The Butterfly House
by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
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"It really did not matter in the least," replied Margaret coldly. "I shall never invite her again."

"I am sure nobody can blame you," said Annie warmly. "I don't want to say harsh things, you know that, Margaret, but that poor girl, in spite of her great talent, cannot have had the advantage of good home-training."

"Oh, she is Western," said Margaret. "How very warm it is to-day."

"Very, but there is quite a breeze here."

"A hot breeze," said Margaret wearily. "How I wish we could afford a house at the seashore or the mountains. The hot weather does get on my nerves."

A great light of joy came into Annie's eyes. "Oh, Margaret dear," she said, "I can't do it yet but it does look as if some time before long perhaps, I may be able myself to have a house at the seashore. I think Sudbury beach would be lovely. It is always cool there, and then you can come and stay with me whenever you like during the hot weather. I will have a room fitted up for you in your favourite white and gold and it shall be called Margaret's room and you can always come, when you wish."

Margaret looked at the other girl with a slow surprise. "I do not understand," said she.

"Of course, you don't. You know we have only had enough to live here as we have done," said Annie with really childish glee, "but oh, Margaret, you will be so glad. I have not told you before but now I must for I know it will make you so happy, and I know I can trust you never to betray me, for it is a great secret, a very great secret, and it must not be known by other people at present. I don't know just when it can be known, perhaps never, certainly not now."

Margaret looked at her with indifferent interrogation. Annie did not realise how indifferent. A flood-tide of kindly joyful emotion does not pay much attention to its banks. Annie continued. She looked sweetly excited; her voice rose high above its usual pitch. "You understand, Margaret dear, how it is," she said. "You see I am quite unknown, that is, my name is quite unknown, and it would really hinder the success of a book."

Margaret surveyed her with awakening interest. "A book?" said she.

"Yes, a book! Oh, Margaret, I know it will be hard for you to believe, but you know I am very truthful. I—I wrote the book they are talking about so much now. You know what I mean?"

"Not the—?"

"Yes, The Poor Lady,—the anonymous novel which people are talking so much about and which sold better than any other book last week. I wrote it. I really did, Margaret."

"You wrote it!"

Annie continued almost wildly. "Yes, I did, I did!" she cried, "and you are the only soul that knows except the publishers. They said they were much struck with the book but advised anonymous publication, my name was so utterly unknown."

"You wrote The Poor Lady?" said Margaret. Her eyes glittered, and her lips tightened. Envy possessed her, but Annie Eustace did not recognise envy when she saw it.

Annie went on in her sweet ringing voice, almost producing the effect of a song. She was so happy, and so pleased to think that she was making her friend happy.

"Yes," she said, "I wrote it. I wrote The Poor Lady."

"If," said Margaret, "you speak quite so loud, you will be heard by others."

Annie lowered her voice immediately with a startled look. "Oh," she whispered. "I would not have anybody hear me for anything."

"How did you manage?" asked Margaret.

Annie laughed happily. "I fear I have been a little deceitful," she said, "but I am sure they will forgive me when they know. I keep a journal; I have always kept one since I was a child. Aunt Harriet wished me to do so. And the journal was very stupid. So little unusual happens here in Fairbridge, and I have always been rather loath to write very much about my innermost feelings or very much about my friends in my journal because of course one can never tell what will happen. It has never seemed to me quite delicate—to keep a very full journal, and so there was in reality very little to write." Annie burst into a peal of laughter. "It just goes this way, the journal," she said. "To-day is pleasant and warm. This morning I helped Hannah preserve cherries. In the afternoon I went over to Margaret's and sat with her on the verandah, embroidered two daisies and three leaves with stems on my centre piece, came home, had supper, sat in the twilight with Grandmother, Aunt Harriet and Aunt Susan. Went upstairs, put on my wrapper and read until it was time to go to bed. Went to bed. Now that took very little time and was not interesting and so, after I went upstairs, I wrote my entry in the journal in about five minutes and then I wrote The Poor Lady. Of course, when I began it, I was not at all sure that it would amount to anything. I was not sure that any publisher would look at it. Sometimes I felt as if I were doing a very foolish thing: spending time and perhaps deceiving Grandmother and my aunts very wickedly, though I was quite certain that if the book should by any chance succeed, they would not think it wrong.

"Grandmother is very fond of books and so is Aunt Harriet, and I have often heard them say they wished I had been a boy in order that I might do something for the Eustace name. You know there have been so many distinguished professional men in the Eustace family and they of course did not for one minute think a girl like me could do anything and I did not really think so myself. Sometimes I wonder how I had the courage to keep on writing when I was so uncertain but it was exactly as if somebody were driving me. When I had the book finished, I was so afraid it ought to be typewritten, but I could not manage that. At least I thought I could not, but after awhile I did, and in a way that nobody suspected, Aunt Harriet sent me to New York. You know I am not often allowed to go alone but it was when Grandmother had the grippe and Aunt Susan the rheumatism and Aunt Harriet had a number of errands and so I went on the Twenty-third Street ferry, and did not go far from Twenty-third Street and I took my book in my handbag and carried it into Larkins and White's and I saw Mr. Larkins in his office and he was very kind and polite, although I think now he was laughing a little to himself at the idea of my writing a book, but he said to leave the MSS. and he would let me hear. And I left it and, oh, Margaret, I heard within a week, and he said such lovely things about it. You know I always go to the post-office, so there was no chance of anybody's finding it out that way. And then the proof began to come and I was at my wits' end to conceal that, but I did. And then the book was published, and, Margaret, you know the rest. Nobody dreams who wrote it, and I have had a statement and oh, my dear, next November I am to have a check." (Annie leaned over and whispered in Margaret's ear.) "Only think," she said with a burst of rapture.

Margaret was quite pale. She sat looking straight before her with a strange expression. She was tasting in the very depths of her soul a bitterness which was more biting than any bitter herb which ever grew on earth. It was a bitterness, which, thank God, is unknown to many; the bitterness of the envy of an incapable, but self-seeking nature, of one with the burning ambition of genius but destitute of the divine fire. To such come unholy torture, which is unspeakable at the knowledge of another's success. Margaret Edes was inwardly writhing. To think that Annie Eustace, little Annie Eustace, who had worshipped at her own shrine, whom she had regarded with a lazy, scarcely concealed contempt, for her incredible lack of wordly knowledge, her provincialism, her ill-fitting attire, should have achieved a triumph which she herself could never achieve. A cold hatred of the girl swept over the woman. She forced her lips into a smile, but her eyes were cruel.

"How very interesting, my dear," she said.

Poor Annie started. She was acute, for all her innocent trust in another's goodness, and the tone of her friend's voice, the look in her eyes chilled her. And yet she did not know what they signified. She went on begging for sympathy and rejoicing with her joy as a child might beg for a sweet. "Isn't it perfectly lovely, Margaret dear?" she said.

"It is most interesting, my dear child," replied Margaret.

Annie went on eagerly with the details of her triumph, the book sales which increased every week, the revises, the letters from her publishers, and Margaret listened smiling in spite of her torture, but she never said more than "How interesting."

At last Annie went home and could not help feeling disappointed, although she could not fathom the significance of Margaret's reception of her astonishing news. Annie only worried because she feared lest her happiness had not cheered her friend as much as she had anticipated.

"Poor Margaret, she must feel so very bad that nothing can reconcile her to such a betrayal of her hospitality," she reflected as she flitted across the street. There was nobody in evidence at her house at window or on the wide verandah. Annie looked at her watch tucked in her girdle, hung around her neck by a thin gold chain which had belonged to her mother. It yet wanted a full hour of supper time. She had time to call on Alice Mendon and go to the post-office. Alice lived on the way to the post-office, in a beautiful old colonial house. Annie ran along the shady sidewalk and soon had a glimpse of Alice's pink draperies on her great front porch. Annie ran down the deep front yard between the tall box bushes, beyond which bloomed in a riot of colour and perfume roses and lilies and spraying heliotrope and pinks and the rest of their floral tribe all returned to their dance of summer. Alice's imposing colonial porch was guarded on either side of the superb circling steps by a stone lion from over seas. On the porch was a little table and several chairs. Alice sat in one reading. She was radiant in her pink muslin. Alice seldom wore white. She was quite sensible as to the best combinations of herself with colours although she had, properly speaking, no vanity. She arranged herself to the best advantage as she arranged a flower in a vase. On the heavily carved mahogany table beside her was a blue and white India bowl filled with white roses and heliotrope and lemon verbena. Annie inhaled the bouquet of perfume happily as she came up the steps with Alice smiling a welcome at her. Annie had worshipped more fervently at Margaret Edes' shrine than at Alice's and yet she had a feeling of fuller confidence in Alice. She was about to tell Alice about her book, not because Alice needed the comfort of her joy but because she herself, although unknowingly, needed Alice's ready sympathy of which she had no doubt. Her interview with Margaret had left the child hurt and bewildered and now she came to Alice. Alice did not rise and kiss her. Alice seldom kissed anybody but she radiated kindly welcome.

"Sit down, little Annie," she said, "I am glad you have come. My aunt and cousin have gone to New York and I have been alone all day. We would have tea and cake but I know the hour of your Medes and Persians' supper approaches instead of my later dinner."

"Yes," said Annie, sitting down, "and if I were to take tea and cake now, Alice, I could eat nothing and grandmother and my aunts are very particular about my clearing my plate."

Alice laughed, but she looked rather solicitously at the girl. "I know," she said, then she hesitated. She pitied little Annie Eustace and considered her rather a victim of loving but mistaken tyranny. "I wish," she said, "that you would stay and dine with me to-night."

Annie fairly gasped. "They expect me at home," she replied.

"I know, and I suppose if I were to send over and tell them you would dine with me, it would not answer."

Annie looked frightened. "I fear not, Alice. You see they would have had no time to think it over and decide."

"Yes, I suppose so."

"I have time to make you a little call and stop at the post-office for the last mail and get home just in time for supper."

"Oh, well, you must come and dine with me a week from to-day, and I will have a little dinner-party," said Alice. "I will invite some nice people. We will have Mr. von Rosen for one."

Annie suddenly flushed crimson. It occurred to her that Mr. von Rosen might walk home with her as he had done from Margaret's, and a longing and terror at once possessed her.

Alice wondered at the blush.

"I was so sorry for poor Margaret last night," Annie said with an abrupt change of subject.

"Yes," said Alice.

"That poor Western girl, talented as she is, must have been oddly brought up to be so very rude to her hostess," said Annie.

"I dare say Western girls are brought up differently," said Alice.

Annie was so intent with what she had to tell Alice that she did not realise the extreme evasiveness of the other's manner.

"Alice," she said.

"Well, little Annie Eustace?"

Annie began, blushed, then hesitated.

"I am going to tell you something. I have told Margaret. I have just told her this afternoon. I thought it might please her and comfort her after that terrible scene at her dinner last night, but nobody else knows except the publishers."

"What is it?" asked Alice, regarding Annie with a little smile.

"Nothing, only I wrote The Poor Lady," said Annie.

"My dear Annie, I knew it all the time," said Alice.

Annie stared at her. "How?"

"Well, you did not know it, but you did repeat in that book verbatim, ad literatim, a sentence, a very striking one, which occurred in one of your papers which you wrote for the Zenith Club. I noticed that sentence at the time. It was this: 'A rose has enough beauty and fragrance to enable it to give very freely and yet itself remain a rose. It is the case with many endowed natures but that is a fact which is not always understood.' My dear Annie, I knew that you wrote the book, for that identical sentence occurs in The Poor Lady on page one hundred forty-two. You see I have fully considered the matter to remember the exact page. I knew the minute I read that sentence that my little Annie Eustace had written that successful anonymous book, and I was the more certain because I had always had my own opinion as to little Annie's literary ability based upon those same Zenith Club papers. You will remember that I have often told you that you should not waste your time writing club papers when you could do work like that."

Annie looked alarmed. "Oh, Alice," she said, "do you think anybody else has remembered that sentence?"

"My dear child, I am quite sure that not a blessed woman in that club has remembered that sentence," said Alice.

"I had entirely forgotten."

"Of course, you had."

"It would be very unfortunate if it were remembered, because the publishers are so anxious that my name should not be known. You see, nobody ever heard of me and my name would hurt the sales and the poor publishers have worked so hard over the advertising, it would be dreadful to have the sales fall off. You really don't think anybody does remember?"

"My dear," said Alice with her entirely good-natured, even amused and tolerant air of cynicism, "the women of the Zenith Club remember their own papers. You need not have the slightest fear. But Annie, you wonderful little girl, I am so glad you have come to me with this. I have been waiting for you to tell me, for I was impatient to tell you how delighted I am. You blessed child, I never was more glad at anything in my whole life. I am as proud as proud can be. I feel as if I had written that book myself, and better than written it myself. I have had none of the bother of the work and my friend had it and my friend has the fame and the glory and she goes around among us with her little halo hidden out of sight of everybody, except myself."

"Margaret knows."

Alice stiffened a little. "That is recent," she said, "and I have known all the time."

"Margaret could not have remembered that sentence, I am sure," Annie said thoughtfully. "Poor Margaret, she was so upset by what happened last night that I am afraid the news did not cheer her up as much as I thought it would."

"Well, you dear little soul," said Alice, "I am simply revelling in happiness and pride because of it, you may be sure of that."

"But you have not had such an awful blow as poor Margaret had," said Annie. Then she brightened. "Oh Alice," she cried, "I wanted somebody who loved me to be glad."

"You have not told your grandmother and aunts yet?"

"I have not dared," replied Annie in a shamed fashion. "I know I deceived them and I think perhaps grandmother might find it hard not to tell. She is so old you know, and she does tell a great deal without meaning and Aunt Susan likes to tell news. I have not dared, Alice. The publishers have been so very insistent that nobody should know, but I had to tell you and Margaret."

"It made no difference anyway about me," said Alice, "since I already knew."

"Margaret can be trusted too, I am sure," Annie said quickly.

"Of course."

Annie looked at her watch. "I must go," she said, "or I shall be late. Isn't it really wonderful that I should write a successful book, Alice?"

"You are rather wonderful, my dear," said Alice. Then she rose and put her arms around the slender white-clad figure and held her close, and gave her one of her infrequent kisses. "You precious little thing," she said, "the book is wonderful, but my Annie is more wonderful because she can be told so and never get the fact into her head. Here is your work, dear."

An expression of dismay came over Annie's face. "Oh, dear," she said, "I have only embroidered half a daisy and what will Aunt Harriet say?"

"You have embroidered a whole garden as nobody else can, if people only knew it," said Alice.

"But Alice," said Annie ruefully, "my embroidery is really awful and I don't like to do it and the linen is so grimy that I am ashamed. Oh, dear, I shall have to face Aunt Harriet with that half daisy!"

Alice laughed. "She can't kill you."

"No, but I don't like to have her so disappointed."

Alice kissed Annie again before she went, and watched the slight figure flitting down between the box-rows, with a little frown of perplexity. She wished that Annie had not told Margaret Edes about the book and yet she did not know why she wished so. She was very far from expecting the results. Alice was too noble herself to entertain suspicions of the ignobility of others. Certainty she was obliged to confront, as she had confronted the affair of the night before. It was, of course, the certainty that Margaret had been guilty of a disgraceful and treacherous deed which made her uneasy in a vague fashion now and yet she did not for one second dream of what was to occur at the next meeting of the Zenith Club.

That was at Mrs. Sturtevant's and was the great affair of the year. It was called, to distinguish it from the others, "The Annual Meeting," and upon that occasion the husbands and men friends of the members were invited and the function was in the evening. Margaret had wished to have the club at her own house, before the affair of Martha Wallingford, but the annual occasions were regulated by the letters of the alphabet and it was incontrovertibly the turn of the letter S and Mrs. Sturtevant's right could not be questioned. During the time which elapsed before this meeting, Margaret Edes was more actively unhappy than she had ever been in her life and all her strong will could not keep the traces of that unhappiness from her face. Lines appeared. Her eyes looked large in dark hollows. Wilbur grew anxious about her.

"You must go somewhere for a change," he said, "and I will get my cousin Marion to come here and keep house and look out for the children. You must not be bothered even with them. You need a complete rest and change."

But Margaret met his anxiety with irritation. She felt as if some fatal fascination confined her in Fairbridge and especially did she feel that she must be present at the annual meeting. Margaret never for one minute formulated to herself why she had this fierce desire. She knew in a horrible way at the back of her brain, but she kept the knowledge covered as with a veil even from herself.

She had a beautiful new gown made for the occasion. Since she had lost so much colour, she was doubtful of the wisdom of wearing her favourite white and gold, or black. She had a crepe of a peculiar shade of blue which suited her and she herself worked assiduously embroidering it in a darker shade which brought out the colour of her eyes. She looked quite herself when the evening came and Wilbur's face brightened as he looked at her in her trailing blue with a little diamond crescent fastening a tiny blue feather in her golden fluff of hair.

"You certainly do look better," he said happily.

"I am well, you old goose," said Margaret, fastening her long blue gloves. "You have simply been fussing over nothing as I told you."

"Well, I hope I have. You do look stunning to-night," said Wilbur, gazing at her with a pride so intense that it was almost piteous in its self-abnegation.

"Is that your stunt there on the table?" he inquired, pointing to a long envelope.

Margaret laughed carefully, dimpling her cheeks. "Yes," she said, and Wilbur took the envelope and put it into his pocket. "I will carry it for you," he said. "By the way, what is your stunt, honey? Did you write something?"

"Wait, until you hear," replied Margaret, and she laughed carefully again. She gathered up the train of her blue gown and turned upon him, her blue eyes glowing with a strange fire, feverish roses on her cheeks. "You are not to be surprised at anything to-night," she said and laughed again.

She still had a laughing expression when they were seated in Mrs. Sturtevant's flower-scented drawing-room, a handsome room, thanks to the decorator, who was young and enthusiastic. Margaret had duly considered the colour scheme in her choice of a gown. The furniture was upholstered with a wisteria pattern, except a few chairs which were cane-seated, with silvered wood. Margaret had gone directly to one of these chairs. She was not sure of her gown being exactly the right shade of blue to harmonise with the wisteria at close quarters. The chair was tall and slender. Margaret's feet did not touch the floor, but the long blue trail of her gown concealed that, and she contrived to sit as if they did. She gave the impression of a tall creature of extreme grace as she sat propping her back against her silvered chair. Wilbur gazed at her with adoration. He had almost forgotten the affair of Martha Wallingford. He had excused his Margaret because she was a woman and he was profoundly ignorant of women's strange ambitions. Now, he regarded her with unqualified admiration. He looked from her to the other women and back again and was entirely convinced that she outshone them all as a sun a star. He looked at the envelope in her blue lap and was sure that she had written something which was infinitely superior to the work of any other woman there. Down in the depths of his masculine soul, Wilbur Edes had a sense of amused toleration when women's clubs were concerned, but he always took his Margaret seriously, and the Zenith Club on that account was that night an important and grave organisation. He wished very much to smoke and he was wedged into an uncomfortable corner with a young girl who insisted upon talking to him and was all the time nervously rearranging her hair, but he had a good view of his Margaret in her wonderful blue gown, in her silver chair, and he was consoled.

"Have you read The Poor Lady?" asked spasmodically the girl, and drove in a slipping hair-pin at the same time.

"I never read novels," replied Wilbur absently, "haven't much time you know."

"Oh, I suppose not, but that is such a wonderful book and only think, nobody has the least idea who wrote it, and it does make it so interesting. I thought myself it was written by Wilbur Jack until I came to a sentence which I could quite understand and that put him out of the question. Of course, Wilbur Jack is such a great genius that no young girl like myself pretends to understand him, but that is why I worship him. I tell Mamma I think he is the ideal writer for young girls, so elevating. And then I thought The Poor Lady might have been written by Mrs. Eudora Peasely because she is always so lucid and I came to a sentence which I could not understand at all. Oh, dear, I have thought of all the living writers as writing that book and have had to give it up, and of course the dead ones are out of the question."

"Of course," said Wilbur gravely, and then his Margaret stood up and took some printed matter from an envelope and instantly the situation became strangely tense. Men and women turned eager faces; they could not have told why eager, but they were all conscious of something unusual in the atmosphere and every expression upon those expectant faces suddenly changed into one which made them as a listening unit. Then Margaret began.

Chapter VII

Wilbur Edes thought he had never seen his wife look as beautiful as she did standing there before them all with those fluttering leaves of paper in her hand. A breeze came in at an opposite window and Margaret's blue feather tossed in it; her yellow hair crisped and fluffed and the paper fluttered. Margaret stood for an appreciable second surveying them all with a most singular expression. It was compounded of honeyed sweetness, of triumph, and something else more subtle, the expression of a warrior entering battle and ready for death, yet terrible with defiance and the purpose of victory, and death for his foe.

Then Margaret spoke and her thin silvery voice penetrated to every ear in the room.

"Members of the Zenith Club and friends," said Margaret, "I take the opportunity offered me to-night to disclose a secret which is a source of much joy to myself, and which I am sure will be a source of joy to you also. I trust that since you are my friends and neighbours and associates in club work, you will acquit me of the charge of egotism and credit me with my whole motive, which is, I think, not an unworthy one coming to you in joy, as I would come in sorrow for your sympathy and understanding. I am about to read an extract from a book whose success has given me the most unqualified surprise and delight, knowing as I do that a reading by an author from her own work always increases the interest even though she may not be an able expositor by word of mouth of what she has written."

Then Margaret read. She had chosen a short chapter which was in itself almost a complete little story. She read exceedingly well and without faltering. People listened with ever-growing amazement. Then Mrs. Jack Evarts whispered so audibly to a man at her side that she broke in upon Margaret's clear recitative. "Goodness, she's reading from that book that is selling so,—The Poor Lady—I remember every word of that chapter."

Then while Margaret continued her reading imperturbably, the chorus of whispers increased. "That is from The Poor Lady, yes, it is. Did she write it? Why, of course, she did. She just said so. Isn't it wonderful that she has done such a thing?"

Wilbur Edes sat with his eyes riveted upon his wife's face, his own gone quite pale, but upon it an expression of surprise and joy so intense that he looked almost foolish from such a revelation of his inner self.

The young girl beside him drove hair pins frantically into her hair. She twisted up a lock which had strayed and fastened it. She looked alternately at Wilbur and Margaret.

"Goodness gracious," said she, and did not trouble to whisper. "That is the next to the last chapter of The Poor Lady. And to think that your wife wrote it! Goodness gracious, and here she has been living right here in Fairbridge all the time and folks have been seeing her and talking to her and never knew! Did you know, Mr. Edes?"

The young girl fixed her sharp pretty eyes upon Wilbur. "Never dreamed of it," he blurted out, "just as much surprised as any of you."

"I don't believe I could have kept such a wonderful thing as that from my own husband," said the girl, who was unmarried, and had no lover. But Wilbur did not hear. All he heard was his beloved Margaret, who had secretly achieved fame for herself, reading on and on. He had not the slightest idea what she was reading. He had no interest whatever in that. All he cared for was the amazing fact that his wife, his wonderful, beautiful Margaret, had so covered herself with glory and honour. He had a slightly hurt feeling because she had not told him until this public revelation. He felt that his own private joy and pride as her husband should have been perhaps sacred and respected by her and yet possibly she was right. This public glory might have seemed to her the one which would the most appeal to him.

He had, as he had said, not read the book, but he recalled with a sort of rapturous tenderness for Margaret how he had seen the posters all along the railroad as he commuted to the city, and along the elevated road. His face gazing at Margaret was as beautiful in its perfectly unselfish pride and affection, as a mother's. To think that his darling had done such a thing! He longed to be at home alone with her and say to her what he could not say before all these people. He thought of a very good reason why she had chosen this occasion to proclaim her authorship of the famous anonymous novel. She had been so humiliated, poor child, by the insufferable rudeness of that Western girl that she naturally wished to make good. And how modest and unselfish she had been to make the attempt to exalt another author when she herself was so much greater. Wilbur fully exonerated Margaret for what she did in the case of Martha Wallingford in the light of this revelation. His modest, generous, noble wife had honestly endeavoured to do the girl a favour, to assist her in spite of herself and she had received nothing save rudeness, ingratitude, and humiliation in return. Now, she was asserting herself. She was showing all Fairbridge that she was the one upon whom honour should be showered. She was showing him and rightfully. He remembered with compunction his severity toward her on account of the Martha Wallingford affair, his beautiful, gifted Margaret! Why, even then she might have electrified that woman's club by making the revelation which she had won to-night and reading this same selection from her own book. He had not read Martha Wallingford's Hearts Astray. He thought that the title was enough for him. He knew that it must be one of the womanish, hysterical, sentimental type of things which he despised. But Margaret had been so modest that she had held back from the turning on the search-light of her own greater glory. She had made the effort which had resulted so disastrously to obtain a lesser one, and he had condemned her. He knew that women always used circuitous ways toward their results, just as men used sledge-hammer ones. Why should a man criticise a woman's method any more than a woman criticise a man's? Wilbur, blushing like a girl with pride and delight, listened to his wife and fairly lashed himself. He was wholly unworthy of such a woman, he knew.

When the reading was over and people crowded around Margaret and congratulated her, he stood aloof. He felt that he could not speak of this stupendous thing with her until they were alone. Then Doctor Sturtevant's great bulk pressed against him and his sonorous voice said in his ear, "By Jove, old man, your wife has drawn a lucky number. Congratulations." Wilbur gulped as he thanked him. Then Sturtevant went on talking about a matter which was rather dear to Wilbur's own ambition and which he knew had been tentatively discussed: the advisability of his running for State Senator in the autumn. Wilbur knew it would be a good thing for him professionally, and at the bottom of his heart he knew that his wife's success had been the last push toward his own. Other men came in and began talking, leading from his wife's success toward his own, until Wilbur realised himself as dazzled.

He did not notice what Von Rosen noticed, because he had kept his attention upon the girl, that Annie Eustace had turned deadly pale when Margaret had begun her reading and that Alice Mendon who was seated beside her had slipped an arm around her and quietly and unobtrusively led her out of the room. Von Rosen thought that Miss Eustace must have turned faint because of the heat, and was conscious of a distinct anxiety and disappointment. He had, without directly acknowledging it to himself, counted upon walking home with Annie Eustace, but yet he hoped that she might return, that she had not left the home. When the refreshments were served, he looked for her, but Annie was long since at Alice Mendon's house in her room. Alice had hurried her there in her carriage.

"Come home with me, dear," she had whispered, "and we can have a talk together. Your people won't expect you yet."

Therefore, while Karl von Rosen, who had gone to this annual meeting of the Zenith Club for the sole purpose of walking home with Annie, waited, the girl sat in a sort of dumb and speechless state in Alice Mendon's room. It seemed to her like a bad dream. Alice herself stormed. She had a high temper, but seldom gave way to it. Now she did. There was something about this which roused her utmost powers of indignation.

"It is simply an outrage," declared Alice, marching up and down the large room, her rich white gown trailing behind her, her chin high. "I did not think her capable of it. It is the worst form of thievery in the world, stealing the work of another's brain. It is inconceivable that Margaret Edes could have done such a preposterous thing. I never liked her. I don't care if I do admit it, but I never thought she was capable of such an utterly ignoble deed. It was all that I could do to master myself, not to stand up before them all and denounce her. Well, her time will come."

"Alice," said a ghastly little voice from the stricken figure on the couch, "are you sure? Am I sure? Was that from my book?"

"Of course it was from your book. Why, you know it was from your book, Annie Eustace," cried Alice and her voice sounded high with anger toward poor Annie herself.

"I hoped that we might be mistaken after all," said the voice, which had a bewildered quality. Annie Eustace had a nature which could not readily grasp some of the evil of humanity. She was in reality dazed before this. She was ready to believe an untruth rather than the incredible truth. But Alice Mendon was merciless. She resolved that Annie should know once for all.

"We are neither of us mistaken," she said. "Margaret Edes read a chapter from your book, The Poor Lady, and without stating in so many words that she was the author, she did what was worse. She made everybody think so. Annie, she is bad, bad, bad. Call the spade a spade and face it. See how black it is. Margaret Edes has stolen from you your best treasure."

"I don't care for that so much," said Annie Eustace, "but—I loved her, Alice."

"Then," said Alice, "she has stolen more than your book. She has stolen the light by which you wrote it. It is something hideous, hideous."

Annie gave a queer little dry sob. "Margaret could not have done it," she moaned.

Alice crossed swiftly to her and knelt beside her. "Darling," she said, "you must face it. It is better. I do not say so because I do not personally like Margaret Edes, but you must have courage and face it."

"I have not courage enough," said Annie and she felt that she had not, for it was one of the awful tasks of the world which was before her: The viewing the mutilated face of love itself.

"You must," said Alice. She put an arm around the slight figure and drew the fair head to her broad bosom, her maternal bosom, which served her friends in good stead, since it did not pillow the heads of children. Friends in distress are as children to the women of her type.

"Darling," she said in her stately voice from which the anger had quite gone. "Darling, you must face it. Margaret did read that chapter from your book and she told, or as good as told everybody that she had written it."

Then Annie sobbed outright and the tears came.

"Oh," she cried, "Oh, Alice, how she must want success to do anything like that, poor, poor Margaret! Oh, Alice!"

"How she must love herself," said Alice firmly. "Annie, you must face it. Margaret is a self-lover; her whole heart turns in love toward her own self, instead of toward those whom she should love and who love her. Annie, Margaret is bad, bad, with a strange degenerate badness. She dates back to the sins of the First Garden. You must turn your back upon her. You must not love her any more."

"No, I must not love her any more," agreed Annie, "and that is the pity of it. I must not love her, Alice, but I must pity her until I die. Poor Margaret!"

"Poor Annie," said Alice. "You worked so hard over that book, dear, and you were so pleased. Annie, what shall you do about it?"

Annie raised her head from Alice's bosom and sat up straight, with a look of terror.

"Alice," she cried, "I must go to-morrow and see my publishers. I must go down on my knees to them if necessary."

"Do you mean," asked Alice slowly, "never to tell?"

"Oh, never, never, never!" cried Annie.

"I doubt," said Alice, "if you can keep such a matter secret. I doubt if your publishers will consent."

"They must. I will never have it known! Poor Margaret!"

"I don't pity her at all," said Alice. "I do pity her husband who worships her, and there is talk of his running for State Senator and this would ruin him. And I am sorry for the children."

"Nobody shall ever know," said Annie.

"But how can you manage with the publishers?"

"I don't know. I will."

"And you will have written that really wonderful book and never have the credit for it. You will live here and see Margaret Edes praised for what you have done."

"Poor Margaret," said Annie. "I must go now. I know I can trust you never to speak."

"Of course, but I do not think it right."

"I don't care whether it is right or not," said Annie. "It must never be known."

"You are better than I am," said Alice as she rang the bell, which was presently answered. "Peter has gone home for the night, Marie said," Alice told Annie, "but Marie and I will walk home with you."

"Alice, it is only a step."

"I know, but it is late."

"It is not much after ten, and—I would rather go alone, if you don't mind, Alice. I want to get settled a little before Aunt Harriet sees me. I can do it better alone."

Alice laughed. "Well," she said, "Marie and I will stand on the front porch until you are out of sight from there and then we will go to the front gate. We can see nearly to your house and we can hear if you call."

It was a beautiful night. The moon was high in a sky which was perceptibly blue. In the west was still a faint glow, which was like a memory of a cowslip sunset. The street and the white house-front were plumy with soft tree shadows wavering in a gentle wind. Annie was glad when she was alone in the night. She needed a moment for solitariness and readjustment since one of the strongest readjustments on earth faced her—the realisation that what she had loved was not. She did not walk rapidly but lingered along the road. She was thankful that neither of her aunts had been to the annual meeting. She would not need to account for her time so closely. Suddenly she heard a voice, quite a loud voice, a man's, with a music of gladness in it. Annie knew instinctively whose it was, and she stepped quickly upon a lawn and stood behind a clump of trees. A man and woman passed her—Margaret Edes and her husband—and Wilbur was saying in his glad, loving voice, "To think you should have done such a thing, Margaret, my dear, you will never know how proud I am of you."

Annie heard Margaret's voice in a whisper hushing Wilbur. "You speak so loud, dear," said Margaret, "everybody will hear you."

"I don't care if they do," said Wilbur. "I should like to proclaim it from the housetops." Then they passed and the rose scent of Margaret's garments was in Annie's face. She was glad that Margaret had hushed her husband. She argued that it proved some little sense of shame, but oh, when all alone with her own husband, she had made no disclaimer. Annie came out from her hiding and went on. The Edes ahead of her melted into the shadows but she could still hear Wilbur's glad voice. The gladness in it made her pity Margaret more. She thought how horrible it must be to deceive love like that, to hear that joyful tone, and know it all undeserved. Then suddenly she heard footsteps behind and walked to one side to allow whoever it was to pass, but a man's voice said: "Good evening, Miss Eustace," and Von Rosen had joined her. He had in truth been waiting like any village beau near Alice Mendon's house for the chance of her emerging alone.

Annie felt annoyed, and yet her heart beat strangely.

"Good evening, Mr. von Rosen," she said and still lingered as if to allow him to pass, but he slowed his own pace and sauntered by her side.

"A fine evening," he remarked tritely.

"Very," agreed Annie.

"I saw you at the evening club," said Von Rosen presently.

"Yes," said Annie, "I was there."

"You left early."

"Yes, I left quite early with Alice. I have been with her since."

Annie wondered if Mr. von Rosen suspected anything but his next words convinced her that he did not.

"I suppose that you were as much surprised as the rest of us, although you are her intimate friend, at Mrs. Edes' announcement concerning the authorship of that successful novel," said he.

"Yes," said Annie faintly.

"Of course you had no idea that she had written it?"


"Have you read it?"


"What do you think of it? I almost never read novels but I suppose I must tackle that one. Did you like it?"

"Quite well," said Annie.

"Tell me what is it all about?"

Annie could endure no more. "It will spoil the book for you if I tell you, Mr. von Rosen," said she, and her voice was at once firm and piteous. She could not tell the story of her own book to him. She would be as deceitful as poor Margaret, for all the time he would think she was talking of Margaret's work and not of her own.

Von Rosen laughed. After all he cared very little indeed about the book. He had what he cared for: a walk home with this very sweet and very natural girl, who did not seem to care whether he walked home with her or not.

"I dare say you are right," he said, "but I doubt if your telling me about it would spoil the book for me, because it is more than probable that I shall never read it after all. I may if it comes in my way because I was somewhat surprised. I had never thought of Mrs. Edes as that sort of person. However, so many novels are written nowadays, and some mighty queer ones are successful that I presume I should not be surprised. Anybody in Fairbridge might be the author of a successful novel. You might, Miss Eustace, for all I know."

Annie said nothing.

"Perhaps you are," said Von Rosen. He had not the least idea of the thinness of the ice. Annie trembled. Her truthfulness was as her life. She hated even evasions. Luckily Von Rosen was so far from suspicion that he did not wait for an answer.

"Mrs. Edes reads well," he said.

"Very well indeed," returned Annie eagerly.

"I suppose an author can read more understandingly from her own work," said Von Rosen. "Don't you think so, Miss Eustace?"

"I think she might," said Annie.

"I don't know but I shall read that book after all," said Von Rosen. "I rather liked that extract she gave us. It struck me as out of the common run of women's books. I beg your pardon, Miss Eustace. If you were a writer yourself I could not speak so, but you are not, and you must know as well as I do, that many of the books written by women are simply sloughs of oversweetened sentiment, and of entirely innocent immorality. But that chapter did not sound as if it could belong to such a book. It sounded altogether too logical for the average woman writer. I think I will read it. Then after I have read it, you will not refuse to discuss it with me, will you?"

"I do not think so," replied Annie tremulously. Would he never talk of anything except that book? To her relief he did, to her relief and scarcely acknowledged delight.

"Are you interested in curios, things from Egyptian tombs, for instance?" he inquired with brutal masculine disregard of sequence.

Annie was bewildered, but she managed to reply that she thought she might be. She had heard of Von Rosen's very interesting collection.

"I happened to meet your aunt, Miss Harriet, this afternoon," said Von Rosen, "and I inquired if she were by any chance interested and she said she was."

"Yes," said Annie. She had never before dreamed that her Aunt Harriet was in the least interested in Egyptian tombs.

"I ventured to ask if she and her sister, Miss Susan, and you also, if you cared to see it, would come some afternoon and look at my collection," said Von Rosen.

Nobody could have dreamed from his casual tone how carefully he had planned it all out: the visit of Annie and her aunts, the delicate little tea served in the study, the possible little stroll with Annie in his garden. Von Rosen knew that one of the aunts, Miss Harriet, was afflicted with rose cold, and therefore, would probably not accept his invitation to view his rose-garden, and he also knew that it was improbable that both sisters would leave their aged mother. It was, of course, a toss-up as to whether Miss Harriet or Miss Susan would come. It was also a toss-up as to whether or not they might both come, and leave little Annie as companion for the old lady. In fact, he had to admit to himself that the latter contingency was the more probable. He was well accustomed to being appropriated by elder ladies, with the evident understanding that he preferred them. He would simply have to make the best of it and show his collection as gracefully as possible and leave out the rose-garden and the delicious little tete-a-tete with this young rose of a girl and think of something else. For Karl von Rosen in these days was accustoming himself to a strange visage in his own mental looking-glass. He had not altered his attitude toward women but toward one woman, and that one was now sauntering beside him in the summer moonlight, her fluffy white garments now and then blowing across his sober garb. He was conscious of holding himself in a very tight rein. He wondered how long men were usually about their love-making. He wished to make love that very instant, but he feared lest the girl might be lost by such impetuosity. In all likelihood, the thought of love in connection with himself had never entered her mind. Why should it? Karl in love was very modest and saw himself as a very insignificant figure. Probably this flower-like young creature had never thought of love at all. She had lived her sweet simple village life. She had obeyed her grandmother and her aunts, done her household tasks and embroidered. He remembered the grimy bit of linen which he had picked up and he could not see the very slightest connection between that sort of thing and love and romance. Of course, she had read a few love stories and the reasoning by analogy develops in all minds. She might have built a few timid air castles for herself upon the foundations of the love stories in fiction, and this brought him around to the fatal subject again almost inevitably.

"Do you know, Miss Eustace," he said, "that I am wishing a very queer thing about you?"

"What, Mr. von Rosen?"

"I am wishing, you know that I would not esteem you more highly, it is not that, but I am wishing that you also had written a book, a really good sort of love story, novel, you know."

Annie gasped.

"I don't mean because Mrs. Edes wrote The Poor Lady. It is not that. I am quite sure that you could have written a book every whit as good as hers but what I do mean is—I feel that a woman writer if she writes the best sort of book must obtain a certain insight concerning human nature which requires a long time for most women." Von Rosen was rather mixed, but Annie did not grasp it. She was very glad that they were nearing her own home. She could not endure much more.

"Is The Poor Lady a love story?" inquired Von Rosen.

"There is a little love in it," replied Annie faintly.

"I shall certainly read it," said Von Rosen. He shook hands with Annie at her gate and wanted to kiss her. She looked up in his face like an adorably timid, trustful little child and it seemed almost his duty to kiss her, but he did not. He said good-night and again mentioned his collection of curios.

"I hope you will feel inclined to come and see them," he said, "with—your aunts."

"Thank you," replied Annie, "I shall be very glad to come, if both Aunt Harriet and Aunt Susan do not. That would of course oblige me to stay with grandmother."

"Of course," assented Von Rosen, but he said inwardly, "Hang Grandmother."

In his inmost self, Von Rosen was not a model clergyman. He, however, had no reason whatever to hang grandmother, but quite the reverse, although he did not so conclude, as he considered the matter on his way home. It seemed to him that this darling of a girl was fairly hedged in by a barbed wire fence of feminine relatives.

He passed the Edes' house on his way and saw that a number of the upper windows were still lighted. He even heard a masculine voice pitched on a high cadence of joy and triumph. He smiled a little scornfully. "He thinks his wife is the most wonderful woman in the world," he told himself, "and I dare say that a novel is simply like an over-sweetened ice-cream, with an after taste of pepper, out of sheer deviltry." Had he known it, Margaret Edes herself was tasting pepper, mustard and all the fierce condiments known, in her very soul. It was a singular thing that Margaret had been obliged to commit an ignoble deed in order to render her soul capable of tasting to the full, but she had been so constituted. As Karl von Rosen passed that night, she was sitting in her room, clad in her white silk negligee and looking adorable, and her husband was fairly on his knees before her, worshipping her, and she was suffering after a fashion hitherto wholly uncomprehended by her. Margaret had never known that she could possibly be to blame for anything, that she could sit in judgment upon herself. Now she knew it and the knowledge brought a torture which had been unimaginable by her. She strove not to make her shrinking from her husband and his exultation—her terrified shrinking—evident.

"Oh, Margaret, you are simply wonderful beyond words," said Wilbur, gazing up into her face. "I always knew you were wonderful, of course, darling, but this! Why, Margaret, you have gained an international reputation from that one book! And the reviews have been unanimous, almost unanimous in their praise. I have not read it, dear. I am so ashamed of myself, but you know I never read novels, but I am going to read my Margaret's novel. Oh, my dear, my wonderful, wonderful dear!" Wilbur almost sobbed. "Do you know what it may do for me, too?" he said. "Do you know, Margaret, it may mean my election as Senator. One can never tell what may sway popular opinion. Once, if anybody had told me that I might be elected to office and my election might possibly be due to the fact that my wife had distinguished myself, I should have been humbled to the dust. But I cannot be humbled by any success which may result from your success. I did not know my wonderful Margaret then." Wilbur kissed his wife's hands. He was almost ridiculous, but it was horribly tragic for Margaret.

She longed as she had never longed for anything in her life, for the power to scream, to shout in his ears the truth, but she could not. She was bound hard and fast in the bands of her own falsehood. She could not so disgrace her husband, her children. Why had she not thought of them before? She had thought only of herself and her own glory, and that glory had turned to stinging bitterness upon her soul. She was tasting the bitterest medicine which life and the whole world contains. And at the same time, it was not remorse that she felt. That would have been easier. What she endured was self-knowledge. The reflection of one's own character under unbiased cross-lights is a hideous thing for a self-lover. She was thinking, while she listened to Wilbur's rhapsodies. Finally she scarcely heard him. Then her attention was suddenly keenly fixed. There were horrible complications about this which she had not considered. Margaret's mind had no business turn. She had not for a moment thought of the financial aspect of the whole. Wilbur was different. What he was now saying was very noble, but very disconcerting. "Of course, I know, darling, that all this means a pile of money, but one thing you must remember: it is for yourself alone. Not one penny of it will I ever touch and more than that it is not to interfere in the least with my expenditures for you, my wife, and the children. Everything of that sort goes on as before. You have the same allowance for yourself and the children as before. Whatever comes from your book is your own to do with as you choose. I do not even wish you to ask my advice about the disposal of it."

Margaret was quite pale as she looked at him. She remembered now the sum which Annie had told her she was to receive. She made no disclaimer. Her lips felt stiff. While Wilbur wished for no disclaimer, she could yet see that he was a little surprised at receiving none, but she could not speak. She merely gazed at him in a helpless sort of fashion. The grapes which hung over her friend's garden wall were not very simple. They were much beside grapes. Wilbur returned her look pityingly.

"Poor girl," he said, kissing her hands again; "she is all tired out and I must let her go to bed. Standing on a pedestal is rather tiresome, if it is gratifying, isn't it, sweetheart?"

"Yes," said Margaret, with a weary sigh from her heart. How little the poor man knew of the awful torture of standing upon the pedestal of another, and at the same time holding before one's eyes that looking-glass with all the cross-lights of existence full upon it!

Margaret went to bed, but she could not sleep. All night long she revolved the problem of how she should settle the matter with Annie Eustace. She did not for a second fear Annie's betrayal, but there was that matter of the publishers. Would they be content to allow matters to rest?

The next morning Margaret endeavoured to get Annie on the telephone but found that she had gone to New York. Annie's Aunt Harriet replied. She herself had sent the girl on several errands.

Margaret could only wait. She feared lest Annie might not return before Wilbur and in such a case she could not discuss matters with her before the next day. Margaret had a horrible time during the next six hours. The mail was full of letters of congratulation. A local reporter called to interview her. She sent word that she was out, but he was certain that he had seen her. The children heard the news and pestered her with inquiries about her book and wondering looks at her. Callers came in the afternoon and it was all about her book. Nobody could know how relieved she was after hearing the four-thirty train, to see little Annie Eustace coming through her gate. Annie stood before her stiffly. The day was very warm and the girl looked tired and heated.

"No, thank you," she said, "I can not sit down. I only stopped to tell you that I have arranged with the publishers. They will keep the secret. I shall have rather a hard task arranging about the checks, because I fear it will involve a little deceit and I do not like deceit."

Annie, as she spoke, looked straight at Margaret and there was something terrible in that clear look of unsoiled truth. Margaret put out a detaining hand.

"Sit down for a minute, please," she said cringingly. "I want to explain?"

"There is nothing whatever to explain," replied Annie. "I heard."

"Can you ever forgive me?"

"I do not think," said Annie, "that this is an ordinary offence about which to talk of forgiveness. I do pity you, Margaret, for I realise how dreadfully you must have wanted what did not belong to you."

Margaret winced. "Well, if it is any satisfaction to you, I am realising nothing but misery from it," she said in a low voice.

"I don't see how you can help that," replied Annie simply. Then she went away.

It proved Margaret's unflinching trust in the girl and Annie's recognition of no possibility except that trust, that no request nor promise as to secrecy had been made. Annie, after she got home, almost forgot the whole for a time, since her Aunt Harriet, and Aunt Harriet was the sister who was subject to rose-colds, announced her determination to call at Mr. von Rosen's the next afternoon with Annie and see his famous collection.

"Of course," said she, "the invitation was meant particularly for me, since I am one of his parishioners, and I think it will be improving to you, Annie, to view antiquities."

"Yes, Aunt Harriet," said Annie. She was wondering if she would be allowed to wear her pale blue muslin and the turquoise necklace which was a relic of her grandmother's girlhood. Aunt Susan sniffed delicately.

"I will stay with Mother," she said with a virtuous air.

The old lady, stately in her black satin, with white diamonds gleaming on her veinous hands, glanced acutely at them. The next day, when her daughter Harriet insisted that the cross barred muslin was not too spoiled to wear to the inspection of curios, she declared that it was simply filthy, and that Annie must wear her blue, and that the little string of turquoise beads was not in the least too dressy for the occasion.

It therefore happened that Annie and her Aunt Harriet set forth at three o'clock in the afternoon, Annie in blue, and her aunt in thin black grenadine with a glitter of jet and a little black bonnet with a straight tuft of green rising from a little wobble of jet, and a black-fringed parasol tilted well over her eyes. Annie's charming little face was framed in a background of white parasol. Margaret saw them pass as she sat on her verandah. She had received more congratulatory letters that day, and the thief envied the one from whom she had taken. Annie bowed to Margaret, and her Aunt Harriet said something about the heat, in a high shrill voice.

"She is a wonderful woman, to have written that successful novel," said Aunt Harriet, "and I am going to write her a congratulatory note, now you have bought that stationery at Tiffany's. I feel that such a subject demands special paper. She is a wonderful woman and her family have every reason to be proud of her."

"Yes," said Annie.

"It is rather odd, and I have often thought so," said Aunt Harriet, moving alongside with stately sweeps of black skirts, "that you have shown absolutely no literary taste. As you know, I have often written poetry, of course not for publication, and my friends have been so good as to admire it."

"Yes, Aunt Harriet," said Annie.

"I realise that you have never appreciated my poems," said Aunt Harriet tartly.

"I don't think I understand poetry very well," little Annie said with meekness.

"It does require a peculiar order of mind, and you have never seemed to me in the least poetical or imaginative," said her aunt in an appeased voice. "For instance, I could not imagine your writing a book like Mrs. Edes, and The Poor Lady was anonymous, and anybody might have written it as far as one knew. But I should never have imagined her for a moment as capable of doing it."

"No," said Annie.

Then they had come to the parsonage and Jane Riggs, as rigid as starched linen could make a human being, admitted them, and presently after a little desultory conversation, the collection, which was really a carefully made one, and exceedingly good and interesting, was being displayed. Then came the charming little tea which Von Rosen had planned; then the suggestion with regard to the rose-garden and Aunt Harriet's terrified refusal, knowing as she knew the agony of sneezes and sniffs sure to follow its acceptance; and then Annie, a vision in blue, was walking among the roses with Von Rosen and both were saying things which they never could remember afterward—about things in which neither had the very slightest interest. It was only when they had reached the end of the pergola, trained over with climbers, and the two were seated on a rustic bench therein, that the conversation to be remembered began.

Chapter VIII

The conversation began, paradoxically, with a silence. Otherwise, it would have begun with platitudes. Since neither Von Rosen nor Annie Eustace were given usually to platitudes, the silence was unavoidable. Both instinctively dreaded with a pleasurable dread the shock of speech. In a way this was the first time the two had been alone with any chance of a seclusion protracted beyond a very few minutes. In the house was Aunt Harriet Eustace, who feared a rose, as she might have feared the plague, and, moreover, as Annie comfortably knew, had imparted the knowledge to Von Rosen as they had walked down the pergola, that she would immediately fall asleep.

"Aunt Harriet always goes to sleep in her chair after a cup of tea," Annie had said and had then blushed redly.

"Does she?" asked Von Rosen with apparent absent-mindedness but in reality, keenly. He excused himself for a moment, left Annie standing in the pergola and hurried back to the house, where he interviewed Jane Riggs, and told her not to make any noise, as Miss Eustace in the library would probably fall asleep, as was her wont after a cup of tea. Jane Riggs assented, but she looked after him with a long, slow look. Then she nodded her head stiffly and went on washing cups and saucers quietly. She spoke only one short sentence to herself. "He's a man and it's got to be somebody. Better be her than anybody else."

When the two at the end of the pergola began talking, it was strangely enough about the affair of the Syrian girl.

"I suppose, have always supposed, that the poor young thing's husband came and stole his little son," said Von Rosen.

"You would have adopted him?" asked Annie in a shy voice.

"I think I would not have known any other course to take," replied Von Rosen.

"It was very good of you," Annie said. She cast a little glance of admiration at him.

Von Rosen laughed. "It is not goodness which counts to one's credit when one is simply chucked into it by Providence," he returned.

Annie laughed. "To think of your speaking of Providence as 'chucking.'"

"It is rather awful," admitted Von Rosen, "but somehow I never do feel as if I need be quite as straight-laced with you."

"Mr. von Rosen, you have talked with me exactly twice, and I am at a loss as to whether I should consider that remark of yours as a compliment or not."

"I meant it for one," said Von Rosen earnestly. "I should not have used that expression. What I meant was I felt that I could be myself with you, and not weigh words or split hairs. A clergyman has to do a lot of that, you know, Miss Eustace, and sometimes (perhaps all the time) he hates it; it makes him feel like a hypocrite."

"Then it is all right," said Annie rather vaguely. She gazed up at the weave of leaves and blossoms, then down at the wavering carpet of their shadows.

"It is lovely here," she said.

The young man looked at the slender young creature in the blue gown and smiled with utter content.

"It is very odd," he said, "but nothing except blue and that particular shade of blue would have harmonised."

"I should have said green or pink."

"They would surely have clashed. If you can't melt into nature, it is much safer to try for a discord. You are much surer to chord. That blue does chord, and I doubt if a green would not have been a sort of swear word in colour here."

"I am glad you like it," said Annie like a school girl. She felt very much like one.

"I like you," Von Rosen said abruptly.

Annie said nothing. She sat very still.

"No, I don't like you. I love you," said Von Rosen.

"How can you? You have talked with me only twice."

"That makes no difference with me. Does it with you?"

"No," said Annie, "but I am not at all sure about—"

"About what, dear?"

"About what my aunts and grandmother will say."

"Do you think they will object to me?"


"What is it makes you doubtful? I have a little fortune of my own. I have an income besides my salary. I can take care of you. They can trust you to me."

Annie looked at him with a quick flush of resentment. "As if I would even think of such a thing as that!"

"What then?"

"You will laugh, but grandmother is very old, although she sits up so straight, and she depends on me, and—"

"And what?"

"If I married you, I could not, of course, play pinocle with grandmother on Sunday."

"Oh, yes, you could. I most certainly should not object."

"Then that makes it hopeless."

Von Rosen looked at her in perplexity. "I am afraid I don't understand you, dear little soul."

"No, you do not. You see, grandmother is in reality very good, almost too good to live, and thinking she is being a little wicked playing pinocle on Sunday when Aunt Harriet and Aunt Susan don't know it, sort of keeps her going. I don't just know why myself, but I am sure of it. Now the minute she was sure that you, who are the minister, did not object, she would not care a bit about pinocle and it would hurt her."

Annie looked inconceivably young. She knitted her candid brows and stared at him with round eyes of perplexity. Karl von Rosen shouted with laughter.

"Oh, well, if that is all," he said, "I object strenuously to your playing pinocle with your grandmother on Sunday. The only way you can manage will be to play hookey from church."

"I need not do that always," said Annie. "My aunts take naps Sunday afternoons, but I am sure grandmother could keep awake if she thought she could be wicked."

"Well, you can either play hookey from church, or run away Sunday afternoons, or if you prefer and she is able, I will drive your grandmother over here and you can play pinocle in my study."

"Then I do think she will live to be a hundred," said Annie with a peal of laughter.

"Stop laughing and kiss me," said Von Rosen.

"I seldom kiss anybody."

"That is the reason."

When Annie looked up from her lover's shoulder, a pair of topaz eyes were mysteriously regarding her.

"The cat never saw me kiss anybody," said Von Rosen.

"Do you think the cat knows?" asked Annie, blushing and moving away a little.

"Who knows what any animal knows or does not know?" replied Von Rosen. "When we discover that mystery, we may have found the key to existence."

Then the cat sprang into Annie's blue lap and she stroked his yellow back and looked at Von Rosen with eyes suddenly reflective, rather coolly.

"After all, I, nor nobody else, ever heard of such a thing as this," said she. "Do you mean that you consider this an engagement?" she asked in astonishment.

"I most certainly do."

"After we have only really seen and talked to each other twice!"

"It has been all our lives and we have just found it out," said Von Rosen. "Of course, it is unusual, but who cares? Do you?"

"No, I don't," said Annie. They leaned together over the yellow cat and kissed each other.

"But what an absurd minister's wife I shall be," said Annie. "To think of your marrying a girl who has staid at home from church and played cards with her grandmother!"

"I am not at all sure," said Von Rosen, "that you do not get more benefit, more spiritual benefit, than you would have done from my sermons."

"I think," said Annie, "that you are just about as funny a minister as I shall be a minister's wife."

"I never thought I should be married at all."

"Why not?"

"I did not care for women."

"Then why do you now?"

"Because you are a woman."

Then there was a sudden movement in front of them. The leaf-shadows flickered; the cat jumped down from Annie's lap and ran away, his great yellow plume of tail waving angrily, and Margaret Edes stood before them. She was faultlessly dressed as usual. A woman of her type cannot be changed utterly by force of circumstances in a short time. Her hat was loaded with wisteria. She wore a wisteria gown of soft wool. She held up her skirts daintily. A great amethyst gleamed at her throat, but her face, wearing a smile like a painted one, was dreadful. It was inconceivable, but Margaret Edes had actually in view the banality of confessing her sin to her minister. Of course, Annie was the one who divined her purpose. Von Rosen was simply bewildered. He rose, and stood with an air of polite attention.

"Margaret," cried Annie, "Margaret!"

The man thought that his sweetheart was simply embarrassed, because of discovery. He did not understand why she bade him peremptorily to please go in the house and see if Aunt Harriet were awake, that she wished to speak to Mrs. Edes. He, however, went as bidden, already discovering that man is as a child to a woman when she is really in earnest.

When he was quite out of hearing, Annie turned upon her friend. "Margaret," she said, "Margaret, you must not."

Margaret turned her desperate eyes upon Annie. "I did not know it would be like this," she said.

"You must not tell him."

"I must."

"You must not, and all the more now."

"Why, now?"

"I am going to marry him."

"Then he ought to know."

"Then he ought not to know, for you have drawn me into your web of deceit also. He has talked to me about you and the book. I have not betrayed you. You cannot betray me."

"It will kill me. I did not know it would be like this. I never blamed myself for anything before."

"It will not kill you, and if it does, you must bear it. You must not do your husband and children such an awful harm."

"Wilbur is nominated for Senator. He would have to give it up. He would go away from Fairbridge. He is very proud," said Margaret in a breathless voice, "but I must tell."

"You cannot tell."

"The children talk of it all the time. They look at me so. They wonder because they think I have written that book. They tell all the other children. Annie, I must confess to somebody. I did not know it would be like this."

"You cannot confess to anybody except God," said Annie.

"I cannot tell my husband. I cannot tell poor Wilbur, but I thought Mr. von Rosen would tell him."

"You can not tell Mr. von Rosen. You have done an awful wrong, and now you can not escape the fact that you have done it. You cannot get away from it."

"You are so hard."

"No, I am not hard," said Annie. "I did not betray you there before them all, and neither did Alice."

"Did Alice Mendon know?" asked Margaret in an awful voice.

"Yes, I had told Alice. She was so hurt for me that I think she might have told."

"Then she may tell now. I will go to her."

"She will not tell now. And I am not hard. It is you who are hard upon yourself and that nobody, least of all I, can help. You will have to know this dreadful thing of yourself all your life and you can never stop blaming yourself. There is no way out of it. You can not ruin your husband. You can not ruin your children's future and you cannot, after the wrong you have done me, put me in the wrong, as you would do if you told. By telling the truth, you would put me to the lie, when I kept silence for your sake and the sakes of your husband and children."

"I did not know it would be like this," said Margaret in her desperate voice. "I had done nothing worth doing all my life and the hunger to do something had tormented me. It seemed easy, I did not know how I could blame myself. I have always thought so well of myself; I did not know. Annie, for God's sake, let me tell. You can't know how keenly I suffer, Annie. Let me tell Mr. von Rosen. People always tell ministers. Even if he does not tell Wilbur, but perhaps he can tell him and soften it, it would be a relief. People always tell ministers, Annie."

It seemed improbable that Margaret Edes in her wisteria costume could be speaking. Annie regarded her with almost horror. She pitied her, yet she could not understand. Margaret had done something of which she herself was absolutely incapable. She had the right to throw the stone. She looked at a sinner whose sin was beyond her comprehension. She pitied the evident signs of distress, but her pity, although devoid of anger, was, in spite of herself, coldly wondering. Moreover, Margaret had been guilty in the eyes of the girl of a much worse sin than the mere thievery of her book; she had murdered love. Annie had loved Margaret greatly. No, she loved her no longer, since the older woman had actually blasphemed against the goddess whom the girl had shrined. Had Margaret stolen from another, it would have made no difference. The mere act had destroyed herself as an image of love. Annie, especially now that she was so happy, cared nothing for the glory of which she had been deprived. She had, in truth, never had much hunger for fame, especially for herself. She did not care when she thought how pleased her lover would have been and her relatives, but already the plan for another book was in her brain, for the child was a creator, and no blow like this had any lasting power over her work. What she considered was Margaret's revelation of herself as something else than Margaret, and what she did resent bitterly was being forced into deception in order to shield her. She was in fact hard, although she did not know it. Her usually gentle nature had become like adamant before this. She felt unlike herself as she said bitterly:

"People do not always tell ministers, and you cannot tell Mr. von Rosen, Margaret. I forbid it. Go home and keep still."

"I cannot bear it."

"You must bear it."

"They are going to give me a dinner, the Zenith Club," said Margaret.

"You will have to accept it."

"I cannot, Annie Eustace, of what do you think me capable? I am not as bad as you think. I cannot and will not accept that dinner and make the speech which they will expect and hear all the congratulations which they will offer. I cannot."

"You must accept the dinner, but I don't see that you need make the speech," said Annie, who was herself aghast over such extremity of torture.

"I will not," said Margaret. She was very pale and her lips were a tight line. Her eyes were opaque and lustreless. She was in reality suffering what a less egotistical nature could not even imagine. All her life had Margaret Edes worshipped and loved Margaret Edes. Now she had done an awful thing. The falling from the pedestal of a friend is nothing to hurling oneself from one's height of self-esteem and that she had done. She stood, as it were, over the horrible body of her once beautiful and adored self. She was not actually remorseful and that made it all the worse. She simply could not evade the dreadful glare of light upon her own imperfections; she who had always thought of herself as perfect, but the glare of knowledge came mostly from her appreciation of the attitude of her friends and lovers toward what she had done. Suppose she went home and told Wilbur. Suppose she said, "I did not write that book. My friend, Annie Eustace, wrote it. I am a thief, and worse than a thief." She knew just how he would look at her, his wife, his Margaret, who had never done wrong in his eyes. For the first time in her life she was afraid, and yet how could she live and bear such torture and not confess? Confession would be like a person ill unto death, giving up, and seeking the peace of a sick chamber and the rest of bed and the care of a physician. She had come to feel like that and yet, confession would be like a fiery torture. Margaret had in some almost insane fashion come to feel that she might confess to a minister, a man of God, and ease her soul, without more. And she had never been religious, and would have formerly smiled in serene scorn at her own state of mind. And here was the other woman whom she had wronged, forbidding her this one little possibility of comfort.

She said again humbly, "Let me tell him, Annie. He will only think the more of you because you shielded me."

But Annie was full of scorn which Margaret could not understand since her nature was not so fine. "Do you think I wish him to?" she said, but in a whisper because she heard voices and footsteps. "You cannot tell him, Margaret."

Then Von Rosen and Aunt Harriet, whose eyes were dim with recent sleep, came in sight, and Harriet Eustace, who had not seen Margaret since the club meeting, immediately seized upon her two hands and kissed her and congratulated her.

"You dear, wonderful creature," she said, "we are all so proud of you. Fairbridge is so proud of you and as for us, we can only feel honoured that our little Annie has such a friend. We trust that she will profit by your friendship and we realise that it is such a privilege for her."

"Thank you," said Margaret. She turned her head aside. It was rather dreadful, and Annie realised it.

Von Rosen stood by smiling. "I am glad to join in the congratulations," he said. "In these days of many books, it is a great achievement to have one singled out for special notice. I have not yet had the pleasure of reading the book, but shall certainly have it soon."

"Thank you," said Margaret again.

"She should give you an autograph copy," said Harriet Eustace.

"Yes," said Margaret. She drew aside Annie and whispered, "I shall tell my husband then. I shall."

Then she bade them good afternoon in her usually graceful way; murmured something about a little business which she had with Annie and flitted down the pergola in a cloud of wisteria.

"It does seem wonderful," said Harriet Eustace, "that she should have written that book."

Von Rosen glanced at Annie with an inquiring expression. He wondered whether she wished him to announce their engagement to her aunt. The amazing suddenness of it all had begun to daunt him. He was in considerable doubt as to what Miss Harriet Eustace, who was a most conservative lady, who had always done exactly the things which a lady under similar circumstances might be expected to do, who always said the things to be expected, would say to this, which must, of course, savour very much of the unexpected. Von Rosen was entirely sure that Miss Harriet Eustace would be scarcely able to conceive of a marriage engagement of her niece especially with a clergyman without all the formal preliminaries of courtship, and he knew well that preliminaries had hardly existed, in the usual sense of the term. He felt absurdly shy, and he was very much relieved when finally Miss Harriet and Annie took their leave and he had said nothing about the engagement. Miss Harriet said a great deal about his most interesting and improving collection. She was a woman of a patronising turn of mind and she made Von Rosen feel like a little boy.

"I especially appreciate the favour for the sake of my niece," she said. "It is so desirable for the minds of the young to be improved." Von Rosen murmured a polite acquiescence. She had spoken of his tall, lovely girl as if she were in short skirts. Miss Harriet continued:

"When I consider what Mrs. Edes has done," she said,—"written a book which has made her famous, I realise how exceedingly important it is for the minds of the young to be improved. It is good for Annie to know Mrs. Edes so intimately, I think."

For the first time poor Annie was conscious of a distinct sense of wrath. Here she herself had written that book and her mind, in order to have written it, must be every whit as improved as Margaret Edes' and her Aunt Harriet was belittling her before her lover. It was a struggle to maintain silence, especially as her aunt went on talking in a still more exasperating manner.

"I always considered Mrs. Wilbur Edes as a very unusual woman," said she, "but of course, this was unexpected. I am so thankful that Annie has the great honour of her friendship. Of course, Annie can never do what Mrs. Edes has done. She herself knows that she lacks talent and also concentration. Annie, you know you have never finished that daisy centre piece which you begun surely six months ago. I am quite sure that Mrs. Edes would have finished it in a week."

Annie did lose patience at that. "Margaret just loathes fancy work, Aunt Harriet," said she. "She would never even have begun that centre piece."

"It is much better never to begin a piece of work than never to finish it," replied Aunt Harriet, "and Mrs. Edes, my dear, has been engaged in much more important work. If you had written a book which had made you famous, no one could venture to complain of your lack of industry with regard to the daisy centre piece. But I am sure that Mrs. Edes, in order to have written that book of which everybody is talking, must have displayed much industry and concentration in all the minor matters of life. I think you must be mistaken, my dear. I am quite sure that Mrs. Edes has not neglected work."

Annie made no rejoinder, but her aunt did not seem to notice it.

"I am so thankful, Mr. von Rosen," said she, "that my niece has the honour of being counted among the friends of such a remarkable woman. May I inquire if Mrs. Edes has ever seen your really extraordinary collection, Mr. von Rosen."

"No, she has not seen it," replied Von Rosen, and he looked annoyed. Without in the least understanding the real trend of the matter, he did not like to hear his sweetheart addressed after such a fashion, even though he had no inkling of the real state of affairs. To his mind, this exquisite little Annie, grimy daisy centre piece and all, had accomplished much more in simply being herself, than had Margaret Edes with her much blazoned book.

"I trust that she will yet see it," said Miss Harriet Eustace. Harriet Eustace was tall, dull skinned and wide mouthed, and she had a fashion, because she had been told from childhood that her mouth was wide, of constantly puckering it as if she were eating alum.

"I shall be of course pleased to show Mrs. Edes my collection at any time," said Von Rosen politely.

"I hope she will see it," said Harriet, puckering, "it is so improving, and if anything is improving to the ordinary mind, what must it be to the mind of genius?"

The two took leave then, Annie walking behind her aunt. The sidewalk which was encroached upon by grass was very narrow. Annie did not speak at all. She heard her aunt talking incessantly without realising the substance of what she said. Her own brain was overwhelmed with bewilderment and happiness. Here was she, Annie Eustace, engaged to be married and to the right man. The combination was astounding. Annie had been conscious ever since she had first seen him, that Karl von Rosen dwelt at the back of her thoughts, but she was rather a well disciplined girl. She had not allowed herself the luxury of any dreams concerning him and herself. She had not considered the possibility of his caring for her, not because she underestimated herself, but because she overestimated him. Now, she knew he cared, he cared, and he wanted to marry her, to make her his wife. After she had reached home, when they were seated at the tea table, she did not think of telling anybody. She ate and felt as if she were in a blissful crystal sphere of isolation. It did not occur to her to reveal her secret until she went into her grandmother's room rather late to bid her good night. Annie had been sitting by herself on the front piazza and allowing herself a perfect feast in future air-castles. She could see from where she sat, the lights from the windows of the Edes' house, and she heard Wilbur's voice, and now and then his laugh. Margaret's voice, she never heard at all. Annie went into the chamber, the best in the house, and there lay her grandmother, old Ann Maria Eustace, propped up in bed, reading a novel which was not allowed in the Fairbridge library. She had bidden Annie buy it for her, when she last went to New York.

"I wouldn't ask a girl to buy such a book," the old lady had said, "but nobody will know you and I have read so many notices about its wickedness, I want to see it for myself."

Now she looked up when Annie entered. "It is not wicked at all," she said in rather a disappointed tone. "It is much too dull. In order to make a book wicked, it must be, at least, somewhat entertaining. The writer speaks of wicked things, but in such a very moral fashion that it is all like a sermon. I don't like the book at all. At the same time a girl like you had better not read it and you had better see that Harriet and Susan don't get a glimpse of it. They would be set into fits. It is a strange thing that both my daughters should be such old maids to the bone and marrow. You can read it though if you wish, Annie. I doubt if you understand the wickedness anyway, and I don't want you to grow up straight-laced like Harriet and Susan. It is really a misfortune. They lose a lot."

Then Annie spoke. "I shall not be an old maid, I think," said she. "I am going to be married."

"Married! Who is going to marry you? I haven't seen a man in this house except the doctor and the minister for the last twenty years."

"I am going to marry the minister, Mr. von Rosen."

"Lord," said Annie's grandmother, and stared at her. She was a queer looking old lady propped up on a flat pillow with her wicked book. She had removed the front-piece which she wore by day and her face showed large and rosy between the frills of her night cap. Her china blue eyes were exceedingly keen and bright. Her mouth as large as her daughter Harriet's, not puckered at all, but frankly open in an alarming slit, in her amazement.

"When for goodness sake has the man courted you?" she burst forth at last.

"I don't know."

"Well, I don't know, if you don't. You haven't been meeting him outside the house. No, you have not. You are a lady, if you have been brought up by old maids, who tell lies about spades."

"I did not know until this afternoon," said Annie. "Mr. von Rosen and I went out to see his rose-garden, while Aunt Harriet—"

Then the old lady shook the bed with mirth.

"I see," said she. "Harriet is scared to death of roses and she went to sleep in the house and you got your chance. Good for you. I am thankful the Eustace family won't quite sputter out in old maids." The old lady continued to chuckle. Annie feared lest her aunts might hear. Beside the bed stood a table with the collection of things which was Ann Maria Eustace's nightly requirement. There were a good many things. First was a shaded reading lamp, then a candle and a matchbox; there was a plate of thin bread and butter carefully folded in a napkin. A glass of milk, covered with a glass dish; two bottles of medicine; two spoons; a saucer of sugared raspberries; exactly one square inch of American cheese on a tiny plate; a pitcher of water, carefully covered; a tumbler; a glass of port wine and a bottle of camphor. Old Ann Maria Eustace took most of her sustenance at night. Night was really her happy time. When that worn, soft old bulk of hers was ensconsed among her soft pillows and feather bed and she had her eatables and drinkables and literature at hand, she was in her happiest mood and she was none the less happy from the knowledge that her daughters considered that any well conducted old woman should have beside her bed, merely a stand with a fair linen cloth, a glass of water, a candle and the Good Book, and that if she could not go immediately to sleep, she should lie quietly and say over texts and hymns to herself. All Ann Maria's spice of life was got from a hidden antagonism to her daughters and quietly flying in the face of their prejudices, and she was the sort of old lady who could hardly have lived at all without spice.

"Your Aunt Harriet will be hopping," said the perverse old lady with another chuckle.

"Why, grandmother?"

"Harriet has had an eye on him herself."

Annie gasped. "Aunt Harriet must be at least twenty-five years older," said she.

"Hm," said the old lady, "that doesn't amount to anything. Harriet didn't put on her pearl breast-pin and crimp her hair unless she had something in her mind. Susan has given up, but Harriet hasn't given up."

Annie still looked aghast.

"When are you going to get married?" asked the old lady.

"I don't know."

"Haven't settled that yet? Well, when you do, there's the white satin embroidered with white roses that I was married in and my old lace veil. I think he's a nice young man. All I have against him is his calling. You will have to go to meeting whether you want to or not and listen to the same man's sermons. But he is good looking and they say he has money, and anyway, the Eustaces won't peter out in old maids. There's one thing I am sorry about. Sunday is going to be a pretty long day for me, after you are married, and I suppose before. If you are going to marry that man, I suppose you will have to begin going to meeting at once."

Then Annie spoke decidedly. "I am always going to play pinocle with you Sunday forenoons as long as you live, grandmother," said she.

"After you are married?"

"Yes, I am."

"After you are married to a minister?"

"Yes, grandmother."

The old lady sat up straight and eyed Annie with her delighted china blue gaze.

"Mr. von Rosen is a lucky man," said she. "Enough sight luckier than he knows. You are just like me, Annie Eustace, and your grandfather set his eyes by me as long as he lived. A good woman who has sense enough not to follow all the rules and precepts and keep good, isn't found every day, and she can hold a man and holding a man is about as tough a job as the Almighty ever set a woman. I've got a pearl necklace and a ring in the bank. Harriet has always wanted them but what is the use of a born old maid decking herself out? I always knew Harriet and Susan would be old maids. Why, they would never let their doll-babies be seen without all their clothes on, seemed to think there was something indecent about cotton cloth legs stuffed with sawdust. When you see a little girl as silly as that you can always be sure she is cut out for an old maid. I don't care when you get married—just as soon as you want to—and you shall have a pretty wedding and you shall have your wedding cake made after my old recipe. You are a good girl, Annie. You look like me. You are enough sight better than you would be if you were better, and you can make what you can out of that. Now, you must go to bed. You haven't told Harriet and Susan yet, have you?"

"No, grandmother."

"I'll tell them myself in the morning," said the old lady with a chuckle which made her ancient face a mask of mirth and mischief. "Now, you run along and go to bed. This book is dull, but I want to see how wicked the writer tried to make it and the heroine is just making an awful effort to run away with a married man. She won't succeed, but I want to see how near she gets to it. Good-night, Annie. You can have the book to-morrow."

Annie went to her own room but she made no preparation for bed. She had planned to work as she had worked lately until nearly morning. She was hurrying to complete another book which she had begun before Margaret Edes' announcement that she had written The Poor Lady. The speedy completion of this book had been the condition of secrecy with her publishers. However, Annie, before she lit the lamp on her table could not resist the desire to sit for a minute beside her window and gaze out upon the lovely night and revel in her wonderful happiness. The night was lovely enough for anyone, and for a girl in the rapture of her first love, it was as beautiful as heaven. The broad village gleaming like silver in the moonlight satisfied her as well as a street of gold and the tree shadows waved softly over everything like wings of benediction. Sweet odours came in her face. She could see the soft pallor of a clump of lilies in the front yard. The shrilling of the night insects seemed like the calls of prophets of happiness. The lights had gone out of the windows of the Edes' house, but suddenly she heard a faint, very faint, but very terrible cry and a white figure rushed out of the Edes' gate. Annie did not wait a second. She was up, out of her room, sliding down the stair banisters after the habit of her childhood and after it.

Chapter IX

Margaret Edes, light and slender and supple as she was, and moreover rendered swift with the terrible spur of hysteria, was no match for Annie Eustace who had the build of a racing human, being long-winded and limber. Annie caught up with her, just before they reached Alice Mendon's house, and had her held by one arm. Margaret gave a stifled shriek. Even in hysteria, she did not quite lose her head. She had unusual self-control.

"Let me go," she gasped. Annie saw that Margaret carried a suit-case, which had probably somewhat hindered her movements. "Let me go, I shall miss the ten-thirty train," Margaret said in her breathless voice.

"Where are you going?"

"I am going."


"Anywhere,—away from it all."

The two struggled together as far as Alice's gate, and to Annie's great relief, a tall figure appeared, Alice herself. She opened the gate and came on Margaret's other side.

"What is the matter?" she asked.

"I am going to take the ten-thirty train," said Margaret.

"Where are you going?"

"To New York."

"Where in New York?"

"I am going."

"You are not going," said Alice Mendon; "you will return quietly to your own home like a sensible woman. You are running away, and you know it."

"Yes, I am," said Margaret in her desperate voice. "You would run away if you were in my place, Alice Mendon."

"I could never be in your place," said Alice, "but if I were, I should stay and face the situation." She spoke with quite undisguised scorn and yet with pity.

"You must think of your husband and children and not entirely of yourself," she added.

"If," said Margaret, stammering as she spoke, "I tell Wilbur, I think it will kill him. If I tell the children, they will never really have a mother again. They will never forget. But if I do not tell, I shall not have myself. It is a horrible thing not to have yourself, Alice Mendon."

"It is the only way."

"It is easy for you to talk, Alice Mendon. You have never been tempted."

"No," replied Alice, "that is quite true. I have never been tempted because—I cannot be tempted."

"It is no credit to you. You were made so."

"Yes, that is true also. I was made so. It is no credit to me."

Margaret tried to wrench her arm free from Annie's grasp.

"Let me go, Annie Eustace," she said. "I hate you."

"I don't care if you do," replied Annie. "I don't love you any more myself. I don't hate you, but I certainly don't love you."

"I stole your laurels," said Margaret, and she seemed to snap out the words.

"You could have had the laurels," said Annie, "without stealing, if I could have given them to you. It is not the laurels that matter. It is you."

"I will kill myself if it ever is known," said Margaret in a low horrified whisper. She cowered.

"It will never be known unless you yourself tell it," said Annie.

"I cannot tell," said Margaret. "I have thought it all over. I cannot tell and yet, how can I live and not tell?"

"I suppose," said Alice Mendon, "that always when people do wrong, they have to endure punishment. I suppose that is your punishment, Margaret. You have always loved yourself and now you will have to despise yourself. I don't see any way out of it."

"I am not the only woman who does such things," said Margaret, and there was defiance in her tone.

"No doubt, you have company," said Alice. "That does not make it easier for you." Alice, large and fair in her white draperies, towered over Margaret Edes like an embodied conscience. She was almost unendurable, like the ideal of which the other woman had fallen short. Her mere presence was maddening. Margaret actually grimaced at her.

"It is easy for you to preach," said she, "very easy, Alice Mendon. You have not a nerve in your whole body. You have not an ungratified ambition. You neither love nor hate yourself, or other people. You want nothing on earth enough to make the lack of it disturb you."

"How well you read me," said Alice and she smiled a large calm smile as a statue might smile, could she relax her beautiful marble mouth.

"And as for Annie Eustace," said Margaret, "she has what I stole, and she knows it, and that is enough for her. Oh, both of you look down upon me and I know it."

"I look down upon you no more than I have always done," said Alice; but Annie was silent because she could not say that truly.

"Yes, I know you have always looked down upon me, Alice Mendon," said Margaret, "and you never had reason."

"I had the reason," said Alice, "that your own deeds have proved true."

"You could not know that I would do such a thing. I did not know it myself. Why, I never knew that Annie Eustace could write a book."

"I knew that a self-lover could do anything and everything to further her own ends," said Alice in her inexorable voice, which yet contained an undertone of pity.

She pitied Margaret far more than Annie could pity her for she had not loved her so much. She felt the little arm tremble in her clasp and her hand tightened upon it as a mother's might have done.

"Now, we have had enough of this," said she, "quite enough. Margaret, you must positively go home at once. I will take your suit-case, and return it to you to-morrow. I shall be out driving. You can get in without being seen, can't you?"

"I tell you both, I am going," said Margaret; "I cannot face what is before me."

"All creation has to face what is before. Running makes no difference," said Alice. "You will meet it at the end of every mile. Margaret Edes, go home. Take care of your husband, and your children and keep your secret and let it tear you for your own good."

"They are to nominate Wilbur for Senator," said Margaret. "If they knew, if he knew, Wilbur would not run. He has always had ambition. I should kill it."

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