"A WOMAN WOULD KNOW—”
CHARLES G. BOOTH
PERHAPS it was during his adolescence Colwyn Neill discovered that the sum and substance of life lay in the cultivation of Good Taste; or, as he less specifically put it, in the appreciation and development of the Esthetic Nature. This would not have been so disturbing as it sounds had he also made the attendant discovery that the democracy of work is an excellent portal of the aristocracy of art.
Colwyn’s father had died when the boy was at school. With a quite uncharacteristic foresight that erratic, though undeniably brilliant, man had placed his savings, some fifty thousand dollars, with Mortimor Strang, Colwyn’s uncle, instructing him to do what he could with it. So well had the shrewd lumberman done with the fifty thousand that in fifteen years it had become a lusty half million.
It was this half million which permitted Colwyn to indulge his acquired esthetic nature to his heart’s content.
So, while he knew a Delft vase when he saw one, and could switch intelligently from Flemish tapestry to the Italian renaissance without turning a hair, a reversal of fortune would have found him as efficient as a jelly-fish on a dry rock.
He knew the value of a work of art—in dollars and cents. Of the spiritual wealth the artist had lavished upon his creation he knew nothing at all. Colwyn Neill had sailed placidly through life, unstirred, unwarmed, with never a heart throb, nor a quickened pulse, just taking here and there the things that pleased him. He was not selfish. He was not even thoughtless. He was just placid, unmoved, not unlike a piece of old pottery, chaste in line and color, yet inflexible.
Yet as he drew his sleek, dark-green roadster to a discordant stop before the square, brown-shingled bungalow this golden September afternoon he felt within him vague stirrings, mysterious stirrings, that again had developed along the mile or two of the Keith road which intervened between his city home and his destination.
IT WAS the third time within a w'eek that he had driven out here. Since his first visit this uneasiness, this uncertainty of himself, had troubled him. He wasn’t quite sure why he had come again. His second visit had terminated with a discouraging finality. Certainly it wasn’t the bungalow that had brought him. It was a seedy-looking affair, dingy brown and badly in need of a man’s hand. Neill hated brown; it reminded him of dead things. The acre or two of garden was mostly in weed.
The door opened before the sound of his knock had died away.
“Good afternoon, Miss Merton.” At that moment
Neill’s eyes seemed deeper than usual. The slight, straight lines of his chin, his rather thin lips, held a touch of humility or something akin to it.
The girl did not answer at once. She seemed to glow before Neill. Those vague stirrings within, like hidden whisperings, were at him again. She was an intensely feminine girl, alive, golden, courageous—he was quite sure she was courageous. Her hair seemed to burn with the dull fire of an Autumn sunset. Neill’s esthetic nature would have registered her beauty if her eyes, suddenly dark
with smouldering resentment, had not held him for the moment in a queer helplessness.
“I told you not to come again, Mr. Neill,” she said at length. She did not ask him in.
“Won’t you let me come in?” he begged, facing her.
She hesitated a moment; then she stood aside for him to enter.
It was a shabby little room they were in. A few plants
in the window, a touch of color here and there, a brave attempt at coziness, seemed pathetically inadequate to dispell the grayness, the hint of human woe that clung to each object in the room. Neill glanced about him. He noted the poorness of the home and within him arose unconsciously that vague antagonism which the unbeautiful invariably provoked. His lean figure in its immaculate gray stiffened.
“I want to take that child out of here, Miss Merton,” he began abruptly. “I hadn’t intended to come again, but I wanted to give you another chance. You’ve simply got to let him go.” Neill tried to inject into his words a positiveness he was far from feeling. If he could only bring himself to actual threat he might be able to convince her of his determination of purpose. But somehow, quite inexplicably to Neill, her attitude had disarmed him. He had incurred her scorn from the first.
Julia Merton regarded him disdainfully. “No, Mr. Neill, I’m not going to give him to
Neill stirred uneasily. “Listen, Miss Merton. My uncle, Mortimor Strang, is about the wealthiest man around here. I suppose you know that well enough. He can give the boy everything he’ll ever want. You know what that means— education, social position— everything. I don’t know why you refuse. He’s not yours. You have no legal claim upon
“I’ve no legal claim,’but his mother was my sister and she left him in my care. She asked me to look after him until his father was well. Lois has been dead less than a week and you ask me to break a promise—of that kind—before it’s a week old.” A thin edge of contempt crept into Julia’s voice. “His father is going to need him when he comes out of that sanatorium —as he never needed anyone before!”
“Well, it’s only a question of time—days—until we find Phillips. I suppose he’s under an assumed name or else we would have located him before
“What makes you think Kenneth Phillips will give his son up?” Julia shot at Neill.
“For one thing, your determination to keep us from finding him - ”
“People fighting the thing he is lighting don’t want everyone to know where they are, how hard it is—’
“I’m going to be quite frank with you, Miss Merton, interrupted Neill. “From what Doctor Street tells us Kenneth Phillips is pretty far gone. Then, too. a man addicted to drugs is bound to be weak-willed. He couldn’t be otherwise. So with a little persuasion and Kenny’s future painted in glowing colors it should be easy to secure his consent. You are standing in the boy s light.
A flood of color rushed to the girl’s cheeks. “You rich people can’t understand! You seem to think there is
nothing to be gained in the world but what can be bought with money! I don’t despise all these things, education, culture, position and all that, but they are not all. They’re only the externals, the trimmings!
You want to take Kenny away from his father and give him to Mrs.
Strang because she fancies him, because she loves his eyes, his hair, his smile, everything that makes him a little, distinct, human child.
You want to give him to a woman whose life has been starved, who wants something to love, to pet, to spoil. But you don’t think of his father who is going to need him every day of his life,*'every hour, every minute, if he's to keep straight and clean.”
Julia stopped for a 4 moment; then she went on again, breathlessly.
“Listen; I know something of your uncle and your aunt, and of you too, Mr.
Colwyn Neill! You've all lived close, selfish lives. You’ve never felt, you’ve never even loved—really loved.
You’ve never touched the quick of things.
You’ve just taken what you wanted and you didn’t care much where you got it.
And because Kenny happens to please for the moment you want him. You’re determined to have him.
You’re willingto wreck a man’s happiness to get him. Well, if I can stop you, I’m going to, Mr. Colwyn Neill, and you may tell them that!”
Neill sat in a daze while Julia was speaking. Never before had he been talked to just like that. Perhaps it would have been better for him if he had. But, as Julia had said, he did not understand. He could not, and so the gray in his eyes hardened. His lips pressed together a trifle scornfully.
“I could ‘understand,’ as you put it, if the boy was going from bad to worse. But you know he’s not. You ought to do the best you can for him. Doctor Street says you have no money. How are you going to care for him?”
“I can work for him. I’m going to—until his father comes back.”
“He would be a big handicap—”
“To earn one’s living isn’t quite the task you seem to think it is, Mr. Neill. Did you ever earn your living?”
Neill colored. “I have an independent income, Miss Merton. It isn’t necessary for me to work.” This came somewhat painfully. Then more hopefully: “Of course I’m kept pretty busy collecting pots and — and things—” Neill’s voice trailed off dismally as Julia’s appraising eyes swept him.
“I intend to keep him until his father takes him from me.” With this Julia rose.
\ jEILL got to his feet. His sensitive face had hardened.
“You know the reputation of my uncle. He boasts that he always gets what he goes after. You don’t know how determined he is about this. It means a lot to him and to my Aunt Constance. I—I thought to make it easier by coming to you myself. He’ll find Kenneth Phillips—you may depend on that. And he’ll get the boy. He’s set his mind on having him —”
■Julia had opened the door. “.Good afternoon, Mr. Neill.”
Neill went. . . .His high-powered car throbbed down the uneven mud road.
AFTER he had gone Neill’s words ran again and again through Julia’s mind like an evil chant. She had been afraid of this tranquil young man from the first, but not until this last visit had his demands culminated in actual threat. Under different circumstances she might have liked him, even with his lazy, nonchalant acceptance of things as he found them. There was a straightforwardness about him that commanded respect.
But she knew the Strangs and their kin. They stopped at nothing—always got what they wanted. It was this certainty that brought the fear to her eyes. But it was her own courage burning within, bringing the flush to her
cheeks, that refired her determination to stick to the promise she had given to her sister. It had grown upon her these last few days— this obligation she had taken upon her slim young shoulders. It had assumed the proportions of a sacred cause. She did not mind the personal sacrifice—she had sacrificed before; she would again.
Julia passed into an adjoining bedroom. Kenny, junior, ten months old, regarded her solemnly from newly opened eyes as blue as Julia’s own. She took him into her arms.
“Honey boy, they want to take you away,” she whispered into one pink little ear. “But you’re not going. You’re not!” Kenneth gurgled his agreement to this and Julia hugged his plump little body, pressed' his fair head to her glowing, golden one.
“Mrs. Strang wants Kenny. She loves you and she wants you—for keeps. Poor Mrs. Strang! She doesn’t know what love is, Kenny.” Julia knew the story of the Mortimor Strangs well enough. Who didn’t? Old Mortimor, hard-fisted, hard-eyed, bemillioned, searching in middle life for the elusive spring of happiness that his swift, acquisitive, uprushing younger days had denied him, had married Constance Field on her thirtyeighth birthday.
' H was hardly to be expected
that, after the first transient glamor, they could have much in common. Strang had not learned the precious art of sympathy.
When their child came it seemed as though their unmated hungry hearts had found a link. But the child died. And it was for this that Kenny was wanted: to teach two forlorn hearts to fall in love with one another.
ALL this ran through Julia’s mind as a current in the lap of a sea as she sat with Kenny close against her. She had never seen Mrs. Strang, yet it seemed incredible that a woman could be so utterly selfish as deliberately to spoil the chance of a stricken man. In spite of hersçlf Julia’s heart instinctively extended a woman’s sympathy to this disappointed one of her sex.
Her mind ran back to Kenneth Phillips’ long, devastating illness, after which he had so easily succumbed to the drug that had left its taint during the pain-wracked days and nights in the city hospital.
At last he had gone to the sanatorium. Kenny Junior came along about that time and Lois had tasted the bitter sweets of sacrifice.
Julia had made her sacrifices, too, in coming to help keep things together. They had been forced to give up the city "¡home.
Then Lois’f ^spirit
had flickered out and Julia, golden-haired, fighting Julia, and Kenny were left alone.
Sometimes Julia thought that she and Kenny might always be alone. Kenneth Phillips was not of a fighting breed.
As a last resort Julia had called Dr. Herbert Street, the great physician, in to Lois. His skill had been unavailing but his keen eyes had scrutinized Kenny while his quick mind was putting two and two together. It appeared that he had been Mrs. Strang’s physician for years. Consequently he knew that temperamental woman better than she knew herself. Mrs. Strang’s child had died some months previously. The disappointed woman, living her secluded life, deprived of this one morsel of humanity that had touched the withering cords of her heart, had drooped like an unnourished flower.
To Street had come the idea of the Strangs’ adoption of Kenny. The little fellow was the exact counterpart of Mrs. Strang’s dreams: blue eyes, fair hair, the essence of what she had never been. From Julia, Street had borrowed a photograph of Kenny. It had brought the soft gleam cf new joy to Constance Strang’s gray eyes, greatly to old Mortimor’s delight.
JULIA knew only too well that she could not depend on Kenneth Phillips. He had never attempted to fight. He had gone under at the first onslaught. The thing had seemed to blot out all his manhood. Reports from the sanatorium had been anything but encouraging. Before the assaults of the determined Strang Julia feared his easy acquiescence. This was what Strang was counting on. Fortunately Julia had withheld Phillips’ address. That inherent pride, which is an inseparable part of the weakest of us, had sent Phillips to the sanatorium under an assumed name. This was why Strang and his nephew had been unable to find him.
Julia had written to Kenneth Phillips at his wife’s death. There had been no answer yet.
Quite suddenly Julia determined that she would go to the sanatorium, take Kenny with her to see his father and tell Kenneth Phillips everything. Legally, at least, he was the one that should decide about his son’s future. Sooner or later it would be put up to him by Strang. If she could ■forestall the lumberman perhaps she could induce Phillips to let her keep Kenny until the coming of kindlier times.
Yet, as she recalled Phillips’ shrinking form, his trembling hands, she scarcely dared to hope that he would resist the importunities of the all-conquering Strang.
But because she was young and courageous, and because Lois, insisting pitifully, had got her to promise to carry on the fight, Julia put aside her fears. She did not think of herself. The remaking of Kenneth Phillips had become paramount. Even Kenny Junior had to contribute his measure to the weal of his father for it was through him that victory, if it was to be gained, would come.
To decide was to act; more than she needed anything at that moment Julia needed action.
Black Lake sanatorium was at the terminus of a decrepit line that wandered disconsolately through a logging and mining country which it grudgingly served with one train a week. This train left Valley Junction, eight or ten miles to the north, early on Thursday morning. To-day was Wednesday. Julia decided to take the interurban out to Valley Junction, stay there for the night, and leave for Black Lake on the morning train.
Continued on page 48
“A Woman Would Know —”
Continued from page 14
TULIA and Kenny gotjto Valley Junction “ late that night and registered at the Central Hotel. Not until she had signed her name did she notice the signature above hers. While she managed to suppress the cry that rose to her lips she could feel the color draining from her cheeks. The middle-aged hotel clerk stared at her curiously. The name on the page smeared, then ran into an inky blot that slowly disintegrated until the bold outlines of “Colwyn Neill” seemed to strike up at her and etch themselves upon her brain.
It seemed an eternity before she could tear herself from the desk, but she knew she must get to her room before he found her. He - could not be far away. She followed the bell-boy to the room she had taken.
After the boy had gone the’room seemed
oppressively silent. So Colwyn Neill! had found Phillips at last! He was going: up on the morning train. A sense of helplessness possessed her. The world had suddenly become gray and desolate. She felt like a hunted thing driven into a corner. Disaster to this cause to which she had consecrated herself with an almost fanatical devotion loomed at hand.
She clutched Kenny to herself as though she feared some unseen hand might reach out for him. So close did she hold him, until he cried out in protest, that their two hearts seemed to throb as one. She dropped into a creaky wicker chair. Tears brimmed in her eyes but she fought them back stubbornly. She bit her lips and clenched her hands until the nails pierced the flesh.
Presently a new determination shone
from her eyes. She began to prepare for bed. After she had got into bed, with Kenny soft and vibrant beside her, she felt better. Fear stood offi n the shadows.
NEXT morning Julia learned that the Black Lake train was running on an altered schedule and would not leave until six that evening.
On her way back from the station Julia espied Neill coming out of the hotel. A flutter of panic beat within her. She stood irresolute for a moment, praying that he had not seen her. Then, with Kenny in her arms, she turned quickly into a confectionery store conveniently at hand. At least it would afford her temporary security. She held her breath as Neill’s lean figure went swinging past. He did not look in.
She delayed the small purchase she was making as long as she could. Then, her heart in her throat, she ventured out. Neill was waiting for her on the other side of the window.
For a second she considered flight. His friendly smile steadied her.
“I’m sorry you’re trying to avoid me.” “How do you know I am trying to avoid you?” Julia flashed at him defiantly.
“We won’t argue the point. There is something I want to say to you—”
“I don’t want to hear it, Mr. Neill. You have followed me here. I don’t know why. I—I don’t care.” Julia’s voice faltered.
“Your train doesn’t go until six tonight. You have plenty of time. My car is at the hotel. We can talk better riding than standing. Will you come? It’ll do the boy good.” Much to his disgust Neill could feel the blood mounting to his face under the girl’s rather contemptuous scrutiny.
“You can say what you have to say here,” returned Julia.
“I want to talk about the boy—and his father. I was going up on to-day’s train to see Phillips—”
“You know where he is?” cut in the girl. Her face had paled. Unconsciously her arms tightened about Kenny.
Julia was about to repeat her refusal when a sudden prompting within her snatched the words from her lips. After all, Neill knew where Kenneth Phillips was, so why dissemble any longer? The prompting became urgent. Something of the recklessness which inspires lost causes gripped her. She felt a hysterical desire to plunge into the fray, to set her wits against his, to beat Neill and Strang with the poor weapons she still held.
“All right, I’ll come,” she capitulated abruptly.
IN A moment or two Neill had Julia and Kenny beside him in the dark-green roadster. The powerful car hummed its way along a road leading into the foothills.
Julia sat dumb, introspective, a barrier raised about her. She had got over her fear of Neill and she did not purpose giving him further leeway. Neill appeared uncertain, nervous; he simulated preoccupation. Julia’s impersonality baffled him.
They came to a golden ravine all a-fire with the myriad tints of Fall, and Neill slowed the car to a crawl, then to a stop. A silver stream gushing down the hillside made sweet music with its coming.
Neill turned to Julia abruptly.
“I wanted to tell you that I have known for a day or two that Phillips is at Black Lake,” he jerked out. “A friend of mine who is intimate with Phillips’ old firm told me.” Neill’s voice dropped.
“Yes,” unencouragingly. Then: “Why didn’t you go to him before?”
Neill’s eyes wavered. “I wanted to make things right with you,” he blurted.
“Why trouble about me? You told me that my claim was only a moral one. Of course that is all it is.” Julia’s voice was chilly.
“I know; but I wanted to do the decent thing. I couldn’t help thinking over what you said; it stuck,” Neill ventured a half smile.
“Of course Mr. Strang knows?” There was a hint of warmth and hope in Julia’s
“No, I haven’t told him,” Neill responded eagerly. “But I expect he’ll find out any time. It’s strange he hasn’t got to know by this.”
“What are you going to do?” Julia’s voice had become more human.
“I wanted to see Phillips myself. I was going to put it up to him.”
“And aren’t you?”
Julia leaned toward Neill. She held her breath until he answered.
“It’s only right that you should see him first. I’ll wait until then.” The blood rushed to Neill’s face at the expression in Julia’s eyes. He re-started the car to hide his confusion.
TULIA fell silent. Neill’s disjointed *-* confession had given her new hope. She had gained a temporary respite at least. She felt kindlier toward him than at any time since they had met. She wondered why he had not used his advantage to further his uncle’s cause. She did not doubt his sincerity but her curiosity had awakened. She stole a glance at him. Yes, he looked strong and dependable. But she had seen that from the first.
They got on better after that and found much to talk about. It seemed that they both loved beautiful things. He surprised her with his knowledge of art and literature. Opportunity had permitted him to indulge while she had had to be content with scraps.
Of the way in which her side of the world lived she found him remarkably ignorant. Indirectly and without realizing it he learned much from her.
He told her more of this uncle of his. Neill and Strang were not on the best of terms. Strang disapproved of his nephew’s fads, as he called them. Instead he strongly advocated a course in logging engineering, the very newest of the mechanical professions. But the science of getting number one logs out of the woods didn’t appeal to Colwyn Neill. He hinted at this with a curious twitch of uneasiness.
“I think everyone should work,” said Julia emphatically.
Colwyn Neill fell silent at this. For the first time he felt the force of this truth. As soon as a man’s viewpoint alters he learns many things.
Time sped by on magic wings and they found themselves back in Valley Junction. Neill drew up with a jerk in front of the Central, immediately behind a large touring car.
It was this touring car that brought the pallor to Neill’s cheeks. He jumped from the car and helped Julia out with Kenny. He looked the girl straight between the eyes.
“We’re in for it now. I am anyway.” The color returned to his cheeks in flood. “It’s my uncle. . . .Mortimor Strang. . . he must have found Phillips. I’m—I’m
Julia had grasped the situation. Instinctively she drew into herself. Her former impersonality returned and with it the old antagonism. They were enemies again. She wondered how they could ever have been otherwise, even for an hour.
She flew up the steps, her face white to the lips. Colwyn Neill followed her inside.
SITTING in the rotunda watching the entrance was a grim, tight-lipped man of fifty. His gray, imperious eyes, set in his rough-hewn face, held them for a second or so. Julia knew that this was Strang.
Strang got to his feet slowly. There was a hint of age about him. Julia sensed Neill at her side.
“Take it easy,” he whispered. “He’s got a temper. I’m going to stand by you.” Fortunately only the clerk at his desk was visible. The habitual hotel loungers had gone to their dinners.
Strang’s eyes were fixed on his nephew. “So this is what you’ve been doing— hiking round all night—!”
“Be careful there!” Neill’s flaming eyes were within a foot of his uncle’s. The contemptuous insinuation had stung Neill to the quick, crystallizing the vagrant indecisions clogging his brain. “She didn’t see me until this morning! Remember that! Don’t finish what you began—or I’ll forget myself!” For the first time in his easy-going life Colwyn Neill was stirred to the depths of his being.
“You knew where Phillips was! You’ve known for days. Martin told you. Y ou’ve kept it quiet! You—you deceitful pup!’ The short clipped words shot out of Strang’s mouth like high-powered bullets. Neill winced but stood his ground. TheA were facing each, other like young dog and old.
Julia had not spoken. A hot indignation at this preposterous man held her still. Her white, mobile features quivered as if from the impact of Strang’s stinging words.
I She could feel them hurting each other with unforgettable words, cutting, slashing as men do when reason has lost its place. Her wide eyes saw Strang blazing, merciless; Neill, almost heroic, all his superficiality scorched out of him. Julia’s consciousness. tuned beyond itself, registered the scale of their emotions. Then a flood of hatred overwhelmed her, hatred of Strang, hatred of Neill. . . .
“Why don’t you go? Both of you!’’ she burst upon them. “You’re—you're like beasts!”
Their anger perished in the rush of hers. They became curiously silent. They looked at her as men do when a woman shrivels their logic or their passion by the meteoric uprush of liberated feeling. Her passion fell from her like a spent bullet. She felt weak, miserable and alone. Even Kenny in her arms seemed distinctly apart from her.
Strang recovered himself. His voice was now cold, incisive.
“I’ll be going now, young lady. I guess I’ll see you to-night. I’m going to Black Lake on the six train.”
Then Strang went heavily down the hotel steps toward his car.
NEILL and Julia, each acutely conscious of the other, dropped into convenient chairs.
Julia wanted to get away, but the misery in Neill’s face held her. She felt sorry for him. He had appeared in a different light during those last moments and timid questionings within her, dim uncomprehended whisperings, seemed an involuntary response to this hitherto unrevealed side of him.
Neill squirmed in his chair. He wanted badly to tell her the things that were running about in his mind, chasing each other, tumbling in a bewildered fashion over themselves. He wanted to tell her this surprising thing, this tremendous experience which was re-moulding him. But he was afraid. He had never been afraid before. He had always been cold, unmoved, passionless. He was sure of this. Now he was warm, alive, stirring. And because he was afraid of himself, of Julia, of these emotions that had come upon him with his defence of Julia, unhappiness mounted into his face and held back the pent-up feelings that scrambled for his tongue.
“I am sorry for what he said to you,” Neill stammered instead. “He doesn’t know you—as I do.” Neill had to catch himself there. He could feel Julia’s eyes upon him.
“It doesn’t matter, Mr. Neill. It wasn’t your fault. You made it easier for me. I want to thank you for that. He says he’s going up to-night—” Her lips trembled. Her eyes filled.
Then the distress in her eyes, the tremor in her voice mingled with the magic of sex. Neill felt a tug at the strings of his heart. He leaned forward. His mouth was twitching.
“I guess I’m a fool. But I—I can’t help it. I’ve got to tell you—”
In a flash of intuition Julia sensed his meaning. “I don’t want to hear it! I won’t hear it!” She was on her feet, agitation in every line of her. So much that she had not understood about herself had become unmistakably plain.
“Miss Merton! Julia!” For Neill, suddenly at a loss for words, could utter no
“No!” she cried wildly, her face aflame, and gathering Kenny to herself she whirled about and fled from Neill, up the stairs and to her room.
Neill slumped back in his chair. He felt utterly miserable. For the second time in his life he was not to get what he wanted. Oh, he was quite sure of that. Julia detested him. Of course she had every reason to—this made it all the worse. He wanted her with all the new-born fervor of his undisciplined heart. Of course it was impossible. After what had happened and in view of what was still to happen she could never regard him with anything but contempt.
Neill groaned to himself. He had never been in love with anyone before. He had never loved anyone but himself. And he was just beginning to realize the extent to which he had loved himself.
The little microcosm in which he had lived and moved, which he had thought so inclusive, had crumbled at the first living breath of the splendid flame that was burning within him so impetuously that it threatened to consume him. Neill touched I bottom in those moments. He sank like
a rock dropped from immense heights. He had no previous experience to sustain him, nothing that he might grasp.
He sat for an hour. . .two hours.
He supposed Julia was getting ready to go to Black Lake. His uncle? For a moment he almost considered trying forcibly to keep him from going. But that was absurd. Anyway, it would only delay matters for a few days.
At that moment he thought of his Aunt Constance. Neill sat up in his chair. His eyes were suddenly very bright. He wondered it had not occurred to him before. While Mrs. Strang knew their plans it had been agreed by Neill and old Mortimor that she should be told nothing of their progress or their difficulties; at least, not until their end had been achieved. Of course she did not know that Kenny’s life had been dedicated to another mission.
With the speed of coming light all this crowded into Neill’s mind, arranged itself and stirred him to action.
He paid his hotel bill. A moment later he was racing his ear homewards, a gleam of hope dawning in his face.
IN HIS impersonal way Colwyn Neill had yielded his Aunt Constance that diluted, ineffectual sympathy which we reserve for those we do not try to understand. Yet as he took her transparent hand in his late that afternoon he felt an infinite tenderness for this tired, frail woman with the very expressive gray eyes which for the moment made him almost regret his mission. She was sitting up supported by a wall of pillows.
“Mortimor has told me what both of you have been doing,” she told him before he could begin.
Neill moved uneasily in his chair. It hurt him to think that he must wound this gentle woman whose life, except for her one too-brief experience, had been as toneless as a gray cloud. He wished that he might save her the bitterness of disappointment. He did not observe that the lines of suffering about her mouth were deeper, nor that her eyes, bright with unshed tears, were trying to meet his.
“I’m sorry to disappoint you, Aunt Constance. I don’t know how much my uncle has told you. He doesn’t know the circumstances as well as I. That father is going to need his boy. You don’t know how much. He’s in a sanatorium—drugs. He’s pretty bad, I think. I’m sorry; I wanted to help you. I thought if you understood you might—you might—” Neill’s voice died away. He could not bring himself to putting what he had hoped into words.
Mrs. Mortimor touched Neill’s hand with one of hers. “I made your uncle tell me everything. I understand just what you were going to do. Of course I didn’t know the circumstances before. That poor girl! How you two must have tormented her! Only a man would have done such a thing.” Mrs. Mortimor’s eyes flashed. More than a hint of personality seemed to animate the neutral outlines of her character. “Did you think I would take the child under such conditions? Did you think I would deprive the father of his only chance?”
“Aunt Constance!” Neill gasped, leaning forward. “You don’t—you don’t
“Yes, I mean just that! Can’t you understand? A woman would have known.”
“You don’t want him?”
Mrs. Strang averted her eyes for a moment so that Neill could not see their expression. For just a second her features contracted. When she looked at him again she was smiling.
“I still want him, Colwyn. Yes, I still want him.” She hesitated for a moment. “I can’t help that, can I?” she asked him wistfully. “But I’m not going to take him!” Her fine eyes held the light of southern stars at that moment.
“It means a lot to you. I know you wanted him badly.” Neill’s heart was leaping.
Mrs. Strang straightened. “I haven’t been much use in the world, Colwyn. And when I think of that girl’s courage, of her sacrifices, of her determination to keep the boy, I feel ashamed of myself. So I’ve decided that I’m going to get well. I’ve never tried before. But your uncle needs a woman to help him—and it’s time I started.” Mrs. Strang smiled bravely. “And, Colwyn, you must tell me about this wonderful Julia Merton. I’m dying to hear about her.”
Neill’s face grew very red. “I’m going to marry her—if she’ll have me. I can ask her now—after what you have told me. After that I’m going to go to work. It’s time I did something besides collect old pots.”
And then Neill launched into a vivid description of Julia, quite blind to the disappointment that lay behind his aunt’s
A new sympathy glowed between these
Shortly afterward Colwyn Neill left.
EIGHT o’clock the next morning found Neill again at Valley Junction station. He was determined to get to Black Lake before Julia left.
"Is there any kind of a train going up?” he demanded of the station agent, a lean hickory stick of a man.
“No, there aint!” responded that individual with asperity. “There’s only one a week, I tell you.”
“I’ve got to get there somehow! What are the roads like? Could I possibly make it in my car?”
The other scratched his chin. “Well, if your car can climb hills, jump canons, bust trees, you might—not unless.” Then he appeared to relent. “There’s a couple of the boys going up on a gas jigger in ten minutes.” He eyed Neill’s neat clothes doubtfully. “If you’re not scared of a little oil and grease—”
“Will they take me up?”
“If you was to make it right with them I guess they would. You’ll get ’em over there in the round-house.” He indicated a smudgy building with a wav* of his arm.
Neill thanked him gratefully. He found the “boys,” two smiling giants, only too willing to take him along.
So, with his feet dangling an inch or two above the right-of-way, his clothes losing their pattern in a smother of gray dust, and his nostrils tingling with the acrid smell of the car’s exhaust, Colwyn Neff) bumped his way over that unstable roadbed.
The sharp morning air whipped into his lungs, keened his brain. They were approaching a land of big things. Mountains with ragged snow-capped peaks, theit lower reaches softened with the duíl greer of cedar, fir, and spruce bulked larger and larger into his vision.
They hummed across trestles flung ovei gorges with green and white water in their depths. Rushing snow-fed streams, like great white pulses in the bodies of the mountains, thrilled him with the song of their coming. All the time his heart was leaping within him, his brain was in s whirl, a perpetual question humming there
At last they were at Black Lake.
He found Julia and Kenny in a little bo2 of a station, perched on a great flattened ledge of rock. Strang was there, too staring fixedly at a distant mountain. H* turned momentarily, to grunt a greeting
WHY have you come?” Julia demanded. There were dark circles under? her eyes. She seemed to hav* changed in the last few hours.
So he told her about his Aunt Constance and of the new woman he had discovered in her. And there was a humbleness in the telling that his friends would never have suspected Colwyn Neill capable of. Julia listened without a word until he had finished.
“And she doesn’t want Kenny now? Julia was bending over the warm bundle of babyhood in her arms.
“She wants him—of course. But sh* knows his father needs him If I hadn’t been so blind—”
Julia’s eyes blurred. “Kenny’s fathei doesn’t need him now. He died four days ago—after he got word of my sister’s death. They—they buried him yesterday. If—if Mrs. Strang still wants Kenny —perhaps it will be better for him.”
And then from his overwrought heart came Colwyn’s sympathy, a great uppouring flood of it. And from sympathy to love is but a scant step. . . so that soon he was telling her that if they could only be together always they would be able to share Kenny with Aunt Con-
And if' it hadn’t been for Kenny’s answering gurgle to the tooting of the oncoming train they .might have lost it altogether.