IDOL WORSHIP

LESLIE GORDON BARNARD October 1 1922

IDOL WORSHIP

LESLIE GORDON BARNARD October 1 1922

IDOL WORSHIP

LESLIE GORDON BARNARD

WHEN Preston Waring called me in professionally I knew at once his illness was a serious one. It was not his nature to raise an alarm over nothing.

“Just sent for you, Eben, old friend,” he told me when Mrs. Nibley ushered me in to his bedside,

“to help me set my house in order. If I should up anchor I’d like to know I hadn’t left things mussed up on the wharf for you legal sharks to untangle.

Funny, isn’t it, Eben, how we mortals postpone getting things shipshape until something slips a cog in us physically and we bang up against the fact that there’s no reason to assume that some special Providence is hankering to bar the door of entry for ourselves into the next world? Pull up that table, will you? I’ll only bother you a few minutes......Yes, Mrs. Nib-

ley, what is it now?”

“Just that the missus sends ’er love, sir, and to arsk ’ow yer feeling now?”

Mrs. Nibley’s pudgy, blackclad figure, crowned by a small white lace creation that was forever rakishly askew, held the doorway.

The man on the bed made a little moue.

“Kindly tell your mistress, Mrs. Nibley, that I reciprocate her kindly sentiments, and that the bulletin affecting my physical status remains unchanged!”

“Yes, sir! Certainly, sir!” said Mrs. Nibley, rubbing her hands together in the manner she affected when nervous, and withdrew.

The sick man grinned boyishly.

“That woman, Eben, is worth all it cost to bring her out. Some friend of Virginia’s we met over in London arranged it, thinking the woman’s widowhood would be less poignant in fresh fields and pastures new. I find her a wonderful safety-valve......Oh, yes, Mrs. Nib-

ley?”

“You’ll excuse me, sir, I’m sure, but would you mind saying that again - wot you did before? I’m afride I’ve missed some of the words!”

“Just give your mistress my love, and tell her I’m about the same, and close the door behind you when you go out—there’s a good soul.. Bless these women!” he said after she had complied. “Will they never learn that when a man’s really under the weather he doesn’t want to be fussed about every ten minutes?”

I inquired after his good lady’s health, wondering at her absence. He laughed shortly.

“Laid up worrying over me, Eben. Confound it, man, you can thank everything thankable you haven’t a wife who makes a cold, clammy idol of you! I’ve heard Maria giving you an old-fashioned curtain lecture, and envied you. There, don’t let me get on that subject. Virginia is Virginia, that’s all! Let’s get down to business. Hand me that leather case of mine, Eben.”

TXT'HILE I prepared tu do his bidding, my mind was ’’ busy again with thoughts of Preston Waring’s married life. Remembrance came of that, time, fifteen years back, when he had brought Virginia home as his bride home to this old family house that now was his, and that lay in an obscure hamlet five miles outside our little town. Because she had youth and beauty as her allies, she conquered us all. but by and by we ceased to do her homage. She was a woman of one idea—and that one idea was Preston Waring. He was her king; and the king could do no wrong. We all admired Preston, but confessed to a feeling that there were other men in the world—one or two anyway. To cap it all came the airs she gave herself as Preston Waring’s wife. Her social circle was exclusive--she tried to gather a small côterie of literati with whom culture was ten per cent, real and ninety per cent, pose, and whom Waring cordially detested; her activities were bounded by her own small kingdom, with.no thought apparently of the needy wilderness of humanity beyond these petty borders.

“If you are ready, Eben!” His voice recalled me.

The will we drew was a simple affair in its way, leaving practically all to his wife. She would be well provided for. The modern author, if he has the magic power of touching the hearts of his generation, need not fear the squalid splendor of an attic death. Waring, living simply but generously, had no need to complain of lack of appreciation of what genius was his. Nor had he compromised his ideals much to win success. Critics said some of his works would live.

It was of one of these works that he spoke now.

“I want a clause, Eben, governing all future royalties on my chief novel.” He mentioned a book that has run to many editions, and translations. “When I am gone you will see that these are turned over regularly, in quarterly instalments to Stella—” He paused.

“To Stella—?” I repeated, and waited.

He flushed a little. Then he gave a little, low whistle and laughed.

“Dashed if I know what to put,” he confessed. “Stella—that’s what we always called her. Funny,” he mused more to himself than to me, “I’ve never thought of her as anything but just Stella.” He turned to me sharply. “Leave that blank, Eben, leave the name blank —the surname, I mean—I’ll find it somehow. I must have it.”

T OFTEN think if a knock had not sounded just, then I

might have heard the thing from his own lips. As it

“Come in,” said Waring.

A vision that the approach of the forties could not rob of its loveliness, stood in the doorway, then tripped in, dainty as a blossom in May.

“Is he better—bless him,” cooed Virginia, fluttering over him as though he were an infant.

“I guess that’s all, Eben, if you’ll get it in shape," he hinted.

I rose and made a quick retirement, with a nod to the sick man. He gave an agonized kind of a smile, that had just a suggestion of that boyish grin in it.

“Did the naughty mans tire him?” cooed Virginia. “Did he tire my—”

But the naughty mans had closed the door securely behind him, and fled the place.

When a man grows to be as old as I, and as familiar

a figure in the community, there is a tendency for the younger men to make of him more or less of a confidante—his early signs of decrepitude doubtless counting unto him for harmlessness. At the time that Preston Waring and Billy Holder were engaging in rough-and-tumble affairs behind the schoolhouse, and more worthy but less interesting ones within itswalls, I was just getting my feet planted on the legal ladder. As a school trustee I had stood by them in one serious quarrel, adjudicating afterwards between them by arranging boxing gloves and a vacant lot, and getting in some sly verbal digs on manliness that seemed to win both sides to me, for they afterwards often came, separately of c o u r s e, to occupy the visitors’ chairs in my office, chairs whose newly-varnished surfaces seemed in those days likely to remain unharmed by contact with real clients. Now, as I say, this confidence in my judgment and harmlessness continued with the passing of years.

Preston Waring, I can remember—although an illness set him back and seemingly out of the running— came from behind at the last and won the gold medal at graduation from under Billy Holder’s very’ nose. Sarah Harkness, Billy’s best girl, went publicly into tears, and seemed never to have come quite out of them. My impression of her in after years, as Mrs. William Holder, had always been that of a woman who had the flood-gates under the most absolute lack of control humanly possible. How many storms have torn Billy’s susceptible heart in these years since his wife has railed against the impassable barrier which Virginia Waring set against her entry into the circle of the elect! I have been personal witness of two such cloudbursts.

But I anticipate. There was that neck and neck run at college, the choice of literary careers for both young men, the membership in the college’s most exclusive circle of literati, the rise of Preston’s literary’ star and the diminishing of Billy’s, so that the latter had perforce to content himself with journalistic scraps, until a minor windfall made possible the taking over of the ownership and editorship of our town weekly. Were I to mention Preston’s best-known works you, my reader, would at once be able to place the author. He has more than justified his early brilliance.

ON MY return from drawing poor Preston’s will,

I found Billy Holder in my office. Holder is my landlord, having shown enterprise in erecting a modern four-story office building and renting the two upper stories. He often drops in for a visit.

“How’s Waring?” he asked briefly. “They said you were out there.”

I told him my opinion. He nodded.

“The Doctor agrees he’s pretty bad. I met the Doc just now. There’s one thing sure, Eben; if he checks out I’ll know the next world is a better place than this!” “How’s that, Billy?”

“Well,” said Billy, grinning, “don't he always beat me to the good things?” After a time he went -on. “I guess I’m a hardened sinner, Eben, but I practically took a vow once I’d never put his name in the ‘Clarion.’ still, I suppose he’s news and in he must go. But I’m dashed if I’ll send any’one out scouting for it! You and Doc can keep me in touch with developments.” He was fumbling wth some papers in his pocket; presently, with some hesitation, he pulled out a sheet.

“Read that,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep last night and some devil in my innards urged me to write it. It's Preston Waring’s obituary’ notice for the ‘Clarion’!”

“But man, dear!” I expostulated. “Isn’t that a trifle too expeditious? The poor chap isn’t dead yet."

“He may be,” returned Billy shortly, “before I get back! I'm off over the week-end. Nothing like being prepared!” Remembrance is still strong of how he sat there, his likable profile, slightly marred by a touch of cynical hardness, silhouetted against the window, the September sunshine pouring in upon his fair hair which defied the traces of baldness that many carry in early middle life. He was leaning back in the chair, staring at the ceiling, pulling hard at his cigarette and tapping the ash with nervous flicks of his little finger.

I read the thing. Beside me as I write I have a c&py of it, but I always think of it in terms of the original with its underscorings which seemed an index to the mood of the writer. It was clever—devilishly clever. Addison never deserved Pope’s retributive lines more than did Billy Holder. It takes art to “damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer, and, without sneering, teach the rest to sneer!” Billy had accomplished that. One reading, felt that the writer had strained a point to speak well, but had always by him the plumbline of truth which must be kept in view. I handed it back at

“Well?” queried the father of the document.

“It’s a masterpiece, Billy,” I told him. “A masterpiece of the devil! It’s the literary parallel of offering a glass of wine in seeming friendship and sticking a dash of poison in it! Where do you get that stuff about his doings in the city?”

Billy leaned forward.

“Did it ever strike you how much of his time Preston has spent up there—but I notice that he rarely has his precious Virginia trailing along?

“True, he doesn’t seem to go as much as he used to, but there was a time when it looked funny to me. They say folks find what they look for, and you know as well as I do that I've always been looking for flaws in his direction. Once I found 'em I was satisfied; it wasn’t my business to make trouble between a man and his wife. But I sit back and grin every time his Virginia parades her hubby’s perfection before the admiring populace! If I had a wife like that I might have been tempted to kick over the traces sometimes, . only I don’t think I'd pick on so sophisticated a lady as Stella—”

I SAT up with a jerk as though a leverage had been applied.

“Stella!” I repeated.

He regarded me narrowly.

“I did some snooping to find out, I’ll admit, but a friend of mine happened across the trail, and I couldn’t resist following it!

I’ve never breathed it to a soul, and you’ll see that I’ve let him off lightly in this notice.” He tapped the obituary he had prepared. Suddenly he lay back and laughed. “1 was only kidding you, Eben. 1 wouldn't run a thing like

that, though I’d like to, by gad! See, I have a second copy, nicely pruned to use instead.” He pulled out another shorter copy.

“But Stella?” I inquired. “What, and wh o—yes , Miss Jones?”

My stenographer had entered with a timid, preliminary knock.

“Could you see someone from Mr. Waring, Mr. Drew? AM r s. Nibley, I t h i n k. She seems in a terrible hurry.”

Billy Holder rose to go. Mrs. Nibley burst impetuously upon us, taking the open door as her invit-

“Mr. Drew, sir —he sent me to sy—he was took very bad was the marster—and he sent me to sy the nime is Stella Lorette—and to inquire at number six Gifford Street up to the city— him being took that bad, sir, he couldn’t so much as write—so ’ad to send me, and I’m not to sy nothink to a soul, it being privut. business atween you and ’im, sir! A n d w i 1 1 you please to give me a writing sying that it’s all right, and would you please to come if you can instead of writing —as he thinks as 'ow he’s dying, and he’d like to

’ave you with ’im—the mistress being that ’elpless and the 'ussy of a nurse the Doctor sent being interested in 'erself, begging yer pardon, sir, more than in anyone else!”

Billy Holder had withdrawn prior to this verbal barrage, an illuminating grin on his face. There was something about it, though, not like Billy at his best—a vindictive triumph that made me, on the way dowm to get in the car that had brought the Nibley woman, drop in for a word with him. In spite of the short lapse of time, he had taken his hat and left—some urgent call or other. On his desk, side by side, lay the two obituary notices. I sometimes wish I had taken it upon myself to tear up the offensive one; and then again I’m glad 1 didn’t.

THAT week-end I spent with Preston Waring. I remember it now as a time of vast silences, when the great house—for it was a grey-stone affair of proportions, set about by meadows and some acres of timber, and reached by a private road from the hamlet of which it formed an out-lying part—seemed shut in upon us by a sense of brooding infinity. In the valley of the shadow one touches the fringes of eternity; those who accompany the traveller to the last turn of the road scarce less than he who travels on beyond the time of parting. There comes to my memory now the stiff, starched efficiency of the nurse; the tragic wraith-like beauty of Virginia Waring; the commanding air of Mrs. Nibley, as of one who had been through such things before and knew the ropes perfectly.

“Bless you, sir,” she would confide, “it’s an old story to me, ’aving buried two children and a ’usband, not to mention others less connected-like! You get used to it, only wot a corp my ’Arry mide!”

“Hush, Mrs. Nibley,” I implored her. “To heaT you talk one would think he was gone”—nodding towards the patient’s room.

“The fice of the man ’as death in it, sir!” she said calmly. “Wot’s more ’e won’t tike the medicine the doctor leave ’im or nothink. Says ’e’d as lief die natural as be poisoned!”

By doctor’s orders the invalid was forbidden any conversation with us beyond the most brief and ordinary passages. Much as I should have wished it, the question of the mysterious Stella remained unanswered.

How closely comedy and tragedy may mingle, rubbing shoulders, playing, indeed, at times, right into each other’s hands! How vividly remembrance of that Monday in September comes to me as the penning of these lines spurs memory in its task.

It was, I recall, a day of wet drizzle, more suggestive of November than September. The boy who delivered the “Clarion”—a Saturday weekly as I think I have explained—only reached this far out on Monday, and, with the superb carelessness of youth, tossed it where it fell in a puddle on the steps, driving some cheerful sparrows from their morning bath, to the detriment of the paper.

At twelve-thirty the Doctor, who was now in almost constant attendance, and I, were served with a hasty lunch by Mrs. Nibley. It was a cheerless meal. The „ Doctor seemed preoccupied,

his account of the patient’s condition was not comforting. Rain dripped in a monotonous gurgle from the eaves, but the sun was struggling weakly to effect a cleft in the clouds, and poured an occasional watery beam upon us.

Virginia Waring took her meal in her own room.

“I’m just taking ’er a dainty or two to tempt 'er appertite, Mr. Drew,” Mrs. Nibley confided “Now when my 'Arry passed on I couldn’t touch nothink but a mug o’ beer, I couldn’t, not that I even enjoyed it proper! I’ve dried out the piper, sir. and maybe reading that’ll tike ’er mind off ’im, poor dearie!"

IT WAS while 1 was enjoying a n after-dinner smoke in the library that Virginia Waring appeared before me. In her hand she held the copy of the “Clarion." Her manner proclaimed her message almost as well as her lips.

“Mr. Drew, could I trouble you—to look at this?”

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Idol Wo rship

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I tried to lead her to a seat, but'she negatived the idea decisively. I took the paper from her, but some intuition told me the trouble before actual confirmation was given by my eyes. There— on the front page of the “Clarion” was Billy Holder’s masterpiece! I did not dare meet the woman’s eyes, but sought time for composure by reading the obnoxious thing again. With her eyes upon me, I felt half guilty of the thing myself.

“What does it mean—please?” What a child she was, this beautiful Virginia Waring!—she regarded me now as a youngster might her father.

“I’m afraid the ‘Clarion’ has been playing the old newspaper game of writing up events before they happen but this time it slipped into print by mistake,” I told her.

She sank down on a chair, her eyes still upon me. She seemed so helpless I felt towards her a sense of pity I had not thought possible. She said at last:

“There’s one part there—about his— doings—in the city—I don’t quite— understand, I’m afraid. Will you read it to me again?”

The thing was so cruel I barely nerved myself to the task. It ran like this— that silly screed of Holder’s:

“There is a tendency sometimes to

e eulogize our departed friends until we rob them of their humanness, and leave only monotonous perfection. Let us not claim for Preston Waring this pallid virtue. The biographies of the great writers of the past reveal many a slip from the straight path; otherwise their genius would perhaps be cold, beyond the power to touch us mortals of a commoner clay. Added to the long list of mourning friends in these parts we can doubtless put those ’Bohemian’ circles in the city whose lure naturally attracted such a writer. His greatest works reflect this contact with life. Who shall hold it against him? Dick Steele had his moments when an affectionate note to his wife supplanted his own company. In the life of that bright galaxy to which he belonged and which numbered some of the most illustrious contributors to literature, there is much a biographer might find to censure did he not possess an understanding heart.

“If Preston Waring’s works betray an intimacy with certain sides of life, let us credit his account with a humanity that a more rigorous code might have discounted.” There was more of it than that; but the same thread of insinuation ran through it all. Near the end it said: “The sympathy of all will go out to the widow. To Mrs. Waring, her husband was an idolized being, perfect without blemish. One must admire in these days such a simplicity of faith, and feel for her the extra sorrow that such a bereavement must bring.”

Dear knows, I had no thought of doing it, but involuntarily I muttered: “Confound Billy Holder—he had no business leaving a thing like that round!” She must have caught the name, for she turned, with a queer little smile on her

“Of course,” she said quickly, “I might have known! Mr. Holder always hated dear Preston. I’m so relieved, Mr. Drew—it hurt me to read things like that. I shall take suit against this man, Holder, if Preston doesn’t himself! It’s a scandal, Mr. Drew—that’s what it is......” She paused, looking me keen-

ly in the eyes, then added, slowly: “You don’t believe anything—like that, Mr. Drew?” It was a question halting between incredulity and fear. Someone once said I had ingenuous eyes, and I believed it then. For the life of me I couldn’t get Stella Lorette out of my mind, nor Billy’s assured statements.

A FITFUL gleam of sunlight came through the leaded window and fell slantingly upon her. Something in her pose touched me again. I went up and stood beside her, putting a hand on her shoulder, as a father might have done.

“Mrs. Waring,” I said, “I have known Preston ever since be was a boy, and I have always had a great respect for and trust in him. You mustn’t let this upset you!” It was temporizing, and she sensed it. She swung on me sharply:

“You’re evading, Mr. Drew!” I felt her keen glance once more. She sat down suddenly again, having risen in her agitation.

“You don’t understand,” she said, staring wistfully out of the window, and speaking, it seemed, almost more to herself than to me: “You don’t know what

he has meant to me. From my earliest childhood I was brought up under the sheltering influences of a convent—my people, though Protestant, regarded this form of education highly. I shall never forget those days, Mr. Drew!”

She turned to face me now. and somehowI felt that a new Virginia was being revealed to me. “Although I did not share the religious beliefs, I loved the •outine of the life, and the grey stone Hoisters and the candle-lit gloom of the ;hapel, and the music and painting, and ;he long walks in the cool of the evening vith the girls and the sisters. Occasionlily my mother came to see me; she was a /ery beautiful woman. Father was incrested in mines or something in South America— I only saw him once or twice. Holiday times I stayed with my aunt; >ne or two years when mother was home ve all went to the sea together. Life vas very lovely then; and always there vas before me the prospect of father coning back and our setting up home again.

! knew I would be sorry to leave the :onvent, but mother was so happy at he thought of our all being together I vas happy with her. It was at the seahore I met Preston. I almost worshipled him then.

“I remember, Mr. Drew, the day on vhich I was to leave the convent. I tad in my pocket mother’s last letter, so jull of the joy of the homecoming. She iad come ahead and prepared the house; father was to follow in a month.

“Sister Vincent it was who brought mo he news. I had always been a favorite I hers. She bade me walk in a secluded lart of the grounds, out by the orchard.

! “ ‘You are not to leave us yet, dear.’ he told me.

I “Little by little the story came out. t letter had just come. Mother was ■ery ill. Only a long while afterwards oulrl I reconcile the reason of her illIliess. My—my father, Mr. Drew, had I flayed her false—some woman down {¡here in South America. I did not see liny mother again until the divorce proceedings were over. It was his doing,

» he would never have taken action of Lerself. When I saw her at last I hard-

ly knew her, she was so changed. I do not think she was ever very strong, and the shock was too much for her. She died within a year.

“My heart, Mr. Drew, was full of hate—hate for all men. In my student life I had known few men, naturally— and now I saw in them all the thing that had killed my mother. And then Preston came into my life again, and showed me how wrong I was, and1 changed hatred to love. Perhaps you can understand something of what that meant—the changing of bitterness to joy. I have said I worshipped Pres, Mr. Drew—I have all these years. He gave me back my faith and trust!”

VIRGINIA stopped. The raucous honking of a motor down on the road struck a jarring note.

‘‘You see,” she said, “you see how it is about this?” She picked up the paper that had fallen to the floor. Her hand was trembling so that the paper was shaking uncontrollably in it. “Sometimes I have felt that there was something between us, Mr. Drew, but it seemed just because he was so—wonderful, and clever —and I’m not, you know!”

She straightened suddenly, flaring defiance, and tossed the offensive paper from her. “It’s a lie, Mr. Drew, a mean, low lie of that person Holder’s!”

The defiance died, like asummerstorm, as quickly as it was born. She said: “If I should lose my faith in him, Mr.

Drew......” She held out her arms in

involuntary appeal to me, as though I could prevent so great a tragedy. The child and the woman in her were strangely mixed just then.

In the doorway the sombre form of Mrs. Nibley appeared, beckoning me.

I remembered afterwards that I had heard the doorbell ring. I went out into the hall.

“Mr. Drew, sir! It’s a stringe woman —a painted and powdered 'ussy from the city. Says she’s come to ’is funeral. She must be queer, Mr. Drew!” Her voice came in a sibilant whisper. “Between you an’ me, sir, it’s the woman the marster sent word to you about. She says her nime is Lorette! Stella Lorette! She’s in the drawrin’-room now. It don’t look right, ’er cornin’ that w’y, beggin’ yer pardon, sir? If the missus—”

“Hush! Mrs. Nibley!” I implored. In that quiet house her voice, even in its sibilance, carried. But my warning was too late. Virginia Waring, sensing that something was wrong, and fearing no doubt that Preston was worse, had followed us out. The child was gone now; gone forever, I thought, as I caught the look in her eyes; only the woman remained.

“I’m afraid,” she said lifelessly, “I’m afraid I’ve heard all! I thought I could trust you, Mr. Drew; I see I was mistaken there too. No, please, do not attempt to interfere! I shall see her

Mrs. Nibley and I exchanged helpless glances. Virginia Waring was already moving towards the drawing-room— and Stella.

If I followed it was without thought of vulgar intrusion, or ordinary prying; it was because no power of resistance could hold me. If she was aware that I had followed—quite openly—behind her, and that I stood just within the portièred arch of the drawing-room, she gave no evidence of it.

“Mrs. Waring?” I drew my first impressions from the voice, for the room was rather dark, and I did not at once note what afterwards impressed me: the rather fine features, had they not been spoiled by an overload of powder that gave a cheap air; the perfect poise and graceful carriage; the flashing dark eyes; the black coils of hair that showed below a small toque; the well-tailored costume that was nevertheless growing noticeably threadbare. It was her voice that, holding a peculiar timbre, rather mellow and vibrant, held me.

Virginia just nodded.

I SENSED in that moment a mutual antagonism—a wordless thing t hat no bitterness of speech could have conveyed. It seemed to me that the visitor felt and resented Virginia's austere, challenging attitude. Eire meeting fire, I thought, and the fires so very alike! The girl said, after a tense moment:

“I am Stella Lorette!”

I "Yes?” the word was a mere conj cession to courtesy. “Ah! you don’t seem to know the name. I Perhaps he hasn’t—spoken of me to you at all?” “lie? You mean, I suppose, my hus-

"I mean Preston!”

Self-control could not prevent Virginia from flinching. She said nothing.

“Probably he would not speak of me, either!” It was turning the knife in the wound. Afterwards when I looked back in review upon that scene I felt the thrill of it more understanding^.

“Who—what are you to him?” It hardly sounded like Virginia’s voice.

Stella Lorette let her lashes fall coyly; she traced a pattern on the parquet with her shoetip. Then she looked up quickly, to say;

“Maybe more than you are!”

The mask of repression fell from Virginia Waring. She took a step forward.

“Please leave this house, Miss Lorette! You dare to come here and insult me, and lie about my husband when he is dying!”

An answering flash in the girl s eyes was drowned in wells of soberness.

“I’m sorry,” she said impulsively. “I forgot myself for a moment! I came because of this. I get the ‘Clarion’ regularly up in town. Your housekeeper says it’s not true—yet. Tell me is there no chance for him?” She was wisping a copy of the offensive notice in tier hand, and the forgetfulness of everything but the final question, the appeal in her eyes and posture, spoke eloquently.

For a fleeting moment both women stood on common ground—the common ground of mutual concern and loving fearfulness.

“The doctor holds out—little—hope! Thus Virginia, softly.

The girl nodded sympathetic understanding. After a pause she said, eagerly appealing:

“May I—could I—see him?”

“See him? You?” Virginia shrank back as though from something accursed; the moment of understanding had passed, the old antagonism came with renewed power. Her scornful glance swept this girl, who bore the impress of an alien life, from head to foot. She demanded fiercely: “What right?”

“Because I love him!”

"You must be mad, girl!”

“Mad?” Stella Lorette shrugged her shapely shoulders. “Well, maybe I am! I guess you think I’m a—loose kind of a person—no, don’t say anything —I can see it in your eyes! Well, may■ he I am—different to you!” She turned i away, laughing softly, adding in an under1 tone: “Thank God!”

“Will you please—explain?” Viri ginia’s repression was wonderful; obviously the desire to know everything : fought with her other emotions. “Who —what are you—to him?”

STELLA LORETTE moved over to a window and stared out across the rain-sodden fields, touched now with watery sunlight. Then she swung around facing her questioner.

“Who am I? Nobody—nobody but the woman to whom he had to turn because his wife failed him!”

“Failed him?” The words seemed to force themselves out.

Stella Lorette nodded; her mouth twisted scornfully. Then she made her arraignment of the wife; a masterpiece of word-painting, with colors, mixed, as I afterwards had confirmation, from the color-box of jealous hatred. For the first time probably in her life Virginia saw herself as others beheld her: Her

vapid idol-worship turning the source of love into an insipid stream; her narrow viewpoint of life; her unconcern for any interests, outside her self-appointed kingdom; her unfitness to mate with a man of broad human sympathies, and red-blooded impulses.

j Virginia was shaken; but she held herself marvellously. She turned, as though impulsively seeking flight, and saw me there, I believe, for the first time in the whole interview. She came to me with swift paces, putting a hand, grippingly, on my arm.

“Make her go, Mr. Drew! Make her go!” It seemed to be all she could articulate.

Stella Lorette met my eyes as I turned 1 to her. Her mouth was very firm. She told me:

“I won’t go—until I see him!” Then1 was an appeal in that threat.

“You’ll—never—see—him!” Virginin was a blazing fury.

The intruder had another swift change1 of mood. She said challengingly:

“You’re afraid to let me see him You say I’m lying! Then why are yo», afraid for me to—see him? It’s because you’re afraid to face the truth!”

Before Virginia could speak, or I eoul«i interpose with the objection that he wai too ill for such tricks, Mrs. Niblej appeared, tremulous with haste:

“Mr. Drew! The Doctor says thi marster’s took very bad! He’s asking fo; the missus!”

I always counted it unto Virginia fo; righteousness that in that moment sht did not think to press her triumph with si much as a look. Whitefaced, she flei upstairs.

The girl and I remained below. Shi was more in the light than I, and it wai easy to see how keenly she felt the thing It could not have been many momenti before Virginia appeared before us again Her face held something that, if indefin able, was also unforgettable. She stood ii the doorway, with one hand on the wood work, as if feeling for support.

“He will see you! You may go up!’ She was looking straight into the oyes o: Stella Lorette. “Mrs. Nibley will tak you up.” Her voice was wonderfullj

It subdued us both. I saw the girl bit» her lip nervously, then with a low “Thant you” she left us, and followed Mrs. Niblej

up the stairs.

Virginia went over and seated hersell on the low seat in the bay window. AI life and color seemed to have departed The woman had made her expiation Afterwards I learned that she had left it tt Preston whether he should see Stella Lorette or not, couching the question in termi that could have revealed no disturbing oi distressing thought. He would see he» he had said, his eyes lighting. The Doctor made no objection. The end wa» near, and he must have his wishes fulfilled. It left Virginia lifeless this way Real sacrifice does.

THE sudden exclamation from Vlrgink came almost simultaneously with th» sound of the doorbell timidly rung, anf the dull thud of Mrs. Nibleyrs answerinj footfalls.

“Mr. Drew! What can it be?”

She was staring, wide-eyed out of th* window. Up the avenue, between th« yellowing trees, came rig after rig—carriages, and cars. Beyond, on the road, on« caught glimpses of more following. Mrs Nibley appeared, hot and indignant iñ thi doorway, to say:

“Please marm, they’ve come to th« funeral! There’s a gent out there says at ’ow the funeral’s to be at two-thirty. Hi says that’s wot they s’y down to thi village!” Mrs. Nibley was tremendouslj agitated. “It’s a shime, that’s wot it iB and ’im up there breathink ’is larst!” Humor and tragedy rubbing shoulder» indeed! I hurried out, lest the ghastlj thing should come to the ears of the dyin| man. No one, it seemed, knew just when the news came from, but at the bottom ol it was, of course, the obituary notice. II had brought Stella: it brought now i stream of premature mourners. WIN first set the rumor of the time of the funer al afloat is still a mystery and a matter « tea-table conjecture in our countryside Brief explanations stemmed the tide, an« a rather abashed outward stream began.

Stella Lorette was with Preston durinj this time; the ghastly comedy had at leas' the merit of diverting his wife’s mind fron unhappy speculation. I am convince« that wild horses could not have dragge« her behind the door where Preston an this woman from the city were; and then are doubts and fears more compellin) than physical force. When Stella Loretti came out, it was to summon the Doctor iii a terse, mechanical way, and, almost be fore we knew it, she had gone.

The Doctor in turn came fron» thi room, shaking his head in a puzzle«! way to say, gruffly; “Go in. Drew. He insist on seeing you alone. I’ve just give» hin a stimulant. He’s obstinate as a mule!”

I went in.

“Close the door!” Preston said, apeak ing with difficulty. “Eben, tell *M al that happened below.”

“Oh—the folks car e by mistake,” said, uneasily.

“The folks?” The faintest semblance of a smile showed on his lips: the echo of some internal mirth. “Not to the funeral?” The smile struggled for greater life. “I’m sorry to give ’em a double trip!” he breathed. “No, Eben—I mean—about my wife—and Stella! Tell me all!”

When I had made an end, he said: “Thanks, Eben. I thought Stella might be trying to ease things off—I wanted your confirmation! Will you fetch— Virginia—now, and tell her to bring a copy of—” he mentioned his chief work, the novel on which his literary laurels were principally based. When I returned with Virginia, white-faced, and the required volume, he bade us sit down. I ventured to express a fear of his tiring himself, but his obstinacy showed again, and indeed I found more manifestation of life in him than I had seen in many hours.

SEE the title page,” he ordered. I read aloud: “To S., without whom this volume would not have existed.” He said: “You thought that was some friendly critic, perhaps—I think I told you it was —a friend who helped me. It was—Stella.” He went on after a time, in the same whispering tone: “Read from the top of the second page in the opening chapter.”

“From the window of her room, high up in the cheap, ramshackle building that masqueraded as a hotel, she could see the lights of the city springing into being, spattering the early dusk like stars. To the right, beyond the tall office buildings of the downtown section, and this side of an ugly forest of factory chimneys, ran the river, transformed just now into molten flame by the sunset. She could glimpse it here and there in its course. Its placidity p’eased her; touched with the indelible pencil stroke of destiny, the thing within her that clamored for peace.

“Darkness, following on the heels of dusk with scarcely perceptible advance, enveloped the city; to the left the theatre district sprang more gaily into the task of countering the sombre hosts of night; the girl, leaning slightly out of the narrow window, could see a familiar radiance above the building where once her name seemed likely to hold place in the electrics, and her fame behind the footlights be established with those who sat before them. Now that could never be. He held too much influence with those who made and unmade stars. And the bitterness that had caused this was so unjust a thing! He had traded on her affection; tricked her with unfulfilled promises; compromised her in the eyes of a world eager for sensation that innocence could not afford, and so reading with eagerness that which was false. And, because she fled from him; sought to return to the old ways; desired only to fight life single-handed again,he had hounded her. . . .

“Nobody cared particularly that he did. The crowds which shortly would be thronging into that building, pleasure-bent—laughing, chattering crowds —what would they care? Another took her place, and she was forgotten as much as if—as if the river had closed above her head. The people hurrying along the streets below—folks with somewhere to go: home; an appointment with a friend; an honest task; a fireside with a book and the accompaniment of a placid conscience—what did they care that one, four stories up, ■watched them as they went, and knew no place to which her feet would care to hurry—unless it were the —river? The inmates of this drab hostelry—from the shabby clerk, to the latest young country couple, still shaking confetti from their pockets, and blushing in confusion and happiness—whaf did they care—because they did not know the solitude of soul, the loneliness of life that she experienced? Beyond the light pal! of smoke drifting above the city, touched with the lightest of reflections from the city’s glare, were the stars in their courses. How quiet they seemed, like silent sentinel eyes watching the little flurry of the earth! Was there someone who numbered them, who cared —who cared, too, for the hairs of the head? Cared? She laughed. Had she not agonized in prayer — prayer more fervent than any since that night she left home so long ago, it seemed, and knelt for the last time of all at the family altar?. . . And what answer was there, more than the answer of some graven image of stone before which an untutored savage bowed his superstitious head?

"She turned her eyes again to where the molten flame of river had challenged her; she could not see its darkened waters now, hut the knowledge that it was there, so deep,so un-hurried, so placid, recurred to her again and again. She did not trouble to write any note of explanation, rather she dest royed any trace that might identify her; upon the pages of the dog-eared register below a pseudonym gaveanonymity. There were none to care — except sensation-mongers; and she chose to give no headlines to the papers....

"She went downstairs in the dingy elevator; she was not without a touch of curiosity to know what effect a knowledge of her destination might have upon the apathetic languor of the boy who ran it. She would pay her bill up to the morning; it took very nearly the last dollar from her purse. . . .not that that mattered now.

“The clerk said: ‘There’s someone just been asking for you, miss. I was just going to send up word. He’s somewhere round t’other end of the lobby waitin.’

“She asked, a little breathlessly: ‘Is he oldish, and quite stout?’

“He smiled. ‘No, miss,’ he laughed, ‘wrong that time! He’s young and thin! There he is now. Hi mister, here’s your party. Her quick glance revealed a stranger; by some intuitive premonition the river seemed to grow darker, and recede sullenly from her as he approched. Perhaps his smile said to her that he might even care...”

STOP!” said Preston.

I closed the book.

He added gravely: “That was where

I met her, you see! Will you turn, Eben, to Chapter Eleven—there no, two pages more, where her diary begins.”

At his request, I read :

“He has just left. I think my heart is broken—yet why should I have dared aspire? He’s not my sort—I might have known it all along. And yet his friendship, the little kindnesses he showed, all these I’ve hugged to

myself, and hoped... .hoped......I

might have known without his telling me; but now he goes to her, with kisses that were never mine, and love that I dared aspire to without deserving. How I tried to like her, for his sake, when he told me, painting a word picture of her, and her charms.....and

all the time I knew I hated her—unjustly and yet perhaps with justice, knowing who she is. What an irony it is!”

“Thank you!” said Preston, and I closed the book again. “That bit is right from her own diary, Eben, word for word. I found it by chance. I’ve always given her friendship since—just the same straight, clean friendship I had from the first when a strange turn of fate threw us together at so critical a time. She’s drifted a bit, but she’s fought a good fight. The rest of the book diverges from her story, but her personality is all through it, and it is due to her that so much of verisimilitude and atmosphere is in it. Virginia, you’ll think it strange, perhaps, I did not tell you of her; or let you know that when I went to town digging up material, she was a ready and efficient guide. If I do not explain it even now, I wish that you might trust me, not as a perfect being at all, dear, but because she loved me too well, poor child— unreciprocated, unrequited—to do anything but lead my steps aright!” P* Virginia had listened to all this without a word; something of that chiseled beauty remained, with the pallor that had been so striking in the moments of the previous hour or two. Sometimes since, I have wondered if her ears did not detect more readily even than mine, the new tenderness in that word “dear” he used in speaking now. I saw her lips tremble at last; her forced composure was shaken; with a little sobbing cry she ran forward and fell on her knees beside his bed.

“Dearest!” I heard him whisper and saw his hand feebly reach out towards her.

I tiptoed out, and left them there together.

TUST yesterday I met Billy Holder on ** the street, coming in as I was leaving the building. Instead of the usual nod, he stopped me. “I’m going away!” he told me, savagely. “I’ve been fed up with this place for a long while, and I’ve had my eye on another paper in a real burg. Between ourselves, Eben, I’ve begun to believe that I’ll never live down this wretched Waring business. That old son-of-a-gun always did have all the luck! He sent for me a couple of days ago, Eben. I was frankly ashamed to go, but it seemed the right thing to do. I went. He wanted us to forget all bygones. I said, to pass off the—er—embarrassment we both felt: ‘How the dickens did the

Doc manage to pull you back into the world?’ ‘The Doc?’ said he, ‘Get out— you did it!’ ‘I?’ says I. ‘You,’ says he. ‘Do you think, you old blighter, I was going to miss the best joke on you I’ve known since the time Joe Parrish and I put the treacle in your hat at school?’ ” Billy added, sobering: “I’m going away, Eben, but I’m going away—friends. Sarah and I are running up to dinner with Pres and Virginia to-morrow night!”

He left me then, and I stood for a while, forgetting even the important engagement I was hurrying to. Remembrance came to me of Preston Waring’s explanation of recovery to me.

“Eben,” he said, “I simply had to stay this side the Styx. I just discovered in time that the—the old Virginia was my fault. She gave me everything, Eben, and I gave her just a half-portion! It dwarfed her. A woman, Eben, is not just an accessory to a man—to be treated like a child, and to know only half his life. A husband is not a cold statue to be set upon a pedestal and worshipped —nor a wife either a statue or a—child. If she is to acclaim his triumphs, she must also share his failures. Stella did that, but Stella had not my love. What love this churlish heart of mine has, Eben, was always Virginia’s from the first; but because I did not make her partner in all things, my love became a thing from which a cynic might find lessons. See how this clung to me,

: even after I was half awakened by the womanly way she treated Stella Lori ette. I asked her not to question me why j I was reticent in speaking of my relation! ship to Stella before. I did not trust her ! womanliness, you see! I’ve told her since!”

“Told her?” I asked.

“Of course, Eben,” he said, with a I short laugh, “how should you know? When Virginia’s father got into trouble,

I had already met her at the seaside, you know, and knew I loved her. I helped her mother all I could in those trying days. I discovered this South American affair to be not the first wayward exploit . . . .my trail led, by devious ways, to —Stella. Lorette is an assumed name: she has never told even me her rightful surname—that’s why I hesitated about putting it that way in the will. Perhaps my instincts for a story led me on: at least they did not betray me. I found her—and I found my story, as you know!”

“Then the man who tricked Stella Lorette was—?”

He nodded. “Virginia’s father—the old reprobate! I told Virginia, Eben, because I wished to start with a clean sheet. She went white, and then she turned to me. Do you know what she said to me, Eben? She said putting her hand through my hair: ‘Now my naughty boy has talked enough, and I’m going to tuck him in and make him lose his eyepeeps for the night!’ I squirmed inwardly for a moment, Eben. But presently, when she came over, I saw that her lashes were wet with tears. ‘Poor Stella!’ she whispered gravely. ‘Pres, dear, when she went out, she told me she would never worry me more. Will you write her to-morrow, and tell her that there are two now. . . who care?’ You see, Eben, I’ve rediscovered . . . . ” He stopped, nodded, and went out, with the labored step of the invalid, to fetch a I pipe that I knew did not exist.

1 thought of this as I stood there on the steps of Billy Holder's building; and I thought of Billy Holder's leaving town; and my mind ran back to the day he had read his masterpiece in my office; and how I had failed to destroy the thing as it lay upon his desk; and there came to me again, as it has come to me and many other men before, a wonder whether the shuttle that weaves the tangled skein of life is not guided strangely at times by a Power that knows the end.. . .and cares