Mark was scarcely listening. He was wondering if, underneath the drooping brim of her hat, amongst the curling tendrils of golden-brown hair, there might not be a hint of red to show under the sunlight. He was thinking, too, how pretty was the name, Ruth Atheson. It was English enough to make him think of her under certain trees in a certain old park of boyhood's days.
"Do you know each other?" Father Murray was evidently still more astonished.
"Not exactly," she said; "but Mr. Griffin has quick discernment, and is unhesitating in action. He saw someone about to—make himself, let us say, unpleasant—and he moved promptly. I am glad of this chance to thank him."
Mark hoped she would not try. The heavily lashed eyes of violet blue, under the graceful arches, were doing that splendidly. Mark was uneasy under the gaze of them, but strangely glad. He wanted to go and yet to stay; but he knew that it was proper to go.
Father Murray walked with him to the end of the lawn.
"There was nothing serious in the matter to which Miss Atheson referred, Mr. Griffin?" he said. "No one offered insult?" He was plainly anxious.
"Not at all," answered Mark. "I think the man only wanted to stare. I gave him a chance to stare at me—and at the water. That is all."
Father Murray looked relieved as he clasped Mark's hand.
"Good-bye," he said. "Come to see me again. I am usually alone. Come often. The latch-string is where you can reach it."
In the street Mark met Saunders, but this time it was the agent who wanted to talk.
"How did you like the Padre?" he began.
"Splendid. Thank you for the meeting."
"Did you see the lady who went in?"
"Yes; I was introduced."
"Well," the agent was confused, "I don't see why not after all. Did you see her face?"
"She had on a veil."
"Of course; she always has. She was the woman who passed us on the bluff road."
"You saw her, then?"
"Yes, I saw her; but not close enough to know whether—"
"I think she is someone I know. Are you coming back to the hotel?"
That night, tossing in bed, Mark Griffin found the lady of the tree occupying the center of his thoughts. He had to acknowledge to himself the simple truth, that she interested him more than any other woman he had ever seen; and he had a vague idea that he had met her before—but where? He was wise enough to know where such interest would ultimately lead him. The more he worried about it, the more a cause for worry it became. The very idea was foolish. He had seen her twice, had spoken to her once. Yes, she was charming; but he had known others almost as charming and he had not even been interested. Now he might go deeper—and what of the risks?
Saunders was certainly shadowing the woman. The town constable was constantly with him, seemingly ready to make an arrest the moment the detective was sure of his ground. It was easy to figure that out. Worse than all, the woman was afraid—or why the veil? Why the secret door through a tree? Why her embarrassment when she faced the danger of having the detective see her face?
On the other hand, she was a friend of the priest, and Mark had formed a very favorable opinion of Father Murray. Then she had referred to the incident on the bluff road very openly and without embarrassment These things were in her favor, but—well, the rest looked bad. Above all was the danger of falling in love with her.
Mark thought of his people in England and of his brother the Irish peer. He knew their prejudices. What would they say if the heir presumptive to the barony came home with an American wife? Yet why should he care?
The worry about Saunders came back. He was undoubtedly a detective, and surely detectives did not without cause shadow ladies of good social standing? Mark knew there was something wrong. He knew there was danger to himself, to his heart, and to his peace; so he decided that he had better go away at once. Then the face he had seen as she stepped past him out of the tree rose up, and he heard again the voice that had in it so much gratitude when she thanked him for his little service.
"Damn it, man," he said to himself, "you can't be a coward! She needs help; stay to give it." That was Mark's first and last struggle over his long-delayed moving problem.
He met Saunders at breakfast the next morning. The detective must have been thinking, too, for his glance at Mark held a trifle of suspicion. Mark was too old a student of human nature to miss the significance of the look, and Saunders was too young at his business entirely to conceal his own feelings. He tried—but too late—and was foolish enough to think he had not betrayed himself.
Mark made up his mind to profit by the suspicion.
"Good morning, Saunders. You are thinking of the lady in the veil?"
But Saunders was already back in his shell. He looked puzzled. "Veil? Lady? Oh, yes. Sure I am. It would be very ungallant to forget her. She's too pretty."
"How do you know? You didn't see her face."
"I was just guessing. We Yankees are good at guessing. Don't you English concede that?"
"Guessing and wooden nutmegs," said Mark, "both go with the Yankee character."
"Guessing, wooden nutmegs, and a little taste of Brandywine thrown in for flavor."
"Very unkind of you to throw our defeats in our teeth—and especially into mine; for you know that I am half Irish, and we Irish helped you."
Saunders laughed as they approached the desk together.
"Letter for you, Mr. Griffin," said the clerk, throwing a square envelope on the desk.
Saunders just glanced at it before Mark himself saw that the letter was without a stamp; it had come by messenger. The detective turned his back to hide a smile, then walked to the reading table and picked up a paper.
Mark opened his letter. It was from the lady of the tree—only a few lines—an invitation to tea that afternoon at the house behind the great wall. Twice he read it over.
"Dear Mr. Griffin: Monsignore is coming to tea at four o'clock to-day. Won't you come with him? He likes you—that I know—and he always looks lonesome when he comes alone, with only two women to talk to. Sincerely, Ruth Atheson."
That was all. The letter went into Mark's pocket as he saw Saunders looking over the top of his paper.
"Getting acquainted in Sihasset pretty quickly, eh?" ventured the detective.
"Yes," replied Mark, "bad pays get acquainted fast." The reply was obviously inadequate, but Mark wanted the detective to know. Saunders took the bait, hook and all.
"Sihasset's getting up in the world," he commented. "Square, tinted envelopes for bills were just coming in at New York two weeks ago."
Both gentlemen were evidently quite pleased with themselves. Saunders took the cigar Mark offered, and they sat talking over first editions until ten.
"Going out?" Saunders asked, as Mark threw away his cigar and rose. Something in his tone made Mark think he wanted him to go. Why?
"Just for a little while. Want to go?"
"No, I'm going to write letters. I'll go out later."
Mark understood. Saunders suspected him to be an accomplice of the woman and intended to search his room. Mark thought quickly. Immediate action was necessary; there were important papers in his room, and he didn't care to have his identity known just now. Then he smiled cheerfully, for his whole plan of action was suddenly clear. Not only would he guard his papers, but he'd keep the detective guessing—guessing hard. He walked to the desk and addressed the clerk:
"Has any of the town banks a safety deposit vault for the public?"
"Yes, sir. The National has one and its terms are very reasonable."
Mark went to his room, and carefully gathered every scrap of paper. The useless went into the old stove which had stood all summer waiting the winter's need; the others he carefully placed in his pocket. Then he went out. At the bank he rented a box and left the papers he didn't want Saunders to see. He felt satisfied that nothing Saunders found would relieve him of suspicion. The burning of the papers would make the detective all the more certain that Mark ought to be watched. That would help Miss Atheson by keeping the detective on the wrong scent.
At noon Mark went to his room to wash before lunch. Saunders had not been very clever. There was a tell-tale smudge on the stove—a smudge made by a hand that had blackened itself by diving down into the ashes to search among the burned papers. Mark knew that Saunders had lost no time in searching his room, and he was happy to be still under suspicion.
But Mark was not so happy in contemplating the rest of the situation. He was getting deeper into a game he knew nothing about. What was the reason for the suspicion against the girl? Could she be a thief—or worse? Mark had heard of pretty criminals before, and he knew that beauty without is no guarantee of virtue within. But he had resolved to go through with the adventure, and he would not change his mind. He argued, too, that it was not entirely the beauty of Ruth Atheson that interested him. There was an indefinable "something else." Anyhow, innocent or guilty, he made up his mind to stand by her.
At lunch he met Saunders again and found him overly friendly, even anxious to talk. The detective opened the conversation.
"Going to see the Padre again?"
"I have an engagement with him this afternoon. I rather like the Padre!"
"Sure you do," said the detective. "Everybody does. The Padre's a wonder, and the last man one might expect to find in a little parish like this."
Mark wanted to learn more on that score.
"True enough," he said. "In the Anglican Church they would make such a man a bishop, or at least a dean."
"Well, they didn't do that with the Padre." The detective shook his head as if to express his regret that something of the kind had not been done. "He was the right hand man of the old Bishop of the diocese; but the new Bishop had to have new counselors. That's one way of the world that the church fellows have gotten into. Some say that it broke the Padre's heart, but he doesn't look it. Must have hurt him a little, though. Human nature is human nature—and after all he did for the Church, too."
"Did he do so much?" questioned Mark.
"Sure he did! You saw the Cathedral, didn't you, when you passed through the city? Well, the Padre built that, and the big college, too, the one you see from the train. He was president of the college. He was the life and soul of the Catholic Church in this section."
"Why was he dropped?"
"Search me," offered the detective. "No one knows that except the Bishop, I guess. Padre came here six months ago. Some of the young priests used to come to see him, but seldom any of the older ones. I got all I know from one of those young chaps—the one I told you I met on the train. He almost cried over the affair."
"It's sad enough to make any friend cry over it," said Mark; "but somehow it makes the man seem bigger to me."
"True." Saunders was clearly the Padre's admirer. "They say he had the best pulpit in London before he went over to the Catholics—big salary, and all that. Then he had to begin all over again as a layman. Went to school, by gosh!—dead game! But when they made him a priest he jumped right to the front. His last money went into the college he built. He has only five hundred a year to live on now. You know, Griffin, if it wasn't for the rotten way the Church treated him, I honestly believe the Padre could put some religion into me. He's a power here already. Look at the way he makes that girl at Killimaga work."
It seemed to Mark that the detective was beginning to fence again.
"She's a stranger, isn't she?" he asked.
The detective half closed his eyes. "How do you know?"
"You told me so."
Saunders blew a thoughtful smoke ring.
"I guess I did. You know, of course, Killimaga was rented to her about the time Padre came here. The old Irishman who built it, died, and his family went over to your country to buy a title for their only daughter. The girl up there must be a rich one to rent such an estate; and, Griffin, that old Irishman had taste, believe me. His gardens are a wonder. Ever see them?"
"Try to; they're worth while. This girl spends her money and herself on the Padre's charities. He directs, and she does things for the mill people. By gad, Griffin, they just love her! I passed her just now going into O'Leary's. The old man was crushed at the mill, and died yesterday. It's dollars to doughnuts she takes care of that family all winter. Where she gets the money is beyond me."
"You Americans are all rich," said Mark. "You English think we are, but you only see the gang that goes over to the other side every summer. There's one Atheson family in America worth millions, but I know that crowd; she doesn't belong to it. I don't know what Atheson family she does belong to. She's a mystery, with her Killimaga and her money and her veil."
"Why," said Mark, "every woman wears a veil—the sun, you know."
"Yes; the sun, and the rain, and the shade, and every kind of weather!"
The detective's face was betraying him again. But the luncheon was over, and Mark would not be probed. He had made up his mind to go early to the rectory, so he left Saunders with a parting shot:
"You'd better go on with the book sales. You've loafed all day. That's bad business policy for a Yankee. What would your wooden nutmeg ancestors say to that?"
"They wouldn't like it," he answered. "They're not like ancestors who wouldn't have been able to sell even a real nutmeg."
Mark acknowledged that in repartee Saunders scored, then went out to make his way toward the rectory. As he passed the First National Bank he saw the constable talking to the cashier.
Father Murray was sitting in his favorite chair on the rectory veranda when Mark came up the lawn. He rose with a welcome.
"You must pardon me, Father," began Mark, "for coming so soon after your noon meal—" Mark hesitated about saying "luncheon," not knowing the habits of the rectory—"but, frankly, I wanted to talk to you before—"
"Before we go to Killimaga," supplied Father Murray as Mark paused. "Yes, I know that you are invited. Sit down and open up. I am always glad to talk—and to listen, too. What is it?"
Again Mark hesitated. "It's to ask about Miss Atheson."
Father Murray's eyes smiled. "I thought so," he said. "What do you want to know?"
Mark hesitated. "I know that the lady is very charitable and kind, but especially so to anyone whom you suggest. You must, therefore, be interested in anything that concerns her."
"I am," said Father Murray. "Very much interested."
Mark thought he noticed a new and half-suspicious note in the priest's voice, and was distressed. He felt like blaming himself for having mentioned the subject. He feared he had lost ground with his new-made friend; but, having started the discussion, Mark was determined to go through with it.
"It's just this way, Father," he said. "I think you ought to know that there is someone besides yourself interested in Miss Atheson. The incident she mentioned yesterday seemed a small one, but—well, I had to move pretty quick to keep that man from making himself obnoxious. He had a photograph in his hand and was determined to see her face in order to make comparisons. Incidentally, the constable was with him."
Mark, watching closely to note the effect of his words, saw the face before him whiten.
"The constable with him?"
"And I am confident that the other man is a detective. I feel sure he thinks Miss Atheson is someone he has been commissioned to find. And they evidently think that I am in the matter to defend the lady. This morning I left some papers in the safety deposit vault at the First National, and as I passed the bank a little while ago I saw the constable talking to the cashier—about me, judging from their confusion as they acknowledged my greeting through the window. My room was searched this morning. They didn't find anything, though." Mark laughed as he thought how disappointed Saunders must have been.
"I hope you will pardon me, Mr. Griffin," said Father Murray, "if I confine myself for the present to asking questions. Have you ever noticed the camp of Slavic laborers about a mile east of Killimaga—along the line of the new railway?"
"I have passed it several times."
"Did you by chance notice," Father Murray went on, "whether this detective looked like a Slav?"
"On the contrary, he is—" Mark half paused, then hurried on—"an American." It was not necessary that he mention Saunders' name—not now, at least.
Father Murray seemed puzzled. "There are two or three educated men in that camp," he said, "who have been hanging around Killimaga a great deal of late; and they have been worrying an old parishioner of mine—a retired farmer who finds plenty of time to worry about everybody else, since he has no worries of his own. He thinks that these well-dressed 'bosses' are strange residents for a railroad construction camp. He tells me that he has often been in such camps, but that he had never seen what he calls 'gintlemen' living in them before."
Mark laughed. "Your old parishioner is a discerning man."
"Uncle Mac," replied Father Murray, "is the kind of man who believes that virtue stands in the middle. When I first came here he called to see me to ask about my politics. Uncle Mac is a lifelong Democrat, and when I told him that I usually voted the Republican ticket he became suspicious. Just before the election I preached on 'Citizenship'—careful always to avoid any reference to partisanship. Uncle Mac came in after Mass and said: 'I think ye were preachin' Republican sintiments this morning Father.' I said, 'Not at all, Uncle Mac. I made no reference to either party.' 'No,' said he, 'but yer sintiments were awful highfalutin'.'"
Mark laughed his appreciation. "Wasn't that rather a compliment to the Republicans?" he asked.
"I took it so," said Father Murray. "But Uncle Mac does not like the 'highfalutin'.' One day he said to me, when he saw all my books, 'The man who was here before you, Father, wasn't smart enough; but you're too dom smart. Now, I don't like a priest who isn't smart enough, but I'm afeerd of one who's too dom smart. If you'd only half as many books, I'd feel betther about ye.'"
The Padre paused a moment; then the anxious look returned and he spoke slowly as if he were trying to solve the puzzle even while he spoke.
"Uncle Mac told me yesterday that there was a very 'highfalutin' gintleman' in the camp the night before last. He came there in a long, rakish automobile. Uncle Mac said that 'he parted his whiskers in the middle, so he did,' and that 'he looked like a governor or somethin' of the sort.' I was just wondering if that detective of yours has anything to do with that camp, and if these strange visitors are not in some way connected with his interest in Miss Atheson. But perhaps that's making too much of a mystery of it."
"As to that," said Mark, "of course I cannot say. I merely wanted you to know, Father Murray, just what was going on; to tell you that while you don't know me, nevertheless I hope you will permit me to be of assistance if these people are annoying Miss Atheson. If you wish to know more about me, I shall be glad to bring you the papers I left in the vault this morning."
"I do not need to see your papers, Mr. Griffin," Father Murray answered. "I am satisfied with you, especially since Miss Atheson owes something to you. Will you mind if I do not discuss the matter with you further now?"
"Not at all, Father Murray. I do not ask for information that you feel you should not give."
"Perhaps," said Father Murray, "I shall give it to you later on; but for the present let matters stand as they are. You know the detective, and I don't. The principal thing is to find out whether there is any connection between that camp, the 'highfalutin' gintleman' of Uncle Mac, and the detective. I have reason to think there may be. This much I will say to you: You need have no fear whatever for Miss Atheson. I can assure you that there is no good reason in the world why a detective should be watching her. Miss Atheson is everything that she looks."
"I am confident of that," said Mark. "Otherwise I should not have spoken to you."
"Then," said the priest, "suppose we go now to our engagement at Killimaga."
The two passed across the lawn, then down the street and along the road toward the great house whose towers looked out over the trees. Neither Mark nor the priest said a word until the town was well behind them. Then Father Murray turned to his companion.
"You will find Miss Atheson a remarkable woman, Mr. Griffin. There is a reason, perhaps, why I might not be a competent judge—why I might be prejudiced—but still I think that you, too, will see it. She has not been here long, but she is already loved. She receives no one but me. But she seems to like you, and I didn't hurt you any in her estimation by my own rather sudden attraction."
"I am grateful for your appreciation," replied Mark, "even though I may not deserve it. And more grateful for your confidence."
Walking slowly, and chatting in friendly fashion, they reached Killimaga. As the great gates swung open their attention was arrested by the purring of a motor. Father Murray uttered a low "Ah!" while Mark stared after the swiftly vanishing machine. He, too, had seen its passenger, a heavy, dark man with a short beard combed from the center to the sides. The flashing eyes had seemed to look everywhere at once, yet the man in the car had continued to smoke in quiet nonchalance as if he had not noticed the two standing by the gates. Uncle Mac had described the man well. He was 'highfalutin'' without a doubt.
"Sihasset is greatly honored," Father Murray remarked softly.
"Do you know him?"
"I have seen him before. He comes from a foreign state, but he is no stranger to America—nor to England, for that matter. Have you any acquaintance with the diplomats in London?"
"I have attended balls at which some of them were present."
"Does your memory recall one of that type?" persisted the priest.
"No, it does not."
"Mine does," said Father Murray. "I once had occasion to offer a prayer at an important banquet at which that gentleman was the guest of honor. He sat near me, and when I asked him where he had acquired such a mastery of English, he told me that he had been for five years minister at the Court of St. James. He is now accredited to Washington. Do you see why I suggest that Sihasset is greatly honored to-day?"
Mark could not conceal his astonishment.
"But why under heaven," he said, "should a foreign diplomat be mixed up in a camp of Slavic laborers?"
"There are strange things in diplomacy," said Father Murray. "And stranger things in Sihasset when the town constable has so much interest in your taking of tea at Killimaga. If you had turned around a moment ago, you would have seen our constable's coattails disappearing behind the bushes on our right."
WITH EMPTY HANDS
In the long after years Mark Griffin used to wonder at the strange way in which love for Ruth Atheson entered his life. Mark always owned that, somehow, this love seemed sent for his salvation. It filled his life, but only as the air fills a vacuum; so it was, consequently, nothing that prevented other interests from living with it. It aroused him to greater ambition. The long-neglected creative power moved without Mark's knowing why. His pen wrote down his thoughts, and he no longer destroyed what he committed to paper. It now seemed a crime to destroy what had cost him only a pleasure to produce. The world had suddenly become beautiful. No longer did Japan and Siberia call to him. He had no new plans, but he knew that they were forming, slowly, but with finality and authority.
Yet Mark's love was never spoken. It was just understood. Many times he had determined to speak, and just as many times did it seem quite unnecessary. He felt that Ruth understood, for one day, when an avowal trembled on his lips, she had broken it off unspoken by gently calling him "Mark," her face suffused the while with an oddly tender light that was in itself an answer. After that it was always "Ruth" and "Mark." Father Murray also seemed to understand; with him, too, it was "Ruth" and "Mark." After one week of that glorious September, Mark was at Killimaga daily; and when October came and had almost passed, without a word of affection being spoken between them, Ruth and Mark came to know that some day it would be spoken, quite as naturally as she had uttered his Christian name for the first time. When Mark thought of his love, he thought also of his mother. He seemed to see her smile as if it quite pleased her; and he rejoiced that he could believe she knew, and saw that it was good.
"I love many things in men," said Father Murray one day as he and Mark watched the waves dashing against the bluff. "I love generosity and strength, truthfulness and mercy; but, most of all, I love cleanness. The world is losing it, and the world will die from the loss. The chief aid to my faith is the clean hearts I see in my poor."
"Uncle Mac again?" ventured Mark.
"Uncle Mac, and Uncles Mac—many of them. They have a heritage of cleanness. It is the best thing they brought to this new world, and we were the losers when they left us."
"We? But you are English, are you not?" asked Mark courteously.
"Ah! So you caught me then, did you? Yes, I am English, or rather British. But don't question me about that; I am real Yankee now. Even my tongue has lost its ancestral rights."
Mark was persistent. "Perhaps you, too, have a little of the 'blessed drop' that makes the Uncle Macs what they are? I really think, Father, that you have it."
"Not even a little of the 'blessed drop.' I am really not English, though born in England. Both father and mother were Scotch. So I am kin to the 'blessed drop.'"
"And you drifted here—"
"Not exactly 'drifted,' Mark. I came because I wanted to come. I came for opportunity. I was ambitious, and then there was another reason—but that is at present forbidden ground. Here is your constable friend again."
The constable passed with a respectful touch of his helmet. He at least was of the soil. Every line of his face spoke of New England.
"He is a character worth studying," remarked Father Murray. "Have you ever talked with him?"
"No. I have had no chance."
"Then find one, and put him in a book. He was once rich for Sihasset. That was in the lumber days. But he lost his money, and he thinks that the town owes him a living. That is the Methodist minister to whom he is speaking now. He, too, is worth your attention."
"Do you get along well with the Protestant clergy of the town?" asked Mark.
"Splendidly," said Father Murray; "especially with the Universalist. There is a lot of humor in the Universalist. I suspect the 'blessed drop' in him. One day I happened to call him a Unitarian, and he corrected me. 'But what,' I asked, 'is the difference between the Universalists and the Unitarians?' The little man smiled and said: 'One of my professors put it like this: "The Unitarians believe that God is too good to damn them, and the Universalists believe they are too good to be damned."'"
"Still, it cannot be an easy life," said Mark, "to be one of seven or eight Protestant pastors in such a small town."
"It certainly is hard sledding," replied Father Murray. "But these men take it very philosophically and with a great deal of self-effacement. The country clergyman has trials that his city brother knows nothing about. He has to figure on the pennies that rarely grow to dollars."
The two friends walked on, Mark's mind reverting to his own lack of faith and contrasting his dubiety with the sincerity of men who firmly believe—foremost among them the man who walked by his side. Ah, if he, too, could only know! He broke the silence.
"Father." He spoke hurriedly, as if fearing he might not have courage to continue what he had so boldly begun. "Father, I can't forget your words regarding those who claim to have studied religion and yet who deliberately leave out of the reckoning the greatest part of religion. I believe I did that very thing. I was once a believer, at least so I thought. I let my belief get away from me; it seemed no longer to merit consideration. I thought I had studied and discarded it; I see now that I simply cast it away. Afterwards, I gave consideration to other religions, but they were cold, lacking in the higher appeal. I turned at last to Theosophy, to Confucianism, but remained always unsatisfied. I never thought to look again into the religion I had inherited."
Father Murray's face was serious. "I am deeply interested," he said, "deeply, although it was only as I thought. But tell me. What led you to do this? There must have been a reason formed in your mind."
"I never thought of a reason at all; I just did it. But now it seems to me that the reason was there, and that it was not a very worthy one. I think I wanted to get away. My social interest and comfort, my independence, all seemed threatened by my faith. You will acknowledge, Father, that it is an interfering sort of a thing? It hampers one's actions, and it has a bad habit of getting dictatorial. Don't you see what I mean?"
"I do," said the priest; and paused as if to gauge the sincerity of his companion. "In fact, I went through a similar experience."
"Then you can tell me what you think of my position."
"I have already told you," said the priest earnestly. "You are the one to do the thinking now. All I can do is to point out the road by which you may best retrace your way. You have told me just what I expected to hear; I admire your honesty in telling it—not to me, but to yourself. Don't you see that your reason for deserting your Faith was but a reason for greater loyalty? The oldest idea of religion in the world, after that of the existence and providence of God, is the idea of sacrifice. Even pagans never lost that idea. Nothing in this world is worth having but must be paid for. Its cost is summed up in sacrifice. Now, religion demands the same. If it calls for right living, it calls for the sacrifice that right living demands. An athlete gets his muscle and strength, not by coddling his body, but by restraining its passions and curbing its indolence, by working its softness into force and power. A river is bound between banks, and only thus bound is it anything but a menace. If a church claims to have the Truth, she forfeits her first claim to a hearing if she asks for no sacrifice. That your Church asked many sacrifices was no cause for your throwing her over, but a sign that she claimed the just right to put religion in positive form, and to give precepts of sacrifice, without the giving of which she would have no right to exist at all. Am I clear?"
"You are clear, Father, and I know you are right. I have never been able to leave my own Faith entirely out of the reckoning. I am not trying to excuse myself. I could not ignore it, for it intruded itself and forced attention. In fact, it has been forcing itself upon me most uncomfortably, especially of late years."
"Again," said Father Murray, "a reason why you should have attended to it. If there is a divine revelation confided to the care of a church, that revelation is for the sake of men and not for the sake of the church. A church has no right to existence for its own sake. He was a wise Pope who called himself 'Servant of the Servants of God.' The position of your Church—for I must look upon you as a Catholic—is, that a divine revelation has been made. If it has been made it must be conserved. Reason tells us that something then must have been established to conserve it. That something will last as long as the revelation needs conserving, which is to the end of the world. Now, only the Catholic Church claims that she has the care of that revelation—that she is the conserving force; which means that she is—as I have told you before—a 'City set upon a Mountain.' She can't help making herself seen. She must intrude on your thoughts. She must speak consistently through your life. She can permit no one to ignore her. She won't let anyone ignore her. Kick her out one door, and she will come in another. She is in your art, your music, your literature, your laws, your customs, your very vices as well as your virtues—as she was destined to be. It is her destiny—her manifest destiny—and she can't change it if she would."
Mark drew in a deep breath that sounded like a sigh. "I suppose, Father," he said, "I could argue with you and dispute with you; under other circumstances perhaps I should. I hate to think that I may have to give up my liberty; yet I am not going to argue, and I am not going to dispute. I wanted information, and I got it. The questions I asked were only for the purpose of drawing you out. But here is another: Why should any institution come between a man and his God? Is that necessary?"
The priest's eyes held a far-away look. It was some little while before he spoke, and then very slowly, as if carefully weighing his words.
"There is nothing," said the priest, "between the trees and the flowers and their God—but they are only trees and flowers; they live, but they neither think nor feel. There is nothing between the lower animals and their God; but, though they live and feel, they have none of the higher power of thought. If God had wanted man thus, why should he have given him something more than the lower animals? Man cannot live and feel only and still be a man. He must feed not only his body but his heart and soul and intellect. The men who have nothing between themselves and their God are mostly confined in lunatic asylums. The gift of intelligence demands action by the intellect; and there must be a foundation upon which to base action. When the foundation is in place, there never can be any limit to the desire for building upon it. Now, God willed all that. He created the condition and is, therefore, obliged to satisfy the desires of that condition. Some day He must satisfy the desires to the full; but now He is obliged only to keep them fed, or to give them the means to keep fed. Of course, He could do that by a direct revelation to each individual; but that He has not done so is proved by the fact that, while there can be but one Truth, yet each individual who 'goes it alone' has a different conception of it. The idea of private religious inspiration has produced public religious anarchy. Now, God could not will religious anarchy—He loves truth too much. So reason tells us that He must have done the thing that His very nature would force Him to do. He must have confided His revelation to His Church in order to preserve it, to teach it, to keep it for men. That is not putting any man or institution between Himself and His creatures. Would you call the hand which drags you over a danger an interference with your liberty? Liberty, my dear Mark, is not the right to be blind, but the privilege of seeing. The light that shows things to your eyes is not an interference between those things and your eyes. The road you take to your destination is not an obstacle to your reaching it."
The priest was silent for a moment, but Mark knew that he had not quite finished.
"The rich young man of the Scriptures went to Christ and asked what he should do to be saved. He got his answer. Was Christ in his way? Was the answer a restraint upon his liberty?"
"No," answered Mark, breaking in, "it was not a restraint upon his liberty. But you say that Christ is God, so the young man had nothing between himself and his God."
"Oh, yes, he had," said the priest. "He had the command or counsel that Christ gave him. It was against the command or counsel that he rebelled. Now have not I, and you, and all the world, the same right to get an answer as that young man had? Since we are all equal in the sight of God, and since Christ came for all men, have we not the right to an answer now as clear as His was then?"
"It seems logical," admitted Mark.
"Then," said Father Murray, "the unerring Voice must still be here. Where is it?"
"Yes," retorted Mark, "that is my cry. Where is it? I think it's the cry of many other men. What is the answer?"
"It is the thing that you threw over—or believed you had thrown over—and that you can't get away from thinking about. It waits to answer you."
A silence settled between the two men. It lasted for over a minute. Finally Mark broke it.
"You told me, Father," he said, "that what I called 'Mrs. O'Leary's philosophy' was religion. I now know better what you meant, for I have been gossiping about you. The best point you make is—yourself. I know what you have been, what you have done, and how sadly you have suffered. Doesn't your religion demand too much—resignation? Does a God of Justice demand that we tamely submit to injustice? I am not saying this to be personal, or to pain you, but everyone seems to wonder at your resignation to injustice. Why should such a fault be in the Church you think so perfect?"
The priest looked at Mark with kindly and almost merry eyes. "I can answer you better, my friend, by sticking to my own case. I have never talked of it before; but, if it helps you, I can't very well refuse to talk of it now. I came to the Church with empty hands, having passed through the crisis that seems to be upon you. She filled those empty hands, for she honored me and gave me power. She set me in high places, and I honestly tried to be worthy. I worked for her, and I seemed to succeed. Then—and very suddenly and quietly—she pulled me down, and tore my robe of honor from me. My fellow priests, my old friends, criticised me and judged me harshly. They came no more to see me, though I had been generous with them. In the college I built and directed, one of my old friends sits in my place and forgets who put him there. Another is the Bishop who disgraced me. Now, have I a right to feel angry and rebel?"
"To me," said Mark, "it seems as if you have."
"I have not," and the priest spoke very earnestly. "I have no such right. I never knew—for I did not ask—the reason of my disgrace. But one thing I did know; I knew it was for my good. I knew that, though it was a trial given me by men, there was in it, too, something given by God. You judge as I should have judged ten years ago—by the standards of the world. I judge now by other standards. It took adversity to open my eyes. We are not here, my dear Mark, for the little, but for the big things. I had the little and I thought they were big. My fall from a place of honor has taught me that they were really little, and that it is only now that I have the big. What is religion for but to enlighten and to save—enlighten here that the future may hold salvation? What were my purple, power and title? Nothing, unless I could make them help to enlighten and to save myself and others. I ought to have fought them, but I was not big enough to see that they hindered where I could have made them help. Like a bolt out of the sunlight came the stripping. My shame was the best offering I have made during all the days of my life. In my misery I went to God as naturally as the poor prodigal son went to his father when he was reduced to eating husks from the trough of the swine. I asked nothing as to the cause of my fall. I knew that, according to man's standard—even according to the laws that she herself had made—that the Church had been unjust; but I did not ask to know anything about it, for the acceptance of the injustice was worth more to my soul than was the great cathedral I had been instrumental in building. I was grieved that my friends had left me, but I knew at last that I had cultivated them at the expense of greater friends—sacrifice and humility. Shorn of my honors, in the rags and tatters left of my greatness, I lay before my Master—and I gained more in peace than I had ever known was in life."
"God!" Mark's very soul seemed to be speaking, and the single word held the solemnity of a prayer. "This, then, is religion! Was it this that I lost?"
"No one has lost, Mark, what he sincerely wishes to find."
WHO IS RUTH?
Leaving Father Murray at the rectory, Mark went on to the hotel. Entering the lobby, he gave vent to a savage objurgation as he recognized the man speaking to the clerk. Mark's thoughts were no longer of holy things, for the man was no other than Saunders, from whom, for the past two weeks, Sihasset had been most pleasantly free.
"Damn!" he muttered. "I might have known he'd return to spoil it all." Then, mustering what grace he could, Mark shook hands with the detective, greeting him with a fair amount of cordiality, for, personally, he rather liked the man. "You here!" he exclaimed. "I scarcely expected ever to see you again."
Saunders grinned pleasantly, but still suspiciously, as he answered. "I can't say the same of you, Mr. Griffin. I knew you would be here when I returned; fact is, I came back to see you."
"Me? How could I cart books all over the world with me? What do you want to see me for? No, no. I am bad material for you to work on. Better go back to the Padre. He's what you call an 'easy mark,' isn't he?"
"Oh, he's not so easy as you think, Griffin. By the way, have you lunched?"
"You will join me then?"
"Thanks; I will."
"We can get into a corner and talk undisturbed."
But lunch was disposed of before Saunders began. When he did, it was right in the middle of things.
"Griffin," he said, leaning over the table and looking straight at Mark, "Griffin, what's your game? Let's have this thing out."
"I am afraid, Saunders," replied Mark, "that I must take refuge again in the picturesque slang which the Padre thinks so expressive: I really don't get you."
"Oh, yes, you do. What are you doing here?"
"Honestly, my good fellow," Mark began to show a little pique, "you have remarkable curiosity about what isn't your business."
"But it is my business, Griffin. I am not a book agent, and never was."
It was Mark's turn to smile.
"Which fact," he said, "is not information to me. I knew it long ago. You are a detective."
"I am. Does that tell you nothing?"
"Nothing," replied Mark, "except that you make up splendidly as a really decent sort of fellow."
"Perhaps I am a decent sort, decent enough, anyhow; and perhaps I don't particularly like my business, but it is my business. Now, look here, Griffin, I want you to help instead of hindering me. I have to ask this question of you: What do you know about Ruth Atheson? You see her every day."
"So," said Mark, annoyed, "the constable has not been around for nothing."
"You have seen him then?"
"Which proves he is a reliable constable, even if he is not a good detective." Saunders looked pleased. "But what about Ruth Atheson?"
But Mark would have his innings now. He knew well how to keep Saunders anxious.
"I am quite—well, interested in Miss Atheson."
"What!" Saunders half arose.
"Sit down, Saunders," said Mark quietly, "sit down. What's so astonishing about that?"
"You—you—are engaged to Miss Atheson? You can't mean it!"
"I didn't say that."
Saunders sat down again. "You know nothing about her," he gasped.
"The Padre's friends are good enough to appeal to me."
"But does the Padre know?"
Mark's eyes began to steel and glitter. He fixed them on Saunders, and his voice came very steady and quiet.
"Know what, Saunders? Know what?"
"Know what? Why, that Ruth Atheson is not Ruth Atheson."
"Then who is she?"
Saunders drew a deep breath, and stared hard at Mark for what seemed a long time to both. The detective broke the tension.
"Griffin," he almost shouted, "either I am a fool, and ought to be given a job as town crier, or you are the cleverest I've ever gone up against, or—"
"Or," Mark's voice was still quiet, "I may be entirely lacking in the knowledge which you possess. Get it off your mind, man—better do it soon, for you will have to later on, you know. I have quite made up my mind on that."
"Yes," Saunders seemed half satisfied, "yes, you may not know—it really looks as if you didn't. Are you the simon-pure Mark Griffin, brother of Baron Griffin of the Irish peerage?"
"Yes. Where did you get that last bit of information?"
Saunders ignored the query.
"Did you really drop in here as a traveler, aiming at nothing in particular?"
"Did you never know Ruth—"
"Miss Ruth Atheson before?"
"Ever hear of her?"
"Are you really—interested in her?"
"Do you intend to stay interested?"
"I was mistaken. You don't know, and I guess it's my duty to tell you the truth. This girl is a runaway."
"What?" Mark was rising.
Saunders put out his hand. "Easy now, Griffin, easy now. Just wait. I am going to tell you something. I see that you really know nothing, and it's up to me to enlighten you. As I said, Ruth Atheson is not Ruth Atheson. She's the daughter of a grand duke. I can't tell you the name of the Grand Duchy, but I'll say this: it isn't very far from a certain Big Kingdom we hear a great deal about now—in fact the Duchy is a dependency of the Big Kingdom—more than that, the so-called Ruth Atheson is heiress presumptive to the throne. She'll some day be the Grand Duchess."
Mark sat stunned. It was with difficulty that he could speak. He saw a tragedy that Saunders could not see. Then he broke out:
"But you? How do you know?"
"It's my business to know—the business you don't like. I was instructed to watch her. She got out of Europe before certain people could reach her—"
"But," objected Mark, "how do I know you are telling the truth?"
Saunders dug into his pocket and pulled out a postal card. "This will tell you—or the photograph on it will."
The picture was a foreign one, bearing the strange characters of a Slavic language, such a card as is sold in every country with portraits of reigning or distinguished personages. The facsimile signature, in a bold feminine hand across the lower part of the picture, was "Carlotta."
"Do you believe me now, Griffin?" asked Saunders, with some sympathy showing on his face, which fact alone saved Mark from smashing it.
"I am afraid I must, Saunders. You had better tell me the whole of this."
"I will; for, as I have sized up the situation, it is best that I should. The Duchess ran away. She was supposed to be at San Sebastian with a trusted attendant. The attendant was evidently not to be trusted, for she disappeared, too. They were traced to London, then to Madeira, then to a North German Lloyd liner which stopped at the island on its way to America. Then to Boston. Then to Sihasset."
"This attendant you spoke of—what was she like?"
Saunders gave the description: "Dark, fairly stout, white hair, bad English, piercing black eyes, sixty years old, upper lip showing a growth of hair, slight wart on the right side of the nose."
"So she's here with her, is she? I suspected that, but I have never seen the old lady."
"She doesn't go out much."
"Are you satisfied now, Mr. Griffin?"
"As to identity, yes. Now, I will ask the questions. I have a right, haven't I, Saunders?"
"Why did the Duchess run away?"
Saunders hesitated before he answered. "I hate to tell you that. Don't ask."
"But I do ask."
"Well, you may have a right to know. There was a man, that's why."
Mark wondered at his own self-control.
"Who was he?"
"An army officer, attached to the Italian embassy at her father's court. But, look here, Griffin, there was no scandal about it. She just fell in love with him, that's all. I was here watching for him. I thought, for a while, that you might be the man, though the descriptions did not tally. I was taking no chances. If I saw him, my business was to telegraph to a certain Ministry at Washington; that was all."
"And they would—"
"I don't know. Those fellows have ways I can't fathom. I don't know what they would do. They probably have their plans laid. It's evident that they don't want her to meet him. I can't arrest her, and neither can they; but they certainly could do for him if they wanted to. It would be easier to bring her back, then, without scandal or publicity. Now you've got all I know. What are you going to do?"
"I'm afraid," Mark spoke with an effort, "I'm afraid that I don't know just what to do, Saunders. You see, I happen to love her."
"But what about the other man?"
"Well, Saunders, I find it very hard to believe that."
"Griffin," said Saunders, "I've told you a lot, because I know you are a gentleman, and because you have a right to know. I make only one request of you: please don't speak of this."
"I appreciate the confidence, Saunders. My word is given."
"Think this thing over, Griffin. You're the right stuff. I don't blame you for wanting her. You know better than I if she's right, and if you ever can have her."
Mark went back to his room. On his table lay a note. He opened it and read:
"My dear Mark: The Bishop is coming this morning to confirm the little class of tots who received their First Holy Communion last Sunday. His Lordship is a charming man. I'm sure you would like to meet him. Come up and take dinner with us at noon. He leaves on the three o'clock train. Better be at the rectory at eleven thirty. Sincerely, Donald Murray."
When Mark arrived at the church, which stood quite close to the little rectory, he heard the choir singing the Veni Creator, and remembered enough of former visits to church services to know that the sermon was about to begin. Early for dinner, he decided to pass the time listening to what the Bishop might have to say. There were no vacant seats near the door of the church, so he had to go quite close to the sanctuary before he found a place. Only two seats ahead of him was the group of twenty little girls about to be confirmed, and directly across the aisle from them were fifteen little boys.
Mark had vivid recollections of the day of his own First Communion, but he had never been confirmed. Things looked just as they did on the day he so well remembered. The girls were dressed in white, and each small head was covered by a veil which fell in soft long folds to the bottom of the short skirts. The boys were in black, each with a white ribbon around his right arm. These boys all had serious faces, and had evidently been prepared well for the reception of the Sacrament. Mark found himself wondering how the pastor could possibly have succeeded in taming some of the lads, in whom he recognized certain mischievous youngsters he had seen about the hotel; but tamed they certainly were.
Mark had scarcely sat down before the Bishop turned to the congregation and began to speak. His words were addressed entirely to the children. He told them in simple language, which Mark found himself admiring, the meaning and importance of the ceremony, sketching the apostolic origin of Confirmation, and dwelling upon its strengthening spiritual effects.
The Bishop was young, too young, Mark thought, since he was not yet forty. His hair was still black, and his cheeks ruddy. He was quite a contrast to Father Murray who sat near by. Mark noticed that the pastor did not wear the manteletta of a prelate, but only the surplice of a simple priest. There were two other priests in the sanctuary, both young, one probably the Bishop's secretary.
The Bishop allowed his gaze to wander over the congregation as he spoke with a rich, clear voice, and with growing eloquence. The children had fixed their wondering eyes on his impressive figure, as he stood before them, crozier in hand and mitre on head. Mark found that he was growing more attentive, and liking the Bishop even better as the sermon went on. More than that, he found himself interested in the doctrine of Confirmation, a ceremony which but a few months before he would have thought quite meaningless. He watched the Bishop and listened as closely as did the children.
In the very midst of a sentence Mark saw a startled look on the face of the preacher, a quickly suppressed look that told of great surprise. The Bishop saved himself from breaking the current of his speech, but so plainly did Mark notice the instance that his mind jumped at once to the conclusion that the Bishop had seen in the congregation somebody he had not expected in that place and at that time. Instinctively Mark's gaze followed the Bishop's. Across the aisle, and in a direct line with himself, sat Ruth, veiled as usual, and Madame Neuville. For an instant only the Bishop's glance rested on the veiled girl; then he turned again to the children. But the sermon had been spoiled for Mark. The uneasiness was coming over him again. What did the Bishop know? Mark could not help thinking that somehow the incident was a proof that the detective had told the truth.
The sermon over, the Bishop's attendant came up to him, while Father Murray went to marshal his little charges up to the foot of the altar. As the Bishop was about to sit down on the faldstool, Mark saw him whisper to the young priest beside him, the one Mark thought to be the secretary. He was a well trained secretary, for he made no sign; but Mark watched him as he calmly turned around to face the congregation. His searching glance swept the church until it rested upon the girl with the veil. He, too, seemed startled, but gave scarcely a sign as he turned quickly away. When the ceremony had ended Mark left his pew, looking straight at Ruth as he turned to face the door. He imagined that her eyes looked directly into his; but if they did they looked at him as a stranger. He could have seen a smile under the veil if it had been there, but there was none. Still more worried, he left the church. The girl remained behind, until there was no one but herself and Madame Neuville left. In his anxiety for the girl, Mark returned and looked at her from the rear of the church. Her face was buried in her hands. The sacristy door opened slightly and the young secretary looked out. The girl, not seeing the door open, lifted the veil for an instant to wipe away her tears. The secretary closed the door softly as soon as he had seen her.