The Double Code
Andrew Denborough returns to Beachtown, a success, and everyone welcomes him except his mother! And so this is
I. A. R. Wylie’s
First Story for MacLean’s Readers
"WE'VE got to hope.” the woman said with a note of defiance in her quiet voice. “To be sure of success is to win the first skirmish, and we’ve got to help Denis even with our thoughts. I can’t, I won’t, think of failure.” She went across the room and pushed aside the curtain. Down below in the valley she could see the lights of the town and beyond that again, against the slope of the pine covered hills, a dimly suggested building, ghost-like in the dusk, its grey immensity pricked out with gav. illuminated windows. She smiled proudly to herself
"It »ill be as Denis says,” she went on. “People will come to Beachtown, first in their dozens, and then in their hundreds. They will come incredulous and despairing, and they will go home healed and believing. Denis is so certain. There are no waters in the world to compare with his spring. And it's not as though he was the only one who was so sure. Everyone in Beachtown believes in him and in his discovery. Even little Miss James has put all her savings into the company and Mr. Baillie' and—and everyone who counts, they say the clever young doctor is to make Beachtown. We say so. too, don’t we? And perhaps we. who love him best, count most.” She glanced back over her shoulder. “Don’t we?” she persisted.
The old woman by the fireside did not move or look at her. She was very old. but of the two she seemed the more virile. She sat up. stiffly erect, disdaining the easybacked chair, her mouth tight set, her eyes from under the arched, black brows fixed relentlessly on the firelight. One thin hand was outstretched and gripped the Malacca cane with a strength that made the knuckles stand out like polished ivory and the younger woman came back and stood opposite her. her elbow on the mantleshelf, the girlish, over-delicate face supported in her hand.
T think you, more than anyone, ought to find it easy to believe.” she said, gently.
Mrs. Denborough glanced up.
“Why?” she asked.
“Once—a long time ago—you and all Beachtown misjudged someone—someone you loved, and afterwards it was proved that he had been innocent all through. You were never able to prove and atone. If that ever happened to me I should never dare disbelieve anyone again.”
"That was my son,” the old woman smiled grimly to herself. "Mothers are privileged—to forgive or withhold forgiveness.”
“But never to withhold justice.”
“You are sentimental, Alice.”
Denis Milrov’s wife crimsoned faintly, then she shook her fair head, as though throwing off a momentary folly, and bending dowm kissed the white sunken cheek.
“It's Christmas time, so I suppose you are trying your best to be hard.” she said lightly. “You are always trying to be hard, aren’t you, Mother? trying to cover up each kindness that you do with a cold word. Ordinary outsiders never understand how such a harsh old woman came to adopt a poor orphaned baby and bring it up at such cost. Only I and perhaps Denis understand . . . . ” "Do you understand, my dear?”
Alice Milroy nodded gravely.
“When Denis asked me to be his wife he told me—what you had done for him—all you had been to him. It had always seemed strange to me that women can adopt other women’s children—in your ease it meant a hard, bitter struggle, didn’t it? But when I heard everything I guessed.”
“What did you guess?”
“That it was your way to—to atonement.”
Mrs. Denborough’s face remained expressionless.
“You are a discerning child, Alice. Children tumble occasionally headlong into the truth. Isn’t that your husband’s step?”
“It’s too early. The board meeting began at three. If only they make Denis chairman.”
“They will. Beachtown has just business capacity enough to know that it-has none. If this enterprise is going to succeed, it will only do so with Denis at the head. They know that and they are too deeply involved
to run risks. Trust them to thrust the weight of responsibility on someone else’s shoulders. I know them.”
Her laugh was caustic enough, but this time Alice Milroy joined in lightheartedly.
“I believe you’re right. They feel that Denis is the man to see the thing through. And he will. Even if he didn’t, I should still be proud. It’s been the bravest fight ever a man waged —oh, Denis!”
Her tone had chaneed so
abruptly that the old woman looked
up from her inscrutable study of the firelight. The
door had opened and a man stood on the threshold. At first glance he seemed middle-aged. The shadows at the far end of the room accentuated the hollows under his eyes, there was something gaunt and inexpressibly harassed in the whole outline of a face which, otherwise, might have been pleasing and almost handsome. Only as he took a quick step forward was it to be seen that he was still young and possessed of youth’s impulse and elastic vigour.
“I didn’t mean to startle you,” he said. “I came a little earlier than I thought possible. Something unexpected happened.”
HIS wife met him halfway across the room and he caught her in his arms with the sudden passion that can be equally the expression of despair or intense relief. There was altogether something in his manner that seemed to frighten her, a smothered excitement partly triumphant and partly anxious. She drew back from him, her hands on his shoulders, and looked up into his flushed face. “What has happened?”
“Nothing—at least nothing unfortunate. The company is safely floated. The shares have'been subscribed for twice over. All Beachtown is in with us for better or worse.” “And you?” she asked breathlessly.
“I am managing director and medical superintendent at the new Sanatorium. It went like clockwork. It was put to the vote and it was carried unanimously. I couldn’t have hoped for more.”
“You couldn’t have hoped for less,” she retorted fervently. “You have made everything, risked everything. They owe you every hope of the future. What was Beachtown till you discovered the spring and worked in the face of ridicule and incredulity? You fought this battle for them and they are just helping to reap the victory.”
“I don’t mind that. It wasn’t altogether for myself I fought. It was a little for Beachtown and a little for the whole world—”
“And a little for me?” she interrupted smiling up at him.
“A great deal for you. You fought with me—both of you.” He took her hands from his shoulders and kissed them reverently. “Women bear the worst brunt of the battle. You’ve shared the bad days with me, you loyal comrade. Pray God the good days are in sight now for us all.”
She made no answer,but her eyes shone in unfaltering
hope through the sudden rush of tears and with a quick drawn sigh he turned from her and crossed to the still, motionless figure by the fireside. There he stood for an instant with his hand resting on the back of her chair.
“I have a letter for you, Mother,” he said.
“From whom?” she asked.
“My son? Give it to me.”
He hesitated. There was no change in her voice or manner. Save that she had drawn herself up more stiffly there was no sign that the dead had risen. She took the sealed envelope from his hand and laid it unopened on her knee.
“There is no stamp mark,” was her only comment.
“It is an enclosure. Possibly Andrew—Mr. Denborough—did not wish to frighten you. He wrote to the mayor and asked him to break the news to you. He is returning home.”
DENIS MILROY looked down questioningly at the wizened, unmoved face and marvelled. His own tone, in spite of himself, was tinged with awe and suppressed excitement.
“He is returning home a great man,” he said. “He has worked hard through all these silent years and he has made his millions. You have cause to be more than proud—Mother!”
The last word came hesitatingly, with an effort, and Mrs. Denborough turned and laid her thin hand on his. For the first time her features expressed something—a deep, yet sternly controlled emotion.
“Things remain as they are and were, Denis,” she said. “They will never change.”
“I believed that,” he retorted gravely. “But even if you had felt differently I should have understood. It is your son. He will come back to take his rightful place here and in your life. I have had my share.” He felt his wife’s hand slip into his and his voice steadied. “The Mayor and I talked things over,” he went on more prosaically. “Of course I am too young to know what happened, but I understand that Beachtown owes Mr. Denborough reparation for a serious wrong. Mr. Baillie—all the older generation feel that nothing too much can be done to express their regret for their share in the past. There will be a deputation of the chief town folk to receive him and a banquet in his honor. Mr.
Baillie hoped that you would be strong enough to be there—”
He broke off into a startled silence. Mrs. Denborough had risen to her feet. Deliberately, she tossed the unopened letter into the fire.
“By all means have your deputation,” she said. “Give him his banquet—I shall not be there.”
“You mean—you wish to see him first alone—?”
“I shall not receive him.”
Husband and wife exchanged a swift glance of bewildered interrogation. Alice Milroy put her arm tenderly about the bent shoulders.
“Mother—you don’t understand—Andrew, your son, is coming home. He went away years ago because you thought he had done something dishonorable. There was trouble about a cheque, don’t you remember, and no one would believe him. And then afterwards you found out how wrong you had all been. And now he is coming home great and rich and we’ve got to make up to him—you most of all. Your distrust must have hurt most.”
The old sunken eyes rested for an instant on the eager, young face, and passed on to the man beside her. A cold rather ironic smile lit up their grey intentness.
“It’s as though Providence had intervened,” Denis Milroy said. “That Mr. Denborough should come home now—in the nick of time—it’s almost dramatic.”
“Quite dramatic.” The smile passed from her eyes to the lips which curled perceptibly. “Mr. Denborough’s name will look well on a prospectus. And a few extra thousands is just what Beachtown wanted. By all means kill the fatted calf. Only I do not wish to see my son.”
“Mother—don’t you realize—he was innocent—”
“I have no more to say.”
“Surely it is least hard for you, his mother, to admit a wrong done. Surely you will be glad—”
She had walked painfully to the door, her stick tapping an unmoved accompaniment to her steps, and there she turned for an instant and looked back at them.
“I am an old woman, Denis Milroy,” she said sternly. “I have atoned for my sins and for the sins of others. Leave me my peace.”
She went out and the door closed sharply after her. Alice Milroy clung to her husband’s arm. There
were tears on her white cheeks.
“She doesn’t understand,” she exclaimed. “The shock was too much. She is so old, Denis. She can remember nothing but the imagined crime. And it will break his heart—”
“We’ll have to make good,” he said. “We’ll have to make up to him, you and I together.”
JOHN BAILLIE, recently acclaimed Mayor of Beachtown, spread himself largely before the fire. It seemed to him that his whole life culminated in this great hour. The evening clothes, worn for the second time in the course of a long career, were symbolic of his future. The costly flowers which filled the large old-fashioned room, the lavish display of lights and silver represented what was to come to Beachtown under his far-sighted administration. Beachtown was awake—Beachtown was to step out of her obscurity and take her place in the world. And it was he who had awakened her. He set his heavy shoulders against the mantelpiece and frowned portentously at the ceiling. Quite naturally and smoothly his thoughts wandered to the market place. It was an admirable spot for a statue. He saw himself distinctly with one hand resting on an ivory pedestal, the other outstretched in an attitude of fearless encouragement, and underneath, perhaps on the pedestal itself, the words “To the Memory of Beachtown’s Benefactor.” Opposite him, in a pose of ostentatious ease was Jeremy Heathers, Beachtown’s premier greengrocer. In the last month he had been made town-councillor and the fact added somehow to Baillie’s deepening content with life. For the two men had started their race to glory in the selfsame year, and in the selfsame drapery store, and one was a mayor and the other only town-councillor. Had Jeremy Heathers sunk into utter nothingness the contrast would have been more poignant but less delicately and constantly flattering.
There were ten other guests in the room. A representative group. Not one of Beachtown’s important men had been omitted. The young doctor who had made the discovery of the healing spring was the only one who might in any way be regarded as an alien. No one knew very much about him. He had come down once a year to see Mrs. Denborough and it was understood that he stood to her in the light of an adopted son, but he had lived and worked and married in London and there was a vague feeling of resentment that a comparative stranger should have muddled himself up in the town’s affairs—even for its advantage. The feeling expressed itself in various ways.
“It’s lucky, young man, that you found wide-awake folk like us to back you up,” Heathers was saying. “I know a good many places where they’d have let you argue yourself black in the face and not lifted a finger. But I saw your point at once, didn’t I, Baillie?”
“There was never a moment’s doubt in my mind,” the Mayor returned solemnly.
Denis Milroy bowed.
“The success of the whole scheme is in your hands,” he said.
T_T E SPOKE gravely and if there was a line of bitterness about his mouth it was caused less by the unconscious slight than by a growing sense of his discomfort. He felt out of place. The men who surrounded him were middle-aged. They knew their host had been intimately if painfully connected with his past. He was out of it. And it was not only that. There seemed to him something oppressive, stifling, in the overdecorated room.
John Baillie’s voice rose above the subdued conversation.
“Andrew Denborough was always a man of refinement,” he said. “Now I come to think of it, he was perfectly right to refuse to meet the deputation. It would have been painful for himself and all of us. He showed delicacy, too, in choosing to receive us on his own ground, as it were. Yes, that was delicate and at the same time dignified. I understand his motives perfectly. Mr. Denborough is a gentleman.”
“And a millionaire,” put in someone. The remark passed as a joke with a subtle sou?-entendu for business
appreciation and they laughed. Only Jeremy Heathers fidgetted nervously.
“A queer thing, that, about Mrs. Denborough,” he said. “I don’t understand it. One would have thought she’d have rushed to see him.”
“Mrs. Denborough is getting old,” the Mayor retorted. “Her mind’s a bit unhinged, and no wonder. I can understand perfectly—”
“You forget—” Milroy broke in sharply—
The Mayor shrugged his shoulders.
“My dear young fellow, because you happen to be the old lady’s adopted son we cannot refuse to look facts in the face. Nor is there anything derogatory in suggesting such an explanation, for her extraordinary attitude. You suggested it yourself.”
Denis Milroy remained silent.
“It’s altogether a queer business,” Heathers went on. “Who’d have thought, thirty years ago, that we should have been receiving Andrew Denborough with all this pomp and circumstance? There wasn’t much good said of him in those days, was there?”
“Yes, we made it hot for the poor devil—”
The door had opened and the last word died on the Mayor’s lips. The man who entered was recognized by them all—instantly. It was not merely that they
expected him; the Andrew Denborough of their youth had risen up before them with a vividness that drove the intervening years into shadow and gave to their dulled memories an undesired poignancy. There was the same truculent poise of the massive head, the same passionate deep-set eyes. The same tense looking mouth. Only the clefted chin seemed to stand out less prominently and there was something subtly subdued about the face that was new. Milroy was irresistibly reminded of a torrent that, turned from its natural course, forces for itself a subterranean passage.
“Well, gentlemen?” Denborough looked from one to the other. During that brief unsmiling inspection no one moved. Then suddenly, he laughed, and held out his hand, “Hello, Johnnie?”
The Mayor started as though he had been wakened from a deep sleep. He blinked stupidly and the next moment his own hand was outstretched and clasped in a grip that was part of the reviving past.
“Hello, Andrew!” Yet the familiarity did not come easily. It was only when the last man had been greeted that the Mayor recovered his hold over the situation. Denborough had reached the spot where the young doctor had withdrawn and in the abrupt cessation of his jovial recognition Baillie blundered forward.
“Dr. Milroy, the discoverer of the Beachtown Mineral Water, Mr. Denborough.”
THE inevitable, square built hand was held out.
Milroy bowed over it. He did not know why—the feeling defied analysis—at the bottom of his consciousness there stirred a sullen, unreasoning resentment. Indefinably his pride, his independence had been insulted and trampled upon by that prof erred cordiality.
“The younger generation?” Denborough said. “Beachtown owes you a great deal, Dr. Milroy.”
“I did not make the springs,” Denis answered. Denborough smiled. It was as though a clumsy young cub had tumbled over itself to his good-natured amusement.
“The discoverer is as great as the creator. Well, gentlemen, I confess to a wolfish appetite. Shall we adjourn to dinner?”
They answered him in a confused chorus. Each man in his own way was fighting his own particular form of discomfort. They had expected things to be different -—how different they were not sure—either less formal or more so. They were baffled by Denborough's unchanged attitude towards them and the subtle change in the man himself. They followed sheepishly. But the room into which he led them forced an involuntary exclamation of surprise. It was literally banked with flowers. Down the center of the p rfectly spread table the words “For auld lang syne” were written in pale mauve orchids. Beachtown’s old-fashioned hotel had not seen such prodigality in all the days of its existence. Denborough motioned each man to his place. “Johnnie, you here, old fellow, at my right. I claim the privilege of sitting next Beachtown's go-ahead Mayor. You’ve found your seat as by instinct. Heathers. You see, I remembered your liking for the fire-side. You over there, Sanders. Dr. Milroy, will you take the other end? Age and youth at opposite poles, eh? Now, gentlemen, I think we can be seated.”
They were served by two soberly garbed footmen who fulfilled their duties silently and efficiently. Fnder their administration the wine flowed freely and there was a gradual thaw in the glacial restraint of the first few minutes. Heathers became nervously loquacious. He plied Denborough with questions regarding the latter’s American experiences, scarcely waiting for the deliberately given answers, as though the slightest break in the conversation terrified him. The Mayor
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spread out his brave expanse of shirt front, and with one hand on his thigh, the other clenched on the table, nodded a ponderous approval. From time to time he glanced down the length of the table like a general marshalling his.army and once, his glance encountered Milroy’s, he smiled, a solemn patronage. The Jyoung ^doctor’sface remained expressionless. The sense of dull resentment hadlsharpenedj All his life, his nameless youth,«Jwith itslgrinding poverty,v. his passionateJheaven-aspiring
ambitions seemed to have been dragged down to the level of this vulgar festivity. These red-faced, self satisfied shopkeepers, fawning on the man they had cruelly wronged, filled him with a sick disgust. They liad risen on the foundations of his work and now they had discarded him and the ideal which had been his inspiration. With a kind of despair he looked across at the man to whom he had come to offer what comfort, what consolation lay in his power. Andrew Denborough met the questioning gaze coldly. And then, as though yielding to a long repressed impulse he leant forward.
“How is my mother, Dr. Milroy?” he asked.
THE question fell like a silencing blow on the little company. Milroy did not flinch.
“She is very well, Mr. Denborough.” “You know, I suppose, that she has refused to see me?”
“As her medical adviser, and, as I understand, adopted son, can you offer me any explanation for her attitude towards me?”
The sneer in the loud voice was unmistakeahle. An antagonism as yet vague and indefinable, began to take swift shape between them.
“I can give you no explanation,”said Milroy coldly.
“Ah!” Denborough sat back. It was as though he had drawn a damaging confession from an opposing witness. On his right the Mayor fidgetted and then rose abruptly to his feet. He coughed twice, imposing silence on an already voiceless gathering.
“Mr. Denborough—” he began thickly. “I know you are not the man to listen to long speeches and I am certainly not the man to make them. Action is the only language men of our calibre understand, but it seems to me that the moment has come when I, the Mayor of Beachtown, and deputed spokesman for my fellow citizens, should express to you our joy in welcoming you back in our midst.” He cleared his throat and then went on with a kind of desperate bonhomie. “Thirty years has passed since you left us, Mr. Denborough, to seek your fortune in the New World. In that time much has happened. We have grown older and wiser. We have seen our errors, we are prepared to acknowledge them manfully. We have lifted our native town from its apathy and obscurity into the high-road which leads to greatness, and now at this solemn season of the year it seems to us a fitting climax that you, Beachtown’s greatest citizen, should return to receive from us our tokens of—of respect and regret—”
He stumbled, conscious that the bad turning had been reached. Andrew Denborough leant forward and pulled his old school-fellow’s sleeve.
“Do you remember the day I blacked your eye, Johnnie?” he said.
The Mayor’s jaw dropped. He looked about him blankly, then as he saw Denborough’s face he laughed uncertainly and the next instant the laugh shook the table. Denborough was the first to recover himself. He rose, with a delightful gesture of regret.
“Gentlemen, I have to apologize. My abominable sense of humor has robbed us all of our honored friend’s generous and fluent speech and it is ‘up to me,’ as our American friends say, to make good. Indeed, seeing all your familiar faces, I could not shut out the crowding memories of my youth and your laugh assures me that you all forgive me. The best thing I can do to prove my repentance is to be as brief as possible. But there are one or two points which I must touch on, My pleasure at being with you again is not easily expressed but what am I to say of my pride in the advance that my native town has made under your guidance. Gentlemen, I determined, when I had heard of all you had done, to be worthy of you all. I determined to follow your example. I have returned a wealthy man, gentlemen, and it is my wish and intention to put my wealth, as you have put your energies, at the service of suffering humanity.”
THE applause was long and persistent.
Denborough’s eyes passed over the two lines of flushed, eager faces, to the man at the end of the table. Milroy sat motionless, his pale features set and stern looking. Denborough smiled.
“At first my course was uncertain. I
wavered among many projects, but now I am glad to be able to tell you that I see my way clear. As you know, Beachtown is itself scarcely salubrious. It is placed in a valley and its guests coming to benefit by the springs are likely to suffer from a close and stifling atmosphere. It occurred to me therefore, that a watering place, built on the mountain top with every modern contrivance for the comfort and entertainments of its guests would be more likely to meet the general demand.” He paused again. The almost persistent ripple of applause had died away into a stupid silence. Only Milroy drew himself up as though preparing to meet a blow. “Gentlemen,” Denborough went on deliberately, “it is with the greatest pleasure that I am able to inform you that my idea is to take a very practical form. I have obtained concessions of land which will enable me to direct part of the spring to a better level. One of England’s best architects is drawing up plans for a model sanatorium and also for the hotels, concert halls and bath establishments which will be necessary. I have the promise of four of the first London specialists to overtake the medical department. Finally, and I know this part will appeal to your generous instincts, no company will be formed and all profits made will be set aside for the improvement and maintenance of the new town. In a year’s time I hope to have the happiness of opening the place to the general public and that you, as my boyhood’s friends, will honor me by being the first to accept its hospitality.” He sat down. The silence seemed never ending. Only Denis Milroy had moved. He sat forward, a little. In that moment his resentment and bitterness had died. These ashy-faced, sickly-looking men on either side were no longer ridiculous or contemptible. They were part of himself. In a flash of intuition he saw their lives, mean, plodding, grey-bound in monotony, rising for one glowing, burning instant into the broad light of prosperity, to be thrust back anew into utter ruin. His own ruin was forgotten, swamped in a wave of all-' embracing passion of pity. Their pomposity, their very ingratitude had become pardonable, comprehensible. In their dream of greatness they had forgotten him; in this catastrophe they were like children, broken and stupefied. It was for him to lead again.
“Mr. Denborough,” he said, “do you realize what your project means to us?” “Yes—I fancy so.”
“We won’t mince words with each other. You came here to ruin Beachtown. You asked us here to tell us so?”
“You are a very intelligent young man.”
“That is your revenge?”
DENBOROUGH made no answer. He leant forward and choosing out a walnut from a silver dish cracked it deliberately. The action was final and indescribable in its ruthlessness.
“Mr. Denborough—you are not only ruining those who once injured you. You are ruining hundreds who were not born at the time—who scarcely knew your name
“You, for instance?”
The sneering, taunting eyes met Milroy’s without a flinch.
“Yes, me. I am responsible for Beachtown. I led these men to believe in the town’s future—to risk their all. I am responsible. What have I done to you that you should crush me?”
“What are you to me, Dr. Milroy, that I should hesitate?”
“Mr. Denborough, are you so immaculate that you dare claim such a penalty?” Andrew Denborough’s clenched fist crashed down upon the table.
“Yes,” he said. “I have toiled and toiled with clean hands so that I could come back and do this. They—■” he pointed a savage finger at each man in turn, “they harried me out with a lie and now I shall harry them out—justly. That is all.”
“Then there is no more to be said. We shall fight you as best we can.”
“You will be beaten.”
“I know. But we Shall fight. Come, gentlemen.”
They rose and followed him like sheep. The Mayor stumbled as he crossed the room and the round, ruddy face had become sallow and shrunken. No one looked at the man seated alone at the head of the deserted table.
As the door closed, he burst out laughing.
ANDREW DENBOROUGH tossed a
letter across to the secretary.
“You can answer that yourself,” he said. “Tell them I’m busy, but that following your instructions you have the honor to inform the deputation that I have nothing to add to my first announcement. You understand?”
“That will do! No, wait—” He was silent for a moment, his heavy chin resting on his chest, his eyes fixed moodily on the pile of papers before him. “You’ve been about the town, Burrows,” he said. “You must have heard scraps of gossip. What’s the news?”
“Things seem to be pretty bad, sir. There’s a kind of panic—everybody wanting to sell out and no one buying. It looks as though they are badly hit.” “And they are cursing me, eh?”
The young man smiled uncertainly.
“It’s pretty fair, sir.”
“That’s what I wanted. You can go, Burrows.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The door closed. Denborough remained motionless at his table by the window. Outside it had begun to drizzle—a dismal fall, half rain, half snow, which seemed to draw down with it a halo. The mist had already begun to spring out, marking the line of the streets, but the hills opposite were hidden. Denborough pushed aside the curtain and peered out. From the direction_of his gaze he seemed to be trying to pick out some special landmark, but all that stood out distinctly was the great square building opposite—Beachtown’s newly opened Sanatorium. Denborough relapsed with a smothered sigh and switched on his electric reading lamp. There was no other light in the room and the powerful rays fought with a melancholy, fast-increasing darkness.
The door opened softly.
“A lady to see you, sir.”
Denborough nodded abstractedly. He did not appear to have heard, for even after the door closed again he did not move. Then, quite suddenly, as though touched by an invisible warning, he turned. The next minute he was on his feet. “Mother—!”
He had taken an involuntary step towards her. She waved him back with a gesture as final as any of his own.
“Keep your place, Andrew. Don’t come near me. I have not come here to sentimentalize or to play at reconciliation. Sit down.”
“By all means.” He obeyed her. His face was hard set and without a trace of emotion, but his hands were tight clenched on the arm of his chair. “I am afraid I don’t understand you, Mother,” he went on. “I have not returned as a prodigal and I did not expect a fatted calf to be killed in my honor. But I expected justice from you, at least.”
“Did you?” she asked.
“T CONFESS—yes. Probably I have A some foolish, inherited idea of a mother’s loyalty to her children—an antiquated idea, no doubt. At any rate, I was learning to accept facts—to understand that to be accused is paramount in your eyes to guilt. Only I cannot understand why you have come now.”
“No. Won’t you sit down at least— Mother?”
“I prefer to stand.”
He threw back his head with a movement of restless anger.
“I can only suppose you have come to plead. That protege of yours—that Milroy has beer whining to you for himself and the rest.”
“No one has whined, Andrew Denborough. I have not come to plead with you. You came to Beachtown to administer justice, as you thought. 1 also have come to administer justice.”
“You? On whom?”
He sat stiff and straight, unmoved.
“I am prepared to accept justice. I was and am innocent. The world—everyone but you—knows that much.”
“Everyone but me!” The shadow of a smile twisted her thin lips. “Your hands are quite clean, Andrew Denborough?”
He nodded with a fierce, controlled triumph.
“That is your judgment and the world’s judgment. You have kept your man-made code of laws and you count yourself innocent and honorable. But there are
other codes, my son—there is mine.”
He bent forward, his deep-set eyes striving to pierce the shadows that veiled her face. “Yours?” he repeated curiously, half mockingly.
“If you had committed a murder, I should have followed you to the foot of the gallows, if you had forged that cheque if you had cheated and lied, if you had broken every mortal law and had paid the mortal penalty I should have stood by you, I should have lived and waited for you. I should have received you back now in the face of every man. But you have broken my code, my son, and your sin is unatoned.” She took a step forward and came into the circle of light. The poverty of her dress fell from her. She was still old, but her age was terrible. In her passionless accusatory strength she towered above him. “I have come to claim atonement,” she said.
“Mother!” He rose involuntarily as though to meet her and what was to come. “Mother—I don’t understand
“Jenny Ward is dead.”
“She came to me a year after you left. She died in my arms. I gave her a promise when she was dying, and I have^kept my promise. I mean to keep it now.”
She made a single gesture—her first.
“Don’t you understand now?” she said. “It’s your son you are ruining—with the rest—Andrew Denborough.” _
His hand went out—searchingly, blindly. She did not take it. Her eyes never released his. “I have fought your battle,” she went on. “I gave your son a name. I hid your dishonor from him. I shielded him from the curses you laid on him. I paid your debt to him. Now you have to pay your debt to me. I am your mother and your judge, Andrew.”
MY JUDGE!” He turned from her, looking at the littered table, at his own hands as though in some inexplicable way they troubled him. And lastly his eyes went back to hers with a dogged challenge.
“I did not know—I could not have known,” he said.
“You never sought to know,” she returned relentlessly. “You know now.” “Even if I accept your judgment, it is too late.”
“It is not too late.”
“You are trying to confuse the issues.” He was fighting her desperately. “You are trying to confuse injustice with a youthful madness—crime with error. There is no analogy—”
“So men say. But sin is sin; dishonor is dishonor. That is my code.” She turned and went back to the door and opened it. “Denis,” she called. “My son wishes to speak with you —both.”
“Mother—what are you asking of me?” “What you claimed—justice.-”
The man’s eyes followed her frail, still upright figure as it came slowly back to him. Once more he held out his hand, at first -protestingly, then pleadingly. She brushed it ruthlessly aside. Then of a sudden he braced himself. Denis Milroy stood on the threshold. He too held himself defiantly, his young head thrown back in challenging self-assurance. His wife clung to him, to his arm, but her face was as proud, as fearless.
“Mr. Denborough,” he began. “Your mother has asked me to speak with you— and to bring my wife. I have consented against my will and reason. I do not profess to see any purpose in our coming, for I have not come to beg of you. I hope you know that—
Denborough raised his hand.
“I know, and understand,” he said, “but my mother—-our mother was right. I wish to speak to you—I ask you as a favor to listen to me and to carry my message to the rest. Dr. Milroy, I speak to you as one man to another—and all men err. I erred. It seemed that no man’s hands are clean enough to enforce the justice I claimed. I see that now. Will you tell the others that I retract all I said that night— that I am sorry.” He straightened his shoulders. “The work that I have begun will go on, Dr. Milroy, but it shall be my gift to Beachtown, my act of restitution, shall we say? Is it accepted?”
There was a moment of painful silence. Alice Milroy looked at the man standing by the light and then up at her husband’s hard set face.
“Denis,” she said imperatively. “Don’t
' you understand—don’t you know what it is costing? Can’t you be generous, too?”
Then his hand went out.
“My wife is right, Mr. Denborough. You are generous. Your offer is accepted. 1 ask your forgiveness—for my hesitation, for every bitter thought I may have had against you—”
“And I yours—for every act.” He turned away with his face to the shadow. "Dr. Milroy, I hope one day we shall all meet again—that you will grant me a little of your friendship—both of you. But to-
day 1 am tired. You will understand that it is not easy for a man of my years and temperament to yield—”
“Î understand—and honor you. I will take our message to your old friends, Mr. Denborough.”
He heard them cross the room. He heard the door close and swung round with a smothered exclamation. The black clad figure in the shadow had not moved. “Mother—isn’t—it enough?”
She came to him and put her arms about his bowed shoulders and kissed him.