JOSEPH LISTER RUTLEDGE
“Oh, I’ve got a quick temper, alright, but it’s all over in a minute.” We all know dozens of people who thus excuse their outbursts of uncontrolled. rage, just as Garth Webster, in this story, did. And like him, it often takes an experience starkly tragic to teach them that their failing is not to be excused, but sternly fought and conquered,
CLAIRE WEBSTER stood beside the breakfast table surveying its appointments with a practised eye. Her long, delicate fingers moved a slender fluted glass a little to one side. Garth was so particular about little things. Martha could never be made to understand that there was any reason why a grape fruit should be done just so.
But then Martha wasn’t married. She smiled a little at the thought, and the smile lighted up her face. It was a youthful face, under a nimbus of auburn hair, with a determined little chin and eyes that looked out, large, clear and unafraid.
No one would have dreamed that yesterday she had turned twenty-five. She caught a vision of herself in a wall-mirror and again her eyes puckered into that suspicion of a smile. She didn’t really look so old. Garth had been foolish about it, of course. She smiled again at the memory of him protesting noisily that she was just twenty and lovelier than any deb. He could be rather a dear in his wild, foolish way. She had been proud of him last night, so big and handsome, and so anxious to see that she had a wonderful time. And it had been wonderful; it always was when he was in that mood.
Por a moment a half frown swept across her face, as she twitched the heavy curtains so that the light fell softly on the table. She brushed it away with a shrug as a hearty baritone sounded down the hall. The door flew open, as though it had been exploded from its hinges, and Garth Webster stood framed in the entrance, tall and broad, with a smile on his handsome ruddy face.
“So there you are,” he cried, his big voice booming through the room exultantly, “looking more like a bridecake than a sober married woman.” He crossed the room in long strides and caught her in his arms. “You’re lovely, my dear, you’re lovelier than any woman should be allowed to be at nine o’clock in the morning, when a man ought to be thinking of getting to work.”
“You’re just silly,” she smiled back at him; but there was a heightened color in her face, and her eyes were soft.
Garth Webster attacked his grapefruit with the concentrated attention of a man whose conscience was clear and appetite unimpaired. He pushed it aside and looked about him. “WThere’s the paper?” he asked, a note of surprise in his voice.
“Isn’t it there, dear?”
“It isn’t,” he retorted sharply. “You were down before I was. I should have thought you would have noticed that.”
She rang the bell without answering. “Do you know anything about the morning paper?” she asked, as Martha answered.
“It didn’t come this morning, Ma’am.”
“Didn’t come!” Garth Webster’s ruddy face went purple. “You mean you didn’t look for it. Of course it came. I pay for it, don’t I? It always comes, doesn’t it? Go out and look for it instead of standing there whimpering about it not coming.”
He turned on Claire as the door closed behind the frightened servant. “Why do you keep a numbskull like that? She’s wooden from her chin up. It’s part of her work to bring in the paper, isn’t it? It doesn’t take wits to do that. If she can’t do it, get someone who can.”
Presently Martha returned with the missing paper.
“What did you mean?” he fumed, “hadn’t come!”
“It had blown under the hedge at the back of the garden, George found it,” she answered, timidly defensive.
“George!” he snorted, turning on his wife accusingly. “Fine thing if my chauffeur has to be doing your maid’s work. Where do you think I’d be if I let things get out of hand like that at the office? It’s preposterous,” he fumed, and still fuming retired behind the pages of the paper.
Claire pushed her coffee away untasted. Her face had lost its pallor, and the flush had returned, but there was no softness in her eyes. It wasn’t that there was anything unusual in this outburst. It wasn’t an incident to be thought of alone. It was one of many. Oh, she was used to it, too used! that was the trouble.
“We ought to see that show at the Criterion.” Garth emerged, suddenly, from behind his paper. He was blandly unconscious of any change in the friendly atmosphere of the room. “They speak of it pretty highly here. Sounds amusing. What do you say to to-morrow night? I can send out and get the tickets.”
She did not answer at once.
“Nothing the matter, is there?” he inquired, anxiety in his voice; “not feeling well?”
“Oh, yes. I’m feeling quite all right.”
“You’re surely not upset at me flying off the handle?” he inquired, with evident surprise. “You know it’s just my way—doesn’t mean anything.”
“Yes, it’s just your way,” she agreed, slowly.
He wondered for a moment if Claire had meant that to be nasty. But no, of course she hadn’t. She wasn’t that sort. Still, if she had a fault it was being a little bit huffy over trifling things that might happen. A bit slow on the pick-up, he admitted to himself; but never mean about it. Now he got mad—got it all out of his system, and forgot about it. There was a certain complacency in the reflection. He returned to his breakfast with restored good humor.
He finished the last mouthful and rose and stood beside her. Tucking a finger under her chin, he lifted her
face with jovial enthusiasm. Her lips met his unresponsively. “ ’Phone me about the tickets, or no—I’ll reserve them anyway—turn them in if you don’t want to use them. And I’d get a bit of exercise if I were you. It’s a wonder to getting the cobwebs out of your brain.” He was gone and, as he climbed into the car, she heard him rallying George on a supposed affection for Martha.
CLAIRE watched them turn out of the driveway with a sober face. She would have to go and talk to Martha, just as though nothing had happened, make some laughing reference to this outbreak—anything to take away the sting. Her pride revolted at the thought. It was always revolting that the actual or implied apology had to come always from her. Garth didn’t mean a word of it, of course. It was just his way, as he said. As his wife, she was supposed to make allowances; but the servants didn’t have to. That was where they had the advantage.
And yet, Garth was a dear. She tried to recapture the glow that had been with her the night before. But, somehow, it wouldn’t return. Perhaps it was just that she was after all twenty-five. There was such a lot to be proud of in Garth. You could trust him anywhere. There were husbands, she knew, even in her own set, about whom that couldn’t be said. He had been successful. He was generous, too; and he could be so dear and considerate; as he had been last night. After all, that was the real Garth. The other was just—well, just flying off the handle, as he said. It was over in a minute, and it didn’t mean anything; but she was only partly convinced.
/^ARTH came home that night with his eyes sparkling. “Oh,
Claire,” he called up the stair before he had even taken off his coat, “put on your best pinny, we’re diverting to-night, and it’s a real party.” He took the stairs two steps at a time, and burst into her room, and stood looking at her with open admiration “If you’ve got a better pinny than that,” he said, “don’t you dare to wear it. You’re too lovely to be safe, now.”
“It’s your birthday gift,” she smiled back at him, “do you like it?”
“Of course I like it. If you wore a gingham apron and a poke bonnet,
I’d like it.”
“You needn’t go quite so far, because I’m not going to.”
“Perhaps you’re right,” he agreed.
“Leave the gingham to the gingham girls. Well, anyway, we’re going to the Warren’s. Bill Warren ’phoned me just before I left. It’s an impromptu affair, but it will be good.
Bill knows how to run a party.
You’ll know most of the crowd; the Askews and the Barry’s and Secords, that old walrus Arnold Tope, and a scattering of others that I don’t know.”
“I rather like Mr. Tope, Garth.”
“Old Tope!” he exclaimed in some surprise. “What can you see in that old dried red herring? Why if you stamped on his foot he’d answer just like the telephone girls; ‘Excuse it, please!’ ” He mumbled the words with a fair imitation of Tope’s precise tones.
She smiled in spite of herself. “I like him,” she said. “Even if people don’t scratch and bite, I can like them.”
His face clouded for a moment. “Claire,” he said, “you’re not trying to rub it into me, are you? I know I have a rotten temper, but you know I don’t mean anything by it. It’s just part of me.” He was so contrite, so absurdly boy-like despite his great size that she could only laugh at him.
His face cleared immediately. “That’s the girl,” he laughed hilariously, as he caught her up and waltzed round the room.
' I 'HERE was a dark flush, still, on Claire’s face as she entered her room and threw off her evening wraps. She had been quiet during the homeward trip. Garth had not noticed it, or if he did, no doubt, he put it down to weariness. That was always Garth’s way. He was never sorry for more than a moment; and he simply could not understand why anyone else should be.
Something soft brushed against her silken ankles. She looked down to see the adoring eyes of Rudolph gazing up at her. She had called him Rudolph because in the first days he had been so shy. It seemed appropriate, somehow.
“A fine sheik,” Garth had retorted witheringly.
She smiled at the puppy’s eager face, and snatching him up, rubbed his silky skin against her cheek. Rudolph wriggled ecstatically. She smiled again as she put him
down on the lounge and watched him curl up and promptly go asleep like a baby.
She was still smiling as Garth entered. “Tired?” he asked.
“A little, I think. Are you?”
He shook his head. “Never felt friskier in my life.” He looked it. His eyes sparkled and his face was beaming. He threw himself onto the lounge. There was a sharp protesting yelp. With a swift movement he had the dog by the neck, shaking ic viciously. Then he tossed it from him with a snarl. “Get out of here, you brute,” he shouted. His face was working. “If you don’t keep that thing away from me, someday I’ll kill it.” He made oife quick step toward the dog that stood whimpering in the doorway.
“Garth!” The word cut across the room, sharp and stinging.
It stopped him, sobering him instantly.
With a quick movement she gathered Rudolph in her arms.
He turned to her with a muttered apology: “Sorry, dear. I didn’t hurt the thing, really.”
“You hurt me.”
“I can’t understand what you see in that thing,” he pleaded defensively. “I can’t abide it. It’s always falling around under your feet. Why, if you want a dog, don’t you get a real one, not one of those ratty, hairy things?”
As he glanced at her his face changed. “Sorry,” he said, contritely, as he moved toward her. “I’m sorry, Claire, honest I am.”
She stepped back from his approach. “You don’t care,” she said, a bright flush on each cheek. “You are always hurting me—shaming me. You hurt me now, and you shamed me before all those people at Dr. Warren’s.”
He was silent for a moment. “I don’t get this,” he said, soberly. “Did you say I shamed you? I saw that beast sitting beside you, making you conspicuous, and I shooed him away, that’s all.” His voice was frankly puzzled.
“And did you think you made me less conspicuous, standing over him, terrorizing him?”
“He said he was going to send you flowers.”
“What if he did? There was no offence in that! He only said it because you attacked him. It was just his befuddled idea of a peace offering. Everyone knew what was the matter with him.”
“Well, I can’t go that sort of thing,” he retorted, irritably. “If a fellow’s got to make a beast of himself, why can’t he do it in private? I tell you that sort of thing makes me mad. And when it comes to flopping down beside you—”
“You didn’t care anything about how I might feel.” “But I was caring,” he protested in a puzzled voice. “That’s what made me mad.”
“Do you think I like to have people see you quite beside yourself; to see them looking at me, and know that they are pitying me in their hearts; to hear them trying to make conversation just to cover up a scene? Do you think that making me face that is caring? That man couldn’t
shame me. He was nothing to me. But you—you could shame me, because you are. It’s the people we love, Garth, that can hurt us most.”
“Now, now, Claire,” he pleaded, “don’t be too hard on a fellow. If it hurt you, I’m sorry. But you know the rotten temper I’ve got; why, everyone knows it. They don’t think anything of it.” He laughed, hoping to divert her from her serious mood.
“Garth,” she said, slowly, and there was a new soberness in her voice; “they must get over knowing it. They must stop making allowance for you. You understand, don’t you?” Her voice was very earnest. “I mustn’t have to be ashamed of you again.”
“All right, old girl,” he laughed, ruefully. Then his good humor returned. “Next time I’ll shake my head off turning the other cheek, see if I don’t.”
“Try, Garth,” she urged, in the same sober voice. “Please, please try.”
THERE was no opportunity for his kindness and unfailing thoughtfulness to soften the impression of that incident. Garth had been called out of town the following morning on a short trip. He had ’phoned her from the office. She had wanted to remind him of his promise, but her heart failed her. He had promised so often. It was just that he didn’t know. If only he had tried to fight it back, just once. But he hadn’t. He was always like that. Garbled accounts came to her of his flaming tempers, swift as summer lightning, and as transient. Sometimes these reports came to her half apologetically, sometimes with amusement or a hidden spitefulness.
Garth had time to think of it, too, but his thoughts only left him with a colossal puzzlement. Why, it was just one of his family characteristics, like a long nose or red hair! It didn’t mean anything! If he nursed s grudge, it would be different, but hs didn’t. Funny that Claire couldn’t see it that way. Couldn’t have much of a sense of humor. He smiled, happily, at the thought of her. Good old Claire, he’d be glad to be back tc her.
AT THE end of three days he had come storming into the house, as though the separation had been endless. His arms were laden with parcels. He couldn’t wait. He had opened his bags in the car, strewed his own possessions about in all directions, and abstracted them, and had left George to repack with what success he could. Up the stairs he went and into Claire’s boudoir and tossed the various bundles on the lounge “Gold and silver,” he chanted, “ivory and apes and peacocks, and all to deck my own pet peacock.” He swooped down upon her, and gathered her in his arms, and seated himself in the midst of the parcels with Claire on his knee. He handed hei parcel after parcel. “Stockings!” he declaimed: “modestly called hose b> the saleslady. The Queen of Shebs didn’t wear ’em, but she might have been a better woman if she had. Pin! things, various sorts, gender unnecessary—jewels— gauds—thingamabobs.”
“Oh, how lovely,” she breathed, her eyes dancing “You’re such a dear to me, Garth.”
He rose, dancing and pirouetting around her. “Garth,” she laughed, “have you gone crazy?”
“It’s being back. It’s like wine. It goes to my head tc come back and find you here—just you.” He stooped anc kissed her with sudden seriousness.
TO CLAIRE, sitting watching Garth’s cheerful fact across the dinner table, it was an occasion to be remembered. Never had he seemed more care-free, more extravagantly boyish. He told her of his trip, garnishinf the casual incidents with absurd comments that made hei eyes sparkle with laughter. When the dinner was over he took her arm with an affectionate pressure, and togethei they entered the spacious living room. There was a great fire of logs burning at one end, casting its flickering light on wall and ceiling, outlining here and there an object with a sharper light; a generous, friendly, luxurious room Garth was still at her side babbling the absurd nonsense that never failed to bring a smile to her face.
Suddenly his laughter ceased. She felt his hand tighten on her arm, and heard his breath whistling through shut, teeth.
“The swine!” he said. “So he did send them.” In twe strides he had reached the centre of the room, seized tht heavy bowl of roses, and dashed it to the floor. “I'll cut
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his heart out for this,” he snarled savagely.
Claire stood white-faced and trembling, watching, with fascinated eyes, the spreading pool of water that lay between them, black against the blue of the rug, while he ground the costly pottery into fragments with his heel.
“That’s the end,” she said, in a voice so faint and distant that it did not seem to come from her; so very faint that he did not catch the sound.
“What do you mean?” he stormed. “How dare you let that swine send you flowers?”
“Nobody sent me anything,” she answered, slowly, in the same toneless voice. “I bought them. They were for you; because you were coming home.”
He shook himself, like a man waking from a heavy sleep. His eyes, too, were on that black and spreading stain between them. He did not look at her. “I’m sorry, Claire,” he mumbled, with awkward gentleness. “I didn’t know. I’m sorry.”
He stooped toward the flowers, but she was before him, her silver-slippered foot was on the blossoms crushing them. “It’s the end, Garth, the end. Do you understand? It’s too much for me.”
“What do you mean,” he asked, “the end?” He looked up at her with a puzzled air. Then a slow smile broke over his face. “I’m afraid I’ve spoiled the rug, honey. Never mind. The deal I closed yesterday will make enough to buy a whole fleet of rugs. I’ll get you a better one to-morrow.”
She shook her head. “It’s the end, Garth. I can’t go on.”
Again the look of puzzled wonder on his face. He took a step toward her, but she raised a hand to stay him. She knew how he wanted to come to her and take her in his arms, saying he was sorry—talking such dear nonsense. She couldn’t face that. “I can’t go on,” she said, almost in a whisper, “having this happen day after day, just for little things—for nothing at all. I can’t be forever shamed and humiliated and hurt. I can’t, Garth, I can’t. To go on watching you grow older without changing—without ever trying to change, always excusing yourself for something that is inexcusable. I can’t go on living that way, only to see you die some day in one of your passions, just as your father died. I just can’t face it, Garth,—the fear of having, some day, to be ashamed of your death.”
“Do you mean—do you mean that you have ceased to care for me?” His voice was as sober as hers.
“Oh, no, not that. I care a great deal; but I want to go away caring. I want to take that with me, something to remember and hold to, and cherish. But I have been shamed so often; someday, you might teach me to hate you. I must go away before that.”
“But, Claire, be reasonable—just because I made a mistake.”
“It isn’t only one mistake. It’s mistake after mistake after mistake.”
“But don’t you see, dear,” he continued patiently, “I’m as God made me? I know I have a vile temper, but so had my father and my grandfather before hirnall us Websters; but, pshaw! what does it amount to?”
“I didn’t marry your father or your grandfather,” she retorted, almost fiercely. “I wouldn’t. I didn’t marry their faults. I married you.”
“Well, they’re part of me, part of my inheritance.”
“I didn’t marry an inheritance. I won’t take it. I won’t have anything to do with it.”
“Well, what are you going to do?” he demanded, a rising anger in his voice.
“I’m going away.”
“Away!” he flared, “where to? What will you do, you poor little incompetent? You’ve been cared for, and looked after and pampered. What could you do? You don’t know how to look after yourself. You have to be looked after. That’s your inheritance.”
“I’ll leave that, too,” she flashed back.
He watched her with an indulgent smile slowly growing on his face. To think of Claire going away! Claire who had known every comfort and consideration, who had never come in contact with the grimness that is a part of life. It was absurd! Claire was upset. He’d been a beast; but why couldn’t she try to understand? He turned
to her with a friendly glance. “Forget it, Claire,” he said. “Let’s not spoil a good evening. Remember I’ve just come home.”
She felt her courage wavering. He meant to be so kind. But it couldn’t go on. It was the end. She dared not trust her voice to answer him. She turned and ran from the room, and he heard her footsteps growing fainter in the hall.
For a moment he glowered at the black stain on the carpet. Then his face cleared. “Claire,” he called, “Claire!” A faint smile broke over his face. “Woman’s tantrums,” he said indulgently. He lit a cigarette, and for a moment stood examining its glowing tip, then he laid it down unsmoked. Still he waited, hoping for her return. Then, reluctantly he followed her, walking swiftly up the stair and into her room. “Claire,” he called, softly, “Claire!” There was no answering sound. He flung open the door of her wardrobe with a panic-stricken feeling. Nothing wras gone. But, yes, there was—the old cloth coat and hat that she had sometimes worn in rough weather in their walks together. That was all. He smiled a little uncertainly. Claire could never do without her pretty things. They were the breath of life to her. She’d just gone out to walk off her ill humor. With a swift return of cheerfulness he went down the stair, got his own coat and hat and went out.
TT WAS late when he returned. The -Ilight was burning in her room. His heart leaped with a happy exultation. Then he remembered that he had not turned it off. Still Claire would be there waiting for him. He mounted the stair with a confident step. But the room was empty. With a sick feeling at his heart he threw himself on the lounge, waiting with hope. “Claire,” he whispered, dully. “You know I didn’t mean it.”
It took some days for Garth to realize that Claire had actually gone. He came home at night always expecting to find her there. He had even planned what he would say to her. He would make it all so easy. He’d take all the blame, and then they’d forget all about it. That was in the first few days. On the first evening when he had not found her there, he had telephoned her friends, all that he could remember. She would have gone to one of them. So he called. Did Claire happen to be there? A score of times the question was repeated. She had gone out without thinking to tell him where she was going, and he wanted to get in touch with her. No, it was nothing really important— about an engagement for the following day. It would be time enough when she returned. He gnashed his teeth under their curious questioning. They’d get nothing out of him. It was evident that, as yet, they knew nothing of her departure. He sat staring blankly at the telephone. Then, what had she done? Where had she gone?
It was two weeks before he found an answer to that question, and then it happened quite by chance. He was lunching alone when an acquaintance stopped to speak to him. “There’s a girl in Murray's cloak department, that looks the image of your wife. A little older, I should think, but quite a resemblance. You ought to take a look at her.”
Almost before the acquaintance was out of sight, Garth had finished his lunch and was out of the restaurant.
Claire saw him coming and went to meet him. “Get your coat and hat,” he said, roughly. “I’ll take you home.”
“I’m not going home, Garth.”
“We’ll see about that,” he stormed. “Garth,” her hand was on his arm. appealingly. “You’re only making it hard for me; so very hard.”
“I’m taking you home, where you belong. Where’s the manager here? I’ve got a word to say to him.”
A suave gentleman approached. “I'm the manager of this department,” he said. “Is there anything I can do for you?” “You can tell me by what right you have my wife working here,” he stormed.
“I was quite unaware that I had,” the manager retorted quietly. "And I must frankly admit that I do not know who you are. I gave this lady a place because she asked for it, and appeared competent. As you, apparently, don't agree with her
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wishes, she can secure what is owing to her at the employment office, and we will consider the incident closed.”
For a moment Garth glared at the man. Then his mood changed, and he laughed with restored cheerfulness. “Suits me,” he said.
“Now,” he laughed, as they reached the sidewalk, “for some place where we can get a good lunch—I missed the best part of mine—and then I’ll drive you home. You’ll need a good rest after your days of toil.” He was outrageously cheerful.
Claire let him ramble on without comment. Her face was pale except for one bright spot of color on each cheek. He had time to wonder at the plainness of her dress. When she had a thousand and one things to choose from, why had she picked out that drab thing? He turned with a laughing question on his lips but what he saw on her face stopped him.
“Here we are,” he said with labored lightness as he slowed up.
Without a word Claire flung the door open and was out across the street and into a waiting taxi.
For a stunned moment he did nothing, as he watched the taxi move into the traffic, then jammed in his clutch, but before he could get away, the taxi had disappeared in the maze and was gone.
There was nothing to do. He realized that. He waited until the taxi returned to its stand, making two or three ineffectual efforts at questioning before he discovered the right man. No, the man had not noticed where she had gone. He had dropped her in front of Warkworths. That gave him a thought. Claire was seeking another place. He cursed himself, soundlessly. He followed her probable course, up one street and down another, without result. At supper time he called his home, stirred by a vagrant hope. Martha answered the ’phone. She recognized his voice. No, Mrs. Webster hadn’t come in. Was she expected?
He had to admit that he did not know. He tried to leave the impression that there had been a little laxity on Claire’s part in advising the actual date and hour of her return. He knew that Martha wasn’t deceived, but the effort sustained his pride. Some day she would get tired of this foolishness and come home.
He went back to Murray’s the following day, but learned that she hadn’t returned and wasn’t expected. “So I did just make it hard for her,” he thought.
THEY were dreary days for Garth. For a while Claire’s friends, and his own, had made interested inquiries as to her whereabouts. He had answered them indefinitely. She had gone away for a few days. He was not too precise as to why and where. After a day or so, the questions ceased, and he knew by the studied impersonality of their conversation that they suspected something. He couldn’t explain so, little by little, he cut himself off from all his old associates.
Once he had gone to Arnold Tope. It had flashed across his mind that Claire had liked him. Tope was a lawyer. The fact seemed to have a bitter significance. But that trail led nowhere. Tope asked about Claire. He had not seen them about of late. It was evident that he knew nothing of her departure, and had heard nothing.
Garth’s face had lost its ruddy hue and had grown drawn and weary; had the look of sleeplessness and jangled nerves. Surely Claire knew that he wanted her back. He had advertised the fact, covertly at first, and then more boldly. If she were living anywhere near; if she had any interest in her old life, she must have seen. Her room was waiting for her. Nothing had been changed. She was to come home and find it so, as though she had just stepped out of it a moment or so ago. Sometimes he went and sat there dully waiting. But Claire didn’t come home.
IT HAD been a hard day at the office.
All days were harder than they had been. There was no joy in the work.
As he turned his car into the familiar street, he opened up a little, letting the speed creep slowly upward. The rush of the wind against his face seemed soothing to his taut nerves. Suddenly a woman’s figure stepped off the curb. His foot slipped instinctively to the brake. Why can’t they keep in safety, he thought irritably. Then something snapped in him. His eyes blazed with an uncontrolled passion. “Fools,” he snarled.
HE HAD only meant to frighten her He had not expected her to hesitate He had swung the wheel over, but then was no time. He had not realized ho* fast he had been going. He pulled up at the curb and got out, trembling a litti« at the sight of the huddled figure on tht road. In a few steps he was there kneelin; beside her, resting her head against hii knee. He noticed the rough cloth dress her calloused, work-roughened hands, tht blue rings of weariness under the eye¡ that looked out blankly from that whit« face. He noticed it all, as though it wa: something of profound importance
A crowd began to gather, and a police man bustled up, importantly, apparently from nowhere. “Stand back there,” hi ordered gruffly. He touched Garth on th« shoulder. “I’ll call an ambulance,” hi said, “and then you’d better come alonj with me and explain.”
Garth Webster looked up at him dully “It’s my wife,” there was a numb heavi ness in his voice. “I’ve got to take he home.”
GARTH was kneeling by the bed whei her eyes opened with a startle« recognition. A faint, a very faint flusl showed on her face. She did not turn he head, but her eyes rested on him ques tioningly. “You are back in your owi room where you belong,” he said, hi voice still dull and husky. He ached ti take her in his arms, to crush her to him but the white stillness of her terrifie« him. She had not moved since they ha« laid her there, only her eyes were on hin full of understanding and compassion.
“Were you coming home,” he pleaded “were you coming home when—”
He bent down to catch her whispere« response. “I wa', coming to see you—1; watch you through the window—I havi often come.” An unquenchable spiri flamed in her eyes. “I wasn’t comini home. Not yet.”
“It was I who hit you.” His voice wa heavy with misery. “I didn’t know it wa: you. I got mad at anyone stepping ou into the street in front of me. I only meant to frighten—Claire, Claire,” hi voice broke. “I didn’t know it was you What have I done?”
She tried to smile at him. “I wouldn’ worry too much about that part of it Garth dear,” she whispered.
Then Dr. Warren entered—Bill Warrei so big and steady and assured, followe« closely by a nurse. He walked across thi room and looked down at Claire with hii old reassuring, friendly smile. “I'm glac your’re home,” he said. “Old Gartl hasn’t been worth much this long tim« past.” He picked up her hand and held r for a moment, almost casually, in hii strong surgeon’s hands. Then he relaxet his clasp and watched it fall powerlessly t the coverlet. He turned soberly. “Rur along, Garth,” he said. “I’ll see you in th« living room in a little while.”
GARTH rose unsteadily as Warrer entered, facing him with a hungry
appeal in his eyes.
“Were you drunk?” Warren demanded sharply.
Garth shook his head with a wearj movement.
“No,” snapped the other, “you haven’ even that excuse. Just blind crazy mad over God knows what. Well, your wif« may lie on her back for the rest of her life If it were anyone but you, I wouldn’t say that. I’d say that there was a chance—¡ fair chance—I’d make the most of that and try to soften the other: but I won’t t you. You’ve got this coming to you, an« you’re going to get it. I don’t know wha is going to happen to Claire; but this if your one chance.”
Garth raised his head. A dark flush wa on his face, but his hands trembled wher they reste«! on the table. He started t speak, but Warren stopped him.
“I know what you’re going to say You’re going to whine and whimper, an« lay the blame for everything on you ancestors. I’ve heard you before; and and the rest of your friends have let yoi get away with it; because you were such i decent fellow, and because we cared fo you. Yes, we let you get away with i even when it drove Claire out of you home. We stood by you, and pretendei not to understand.” He hesitated for ¡ moment.
Garth faced him, with the same flus! on his face. “Go on,” he said, “I’m takini it.”
Continued on page 42
Continued, from page 40
There was a great pity in Warren for his friend, but there was no other course. “I’m going on,” he said, but more quietly. “You made Claire ashamed of you.”
“Yes,” he nodded, “she told me.”
“You made us all ashamed of you, we, your friends. You hid behind dead men and let them carry the blame for your own indulgence. That’s you. What do you think of yourself now, with Claire back in her own home, like this, as you brought her?”
“Bill, I’d give my life. Youknowthat?”
“Of course I know it. I haven’t doubted it ever. But your life won’t make her walk. Can’t you see? The good God doesn’t want you to give your life. That’s too easy. He doesn’t want you to give anything. He wants you to hold—to hold that devil’s temper of yours in leash.”
“Too late now.” There was misery, dumb, abject misery in the voice.
“Garth, old man!”
“I’m taking it, Bill. I had it coming to
Warren’s hand was on his shoulder. “Garth,” he said, “Anything that I can do—that anyone can do—God knows I’ve guessed wrong before. We’ll have to make her walk.”
Garth Webster mustered a smile. “I’m going up to tell her that,” he said.
IT WAS quiet in the garden, quiet and sunlit and peaceful, with the faint drone of insects over the great bed of roses that Garth loved so much. Every day she was carried there to lie at ease, only her head raised a little, so that she could watch the glowing colors with wide, peaceful, happy eyes. Her hands lay at her side. They had grown soft and white and delicate again. She looked at them and smiled, until their very stillness seemed to frighten her. But it was not as bad as that. They could move. Oh, they were quite strong now, despite their fragile look. And they had promised her more than that. Garth didn’t know. It had been such a chance. He would have been heartbroken if they had tried and failed, and it had been so near to failure. Garth had been called away. He had dreaded the leaving. She smiled happily at the thought. And he had come back so much like the dear old extravagant Garth, with such a world of things that she didn’t •—she didn’t really need; things that, in his heart, he thought she would never need. But he wanted her to have them, to have everything, so that she mightn’t ever stop to realize. There were tears in her eyes, but they were such happy tears.
She heard Garth’s car turn in at the drive, swing round it and come to a stop with a groaning of brakes. A moment later his big form blocked the doorwary. Then he saw her and came toward her in long strides. His arms were piled high with parcels—He seemed never to be without them now.
“Garth, you’ll ruin yourself,” her smiling face turned to his.
“What are the treasures of the world for,” he challenged, “if not to hang round your neck?” He stooped over her and rearranged the pillows with awkward gentleness. His very nearness, his bulk, his big gentle hands seemed to send new strength through her.
He threw himself into a seat where he could watch her face, and began to recount the events of the day. She loved this hour together, not only because of his quaint and whimsical telling of unimportant things; but because she knew that, in some blind way, he was trying to bring to her the world from which she had been shut out.
Suddenly he stopped, and she saw his hand clench on the arm of his chair. Her eyes followed his glance to where Rudolph was industriously burying a bone at the roots of Garth’s treasured rosebushes. Her mind flashed back to that other occasion, with Garth, his face livid with passion, shaking a whimpering puppy. She looked at him fearfully, and saw his hand relax. He waited until the dog had finished his task and given the earth a few final pats with his nose. Then he rose slowly and went toward it. He dropped on his knees and with bare hands, carefully unearthed the bone, while Rudolph stood beside him, head on one side, watching with anxious interest.
Solemnly he shook his head at the dog. “Not good enough,” he explained, “any dog that wasn’t a moron could find it there. This is a rose garden, not a safety deposit.” With a sudden laugh he rose and tossed the bone away. Rudolph dashed in pursuit with a yelp of ecstatic delight. Then, very slowly, making a great show of brushing his hands, he came back to her. He looked at her pathetically, just as she had so often seen Rudolph look at her, hungry for approval.
She smiled at him. “ ‘Better—than he that taketh a city,’ Garth,” she said, softly.
She saw a sudden mistiness come to his eyes, and he turned away. “I’ve renounced my inheritance, Claire.” He walked away awkwardly, ashamed that simple words could so unman him.
He heard her move, and he turned swiftly. She was smiling at him writh a new radiance in her face. He took a step toward her, but she stopped him with a gesture. “Don’t come, Garth. Please don’t come. It’s all right, quite all right.” He waited, fear and amazement and a dawning hope in his face4 as she pulled herself up, oh so slowly, and stood erect. “Don’t come,” she said again, as she moved toward him, slowly, falteringly, where he waited with arms flung wide for her.
She found them, and looked up at him in happy triumph. “Inheritance!” she laughed, a little tremulously; “I have come back to mine, Garth.”