FROM THE HOUSETOPS
BY GEORGE BARR McCUTCHEON
Author of "Ghaustark," "The Hollow of Her Hand," "The Prince of Graustark," etc.
With Illustrations by F. GRAHAM COOTES
Copyright, 1916 By DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY, INC. All rights reserved Made in U.S.A.
CHAPTER I 1 CHAPTER II 9 CHAPTER III 16 CHAPTER IV 27 CHAPTER V 39 CHAPTER VI 57 CHAPTER VII 76 CHAPTER VIII 90 CHAPTER IX 101 CHAPTER X 120 CHAPTER XI 137 CHAPTER XII 155 CHAPTER XIII 169 CHAPTER XIV 185 CHAPTER XV 197 CHAPTER XVI 213 CHAPTER XVII 230 CHAPTER XVIII 247 CHAPTER XIX 260 CHAPTER XX 273 CHAPTER XXI 292 CHAPTER XXII 310 CHAPTER XXIII 329 CHAPTER XXIV 345 CHAPTER XXV 359 CHAPTER XXVI 376 CHAPTER XXVII 391 CHAPTER XXVIII 405 CHAPTER XXIX 421 CHAPTER XXX 431
FROM THE HOUSETOPS
Mr. Templeton Thorpe was soon to be married for the second time. Back in 1860 he married a girl of twenty-two, and now in the year 1912 he was taking unto himself another girl of twenty-two. In the interim he had achieved a grandson whose years were twenty-nine. In his seventy-seventh year he was worth a great many millions of dollars, and for that and no other reason perhaps, one of the newspapers, in commenting on the approaching nuptials, declared that nobody could now deny that he was a philanthropist.
* * * * *
"I daresay you are right, Mrs. Tresslyn," said old Templeton Thorpe's grandson, bitterly. "He hasn't many more years to live."
The woman in the chair started, her eyes narrowing. The flush deepened in her cheeks. It had been faint before and steady, but now it was ominous.
"I fear you are again putting words into my mouth," she said coldly. "Have I made any such statement?"
"I did not say that you had, Mrs. Tresslyn," said the young man. "I merely observed that you were right. It isn't necessary to put the perfectly obvious into words. He is a very old man, so you are right in believing that he hasn't many years left to live. Nearly four times the age of Anne,—that's how old he is,—and time flies very swiftly for him."
"I must again remind you that you are in danger of becoming offensive, Braden. Be good enough to remember that this interview is not of my choosing. I consented to receive you in—"
"You knew it was inevitable—this interview, as you call it. You knew I would come here to denounce this damnable transaction. I have nothing to apologise for, Mrs. Tresslyn. This is not the time for apologies. You may order me to leave your house, but I don't believe you will find any satisfaction in doing so. You would still know that I have a right to protest against this unspeakable marriage, even though it should mean nothing more to me than the desire to protect a senile old man against the—"
"Your grandfather is the last man in the world to be described as senile," she broke in, with a thin smile.
"I could have agreed with you a month ago, but not now," said he savagely.
"Perhaps you would better go now, Braden," said she, arising. She was a tall, handsome woman, well under fifty. As she faced her visitor, her cold, unfriendly eyes were almost on a level with his own. The look she gave him would have caused a less determined man to quail. It was her way of closing an argument, no matter whether it was with her butcher, her grocer, of the bishop himself. Such a look is best described as imperious, although one less reserved than I but perhaps more potently metaphorical would say that she simply looked a hole through you, seeing beyond you as if you were not there at all. She had found it especially efficacious in dealing with the butcher and even the bishop, to say nothing of the effect it always had upon the commonplace nobodies who go to the butcher and the bishop for the luxuries of both the present and the future life, and it had seldom failed to wither and blight the most hardy of masculine opponents. It was not always so effective in crushing the members of her own sex, for there were women in New York society who could look straight through Mrs. Tresslyn without even appearing to suspect that she was in the range of vision. She had been known, however, to stare an English duke out of countenance, and it was a long time before she forgave herself for doing so. It would appear that it is not the proper thing to do. Crushing the possessor of a title is permissible only among taxi-drivers and gentlemen whose daughters are already married.
Her stony look did not go far toward intimidating young Mr. Thorpe. He was a rather sturdy, athletic looking fellow with a firm chin and a well-set jaw, and a pair of grey eyes that were not in the habit of wavering.
"I came here to see Anne," he said, a stubborn expression settling in his face. "Is she afraid to see me, or is she obeying orders from you, Mrs. Tresslyn?"
"She doesn't care to see you," said Mrs. Tresslyn. "That's all there is to be said about it, Braden."
"So far as I am concerned, she is still engaged to me. She hasn't broken it off by word or letter. If you don't mind, I'd like to have it broken off in the regular way. It doesn't seem quite proper for her to remain engaged to me right up to the instant she marries my grandfather. Or is it possible that she intends to remain bound to me during the lifetime of my grandparent, with the idea of holding me to my bargain when he is gone?"
"Don't be ridiculous," was all that Mrs. Tresslyn said in response to this sarcasm, but she said it scathingly.
For a full minute they stood looking into each other's eyes, each appraising the other, one offensively, the other defensively. She had the advantage of him, for she was prepared to defend herself while he was in the position of one who attacks without strategy and leaps from one exposed spot to another. It was to her advantage that she knew that he despised her; it was to his disadvantage that he knew she had always liked him after a manner of her own, and doubtless liked him now despite the things he had said to her. She had liked him from his boyhood days when report had it that he was to be the sole heir to his grandfather's millions, and she had liked him, no doubt, quite as sincerely, after the old man had declared that he did not intend to ruin a brilliant career by leaving a lot of uninspiring money to his ambitious grandson.
In so many words, old Templeton Thorpe had said, not two months before, that he intended to leave practically all of his money to charity! All except the two millions he stood ready to settle upon his bride the day she married him! Possibly Mrs. Tresslyn liked the grandson all the more for the treasures that he had lost, or was about to lose. It is easy to like a man who will not be pitied. At any rate, she did not consider it worth while to despise him, now that he had only a profession to offer in exchange for her daughter's hand.
"Of course, Mrs. Tresslyn, I know that Anne loves me," he said, with forced calmness. "She doesn't love my grandfather. That isn't even debatable. I fear that I am the only person in the world who does love him. I suspect, too, that if he loves any one, I am that one. If you think that he is fool enough to believe that Anne loves him, you are vastly mistaken. He knows perfectly well that she doesn't, and, by gad, he doesn't blame her. He understands. That's why he sits there at home and chuckles. I hope you will not mind my saying to you that he considers me a very lucky person."
"Lucky?" said she, momentarily off her guard.
"If you care to hear exactly how he puts it, he says I'm damned lucky, Mrs. Tresslyn. Of course, you are not to assume that I agree with him. If I thought all this was Anne's doing and not yours, I should say that I am lucky, but I can't believe—good heavens, I will not believe that she could do such a thing! A young, beautiful, happy girl voluntarily—oh, it is unspeakable! She is being driven into it, she is being sacrificed to—"
"Just one moment, Braden," interrupted Mrs. Tresslyn, curtly. "I may as well set you quite straight in the matter. It will save time and put an end to recriminations. My daughter does not care the snap of her fingers for Mr. Thorpe. I think she loves you quite as dearly now as she ever did. At any rate, she says she does. But that is neither here nor there. She is going to marry Mr. Thorpe, and of her own volition. I have advised her to do so, I will admit, but I have not driven her to it, as you say. No one but a fool would expect her to love that old man. He doesn't ask it of her. He simply asks her to marry him. Nowadays people do not always marry for love. In fact, they frequently marry to avoid it—at least for the time being. Your grandfather has told you of the marriage settlement. It is to be two million dollars, set apart for her, to be hers in full right on the day that he dies. We are far from rich, Anne and I. My husband was a failure—but you know our circumstances quite well enough without my going into them. My daughter is her own mistress. She is twenty-three. She is able to choose for herself. It pleases her to choose the grandfather instead of the grandson. Is that perfectly plain to you? If it is, my boy, then I submit that there is nothing further to be said. The situation is surely clear enough for even you to see. We do not pretend to be doing anything noble. Mr. Thorpe is seventy-seven. That is the long and short of it."
"In plain English, it's the money you are after," said he, with a sneer.
"Obviously," said she, with the utmost candour. "Young women of twenty- three do not marry old men of seventy-seven for love. You may imagine a young girl marrying a penniless youth for love, but can you picture her marrying a penniless octogenarian for the same reason? I fancy not. I speak quite frankly to you, Braden, and without reserve. We have always been friends. It would be folly to attempt to delude you into believing that a sentimental motive is back of our—shall we say enterprise?"
"Yes, that is what I would call it," said he levelly. "It is a more refined word than scheme."
"The world will be grateful for the opportunity to bear me out in all that I have said to you," she went on. "It will cheerfully, even gleefully supply any of the little details I may have considered unnecessary or superfluous in describing the situation. You are at liberty, then, to go forth and assist in the castigation. You have my permission,—and Anne's, I may add,—to say to the world that I have told you plainly why this marriage is to take place. It is no secret. It isn't improbable that your grandfather will consent to back you up in your denunciation. He is that kind of a man. He has no illusions. Permit me to remind you, therefore, that neither you nor the world is to take it for granted that we are hoodwinking Mr. Thorpe. Have I made myself quite clear to you, Braden?"
The young man drew a deep breath. His tense figure relaxed. "I did not know there were such women in the world as you, Mrs. Tresslyn. There were heartless, soulless women among the Borgias and the Medicis, but they lived in an age of intrigue. Their acts were mildly innocuous when compared with—"
"I must ask you to remember that you are in my home, Braden," she interrupted, her eyes ablaze.
"Oh, I remember where I am, perfectly," he cried. "It was in this very room that Anne promised to become my wife. It was here that you gave your consent, less than a year ago."
He had been pacing the floor, back and forth across the space in front of the fireplace, in which logs were blazing on this raw February afternoon. Now he stopped once more to face her resolutely.
"I insist that it is my right to see Anne," he said. His eyes were bloodshot, his cheek pallid. "I must hear from her own lips that she no longer considers herself bound to me by the promise made a year ago. I demand that much of her. She owes it to me, if not to herself, to put an end to the farce before she turns to tragedy. I don't believe she appreciates the wickedness of the thing she is about to do. I insist that it is my right to speak with her, to urge her to reconsider, to point out to her the horrors of—"
"She will not see you, Braden," broke in the mother, finality in her voice.
"She must see me," he shouted. "If not to-day, to-morrow; if not then, some other day, for, by the Eternal, Mrs. Tresslyn, I intend to speak with her if I have to wait until the accursed day you have selected,—at the very altar, if necessary. She shall not go into this thing until she has had the final word with me, and I with her. She does not know what she is doing. She is carried away by the thought of all that money—Money! Good God, Mrs. Tresslyn, she has told me a hundred times that she would marry me if I were as poor as the raggedest beggar in the streets. She loves me, she cannot play this vile trick on me. Her heart is pure. You cannot make me believe that she isn't honest and fair and loyal. I tell you now, once and for all, that I will not stand idly by and see this vile sacrifice made in order to—"
"Rawson," interrupted Mrs. Tresslyn, looking beyond him in the direction of the door, "Doctor Thorpe is going. Will you give him his hat and coat?" She had pressed a button beside the mantelpiece, and in response to the call, the butler stood in the doorway. "Good day, Braden. I am sorry that Anne is unable to see you to-day. She—"
"Good day, Mrs. Tresslyn," he choked out, controlling himself with an effort. "Will you tell her that I shall call to-morrow?"
She smiled. "When do you expect to return to London? I had hoped to have you stay until after the wedding."
His smile was more of an effort than hers. "Thanks. My grandfather has expressed the same hope. He says the affair will not be complete without my presence at the feast. To-morrow, at this hour, I shall come to see Anne. Thank you, Rawson."
His gaze swept the long, luxurious drawing-room, now filled with the shadows of late afternoon. A sigh that ended in an unvoiced imprecation escaped him. There was not an object in the room that did not possess for him a peculiar claim of intimacy. Here he had dreamed of paradise with Anne, and here he had built upon his hopes,—a staunch future that demanded little of the imagination. He could never forget this room and all that it had held for him.
But now, in that brief, swift glance, he found himself estimating the cost of all the treasures that it contained, and the price that was to be paid in order that they might not be threatened. These things represented greed. They had always represented greed. They had been saved out of the wreck that befell the Tresslyn fortunes when Anne was a young girl entering her teens, the wreck that destroyed Arthur Tresslyn and left his widow with barely enough to sustain herself and children through the years that intervened between the then and the now.
He recalled that after the wreck had been cleared up, Mrs. Tresslyn had a paltry twenty-five thousand a year on which to maintain the house that, fortuitously, had been in her name at the time of the smash. A paltry sum indeed! Barely enough to feed and clothe one hundred less exacting families for a year; families, however, with wheelbarrows instead of automobiles, and with children instead of servants.
Ten years had elapsed since the death of Arthur Tresslyn, and still the house in the east Seventies held itself above water by means of that meagre two thousand a month! These rare, almost priceless objects upon which he now gazed had weathered the storm, proof against the temptations that beset an owner embarrassed by their richness; they had maintained a smug relationship to harmony in spite of the jangling of discordant instruments, such as writs and attachments and the wails of insufferable creditors who made the usual mistake of thinking that a man's home is his castle and therefore an object of reprisal. The splendid porcelains, the incomparable tapestries and the small but exquisite paintings remained where they had been placed by the amiable but futile Arthur, and all the king's men and all the king's horses could not have removed them without Mrs. Tresslyn's sanction. The mistress of the house subsisted as best she could on the pitiful income from a sequestered half-million, and lived in splendour among objects that deluded even the richest and most arrogant of her friends into believing that nothing was more remote from her understanding than the word poverty, or the equally disgusting word thrift.
Here he had come to children's parties in days when he was a lad and Anne a child of twelve, and here he had always been a welcome visitor and playmate, even to the end of his college years. The motherless, fatherless grandson of old Templeton Thorpe was cherished among heirlooms that never had had a price put upon them. Of all the boys who came to the Tresslyn house, young Braden Thorpe was the heir with the most potent possibility. He did not know it then, but now he knew that on the occasion of his smashing a magnificent porcelain vase the forgiving kiss that Mrs. Tresslyn bestowed upon his flaming cheek was not due to pity but to farsightedness. Somehow he now felt that he could smash every fragile and inanimate thing in sight, and still escape the kiss.
Not the least regal and imposing object in the room was the woman who stood beside the fireplace, smiling as she always smiled when a situation was at its worst and she at her best. Her high-bred, aristocratic face was as insensitive to an inward softness as a chiseled block of marble is to the eye that gazes upon it in rapt admiration. She had trained herself to smile in the face of the disagreeable; she had acquired the art of tranquillity. This long anticipated interview with her daughter's cast- off, bewildered lover was inevitable. They had known that he would come, insistent. She had not kept him waiting. When he came to the house the day after his arrival from England, following close upon a cablegram sent the day after the news of Anne's defection had struck him like a thunderbolt, she was ready to receive him.
And now, quite as calmly and indifferently, she was ready to say good-bye to him forever,—to this man who until a fortnight before had considered himself, and rightly too, to be the affianced husband of her daughter. He meant nothing to her. Her world was complete without him. He possessed her daughter's love,—and all the love she would ever know perhaps,—but even that did not produce within her the slightest qualm. Doubtless Anne would go on loving him to the end of her days. It is the prerogative of women who do not marry for love; it is their right to love the men they do not marry provided they honour the men they do, and keep their skirts clear besides.
Mrs. Tresslyn felt, and honestly too, that her own assurances that Anne loved him would be quite as satisfactory as if Anne were to utter them herself. It all came to the same thing, and she had an idea that she could manage the situation more ably than her daughter.
And Mrs. Tresslyn was quite sure that it would come out all right in the end. She hadn't the remotest doubt that Anne could marry Braden later on, if she cared to do so, and if nothing better offered; so what was there to worry about? Things always shape themselves after the easiest possible fashion. It wasn't as if she was marrying a young man with money. Mrs. Tresslyn had seen things shape themselves before. Moreover, she rather hated the thought of being a grandmother before she was fifty. And so it was really a pleasure to turn this possible son-in-law out of her house just at this time. It would be a very simple matter to open the door to him later on and invite him in.
She stood beside her hearth and watched him go with a calm and far from uneasy eye. He would come again to-morrow, perhaps,—but even at his worst he could not be a dangerous visitor. He was a gentleman. He was a bit distressed. Gentlemen are often put to the test, and they invariably remain gentlemen.
He stopped at the door. "Will you tell Anne that I'll be here to-morrow, Mrs. Tresslyn?"
"I shall tell her, of course," said Mrs. Tresslyn, and lifted her lorgnon.
He went out, filled to the throat with rage and resentment. His strong body was bent as if against a gale, and his hands were tightly clenched in his overcoat pockets. In his haste to get away from the house, he had fairly flung himself into the ulster that Rawson held for him, and the collar of his coat showed high above the collar of the greatcoat,—a most unusual lapse from orderliness on the part of this always careful dresser.
He was returning to his grandfather's house. Old Templeton Thorpe would be waiting there for him, and Mr. Thorpe's man would be standing outside the library door as was his practice when his master was within, and there would be a sly, patient smile on the servant's lips but not in his sombre eyes. He was returning to his grandfather's house because he had promised to come back and tell the old man how he had fared at the home of his betrothed. The old man had said to him earlier in the afternoon that he would know more about women than he'd ever known before by the time his interview was over, and had drily added that the world was full to overflowing of good women who had not married the men they loved,—principally, he was just enough to explain, because the men they loved preferred to marry other women.
Braden had left him seated in the library after a stormy half-hour; and as he rushed from the room, he found Mr. Thorpe's man standing in the hall outside the door, just as he always stood, waiting for orders with the sly, patient smile on his lips.
For sixty years Templeton Thorpe had lived in the house near Washington Square, and for thirty-two of them Wade had been within sound of his voice, no matter how softly he called. The master never rang a bell, night or day. He did not employ Wade to answer bells. The butler could do that, or the parlour-maid, if the former happened to be tipsier than usual. Wade always kept his head cocked a little to one side, in the attitude of one listening, and so long had he been at it that it is doubtful if he could have cocked it the other way without snapping something in his neck. That right ear of his was open for business twenty-four hours out of the day. The rest of his body may have slept as soundly as any man's, but his ear was always awake, on land or sea. It was his boast that he had never had a vacation.
Braden, after his long ride down Fifth Avenue on the stage, found Wade in the hall.
"Is my grandfather in the library, Wade?" he asked, surprised to find the man at the foot of the stairs, quite a distance from his accustomed post.
"He is, sir," said Wade. "He asked me to wait here until you arrived and then to go upstairs for a little while, sir. I fancy he has something to say to you in private." Which was a naive way of explaining that Mr. Thorpe did not want him to have his ear cocked in the hall during the conversation that was to be resumed after an advisable interval. Observing the strange pallor in the young man's usually ruddy face, he solicitously added: "Shall I get you a glass of—ahem!—spirits, sir? A snack of brandy is a handy thing to—"
"No, thank you, Wade. You forget that I am a doctor. I never take medicine," said Braden, forcing a smile.
"A very good idea, sir," said Wade.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Tresslyn had reported to Anne, in the cosy little boudoir at the top of the house in the Seventies.
"It is just as well that you insisted on me seeing him, dear," she said on entering the room. "He would have said things to you that you could not have forgiven. As it is, you have nothing to forgive, and you have saved yourself a good many tears. He—but, my dear, what's this? Have you been crying?"
Anne, tall and slender, stood with her back to the window, her exquisite face in the shadows. Even in the dim, colourless light of the waning day, she was lovely—lovely even with the wet cheeks and the drooped, whimpering lips.
"What did he say, mother?" she asked, her voice hushed and broken. "How did he look?" Her head was bent and she looked at her mother from beneath pain-contracted brows. "Was he angry? Was he desperate? Did—did he say that he—that he loved me?"
"He looked very well, he was angry, he was desperate and he said that he loved you," replied Mrs. Tresslyn, with the utmost composure. "So dry your eyes. He did just what was to have been expected of him, and just what you counted upon. He—"
"He honestly, truly said that he loved me?" cried the girl, lifting her head and drawing a deep breath.
Anne dried her eyes with a fresh bit of lace.
"Sit down, mother, and tell me all about it," she said, jerking a small chair around so that it faced the couch. Then she threw herself upon the latter and, reaching out with a slender foot, drew the chair closer. "Sit up close, and let's hear what my future grandson had to say."
Braden Thorpe had spent two years in the New York hospitals, after graduation from Johns Hopkins, and had been sent to Germany and Austria by his grandfather when he was twenty-seven, to work under the advanced scientists of Vienna and Berlin. At twenty-nine he came back to New York, a serious-minded, purposeful man, wrapped up in his profession and heterodoxically humane, to use the words of his grandfather. The first day after his return he confided to his grim old relative the somewhat unprofessional opinion that hopelessly afflicted members of the human race should be put out of their misery by attending physicians, operating under the direction of a commission appointed to consider such cases, and that the act should be authorised by law!
His grandfather, being seventy-six and apparently as healthy as any one could hope to be at that age, said that he thought it would be just as well to kill 'em legally as any other way, having no good opinion of doctors, and admitted that his grandson had an exceptionally soft heart in him even though his head was a trifle harder and thicker than was necessary in one so young.
"It's worth thinking about, anyhow, isn't it, granddaddy?" Braden had said, with great earnestness.
"It is, my boy," said Templeton Thorpe; "especially when you haven't got anything serious the matter with you."
"But if you were hopelessly ill and suffering beyond all endurance you'd welcome death, wouldn't you?"
"No, I wouldn't," said Mr. Thorpe promptly. "The only time I ever wanted to shuffle off was when your grandmother first refused to marry me. The second time she refused me I decided to do something almost but not quite so terrible, so I went West. The third time I proposed, she accepted me, and out of sheer joy I very stupidly got drunk. So, you see, there is always something to live for," he concluded, with his driest smile.
"I am quite serious about it, grandfather," said Braden stiffly.
"So I perceive. Well, you are planning to hang out your sign here in New York pretty soon, and you are going to become a licensed physician, the confrere and companion of a lot of distinguished gentlemen who believe just as you do about putting sufferers out of their misery but who wouldn't think of doing it, so I'd advise you to keep your opinions to yourself. What do you suppose I sent you abroad for, and gave you an education that few young men have received? Just to see you kicked out of your profession before you've fairly well put a foot into it, or a knife into a plutocrat, or a pill into a pauper? No, sirree, my boy. You sit tight and let the hangman do all the legal killing that has to be done."
"Oh, I know perfectly well that if I advanced this theory,—or scheme,—at present, I'd be kicked out of the profession, notwithstanding the fact that it has all been discussed a million times by doctors in every part of the world. I can't help having the feeling that it would be a great and humane thing—"
"Quite so," broke in the old man, "but let us talk of something else."
A month later Braden came to him and announced that he and Anne Tresslyn were betrothed. They had known each other for years, and from the time that Anne was seventeen Braden had loved her. He had been a quiet, rather shy boy, and she a gay, self-possessed creature whose outlook upon life was so far advanced beyond his, even in those days of adolescence, that he looked upon her as the eighth wonder of the world. She had poise, manner, worldly wisdom of a pleasantly superficial character that stood for sophistication in his blissful estimate of her advantages over him, and she was so adroit in the art of putting her finger upon the right spot at precisely the right moment that he found himself wondering if he could ever bring himself up to her insuperable level.
And when he came home after the two years in Europe, filled with great thoughts and vast pretentions of a singularly unromantic nature, he found her so much lovelier than before that where once he had shyly coveted he now desired with a fervour that swept him headlong into a panic of dread lest he had waited too long and that he had irretrievably lost her while engaged in the wretchedly mundane and commonplace pursuit of trifles. He was intensely amazed, therefore, to discover that she had loved him ever since she was a child in short frocks. He expected her to believe him when he said to her that she was the loveliest of all God's creatures, but it was more than he could believe when she declared that he was as handsome as a Greek god. That, of course, to him was a ludicrous thing to say, a delusion, a fancy that could not be explained, and yet he had seen himself in a mirror a dozen times a day, perhaps, without even suspecting, in his simplicity, that he was an extremely good-looking chap and well worth a second glance from any one except himself.
The announcement did not come as a surprise to old Mr. Thorpe. He had been expecting it. He realised that Braden's dilatory tactics alone were accountable for the delay in bringing the issue to a head.
"And when do you expect to be married?" he had inquired, squinting at his grandson in a somewhat dubious manner.
"Within the year, I hope," said Braden. "Of course, I shall have to get a bit of a start before we can think of getting married."
"A bit of a start, eh? Expect to get enough of a practice in a year to keep Anne going, do you?"
"We shall live very economically."
"Is that your idea or hers?"
"She knows that I have but little more than two thousand a year, but, of course, it won't take much of a practice to add something to that, you know."
"Besides, you can always depend upon me to help you out, Braden,—that is, within reason," said the other, watching him narrowly out of his shrewd old eyes.
Braden flushed. "You have done more than enough for me already, grandfather. I can't take anything more, you see. I'm going to fight my own way now, sir."
"I see," said Mr. Thorpe. "That's the way to talk, my boy. And what does Anne say to that?"
"She thinks just as I do about it. Oh, she's the right sort, granddaddy, so you needn't worry about us, once we are married."
"Perhaps I should have asked what her mother has to say about it."
"Well, she gave us her blessing," said his grandson, with a happy grin.
"After she had heard about your plan to live on the results of your practice?"
"She said she wasn't going to worry about that, sir. If Anne was willing to wait, so was she."
"Wait for what?"
"My practice to pick up, of course. What do you mean?"
"Just that, of course," said the old man quickly. "Well, my boy, while I daresay it isn't really necessary, I give my consent. I am sure you and Anne will be very happy in your cosy little five-room flat, and that she will be a great help to you. You may even attain to quite a fashionable practice,—or clientele, which is it?—through the Tresslyn position in the city. Thousand dollar appendicitis operations ought to be quite common with you from the outset, with Anne to talk you up a bit among the people who belong to her set and who are always looking for something to keep them from being bored to death. I understand that anybody who has an appendix nowadays is looked upon as exceedingly vulgar and is not even tolerated in good society. As for a man having a sound liver,—well, that kind of a liver is absolutely inexcusable. Nobody has one to-day if he can afford to have the other kind. Good livers always have livers,—and so do bad livers, for that matter. But, now, let us return to the heart. You are quite sure that Anne loves you better than she loves herself? That's quite important, you know. I have found that people who say that they love some one better than anybody else in the world, usually forget themselves,—that is to say, they overlook themselves. How about Anne?"
"Rather epigrammatic, aren't you, granddaddy? I have Anne's word for it, that's all. She wouldn't marry me if she loved any one more than she does me,—not even herself, as you put it. I am sure if I were Anne I should love myself better than all the rest of the world."
"A very pretty speech, my boy. You should make an exceptionally fashionable doctor. You will pardon me for appearing to be cynical, but you see I am a very old man and somewhat warped,—bent, you might say, in my attitude toward the tender passion as it is practised to-day. Still, I shall take your word for it. Anne loves you devotedly, and you love her. The only thing necessary, therefore, is a professional practice, or, in other words, a practical profession. I am sure you will achieve both. You have my best wishes. I love you, my boy. You are the only thing left in life for me to love. Your father was my only son. He would have been a great man, I am sure, if he had not been my son. I spoiled him. I think that is the reason why he died so young. Now, my dear grandson, I am not going to make the mistake with his son that I made with my own. I intend that you shall fight your own battles. Among other things, you will have to fight pretty hard for Anne. That is a mere detail, of course. You are a resolute, determined, sincere fellow, Braden, and you have in you the making of a splendid character. You will succeed in anything you undertake. I like your eye, my boy, and I like the set of your jaw. You have principle and you have a sense of reverence that is quite uncommon in these days of ours. I daresay you have been wicked in an essential sort of way, and I fancy you have been just as necessarily honourable. I don't like a mollycoddle. I don't like anything invertebrate. I despise a Christian who doesn't understand Christ. Christ despised sin but he didn't despise sinners. And that brings us back to Mrs. Tresslyn,—Constance Blair that was. You will have to be exceedingly well fortified, my boy, if you expect to withstand the clever Constance. She is the refinement of maternal ambition. She will not be satisfied to have her daughter married to a mere practice. She didn't bring her up for that. She will ask me to come and see her within the next few days. What am I to say to her when she asks me if I expect you and Anne to live on what you can earn out of your ridiculous profession?"
"I think that's all pretty well understood," said Braden easily. "You do Mrs. Tresslyn an injustice, granddaddy. She says it will be a splendid thing for Anne to struggle along as we shall have to do for a while. Character building, is the way she puts it."
"Just the same, I shall expect a message from her before the engagement is announced," said the old man drily.
A hard glitter had come into his eyes. He loved this good-looking, earnest grandson of his, and he was troubled. He lay awake half the night thinking over this piece of not unexpected news.
The next morning at breakfast he said to Braden: "See here, my boy, you spoke to me recently about your desire to spend a year in and about the London hospitals before settling down to the real business of life. I've been thinking it over. You can't very well afford to pay for these finishing touches after you've begun struggling along on your own hook, and trying to make both ends meet on a slender income, so I'd suggest that you take this next year as a gift from me and spend it on the other side, working with my good friend, Sir George Bascombe, the greatest of all the English surgeons. I don't believe you will ever regret it."
Braden was overjoyed. "I should like nothing better, grandfather. By jove, you are good to me. You—"
"It is only right and just that I should give to the last of my race the chance to be a credit to it." There was something cryptic in the remark, but naturally it escaped Braden's notice. "You are the only one of the Thorpes left, my boy. I was an only son and, strange as it may appear, I was singularly without avuncular relatives. It is not surprising, therefore, that I should desire to make a great man out of you. You shall not be handicapped by any failure on my part to do the right thing by you. If it is in my power to safeguard you, it is my duty to exercise that power. Nothing must be allowed to stand in the way or to obstruct your progress. Nothing must be allowed to check your ambition or destroy your courage. So, if you please, I think you ought to have this chance to work with Bascombe. A year is a short time to a chap of your age and experience, and it may be the most valuable one in a long and successful life."
"If I can ever grow to be half as wise and half as successful as you, grandfather, I shall have achieved more than—"
"My boy, I inherited my success and I've been more of a fool than you suspect. My father left me with two or three millions of dollars, and the little wisdom that I have acquired I would pass on to you instead of money if it were possible to do so. A man cannot bequeath his wisdom. He may inherit it, but he can't give it away, for the simple reason that no one will take it as a gift. It is like advice to the young: something to disregard. My father left me a great deal of money, and I was too much of a coward to become a failure. Only the brave men are failures. They are the ones who take the risks. If you are going to be a surgeon, be a great one. Now, when do you think you can go to London?"
Braden, his face aglow, was not long in answering. "I'll speak to Anne about it to-night. If she is willing to marry me at once, we'll start immediately. By Jove, sir, it is wonderful! It is the greatest thing that ever happened to a fellow. I—"
"Ah, but I'm afraid that doesn't fit in with my plan," interrupted the old man, knitting his brows. "It is my idea that you should devote yourself to observation and not to experimentation,—to study instead of honeymooning. A bride is out of the question, Braden. This is to be my year and not Anne's."
They were a week thrashing it out, and in the end it was Mrs. Tresslyn who settled the matter. She had had her talk with Mr. Templeton Thorpe, and, after hearing all that he had to say, expressed herself in no uncertain terms on the advisability of postponing the wedding for a year if not longer. Something she said in private to Anne appeared to have altered that charming young person's notions in regard to an early wedding, so Braden found himself without an ally. He went to London early in the fall, with Anne's promises safely stowed away in his heart, and he came back in the middle of his year with Sir George, dazed and bewildered by her faithlessness and his grandfather's perfidy.
Out of a clear sky had come the thunderbolt. And then, while he was still dazed and furious, his grandfather had tried to convince him that he had done him a deuce of a good turn in showing up Anne Tresslyn!
In patience the old man had listened to his grandson's tirade, his ravings, his anathemas. He had heard himself called a traitor. He had smiled grimly on being described as a satyr! When words and breath at last failed the stalwart Braden, the old gentleman, looking keenly out from beneath his shaggy brows, and without the slightest trace of resentment in his manner, suggested that they leave the matter to Anne.
"If she really wants you, my boy, she'll chuck me and my two-million- dollar purse out of the window, so to speak, and she'll marry you in spite of your poverty. If she does that, I'll be satisfied. I'll step down and out and I'll praise God for his latest miracle. If she looks at it from the other point of view,—the perfectly safe and secure way, you understand,—and confirms her allegiance to me, I'll still be exceedingly happy in the consciousness that I've done you a good turn. I will enter my extreme old age in the race against your healthy youth. I will proffer my three or four remaining years to her as against the fifty you may be able to give her. Go and see her at once. Then come back here to me and tell me what she says."
And so it was that Braden Thorpe returned, as he had agreed to do, to the home of the man who had robbed him of his greatest possession,—faith in woman. He found his grandfather seated in the library, in front of a half- dead fire. A word, in passing, to describe this remarkable old man. He was tall and thin, and strangely erect for one of his years. His gaunt, seamed face was beardless and almost repellent in its severity. In his deep-set, piercing eyes lurked all the pains of a lifetime. He had been a strong, robust man; the framework was all that remained of the staunch house in which his being had dwelt for so long. His hand shook and his knee rebelled against exertion, but his eye was unwavering, his chin unflinching. White and sparse was the thatch of hair upon his shrunken skull, and harsh was the thin voice that came from his straight, colourless lips. He walked with a cane, and seldom without the patient, much-berated Wade at his elbow, a prop against the dreaded day when his legs would go back on him and the brink would appear abruptly out of nowhere at his very feet. And there were times when he put his hand to his side and held it there till the look of pain softened about his mouth and eyes, though never quite disappeared.
It was Templeton Thorpe's contention that Braden was a family investment, and that a good investment will take care of itself if properly handled. He considered himself quite capable of making a man of Braden, but he did not allow the boy to think that the job was a one-sided undertaking. Braden worked for all that he received. There was no silver platter, no golden spoon in Mr. Thorpe's cupboard. They understood each other perfectly and Templeton Thorpe was satisfied with his investment.
That is why his eyes twinkled when Braden burst into the library after his fruitless appeal to Mrs. Tresslyn. He smiled as one smiles with relief when a craft he is watching glides safely but narrowly past a projecting abutment.
"Calm yourself," he remarked after Braden's somewhat wild and incoherent beginning. "And sit down. You will not get anywhere pacing this twenty by thirty room, and you are liable to run into something immovable if you don't stop glaring at me and watch out where you are going instead."
"Sit down?" shouted Braden, stopping before the old man in the chair, his hands clinched and his teeth showing. "I'll never sit down in your house again! What do you think I am? A snivelling, cringing dog that has to lick your hand for—"
"Now, now!" admonished the old man, without anger. "If you will not sit down, at least be kind enough to stand still. I can't understand half you say while you are stamping around like that. This isn't a china shop. Control yourself. Now, let's have it in so many words and not so many gesticulations. So Anne declined to see you, eh?"
"I don't believe Anne had a voice in the matter. Mrs. Tresslyn is at the back of all this. She is the one who has roped you in,—duped you, or whatever you choose to call it without resorting to profanity. She's forcing Anne into this damnable marriage, and she is making a perfect fool of you. Can't you see it? Can't you see—but, my God, how can I ask that question of you? When a man gets to be as old as you, he—" He broke off abruptly, on the point of uttering the unforgivable.
"Go on, my boy," said Templeton Thorpe quietly. "Say it. I shan't mind."
"Oh, what's the use?" groaned the miserable lover. "I cannot say anything more to you, sir, than I said early this afternoon. I told you then just what I think of your treachery. There isn't anything more for me to say, but I'd like you to know that Anne despises you. Her mother acknowledges that much at least,—and, curse her, without shame!"
"I am quite well aware of the fact, Braden," said the old man. "You couldn't expect her to love me, could you?"
"Then, why in God's name are you marrying her? Why are you spoiling my life? Why are you—"
"Is it spoiling your life to have the girl you love turn to and marry an old wreck such as I am, just because I happen to be willing to pay her two million dollars,—in advance, you might say? Is that spoiling your life or saving it?"
Mr. Thorpe had dropped the cynical, half-amused air, and was now speaking with great intensity. Braden, struck by the change, turned suddenly to regard the old man with a new and puzzled light in his lowering eyes.
"See here, my lad, you've had your chance. I knew what I was about when I sent you to see her. I knew precisely what would happen. She wants to marry you, but she prefers to marry me. That isn't as ambiguous as it sounds. Just think it over,—later on, not now, for I have something else to say to you. Do me the honour to be seated. Thank you. Now, you've got quite a good-sized, respectable nose upon your face. I submit that the situation is quite as plain as that nose, if you look at it in the broad light of understanding. If you think that I am marrying Anne because I love her, or because I am in my dotage and afflicted with senility, you are very much mistaken. If you think I am giving her two million dollars as a wedding gift because I expect it to purchase her love and esteem, you do my intelligence an injustice. If you think that I relish the prospect of having that girl in my house from now till the day I die, worrying the soul out of me, you are too simple for words. I am marrying her, not because I love her, my lad, but—but because I love you. God forbid that I should ever sink so low as to steal from my own flesh and blood. Stealing is one thing, bartering another. I expect to convince you that I have not taken anything from you that is of value, hence I am not a malefactor."
Braden, seated opposite him, his elbows on the arms of the chair, leaned forward and watched the old man curiously. A new light had come into his eyes when Mr. Thorpe uttered those amazing words—"but because I love you." He was beginning to see, he was beginning to analyse the old man's motives, he was groping his way out of the fog.
"You will have hard work to convince me that I have not been treated most unfairly, most vilely," said he, his lips still compressed.
"Many years ago," said Mr. Thorpe, fixing his gaze on the lazy fire, "I asked Anne's grandmother to marry me. I suppose I thought that I was unalterably in love with her. I was the very rich son of a very rich man, and—pardon my conceit—what you would call an exceedingly good catch. Well, in those days things were not as they are now. The young lady, a great beauty and amazingly popular, happened to be in love with Roger Blair, a good-looking chap with no fortune and no prospects. She took the advice of her mother and married the man she loved, disdaining my riches and me as well. Roger wasn't much of a success as a husband, but he was a source of enlightenment and education to his wife. Not in the way you would suspect, however. He managed in very short order to convince her that it is a very ignorant mother who permits her daughter to marry a man without means. They hadn't been married three years when his wife had learned her lesson. It was too late to get rid of Roger, and by that time I was happily married to a girl who was quite as rich as I, and could afford to do as she pleased. So, you see, Anne's grandmother had to leave me out of the case, even though Roger would have been perfectly delighted to have given her sufficient grounds for divorce. I think you knew Anne's grandmother, Braden?" He paused for an answer, a sly, appraising look in his eyes. Receiving no response except a slight nod of the head, he chuckled softly and went on with the history.
"Poor soul, she's gone to her reward. Now we come to Anne's mother. She was an only child,—and one was quite enough, I assure you. No mother ever had greater difficulty in satisfactorily placing a daughter than had Mrs. Blair. There was an army of young but not very dependable gentlemen who would have married her like a flash, notwithstanding her own poverty, had it not been for the fact that Mrs. Blair was so thoroughly educated by this time that she couldn't even contemplate a mistake in her calculations. She had had ample proof that love doesn't keep the wolf from the door, nor does it draw five per cent, as some other bonds do. She brought Constance up in what is now considered to be the most approved fashion in high society. The chap who had nothing but health and ambition and honour and brains to offer, in addition to that unprofitable thing called love, was a viper in Mrs. Blair's estimation. He was very properly and promptly stamped upon by the fond mother and doubtless was very glad to crawl off into the high grass, out of danger. He—"
"What has all this got to do with your present behaviour?" demanded Braden harshly. "Speaking of vipers," he added, by way of comment.
"I am coming to that," said Mr. Thorpe, resenting the interruption but not its sting. "After a careful campaign, Arthur Tresslyn was elected. He had a great deal of money, a kind heart and scarcely any brains. He was an ideal choice, everybody was agreed upon that. The fellow that Constance was really in love with at the time, Jimmy Gordon, was a friend of your father's. Well, the gentle Arthur went to pieces financially a good many years ago. He played hob with all the calculations, and so we find Constance, his wife, lamenting in the graveyard of her hopes and cursing Jimmy Gordon for his unfaithfulness in marrying before he was in a position to do so. If Jimmy had remained single for twelve years longer than he did, I daresay Arthur's widow would have succeeded in nabbing him whether or no. Arthur managed to die very happily, they say, quite well pleased with himself for having squandered the fortune which brought him so much misery. Now we come to Anne, Arthur's daughter. She became deeply enamoured of a splendid, earnest young chap named Braden Thorpe, grandson of the wealthy and doddering Templeton Thorpe, and recognised as his sole heir. Keep your seat, Braden; I am coming to the point. This young Thorpe trusted the fair and beautiful Anne. He set out to make a name and fortune for himself and for her. He sought knowledge and experience in distant lands, leaving his poor old grandfather at home with nothing to amuse himself with except nine millions of dollars and his dread of death. While Braden was experimenting in London, this doddering, senile old gentleman of Washington Square began to experiment a little on his own account. He set out to discover just what sort of stuff this Anne Tresslyn was made of and to prove to himself that she was worthy of his grandson's love. He began with the girl's mother. As soon as possible, he explained to her that money is a curse. She agreed that money is a curse if you haven't got it. In time, he confessed to her that he did not mean to curse his grandson with an unearned fortune, and that he intended to leave him in his will the trifling sum of fifty thousand dollars, thereby endowing him with the ambition and perhaps the energy to earn more and at the same time be of great benefit to the world in which he would have to struggle. Also, he let it be known that he was philanthropically inclined, that he purposed giving a great many millions to science and that his death would be of untold value to the human race. Are you attending, Braden? If you are not, I shall stop talking at once. It is very exhausting and I haven't much breath or time to waste."
"I am listening. Go on," said Braden, suddenly sitting up in his chair and taking a long, deep breath. The angry, antagonistic light was gone from his eyes.
"Well, the clever Mrs. Tresslyn was interested—deeply interested in my disclosures. She did not hesitate to inform me that Anne couldn't begin to live on the income from a miserable fifty thousand, and actually laughed in my face when I reminded her of the young lady's exalted preference for love in a cottage and joy at any price. Biding my time, I permitted the distressing truth to sink in. You will remember that Anne's letters began to come less frequently about four months ago, and—"
"How do you happen to know about that?" broke in the young man, in surprise.
"Where she had been in the habit of writing twice and even three times a week," went on Mr. Thorpe, "she was content to set herself to the task of dropping you a perfunctory letter once in a fortnight. You will also recall that her letters were not so full of intensity—or enthusiasm: they lacked fervour, they fell off considerably in many ways. I happen to know about all this, Braden, because putting two and two together has always been exceedingly simple for me. You see, it was about three months ago that Anne began to reveal more than casual interest in Percy Wintermill. She—"
"Percy Wintermill!" gasped Braden, clutching the arms of his chair. "Why, she has always looked upon him as the stupidest, ugliest man in town. His attentions have been a standing joke between us. He is crazy about her, I know, but—oh, well, go on with the story."
"To be sure he is crazy about her, as you say. That isn't strange. Half the young men in town think they are in love with her, and most of them believe she could make them happy. Now, no one concedes physical beauty or allurement to Percy. He is as ugly as they grow, but he isn't stupid. He is just a nice, amiable, senseless nincompoop with a great deal of money and a tremendous amount of health. He—"
"I like Wintermill. He is one of my best friends. He is as square as any man I know and he would be the last person to try to come between Anne and me. He is too fond of me for that, sir. You—"
"Unfortunately he was not aware of the fact that you and Anne were engaged. You forget that the engagement was to be kept under cover for the time being. But all this is beside the question. Mrs. Tresslyn had looked the field over pretty carefully. No one appeared to be so well qualified to take your place as Percy Wintermill. He had everything that is desirable in a husband except good looks and perhaps good manners. So she began fishing for Percy. Anne was a delightful bait. Of course, Percy's robust health was objectionable, but it wasn't insurmountable. I could see that Anne loathed the thought of having him for a husband for thirty or forty years. Anybody could see that,—even Percy must have possessed intelligence enough to see it for himself. Finally, about six weeks ago, Anne rose above her environment. She allowed Percy to propose, asked for a few days in which to make up her mind, and then came out with a point- blank refusal. She defied her mother, openly declaring that she would marry you in spite of everything."
"And that is just what she shall do, poor girl," cried Braden joyously. "She shall not be driven into—"
"Just a moment, please. When I discovered that young Wintermill couldn't be depended upon to rescue his best friend, I stepped into the arena, so to speak," said Mr. Thorpe with fine irony. "I sensed the situation perfectly. Percy was young and strong and enduring. He would be a long time dying in the natural order of things. What Anne was looking for—now, keep your seat, my boy!—what she wanted was a husband who could be depended upon to leave her a widow before it was too late. Now, I am seventy-seven, and failing pretty rapidly. It occurred to me that I would be just the thing for her. To make the story short, I began to dilate upon my great loneliness, and also hinted that if I could find the right sort of companion I would jump at the chance to get married. That's putting it rather coarsely, my boy, but the whole business is so ugly that it doesn't seem worth while to affect delicacy. Inside of two weeks, we had come to an understanding,—that is, an arrangement had been perfected. I think that everything was agreed upon except the actual day of my demise. As you know, I am to set aside for Anne as an ante-nuptial substitute for all dower rights in my estate, the sum of two million dollars. I may add that the securities guaranteeing this amount have been submitted to Mrs. Tresslyn and she has found them to be gilt-edged. These securities are to be held in trust for her until the day I die, when they go to her at once, according to our contract. She agrees to—"
"By gad, sir, it is infamous! Absolutely infamous!" exclaimed young Thorpe, springing to his feet. "I cannot—I will not believe it of her."
"She agrees to relinquish all claims to my estate," concluded the old man, with a chuckle. "Inasmuch as I have made it quite clear that all of my money is to go to charity,—scientific charity,—I imagine that the Tresslyns feel that they have made a pretty good bargain."
"I still maintain that she will renounce the whole detestable—"
"She would go back on her contract like a shot if she thought that I intended to include you among my scientific charities," interrupted the old man.
"Oh, if I could only have an hour—half an hour with her," groaned Braden. "I could overcome the vile teaching of her mother and bring her to a realisation of what is ahead of her. I—"
"Do you honestly,—in your heart, Braden,—believe that you could do that?" demanded Mr. Thorpe, arising from his chair and laying his hand upon the young man's shoulder. He forced the other's eyes to meet his. "Do you believe that she would be worthy of your love and respect even though she did back out of this arrangement? I want an honest answer."
"God help me, I—I don't know what to think," cried Braden miserably. "I am shocked, bewildered. I can't say what I believe, grandfather. I only know that I have loved her better than my own soul. I don't know what to think now."
"You might also say that she loves herself better than she loves her own soul," said the old man grimly. "She will go on loving you, I've no doubt, in a strictly physical way, but I wouldn't put much dependence in her soulfulness. One of these fine days, she will come to you and say that she has earned two million dollars, and she will ask you if it is too late to start all over again. What will you say to that?"
"Good Lord, sir, what would you expect me to say?" exploded Braden. "I should tell her to—to go to hell!" he grated between his teeth.
"Meanwhile, I want you to understand that I have acted for your best interests, Braden. God knows I am not in love with this girl. I know her kind, I know her breed. I want to save you from—well, I want to give you a fighting chance to be a great, good man. You need the love of a fine, unselfish woman to help you to the heights you aspire to reach. Anne Tresslyn would not have helped you. She cannot see above her own level. There are no heights for her. She belongs to the class that never looks up from the ground. They are always following the easiest path. I am doing you a good turn. Somewhere in this world there is a noble, self- sacrificing woman who will make you happy, who will give strength to you, who will love you for yourself and not for herself. Go out and find her, my boy. You will recognise her the instant you see her."
"But you—what of you?" asked Braden, deeply impressed by the old man's unsuspected sentiment. "Will you go ahead and—and marry her, knowing that she will make your last few years of life unhappy, un—"
"I am under contract," said Templeton Thorpe grimly. "I never go back on a contract."
"I shall see her, nevertheless," said Braden doggedly.
"It is my desire that you should. In fact, I shall make it my business to see that you do. After that, I fancy you will not care to remain here for the wedding. I should advise you to return to London as soon as you have had it out with her."
"I shall remain here until the very hour of the wedding if it is to take place, and up to that very hour I shall do my best to prevent it, grandfather."
"Your failure to do so will make me the happiest man in New York," said Mr. Thorpe, emotion in his voice, "for I love you dearly, Braden."
A conspicuous but somewhat unimportant member of the Tresslyn family was a young man of twenty-four. He was Anne's brother, and he had preceded her into the world by the small matter of a year and two months. Mrs. Tresslyn had set great store by him. Being a male child he did not present the grave difficulties that attend the successful launching and disposal of the female of the species to which the Tresslyn family belonged. He was born with the divine right to pick and choose, and that is something that at present appears to be denied the sisters of men. But the amiable George, at the age of one and twenty and while still a freshman in college, picked a girl without consulting his parent and in a jiffy put an end to the theory that man's right is divine.
It took more than half of Mrs. Tresslyn's income for the next two years, the ingenuity of a firm of expensive lawyers, the skill of nearly a dozen private detectives, and no end of sleepless nights to untie the loathsome knot, and even then George's wife had a shade the better of them in that she reserved the right to call herself Mrs. Tresslyn, quite permanently disgracing his family although she was no longer a part of it.
The young woman was employed as a demonstrator for a new brand of mustard when George came into her life. The courtship was brief, for she was a pretty girl and virtuous. She couldn't see why there should be anything wrong in getting married, and therefore was very much surprised, and not a little chagrined, to find out almost immediately after the ceremony that she had committed a heinous and unpardonable sin. She shrank for a while under the lashings, and then, like a beast driven to cover, showed her teeth.
If marriage was not sanctuary, she would know the reason why. With a single unimposing lawyer and not the remotest suggestion of a detective to reinforce her position, she took her stand against the unhappy George and his mother, and so successful were her efforts to make divorce difficult that she came out of chambers with thirty thousand dollars in cash, an aristocratic name, and a valuable claim to theatrical distinction.
All this transpired less than two years prior to the events which were to culminate in the marriage of George's only sister to the Honourable Templeton Thorpe of Washington Square. Needless to say, George was now looked upon in the small family as a liability. He was a never-present help in time of trouble. The worst thing about him was his obstinate regard for the young woman who still bore his name but was no longer his wife. At twenty-four he looked upon himself as a man who had nothing to live for. He spent most of his time gnashing his teeth because the pretty little divorcee was receiving the attentions of young gentlemen in his own set, without the slightest hint of opposition on the part of their parents, while he was obliged to look on from afar off.
It appears that parents do not object to young women of insufficient lineage provided the said young women keep at a safe distance from the marriage altar.
It is interesting to note in this connection, however, that little Mrs. George Tresslyn was a model of propriety despite her sprightly explorations of a world that had been strange to her up to the time she was cast into it by a disgusted mother-in-law, and it is still more interesting to find that she nourished a sly hope that some day George would kick over the traces in a very manly fashion and marry her all over again!
Be that as it may, the bereft and humiliated George favoured his mother and sister with innumerable half-hours in which they had to contend with scornful and exceedingly bitter opinions on the iniquity of marriage as it is practised among the elect. He fairly bawled his disapproval of the sale of Anne to the decrepit Mr. Thorpe, and there was not a day in the week that did not contain at least one unhappy hour for the women in his home, for just so often he held forth on the sanctity of the marriage vows.
He was connected with a down-town brokerage firm and he was as near to being a failure in the business as an intimate and lifelong friend of the family would permit him to be and still allow him to remain in the office. His business was the selling of bonds. The friend of the family was the head of the firm, so no importance should be attached to the fact that George did not earn his salt as a salesman. It is only necessary to report that the young man made frequent and determined efforts to sell his wares, but with so little success that he would have been discouraged had it not been for the fact that he was intimately acquainted with himself. He knew himself too well to expect people to take much stock in the public endeavours of one whose private affairs were so far beneath notice. Men were not likely to overlook the disgraceful treatment of the little "mustard girl," for even the men who have mistreated women in their time overlook their own chicanery in preaching decency over the heads of others who have not played the game fairly. George looked upon himself as a marked man, against whom the scorn of the world was justly directed.
Strange as it may appear, George Tresslyn was a tall, manly looking fellow, and quite handsome. At a glance you would have said that he had a great deal of character in his make-up and would get on in the world. Then you would hear about his matrimonial delinquency and instantly you would take a second glance. The second and more searching look would have revealed him as a herculean light-weight,—a man of strength and beauty and stature spoiled in the making. And you would be sorry that you had made the discovery, for it would take you back to his school days, and then you would encounter the causes.
He had gone to a preparatory school when he was twelve. It was eight years before he got into the freshman class of the college that had been selected as the one best qualified to give him a degree, and there is no telling how long he might have remained there, faculty willing, had it not been for the interfering "mustard girl." He could throw a hammer farther and run the hundred faster than any youth in the freshman class, and he could handle an oar with the best of them, but as he had spent nearly eight years in acquiring this proficiency to the exclusion of anything else it is not surprising that he excelled in these pursuits, nor is it surprising that he possessed a decided aversion for the things that are commonly taught in college by studious-looking gentlemen who do not even belong to the athletic association and have forgotten their college yell.
George boasted, in his freshman year, that if the faculty would let him alone he could easily get through the four years without flunking a single thing in athletics. It was during the hockey season, just after the Christmas holidays, that he married the pretty "mustard girl" and put an abrupt end to what must now be regarded as a superficial education.
He carried his athletic vigour into the brokerage offices, however. No one could accuse him of being lazy, and no one could say that he did not make an effort. He possessed purpose and determination after a fashion, for he was proud and resentful; but he lacked perspective, no matter which way he looked for it. Behind him was a foggy recollection of the things he should have learned, and ahead was the dark realisation that the world is made up principally of men who cannot do the mile under thirty minutes but who possess amazing powers of endurance when it comes to running circles around the man who is trained to do the hundred yard dash in ten seconds flat.
A few minutes after Braden Thorpe's departure from the Tresslyn drawing- room, young George entered the house and stamped upstairs to his combination bed-chamber and sitting-room on the top floor. He always went upstairs three steps at a time, as if in a hurry to have it over with. He had a room at the top of the house because he couldn't afford one lower down. A delayed sense of compunction had ordered Mrs. Tresslyn to insist upon George's paying his own way through life, now that he was of age and working for himself.
When George found it impossible to pay his week's reckoning out of his earnings, he blithely borrowed the requisite amount—and a little over—from friends down-town, and thereby enjoyed the distinction of being uncommonly prompt in paying his landlady on the dot. So much for character-building.
And now one of these "muckers" down-town was annoying him with persistent demands for the return of numerous small loans extending over a period of nineteen months. That sort of thing isn't done among gentlemen, according to George Tresslyn's code. For a month or more he had been in the humiliating position of being obliged to dodge the fellow, and he was getting tired of it. The whole amount was well under six hundred dollars, and as he had made it perfectly plain to the beggar that he was drawing ten per cent. on the loans, he couldn't see what sense there was in being in such a hurry to collect. On the other hand, as the beggar wasn't receiving the interest, it is quite possible that he could not look at the situation from George's point of view.
Young Mr. Tresslyn finally had reached the conclusion that he would have to ask his mother for the money. He knew that the undertaking would prove a trying one, so he dashed up to his room for the purpose of fortifying himself with a stiff drink of benedictine.
Having taken the drink, he sat down for a few minutes to give it a chance to become inspirational. Then he skipped blithely down to his mother's boudoir and rapped on the door,—not timidly or imploringly but with considerable authority. Receiving no response, he moved on to Anne's sitting-room, whence came the subdued sound of voices in conversation. He did not knock at Anne's door, but boldly opened it and advanced into the room.
"Hello! Here you are," said George amiably.
He was met by a cold, disapproving stare from his mother and a little gasp of dismay from Anne. It was quite apparent that he was an intruder.
"I wish you would be good enough to knock before entering, George," said Mrs. Tresslyn severely.
"I did," said George, "but you were not in. I always knock at your door, mother. You can't say that I've ever forgotten to do it." He looked aggrieved. "You surely don't mean that I ought to knock at Anne's door?"
"Certainly. What do you want?"
"Well," he began, depositing his long body on the couch and preparing to stretch out, "I'd like to kiss both of you if you'll let me."
"Don't be silly," said Anne, "and don't put your feet on that clean chintz."
"All right," said he cheerfully. "My, how lovely the bride is looking to- day! I wish old Tempy could see you now. He'd—"
"If you are going to be disagreeable, George, you may get out at once," said Mrs. Tresslyn.
"I never felt less like being objectionable in my life," said he, "so if you don't mind I'll stay awhile. By the way, Anne, speaking of disagreeable things, I am sure I saw Brady Thorpe on the avenue a bit ago. Has your discarded skeleton come back with a key to your closet?"
"Braden is in New York," said his mother acidly. "Is it necessary for you to be vulgar, George?"
"Not at all," said he. "When did he arrive? I hope you don't see anything vulgar in that, mother," he made haste to add.
"He reached New York to-day, I think. He has been here to see me. He has gone away. There is nothing more to be said, so please be good enough to consider the subject—"
"Gee! but I'd like to have heard what he had to say to you!"
"I am glad that you didn't," said Anne, "for if you had you might have been under the painful necessity of calling him to account for it, and I don't believe you'd like that."
"Facetious, eh? Well, my mind is relieved at any rate. He spoke up like a little man, didn't he, mother? I thought he would. And I'll bet you gave him as good as he sent, so he's got his tail between his legs now and yelping for mercy. How does he look, Anne? Handsome as ever?"
"Anne did not see him."
"Of course she didn't. How stupid of me. Where is he stopping?"
"With his grandfather, I suppose," said Mrs. Tresslyn, as tolerant as possible.
"Naturally. I should have known that without asking. Getting the old boy braced up for the wedding, I suppose. Pumping oxygen into him, and all that sort of thing. And that reminds me of something else. I may give myself the pleasure of a personal call upon my prospective brother-in-law to-morrow."
"What?" cried his mother sharply.
"Yep," said George blithely. "I may have to do it. It's purely a business matter, so don't worry. I shan't say a word about the wedding. Far be it from me to distress an old gentleman about—"
"What business can you have with Mr. Thorpe?" demanded his mother.
"Well, as I don't believe in keeping secrets from you, mother, I'll explain. You see, I want to see if I can't negotiate the sale of a thousand dollar note. Mr. Thorpe may be in the market to buy a good, safe, gilt-edge note—"
"Come to the point. Whose note are you trying to sell?"
"My own," said George promptly.
Anne laughed. "You would spell gilt with a letter u inserted before the i, in that case, wouldn't you?"
"I give you my word," said George, "I don't know how to spell it. The two words sound exactly alike and I'm always confusing them."
His mother came and stood over him. "George, you are not to go to Mr. Thorpe with your pecuniary difficulties. I forbid it, do you understand?"
"Forbid it, mother? Great Scot, what's wrong in an honest little business transaction? I shall give him the best of security. If he doesn't care to let me have the money on the note, that's his affair. It's business, not friendship, I assure you. Old Tempy knows a good thing when he sees it. I shall also promise to pay twenty per cent. interest for two years from date. Two years, do you understand? If anything should happen to him before the two years are up, I'd still owe the money to his estate, wouldn't I? You can't deny that—"
"Stop! Not another word, sir! Am I to believe that I have a son who is entirely devoid of principle? Are you so lacking in pride that—"
"It depends entirely on how you spell the word, principal or with a ple. I am entirely devoid of the one ending in pal, and I don't see what pride has to do with it anyway. Ask Anne. She can tell you all that is necessary to know about the Tresslyn pride."
"Shut up!" said Anne languidly.
"It's just this way, mother," said George, sitting up, with a frown. "I've got to have five or six hundred dollars. I'll be honest with you, too. I owe nearly that much to Percy Wintermill, and he is making himself infernally obnoxious about it."
"Percy Wintermill? Have you been borrowing money from him?"
"In a way, yes. That is, I've been asking him for it and he's been lending it to me. I don't think I've ever used the word borrow in a single instance. I hate the word. I simply say: 'Percy, let me take twenty-five for a week or two, will you?' and Percy says, 'All right, old boy,' and that's all there is to it. Percy's been all right up to a few weeks ago. In fact, I don't believe he would have mentioned the matter at all if Anne hadn't turned him down on New Year's Eve. Why the deuce did you refuse him, Anne? He'd always been decent till you did that. Now he's perfectly impossible."
"You know perfectly well why I refused him," said Anne, lifting her eyebrows slightly.
"Right-o! It was because you were engaged to Brady Thorpe. I quite forgot. I apologise. You were quite right in refusing him. Be that as it may, however, Percy is as sore as a crab. I can't go around owing money to a chap who has been refused by my sister, can I? One of the Wintermills, too. By Jove, it's awful!" He looked extremely distressed.
"You are not to go to Mr. Thorpe," said his mother from the chair into which she had sunk in order to preserve a look of steadiness. A fine moisture had come out upon her upper lip. "You must find an honourable way in which to discharge your debts."
"Isn't my note as good as anybody's?" he demanded.
"No. It isn't worth a dollar."
"Ah, but it will be if Mr. Thorpe buys it," said he in triumph. "He could discount it for full value, if he wanted to. That's precisely what makes it good. I'm afraid you don't know very much about high finance, mother dear."
"Please go away, George," complained Anne. "Mother and I have a great deal to talk about, and you are a dreadful nuisance when you discover a reason for coming home so long before dinner-time. Can't you pawn something?"
"Don't be ridiculous," said George.
"Why did you borrow money from Percy Wintermill?" demanded Mrs. Tresslyn.
"There you go, mother, using that word 'borrow' again. I wish you wouldn't. It's a vulgar word. You might as well say, 'Why did you swipe money from Percy Wintermill?' He lent it to me because he realised how darned hard-up we are and felt sorry for me, I suppose."
"For heaven's sake, George, don't tell me that you—"
"Don't look so horrified, mother," he interrupted. "I didn't tell him we were hard-up. I merely said, from time to time, 'Let me take fifty, Percy.' I can't help it if he suspects, can I? And say, Anne, he was so terribly in love with you that he would have let me take a thousand any time I wanted it, if I'd had occasion to ask him for it. You ought to be thankful that I didn't."
"Don't drag me into it," said Anne sharply.
"I admit I was fooled all along," said he, with a rueful sigh. "I had an idea that you'd be tickled to death to marry into the Wintermill family. Position, money, family jewels, and all that sort of thing. Everything desirable except Percy. And then, just when I thought something might come of it, you up and get engaged to Brady Thorpe, keeping it secret from the public into the bargain. Confound it, you didn't even tell me till last fall. Your stupid secretiveness allowed me to go on getting into Percy's debt, when a word from you might have saved me a lot of trouble."
"Will you kindly leave the room, George?" said his mother, arising.
"Percy is making himself fearfully obnoxious," went on George ominously. "For nearly three weeks I've been dodging him, and it can't go on much longer. One of these fine days, mother, a prominent member of the Wintermill family is going to receive a far from exclusive thrashing. That's the only way I can think of to stop him, if I can't raise the money to pay him up. Some day I'm going to refrain from dodging and he is going to run right square into this." He held up a brawny fist. "I'm going to hold it just so, and it won't be too high for his nose, either. Then I'm going to pick him up and turn him around, with his face toward the Battery, and kick just as hard as I know how. I'll bet my head he'll not bother me about money after that—unless, of course, he's cad enough to sue me. I don't think he'll do that, however, being a proud and haughty Wintermill. I suppose we'll all be eliminated from the Wintermill invitation list after that, and it may be that we'll go without a fashionable dinner once in awhile, but what's all that to the preservation of the family dignity?"
Mrs. Tresslyn leaned suddenly against a chair, and even Anne turned to regard her tall brother with a look of real dismay.
"How much do you owe him?" asked the former, controlling her voice with an effort.
"Five hundred and sixty-five dollars, including interest. A pitiful sum to get thrashed for, isn't it?"
"And you were planning to get the money from Mr. Thorpe to pay Percy?"
"To keep Percy from getting licked, would be the better way to put it. I think it's uncommonly decent of me."
"You are—you are a bully, George,—a downright bully," flared Anne, confronting him with blazing eyes. "You have no right to frighten mother in this way. It's cowardly."
"He doesn't frighten me, dear," said Mrs. Tresslyn, but her lips quivered. Turning to her son, she continued: "George, if you will mail a check to Percy this minute, I will draw one for you. A Tresslyn cannot owe money to a Wintermill. We will say no more about it. The subject is closed. Sit down there and draw a check for the amount, and I will sign it. Rawson will post it."
George turned his head away, and lowered his chin. A huskiness came quickly into his voice.
"I'm—I'm ashamed of myself, mother,—I give you my word I am. I came here intending to ask you point-blank to advance me the money. Then the idea came into my head to work the bluff about old Mr. Thorpe. That grew into Percy's prospective thrashing. I'm sorry. It's the first time I've ever tried to put anything over on you."
"Fill in the check, please," she said coldly. "I've just been drawing a few for the dressmakers—a few that Anne has just remembered. I shan't in the least mind adding one for Percy. He isn't a dressmaker but if I were asked to select a suitable occupation for him I don't know of one he'd be better qualified to pursue. Fill it in, please."
Her son looked at her admiringly. "By Jove, mother, you are a wonder. You never miss fire. I'd give a thousand dollars, if I had it, to see old Mrs. Wintermill's face if that remark could be repeated to her."
A faint smile played about his mother's lips. After all, there was honest tribute in the speech of this son of hers.
"It would be worse than a bloody nose for Percy," said Anne, slipping an arm around her mother's waist. "But I don't like what you said about me and the dressmakers. I must have gowns. It isn't quite the same as George's I.O.U. to Percy, you know."
"Don't be selfish, Anne," cried George, jerking a chair up to the escritoire and scrambling among the papers for a pen. "You won't have to worry long. You'll soon be so rich that the dressmakers won't dare to send you a bill."
"Wait a moment, George," said Mrs. Tresslyn abruptly. "If you do not promise to refrain from saying disagreeable things to Anne, I shall withdraw my offer to help you out of this scrape."
George faced her. "Does that mean that I am to put my O.K. upon this wedding of Anne's?" His look of good-nature disappeared.
"It means that you are not to comment upon it, that's all," said his mother. "You have said quite enough. There is nothing more that you can add to an already sufficiently distasteful argument."
George swallowed hard as he bent over the checkbook. "All right, mother, I'll try to keep my trap closed from now on. But I don't want you to think that I'm taking this thing pleasantly. I'll say for the last time,—I hope,—that it's a darned crime, and we'll let it go at that."
"Very well. We will let it go at that."
"Great Scot!" burst from his lips as he whirled in the fragile chair to face the women of the house. "I just can't help feeling as I do about it. I can't bear to think of Anne,—my pretty sister Anne,—married to that old rummy. Why, she's fit to be the wife of a god. She's the prettiest girl in New York and she'd be one of the best if she had half a chance. A fellow like Braden Thorpe would make a queen of her, and that's just what she ought to be. Oh, Lord! To think of her being married to that burnt-out, shrivelled-up—"
"George! That will do, sir!"
His sister was staring at him in utter perplexity. Something like wonder was growing in her lovely, velvety eyes. Never before had she heard such words as these from the lips of her big and hitherto far from considerate brother, the brother who had always begrudged her the slightest sign of favour from their mother, who had blamed her for securing by unfair means more than her share of the maternal peace-offerings.
Suddenly the big boy dug his knuckles into his eyes and turned away, muttering an oath of mortification. Anne sprang to his side. Her hands fell upon his shoulders.
"What are you doing, George? Are—are you crazy?"
"Crazy nothing," he choked out, biting his lip. "Go away, Anne. I'm just a damned fool, that's all. I—"
"Mother, he's—he's crying," whispered Anne, bewildered. "What is it, George?" For the first time in her life she slipped an affectionate arm about him and laid her cheek against his sleek, black hair. "Buck up, little boy; don't take it like this. I'll—I'll be all right. I'll—oh, I'll never forget you for feeling as you do, George. I didn't think you'd really care so much."
"Why,—why, Anne, of course I care," he gulped. "Why shouldn't I care? Aren't you my sister, and I your brother? I'd be a fine mess of a thing if I didn't care. I tell you, mother, it's awful! You know it is! It is a queer thing for a brother to say, I suppose, but—but I do love Anne. All my life I've looked upon her as the finest thing in the world. I've been mean and nasty and all that sort of thing and I'm always saying rotten things to her, but, darn it, I—I do love my pretty sister. I ought to hate you, Anne, for this infernal thing you are determined to do—I ought to, do you understand, but I can't, I just can't. It's the rottenest thing a girl can do, and you're doing it, I—oh, say, what's the matter with me? Sniffling idiot! I say, where the devil do you keep your pen?" Wrathfully he jerked a pile of note paper and blotters off the desk, scattering them on the floor. "I'll write the check, mother, and I'll promise to do my best hereafter about Anne and old Tempy. And what's more, I'll not punch Percy's nose, so you needn't be afraid he'll turn it up at us."
The pen scratched vigorously across the check. His mother was regarding him with a queer expression in her eyes. She had not moved while he was expressing himself so feelingly about Anne. Was it possible that after all there was something fine in this boy of hers? His simple, genuine outburst was a revelation to her.
"I trust this may be the last time that you will come to me for money in this way, George," she said levelly. "You must be made to realise that I cannot afford such luxuries as these. You have made it impossible for me to refuse you this time. I cannot allow a son of mine to be in debt to a Wintermill. You must not borrow money. You—"
He looked up, grinning. "There you go again with that middle-class word, mother. But I'll forgive you this once on condition that you never use it again. People in our walk of life never borrow anything but trouble, you know. We don't borrow money. We arrange for it occasionally, but God forbid that we should ever become so common as to borrow it. There you are, filled in and ready for your autograph—payable to Percy Reginald Van Alstone Wintermill. I put his whole name in so that he'd have to go to the exertion of signing it all on the back. He hates work worse than poison. I'm glad you didn't accept him, Anne. It would be awful to have to look up to a man who is so insignificant that you'd have to look down upon him at the same time."
Mrs. Tresslyn signed the check. "I will have Rawson post it to him at once," she said. "There goes one of your gowns, Anne,—five hundred and sixty-five dollars."
"I shan't miss it, mother dear," said Anne cheerfully. She had linked an arm through one of George's, much to the surprise and embarrassment of the tall young man.
"Bully girl," said he awkwardly. "Just for that I'll kiss the bride next month, and wish her the best of luck. I—I certainly hope you'll have better luck than I had."
"There's still loads of luck ahead for you, George," said she, a little wistfully. "All you've got to do is to keep a sharp lookout and you'll find it some day—sooner than I, I'm sure. You'll find the right girl and—zip! Everything will be rosy, old boy!"
He smiled wryly. "I've lost the right girl, Anne."
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Mrs. Tresslyn sharply. Her eyes narrowed as she looked into his. "You ought to get down on your knees and thank God that you are not married to that—"
"Wait a second, mother," he broke in. "I'm afraid I shall have to ask you to let her alone, now that you're rid of her, just as I'm expected to let old Tempy slide by without noticing him."