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Title: Katherine Lauderdale; vol. 1 of 2
Author: Crawford, F. Marion (Francis Marion)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Katherine Lauderdale; vol. 1 of 2" ***

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produced from images available at The Internet Archive)



                         KATHARINE LAUDERDALE

                       [Illustration: colophon]

          [Illustration: F. Marion Crawford with signature.]



                         KATHARINE LAUDERDALE

                                  BY

                          F. MARION CRAWFORD

           AUTHOR OF “SARACINESCA,” “PIETRO GHISLERI,” ETC.

                                VOL. I

                 WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY ALFRED BRENNAN

                               New York

                           MACMILLAN AND CO.

                              AND LONDON

                                 1894

                         _All rights reserved_

                           COPYRIGHT, 1893,

                        BY F. MARION CRAWFORD.

                            Norwood Press:
                 J. S. Cushing & Co.--Berwick & Smith.
                         Boston, Mass., U.S.A.



CONTENTS.


              PAGE

CHAPTER I.       1

CHAPTER II.     25

CHAPTER III.    47

CHAPTER IV.     69

CHAPTER V.      92

CHAPTER VI.    113

CHAPTER VII.   137

CHAPTER VIII.  159

CHAPTER IX.    182

CHAPTER X.     200

CHAPTER XI.    223

CHAPTER XII.   244

CHAPTER XIII.  266

CHAPTER XIV.   288

CHAPTER XV.    312



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.

VOL. I.


                                                                      PAGE

“A place probably unique in the world”                                  10

“She rose suddenly and pretended to busy herself with the single light” 79

“‘What have you decided?’ she enquired”                                203

“‘Kitty--don’t do what I’ve done,’ she said earnestly”                 257



KATHERINE LAUDERDALE.



CHAPTER I.


“I prefer the dark style, myself--like my cousin,” said John Ralston,
thoughtfully.

“And you will therefore naturally marry a fair woman,” answered his
companion, Hamilton Bright, stopping to look at the display in a
florist’s window. Ralston stood still beside him.

“Queer things--orchids,” he observed.

“Why?” Nothing in the world seemed queer or unnatural to Bright, who was
normally constituted in all respects, and had accepted the universe
without comment.

“I am not sure why. I think the soul must look like an orchid.”

“You are as bad as a Boston girl,” laughed Bright. “Always thinking of
your soul! Why should the soul be like an orchid, any more than like a
banana or a turnip?”

“It must be like something,” said Ralston, in explanation.

“If it’s anything, it’s faith in a gaseous state, my dear man, and
therefore even less visible and less like anything than the common or
market faith, so to say--the kind you get at from ten cents to a dollar
the seat’s worth, on Sundays, according to the charge at the particular
place of worship your craving for salvation leads you to frequent.”

“I prefer to take mine in a more portable shape,” answered Ralston,
grimly. “By the bottle--not by the seat--and very dry.”

“Yes--if you go on, you’ll get one sort of faith--the lively evidence of
things unseen--snakes, for instance.”

Bright laughed again as he spoke, but he glanced at his friend with a
look of interest which had some anxiety in it. John Ralston was said to
drink, and Bright was his good angel, ever striving to be entertained
unawares, and laughing when he was found out in his good intentions. But
if Bright was a very normal being, Ralston was a very abnormal one, and
was, to some extent, a weak man, though not easily influenced by strong
men. A glance at his face would have convinced any one of that--a keen,
nervous, dark face, with those deep lines from the nostrils to the
corners of the mouth which denote uncertain, and even dangerous
tempers--a square, bony jaw, aggressive rather than firm, but not
coarse--the nose, aquiline but delicate--the eyes, brown, restless, and
bright, the prominence of the temples concealing the eyelids entirely
when raised--the forehead, broad, high, and visibly lean like all the
features--the hair, black and straight--the cheek bones, moderately
prominent. Possibly John Ralston had a dash of the Indian in his
physical inheritance, which showed itself, as it almost always does, in
a melancholic disposition, great endurance and an unnatural love of
excitement in almost any shape, together with an inborn idleness which
it was hard to overcome.

Nothing is more difficult than to convey by words what should be
understood by actual seeing. There are about fifteen hundred million
human beings alive to-day, no two of whom are exactly alike, and we have
really but a few hundreds of words with which to describe any human
being at all. The argument that a few octaves of notes furnish all the
music there is, cannot be brought against us as a reproach. We cannot
speak a dozen words at once and produce a single impression, any more
than we can put the noun before the article as we may strike any one
note before or after another. So I have made acknowledgment of inability
to do the impossible, and apology for not being superhuman.

John Ralston was dark, good-looking, nervous, excitable, enduring, and
decidedly dissipated, at the age of five and twenty years, which he had
lately attained at the time of the present tale. Of his other gifts,
peculiarities and failings, his speech, conversation and actions will
give an account. As for his position in life, he was the only son of
Katharine Ralston, widow of Admiral Ralston of the United States Navy,
who had been dead several years.

Mrs. Ralston’s maiden name had been Lauderdale, and she was of Scotch
descent. Her cousin, Alexander Lauderdale, married a Miss Camperdown, a
Roman Catholic girl of a Kentucky family, and had two children, both
daughters, the elder of whom was Mrs. Benjamin Slayback, wife of the
well-known member of Congress. The younger was Katharine Lauderdale,
named after her father’s cousin, Mrs. Ralston, and she was the dark
cousin whom John admired.

Hamilton Bright was a distant relative to both of these persons. But by
his father’s side he had not originally belonged to New York, as the
others did, but had settled there after spending some years of his early
youth in California and Nevada, and had gone into business. At four and
thirty he was the junior partner in the important firm of Beman Brothers
and Company, Bankers, who had a magnificent building of their own in
Broad Street, and were very solidly prosperous, having shown themselves
to be among the fittest to survive the financial storms of the last
half century. Ralston’s friend was a strong, squarely built, very fair
man, of what is generally called the Saxon type. At first sight, he
inspired confidence, and his clear blue eyes were steady and true. He
had that faculty of looking almost superhumanly neat and spotless under
all circumstances, which is the prerogative of men with straight, flaxen
hair, pink and white complexions, and perfect teeth. It was easy to
predict that he would become too stout with advancing years, and he was
already a heavy man, though not more than half an inch taller than his
friend and distant cousin, John Ralston. But no one would have believed
at first sight that he was nine years older than the latter.

The nature of friendship between men has been almost as much discussed
as that of love between man and woman, but with very different results.
He laughs at the idea of friendship who turns a little pale at the
memory of love. At all events, most of us feel that friendship is
generally a less certain and undeniable thing, inasmuch as it is harder
to exclude from it the element of personal interest and advantage. The
fact probably is, that no one person can possibly combine all the
elements supposed to make up what every one means by friendship. It
would be far more reasonable to construct one friendship out of many
persons, securing in each of them one at least of the qualities
necessary. For instance, the discreet man, to whom it is safe to tell
secrets when they must be told at all, is not as a matter of course the
man most capable of giving the best advice; nor, if a certain individual
is extremely generous and ready to lend all he has to his friend, does
it follow that he possesses the tough, manly nature that will face
public scorn rather than abandon that friend in his hour of need. Some
men, too, want sympathy in their troubles, and will have it, even at the
cost of common sense. Others need encouragement; others, again, need
most of all to be told the unpleasant truth about themselves in the most
pleasant form practicable. Altogether it seems probable that the ideal
friend must either be an altogether superhuman personage, or a failure
in so far as his own life is concerned.

Hamilton Bright approached as nearly to that ideal as his humanity would
allow. He did not in the least trouble himself to find out why he liked
Ralston, and wished to be of service to him, and he wisely asked for
nothing whatever in return for what he gave. But he was very far from
looking up to him, and perhaps even from respecting him as he wished
that he might. He simply liked him better than other men, and stood by
him when he needed help, which often happened.

They left the florist’s window and walked slowly up Fifth Avenue. John
Ralston was a born New Yorker and preferred his own city to any other
place in the world with that solid, satisfactory, unreasoning prejudice
which belongs especially to New Yorkers and Parisians, and of which it
is useless to attempt any explanation. Hamilton Bright, on the contrary,
often wished himself away, and in spite of his excessively correct
appearance even the easy formality of American metropolitan life was
irksome to him. He had loved the West, and in the midst of great
interests and advantages, he regretted his former existence and daily
longed for the clearer air and bolder breath of Nevada. The only objects
about which he ever displayed much enthusiasm were silver and cattle,
about which Ralston knew nothing and cared less.

“When is it to be?” asked Bright after a long silence.

Ralston looked at him quickly.

“What?” he asked in a short tone.

Bright did not answer at once, and when he spoke his voice was rather
dull and low.

“When are you going to be married? Everybody knows that you are
engaged.”

“Then everybody is wrong. I am not engaged.”

“Oh--I thought you were. All right.”

Another pause followed and they walked on.

“Alexander Junior said I was a failure,” observed Ralston at last. “That
was some time ago.”

“Oh--was that the trouble?”

Bright did not seem to expect any reply to the question, but his tone
was thoughtful.

“Yes,” answered Ralston, with a short, discontented laugh. “He said that
I was of no use whatever, that I never did anything and never should.”

“That settled it, I suppose.”

“Yes. That settled it. There was nothing more to be said--on his side,
at least.”

“And how about your side?”

“We shall see.”

Ralston shut his lips viciously and his clean-cut, prominent chin looked
determined enough.

“The fact is,” said his friend, “that Alexander Junior was not so
awfully far wrong--about the past, at all events. You never did anything
in your life except make yourself agreeable. And you don’t seem to have
succeeded in that with him.”

“Oh, he used to think me agreeable enough,” laughed the younger man. “He
used to play billiards with me by the month for his liver, and then call
me idle for playing with him. I suppose that if I had given up billiards
he would have been impressed with the idea that I was about to reform.
It wouldn’t have cost me much. I hated the stupid game and only played
to amuse him.”

“All the same--I wish I had your chances--I mean, I wish I may have as
good a chance as you, when I think of getting married.”

“My chances!” Ralston did not smile now, and his tone was harsh as he
repeated the words. He glanced at his companion. “When will that be?” he
asked after a moment’s pause. “Why don’t you get married, Ham? I’ve
often wondered. But then--you’re so cursedly reasonable about
everything! I suppose you’ll stick to the single ticket as long as you
have strength to resist, and then you’ll marry a nurse. Wise man!”

“Thank you. You’re as encouraging as usual.”

“You don’t need encouragement a bit, old man. You’re so full of it
anyhow, that you can spare a lot for other people. You have a deuced
good effect on my liver, Ham. Do you know it? You ought to look
pleased.”

“Oh, yes. I am. I only wish the encouragement might last a little
longer.”

“I can’t help being gloomy sometimes--rather often, I ought to say. I
fancy I’m a born undertaker, or something to do with funerals. I’ve
tried a lot of other things for a few days and failed--I think I’ll try
that. By the by, I’m very thirsty and here’s the Hoffman House.”

“It’s not far to the club, if you want to drink,” observed Bright,
stopping on the pavement.

“You needn’t come in, if you think it’s damaging to your reputation,”
answered Ralston.

“My reputation would stand a good deal of knocking about,” laughed
Bright. “I think my character would bear three nights a week in a
Bowery saloon and spare time put in now and then in a University Place
bar, without any particular harm.”

“By Jove! I wish mine would!”

“It won’t,” said Bright. “But I wasn’t thinking of your reputation, nor
of anything especial except that things are generally better at a club
than at a hotel.”

“The Brut is good here. I’ve tried it--often. Come along.”

“I’ll wait for you outside. I’m not thirsty.”

“I told you so,” retorted Ralston. “You’re afraid somebody will see
you.”

“You’re an idiot, Jack!”

Thereupon Bright led the way into the gorgeous bar, a place probably
unique in the world. A number of pictures by great French masters hang
on the walls--pictures unrivalled, perhaps, in beauty of execution and
insolence of conception. The rest is a blaze of polished marble and
woodwork and gleaming metal.

Ralston nodded to the bar-tender.

“What will you have?” he asked, turning to Bright.

“Nothing, thanks. I’m not thirsty.”

“Oh--all right,” answered Ralston discontentedly. “I’ll have a pint of
Irroy Brut with a bit of lemon peel in it. Champagne isn’t wine--it’s

[Illustration: “A place probably unique in the world.”--Vol. I., p.
10.]

only a beverage,” he added, turning to Bright as though to explain his
reasons for wanting so much.

“I quite agree with you,” said Bright, lighting a cigar. “Champagne
isn’t wine, and it’s not fit to drink at the best. Either give me wine
that is wine, or give me whiskey.”

“Whichever you like.”

“Did you say whiskey, sir?” enquired the bar-tender, who was in the act
of rubbing the rim of a pint glass with a lemon peel.

“Nothing, thank you. I’m not thirsty,” answered Bright a third time.

“Hallo, Bright, my little man! What are you doing here? Oh--Jack
Ralston--I see.”

The speaker was a very minute and cheerful specimen of human New York
club life,--pink-cheeked, black-eyed, neat and brisk, not more than five
feet six inches in height, round as a little barrel, with tiny hands and
feet. He watched Ralston, as soon as he noticed him. The bar-tender had
emptied the pint bottle of champagne into the glass and Ralston had set
it to his lips with the evident intention of finishing it at a draught.

“Hold on, Jack!” cried Frank Miner, the small man. “I say--easy there!
You’ll have apoplexy or something--I say--”

“Don’t speak to a man on his drink, Frank,” said Bright, calmly. “When I
drove cattle in the Nacimiento Valley we used to shoot for that.”

“I shall avoid that place,” answered Miner.

Ralston drew a long breath as he set down the empty glass.

“I wanted that,” he said, half to himself. “Hallo, Frank--is that you?
What will you have?”

“Nothing--now--thank you,” answered Miner. “I’ve satisfied my thirst and
cured my tendency to vice by seeing you take that down. You’re a
beautiful sight and an awful example for a thirsty man. Get
photographed, Jack--they could sell lots of copies at temperance
meetings. Heard the story about the temperance tracts? Stop me if you
have. Man went out to sell teetotal tracts in Missouri. Came back and
his friends were surprised to see him alive. ‘Never had such a good time
in my life,’ said he. ‘Every man to whom I offered a tract pulled out a
pistol and said, “Drink or I’ll shoot.” And here I am.’ There’s a chance
for you, Jack, when you get stuck.”

Bright and Ralston laughed at the little man’s story and all three
turned and left the bar-room together.

“Seen the old gentleman lately?” enquired Frank Miner, as they came out
upon the pavement.

“Do you mean uncle Robert?” asked Bright.

“Yes--cousin Robert, as we call him.”

“It always amuses me to hear a little chap like you calling that old
giant ‘cousin,’” said Bright.

“He likes it. It makes him feel frisky. Besides, he is a sort of cousin.
My uncle Thompson married Margaret Lauderdale--”

“Oh, yes--I know all about the genealogy,” laughed Bright.

“Who was Robert Lauderdale’s own cousin,” continued Miner. “And as
Robert Lauderdale is your great-uncle and Jack Ralston’s great-uncle,
that makes you second cousins to each other and makes me your--let me
see--both--”

“Shut up, Frank!” exclaimed Ralston. “You’ve got it all wrong again.
Uncle Robert isn’t Bright’s great-uncle. He’s first cousin to your
deceased aunt Margaret, who was Bright’s grandmother, and you’re first
cousin to his mother and first cousin, once removed, to him; and he’s my
third cousin and you’re no relation to me at all, except by your uncle’s
marriage, and if you want to know anything more about it you have your
choice between the family Bible and the Bloomingdale insane
asylum--which is a quiet, healthy place, well situated.”

“Well then, what relation am I to my cousin Robert?” asked Miner, with a
grin.

“An imaginary relation, my dear boy.”

“Oh, I say! And his being my very own aunt by marriage’s own cousin is
not to count for anything, because you two are such big devils and I am
only a light weight, and you could polish your boots with me if I made
a fuss! It’s too bad! Upon my word, brute force rules society as much as
it ever did in the middle ages. So there goes my long-cherished claim
upon a rich relation. However, you’ve destroyed the illusion so often
before that I know how to resurrect it.”

“For that matter,” said Bright, “the fact is about as illusory as the
illusion itself. If you insist upon being considered as one of the
Lauderdale tribe, we’re glad to have you on your own merits--but you’ll
get nothing out of it but the glory--”

“I know. It gives me a fictitious air of respectability to be one of
you. Besides, you should be proud to have a man of letters--”

“Say an author at once,” suggested Ralston.

“No. I’m honest, if I’m anything,--which is doubtful. A man of letters,
I say, can be useful in a family. Suppose, for instance, that Jack
invented an electric street-dog, or--”

“What?” enquired Ralston, with a show of interest. “An electric what?”

“I was only thinking of something new,” said Miner, thoughtfully.

“I thought you said, an electric street-dog--”

“I did--yes. Something of that sort, just for illustration. I believe
they had one at Chicago, with an india-rubber puppy,--at least, if they
didn’t, they ought to have had it,--but anything of the kind would
do--self-drying champagne--anything! Suppose that Jack invented
something useful like that, I could write it up in the papers, and get
up advertisements for it, and help the family to get rich.”

“Is that the sort of literature you cultivate?” asked Bright.

“Oh, no! Much more flowery--quite like the flowers of the field in some
ways, for it cometh up--to the editor’s office--in the morning, and in
the evening, if not sooner, it is cut down--by the editor--dried up, and
withered, or otherwise disposed of, so that it cannot be said to reach
the general public.”

“Not very paying, I should think.”

“Well--not to me. But of course, if there were not so much of it offered
to the magazines and papers, there wouldn’t be so many people employed
by them to read and reject articles. So somebody gets a living out of
it. I console myself with the certainty that my efforts help to keep at
least one man in every office from starvation. I spoke to cousin Robert
about it and he seemed rather pleased by the idea, and said that he
would mention it to his brother, old Mr. Alexander, who’s a
philanthropist--”

“Call him cousin Alexander,” suggested Ralston. “Why do you make any
distinction?”

“Because he’s not the rich one,” answered Miner, imperturbably. “He’ll
be promoted to be my cousin, if the fortune is left to him.”

“Then I’m afraid he’ll continue to languish among your non-cousin
acquaintances.”

“Why shouldn’t he inherit the bulk of the property?” enquired Miner,
speaking more seriously.

“Because he’s a philanthropist, and would spend it all on idiots and
‘fresh air funds,’ and things of that sort.”

“There is Alexander Junior,” suggested Miner. “He’s careful enough, I’m
sure. I suppose it will go to him.”

“I doubt that, too,” said Bright. “Alexander Junior goes to the opposite
extreme. However, Jack knows more about that than I do--and is a nearer
relation, besides.”

“Ham is right,” answered John Ralston, thoughtfully. “Cousin Sandy is
the most villainous, infernal, steel-trap-fingered, patent-locked old
miser that ever sat down in a cellar chinking money bags.”

“There’s a certain force about your language,” observed Miner.

“I believe he’s not rich,” said Bright. “So he has an excuse.”

“Poor!” exclaimed Ralston, contemptuously. “I’m poor.”

“I wish I were, then--in your way,” returned Miner. “That was Irroy
Brut, I noticed. It looked awfully good. It’s true that you haven’t two
daughters, as your cousin Sandy has.”

“Nor a millionaire son-in-law--like Ben Slayback,--Slayback of Nevada he
is, in the Congressional Record, because there’s another from somewhere
else.”

“He wears a green tie,” said Miner, softly. “I saw him two years ago,
before he and Charlotte were married.”

“I know,” answered Ralston. “Cousin Katharine hates him, I believe.
Uncle Robert will probably leave the whole fortune in trust for
Slayback’s children. There’s a little boy. They say he has red hair,
like his father, and they have christened him Alexander--merely as an
expression of hope. It would be just like uncle Robert.”

“I don’t believe it,” said Bright. “But as for Slayback, don’t abuse him
till you know him better. I knew him out West, years ago. He’s a brick.”

“He is precisely the colour of one,” retorted Ralston.

“Don’t be spiteful, Jack.”

“I’m not spiteful. I daresay he’s full of virtue, as all horrid people
are--inside. The outside of him is one of nature’s finest failures, and
his manners are awful always--and worse when he tries to polish them for
the evening. He’s a corker, a thing to scare sharks with--it doesn’t
follow that he’s been a train-wrecker or a defaulting cashier, and I
didn’t say it did. Oh, yes--I know--handsome is that puts its hand into
its pocket, and that sort of thing. Give me some soda water with a
proverb in it--that confounded Irroy wasn’t dry enough.”

Frank Miner looked up into Bright’s eyes and smiled surreptitiously. He
was walking between his two taller companions. Bright glanced at
Ralston’s lean, nervous face, and saw that the lines of ill-temper had
deepened during the last quarter of an hour. It was not probable that a
pint of wine could alone have any perceptible effect on the man’s head,
but it was impossible to know what potations had preceded the draught.

“No,” said Bright. “Such speeches as that are not spiteful. They’re
foolish. Besides, Slayback’s a friend of mine.”

Miner looked up again, but in surprise. Ralston turned sharply on
Bright.

“I say, Ham--” he began.

“All right, Jack,” Bright interrupted, striding steadily along. “We’re
not going to quarrel. Stand up for your friends, and I’ll stand up for
mine. That’s all.”

“I haven’t any,” answered Ralston, growing suddenly gloomy again.

“Oh! Well--so much the better for you, then.”

For a few moments no one spoke again. Miner broke the silence. He was a
cheerful little soul, and hated anything like an unpleasant situation.

“Heard about the cow and the collar-stud, Jack?” he enquired, by way of
coming to the rescue.

“Chestnut!” growled Ralston.

“Of course,” answered Miner, who was nevertheless convinced that Ralston
had not heard the joke. “I wasn’t going to tell it. It only struck me
just then.”

“Why?” asked Bright, who failed to see any connection between a cow, a
stud and Ralston’s bad humour.

“The trouble with you, Bright, is that you’re so painfully literal,”
returned Miner, who had got himself into a conversational difficulty.
“Now I was thinking of a figurative cow.”

“What has that to do with it?” enquired Bright, inexorably.

“It’s very simple, I’m sure. Isn’t it, Jack?”

“Perfectly,” answered Ralston, absently, as he watched a figure that
attracted his attention fifty yards ahead of him.

“There!” exclaimed Miner, triumphantly. “Jack saw it at once. Of course,
if you want me to explain anything so perfectly idiotic--”

“Oh, don’t bother, I’m stupid to-day,” said Bright, completely
mystified.

“What’s the joke, anyhow?” asked Ralston, suddenly realizing that Miner
had spoken to him. “I said I understood, but I didn’t, in the least. I
was thinking about that--about Slayback--and then I saw somebody I knew,
and I didn’t hear what you said.”

“You didn’t lose much,” answered Miner. “I should be sincerely grateful
if you’d drop the subject, which is a painful one with me. If anything
can touch me to the quick, it’s the horrible certainty that I’ve pulled
the trigger and that the joke hasn’t gone off, not even flashed in the
pan, or fizzled, or sputtered and petered out, or even raised itself to
the level of a decent failure, fit for immediate burial if for nothing
else.”

“You’re getting a little mixed in your similes, Frank,” observed Bright.

“The last one reminds me of what Bright and I were talking of before you
joined us, Frank,” said Ralston.

“Burial?”

“The next thing before it--undertakers. I’m thinking of becoming one.
Bright says it’s the only thing I’ve not tried, and that as I have the
elements of success in my character, I must necessarily succeed in that.
There’s a large establishment of the kind in Sixth Avenue, not far from
here. I think I’ll call and see a member of the firm.”

“All right,” assented Miner, with a laugh. “Take me in with you as
epitaph-writer. I’ll treat your bodies to a display of the English
language that will make them sit up.”

“I believe you could!” exclaimed Bright, with a laugh.

Ralston turned to the left, into Thirty-second Street. His companions,
quite indifferent as to the direction they took, followed his lead.

“I’m going to do it, Ham, you know,” said Ralston, as they walked along.

“What?”

“I’m going to the undertaker’s in Sixth Avenue.”

“All right--if you think it amusing.”

“We’ll all go. It’s appropriate to go as a body, if one goes there at
all.”

“Frank,” said Bright, gravely, “be funny if you can. Be ghastly if you
like. But if you make puns, make them at a man of your own size. It’s
safer.”

The little man chirped pleasantly in answer, as he trotted along between
the two. He believed, innocently enough, that Bright and Ralston had
been at the point of a quarrel, and that he had saved the situation with
his nonsense.

At the end of the street, where it makes a corner with Broadway, stands
a big hotel. Ralston glanced at the door on Thirty-second Street, which
is the ladies’ entrance, and stopped in his walk.

“I want to leave a card on some people at the Imperial,” he said. “I’ll
be back in a moment.” And he disappeared within.

Bright and Miner stood waiting outside.

“Do you believe that--about leaving a card?” asked Miner, after a pause.

“I don’t know,” answered Bright.

“Because I think he’s got the beginning of a ‘jag’ on him now. He’s gone
in for something short to settle that long drink. Pity, isn’t it?”

Bright did not answer at once.

“I say, Frank,” he said at last, “don’t talk about Jack’s
drinking--there’s a good fellow. He’ll get over it all right, some day.”

“People do talk about it a good deal,” answered Miner. “I don’t think
I’m worse than other people, and I’ll try to talk less. But it’s been
pretty bad, lately. The trouble is, you can’t tell just how far gone he
is. He has a strong head--up to a certain point, and then he’s a fiend,
all at once. And he’s always quarrelsome, even when he’s sober, so
that’s no sign.”

“Poor chap! He inherits it to some extent. His father could drink more
than most men, and generally did.”

“Yes. I met a man the other day--a fellow in the Navy--who told me they
had no end of stories of the old Admiral. But no one ever saw him the
worse for it.”

“That’s true enough. But no nerves will last through two generations of
whiskey.”

“I suppose not.” Miner paused. “You see,” he continued, presently, “he
could have left his card in half the time he’s been in there. Come in.
We shall find him at the bar.”

“No,” said Bright. “I won’t spy on him. I shouldn’t like it myself.”

“And he says he has no friends!” exclaimed Miner, not without
admiration.

“Oh, that’s only his way when he’s cross. Not that his friends are of
any use to him. He’ll have to work out his own salvation alone--or his
own damnation, poor devil!”

Before Miner made any answer, Ralston came out again. His face looked
drawn and weary and there were dark shadows under his eyes. He stood
still a moment on the threshold of the door, looked deliberately to the
left, towards Broadway, then to the right, along the street, and at last
at his friends. Then he slowly lighted a cigarette, brushed a tiny
particle of ash from the sleeve of his rough black coat and came out
upon the pavement, with a quick, decided step.

“Now then, I’m ready for the undertaker,” he said, with a sour smile.
“Sorry to have kept you waiting so long,” he added, as though by an
afterthought.

“Not a bit,” answered Miner, cheerfully.

Bright said nothing, and his quiet, healthy face expressed nothing. But
as they went towards the crossing of Broadway, he was walking beside
Ralston, instead of letting little Frank Miner keep his place in the
middle.



CHAPTER II.


It was between three and four o’clock, and Broadway was crowded, as it
generally is at that time in the afternoon. In the normal life of a
great city, the crowd flows and ebbs in the thoroughfares as regularly
as the blood in a living body. From that mysterious, grey hour, when the
first distant rumble is heard in the deserted streets, just before the
outlines of the chimneys become distinct against the clouds or the murky
sky, when the night-worker and the man of pleasure, the day-labourer and
the dawn, all meet for a brief moment at one of the crossings in daily
life’s labyrinth, through all the four and twenty hours in which each
pulsation is completed, until that dull, far-off roll of the earliest
cart echoes again, followed within a few minutes by many others,--round
and round the clock again, with unfailing exactness, you may note the
same rise and fall of the life-stream.

The point at which Ralston and his companions crossed Broadway is a
particularly busy one. It is near many of the principal theatres; there
are a number of big hotels in the neighbourhood; there are some
fashionable shops; it is only one short block from the junction of
Broadway and Sixth Avenue, where there is an important station of the
elevated road, and there are the usual carts, vans and horse-cars
chasing each other up and down, and not leaving even enough road for two
carriages to pass one another on either side of the tracks. The streams
of traffic meet noisily, and thump and bump and jostle through the
difficulty, and a man standing there may watch the expression change in
all the faces as they approach the point. The natural look disappears
for a moment; the eyes glance nervously to the right and left; the lips
are set as though for an effort; the very carriage of the body is
different, as though the muscles were tightened for an exertion which
the frame may or may not be called upon to make instantly without
warning. It is an odd sight, though one which few people see, every one
being concerned to some extent for his own safety, and oblivious of his
neighbour’s dangers.

Ralston and the others stood at the corner waiting for an opportunity to
pass. There was a momentary interruption of the line of vehicles on the
up-town side, which was nearest to them. Ralston stepped forward first
toward the track. Glancing to the left, he saw a big express cart coming
up at full speed, and on the other track, from his right as he stood, a
horse-car was coming down, followed at some distance by a large, empty
van. The horse-car was nearest to him, and passed the corner briskly. A
small boy, wheeling an empty perambulator and leading a good-looking
rough terrier by a red string, crossed towards Ralston between the
horse-car and the van, dragging the dog after him, and was about to
cross the other track when he saw that the express cart rattling up town
was close upon him. He paused, and drew back a little to let it pass,
pulling back his perambulator, which, however, caught sideways between
the rails. At the same instant the clanging bell and the clatter of a
fire engine, followed by a hook and ladder cart, and driven at full
speed, produced a sudden commotion, and the man who was driving the
empty van looked backward and hastened his horses, in order to get out
of the way. In the confusion the little boy and his perambulator were in
danger of annihilation.

Ralston jumped the track, snatched the boy in one arm and lifted the
perambulator bodily with his other hand, throwing them across the second
pair of rails as he sprang. He fell at full length in the carriage way.
He lay quite still for a moment, and the horses of the empty van stuck
out their fore-feet and stopped with a plunge close beside him. The
people paused on the pavement, and one or two came forward to help him.
There is no policeman at this crossing as a rule, as there is one a
block higher, at the main corner. Ralston was not hurt, however, though
he had narrowly escaped losing his foot, for the wheel of one of the
vehicles had torn the heel from his shoe. He was on his legs in a few
moments, holding the terrified boy by the collar, and lecturing him
roughly upon the folly of doing risky things with a perambulator.
Meanwhile the horse-cars and wagons which had blocked the crossing
having moved off in opposite directions, Bright and Frank Miner ran
across. Bright was very pale as he passed his arm through Ralston’s and
drew him away. Miner looked at him with silent admiration, having all
his life longed to be the hero of some such accident.

“I wish you wouldn’t do such things, Jack,” said Bright, in his calm
voice. “Are you hurt?”

“Not a bit,” answered Ralston, who seemed to have enjoyed the
excitement. “The thing almost took off my foot, though. I can’t walk.
Come over to the Imperial again. I’ll get brushed down, and take a cab.
Come along--I can’t stand this crowd. There’ll be a reporter in a
minute.”

Without further words the three recrossed the street to the hotel.

“I don’t suppose the most rigid doctor would object to my having
something to drink after that tumble,” observed Ralston, as they passed
through the crowded hall.

“Every man is the best judge of what he wants,” answered Bright.

Few people noticed, or appeared to notice, Ralston’s dilapidated
condition, his smashed hat, his dusty clothes and his heelless shoe. He
found a hall-boy who brushed him, and little Frank Miner did his best to
restore the hat to an appearance of respectability.

“All right, Frank,” said Ralston. “Don’t bother--I’m going home in a
cab, you know.”

He led the way to the bar, swallowed half a tumbler of whiskey neat, and
then got into a carriage.

“See you this evening,” he said briefly, as he nodded to Bright and
Miner, and shut the cab door after him.

The other two watched the carriage a moment, as it drove away, and then
looked at one another. Miner had a trick of moving his right ear when he
was puzzled. It is rather an unusual peculiarity, and his friends knew
what it meant. As Bright looked at him the ear began to move slowly,
backwards and forwards, with a slight upward motion. Bright smiled.

“You needn’t wag it so far, Frank,” he said. “He’s going home. It will
be all right now.”

“I suppose so--or I hope so, at least. I wonder if Mrs. Ralston is in.”

“Why?”

“The trouble with you intelligent men is that you have no sense,”
answered the little man. “He’s had another drink--four fingers it was,
too--and he’s been badly shaken up, and he had the beginning of a ‘jag’
on before, and he’s going home in a rolling cab, which makes it worse.
If he meets his mother, there’ll be a row. That’s all. Even when I was a
boy it wasn’t good form to be drunk before dinner, and nobody drinks
now--at least, not as they used to. Well--it’s none of my business.”

“It’s everybody’s business,” said Bright. “But a harder man to handle I
don’t know. He’ll either come to grief or glory, or both together, one
of these days. It’s not the quantity he takes--it’s the confounded
irregularity of him. I’m going to the club--are you coming?”

“I may as well correct my proofs there as anywhere else. Pocket’s full
of them.” Miner tapped his round little chest with an air of some
importance.

“Proofs, eh? Something new?”

“I’ve worn them out, my boy. They’re incapable of returning me with
thanks any more--until next time. I’ve worn them out, heel and
toe,--right out.”

“Is it a book, Frank?”

“Not yet. But it’s going to be. This is the first--a series of essays,
you know--this is the wedge, and I’ve got it in, and I’m going to drive
it for all I’m worth, and when there are six or seven they’ll make a
book, together with some other things--something in the same
style--which have appeared before.”

“I’m very glad, old man. I congratulate you. Go in and win.”

“It’s an awful life, though,” said Frank Miner, growing suddenly grave.

Bright glanced at the neat, rotund little figure, at the pink cheeks and
bright eyes, and he smiled quietly.

“It’s not wearing you to the bone yet,” he observed.

“Oh--that’s no sign! Look at Napoleon. He had rather my figure, I
believe. What’s the good of getting thin about things, anyhow? It’s only
unhappy people who get thin. You work hard enough, Ham, in your humdrum
way--oh, I don’t envy your lot!--and you’re laying it on, Ham, you’re
laying it on steadily, year after year. You’ll be a fat man, Ham--ever
so much fatter than I am, because there’s twice as much of you, to begin
with. Besides, you’ve got a big chest and that makes a man look stout.
But then, you don’t care, do you? You’re perfectly happy, so you get
fat. So would Apollo, if he were a successful banker, and gave up
bothering about goddesses and things. As for me, I about keep my weight.
Given up bread, though--last summer. Bad thing, bread.”

So Miner chattered on as he walked by his friend’s side, towards the
club. There was no great talent in him, though he had drifted into
literature, and of industry he had not so much as he made people
believe. But he possessed the treasure of cheerfulness, and dispensed it
freely in his conversation, whereas in his writings he strove at the
production of gruesome and melancholy tales, stories of suffering and
horror, the analysis of pain and the portraiture of death in many forms.
The contradiction between the disposition of literary men and their
works is often a curious study.

Mrs. Ralston was at home that afternoon, or rather, to be accurate in
the social sense, she was in, and had given orders to the general effect
that only her particular friends were to be admitted. This, again, is a
statement susceptible of misapprehension, as she had not really any
particular friends in the world, but only acquaintances in divers
degrees of intimacy, who called themselves her friends and sometimes
called one another her enemies. But of such matters she took little
heed, and was at no pains to set people right with regard to her private
opinion of them. She did many kind things within society’s limits and
without, but she was wise enough to expect nothing in return, being well
aware that real gratitude is a mysterious cryptogam like the truffle,
and indeed closely resembling the latter in its rarity, its spontaneous
growth, its unprepossessing appearance, and in the fact that it is more
often found and enjoyed by the lower animals than by man.

It may be as well to elucidate here the somewhat intricate points of the
Lauderdales’ genealogy and connections, seeing that both have a direct
bearing upon the life of Katharine Lauderdale, of John Ralston, and of
many others who will appear in the course of this episodic history.

In old times the primeval Alexander Lauderdale, a younger son of an
honourable Scotch family, brought his wife, with a few goods and no
particular chattels, to New York, and they had two sons, Alexander and
Robert, and died and were buried. Of these two sons the elder,
Alexander, did very well in the world, married a girl of Dutch family,
Anna Van Blaricorn, and had three sons, and he and his wife died and
were buried beside the primeval Alexander.

Of these three sons the eldest was Alexander Lauderdale, the
philanthropist, of whom mention has been made, who was alive at the time
this story begins, who married a young girl of Puritan lineage and some
fortune. She died when their only son, Alexander Lauderdale Junior, was
twenty-two years of age. The latter married Emma Camperdown, of the
Kentucky Catholic family, and had two daughters, the elder, Charlotte,
married at the present time to Benjamin Slayback of Nevada, member of
Congress, the younger, Katharine Lauderdale, being John Ralston’s dark
cousin.

So much for the first of the three sons. The second was Robert
Lauderdale, the famous millionaire, the uncle Robert spoken of by
Ralston and the others, who never married, and was at the time of this
tale about seventy-five years of age. He originally made a great sum by
a fortunate investment in a piece of land which lies in the heart of the
present city of Chicago, and having begun with real estate he stuck to
it like the wise man he was, and its value doubled and decupled and
centupled, and no one knew how rich he was. He was the second son of the
elder son of the primeval Alexander.

The third son of that elder son was Ralph Lauderdale, who was killed at
the battle of Chancellorsville in the Civil War. He married a Miss
Charlotte Mainwaring, whose father had been an Englishman settled
somewhere in the South. Katharine, the widow of the late Admiral
Ralston, was the only child of their marriage, and her only child was
John Ralston, second cousin to Katharine Lauderdale and Mrs. Slayback.

But the primeval Alexander had a second son Robert, who had only one
daughter, Margaret, married to Rufus Thompson. And Rufus Thompson’s
sister married Livingston Miner of New York, and was the mother of Frank
Miner and of three unmarried daughters. That is the Miner connection.

And on the Lauderdale side Rufus Thompson had one daughter by his wife,
Margaret Lauderdale; and that daughter married Richard Bright of
Cincinnati, who died, leaving two children, Hamilton Bright and his
sister Hester, the wife of Walter Crowdie, the eminent painter of New
York. This is the relationship of the Brights to the Lauderdales.
Bright, John Ralston and Katharine Lauderdale were all descended from
the same great-great-grandfather--the primeval Alexander. And as there
is nothing duller to the ordinary mind than genealogy, except the
laborious process of tracing it, little more shall be said about it
hereafter, and the ingenious reader may refer to these pages when he is
in doubt.

It has been shown, however, that all these modern individuals with whom
we have to do come from a common stock, except little Frank Miner, who
could only boast of a connection by marriage. For it was a good stock,
and the families of all the women who had married into it were proud of
it, and some of them were glad to speak of it when they had a chance.
None of the Lauderdales had ever come to any great distinction, it is
true, except Robert, by his fabulous wealth. But none of them had ever
done anything dishonourable either, nor even approaching it. There had
not even been a divorce in the family. Some of the men had fought in the
war, and one had been killed, and, through Robert, the name was a power
in the country. It was said that there had never been any wild blood in
the family either, until Ralph married Miss Mainwaring, and that John
Ralston got all his faults from his grandmother. But that may or may not
be true, seeing that no one knows much of the early youth of the
primeval Alexander before he came to this country.

It is probably easier for a man to describe a man than a woman. The
converse may possibly be true also. Men see men, on the whole, very much
as they are, each man being to each other an assemblage of facts which
can be catalogued and referred to. But most men receive from woman an
indefinite and perhaps undefinable impression, besides, and sometimes
altogether at variance with what is merely visible. It is very hard to
convey any idea of that impression to a third person, even in the actual
presence of the woman described; it is harder still when the only means
are the limited black and white of printed English.

Katharine Lauderdale, at least, had a fair share of beauty of a certain
typical kind, a general conception of which belongs to everybody, but
her aunt Katharine had not even that. No one ever called Katharine
Ralston beautiful, and yet no one had ever classed her among pretty
girls when she had been young. Between the two, between prettiness and
beauty, there is a debatable country of brown-skinned, bright-eyed,
swift-like women of aquiline feature, and sometimes of almost man-like
energy, who succeed in the world, and are often worshipped for three
things--their endurance, their smile and their voice. They are women who
by laying no claim to the immunities of womanhood acquire a direct right
to consideration for their own sakes. They also may often possess that
mysterious gift known as charm, which is incomparably more valuable than
all the classic beauty and perfection of colouring which nature can
accumulate in one individual. Beauty fades; wit wears out; but charm is
not evanescent.

Katharine Ralston had it, and sometimes wondered what it was, and even
tried to understand herself by determining clearly what it was not. But
for the most part she thought nothing about it, which is probably the
best rule for preserving it, if it needs any sort of preservation.

Outwardly, her son strongly resembled her. He had from her his dark
complexion, his lean face and his brown eyes, as well as a certain grace
of figure and a free carriage of the head which belong to the pride of
station--a little exaggerated--which both mother and son possessed in a
high degree. Katharine Ralston did not talk of her family, but she
believed in it, as something in which it was good to believe from the
bottom of her heart, and she had brought up John to feel that he came
from a stock of gentlemen and gentlewomen who might be bad, but could
not be mean, nor anything but gentle in the vague, heraldic sense of
that good word.

She was a sensible woman and saw her son’s faults. They were not small,
by any means, nor insignificant by their nature, nor convenient faults
for a young gentleman about town, who had the reputation of having tried
several occupations and of having failed with quite equal brilliancy in
all. But they were not faults that estranged him from her, though she
suffered much for his sake in a certain way. She would rather have had
him a drunkard, a gambler, almost a murderer, than have seen him turn
out a hypocrite. She would far rather have seen him killed before her
than have known that he had ever lied to save himself, or done any of
the mean little sins, for which there may be repentance here and
forgiveness hereafter, but from the pollution of which honour knows no
purification.

Religion she had none whatever, and frankly owned the fact if questioned
directly. But she made no profession of atheism and gave no grounds for
her unbelief. She merely said that she could not believe in the
existence of the soul, an admission which at once settled all other
kindred points, so far as she was concerned. But she regretted her own
position. In her childhood, her ideas had been unsettled by the constant
discussions which took place between her parents. Her father, like all
the Lauderdales, had been a Presbyterian. Her mother had been an
Episcopalian, and, moreover, a woman alternately devout and doubting.
Katharine shared neither the prejudices nor the convictions of either.
Then she had married Admiral Ralston, a man, like many officers of the
Navy, of considerable scientific acquirements, and full to overflowing
of the scientific arguments against religion, which were even more
popular in his day than they are now. What little hold the elder
Katharine had still possessed upon an undefined future state was finally
destroyed by her sailor husband’s rough, sledge-hammer arguments. In the
place of religion she set up a sort of code of honour to which she
rigidly adhered, and in the observance of which she brought up her only
son.

It is worth remarking that until he finally left college she encouraged
him to be religious, if he would, and regularly took him to church so
long as he was a boy. She even persuaded his father not to talk atheism
before him; and the admiral, who was as conservative as only republicans
can be, was quite willing to let the young fellow choose for himself
what he should believe or reject when he should come to years of
discretion. Up to the age of twenty-one, Jack had been a remarkably
sober and thoughtful young fellow. He began to change soon after his
father died.

Ralston let himself in with his key when he got home and went upstairs,
supposing that his mother was out, as she usually was at that hour. She
heard his footstep, however, as he passed the door of her own
sitting-room, on the first landing, and having no idea that anything was
wrong, she called to him.

“Is that you, Jack?”

Ralston stopped and in the dusk of the staircase realized for the first
time that he was not sober. He made an effort when he spoke, answering
through the closed door.

“It’s all right, mother; I’ll be down in a few minutes.”

Something unusual in the tone of his voice must have struck Mrs.
Ralston. He had made but two steps forward when she opened the door,
throwing the light full upon him.

“What’s the matter, Jack?” she asked, quietly.

Then she saw his face, the deep lines, the drawn expression, the shadows
under the eyes and the unnatural dull light in the eyes themselves. And
in the same glance she saw that his hat was battered and that his
clothes were dusty and stained. She knew well enough that he drank more
than was good for him, but she had never before seen him in such a
state. The broad daylight, too, and the disorder of his clothes made him
look much more intoxicated than he really was. Katharine Ralston stood
still in silence for a moment, and looked at her son. Her face grew a
little pale just before she spoke again.

“Are you sober enough to take care of yourself?” she asked rather
harshly, for there was a dryness in her throat.

John Ralston was no weakling, and was, moreover, thoroughly accustomed
to controlling his nerves, as many men are who drink habitually--until
the nerves themselves give way. He drew himself up and felt that he was
perfectly steady before he answered in measured tones.

“I’m sorry you should see me just now, mother. I had a little accident,
and I took some whiskey afterwards to steady me. It has gone to my head.
I’m very sorry.”

That was more than enough for his mother. She came swiftly forward, and
gently took him by the arm to lead him into her room. But Ralston’s
sense of honour was not quite satisfied.

“It’s partly my fault, mother. I had been taking other things before,
but I was all right until the accident happened.”

Mrs. Ralston smiled almost imperceptibly. She was glad that he should
be so honest, even when he was so far gone. She led him through the door
into her own room, and made him sit down in a comfortable chair near the
window.

“Never mind, Jack,” she said, “I’m just like a man about understanding
things. I know you won’t do it again.”

But Ralston knew his own weakness, and made no rash promises then,
though a great impulse arose in his misty understanding, bidding him
then and there make a desperately solemn vow, and keep it, or do away
with himself if he failed. He only bowed his head, and sat down, as his
mother bid him. He was ashamed, and he was a man to whom shame was
particularly bitter.

Mrs. Ralston got some cold water in a little bowl, and bathed his
forehead, touching him as tenderly as she would have touched a sick
child. He submitted readily enough, and turned up his brows gratefully
to her hand.

“Your head is a little bruised,” she said. “Were you hurt anywhere else?
What happened? Can you tell me now, or would you rather wait?”

“Oh, it was nothing much,” answered Ralston, speaking more easily now.
“There was a boy, with a perambulator, getting between the cars and
carts. I got him out of the way, and tumbled down, because there wasn’t
even time to jump. I threw myself after the boy--somehow. The wheel took
off the heel of my boot, but I wasn’t hurt. I’m all right now. Thank
you, mother dear. There never was anybody like you to understand.”

Mrs. Ralston was very pale again, but John could not see her face.

“Don’t risk such things, Jack,” she said, in a low voice. “They hurt one
badly.”

Ralston said nothing, but took her hand and kissed it gently. She
pressed his silently, and touched his matted hair with her tightly shut
lips. Then he got up.

“I’ll go to my room, now,” he said. “I’m much better. It will be all
gone in half an hour. I suppose it was the shaking,--but I did swallow a
big dose after my tumble.”

“Say nothing more about it, my dear,” answered Mrs. Ralston, quietly.

She turned from him, ostensibly to set the bowl of water upon a table.
But she knew that he could not be perfectly himself again in so short a
time, and if he was still unsteady, she did not wish to see it--for her
own sake.

“Thank you, mother,” he said, as he left the room.

She might have watched him, if she had chosen to do so, and she would
have seen nothing unusual now--nothing but his dusty clothes and the
slight limp in his gait, caused by the loss of one low heel. He was
young, and his nerves were good, and he had a very strong incentive in
the shame he still felt. Moreover, under ordinary circumstances, even
the quantity he had drunk would not have produced any visible bodily
effect on him, however it might have affected his naturally uncertain
temper. It was quite true that the fall and the excitement of the
accident had shaken him.

He reached his own room, shut the door, and then sat down to look at
himself in the glass, as men under the influence of drink very often do,
for some mysterious reason. Possibly the drunken man has a vague idea
that he can get control over himself by staring at his own image, and
into the reflection of his own eyes. John Ralston never stayed before
the mirror longer than was absolutely necessary, except when he had
taken too much.

But to-day he was conscious that, in spite of appearances, he was
rapidly becoming bodily sober. If it had all happened at night, he would
have wound up at a club, and would probably have come home in the small
hours, in order to be sure of not finding his mother downstairs, and he
would have been in a very dubious condition. But the broad light, the
cold water, his profound shame and his natural nerve had now combined to
restore him, outwardly at least, and so far as he was conscious, to his
normal state.

He bathed, looked at the clock, and saw that it was not yet five, and
then dressed himself as though to go out. But, before doing so, he sat
down and smoked a cigarette. He felt nervously active now, refreshed and
able to face anything. Before he had half finished smoking he had made
up his mind to show himself to his mother and then to go for a walk
before dinner.

He glanced once more at the mirror to assure himself that he was not
mistaken, and was surprised at the quick change in his appearance. His
colour had come back, his eyes were quiet, the deeper lines were gone
from his face--lines which should never have been there at five and
twenty. He turned away, well pleased, and went briskly down the stairs,
though it was already growing dark, and the steps were high. After all,
he thought, it was probably the loss of the heel from his shoe that had
made him walk unsteadily. Such an absurd accident had never happened to
him before. He knocked at the door of his mother’s sitting-room, and she
bade him come in.

“You see, mother, it was nothing, after all,” he said, going up to her
as she sat before the fire.

She looked up, saw his face, and then smiled happily.

“I’m so glad, Jack,” she answered, springing to her feet and kissing
him. “You have no idea how you looked when I saw you there on the
landing. I thought you were really--quite--but quite, quite, you know,
my dear boy.”

She shook her head, still smiling, and holding both his hands.

“I’m going for a bit of a walk before dinner,” he said. “Then we’ll have
a quiet evening together, and I shall go to bed early.”

“That’s right. The walk will do you good. You’re quite wonderful, Jack!”
She laughed outright--he looked so perfectly sober. “Don’t drink any
more whiskey to-day!” she added, not half in earnest.

“Never fear!” And he laughed too, without any suspicion of himself.

He walked rapidly down the street in the warm glow of the evening,
heedless of the direction he took. By fate or by habit, he found himself
a quarter of an hour later opposite to Alexander Lauderdale’s house. He
paused, reflected a moment, then ascended the steps and rang the bell.

“Is Miss Katharine at home?” he enquired of the girl who opened the
door.

“Yes, sir. She came in a moment ago.”

John Ralston entered the house without further question.



CHAPTER III.


Ralston entered the library, as the room was called, although it did not
contain many books. The house was an old-fashioned one in Clinton Place,
which nowadays is West Eighth Street, between Fifth Avenue and Sixth
Avenue, a region respectable and full of boarding houses. In accordance
with the customs of the times in which it had been built, the ground
floor contained three good-sized rooms, known in all such houses as the
library, the drawing-room or ‘parlour,’ and the dining-room, which was
at the back and had windows upon the yard. The drawing-room, being under
the middle of the house, had no windows at all, and was therefore really
available only in the evening. The library, where Ralston waited, was on
the front.

There was an air of gravity about the place which he had never liked. It
was not exactly gloomy, for it was on too small a scale, nor vulgarly
respectable, for such objects as were for ornament were in good taste,
as a few engravings from serious pictures by great masters, a good
portrait of the primeval Alexander Lauderdale, a small bronze
reproduction of the Faun in the Naples museum, two or three fairly good
water-colours, which were apparently views of Scotch scenery, and a big
blue china vase with nothing in it. With a little better arrangement,
these things might have gone far. But the engravings and pictures were
hung with respect to symmetry rather than with regard to the light. The
stiff furniture was stiffly placed against the wall. The books in the
low shelves opposite to the fireplace were chiefly bound in black, in
various stages of shabbiness, and Ralston knew that they were largely
works on religion, and reports of institutions more or less educational
or philanthropic. There was a writing table near the window, upon which
a few papers and writing materials were arranged with a neatness not
business-like, but systematically neat for its own sake--the note paper
was piled with precision upon the middle of the blotter, upon which lay
also the penwiper, and a perfectly new stick of bright red sealing-wax,
so that everything would have to be moved before any one could possibly
write a letter. The carpet was old, and had evidently been taken to
pieces and the breadths refitted with a view to concealing the
threadbare parts, but with effect disastrous to the continuity of the
large green and black pattern. The house was heated by a furnace and
there was no fire in the grim fireplace. That was for economy, as
Ralston knew.

For the Lauderdales were evidently poor, though the old philanthropist
who lived upstairs was the only living brother of the arch-millionaire.
But Alexander Senior spent his life in getting as much as he could from
Robert in order to put it into the education of idiots, and would
cheerfully have fed his son and daughter-in-law and Katharine on bread
and water for the sake of educating one idiot more. The same is a part
of philanthropy when it becomes professional. Alexander Junior had a
magnificent reputation for probity, and was concerned in business, being
connected with the administration of a great Trust Company, which
brought him a fixed salary. Beyond that he assured his family that he
had never made a dollar in his life, and that only his health, which
indeed was of iron, stood between them and starvation, an argument which
he used with force to crush any frivolous tendency developed in his wife
and daughter. He had dark hair just turning to a steely grey, steel-grey
eyes, and a long, clean-shaven, steel-grey upper lip, but his eyebrows
were still black. His teeth were magnificent, but he had so little
vanity that he hardly ever smiled, except as a matter of politeness. He
had looked pleased, however, when Benjamin Slayback of Nevada had led
his daughter Charlotte from the altar. Slayback had loved the girl for
her beauty and had taken her penniless; and uncle Robert had given her a
few thousands for her bridal outfit. Alexander Junior had therefore
been at no expense for her marriage, except for the cake and
decorations, but it was long before he ceased to speak of his
expenditure for those items. As for Alexander Senior, he really had no
money except for idiots; he wore his clothes threadbare, had his
overcoats turned, and secretly bought his shoes of a little Italian
shoemaker in South Fifth Avenue. He was said to be over eighty years of
age, but was in reality not much older than his rich brother Robert.

It would be hard to imagine surroundings more uncongenial to Mrs.
Alexander Junior, as Katharine Lauderdale’s mother was generally called.
An ardent Roman Catholic, she was bound to a family of rigid
Presbyterians; a woman of keen artistic sense, she was wedded to a man
whose only measure of things was their money-value; a nature originally
susceptible to the charm of all outward surroundings, and inclining to a
taste for modest luxury rather than to excessive economy, she had
married one whom she in her heart believed to be miserly. She admitted,
indeed, that she would probably have married her husband again, under
like circumstances. The child of a ruined Southern family, loyal during
the Civil War, she had been brought early to New York, and almost as
soon as she was seen in society, Alexander Lauderdale had fallen in love
with her. He had seemed to her, as indeed he was still, a splendid
specimen of manhood; he was not rich, but was industrious and was the
nephew of the great Robert Lauderdale. Even her fastidious people could
not say that he was not, from a social point of view, of the best in New
York. She had loved him in a girlish fashion, and they had been married
at once. It was all very natural, and the union might assuredly have
turned out worse than it did.

Seeing that according to her husband’s continual assurances they were
growing poorer and poorer, Mrs. Alexander had long ago begun to turn her
natural gifts to account, with a view to making a little money wherewith
to provide herself and her daughters with a few harmless luxuries. She
had tried writing and had failed, but she had been more successful with
painting, and had produced some excellent miniatures. Alexander Junior
had at first protested, fearing the artistic tribe as a whole, and
dreading lest his wife should develop a taste for things Bohemian, such
as palms in the drawing-room, and going to the opera in the gallery
rather than not going at all. He did not think of anything else Bohemian
within the range of possibilities, except, perhaps, dirty fingers, which
disgusted him, and unpunctuality, which drove him mad. But when he saw
that his wife earned money, and ceased to ask him for small sums to be
spent on gloves and perishable hats, he rejoiced greatly, and began to
suggest that she should invest her savings, placing them in his hands at
five per cent interest. But poor Mrs. Alexander never was so successful
as to have any savings to invest. Her husband accepted gratefully a
miniature of the two girls which she once painted as a surprise and gave
him at Christmas, and he secretly priced it during the following week at
a dealer’s, and was pleased when the man offered him fifty dollars for
it,--which illustrates Alexander’s thoughtful disposition.

This was the household in which Katharine Lauderdale had grown up, and
these were the people whose characters, temperaments, and looks had
mingled in her own. So far as the latter point was concerned, she had
nothing to complain of. It was not to be expected that the children of
two such handsome people should be anything but beautiful, and Charlotte
and Katharine had plenty of beauty of different types, fair and dark
respectively. Charlotte was most like her mother in appearance, but more
closely resembled her father in nature. Katharine had inherited her
father’s face and strength of constitution with many of her mother’s
gifts, more or less modified and, perhaps, diminished in value. At the
time when this history begins, she was nineteen years old, and had been
what is called ‘out’ in society for more than a year. She therefore,
according to the customs of the country and age, enjoyed the privilege
of receiving alone the young gentlemen of her set who either admired her
or found pleasure in her conversation. Of the former there were many; of
the latter, a few.

Ralston stood with his back to the empty fireplace, staring at the dark
mahogany door which led to the regions of the staircase. He had only
waited five minutes, but he was in an impulsive frame of mind, and it
had seemed a very long time. At last the door opened. Katharine entered
the room, smiled and nodded to him, and then turned and shut the door
carefully before she came forward.

She was a very beautiful girl. No one could have denied that, in the
main. Yet there was something puzzling in the face, primarily due,
perhaps, to the mixture of races. The features were harmonious, strong
and, on the whole, noble and classic in outline, the mouth especially
being of a very pure type, and the curved lips of that creamy, salmon
rose-colour occasionally seen in dark persons--neither red, nor pink nor
pale. The very broadly marked dark eyebrows gave the face strength, and
the deep grey eyes, almost black at times, had an oddly fixed and
earnest look. In them there was no softness on ordinary occasions. They
expressed rather a determination to penetrate what they saw, not
altogether unmixed with wonder at the discoveries they made. The whole
face was boldly outlined, but by no means thin, and the skin was
perceptibly freckled, which is unusual with dark people, and is the
consequence of a red-haired strain in the inheritance. The primeval
Alexander had been a red-haired man, and Robert the Rich had resembled
him before he had grown grey. Charlotte Slayback had christened the
latter by that name. She had a sharp tongue, and called the primeval one
Alexander the Great, her grandfather Alexander the Idiot, and her father
Alexander the Safe. Katharine had her own opinions about most of the
family, but she did not express them so plainly.

She was still smiling as she met Ralston in the middle of the room.

“You look happy, dear,” he said, kissing her forehead softly.

“I’m not,” she answered. “I’m glad to see you. There’s a difference. Sit
down.”

“Has there been any trouble?” he asked, seating himself in a little low
chair beside the corner of the sofa she had chosen.

“Not exactly trouble--no. It’s the old story--only it’s getting so old
that I’m beginning to hate it. You understand.”

“Of course I do. I wish there were anything to be done--which you would
consent to do.” He added the last words as though by an afterthought.

“I’ll consent to almost anything, Jack.”

The smile had vanished from her face and she spoke in a despairing tone,
fixing her big eyes on his, and bending her heavy eyebrows as though in
bodily pain. He took her hand--firm, well-grown and white--in his and
laid it against his lean cheek.

“Dear!” he said.

His voice trembled a little, which was unusual. He felt unaccountably
emotional and was more in love than usual. The tone in which he spoke
the single word touched Katharine, and she leaned forward, laying her
other hand upon his other one.

“You do love me, Jack,” she said.

“God knows I do,” he answered, very earnestly, and again his voice
quavered.

It was very still in the room, and the dusk was creeping toward the
high, narrow windows, filling the corners, and blackening the shadowy
places, and then rising from the floor, almost like a tide, till only
the faces of the two young people seemed to be above it, still palely
visible in the twilight.

Suddenly Katharine rose to her feet, with a quick-drawn breath which was
not quite a sigh.

“Pull down the shades, Jack,” she said, as she struck a match and lit
the gas at one of the stiff brackets which flanked the mantelpiece.

Ralston obeyed in silence. When he came back she had resumed her seat
in the corner of the sofa, and he sat down beside her instead of taking
the chair again.

He did not speak at once, though it seemed to him that his heart had
never been so full before. As he looked at the lovely girl he felt a
thrill of passionate delight that ran through him and almost hurt him,
and left him at last with an odd sensation in the throat and a painful
sinking at the heart. He did not reflect upon its meaning, and he
certainly did not connect it with the reaction following what he had
made his nerves bear during the day. He was sincerely conscious that he
had never been so deeply, truly in love with Katharine before. She
watched him, understanding what he felt, smiling into his eyes, but
silent, too. They had known each other since they had been children, and
had loved one another since Katharine had been sixteen years old,--more
than three whole years, which is a long time for first love to endure,
unless it means to be last as well as the first.

“You said you would consent to almost anything,” said Ralston, after a
long pause. “It would be very simple for us to be married, in spite of
everybody. Shall we? Shall we, dear?” he asked, repeating the question.

“I would almost do that--” She turned her face away and stared at the
empty fireplace.

“Say, quite! After all, what can they all do? What is there so dreadful
to face, if we do get married? We must, one of these days. Life’s not
life without you--and death wouldn’t be death with you, darling,” he
added.

“Are you in earnest, Jack,--or are you making love to me?”

She asked the question suddenly, catching his hands and holding them
firmly together, and looking at him with eyes that were almost fierce.
The passion rose in his own, with a dark light, and his face grew pale.
Then he laughed nervously.

“I’m only laughing, of course--you see I am. Why must you take a fellow
in earnest?”

But there was nothing in his words that jarred upon her. He could not
laugh away the truth from his look, for truth it was at that moment,
whatever its source.

“I know--I understand,” she said, in a low voice. “We can’t live apart,
you and I.”

“It’s like tearing out fingers by the joints every time I leave you,”
Ralston answered. “It’s the resurrection of the dead to see you--it’s
the glory of heaven to kiss you.”

The words came to his lips ready, rough and strong, and when he had
spoken them, hers sealed every one of them upon his own, believing every
one of them, and trusting in the strength of him. Then she pushed him
away and leaned back in her corner, with half-closed eyes.

“I don’t know why I ever ask if you’re in earnest, dear,” she said. “I
know you are. It would kill me to think that you’re playing. Women are
always said to be foolish--perhaps it’s in that way--and I’m no better
than the rest of them. But you don’t spoil me in that way. You don’t
often say it as you did just now.”

“I never loved you as I do now,” said Ralston, simply.

“I feel it.”

“But I wish--well, impossibilities.”

“What? Tell me, Jack. I shall understand.”

“Oh--nothing. Only I wish I could find some way of proving it to you.
But people always say that sort of thing. We don’t live in the middle
ages.”

“I believe we do,” answered Katharine, thoughtfully. “I believe people
will say that we did, hundreds of years hence, when they write about us.
Besides--Jack--not that I want any proof, because I believe you--but
there is something you could do, if you would. I know you wouldn’t like
to do it.”

It flashed across Ralston’s mind that she was about to ask him to make a
great sacrifice for her, to give up wine for her sake, having heard,
perhaps--even probably--of some of his excesses. He was nervous,
overwrought and full of wild impulses that day, but he knew what such a
promise would mean in his simple code. He was not in any true sense
degraded, beyond the weakening of his will. In an instant so brief that
Katharine did not notice his hesitation he reviewed his whole life, so
familiar to him in its worse light that it rose instantaneously before
him as a complete picture. He felt positively sure of what she was about
to ask him, and as he looked into her great grey eyes he believed that
he could keep the pledge he was about to give her, that it would save
him from destruction, and that he should thus owe his happiness to her
more wholly than ever.

“I’ll do it,” he answered, and the fingers of his right hand slowly
closed till his fist was clenched.

“Thank you, dear one,” answered Katharine, softly. “But you mustn’t
promise until you know what it is.”

“I know what I’ve said.”

“But I won’t let you promise. You wouldn’t forgive me--you’d think that
I had caught you--that it was a trap--all sorts of things.”

Ralston smiled and shook his head. He felt quite sure of her and of
himself. And it would have been better for her and for him, if she had
asked what he expected.

“Jack,” she said, lowering her voice almost to a whisper, “I want you to
marry me privately--quite in secret--that’s what I mean. Not a human
being must know, but you and I and the clergyman.”

John Ralston looked into her face in thunder-struck astonishment. It is
doubtful whether anything natural or supernatural could have brought
such a look into his eyes. Katharine smiled, for the idea had long been
familiar to her.

“Confess that you were not prepared for that!” she said. “But you’ve
confessed it already.”

“Well--hardly for that--no.”

The look of surprise in his face gradually changed into one of wondering
curiosity, and his brows knit themselves into a sort of puzzled frown,
as though he were trying to solve a difficult problem.

“You see why I didn’t want you to promise anything rashly,” said
Katharine. “You couldn’t possibly foresee what I was going to ask any
more than you can understand why I ask it. Could you?”

“No. Of course not. Who could?”

“I’m not going to ask any one else to, you may be sure. In the first
place, do you think it wrong?”

“Wrong? That depends--there are so many things--” he hesitated.

“Say what you think, Jack. I want to know just what you think.”

“That’s the trouble. I hardly know myself. Of course there’s nothing
absolutely wrong in a secret marriage. No marriage is wrong, exactly, if
the people are free.”

“That’s the main thing I wanted to know,” said Katharine, quietly.

“Yes--but there are other things. Men don’t think it exactly honourable
to persuade a girl to be married secretly, against the wishes of her
people. A great many men would, but don’t. It’s somehow not quite fair
to the girl. Running away is all fair and square, if people are ready to
face the consequences. Perhaps it is that there are consequences to
face--that makes it a sort of pitched battle, and the parents generally
give in at the end, because there’s no other way out of it. But a secret
marriage--well, it doesn’t exactly have consequences, in the ordinary
way. The girl goes on living at home as though she were not married,
deceiving everybody all round--and so must the man. In fact it’s a kind
of lie, and I don’t like it.”

Ralston paused after this long speech, and was evidently deep in
thought.

“All you say is true enough--in a sense,” Katharine answered. “But when
it’s the only way to get married at all, the case is different. Don’t
you think so yourself? Wouldn’t you rather be secretly married than go
on like this--as this may go on, for ten, fifteen, twenty years--all our
lives?”

“Of course I would. But I don’t see why--”

“I do, and I want to make you see. Listen to my little speech, please.
First, we are both of age--I am so far as being married is concerned,
and we have an absolute right to do as we please about it--to be married
in the teeth of the lions, if that’s not a false metaphor--or
something--you know.”

“In the jaws of hell, for that matter,” said Ralston, fervently.

“Thank you for saying it. I’m only a girl and mustn’t use strong
language. Very well, we have a perfect right to do as we please. That’s
a great point. Then we have only to choose, and it becomes a matter of
judgment.”

“You talk like print,” laughed Ralston.

“So much the better. We have made up our minds that we can’t live
without each other, so we must be married somehow. You don’t think it’s
not--what shall I say?--not quite like a girl for me to talk in this
way, do you? We have talked of it so often, and we decided so long ago!”

“What nonsense! Be as plain as possible.”

“Because if you do--then I shall have to write it all to you, and I
can’t write well.”

Ralston smiled.

“Go on,” he said. “I’m waiting for the reasons.”

“They could simply starve us, Jack. We’ve neither of us a dollar in the
world.”

“Not a cent,” said Ralston, very emphatically. “If we had, we shouldn’t
be where we are.”

“And your mother can’t give you any money, and my father won’t give me
any.”

“And I’m a failure,” Ralston observed, with sudden grimness and hatred
of himself.

“Hush! You’ll be a success some day. That’s not the question. The point
is, if we tried to get married openly, there would be horrible scenes
first, and then war, and starvation afterwards. It’s not a pretty
prospect, but it’s true.”

“I suppose it is.”

“It’s so deadly true that it puts an open marriage out of the question
altogether. If there were nothing else to be done, it would be
different. I’d rather starve than give you up. But there is a way out of
it. We can be married secretly. In that way we shall avoid the scenes
and the war.”

“And then wait for something to happen? We should be just where we are
now. To all intents and purposes you would be Spinster Lauderdale and I
should be Bachelor Ralston. I don’t see that it would be the slightest
improvement on the present situation--honestly, I don’t. I’m not
romantic, as people are in books. I don’t think it would be sweeter than
life to call you wife, and when we’re married I shall call you Katharine
just the same. I don’t distrust you. You know I don’t. I’m not really
afraid that you’ll go and marry Ham Bright, or Frank Miner, nor even the
most desirable young man in New York, who has probably proposed to you
already. I’m not vain, but I know you love me. I should be a brute if I
doubted it--”

“Yes--I think you would, dear,” said Katharine, with great directness.

“So that since I’m to wait for you till ‘something happens’--never mind
to whom, and long life to all of them!--I’d rather wait as we are than
go through it with a pack of lies to carry.”

“I like you, Jack--besides loving you. It’s quite another feeling, you
know. You’re such a man!”

“I wish I were half what you think I am.”

“I’ll think what I please. It’s none of your dear business. But you
haven’t heard half I have to say yet. I’ll suppose that we’re
married--secretly. Very well. That same day, or the next day, and as
soon as possible, I shall go to uncle Robert and tell him the whole
truth.”

“To uncle Robert!” exclaimed Ralston, who had not yet come to the end of
the surprises in store for him. “And ask him for some money, I suppose?
That won’t do, Katharine. Indeed it won’t. I should be letting you go
begging for me. That’s the plain English of it. No, no! That can’t be
done.”

“You’ll find it hard to prevent me from begging for you, or working for
you either, if you ever need it,” said Katharine. There was a certain
grand simplicity about the plain statement.

“You’re too good for me,” said Ralston, in a low voice, and for the
third time there was a quiver in his tone. Moreover, he felt an
unaccustomed moisture in his eyes which gave him pleasure, though he was
ashamed of it.

“No, I’m not--not a bit too good for you. But I like to hear--I don’t
know why it is, but your voice touches me to-day. It seems changed.”

Ralston was truthful and honourable. If he had himself understood the
causes of his increased emotion, he would have hanged himself rather
than have let Katharine say what she did, without telling her what had
happened. He drank, and he knew it, and of late he had been drinking
hard, but it was the first time that he had ever spoken to Katharine
Lauderdale when he had been drinking, and he was deceived by his own
apparent soberness beyond the possibility of believing that he was on
the verge of being slightly hysterical. Let them who doubt the
possibility of such a case question those who have watched a thousand
cases.

There was a little pause after Katharine’s last words. Then she went
on,--explaining her project.

“Uncle Robert always says that nobody understands him as I do. I shall
try and make him understand me, for a change. I shall tell him just what
has happened, and I shall tell him that he must find work for you to do,
since you’re perfectly capable of working if you only have a fair
chance. You never had one. I don’t call it a chance to put an active man
like you into a gloomy law office to copy fusty documents. And I don’t
call it giving you a chance to glue you to a desk in Beman Brothers’
bank. You’re not made for that sort of work. Of course you were
disgusted and refused to go on. I should have done just the same.”

“Oh, you would--I’m quite sure!” answered Ralston, with conviction.

“Naturally. Not but that I’m just as capable of working as you are,
though. To go back to uncle Robert. It’s just impossible, with all his
different interests, all over the country, and with his influence--and
you know what that is--that he should not have something for you to do.
Besides, he’ll understand us. He’s a great big man, on a big scale, a
head and shoulders mentally bigger than all the rest of the family.”

“That’s true,” assented Ralston.

“And he knows that you don’t want to take money without giving an
equivalent for it.”

“He’s known that all along. I don’t see why he should put himself out
any more now--”

“Because I’ll make him,” said Katharine, firmly. “I can do that for you,
and if you torture your code of honour into fits you can’t make it tell
you that a wife should not do that sort of thing for her husband. Can
you?”

“I don’t know,” answered Ralston, smiling. “I’ve tried it myself often
enough with the old gentleman. He says I’ve had two chances and have
thrown them up, and that, after all, my mother and I have quite enough
to live on comfortably, so he supposes that I don’t care for work. I
told him that enough was not nearly so good as a feast. He laughed and
said he knew that, but that people couldn’t stand feasting unless they
worked hard. The last time I saw him, he offered to make Beman try me
again. But I couldn’t stand that.”

“Of course not.”

“I can’t stand anything where I produce no effect, and am not to earn my
living for ever so long. I wasn’t to have any salary at Beman’s for a
year, you know, because I knew nothing about the work. And it was the
same at the lawyer’s office--only much longer to wait. I could work at
anything I understood, of course. But I suppose I do know precious
little that’s of any use. It can’t be helped, now.”

“Yes, it can. But you see my plan. Uncle Robert will be so taken off his
feet that he’ll find you something. Then the whole thing will be
settled. It will probably be something in the West. Then we’ll declare
ourselves. There’ll be one stupendous crash, and we shall disappear from
the scene, leaving the family to like it or not, as they please. In the
end they will like it. There would be no lies to act--at least, not
after two or three days. It wouldn’t take longer than that to arrange
things.”

“It all depends on uncle Robert, it seems to me,” said Ralston,
doubtfully. “A runaway match would come to about the same thing in the
end. I’ll do that, if you like.”

“I won’t. It must be done in my way, or not at all. If we ran away we
should have to come back to see uncle Robert, and we should find him
furious. He’d tell us to go back to our homes, separately, till we had
enough to live on--or to go and live with your mother. I won’t do that
either. She’s not able to support us both.”

“No--frankly, she’s not.”

“And uncle Robert would be angry, wouldn’t he? He has a fearful temper,
you know.”

“Yes--he probably would be raging.”

“Well, then?”

“I don’t like it, Katharine dear--I don’t like it.”

“Then you can never marry me at all, Jack. At least, I’m afraid not.”

“Never?” Ralston’s expression changed suddenly.

“There’s another reason, Jack dear. I didn’t want to speak of it--now.”



CHAPTER IV.


Ralston said nothing at first. Then he looked at Katharine as though
expecting that she should speak again and explain her meaning, in spite
of her having said that she had not meant to do so.

“What is this other reason?” he asked, after a long pause.

“It would take so long to tell you all about it,” she answered,
thoughtfully. “And even if I did, I am not sure that you would
understand. It belongs--well--to quite another set of ideas.”

“It must be something rather serious if it means marriage now, or
marriage never.”

“It is serious. And the worst of it is that you will laugh at it--and I
am sure you will say that I am not honest to myself. And yet I am. You
see it is connected with things about which you and I don’t think
alike.”

“Religion?” suggested Ralston, in a tone of enquiry.

Katharine bowed her head slowly, sighed just audibly and looked away
from him as she leaned back. Nothing could have expressed more clearly
her conviction that the subject was one upon which they could never
agree.

“I don’t see why you should sigh about it,” said Ralston, in a tone
which expressed relief rather than perplexity. “I often wonder why
people generally look so sad when they talk about religion. Almost
everybody does.”

“How ridiculous!” exclaimed Katharine, with a little laugh. “Besides, I
wasn’t sighing, exactly--I was only wishing it were all arranged.”

“Your religion?”

“Don’t talk like that. I’m in earnest. Don’t laugh at me, Jack
dear--please!”

“I’m not laughing. Can’t you tell me how religion bears on the matter in
hand? That’s all I need to know. I don’t laugh at religion--at yours or
any one else’s. I believe I have a little inclination to it myself.”

“Yes, I know. But--well--I don’t think you have enough to save a
fly--not the smallest little fly, Jack. Never mind--you’re just as nice,
dear. I don’t like men who preach.”

“I’m glad of it. But what has all this to do with our getting married?”

“Listen. It’s perfectly clear to me, and you can understand if you will.
I have almost made up my mind to become a Catholic--”

“You?” Ralston stared at her in surprise. “You--a Roman Catholic?”

“Yes--Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic. Is that clear, Jack?”

“Perfectly. I’m sorry.”

“Now don’t be a Puritan, Jack--”

“I’m not a Puritan. I haven’t a drop of Puritan blood. You have,
Katharine, for your grandmother was one of the real old sort. I’ve heard
my father say so.”

“You’re just as much a Lauderdale as I am,” retorted Katharine. “And if
Scotch Presbyterians are not Puritans, what is? But that isn’t what I
mean. It’s the tendency to wish that people were nothing at all rather
than Catholics.”

“It’s not that. I’m not so prejudiced. I was thinking of the row--that’s
all. You don’t mean to keep that a secret, too? It wouldn’t be like
you.”

“No, indeed,” answered Katharine, proudly.

“Well--you’ve not told me what the connection is between this and our
marriage. You don’t suppose that it will really make any difference to
me, do you? You can’t. And you’re quite mistaken about my Puritanism. I
would much rather that my wife should be a Roman Catholic than nothing
at all. I’m broad enough for that, anyhow. Of course it’s a serious
matter, because people sometimes do that kind of thing and then find out
that they have made a mistake--when it’s too late. And there’s something
ridiculous and undignified about giving it up again when it’s once
done. Religion seems to be a good deal like politics. You may change
once--people won’t admire you--I mean people on your old side--but they
will tolerate you. But if you change twice--”

“I’m not going to change twice. I’ve not quite, quite made up my mind to
change once, yet. But if I do, it will make things--I mean, our
marriage--almost impossible.”

“Why?”

“The Catholics do everything they can to prevent mixed marriages,
Jack,--especially in our country. You would have to make all sorts of
promises which you wouldn’t like, and which I shouldn’t want you to
make--”

Ralston laughed, suddenly comprehending her point of view.

“I see!” he exclaimed.

“Of course you see. It’s as plain as day. I want to make sure of
you--dear,”--she laid her hand softly on his,--“and I also want to be
sure of being perfectly free to change my mind about my religion, if I
wish to. It’s a stroke of diplomacy.”

“I don’t know much about diplomatic proceedings,” laughed Ralston, “but
this strikes me as--well--very intelligent, to say the least of it.”

Katharine’s face became very grave, and she withdrew her hand.

“You mean that it does not seem to you perfectly honest,” she said.

“I didn’t say that,” he answered, his expression changing with hers. “Of
course the idea is that if you are married to me before you become a
Catholic, your church can have nothing to say to me when you do.”

“Of course--yes. You couldn’t be called upon to make any promises. But
if I should decide, after all, not to take the step, there would be no
harm done. On the contrary, I shall have the advantage of being able to
put pressure on uncle Robert, as I explained to you before.”

“I didn’t say I thought it wasn’t honest,” said Ralston. “It’s rather
deep, and I’m always afraid that deep things may not be quite straight.
I should like to think about it, if you don’t mind.”

“I want you to decide. I’ve thought about it.”

“Yes--but--”

“Well? Suppose that, after thinking it over for ever so long, you should
come to the conclusion that I should not be acting perfectly honestly to
my conscience--that’s the worst you could discover, isn’t it? Even
then--and I believe it’s an impossible case--it’s my conscience and not
yours. If you were trying to persuade me to a secret marriage because
you were afraid of the consequences, it would be different--”

“Rather!” exclaimed Ralston, vehemently.

“But you’re not. You see, the main point is on my account, and it’s I
who am doing all the persuading, for that reason. It may be un--un--what
shall I call it--not like a girl at all. But I don’t care. Why shouldn’t
I tell you that I love you? We’ve both said it often enough, and we both
mean it, and I mean to be married to you. The religious question is a
matter of conviction. You have no convictions, so you can’t
understand--”

“I have one or two--little ones.”

“Not enough to understand what I feel--that if religion is anything,
then it’s everything except our love. No--that wasn’t an afterthought.
It’s not coming between you and me. Nothing can. But it’s everything
else in life, or else it’s nothing at all and not worth speaking of. And
if it is--if it really is--why then, for me, as I look at it, it means
the Catholic Church. If I talk as though I were not quite sure, it’s
because I want to be quite on the safe side. And if I want you to do
this thing--it’s because I want to be absolutely sure that hereafter no
human being shall come between us. I know all about the difficulties in
these mixed marriages. I’ve made lots of enquiries. There’s no question
of faith, or belief, or anything of the sort in their objections. It’s
simply a matter of church politics, and I daresay that they are quite
right about it, from their point of view, and that if one is once with
them one must be with them altogether, in policy as well as in religion.
But I’m not as far as that yet. Perhaps I never shall be, after all. I
want to make sure of you--oh, Jack, don’t you understand? I can’t talk
well, but I know just what I mean. Tell me you understand, and that
you’ll do what I ask!”

“It’s very hard!” said Ralston, bending his head and looking at the
carpet. “I wish I knew what to do.”

Woman-like, she saw that she was beginning to get the advantage.

“Go over it all, dear. In the first place, it’s entirely for my sake,
and not in the least for yours. So you can’t say there’s anything
selfish in it, if you do it for me, can you? You don’t want to do it,
you don’t like it, and if you do it you’ll be making a sacrifice to
please me.”

“In marrying you!” Ralston laughed a little and then became very grave
again.

“Yes, in marrying me. It’s a mere formality, and nothing else. We’re not
going to run away afterwards, nor meet in the dark in Gramercy Park nor
do anything in the least different from what we’ve always done, until
I’ve got what I want from uncle Robert. Then we’ll acknowledge the whole
thing, and I’ll take all the blame on myself, if there is any--”

“You’ll do nothing of the kind,” interrupted Ralston.

“Unless you tell a story that’s not true, you won’t be able to find
anything to blame yourself with,” answered Katharine. “So it will be all
over, and it will save no end of bother--and expense. Which is
something, as neither of us, nor our people, have any money to speak of,
and a wedding costs ever so much. I needn’t even have a trousseau--just
a few things, of course--and poor papa will be glad of that. You needn’t
laugh. You’ll be doing him a service, as well as me. And you see how I
can put it to uncle Robert, don’t you? ‘Uncle Robert, we’re
married--that’s all. What are you going to do about it?’ Nothing could
be plainer than that, could it?”

“Nothing!”

“Now he will simply have to do something. Perhaps he’ll be angry at
first, but that won’t last long. He’ll get over it and laugh at my
audacity. But that isn’t the main point. It’s perfectly conceivable that
you might work and slave at something you hate for years and years,
until we could get married in the regular way. The principal question is
the other--my freedom afterwards to do exactly as I please about my
religion without any possibility of any one interfering with our
marriage.”

“Katharine! Do you really mean to say that if you were a Catholic, and
if the priests said that we shouldn’t be married, you would submit?”

“If I couldn’t, I couldn’t,” Katharine answered. “If I were a Catholic,
and a good Catholic,--I wouldn’t be a bad one,--no marriage but a
Catholic one would be a marriage at all for me. And if they refused it,
what could I do? Go back? That would be lying to myself. To marry you in
some half regular way--”

“Hush, child! You don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“Yes, I do--perfectly. And you wouldn’t like that. So you see what my
position is. It’s absolutely necessary to my future happiness that we
should be quietly married some morning--to-morrow, if you like, but
certainly in a day or two--and that nobody should know anything about
it, until I’ve told uncle Robert.”

“After all,” said Ralston, hesitating, “it will be very much the same
thing as though we were to run away, provided we face everybody at
once.”

“Very much better, because there’ll be no scandal--and no immediate
starvation, which is something worth considering.”

“It won’t really be a secret marriage, except for the mere ceremony,
then. That looks different, somehow.”

“Of course. You don’t suppose that I thought of taking so much trouble
and doing such a queer thing just for the sake of knowing all to myself
that I was married, do you? Besides, secrets are always idiotic things.
Somebody always lets them out before one is ready. And it’s not as
though there were any good reason in the world why we should not be
married, except the money question. We’re of age--and suited to each
other--and all that.”

“Naturally!” And Ralston laughed again.

“Well, then--it seems to me that it’s all perfectly clear. It amounts to
telling everybody the day after, instead of the day before the wedding.
Do you see?”

“I suppose I ought to go on protesting, but you do make it very clear
that there’s nothing underhand about it, except the mere ceremony. And
as you say, we have a perfect right to be married if we please.”

“And we do please--don’t we?”

“With all our hearts,” Ralston answered, in a dreamy tone.

“Then when shall it be, Jack?” Katharine leaned towards him and touched
his hand with her fingers as though to rouse him from the reverie into
which he seemed to be falling.

The touch thrilled him, and he looked up suddenly and met her glance. He
looked at her steadily for a moment, and once more he felt that odd,
pleasurable, unmanly moisture in his

[Illustration: “She rose suddenly and pretended to busy herself with the
single light.”--Vol. I., p. 79.]

eyes, with a sweeping wave of emotion that rose from his heart with a
rush as though it would burst his throat. He yielded to it altogether
this time, and catching her in his arms drew her passionately to him,
kissing her again and again, as though he had never kissed her before.
He did not understand it himself, and Katharine was not used to it. But
she loved him, too, with all her heart, as it seemed to her. She had
proved it to him and to herself more completely within the last half
hour, and she let her own arms go round him. Then a deep, dark blush
which she could feel, rose slowly from her throat to her cheeks, and she
instinctively disentangled herself from him and drew gently back.

“Remember that it’s for my sake--not for yours, dear,” she said.

Her grey eyes were as deep as the dusk itself. Vaguely she guessed her
power as she gave him one more long look, and then rose suddenly and
pretended to busy herself with the single light, turning it up a little
and then down. Ralston watched the springing curves that outlined her
figure as she reached upward. He was in many ways a strangely refined
man, in spite of all his sins, and of his besetting sin in particular,
and refinement in others appealed to him strongly when it was healthy
and natural. He detested the diaphanous type of semi-consumptive with
the angel face, man or woman, and declared that a skeleton deserved no
credit for looking refined, since it could not possibly look anything
else. But he delighted in delicacy of touch and grace of movement when
it went with such health and strength as Katharine had.

“You are the most divinely beautiful thing on earth,” he said, quietly.

Katharine laughed, but still turned her face away from him.

“Then marry me,” she said, laughing. “What a speech!” she cried an
instant later. “Just fancy if any one could hear me, not knowing what
we’ve been talking about!”

“You were just in time, then,” said Ralston. “There’s some one coming.”

Katharine turned quickly, listened a moment, and distinguished a
footfall on the stairs outside the door. She nodded, and came to his
side at once.

“You will, Jack,” she said under her breath. “Say that you will--quick!”

Ralston hesitated one moment. He tried to think, but her eyes were upon
him and he seemed to be under a spell. They were close together, and
there was not much light in the room. He felt that the shadow of
something unknown was around them both--that somewhere in the room a
sweet flower was growing, not like other flowers, not common nor scented
with spring--a plant full of softly twisted tendrils and pale petals
and in-turned stamens--a flower of moon-leaf and fire-bloom and
dusk-thorn--drooping above their two heads like a blossom-laden bough
bending heavily over two exquisite statues--two statues that did not
speak, whose faces did not change as the night stole silently upon
them--but they were side by side, very near, and the darkness was sweet.

It was only an instant. Then their lips met.

“Yes,” he whispered, and drew back as the door opened.

Mrs. Lauderdale entered the room.

“Oh, are you there, Jack?” she asked, but without any surprise, as
though she were accustomed to find him with Katharine.

“Yes,” answered Ralston, quietly. “I’ve been here ever so long. How do
you do, cousin Emma?”

“Oh, I’m so tired!” exclaimed Mrs. Lauderdale. “I’ve been working all
day long. I positively can’t see.”

“You ought not to work so hard,” said Ralston. “You’ll wear your eyes
out.”

“No, I’m strong, and so are my eyes. I only wanted to say that I was
tired. It’s such a relief!”

Mrs. Lauderdale had been a very beautiful woman, and was, indeed, only
just beginning to lose her beauty. She was much taller than either of
her daughters, but of a different type of figure from Katharine, and
less evenly grown, if such an expression may be permitted. The hand was
typical of the difference. Mrs. Lauderdale’s was extremely long and
thin, but well made in the details, though out of proportion in the way
of length and narrowness as a whole. Katharine’s hand was firm and full,
without being what is called a thick hand. There was a more perfect
balance between flesh and bone in the straight, strong fingers. Mrs.
Lauderdale had been one of those magnificent fair beauties occasionally
seen in Kentucky,--a perfect head with perfect but small features,
superb golden hair, straight, clear eyes, a small red mouth,--great
dignity of carriage, too, with the something which has been christened
‘dash’ when she moved quickly, or did anything with those long hands of
hers,--a marvellous constitution, and the dazzling complexion of snow
and carnations that goes with it, very different from the softer ‘milk
and roses’ of the Latin poet’s mistress. Mrs. Lauderdale had always been
described as dazzling, and people who saw her for the first time used
the word even now to convey the impression she made. Her age, which was
known only to some members of the family, and which is not of the
slightest importance to this history, showed itself chiefly in a
diminution of this dazzling quality. The white was less white, the
carnation was becoming a common pink, the gold of her hair was no longer
gold all through, but distinctly brown in many places, though it would
certainly never turn grey until extreme old age. Her movements, too,
were less free, though stately still,--the brutal word ‘rheumatism’ had
been whispered by the family doctor,--and to go back to her face, there
were undeniably certain tiny lines, and many of them, which were not the
lines of beauty.

It was a brave, good face, on the whole, gifted, sometimes sympathetic,
and oddly cold when the woman’s temper was most impulsive. For there is
an expression of coldness which weakness puts on in self-defence. A
certain narrowness of view, diametrically opposed to a corresponding
narrowness in her husband’s mind, did not show itself in her features.
There is a defiant, supremely satisfied look which shows that sort of
limitation. Possibly such narrowness was not natural with Mrs.
Lauderdale, but the result of having been systematically opposed on
certain particular grounds throughout more than a quarter of a century
of married life. However that may be, it was by this time a part of her
nature, though not outwardly expressed in any apparent way.

She had not been very happy with Alexander Junior, and she admitted the
fact. She knew also that she had been a good wife to him in every fair
sense of the word. For although she had enjoyed compensations, she had
taken advantage of them in a strictly conscientious way. Undeniable
beauty, of the kind which every one recognizes instantly without the
slightest hesitation, is so rare a gift that it does indeed compensate
its possessor for many misfortunes, especially when she enjoys amusement
for its own sake, innocently and without losing her head or becoming
spoiled and affected by constant admiration. Katharine Lauderdale had
not that degree of beauty, and there were numerous persons who did not
even care for what they called ‘her style.’ Her sister Charlotte had
something of her mother’s brilliancy, indeed, but there was a hardness
about her face and nature which was apparent at first sight. Mrs.
Alexander had always remained the beauty of the family, and indeed the
beauty of the society to which she belonged, even after her daughters
had been grown up. She had outshone them, even in a world like that of
New York, which does not readily compare mothers and daughters in any
way, and asks them out separately as though they did not belong to each
other.

She had not been very happy, and apart from any purely imaginary bliss,
procurable only by some miraculous changes in Alexander Junior’s heart
and head, she believed that the only real thing lacking was money. She
had always been poor. She had never known what seemed to her the supreme
delight of sitting in her own carriage. She had never tasted the
pleasure of having five hundred dollars to spend on her fancies,
exactly as she pleased. The question of dress had always been more or
less of a struggle. She had not exactly extravagant tastes, but she
should have liked to feel once in her life that she was at liberty to
throw aside a pair of perfectly new gloves, merely because when she put
them on the first time one of the seams was a little crooked, or the
lower part was too loose for her narrow hand. She had always felt that
when she had bought a thing she must wear it out, as a matter of
conscience, even if it did not suit her. And there was a real little
pain in the thought, of which she was ashamed. Small things, but womanly
and human. Then, too, there was the constant chafing of her pardonable
pride when ninety-nine of her acquaintances all did the same thing, and
she was the hundredth who could not afford it--and the subscriptions and
the charity concerts and the theatre parties. It was mainly in order to
supply herself with a little money for such objects as these that she
had worked so hard at her painting for years--that she might not be
obliged to apply to her husband for such sums on every occasion. She had
succeeded to some extent, too, and her initials had a certain
reputation, even with the dealers. Many people knew that those same
initials were hers, and a few friends were altogether in her confidence.
Possibly if she had been less beautiful, she would have been spoken
of at afternoon teas as ‘poor Mrs. Lauderdale,’ and people would
have been found--for society has its kindly side--who would have
half-surreptitiously paid large sums for bits of her work, even much
more than her miniatures could ever be worth. But she did not excite
pity. She looked rich, as some people do to their cost. People
sympathized with her in the matter of Alexander Junior’s character, for
he was not popular. But no one thought of pitying her because she was
poor. On the contrary, many persons envied her. It must be ‘such fun,’
they said, to be able to paint and really sell one’s paintings. A
dashing woman with a lot of talent, who can make a few hundreds in half
an hour when she chooses, said others. What did she spend the money on?
On whatever she pleased--probably in charity, she was so good-hearted.
But those people did not see her as Jack Ralston saw her, worn out with
a long day’s work, her eyes aching, her naturally good temper almost on
edge; and they did not know that Katharine Lauderdale’s simple ball
gowns were paid for by the work of her mother’s hands. It was just as
well that they did not know it. Society has such queer fits
sometimes--somebody might have given Katharine a dress. But Ralston was
in the secret and knew.

“One may be as strong as cast-steel,” he said. “Even that wears out.
Ask the people who make engines. You’ll accomplish a great deal more if
you go easy and give yourself rest from time to time.”

“Like you, Jack,” observed Mrs. Lauderdale, not unkindly.

“Oh, I’m a failure. I admitted the fact long ago. I’m only fit for a bad
example,--a sort of moral scarecrow.”

“Yes. I wonder why?” Mrs. Lauderdale was tired and was thinking aloud.
“I didn’t mean to say that, Jack,” she added, frankly, realizing what
she had said, from the recollection of the sound of her own voice, as
people sometimes do who are exhausted or naturally absent-minded.

“It wasn’t exactly complimentary, mother,” said Katharine, coldly.
“Besides, is it fair to say that a man is a failure at Jack’s age?
Patrick Henry was a failure at twenty-three. He was bankrupt.”

“Patrick Henry!” exclaimed Ralston. “What do you know about Patrick
Henry?”

“Oh, I’ve been reading history. It was he who said, ‘Give me liberty, or
give me death.’”

“Was it? I didn’t know. But I’m glad to hear of somebody who got smashed
first and celebrated afterwards. It’s generally the other way, like
Napoleon and Julius Cæsar.”

“Cardinal Wolsey, Alexander the Great, and John Gilpin. It’s easy to
multiply examples, as the books say.”

“You’re much too clever for me this evening. I must be going home. My
mother and I are going to dine all alone and abuse our neighbours all
the evening.”

“How delightful!” exclaimed Katharine, thinking of the grim family table
at which she was to sit as usual--there had been some fine fighting in
Charlotte’s unmarried days, but Katharine’s opposition was generally of
the silent kind.

“Yes,” answered Ralston. “There’s nobody like my mother. She’s the best
company in the world. Good night, cousin Emma. Good night, Katharine.”

But Katharine followed him into the entry, letting the library door
almost close behind her.

“It will be quite time enough, if you come and tell me on the evening
before it is to be,” she whispered hurriedly. “There’s no party
to-morrow night, but on Wednesday I’m going to the Thirlwalls’ dance.”

“Will any morning do?” asked Ralston, also in a whisper.

“Yes, any morning. Now go--quick. That’s enough, dear--there, if you
must. Go--good night--dear!”

The process of leave-taking was rather spasmodic, so far as Katharine
was concerned. Ralston felt that same strange emotion once more as he
found himself out upon the pavement of Clinton Place. His head swam a
little, and he stopped to light a cigarette before he turned towards
Fifth Avenue.

Katharine went back into the library, and found her mother sitting as
the two had left her, and apparently unconscious that her daughter had
gone out of the room.

“He’s quite right, mother dear. You are trying to do too much,” said
Katharine, coming behind the low chair and smoothing her mother’s
beautiful hair, kissing it softly and speaking into the heavy waves of
it.

Mrs. Lauderdale put up one thin hand, and patted the girl’s cheek
without turning to look at her, but said nothing for a moment.

“It’s quite true,” Katharine said. “You mustn’t do it any more.”

“How smooth your cheek is, child!” said Mrs. Lauderdale, thoughtfully.

“So is yours, mother dear.”

“No--it’s not. It’s full of little lines. Touch it--you can feel
them--just there. Besides--you can see them.”

“I don’t feel anything--and I don’t see anything,” answered Katharine.

But she knew what her mother meant, and it made her a little sad--even
her. She had been accustomed all her life to believe that her mother was
the most beautiful woman in the world, and she knew that the time had
just come when she must grow used to not believing it any longer. Mrs.
Lauderdale had never said anything of the sort before. She had been
supreme in her way, and had taken it for granted that she was, never
referring to her own looks under any circumstances.

In the long silence that followed, Katharine quietly went and closed the
shutters of the windows, for Ralston had only pulled down the shades.
She drew the dark curtains across for the evening, lit another gaslight,
and remained standing by the fireplace.

“Thank you, darling,” said Mrs. Lauderdale.

“I do wish papa would let us have lamps, or shades, or something,” said
Katharine, looking disconsolately at the ground-glass globes of the
gaslights.

“He doesn’t like them--he says he can’t see.”

There was a short pause.

“Oh, mother dear! what in the world does papa like, I wonder?” Katharine
turned with an impatient movement as she spoke, and her broad eyebrows
almost met between her eyes.

“Hush, child!” But the words were uttered wearily and mechanically--Mrs.
Lauderdale had pronounced them so often under precisely the same
circumstances during the last quarter of a century.

Katharine sighed, a little out of impatience and to some extent in pity
for her mother. But she stood looking across the room at the closed
door through which Ralston and she had gone out together five minutes
earlier, and she could still feel his last kiss on her cheek. He had
never seemed so loving as on that day, and she had succeeded in
persuading him, against his instinctive judgment, to promise her what
she asked,--the maddest, most foolish thing a girl’s imagination could
long for, no matter with what half-reasonable excuse. But she had his
promise, which, as she well knew, he would keep--and she loved him with
all her heart. The expression of mingled sadness and impatience vanished
like a breath from a polished mirror. She was unconscious that she
looked radiantly happy, as her mother gazed up into her face.

“What a beautiful creature you are!” said Mrs. Lauderdale, in a tone
unlike her natural voice.



CHAPTER V.


Katharine had no anxiety about the future, and it seemed to her that she
had managed matters in the wisest and most satisfactory manner possible.
She had provided, as she thought, against the possibility of any
subsequent interference with her marriage in case she should see fit to
take the step of which she had spoken. The combination seemed perfect,
and even a sensible person, taking into consideration all the
circumstances, might have found something to say in favour of a marriage
which should not be generally discussed. Ralston and Katharine, though
not rich, were decidedly prominent young people in their own society,
and their goings and comings interested the gossips and furnished food
for conversation. There were many reasons for this. Neither of them was
exactly like the average young person in the world. But the great name
of Lauderdale, which was such a real power in the financial world,
contributed most largely to the result. Every one who bore it, or who
was as closely connected with it as the Ralstons, was more or less
before the public. Most of the society paragraph writers in the
newspapers spoke of the family, collectively and individually, as often
as they could find anything to say about it, and as a general rule the
tone of their remarks was subdued and laudatory, and betrayed something
very like awe. The presence of the Lauderdales and the Ralstons was
taken for granted in all accounts of big parties, first nights at the
opera and Daly’s, and of other similar occasions. From time to time a
newspaper man in a fit of statistics calculated how many dollars of
income accrued to Robert Lauderdale at every minute, and proceeded to
show how much each member of the family would have if it were all
equally divided. As Robert the Rich had made his money in real estate,
and his name never appeared in connection with operations in Wall
Street, he was therefore not periodically assailed by the wrathful
chorus of the sold and ruined, abusing him and his people to the
youngest of the living generation, an ordeal with which the great
speculators are familiar. But from time to time the daily papers
published wood-cuts supposed to be portraits of him and his connections,
and the obituary notice of him--which was, of course, kept ready in
every newspaper office--would have given even the old gentleman himself
some satisfaction. The only member of the family who suffered at all for
being connected with him was Benjamin Slayback, the member of Congress.
If he ever dared to hint at any measure implying expenditure on the part
of the country, he was promptly informed by some Honourable Member on
the other side, that it was all very well for him to be reckless, with
the whole Lauderdale fortune at his back, but that ordinary mortals had
to content themselves with ordinary possibilities. The member from
California called him the Eastern Crœsus, and the member from
Massachusetts called him the Western Millionaire, and the member from
Missouri quoted Scripture at him, while the Social-Democrat member from
Somewhere--there was one at that time, and he was a little curiosity in
his way--called him a Capitalist, than which epithet the
social-democratic dictionary contains none more biting and more
offensive in the opinion of its compilers. Altogether, at such times the
Honourable Slayback of Nevada had a very bad quarter of an hour because
he had married Charlotte Lauderdale,--penniless but a Lauderdale, very
inadequately fitted out for a bride, though she was the grand-niece of
Robert the Rich. Slayback of Nevada, however, had a certain rough
dignity of his own, and never mentioned those facts. He had plenty of
money himself and did not covet any that belonged to his wife’s
relations.

“I’m not as rich as your uncle Robert,” he said to her on the day after
their marriage, “and I don’t count on being. But you can have all you
want. There’s enough to go round, now. Maybe you wouldn’t like to be
bothering me all the while for little things? Yes, that’s natural; so
I’ll just put something up to your credit at Riggs’s and you can have a
cheque-book. When you’ve got through it, tell Riggs to let me know. You
might be shy of telling me.”

And Benjamin Slayback smiled in a kindly fashion not at all familiar to
his men friends, and on the following day Charlotte received a notice
from the bank to the effect that ten thousand dollars stood to her
credit. Never having had any money of her own, the sum seemed a fortune
to her, and she showed herself properly grateful, and forgave Benjamin a
multitude of small sins, even such as having once worn a white satin tie
in the evening, and at the opera, of all places.

Katharine was perfectly well aware that the smallest actions of her
family were subjects for public discussion, and she knew how people
would talk if it were ever discovered that she had been secretly married
to John Ralston. On the other hand, the rest of the Lauderdales were in
the same position, and would be quite willing, when they were acquainted
with the facts, to say that the marriage had been a private one, leaving
it to be supposed that they had known all about it from the first. She
had no anxiety for the future, therefore, and believed that she was
acting with her eyes open to all conceivable contingencies and
possibilities. Matters were not, indeed, finally settled, for even after
she was married she would still have the interview with her uncle to
face; but she felt sure of the result. It was so easy for him to do
exactly what he pleased, as it seemed to her, to make or unmake men’s
fortunes at his will, as she could tie and untie a bit of string.

And her confidence in Ralston was boundless. Considering his capacities,
as they appeared to her, his failure to do anything for himself in the
two positions which had been offered to him was not to be considered a
failure at all. He was a man of action, and he was an exceptionally
well-educated man. How could he ever be expected to do an ordinary
clerk’s work? It was absurd to suppose that he could change his whole
character at a moment’s notice, and it was an insult to expect that he
should change it at all. It was a splendid nature, she thought,
generous, energetic, brave, averse to mean details, of course, as such
natures must be, impatient of control, independent and dominating. There
was much to admire in Ralston, she believed, even if she had not loved
him. And perhaps she was right, from her point of view. Of his chief
fault she really knew nothing. The little she had heard of his being
wild, as it is called, rather attracted than repelled her. She despised
men whom she looked upon as ‘duffers’ and ‘muffs.’ Even her father,
whose peculiarities were hard to bear, was manly in his way. He had been
good at sports in his youth, he was a good rider, and could be trusted
with horses that did not belong to him, which was fortunate, as he had
never possessed any of his own; he was a good shot, as she had often
heard, and he periodically disappeared upon solitary salmon-fishing
expeditions on the borders of Canada. For he was a strong man and a
tough man, and needed much bodily exercise. The only real ‘muff’ there
had ever been in the family Katharine considered to be her grandfather,
the philanthropist, and he was so old that it did not matter much. But
the tales he told of his studious youth disgusted her, for some occult
reason. All the other male relations were manly fellows, even to little
Frank Miner, who was as full of fight as a cock-sparrow, in spite of his
diminutive stature. Benjamin Slayback, too, was eminently manly, in an
awkward, constrained fashion. Hamilton Bright was an athlete. And John
Ralston could do all the things which the others could do, and did most
things a trifle better, with a certain finished ‘style’ which other men
envied. He was eminently the kind of man whose acquaintances at the club
will back for money in every contest requiring skill and strength.

It was no wonder that Katharine admired him. But she told herself that
her admiration had nothing to do with her love. There was much more in
him than the world knew of, and she was quite sure of it. Her ideals
were high, and Ralston fulfilled most of them. She always fancied that
there was something knightly about him, and it appealed to her more than
any other characteristic.

She felt that he could be intimate without ever becoming familiar. There
is more in that idea than appears at first sight, and the distinction is
not one of words. Up to a certain point she was quite right in making
it, for he was naturally courtly, as well as ordinarily courteous, and
yet without exaggeration. He did certain things which few other men did,
and which she liked. He walked on her left side, for instance, whenever
it was possible, if they chanced to be together in the street. She had
never spoken of it to him, but she had read, in some old book on court
manners, that it was right a hundred years ago, and she was pleased.
They had been children together, and yet almost since she could remember
he had always opened the door for her when she left a room. And not for
her only, but for every woman. If she and her mother were together when
they met him, he always spoke to her mother first. If they got into a
carriage he expected to sit on the left side, even if he had to leave
the pavement and go to the other door to get in. He never spoke of her
simply as ‘Katharine’ if he had to mention her name in her presence to
any one not a member of the family. He said ‘my cousin Katharine,’ or
‘Miss Lauderdale,’ according to circumstances.

They were little things, all of them, but by no means absurd in her
estimation, and he would continue to do them all his life. She supposed
that his mother had taught him the usages of courtesy when he had been a
boy, but they were a part of himself now. How many men, thought
Katharine, who believed themselves ‘perfect gentlemen,’ and who were
undeniably gentlemen in every essential, were wholly lacking in these
small matters! How many would have called such things old-fashioned
nonsense, who had never so much as noticed that Ralston did them all,
because he did them unobtrusively, and because, in reality, most of them
are founded on perfectly logical principles, and originally had nothing
but the convenience of society for their object. Katharine had thought
it out. For instance, most men, being right-handed, have the more
skilful hand and the stronger arm on the lady’s side, with which to
render her any assistance she may need, if they find themselves on her
left. There was never any affectation of fashion about really good
manners, Katharine believed, and everything appertaining thereto had a
solid foundation in usefulness. During Slayback’s courtship of her
sister she had found numberless opportunities of contrasting what she
called the social efficiency of the man who knew exactly what to do with
the inefficiency of him who did not; and, on a more limited scale, she
found such opportunities daily when she saw Ralston together with other
men.

He had a very high standard of honour, too. Many men had that, and all
whom she knew were supposed to have it, but there were few whom she felt
that she could never possibly suspect of some little meanness. That was
another step to the pedestal on which she had set up her ideal.

But perhaps one of the chief points which appealed to her sympathy was
Ralston’s breadth of view, or absence of narrowness. He had spoken the
strict truth that evening when he had said that he never laughed at any
one’s religion, and, next to love, religion was at that time uppermost
in Katharine Lauderdale’s mind. At her present stage of development
everything she did, saw, read and heard bore upon one or the other, or
both, which was not surprising considering the atmosphere in which she
had grown up.

Alexander Junior had never made but one sacrifice for his wife, and that
had been of a negative description. He had forgiven her for being a
Roman Catholic, and had agreed never to mention the subject; and he had
kept his word, as indeed he always did on the very rare occasions when
he could be induced to give it. It is needless to say that he had made a
virtue of his conduct in this respect, for he systematically made the
most of everything in himself which could be construed into a virtue at
all. But at all events he had never broken his promise. In the days when
he had married Emma Camperdown there had been little or no difficulty
about marriages between Catholics and members of other churches, and it
had been understood that his children were to be brought up
Presbyterians, though nothing had been openly said about it. His bride
had been young, beautiful and enthusiastic, and she had believed in her
heart that before very long she could effect her husband’s conversion,
little dreaming of the rigid nature with which she should have to deal.
It would have been as easy to make a Roman Catholic of Oliver Cromwell,
as Mrs. Lauderdale soon discovered to her sorrow. He did not even
consider that she had any right to talk of religion to her children.

Charlotte Lauderdale grew up in perfect indifference. Her mind developed
young, but not far. In her childhood she was a favourite of old Mrs.
Lauderdale,--formerly a Miss Mainwaring, of English extraction, and the
mother of Mrs. Ralston,--and the old lady had taught her that
Presbyterians were no better than atheists, and that Roman Catholics
were idolaters, so that the only salvation lay in the Episcopal Church.
The lesson had entered deep into the girl’s heart, and she had grown up
laughing at all three; but on coming to years of discretion she went to
an Episcopal church because most of her friends did. She enjoyed the
weekly fray with her father, whom she hated for his own sake in the
first place, and secondly because he was poor, and she once went so far
as to make him declare, in his iron voice, that he vastly preferred
Catholics to Episcopalians,--a declaration which she ever afterwards
cast violently in his teeth when she had succeeded in drawing him into a
discussion upon articles of faith. Her mother never had the slightest
influence over her. The girl was quick-witted and believed herself
clever, was amusing and thought she was witty, was headstrong,
capricious and violent in her dislikes and was consequently convinced
that she had a very strong will. She married Slayback for three
reasons,--to escape from her family, because he was rich, and because
she believed that she could do anything she chose with him. She was not
mistaken in his wealth, and she removed herself altogether from the
sphere of the Lauderdales, but Benjamin Slayback was not at all the kind
of person she had taken him for.

Katharine was altogether different from her sister. She was more
habitually silent, and her taste was never for family war. She thought
more and read less than Charlotte, who devoured literature promiscuously
and trusted to luck to remember something of what she read. Indeed,
Katharine thought a great deal, and often reasoned correctly from
inaccurate knowledge. In a healthy way she was inclined to be
melancholic, and was given to following out serious ideas, and even to
something like religious contemplation. Everything connected with belief
in transcendental matters interested her exceedingly. She delighted in
having discussions which turned upon the supernatural, and upon such
things as seem to promise a link between the hither and the further side
of death’s boundary,--between the cis-mortal and the trans-mortal, if
the coining of such words be allowable. In this she resembled
nine-tenths of the American women of her age and surroundings. The mind
of the idle portion of American society to-day reminds one of a polypus
whose countless feelers are perpetually waving and writhing in the
fruitless attempt to catch the very smallest fragment of something from
the other side, wherewith to satisfy the mortal hunger that torments it.

There is something more than painful, something like an act of the
world’s soul-tragedy, in this all-pervading desire to know the worst, or
the best,--to know anything which shall prove that there is something
to know. There is a breathless interest in every detail of an
‘experience’ as it is related, a raising of hopes, a thrilling of the
long-ready receptivity as the point is approached; and then, when the
climax is reached and past, there is the sudden, almost agonizing
relapse into blank hopelessness. The story has been told, but nothing is
proved. We know where the door is, but before it is a screen round which
we must pass to reach it. The screen is death, as we see it. To pass it
and be within sight of the threshold is to die, as we understand death,
and there lies the boundary of possible experience, for, so far as we
know, there is no other door.

The question is undoubtedly the greatest which humanity can ask, for the
answer must be immortality or annihilation. It seems that a certain
proportion of mankind, driven to distraction by the battle of beliefs,
has actually lost the faculty of believing anything at all, and the
place where the faculty was aches, to speak familiarly.

That, at least, was how it struck Katharine Lauderdale, and it was from
this point of view that she seriously contemplated becoming a Catholic.
If she did so, she intended to accept the Church as a whole and refuse,
forever afterwards, to reopen the discussion. She never could accept it
as her mother did, for she had not been brought up in it, but there were
days when she felt that by a single act of will she could bind herself
to believe in all the essentials, and close her eyes to the existence of
the non-essentials, never to open them again. Then, she thought, she
should never have any more doubts.

But on other days she wished that there might be another way. She got
odd numbers of the proceedings of a society devoted to psychological
researches, and read with extreme avidity the accurately reported
evidence of persons who had seen or heard unusual sights or sounds,
and studied the figures illustrating the experiments in thought-transference.
Then the conviction came upon her that there must be another door
besides the door of death, and that, if she were only patient she might
be led to it or come upon it unawares. She knew far too little of even
what little there is to be known, to get any further than this vague and
not unpleasant dream, and she was conscious of her ignorance, asking
questions of every one she met who took the slightest interest in
psychical enquiries. Of course, her attempts to gain knowledge were
fruitless. If any one who is willing to be a member of civilized society
knew anything definite about what we call the future state, the whole of
civilized society would know it also in less than a month. Every one can
be quite sure of that, and no one need therefore waste time in
questioning his neighbour in the hope of learning anything certain.

There were even times when her father’s rigid and merciless view of the
soul pleased her, and was in sympathy with her slightly melancholic
temperament. The unbending, manly quality of the Presbyterian belief
attracted her by its strength--the courage a man must have to go through
life facing an almost inevitable hell for himself and the positive
certainty of irrecoverable damnation for most of those dearest to him.
If her father was in earnest, as he appeared to be, he could not have
the slightest hope that her mother could be saved. At that idea
Katharine laughed, being supposed to be a Presbyterian herself.
Nevertheless, she sometimes liked his hard sayings and doings, simply
because they were hard. Hamilton Bright had often told her that she had
a lawyer’s mind, because she could not help seeing things from opposite
sides at the same time, whereupon she always answered that though she
despised prejudices, she liked people who had them, because such persons
were generally stronger than the average. Ralston, who had not many, and
had none at all about religious matters, was the man with whom she felt
herself in the closest sympathy, a fact which went far to prove to
Bright that he was not mistaken in his judgment of her.

On the whole, in spite of the declaration she had made to Ralston,
Katharine Lauderdale’s state was sceptical, in the sense that her mind
was in a condition of suspended judgment between no less than five
points of view, the Presbyterian, the Catholic, the deistic, the
psychologic, and the materialistic. It was her misfortune that her
nature had led her to think of such matters at all, rather than to
accept some existing form of belief and to be as happy as she could be
with it from the first, as her mother had done: and though her
intelligence was good, it was as totally inadequate to grapple with such
subjects as it was well adapted to the ordinary requirements of worldly
life. But she was not to be blamed for being in a state of mind to which
her rather unusual surroundings had contributed much, and her thoughtful
temperament not a little. If anything, she was to be pitied, though the
mighty compensation of a genuine love had grown up year by year to
neutralize the elements of unhappiness which were undoubtedly present.

It is worth noticing that at this time, which opened the crucial period
of her life, she doubted her own religious convictions and her own
stability of purpose, but she did not for a moment doubt the sincerity
of her love for John Ralston, nor of his for her, as she conclusively
proved when she determined to risk her whole life in such a piece of
folly as a secret marriage.

When she came down to dinner on that memorable evening, she found her
father and mother sitting on opposite sides of the fireplace. Alexander
Junior was correctly arrayed in evening dress, and his clothes fitted
perfectly upon his magnificent figure. The keen eye of a suspicious
dandy could have detected that they were very old clothes, and Mr.
Lauderdale would not have felt at all dismayed at the discovery of the
fact. He prided himself upon wearing a coat ten years, and could tell
the precise age of every garment in his possession. He tied his ties to
perfection also, and this, too, was an economy, for such was his skill
that he could wear a white tie twice, bringing the knot into exactly the
same place a second time. Mont Blanc presented not a more spotless,
impenetrable, and unchanging front than Alexander Junior’s shirt. He had
processes of rejuvenating his shoes known to him alone, and in the old
days of evening gloves, his were systematically cleaned and rematched,
and the odd ones laid aside to replace possible torn ones in the future,
constituting a veritable survival of the fittest. Five and twenty years
of married life had not taught him that a woman could not possibly do
the same with her possessions, and he occasionally enquired why his wife
did not wear certain gowns which had been young with her daughters. He
never put on the previously mentioned white tie, however, unless some
one was coming to dinner. When the family was alone, he wore a black
one. As he was not hospitable, and did not encourage hospitality in his
wife, though he praised it extravagantly in other people, and never
refused a dinner party, the black tie was the rule at home. Black ties
last a long time.

Katharine noticed the white one this evening, and was surprised, as her
mother had not spoken to her of any guest.

“Who is coming to dinner?” she asked, looking at her father, almost as
soon as she had shut the door.

Mr. Lauderdale’s steel-grey upper lip was immediately raised in a sort
of smile which showed his large white teeth--he had defied the dentist
from his youth up, and his smile was hard and cold as an electric light.

“Ah, my dear child,” he answered in a clear, metallic voice, “I am glad
you notice things. Little things are always worth noticing. Walter
Crowdie is coming to dinner to-day. In fact, he is rather late--”

“With Hester?” asked Katharine, quickly. Hester Crowdie was Hamilton
Bright’s sister, and Katharine liked her.

“No, my dear, without Hester. We could hardly ask two people to our
every-day dinner.”

“Oh--it’s only Mr. Crowdie, then,” said Katharine in a tone of
disappointment, sitting down beside her mother.

“I hope you’ll be nice to him, Katharine,” said Mr. Lauderdale. “There
are many reasons--”

“Oh, yes! I’ll be nice to him,” answered the young girl, with a short,
quick frown that disappeared again instantly.

“I don’t like your expression, my child,” said Alexander Junior,
severely, “and I don’t like to be interrupted. Mr. Crowdie is very kind.
He wishes to paint your portrait, and he proposes to give us the study
he must make first, which will be just as good as the picture itself, I
have no doubt. Crowdie is getting a great reputation, and a picture by
him is valuable. One can’t afford to be rude to a man who makes such a
proposal.”

“No,” observed Mrs. Lauderdale as though speaking to herself. “I should
really like to have it. He is a great artist.”

“I haven’t the least intention of being rude to him,” answered
Katharine. “What does he mean to do with my portrait--with the picture
itself when he has painted it--sell it?”

“He would have a perfect right to sell it, of course--with no name. He
means to exhibit it in Paris, I believe, and then I think he intends to
give it to his wife. You always say she is a great friend of yours.”

“Oh--that’s all right, if it’s for Hester,” said Katharine. “Of course
she’s a friend of mine. Hush! I hear the bell.”

“When did Mr. Crowdie talk to you about this?” asked Mrs. Lauderdale,
addressing her husband.

“This morning--hush! Here he is.”

Alexander Junior had an almost abnormal respect for the proprieties, and
always preferred to stop talking about a person five minutes before he
or she appeared. It was a part of his excessively reticent nature.

The door opened and Walter Crowdie appeared, a pale young man with
heavy, red lips and a bad figure. His eyes alone redeemed his face from
being positively repulsive, for they were of a very beautiful blue
colour and shaded by extremely long brown lashes. A quantity of pale
hair, too long to be neat, but not so long as worn by many modern
musicians, concealed the shape of his head and grew low on his forehead.
The shape of the face, as the hair allowed it to be seen, resembled that
of a pear, wide and flaccid about the jaws and narrowing upwards towards
the temples. Crowdie’s hands were small, cushioned with fat, and of a
dead white--the fingers being very pointed and the nails long and
polished. His shoulders sloped like a woman’s, and were narrow, and he
was heavy about the waist and slightly in-kneed. He was too fashionable
to use perfumes, but one instinctively expected him to smell of musk.

Both women experienced an unpleasant sensation when he entered the room.
What Mr. Lauderdale felt it is impossible to guess, but as Katharine saw
the two shake hands she was proud of her father and of the whole manly
race from which she was descended.

Last of all the party came Alexander Senior, taking the utmost advantage
of age’s privilege to be late. Even he, within sight of his life’s end,
contrasted favourably with Walter Crowdie. He stooped, he was badly
dressed, his white tie was crooked, and there were most evident spots on
his coat; his eyes were watery, and there were wrinkles running in all
directions through the eyebrows, the wrinkles that come last of all; he
shambled a little as he walked, and he certainly smelt of tobacco smoke.
He had not been the strongest of the three old brothers, though he was
the eldest, and his faculties, if not impaired, were not what they had
been. But the skull was large and bony, the knotted and wrinkled old
hands were manly hands, and always had been, and the benevolent old grey
eyes had never had the womanish look in them which belonged to
Crowdie’s.

But the young man was quite unconscious of the unfavourable impression
he always produced upon Mrs. Lauderdale and her daughter, and his
languishing eyelids moved softly and swept his pale cheeks with their
long lashes as he looked from one to the other and shook hands.

Alexander Junior, whose sense of punctuality had almost taken offence,
rang the bell as his father entered, and a serving girl, who lived in
terror of her life, drew back the folding doors a moment later.



CHAPTER VI.


The conversation at dinner did not begin brilliantly. Mrs. Lauderdale
was tired, and Katharine was preoccupied; as was natural, old Mr.
Lauderdale was not easily moved to talk except upon his favourite hobby,
and Alexander Junior was solemnly and ferociously hungry, as many strong
men are at regular hours. As for Crowdie, he always felt a little out of
his element amongst his wife’s relations, of whom he stood somewhat in
awe, and he was more observant than communicative at first. Katharine
avoided looking at him, which she could easily do, as she sat between
him and her father. As usual, it was her mother who made the first
effort to talk.

“How is Hester?” she asked, looking across at Crowdie.

“Oh, very well, thanks,” he answered, absently. “Oh, yes,--she’s very
well, thank you,” he added, repeating the answer with a little change
and more animation. “She had a cold last week, but she’s got over it.”

“It was dreadful weather,” said Katharine, helping her mother to stir
the silence. “All grandpapa’s idiots had the grippe.”

“All Mr. Lauderdale’s what?” asked Crowdie. “I didn’t quite catch--”

“The idiots--the asylum, you know.”

“Oh, yes--I remember,” said the young man, and his broad red lips
smiled.

Alexander Senior, whose hand shook a little, had eaten his soup with
considerable success. He glanced from Katharine to the young artist, and
there was a twinkle of amusement in the kindly old eyes.

“Katharine always laughs at the idiots, and talks as though they were my
personal property.” His voice was deep and almost musical still--it had
been a very gentle voice in his youth.

“Not a very valuable property,” observed Alexander Junior, fixing his
eye severely on the serving girl, who forthwith sprang at Mrs.
Lauderdale’s empty plate as though her life depended on taking it away
in time.

The Lauderdales had never kept a man-servant. The girl was a handsome
Canadian, very smart in black and white.

“Wouldn’t it be rather an idea to insure all their lives, and make the
insurance pay the expenses of the asylum?” enquired Crowdie, gravely
looking at Alexander Junior.

“Not very practical,” answered the latter, with something like a smile.

“Why not?” asked his father, with sudden interest. “That strikes me as a
very brilliant idea for making charities self-supporting. I suppose,” he
continued, turning to his son, “that the companies could make no
objections to insuring the lives of idiots. The rate ought to be very
reasonable when one considers the care they get, and the medical
attendance, and the immunity from risk of accident.”

“I don’t know about that. When an asylum takes fire, the idiots haven’t
the sense to get out,” observed Alexander Junior, grimly.

“Nonsense! Nonsense, Alexander!” The old man shook his head. “Idiots are
just as--well, not quite as sensible as other people,--that would be an
exaggeration--but they’re not all so stupid, by any means.”

“No--so I’ve heard,” said Crowdie, gravely.

“So stupid as what, Mr. Crowdie?” asked Katharine, turning on him rather
abruptly.

“As others, Miss Lauderdale--as me, for instance,” he answered, without
hesitation. “Probably we both meant--Mr. Lauderdale and I--that all
idiots are not so stupid as the worst cases, which are the ones most
people think of when idiots are mentioned.”

“Exactly. You put it very well.” The old philanthropist looked pleased
at the interruption. “And I repeat that I think Mr. Crowdie’s idea of
insuring them is very good. Every time one dies,--they do die, poor
things,--you get a sum of money. Excellent, very excellent!”

His ideas of business transactions had always been hazy in the extreme,
and his son proceeded to set him right.

“It couldn’t possibly be of any advantage unless you had capital to
invest and insured your own idiots,” said Alexander Junior. “And that
would just amount to making a savings bank on your own account, and
saving so much a year out of your expenses for each idiot. You could
invest the savings, and the interest would be all you could possibly
make. It’s not as though the idiots’ families paid the dues and made
over the policies to you. There would be money in that, I admit. You
might try it. There might be a streak of idiocy in the other members of
the patient’s family which would make them agree to it.”

The old man’s gentle eyes suddenly lighted up with ill temper.

“You’re laughing at me, Alexander,” he said, in a louder voice. “You’re
laughing at me!”

“No, sir; I’m in earnest,” answered the son, in his cool, metallic
tones.

“Don’t the big companies insure their own ships?” asked the
philanthropist. “Of course they do, and they make money by it.”

“I beg your pardon. They make nothing but the interest of what they set
aside for each ship. They simply cover their losses.”

“Well, and if an idiot dies, then the asylum gets the money.”

“Yes, sir. But an idiot has no intrinsic value.”

“Why, then the asylum gets a sum of money for what was worth nothing,
and it must be very profitable--much more so than insuring ships.”

“But it’s the asylum’s own money to begin with--”

“And as for your saying that an idiot has no intrinsic value,
Alexander,” pursued the old man, going off on another tack, “I won’t
have you say such things. I won’t listen to them. An idiot is a human
being, sir, and has an immortal soul, I’d have you to know, as well as
you or I. And you have the assurance to say that he has no intrinsic
value! An immortal soul, made for eternal happiness or eternal
suffering, and no intrinsic value! Upon my word, Alexander, you forget
yourself! I should not have expected such an inhuman speech from you.”

“Is the ‘vital spark of heavenly flame’ a marketable commodity?” asked
Crowdie, speaking to Katharine in a low voice.

“Idiots have souls, Mr. Crowdie,” said the philanthropist, looking
straight across at him, and taking it for granted that he had said
something in opposition.

“I’ve no doubt they have, Mr. Lauderdale,” answered the painter. “I
never thought of questioning the fact.”

“Oh! I thought you did. I understood that you were laughing at the
idea.”

“Not at all. It was the use of the word ‘intrinsic’ as applied to the
value of the soul which struck me as odd.”

“Ah--that is quite another matter, my dear sir,” replied the old
gentleman, who was quickly appeased. “My son first used the word in this
discussion. I’m not responsible for it. The younger generation is not so
careful in its language as we were taught to be. But the important
point, after all, is that idiots have souls.”

“The soul is the only thing anybody really can be said to have as his
own,” said Crowdie, thoughtfully.

Katharine glanced at him. He did not look like the kind of man to make
such a speech with sincerity. She wondered vaguely what his soul would
be like, if she could see it, and it seemed to her that it would be
something strange--white, with red lips, singing an evil song, which she
could not understand, in a velvet voice, and that it would smell of
musk. The side of her that was towards him instinctively shrank a little
from him.

“I am glad to hear you say that, Mr. Crowdie,” said the philanthropist
with approbation. “It closes the discussion very fittingly. I hope we
shall hear no more of idiots not having souls. Poor things! It is almost
the only thing they have that makes them like the rest of us.”

“People are all so different,” replied the artist. “I find that more and
more true every day. And it takes a soul to understand a soul. Otherwise
photography would take the place of portrait painting.”

“I don’t quite see that,” said Alexander Junior, who had employed the
last few minutes in satisfying his first pangs of hunger, having been
interrupted by the passage of arms with his father. “What becomes of
colour in photography?”

“What becomes of colour in a charcoal or pen and ink drawing?” asked
Crowdie. “Yet either, if at all good, is preferable to the best
photograph.”

“I’m not sure of that. I like a good photograph. It is much more
accurate than any drawing can be.”

“Yes--but it has no soul,” objected Crowdie.

“How can an inanimate object have a soul, sir?” asked the
philanthropist, suddenly. “That is as bad as saying that idiots--”

“I mean that a photograph has nothing which suggests the soul of the
original,” said Crowdie, interrupting and speaking in a high, clear
tone. He had a beautiful tenor voice, and sang well; and he possessed
the power of making himself heard easily against many other voices.

“It is the exact representation of the person,” argued Alexander Junior,
whose ideas upon art were limited.

“Excuse me. Even that is not scientifically true. There can only be one
point in the whole photograph which is precisely in focus. But that is
not what I mean. Every face has something besides the lines and the
colour. For want of a better word, we call it the expression--it is the
individuality--the soul--the real person--the something which the hand
can suggest, but which nothing mechanical can ever reproduce. The artist
who can give it has talent, even if he does not know how to draw. The
best draughtsman and painter in the world is only a mechanic if he
cannot give it. Mrs. Lauderdale paints--and paints well--she knows what
I mean.”

“Of course,” said Mrs. Lauderdale. “The fact that there is something
which we can only suggest but never show would alone prove the existence
of the soul to any one who paints.”

“I don’t understand those things,” said Alexander Junior.

“Grandpapa,” said Katharine, suddenly, “if any one asserted that there
was no such a thing as the soul, what should you answer?”

“I should tell him that he was a blasphemer,” answered the old
gentleman, promptly and with energy.

“But that wouldn’t be an argument,” retorted the young girl.

“He would discover the force of it hereafter,” said her father. The
electric smile followed the words.

Crowdie looked at Katharine and smiled also, but she did not see.

“But isn’t a man entitled to an argument?” she asked. “I mean--if any
one really couldn’t believe that he had a soul--there are such people--”

“Lots of them,” observed Crowdie.

“It’s their own fault, then, and they deserve no mercy--and they will
find none,” said Alexander Junior.

“Then believing is a matter of will, like doing right,” argued the young
girl. “And a man has only to say, ‘I believe,’ and he will believe,
because he wills it.”

But neither of the Lauderdales had any intention of being drawn out on
that point. They were good Presbyterians, and were Scotch by direct
descent; and they knew well enough what direction the discussion must
take if it were prolonged. The old gentleman put a stop to it.

“The questions of the nature of belief and free will are pretty deep
ones, my dear,” he said, kindly, “and they are not of the sort to be
discussed idly at dinner.”

Strange to say, that was the species of answer which pleased Katharine
best. She liked the uncompromising force of genuinely prejudiced people
who only allowed argument to proceed when they were sure of a logical
result in their own favour. Alexander Junior nodded approvingly, and
took some more beef. He abhorred bread, vegetables, and sweet things,
and cared only for what produced the greatest amount of energy in the
shortest time. It was astonishing that such iron strength should have
accomplished nothing in nearly fifty years of life.

“Yes,” said Crowdie, “they are rather important things. But I don’t
think that there are so many people who deny the existence of the soul
as people who want to satisfy their curiosity about it, by getting a
glimpse at it. Hester and I dine out a good deal--people are very kind,
and always ask us to dinners because they know I can’t go out to late
parties on account of my work--so we are always dining out; and we were
saying only to-day that at nine-tenths of the dinners we go to the
conversation sooner or later turns on the soul, or psychical research,
or Buddhism, or ghosts, or something of the sort. It’s odd, isn’t it,
that there should be so much talk about those things just now? I think
it shows a kind of general curiosity. Everybody wants to get hold of a
soul and study its habits, as though it were an ornithorynchus or some
queer animal--it is strange, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know,” said Mrs. Lauderdale, suddenly joining in the
conversation. “If you once cut loose from your own form of belief
there’s no particular reason why you should be satisfied with that of
any one else. If a man leaves his house without an object there’s
nothing to make him go in one direction rather than in another.”

“So far as that is concerned, I agree with you,” said Alexander Junior.

“There is truth to direct him,” observed the philanthropist.

“And there is beauty,” said Crowdie, turning his head towards Mrs.
Lauderdale and his eyes towards Katharine.

“Oh, of course!” exclaimed the latter. “If you are going to jumble the
soul, and art, and everything, all together, there are lots of things to
lead one. Where does beauty lead you, Mr. Crowdie?”

“To imagine a vain thing,” answered the painter with a soft laugh. “It
also leads me to try and copy it, with what I imagine it means, and I
don’t always succeed.”

“I hope you’ll succeed if you paint my daughter’s portrait,” remarked
Alexander Junior.

“No,” Crowdie replied thoughtfully, and looking at Katharine quite
directly now. “I shan’t succeed, but if Miss Lauderdale will let me try,
I’ll promise to do my very best. Will you, Miss Lauderdale? Your father
said he thought you would have no objection.”

“I said you would, Katharine, and I said nothing about objections,” said
her father, who loved accurate statements.

Katharine did not like to be ordered to do anything and the short, quick
frown bent her brows for a second.

“I am much flattered,” she said coldly.

“You will not be, when I have finished, I fear,” said Crowdie, with
quick tact. “Please, Miss Lauderdale, I don’t want you to sit to me as a
matter of duty, because your father is good enough to ask you. That
isn’t it, at all. Please understand. It’s for Hester, you know. She’s
such a friend of yours, and you’re such a friend of hers, and I want to
surprise her with a Christmas present, and there’s nothing she’d like so
much as a picture of you. I don’t say anything about the pleasure it
will be to me to paint you--it’s just for her. Will you?”

“Of course I will,” answered Katharine, her brow clearing and her tone
changing.

She had not looked at him while he was speaking, and she was struck, as
she had often been, by the exquisite beauty of his voice when he spoke
familiarly and softly. It was like his eyes, smooth, rich and almost
woman-like.

“And when will you come?” he asked. “To-morrow? Next day? Would eleven
o’clock suit you?”

“To-morrow, if you like,” answered the young girl. “Eleven will do
perfectly.”

“Will you come too, Mrs. Lauderdale?” Crowdie asked, without changing
his manner.

“Yes--that is--not to-morrow. I’ll come one of these days and see how
you are getting on. It’s a long time since I’ve seen you at work, and I
should enjoy it ever so much. But I should rather come when it’s well
begun. I shall learn more.”

“I’m afraid you won’t learn much from me, Mrs. Lauderdale. It’s very
different work from miniature--and I have no rule. It seems to me that
the longer I paint the more hopeless all rules are. Ten years ago, when
I was working in Paris, I used to believe in canons of art, and fixed
principles, and methods, and all that sort of thing. But I can’t any
more. I do it anyhow, just as it seems to come--with anything--with a
stump, a brush, a rag, hands, fingers, anything. I should not be
surprised to find myself drawing with my elbow and painting with the
back of my head! No, really--I sometimes think the back of my head
would be a very good brush to do fur with. Any way--only to get at the
real thing.”

“I once saw a painter who had no arms,” said the old gentleman. “It was
in Paris, and he held the brushes with his toes. There is an idiot in
the asylum now, who likes nothing better than to pull his shoes off and
tie knots in a rope with his feet all day long.”

“He is probably one of us,” suggested Crowdie. “We artists are all
half-witted. Give him a brush and see whether he has any talent for
painting with his toes.”

“That’s an idea,” answered the philanthropist, thoughtfully.
“Transference of manual skill from hands to feet,” he continued in a
low, dreamy voice, thinking aloud. “Abnormal connections of nerves with
next adjoining brain centres--yes--there might be something in
it--yes--yes--”

The old gentleman had theories of his own about nerves and brain
centres. He had never even studied anatomy, but he speculated in the
wildest manner upon the probability of impossible cases of nerve
derangement and imperfect development, and had long believed himself an
authority on the subject.

The dinner was quite as short as most modern meals. Old Mr. Lauderdale
and Crowdie smoked, and Alexander Junior, who despised such weaknesses,
stayed in the dining-room with them. Neither Mrs. Lauderdale nor
Katharine would have objected to smoking in the library, but Alexander’s
inflexible conservatism abhorred such a practice.

“I can’t tell why it is,” said Katharine, when she was alone with her
mother, “but that man is positively repulsive to me. It must be
something besides his ugliness, and even that ought to be redeemed by
his eyes and that beautiful voice of his. But it’s not. There’s
something about him--” She stopped, in the sheer impossibility of
expressing her meaning.

Her mother said nothing in answer, but looked at her with calm and quiet
eyes, rather thoughtfully.

“Is it very foolish of me, mother? Don’t you notice something, too, when
he’s near you?”

“Yes. He’s like a poisonous flower.”

“That’s exactly what I wanted to say. That and--the title of Tennyson’s
poem, what is it? Oh--‘A Vision of Sin’--don’t you know?”

“Poor Crowdie!” exclaimed Mrs. Lauderdale, laughing a little, but still
looking at Katharine.

“I wonder what induced Hester to marry him.”

“He fascinated her. Besides, she’s very fond of music, and so is he, and
he sang to her and she played for him. It seems to have succeeded very
well. I believe they are perfectly happy.”

“Oh, perfectly. At least, Hester always says so. But did you ever
notice--sometimes, without any special reason, she looks at him so
anxiously? Just as though she expected something to happen to him, or
that he should do something queer. It may be my imagination.”

“I never noticed it. She’s tremendously in love with him. That may
account for it.”

“Well--if she’s happy--” Katharine did not finish the sentence. “He does
stare dreadfully, though,” she resumed a moment later. “But I suppose
all artists do that. They are always looking at one’s features. You
don’t, though.”

“I? I’m always looking at people’s faces and trying to see how I could
paint them best. But I don’t stare. People don’t like it, and it isn’t
necessary. Crowdie is vain. He has beautiful eyes and he wants every one
to notice them.”

“If that’s it, at all events he has the sense to be vain of his best
point,” said Katharine. “He’s not an artist for nothing. And he’s
certainly very clever in all sorts of ways.”

“He didn’t say anything particularly clever at dinner, I thought. By the
bye, was the dinner good? Your father didn’t tell me Crowdie was
coming.”

“Oh, yes; it did very well,” answered Katharine, in a reassuring tone.
“At least, I didn’t notice what we had. He always takes away my
appetite. I shall go and steal something when he’s gone. Let’s sit up
late, mother--just you and I--after papa has gone to bed, and we’ll
light a little wee fire, and have a tiny bit of supper, and make
ourselves comfortable, and abuse Mr. Crowdie just as much as we like.
Won’t that be nice? Do!”

“Well--we’ll see how late he stays. It’s only a quarter past nine yet.
Have you got a book, child? I am going to read that article about wet
paintings on pottery--I’ve had it there ever so long, and the men won’t
come back for half an hour at least.”

Katharine found something to read, after handing her mother the review
from the table.

“Perhaps reading a little will take away the bad taste of Crowdie,” said
Mrs. Lauderdale, with a laugh, as she settled herself in the corner of
the sofa.

“I wish something would,” answered Katharine, seating herself in a deep
chair, and opening her book.

But she found it hard to fix her attention, and the book was a dull one,
or seemed so, as the best books do when the mind is drawn and stretched
in one direction. Her thoughts went back to the twilight hour, when
Ralston had been there, and to the decided step she was about to take.
The only wonder was that she had been able to talk with a tolerable
continuity of ideas during dinner, considering what her position was.
Assuredly it was a daring thing which she meant to do, and she
experienced the sensation familiar even to brave men--the small, utterly
unreasoning temptation to draw back just before the real danger begins.
Most people who have been called upon to do something very dangerous,
with fair warning and in perfectly cold blood, know that little feeling
and are willing to acknowledge it. It is not fear. It is the inevitable
last word spoken by the instinct of self-preservation.

There are men who have never felt it at all, rare instances of perfectly
phlegmatic physical recklessness. They are not the ones who deserve the
most credit for doing perilous deeds. And there are other men, even
fewer, perhaps, who have felt it, but have ceased to feel it, in whom
all love of life is so totally and hopelessly dead that even the bodily,
human impulse to avoid death can never be felt again. Such men are very
dangerous in fight. ‘Beware of him who seeks death,’ says an ancient
Eastern proverb. So many things which seem impossible are easy if the
value of life itself be taken out of the balance. But with the great
majority of the human race that value is tolerably well defined. The
poor Chinaman who sells himself, for the benefit of his family, to be
sliced to death in the stead of the rich criminal, knows within an ounce
or two of silver what his existence is worth. The bargain has been made
so often by others that there is almost a tariff. It is not a pleasant
subject, but, since the case really happens, it would be a curious thing
to hear theologians discuss the morality of such suicide on the part of
the unfortunate wretch. Would they say that he was forfeiting the hope
of a future reward by giving himself to be destroyed for money, of his
own free will? Or would they account it to him for righteousness that he
should lay down his life to save his wife and children from starving to
death? For a real case, as it is, it certainly presents difficulties
which approach the fantastic.

It was very quiet in the room, as it had been once or twice when there
had been a silence between Katharine and Ralston a few hours earlier.
The furniture was all just as it had been--hardly a chair had been
turned. The scene came back vividly to the young girl’s imagination, and
the sound of Ralston’s voice, just trembling with emotion, rang again in
her ears. That had been the sweetest of all the many sweet hours she had
spent with him since they had been children. Her book fell upon her
knees and her head sank back against the cushion. With lids half
drooping, she gazed at a point she did not see. The softest possible
light, the exquisite, trembling radiance of spotless maidenhood’s
divinest dream, hovered about the lovely face and the girlish lips just
parted to meet in the memory of a kiss.

Suddenly, from the next room, as the three men came towards the closed
door of the library, Crowdie’s laugh broke the stillness, high,
melodious, rich. Some men have a habit of laughing at anything which is
said just as they leave the dining-room.

Katharine started as though she had been stung. She was unconscious that
her mother had ceased reading, and had been looking at her for several
minutes, wondering why she had never fully appreciated the girl’s beauty
before.

“What’s the matter, dear?” she asked, as she saw the start and the quick
expression of resentment and repulsion.

“It’s that man’s voice--it’s so beautiful and yet--ugh!” She shivered as
the door opened and the three men came in.

“You’ve not been long,” said Mrs. Lauderdale, looking up at Crowdie. “I
hope they gave you a cigar in there.”

“Oh, yes, thanks--and a very good one, too,” added the artist, who had
not succeeded in smoking half of the execrable Connecticut
six-for-a-quarter cigar which the philanthropist had offered him.

It seemed natural enough to him that a man who devoted himself to idiots
should have no taste, and he would have opened his eyes if he had been
told that the Connecticut tobacco was one of the economies imposed by
Alexander Junior upon his long-suffering father. The old gentleman,
however, was really not very particular, and his sufferings were not to
be compared with those of Balzac’s saintly charity-maniac, when he gave
up his Havanas for the sake of his poor people.

Crowdie looked at Katharine, as he answered her mother, and continued to
do so, though he sat down beside the latter. Katharine had risen from
her seat, and was standing by the mantelpiece, and Mrs. Lauderdale was
sitting at the end of the sofa on the other side of the fireplace, under
the strong, unshaded light of the gas. She made an effort to talk to her
guest, for the sake of sparing the girl, though she felt uncomfortably
tired, and was looking almost ill.

“Did you talk any more about the soul, after we left?” she asked,
looking at Crowdie.

“No,” he answered, still gazing at Katharine, and speaking rather
absently. “We talked--let me see--I think--” He hesitated.

“It couldn’t have been very interesting, if you don’t remember what it
was about,” said Mrs. Lauderdale, pleasantly. “We must try and amuse you
better than they did, or you won’t come near us again.”

“Oh, as far as that goes, I’ll come just as often as you ask me,”
answered Crowdie, suddenly looking at his shoes.

But he made no attempt to continue the conversation. Mrs. Lauderdale
felt a little womanly annoyance. The constant and life-long habit of
being considered by men to be the most important person in the room,
whenever she chose to be considered at all, had become a part of her
nature. She made up her mind that Crowdie should not only listen and
talk, but should look at her.

“What are you doing now? Another portrait?” she asked. “I know you are
always busy.”

“Oh, yes--the wife of a man who has a silver mine somewhere. She’s
fairly good-looking, for a wonder.”

His eyes wandered about the room, and, from time to time, went back to
Katharine. Old Mr. Lauderdale was going to sleep in an arm-chair, and
Alexander Junior was reading the evening paper.

“Does your work always interest you as it did at first?” asked Mrs.
Lauderdale, growing more and more determined to fix his attention, and
speaking softly. “I mean--are you happy in it and with it?”

His languid glance met hers for an instant, with an odd look of lazy
enquiry. He was keen and quick of intuition, and more than sufficiently
vain. There is a certain tone of voice in which a woman may ask a man if
he is happy which indicates a willingness to play at flirtation. Now, it
had never entered the head of Walter Crowdie that Mrs. Lauderdale could
possibly care to flirt with him. Yet the tone was official, so to say,
and he had some right to be surprised, the more so as he had never heard
any man--not even the famous club-liar, Stopford Thirlwall--even suggest
that she had ever really flirted with any one, or do anything worse than
dance to the very end of every dancing party, and generally amuse
herself in an innocent way to an extent that would have ruined the
constitutions of most women not born in Kentucky. Even as he turned to
look at her, however, he realized the absurdity of the impression he had
received, and his eyes went mechanically back to Katharine’s profile.
The smile that moved his heavy, red mouth was for himself, as he
answered Mrs. Lauderdale’s question.

“Oh, yes,” he said, quite naturally. “I love it. I’m perfectly happy.”
And again he relapsed into silence.

Mrs. Lauderdale was annoyed. She turned her head, under the glaring
light, towards the carved pillar at the right of the fireplace. An
absurd little looking-glass hung by a silken cord from the mantelpiece
to the level of her eyes--one of those small Persian mirrors set in a
case of embroidery, such as are used for favours at cotillions.

She saw very suddenly the reflection of her own face. The glass was
perhaps a trifle green, which made it worse, but she stared in a sort
of dumb horror, realizing in a single moment that she had grown old,
that the lines had deepened until every one could see them, that the
eyes looked faded, the hair dull, the lips almost shrivelled, the once
dazzling skin flaccid and sallow--that the queenly beauty was gone, a
perishable thing already perished, a memory now and worse than a memory,
a cruelly bitter regret left in the place of a possession half divine
that was lost for ever and ever, dead beyond resurrection, gone beyond
recall.

That was the most terrible moment in Mrs. Lauderdale’s life. Fate need
not have made it so appallingly sudden--she had prepared for it so long,
so conscientiously, trying always to wean herself from a vanity the
sternest would forgive. And it had seemed to be coming so slowly, by
degrees of each degree, and she had thought it would be so long in
coming quite. And now it was come, in the flash of a second. But the
bitterness was not past.

Instinctively in the silence she looked up before her and saw her
daughter’s lovely face. Her head reeled, her sight swam. A great, fierce
envy caught at her heart with iron fingers and wrung it, till she could
have screamed,--envy of her who was dearest to her of all living
things--of Katharine.



CHAPTER VII.


John Ralston had given his word to Katharine and he intended to keep it.
Whenever he was assailed by doubts he recalled by an act of will the
state of mind to which the young girl had brought him on Monday evening,
and how he had then been convinced that there was no harm in the secret
marriage. He analyzed his position, too, in a rough and ready way, with
the intention of proving that the clandestine ceremony could not be of
any advantage to himself, that it was therefore not from any selfish
motive that he had undertaken to have it performed, and that,
consequently, since the action itself was to be an unselfish one, there
could be nothing even faintly dishonourable in it. For he did not really
believe that old Robert Lauderdale would do anything for him. On the
contrary, he thought it most likely that the old man would be very angry
and would bid the young people abide by the consequences of their
doings. He would blame Ralston bitterly. He would not believe that he
had been disinterested. He would say that he had married Katharine, and
had persuaded her to the marriage in the hope of forcing his uncle to
help him, out of consideration for the girl. And he would refuse to do
anything whatsoever. He might even go so far as to strike the names of
both from his will, if he had left them a legacy, which was probable.
But, to do Ralston justice, so long as he was sure of his own motives he
had never cared a straw for the opinions others might form of them, and
he was the last man in the world to assume a character for the sake of
playing on the feelings of a rich relation. If Robert Lauderdale should
send for him, and be angry, and reproach him with what he had done, John
was quite capable of answering that he had acted from motives which
concerned himself only, that he was answerable to no one but Katharine
herself and that uncle Robert might make the best of it at his leisure.
The young man possessed that sort of courage in abundance, as every one
knew, and being aware of it himself, he suspected, not without grounds
of probability, that the millionaire was aware of it also, and would
simply leave him alone to his own devices, refusing Katharine’s request,
and never mentioning the question again. That the old man would be
discreet, was certain. With a few rare exceptions, men who have made
great fortunes unaided have more discretion than other people, and can
keep secrets remarkably well.

The difficulty which presented itself to Ralston at once was a material
one. He did not in the least know how such an affair as a secret
marriage should be managed. None of his close acquaintances had ever
done anything so unusual, and although he knew of two cases which had
occurred in New York society, the one in recent years and the other long
ago, he had no means of finding out at short notice how the actual
formalities necessary had been fulfilled in either case. He knew,
however, that a marriage performed by a respectable clergyman of any
denomination was legal, and that a certificate signed by him was
perfectly valid. He had heard of marriages before a Justice of the
Peace, and even of declarations made before respectable witnesses and
vouched for, which had been legal marriages beyond dispute, but he did
not like the look of anything in which there was no religious ceremony,
respectfully indifferent though he was to all religion. The code of
honour, which was his only faith, is connected, and not even very
distantly, with Christianity. There are honourable men of all religions
under the sun, including that of Confucius, but we do not associate the
expression ‘the code of honour’ with non-Christians--which is singular
enough, considering the view the said code takes of some moral
questions.

There must be a marriage service, therefore, thought Ralston, and it
must be performed in New York. There was no possibility of taking
Katharine into a neighbouring State, and he had no wish to do so for
many reasons. He was not without foresight, and he intended to be able
to prove at any future time that the formality, the whole formality, and
nothing but the formality of the ceremony had been fulfilled. It was not
easy. He racked his recollections in vain, and he read all the
newspapers published that morning with an interest he had certainly
never felt in them before, in the hope of finding some account of a case
similar to his own. He thought of going to a number of clergymen, of the
social type, with whom he had a speaking acquaintance, and of laying the
facts before each in turn, until one of them consented to marry him. But
though many of them were excellent men, he had not enough confidence in
their discretion. He laughed to himself when he thought that the only
men he knew who seemed to possess the necessary qualities for such a
delicate affair were Robert the Rich himself and Hamilton Bright, whom
Ralston secretly suspected of being somewhat in love with Katharine on
his own account. It was odd, he thought, that of all the family Bright
alone should resemble old Robert, physically and mentally, but the
resemblance was undeniable, though the relationship only consisted in
the fact that Bright was descended from old Robert Lauderdale’s
grandfather, the primeval Alexander often mentioned in these pages.

Ralston turned the case over and over in his mind. He thought of going
to some dissenting minister quite unknown to him, and trying what
eloquence could do. He had heard that some of them were men of heart to
whom one could appeal in trouble. But he knew very well that every one
of them would tell him to do the thing openly, or not at all, and the
mere idea revived his own scruples. He wondered whether there were not
churches where the marrying was done by batches of four and five couples
on a certain Sunday in the month, as babies are baptized in some parts
of the world, and whether he and Katharine could not slip in, as it were
by mistake, and be married by a man who did not even know their names.
But he laughed at the idea a moment later, and went on studying the
problem.

Another of his ideas was to consult a detective, from a private office.
Such men would, in all likelihood, know a good deal about runaway
couples. And this seemed one of the wisest plans which had suggested
itself, though it broke down for two reasons. He hated the thought of
getting at his result by the help of a man belonging to what he
considered a mean and underhand profession; and he reflected that such
men were always on the lookout for private scandals, and that he should
be putting himself in their power. At last he decided to consult a
lawyer. Lawyers and doctors, as a rule, were discreet, he thought,
because their success depended on their discretion. He could easily find
a man whom he had never seen, honest and able to keep a secret, who
would give him the information he wanted in a professional way and take
a fee for the trouble. This seemed to him honourable and wise. He wished
everything to be legal, and the best way to make it so was to follow a
lawyer’s directions. There was not even a doubt but that the said
lawyer, if requested, would make a memorandum of the case, and take
charge of the document which was to prove that Katharine Lauderdale had
become the lawful wife of John Ralston. There were lists and directories
in which he could find the names of hundreds of such men. He was in his
native city, and between the names and the places of business he thought
he could form a tolerably accurate opinion of the reputation and
standing of some, if not of all, of the individuals.

In the course of a couple of hours he had found what he wanted--a lawyer
whose name was known to him as that of a man of good reputation and a
gentleman, one whom he had never seen and who had probably never seen
him, old enough, as he knew, to have a wide experience, yet not so old
as to be justified in assuming airs of vast moral superiority in order
to declare primly that he would never help a young man to commit an act
of folly. For folly it was, as Ralston knew very well in his heart.

He lost no time, and within half an hour was interviewing the authority
he had selected, for, by a bit of good luck, he was fortunate enough to
meet the lawyer at the door of his office, just returning from luncheon.
Otherwise he might have had some difficulty in gaining immediate
admittance. He found him to be a grave, keen personage of uncertain age,
who laid his glasses beside him on his desk whenever he spoke, and put
them on again as soon as he had done. He wiped them carefully when
Ralston had explained what he wanted, and then paused a moment before
replying. Ralston was by no means prepared for what he said.

“I presume you are a novelist.”

The lawyer looked at him, smiled pleasantly, looked away and turned his
glasses over again.

The young man was inclined to laugh. No one had ever before taken him
for a man of letters. He hesitated, however, before he answered,
wondering whether he had not better accept the statement in the hope of
getting accurate information, rather than risk a refusal if he said he
was in earnest. The lawyer took his hesitation for assent.

“Because, in that case, it would not be at all difficult to manage,” he
continued, without waiting any longer for a reply. “Lots of things can
happen in books, you see, and you can wind up the story and publish it
before the people in the book who are to be kept in the dark have found
out the secret. In real life, it is a little different, because, though
it’s very easy to be married, it’s the duty of the person who marries
you to send a certificate or statement of the marriage to the office
where the record of statistics is kept.”

“Oh!” ejaculated Ralston, and his face fell. “I didn’t know that.”

“Yes. That’s necessary, on pain of a fine. And yet the marriage may
remain a secret a long while--for a lifetime under favourable
circumstances. So that if you are writing a story you can let the young
couple take the chances, and you can give them in their favour.”

“Well--how, exactly?” asked John. “That sort of thing isn’t usual, I
fancy.”

“Not usual--no.” The lawyer smiled. “But there are more secret marriages
than most people dream of. If your hero and heroine must be married in
New York, it is easy enough to do it. Nobody will marry them without
afterwards making out the certificate, which is recorded. If anybody
suspects that they are married, it is the easiest thing in the world to
find out that the marriage has been registered. But if nobody looks for
it, the thing will never be heard of. It’s a thousand to one against
anybody’s finding it out by accident.”

“But if it were done in that way it would be absolutely legal and could
never be contested?”

“Of course--perfectly legal. But it’s not so in all States, mind you.”

“I wanted to know about New York,” said Ralston. “It couldn’t possibly
take place anywhere else.”

“Oh--well--in that case, you know all there is to be known.”

“I’m very grateful,” said John, rising. “I’ve taken up a great deal of
your valuable time, sir. May I--”

In considerable doubt as to what he should do, he thrust his hand into
his breast-pocket and looked at the lawyer.

“My dear sir!” exclaimed the latter, rising also. “How can you think of
such a thing? I’m very glad indeed to have been of service to--a young
novelist.”

“You’re exceedingly kind, and I thank you very much,” said Ralston,
shaking the outstretched hand, and making for the door as soon as
possible.

He had not even given his name, which had been rather rude on his part,
as he was well aware. At all events, the lawyer would not be able to
trace him, which was a point to his advantage.

Oddly enough he felt a sense of satisfaction when he thought over what
he had learned. He could tell Katharine that a really secret marriage
was wholly impossible, and perhaps when she knew that she was running a
risk of discovery she would draw back. He should be glad of that.
Realizing the fact, he was conscious for the first time that he was
seeking a way out of the marriage and not a way into it, and a conflict
arose in his mind. On the one hand he had given Katharine his word that
he would do what she asked, and his word was sacred, unless she would
release him from the promise. On the other side stood that intimate
conviction of his own that, in spite of all her arguments, it was not a
perfectly honourable thing to do, on its own merits. He could not help
feeling glad that a material difficulty stood in the way of his doing
what she required of him.

In any case he must see her as soon as possible. He ascertained without
difficulty that they need not show evidence that they had resided in New
York during any particular period, nor were there any other formalities
to be fulfilled. He went home to luncheon with his mother--it was on the
day after he had given his promise to Katharine, for he had lost no
time--and he went out again before three o’clock, hoping to find the
young girl alone.

To his annoyance he found her with her mother in the library. Mrs.
Lauderdale was generally at work at that hour, if she was at home, but
to-day she, who was always well, had a headache and was nervous and
altogether different from herself. Katharine saw that she was almost
ill, and insisted upon staying at home with her, to read to her, or to
talk, as she preferred, though Mrs. Lauderdale begged her repeatedly to
go away and make visits, or otherwise amuse herself as she could. But
the young girl was obstinate; she saw that her mother was suffering and
she had no intention of leaving her that afternoon. Alexander Junior was
of course at his office, and the philanthropist was in his own quarters
upstairs, probably dozing before the fire or writing reports about
idiots.

It was clear to Ralston in five minutes that Mrs. Lauderdale was not
only indisposed, but that she was altogether out of temper, a state of
mind very unusual with her. She found fault with little things that
Katharine did in a way John had never noticed before, and as for
himself, she evidently wished he had not come. There was a petulance
about her which was quite new. She was not even sitting in her usual
place, but had taken the deep arm-chair on the other side of the
fireplace, and turned her back to the light.

“You seem to be as busy as usual, Jack,” she observed, after exchanging
a few words.

“I’m wishing I were, at all events,” he answered. “You must take the
wish for the deed.”

“They say that there’s always plenty of work for any one who wants it,”
answered Mrs. Lauderdale, coldly.

“If you’ll tell me where to find it--”

“Why don’t you go to the West, as young Bright did, and try to do
something without help? Other men do.”

“Bright took money with him,” answered Ralston.

“Did he? Not much, then, I fancy. I know he lived a hard life and drove
cattle--”

“And bought land in wild places which he found in the course of his
cattle driving. The driving was a means of getting about--not
unpleasant, either--and he had some money to invest. I could do the
same, if I had any.”

“You know it’s quite useless, mother,” said Katharine, interposing
before Mrs. Lauderdale could make another retort. “You all abuse him for
doing nothing, and yet I hear you all say that every profession is
overcrowded, and that nobody can do anything without capital. If uncle
Robert chose, he could make Jack’s fortune by a turn of his hand.”

“Of course--he could give him a fortune outright and not feel it--unless
he cared what became of it.”

There was something so harsh about the way in which she spoke the last
words that Ralston and Katharine looked at each other. Ralston did not
lose his temper, however, but tried to turn the subject with a laugh.

“My dear cousin Emma,” he said, “I’m the most hopeless case living.
Please talk about somebody who is successful. There are lots of them.
You’ve mentioned Bright already. Let us praise him. That will make you
feel better.”

To this Mrs. Lauderdale said nothing. After waiting a moment Ralston
turned to Katharine.

“Are you going out this afternoon?” he asked, by way of hinting that he
wanted to see her alone.

“No,” said Mrs. Lauderdale, answering for her. “She says she means to
stay at home and take care of me. It’s ever so good of her, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” answered Ralston, absently.

It struck Katharine that, considering that her mother had been trying
for half an hour to persuade her to go out, it would have been natural
to propose that she should go for a short walk with John, and that the
answer had come rather suddenly.

“But you can’t stay at home all day,” said Ralston, all at once. “You’ll
be having a headache yourself. Won’t you let Katharine come with me for
half an hour, cousin Emma? We’ll walk twice round Washington Square and
come right back. She looks pale.”

“Does she?” Mrs. Lauderdale glanced at the girl’s face. “I don’t think
so,” she continued. “Besides--”

“What is it?” asked Ralston, as she hesitated and stopped. “Isn’t it
proper? We’ve often done it.”

Mrs. Lauderdale rose from her chair and stood up, tall and slim, with
her back to the mantelpiece. The light fell upon her face now, and
Ralston saw how tired and worn she looked. Immediately she turned her
back to the window again, and looked at him sideways, resting her elbow
on the shelf.

“What is the use of you two going on in this way?” she asked suddenly.

There was an awkward silence, and again Katharine and Ralston looked at
one another. They were momentarily surprised out of speech, for Mrs.
Lauderdale had always taken their side, if not very actively, at least
in a kindly way. She had said that Katharine should marry the man she
loved, rich or poor, and that if she chose to wait for a poor man, like
Ralston, to be able to support her, that was her own affair. The violent
opposition had come from Katharine’s father when, a year previously, the
two had boldly told him that they loved each other and wished to be
married. Alexander Junior did not often lose his temper, but he had lost
it completely on that occasion, and had gone so far as to say that
Ralston should never enter the house again, a verdict which he had been
soon forced to modify. But he had said that he considered John an idle
good-for-nothing, who would never be able to support himself, let alone
a wife and children; that his, Alexander’s, daughter should never marry
a professional dandy, who was content to let his widowed mother pay his
extravagant tailor’s bills, and who played poker at the clubs as a
source of income; that it was not enough of a recommendation to be half
a Lauderdale and to skim the cream from New York society in the form of
daily invitations--and to have the reputation of being a good polo
player with other people’s horses, a good yachtsman with other people’s
yachts, and of having a strong head for other people’s wines. Those were
not the noble qualities Alexander Junior looked for in a son-in-law. Not
at all, sir. He preferred Benjamin Slayback of Nevada. The Lauderdales
were quite able to make society accept Benjamin Slayback of Nevada,
because Benjamin Slayback of Nevada was quite able to stand upon his own
feet anywhere, having worked for all he had, like a man, and having
pushed himself into the forefront of political life by sheer energy and
ability, and having as good a right and as good a chance in every way as
any man in the country. No, he was certainly not a Lauderdale. If
Lauderdales were to go on marrying Lauderdales and no one else, there
would soon be an end of society. He advised John Ralston to go to Nevada
and marry Benjamin Slayback’s sister, if she would look at him, which
was more than doubtful, considering that he was the most atrociously
idle young ne’er-do-weel--here Alexander’s Scotch upper lip snapped like
a steel trap--that ever wasted the most precious years of life between
the society of infatuated women by day, sir, and the temptations of the
card-table and the bottle by night--the favourite of fine ladies, the
boon companion of roisterers and the sport of a London tailor.

Which was a tremendous speech when delivered at close quarters in
Alexander Junior’s metallic voice, and in his most irately emphatic
manner, while the grey veins swelled at his grey temples, and one iron
hand was clenched ready to strike the palm of the other when the end of
the peroration was reached. He allowed himself, as a relation, even more
latitude in his language than he would have arrogated to himself as
Katharine’s father. He met John Ralston not only as the angry stage
father meets the ineligible and determined young suitor, but as one
Lauderdale meeting another--the one knowing himself to be
irreproachable, upbraiding the other as the disgrace of the family, the
hardened young sinner, and the sport of his tailor. That last expression
had almost brought a smile to Ralston’s angry face.

He had behaved admirably, however, under such very trying circumstances,
and afterwards secretly took great credit to himself for not having
attacked him whom he wished for a father-in-law with the furniture of
the latter’s own library, the chairs being the only convenient weapons
in the room. Alexander the Safe, as his own daughter called him, could
probably have killed John Ralston with one back-hander, but John would
have liked to try him in fight, nevertheless. Instead of doing anything
of the kind, however, John drew back two steps, and said as much as he
could trust himself to say without foaming at the mouth and seeing
things in scarlet. He said that he did not agree with his cousin
Alexander upon all the points the latter had mentioned, that he did not
care to prolong a violent scene, and he wished him good morning.
Thereupon he had left the house, which was quite the wisest thing he
could do, for when Alexander was alone he found to his extreme annoyance
that he had a distinct sensation of having been made almost ridiculous.
But he soon recovered from that, for whatever the secret mainspring of
his singular character might be, it was certainly not idle vanity.

Mrs. Lauderdale had consoled Katharine, and Ralston too, for that
matter, as well as she could, and with sincere sympathy. Ralston
continued to come to the house very much as he pleased, and Mr.
Lauderdale silently tolerated his presence on the rare occasions of
their meeting. He had certainly said more than enough to explain his
point of view, and he considered the matter as settled. It was really
not possible to keep a man who was his cousin altogether away, and he
suffered also from a delusion common to many fathers, which led him to
think that no one would ever dare to act against his once clearly
expressed wishes.

Between Katharine and her mother and Ralston there remained a sort of
tacit understanding. There was no formal engagement, of course, which
would have had to be concealed from Mr. Lauderdale, but Mrs. Lauderdale
meant that the two young people should be married if they continued to
love one another, and she generally left them as much together as they
pleased when Ralston came.

It was, therefore, not strange that they should both be surprised by the
nature of her sudden question as she stood by the fireplace looking
sideways at Ralston, with her back to the light.

“What is the use?” asked Katharine, repeating the words in astonishment
and emphasizing the last one.

“Yes. What is the use? It is leading to nothing. You never can be
married, and you know it by this time. You had much better separate at
once. It will be easier for you now, perhaps, than by and by. You are
both so young!”

“Excuse me, cousin Emma,” said Ralston, “but I think you must be
dreaming.”

He spoke very quietly, but the light was beginning to gleam in his
eyes. His mother was said to have a very bad temper, and John was like
her in many respects. But Mrs. Lauderdale continued to speak quite
calmly.

“I have been thinking about you two a great deal lately,” she said. “I
have made a mistake, and I may as well say so at once, now that I have
discovered it. You wouldn’t like me to go on letting you think that I
approved of your engagement, when I don’t--would you? That wouldn’t be
fair or honest.”

“Certainly not,” answered Ralston, in a low voice, and he could feel all
his muscles tightening as though for a physical effort. “Have you said
this sort of thing to Katharine before, or is this the first time?”

“No, she hasn’t said a word,” replied Katharine herself.

The girl was standing by the easy chair, her hand resting on the back of
it, her face pale, her great grey eyes staring wide open at her mother’s
profile.

“No, I have not,” said Mrs. Lauderdale. “I thought it best to wait until
I could speak to you together. It’s useless to give pain twice over.”

“It is indeed,” said Ralston, gravely. “Please go on.”

“Why--there’s nothing more to be said, Jack,” answered Mrs. Lauderdale.
“That’s all. The trouble is that you’ll never do anything, and you have
no fortune, nor any prospect of any--until your mother--”

“Please don’t speak of my mother in that connection,” interrupted
Ralston, his lips growing white.

“Well--and as for us, we’re as poor as can be. You see how we live.
Besides, you know. Old Mr. Lauderdale gets uncle Robert to subscribe
thousands and thousands for the idiots, but he never suggests that they
are far better off than we are. However, those are our miseries and not
yours. Yours is that you are perfectly useless--”

“Mother!” cried Katharine, losing control of herself and moving a step
forward.

“It’s all right, dear,” said Ralston. “Go on, cousin Emma. I’m perfectly
useless--”

“I don’t mean to offend you, Jack, and we’re not strangers,” continued
Mrs. Lauderdale, “and I won’t dwell on the facts. You know them as well
as I do, and are probably quite as sorry that they really are facts. I
will only ask one question. What chance is there that in the next four
or five years you can have a house of your own, and an income of your
own--just enough for two people to live on and no more--and--well--a
home for Katharine? What chance is there?”

“I’ll do something before that time,” answered Ralston, with a
determined look.

But Mrs. Lauderdale shook her head.

“So you said last year, Jack. I repeat--I don’t want to be unkind. How
long is Katharine to wait?”

“I’ll wait all my life, mother,” said the young girl, suddenly speaking
out in ringing tones. “I’ll wait till I die, if I must, and Jack knows
it. And I believe in him, if you don’t--against you all, you and papa
and uncle Robert and every one. Jack has never had a chance that
deserves to be called a chance at all. He must succeed--he shall
succeed--I know he’ll succeed. And I’ll wait till he does. I will--I
will--if it’s forever, and I shan’t be tired of waiting--it will always
be easy, for him. Oh, mother, mother--to think that you should have
turned against us! That’s the hard thing!”

“Thank you, dear,” said Ralston, touching her hand lovingly.

Mrs. Lauderdale had turned her face quite away from him now and was
looking at the clock, softly drumming with her fingers upon the
mantelpiece.

“I’m sorry, Katharine,” she said. “But I think it, and I’ve said it--and
I can’t unsay it. It’s far too true.”

There was a dead silence for several seconds. Then Katharine suddenly
pushed Ralston gently toward the door.

“Go, Jack dear,” she said in a low voice. “She has a dreadful
headache--she’s not herself. Your being here irritates her--please go
away--it will be all right in a day or two--”

They had reached the door, for Ralston saw that she was right.

“No,” said Mrs. Lauderdale from the fireplace, “I shan’t change my
mind.”

It was all so sudden and strange that Ralston found himself outside the
library without having taken leave of her in any way. Katharine came out
with him.

“There’s a difficulty,” he whispered quickly as he found his coat and
stick. “After it’s done there has to be a certificate saying that--”

“Katharine! Come here!” cried Mrs. Lauderdale from within, and they
heard her footstep as she left the fireplace.

“Come to-morrow morning at eleven,” whispered Katharine.

She barely touched his hand with hers and fled back into the library. He
let himself out and walked slowly along Clinton Place in the direction
of Fifth Avenue.



CHAPTER VIII.


Katharine went back to the library mechanically, because Mrs. Lauderdale
called her and because she heard the latter’s step upon the floor, but
not exactly in mere blind submission and obedience. She was, indeed, so
much surprised by what had taken place that she was not altogether her
usual self, and she was conscious that events moved more quickly just
then than her own power of decision. She was observant and perceptive,
but her reason had always worked slowly. Ralston, at least, was out of
the way, and she was glad that she had made him go. It had been
unbearable to hear her mother attacking him as she had done.

She believed that Mrs. Lauderdale was about to be seriously ill. No
other theory could account for her extraordinary behaviour. It was
therefore wisest to take away what irritated her and to be as patient as
possible. There was no excuse for her sudden change of opinion, and as
soon as she was quite well she would be sorry for what she had said.
Katharine was not more patient than most people, but she did her best.

“Is anything the matter, mother? You called so loud.” She spoke almost
before she had shut the door behind her.

“No. Did I? I wanted him to go away, that was all. Why should he stand
there talking to you in whispers?”

Katharine did not answer at once, but her broad eyebrows drew slowly
together and her eyelids contracted. She sat down and clasped her hands
together upon her knee.

“Because he had something to say to me which he did not wish you to
hear, mother,” she answered at last.

“Ah--I thought so.” Mrs. Lauderdale relapsed into silence, and from time
to time her mouth twitched nervously.

She glanced at her daughter once or twice. The young girl’s straight
features could look almost stolid at times. Her patience had given way
once, but she got hold of it again and tried to set it on her face like
a mask. She was thinking now and wondering whether this strange mood
were a mere caprice of her mother’s, though Mrs. Lauderdale had never
been capricious before, or whether something had happened to change her
opinion of Ralston suddenly but permanently. In the one case it would be
best to bear it as quietly as possible, in the other to declare war at
once. But that seemed impossible, when she tried to realize it. She was
deeply, sincerely devoted to her mother. Hitherto they had each
understood the other’s thoughts and feelings almost without words, and
in all the many little domestic difficulties they had been firm allies.
It was not possible that they were to quarrel now. The gap in life would
be too deep and broad. Katharine suddenly rose and came and sat beside
her mother and drew the fair, tired face to her own, very tenderly.

“Mother dear,” she said, “look at me! What is the matter? Have I done
anything to hurt you--to displease you? We’ve always loved each other,
you and I--and we can’t really quarrel, can we? What is it, dearest?
Tell me everything--I can’t understand it at all--I know--you’re tired
and ill, and Jack irritated you. Men will, sometimes, even the very
nicest men, you know. It was only that, wasn’t it? Yes--I knew it
was--poor, dear, darling, sweet, tired little mother, just let your dear
head rest--so, against me--yes, dear, I know--it was nothing--”

It was as though they had changed places, the mother and the daughter.
The older woman’s lip quivered, as her cheek rested on Katharine’s
breast. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, two tears gathered just within the
shadowed lids, and grew and overflowed and trembled and fell--two
crystal drops. She saw them fall upon the rough grey stuff of her
daughter’s frock, and as she lay there upon the girl’s bosom with
downcast eyes, she watched her own tears, in momentary apathy, and
noticed how they ran, then crawled along, then stopped, caught as it
seemed in the stiff little hairs of the coarse material--and she noticed
that there were a few black hairs mixed with the grey, which she had not
known before.

Then quite suddenly, just as they were shrinking and darkening the wool
with two small spots, a great irresistible sob seemed to come from
outside and run through her from head to foot, and shook her and hurt
her and gripped her throat. A moment more and the flood of tears broke.
Those storms of life’s autumn are chill and sharp. They are not like the
showers of spring, quick, light and soft, that make blossoms fragrant
and woods sweet-scented.

Katharine did not understand, and her face was gentle and full of pain
as she pressed her mother to her bosom.

“Don’t cry, mother--don’t cry!” she repeated again and again.

“Ah, Katharine--child--if you knew!” The few words came with difficulty,
as each sob rose and would not be forced back.

“No, darling--don’t! There, there!” And the young girl tried to soothe
her.

Suddenly it all ceased. With an impatient movement, as though she
despised herself, Mrs. Lauderdale drew back, steadied herself with one
hand upon the end of the sofa, turned her head away and rose to her
feet.

“Go out, child--leave me to myself!” she said indistinctly, and going
quickly towards the door. “Don’t come after me--don’t--no, don’t,” she
repeated, not looking back, as she went out.

Left to herself, and understanding that it was better not to follow,
Katharine stood still a moment in the middle of the room, then went to
the window and looked out, seeing nothing. She did not know what it all
meant, but she felt that some great change which she could not
comprehend had come over her mother, and that they could never be again
as they had been. A mere headache, the mere fatigue from overwork, could
not have produced such results. Nor was Mrs. Lauderdale really ill, as
the girl’s womanly instinct had told her within the last five minutes.
The trouble, whatever it might be, was mental, and the tears had given
it a momentary relief. But it was not over.

Katharine went out, at last, and was glad to breathe the keen air of the
wintry afternoon; glad, too, to be alone with herself. She even wished
that she were not obliged to go into Fifth Avenue, where she might meet
an acquaintance, or at all events to cross it, as she decided to do when
she reached the first corner. Going straight on, the next street was
University Place, and the lower part of that was quiet, and Waverley
Place and the neighbourhood of the old University building itself. She
could wander about there for half an hour without going so far as
Broadway, nor southwards to the precincts of the French and Italian
business colonies. So she walked slowly on, and then turned, and turned
again, round and round, backwards and forwards, meeting no one she knew,
thinking all the time and idly noticing things that had never struck her
before, as, for instance, that there is a row of stables leading
westward out of University Place which is called Washington Mews, and
that at almost every corner where there is a liquor-shop there seems to
be an Italian fruit-stand--the function of the ‘dago’ being to give
warning of the approach of the police, in certain cases, a fact which
Katharine could not be expected to know.

Just beyond the aforesaid Mews, at the corner of Washington Square, she
came suddenly upon little Frank Miner, his overcoat buttoned up to his
chin and a roll of papers sticking out of his pocket. His fresh face was
pink with the cold, his small dark mustache glistened, and his restless
eyes were bright. The two almost ran against one another and both
stopped. He raised his hat with a quick smile and put out his hand.

“How d’ye do, Miss Lauderdale?” he asked.

In spite of the family connection he had never got so far as to call her
Katharine, or even cousin Katharine. The young girl shook hands with
him and smiled.

“Are you out for a walk?” he asked, before she had been able to speak.
“And if so, may I come too?”

“Oh, yes--do.”

She had been alone long enough to find it impossible to reach any
conclusion, and of all people except Ralston, Miner was the one she felt
most able to tolerate just then. His perfectly simple belief in himself
and his healthy good humour made him good company for a depressed
person.

“You seemed to be in such a hurry,” said Katharine, as he began to walk
slowly by her side.

“Of course, as I was coming to meet you,” he answered promptly.

“But you didn’t know--”

“Providence knew,” he said, interrupting her. “It was foreordained when
the world was chaos and New York was inhabited by protoplasm--and all
that--that you and I should meet just here, at this very minute. Aren’t
you a fatalist? I am. It’s far the best belief.”

“Is it? Why? I should think it rather depressing.”

“Why--no. You believe that you’re the sport of destiny. Now a sport
implies amusement of some kind. See?”

“Is the football amused when it’s kicked?” asked Katharine, with a short
laugh.

“Now please don’t introduce football, Miss Lauderdale,” said Miner,
without hesitation. “I don’t understand anything about it, and I know
that I should, because it’s a mania just now. All the men get it when
the winter comes on, and they sit up half the night at the club, drawing
diagrams and talking Hebrew, and getting excited--I’ve seen them
positively sitting up on their hind-legs in rows, and waving their paws
and tearing their hair--just arguing about the points of a game half of
them never played at all.”

“What a picture!” laughed Katharine.

“Isn’t it? But it’s just true. I’m going to write a book about it and
call it ‘The Kicker Kicked’--you know, like Sartor Resartus--all full of
philosophy and things. Can you say ‘Kicker Kicked’ twenty times very
fast, Miss Lauderdale? I believe it’s impossible. I just left my three
sisters--they’re slowly but firmly turning into aunts, you know--I left
them all trying to say it as hard as they could, and the whole place
clicked as though a thousand policemen’s rattles were all going at
once--hard! And they were all showing their teeth and going mad over
it.”

“I should think so--and that’s another picture.”

“By the bye, speaking of pictures, have you seen the Loan Collection?
It’s full of portraits of children with such extraordinary
expressions--they all look as though they had given up trying to
educate their parents in despair. I wonder why everybody paints
children? Nobody can. I believe it would take a child--who knew how to
paint, of course,--to paint a child, and give just that something which
real children have--just what makes them children.”

She was silent for a moment, following the unexpected train of thoughts.
There were delicate sides to his nature that pleased Katharine as well
as his nonsense.

“That’s a pretty idea,” she said, after thinking of it a few seconds.

“Everybody tries and fails,” answered Miner. “Why doesn’t somebody paint
you?” he asked suddenly, looking at her.

“Somebody means to,” she replied. “I was to have gone to sit to Mr.
Crowdie this morning, but he sent me word to come to-morrow instead. I
suppose he had forgotten another engagement.”

“Crowdie is ill,” said Miner. “Bright told me so this morning--some
queer attack that nobody could understand.”

“Something serious?” asked Katharine, quickly.

“Oh, no--I suppose not. Let’s go and see. He lives close by--at least,
not far, you know, over in Lafayette Place. It won’t take five minutes
to go across. Would you like to go?”

“Yes,” answered the young girl. “I could ask if he will be able to begin
the picture to-morrow.”

They turned to the right at the next crossing and reached Broadway a few
moments later. There was the usual crowd of traffic in the great
thoroughfare, and they had to wait a moment at the crossing before
attempting it. Miner thought of what he had seen on the previous
afternoon.

“Did you hear of Jack Ralston’s accident yesterday?” he asked.

Katharine started violently and turned pale. She had not realized how
the long hours and the final scene with her mother had unstrung her
nerves. But Miner was watching the cars and carts for an opening, and
did not see her.

“Yesterday?” she repeated, a moment later. “No--he came to see us and
stayed almost till dinner time. What was it? When did it happen? Was he
hurt?”

“Oh--you saw him afterwards, then?” Miner looked up into her face--she
was taller than he--with a curious expression--recollecting Ralston’s
condition when he had last seen him.

“It wasn’t serious, then? It had happened before he came to our house?”

“Why--yes,” answered the little man, with a puzzled expression. “Was he
all right when you saw him?”

“Perfectly. He never said anything about any accident. He looked just as
he always does.”

“That fellow has copper springs and patent joints inside him!” Miner
laughed. “He was a good deal shaken, that’s all, and went home in a cab.
I should have gone to bed, myself.”

“But what was it?”

“Oh--what he’d call nothing, I suppose! The cars at the corner of
Thirty-second and Broadway--we were waiting, just as we are now--two
cars were coming in opposite ways, and a boy with a bundle and a dog and
a perambulator, and a few other things, got between the tracks--of
course the cars would have taken off his head or his heels or his
bundle, or something, and the dog would have been ready for his halo in
three seconds. Jack jumped and picked up everything together and threw
them before him and fell on his head. Wonder he wasn’t killed or
crippled--or both--no, I mean--here’s a chance, Miss Lauderdale--come
along before that van stops the way!”

There was not time to say anything as Katharine hastened across the
broad street by his side, and by the time they had reached the pavement
the blood had come back to her face. Her fears for Ralston’s safety had
been short-lived, thanks to Miner’s quick way of telling the story, and
in their place came the glow of pride a woman feels when the man she
loves is praised by men for a brave action. Miner glanced at her as he
landed her safely from the crossing and wondered whether Crowdie’s
portrait would do her justice. He doubted it, just then.

“It was just like him,” she said quietly.

“And I suppose it was like him to say nothing about it, but just to go
home and restore his shattered exterior and put on another pair of boots
and go and see you. You said he looked as though nothing had happened to
him?”

“Quite. We had a long talk together. I should certainly not have guessed
that anything had gone wrong.”

“Ralston’s an unusual sort of fellow, anyhow,” said Miner,
enigmatically. “But then--so am I, so is Crowdie--do you like Crowdie?
Rude question, isn’t it? Well, I won’t ask it, then. Besides, if he’s to
paint your picture you must have a pleasant expression--a smile that
goes all round your head and is tied with a black ribbon behind--you
know?”

“Oh, yes!” Katharine laughed again, as she generally did at the little
man’s absurd sayings.

“But Crowdie knows,” he continued. “He’s clever--oh, to any extent--big
things and little things. All his lions roar and all his mosquitoes
buzz, just like real things. The only thing he can’t do is to paint
children, and nobody can do that. By the bye, I’m repeating myself. It
doesn’t take long to get all round a little man like me. There are lots
of things about Crowdie, though. He sings like an angel. I never heard
such a voice. It’s more like a contralto--like Scalchi’s as it was,
though she’s good still,--than like a tenor. Oh, he’s full of talent. I
wish he weren’t so queer!”

“Queer? How do you mean?”

“I don’t know, I’m sure. There’s something different from other people.
Is he a friend of yours? I mean, a great friend?”

“Oh, no--not at all. I’m very fond of Mrs. Crowdie. She’s a cousin, you
know.”

“Yes. Well--I don’t know that I can make you understand what I mean,
though. Besides, he’s a very good sort of fellow. Never heard of
anything that wasn’t all right about him--at least--nothing particular.
I don’t know. He’s like some kind of strange, pale, tropical fruit
that’s gone bad at the core and might be poisonous. Horrid thing to say
of a man, isn’t it?”

“Oh, I know just what you mean!” answered Katharine, with a little
movement of disgust.

Miner suddenly became thoughtful again, and they reached the Crowdies’
house,--a pretty little one, with white stone steps, unlike the ordinary
houses of New York. Lafayette Place is an unfashionable nook, rather
quiet and apparently remote from civilization. It has, however, three
dignities, as the astrologers used to say. The Bishop of New York has
his official residence on one side of it, and on the other is the famous
Astor Library. A little further down there was at that time a small
club frequented by the great publishers and by some of their most
expensive authors. No amateur ever twice crossed the threshold alive.

Miner rang the bell, and the door was opened by an extremely smart old
man-servant in livery. The Crowdies were very prosperous people.
Katharine asked if Hester were at home. The man answered that Mrs.
Crowdie was not receiving, but that he believed she would wish to see
Miss Katharine. He had been with the Ralstons in the Admiral’s lifetime
and had known Katharine since she had been a baby. Crowdie was very
proud of him on account of his thick white hair.

“I’ll go in,” said the young girl. “Good-bye, Mr. Miner--thank you so
much for coming with me.”

Miner trotted down the white stone steps and Katharine went into the
house, and waited some minutes in the pretty little sitting-room with
the bow-window, on the right of the entrance. She was just thinking that
possibly Hester did not wish to see her, after all, when the door opened
and Mrs. Crowdie entered. She was a pale, rather delicate-looking woman,
in whose transparent features it was hard to trace any resemblance to
her athletic brother, Hamilton Bright. But she was not an insignificant
person by any means. She had the Lauderdale grey eyes like so many of
the family, but with more softness in them, and the eyebrows were
finely pencilled. An extraordinary quantity of silky brown hair was
coiled and knotted as closely as possible to her head, and parted low on
the forehead in heavy waves, without any of the ringlets which have been
fashionable for years. There were almost unnaturally deep shadows under
the eyes, and the mouth was too small for the face and strongly curved,
the angles of the lips being very cleanly cut all along their length,
and very sharply distinct in colour from the ivory complexion.
Altogether, it was a passionate face--or perhaps one should say
impassioned. Imaginative people might have said that there was something
fatal about it. Mrs. Crowdie was even paler than usual to-day, and it
was evident that she had undergone some severe strain upon her strength.

“Oh, I’m so glad to see you, dear!” she said, kissing the young girl on
both cheeks and leading her to a small sofa just big enough to
accommodate two persons, side by side.

“You look tired and troubled, Hester darling,” said Katharine. “I met
little Frank Miner and he told me that Mr. Crowdie had been taken ill. I
hope it’s nothing serious?”

“No--yes--how can I tell you? He’s in his studio now, as though nothing
had happened--not that he’s working, for of course he’s tired--oh, it
has been so dreadful--I wish I could cry, but I can’t, you know. I
never could. That’s why it hurts so. But I’m so glad you’ve come. I had
just written a note to you and was going to send it, when Fletcher came
up and said you were here. It was one of my intuitions--I’m always doing
those things.”

It was so evidently a relief to her to talk that Katharine let her run
on till she paused, before asking a question.

“What was the matter with him? Tell me, dear.”

Mrs. Crowdie did not answer at once, but sat holding the young girl’s
hand and staring at the fire.

“Katharine,” she said at last, “I’m in great trouble. I want a
friend--not to help me, for no one can--I must bear it alone--but I must
speak, or it will drive me mad.”

“You can tell me everything if you will, Hester,” said Katharine,
gravely. “It will be quite safe with me. But don’t tell me, if you are
ever going to regret it.”

“No--I was thinking--”

Mrs. Crowdie hesitated and there was a short silence. She covered her
eyes for an instant with one small hand--her hands were small and
pointed, but not so thin as might have been expected from her face--and
then she looked at her companion. The strong, well-balanced features
apparently inspired her with confidence. She nodded slowly, as though
reaching a conclusion within herself, and then spoke.

“I will tell you, Katharine. I’d much rather tell you than any one else,
and I know myself--I should be sure to tell somebody in the end. You’re
like a man in some things, though you are only a girl. If I had a man
friend, I think I should go to him--but I haven’t. Walter has always
been everything to me. Somehow I never get intimate with men, as some
women do.”

“Surely--there’s your brother, Hester. Why don’t you go to him? I
should, in your place.”

“No, dear. You don’t know--Hamilton never approved of my marriage.
Didn’t you know? He’s such a good fellow that he wouldn’t tell any one
else so. But he--well--he never liked Walter, from the first, though I
must say Walter was very nice to him. And about the arrangements--you
know I had a settlement--Ham insisted upon it--so that my little fortune
is in the hands of trustees--your father is one of them. As though
Walter would ever have touched it! He makes me spend it all on myself.
No, dear--I couldn’t tell my brother--so I shall tell you.”

She stopped speaking and leaned forward, burying her face in her hands
for a moment, as though to collect her thoughts. Then she sat up again,
and looked at the fire while she spoke.

“It was last night,” she said. “He dined with you, and I stayed at home
all by myself, not being asked, you see, because it was at a moment’s
notice--it was quite natural, of course. Walter came home early, and we
sat in the studio a long time, as we often do in the evening. There’s
such a beautiful light, and the big fireplace, and cushions--and all. I
thought he smoked a great deal, and you know he doesn’t usually smoke
much, on account of his voice, and he really doesn’t care for it as some
men do. I wish he did--I like the smell of it, and then a man ought to
have some little harmless vice. Walter never drinks wine, nor
coffee--nothing but Apollinaris. He’s not at all like most men. He never
uses any scent, but he likes to burn all sorts of queer perfumes in the
studio in a little Japanese censer. I like cigars much better, and I
always tell him so,--and he laughs. How foolish I am!” she interrupted
herself. “But it’s such a relief to talk--you don’t know!”

“Go on, dear--I’m listening,” said Katharine, humouring her, and
speaking very gently.

“Yes--but I must tell you now.”

Katharine saw how she straightened herself to make the effort, and
sitting close beside her, so that they touched one another, she felt
that Hester was pressing back against the sofa, while she braced her
feet against a footstool.

“It was very sudden,” she said in a low voice. “We were talking--I was
saying something--all at once his face changed so--oh, it makes me
shudder to think of it. It seemed--I don’t know--like--almost like a
devil’s face! And his eyes seemed to turn in--he was all purple--and his
lips were all wet--it was like foam--oh, it was dreadful--too awful!”

Katharine was startled and shocked. She could say nothing, but pressed
the small hand in anxious sympathy. Hester smiled faintly, and then
almost laughed, but instantly recovered herself again. She was not at
all a hysterical woman, and, as she said, she could never cry.

“That’s only the beginning,” she continued. “I won’t tell you how he
looked. He fell over on the divan and rolled about and caught at the
cushions and at me--at everything. He didn’t know me at all, and he
never spoke an articulate word--not one. But he groaned, and seemed to
gnash his teeth--I believe it went on for hours, while I tried to help
him, to hold him, to keep him from hurting himself. And then--after a
long, long time--all at once, his face changed again, little by little,
and--will you believe it, dear? He was asleep!”

“How strange!” exclaimed Katharine.

“Yes--wasn’t it? But it seemed so merciful, and I was so glad. And I sat
by him all night and watched him. Then early, early this morning--it
was just grey through the big skylight of the studio--he waked and
looked at me, and seemed so surprised to find himself there. I told him
he had fallen asleep--which was true, you know--and he seemed a little
dazed, and went to bed very quietly. But to-day, when he got up--it was
I who sent you word not to come, because he had told me about the
sitting--I told him everything, and insisted upon sending for Doctor
Routh. He seemed terribly distressed, but wouldn’t let me send, and he
walked up and down the room, looking at me as though his heart would
break. But he said nothing, except that he begged and begged me not to
send for the doctor.”

“And he’s quite himself now, you say?”

“Wait--the worst is coming. At last he sat down beside me, and said--oh,
so tenderly--that he had something to say to which I must listen, though
he was afraid that it would pain me very much--that he had thought it
would never be necessary to tell me, because he had imagined that he was
quite cured when he had married me. Of course, I told him that--well,
never mind what I said. You know how I love him.”

Katharine knew, and it was incomprehensible to her, but she pressed the
little hand once more.

“He told me that nearly ten years ago he had been ill with inflammatory
rheumatism--that’s the name of it, and it seems that it’s
excruciatingly painful. It was in Paris, and the doctors gave him
morphia. He could not give it up afterwards.”

“And he takes morphia still?” asked Katharine, anxiously enough, for she
knew what it meant.

“No--that’s it. He gave it up after five years--five whole years--to
marry me. It was hard, he said, but he felt that it was possible, and he
loved me, and he determined not to marry me while he was a slave to the
poison. He gave it up for my sake. Wasn’t that heroic?”

“Yes,” said Katharine, gravely, and wondering whether she had misjudged
Crowdie. “It was really heroic. They say it is the hardest thing any one
can do.”

“He did it. I love him ten times more for it--but--this is the result of
giving it up, dear. He will always be subject to these awful attacks. He
says that a dose of morphia would stop one of them instantly, and
perhaps prevent their coming back for a long time. But he won’t take it.
He says he would rather cut off his hand than take it, and he made me
promise not to give it to him when he is unconscious, if I ever see him
in that state again. He’s so brave about it,” she said, with a little
choking sigh. “I’ve told you my story, dear.”

Her face relaxed a little, and she opened and shut her hands slowly as
though they had been stiffened.

Katharine sat with her half an hour longer that afternoon, sympathizing
at first and then trying to divert her attention from the subject which
filled all her heart and mind. Then she rose to go.

As they went out together from the little sitting-room, the sound of
Crowdie’s voice came down to them from the studio in the upper story.
The door must have been open. Katharine and Hester stood still and
listened, for he was singing, alone and to himself, high up above them,
a little song of Tosti’s with French words.

    “Si vous saviez que je vous aime.”

It was indeed a marvellous voice, and as Katharine listened to the soft,
silver notes, and felt the infinite pathos of each phrase, she wondered
whether, with all his success as a painter, Crowdie had not mistaken his
career. She listened, spell-bound, to the end.

“It’s divine!” she exclaimed. “There’s no other word for it.”

Hester Crowdie was paler than ever, and her soft grey eyes were all on
fire. And yet she had heard him hundreds of times. Almost before
Katharine had shut the glass door behind her, she heard the sound of
light, quick footsteps as Hester ran upstairs to her husband.

“It’s all very strange,” thought Katharine. “And I never heard of
morphia having those effects afterwards. But then--how should I know?”

And meditating on the many emotions she had seen in others during the
last twenty-four hours, she hurried homewards.



CHAPTER IX.


Mrs. Lauderdale had met with temptations in the course of her life, but
they had not often appealed to her as they would have appealed to many
women, for she was not easily tempted. A number of forms of goodness
which are very hard to most people had been so easy to her that she had
been good without effort, as, on the whole, she was good by nature. She
had been brought up in an absolutely fixed religious belief, and had
never felt any inclination to deviate from it, nor to speculate about
the details of it, for her intellect was rather indolent, and in most
positions in life her common-sense, which was strong, had taken the
place of the complicated mental processes familiar to imaginative people
like Katharine. Such imagination as Mrs. Lauderdale had was occupied
with artistic matters.

Her vanity had always been satisfied quite naturally, without effort on
her part, by her own great and uncontested beauty. She knew, and had
always known, that she was commonly compared with the greatest beauties
of the world, by men and women who had seen them and were able to
judge. Social ambition never touched her either, and she never
remembered to have met with a single one of those small society rebuffs
which embitter the lives of some women. Nobody had ever questioned her
right, nor her husband’s right, nor that of any of the family, to be
considered equal with the first. In early days she had suffered a
little, indeed, from not being rich enough to exercise that gift of
almost boundless hospitality which is rather the rule than the exception
among Americans, and which is said, with some justice, to be an especial
characteristic of Kentuckians. Such troubles as she had met with had
chiefly arisen from the smallness of her husband’s income, from
peculiarities of her husband’s character, and from her elder daughter’s
headstrong disposition. And with all these her common-sense had helped
her continually.

She loved amusement and she had it in abundance, in society, during a
great part of the year. Her talent had helped her to procure luxuries,
and she had been generous in giving a large share of them to her
daughters. She had soon learned to understand that society wanted her
for herself, and not for what she could offer it in her own home, and
she had been flattered by the discovery. As for Alexander, he had many
good qualities which she appreciated when she compared him with the
husbands of other women. Generosity with money was not his strong
point, but he had many others. He loved her tenaciously, not tenderly,
nor passionately, nor in any way that was at all romantic--if that word
means anything--and certainly not blindly, but tenaciously; and his
admiration for her beauty, though rarely expressed, found expression on
such occasions in short, strong phrases which left no manner of doubt as
to his sincere conviction. She had not been happy with him, as boys and
girls mean to be happy--for the rigidity of very great strength, when
not combined with a corresponding intellect, is excessively wearisome in
the companionship of daily married life. There is a coldness, a lack of
expression and of sympathy, a Pharaoh-like, stony quality about it which
do not encourage affection, nor satisfy an expansive nature. And though
not imaginative, Mrs. Lauderdale was expansive. She had a few moments of
despairing regret at first. She felt that she might just as well have
married a magnificent, clean-built, iron-bodied, steel-jointed
locomotive, as the man she had chosen, and that she could produce about
as much impression on his character as she could have made upon such an
engine. But she found out in time that, within certain limits, he was
quite willing to do what she asked of him, and that beyond them he ran
his daily course with a systematic and unvarying regularity, which was
always safe, if it was never amusing. She got such amusement as she
liked from other sources, and she often consoled herself for the dulness
of the family dinner, when she dined at home, with the certainty that,
during several hours before she went to bed, the most desirable men at a
great ball would contest the honour of dancing with her. And that was
all she wanted of them. She liked some of them. She took an interest in
their doings, and she listened sympathetically to the story of their
troubles. But it was not in her nature to flirt, nor to lose her head
when she was flattered, and if she sometimes doubted whether she really
loved her husband at all, she was quite certain that she could never
love any one else. Perhaps she deserved no credit for her faithfulness,
for it was quite natural to her.

On the whole, therefore, her temptations had been few, in reality, and
she had scarcely noticed them. She had reached the most painful moment
of her life with very little experience of what she could resist--the
moment when she realized that the supremacy of her beauty was at an end.
Of course, she had exaggerated very much the change which had taken
place, for at the crucial instant when she had caught sight of her face
in the mirror she had been unusually tired, considerably bored and not a
little annoyed--and the mirror had a decidedly green tinge in the glass,
as she assured herself by examining it and comparing it with a good one
on the following morning. But the impression once received was never to
be effaced; she might look her very best in the eyes of others--to her
own, the lines of age being once discovered were never to be lost again,
the dazzling freshness was never to come back to her skin, nor the gold
to her hair, nor the bloom to her lips. And Crowdie, who was an artist,
and almost a great portrait painter, could not take his eyes from
Katharine, at whom no one would have looked twice when her mother had
been at the height of her beauty. At least, so Mrs. Lauderdale thought.

And now, until Katharine was married and went away from home, the elder
woman was to be daily, almost hourly, compared with her daughter by all
who saw them together; for the first time in her life she was to be
second in that one respect in which she had everywhere been first ever
since she could remember, and she was to be second in her own house.
When she realized it, she was horrified, and for a time her whole nature
seemed changed. She clung desperately to that beauty of hers, which was,
had she known it, the thing she loved best on earth, and which had
reduced in her eyes the value of everything else. She clung to it, and
yet, from that fatal moment, she knew that it was hopeless to cling to
it, hopeless to try and recall it, hopeless to hope for a miracle which,
even in the annals of miracles, had never been performed--the recall of
youth. The only possible mitigation suggested itself as a spontaneous
instinct--to avoid that cruel comparison with Katharine. In the first
hours it overcame her altogether. She could not look at the girl. She
could hardly bring herself to speak kindly to her; though she knew that
she would willingly lay down her life for the child she loved best, she
could not lay down her beauty.

She was terrified at herself when she began to understand that something
had overcome her which she felt powerless to resist. For she was a very
religious woman, and the idea of envying her own daughter, and of almost
hating her out of envy, was monstrous. When Ralston had come, she had
not had the slightest intention of speaking as she had spoken. Suddenly
the words had come to her lips of themselves, as it were. If things went
on as they were going, Katharine would wait for Ralston during years to
come--the girl had her father’s nature in that--and Katharine would be
at home, and the cruel, hopeless comparison must go on, a perpetual and
a keen torture from which there was to be no escape. It was simply
impossible, intolerable, more than human endurance could bear. Ralston
must be sent away, Katharine must be married as quickly as possible, and
peace would come. There was no other way. It would be easy enough to
marry the girl, with her position, and the hope of some of Robert
Lauderdale’s money, and with her beauty--that terrible beauty of hers
that was turning her mother’s to ugliness beside it. The first words had
spoken themselves, the others had followed of necessity, and then, at
the end, had come the overwhelming consciousness of what they had meant,
and the breaking down of the overstrained nerves, and the sobs and the
tears, gushing out as a spring where instant remorse had rent and cleft
her very soul.

It was no wonder that Katharine did not understand what was taking
place. Fortunately, being much occupied with her own very complicated
existence, she did not attempt any further analysis of the situation,
did not accidentally guess what was really the matter, and wisely
concluded that it would be best to leave her mother to herself for a
time.

On the morning after the events last chronicled, Mrs. Lauderdale
returned to her work, and at a quarter before eleven Katharine was ready
to go out and was watching for Ralston at the library window. As soon as
she saw him in the distance she let herself out of the house and went to
meet him. He glanced at her rather anxiously as they exchanged
greetings, and she thought that he looked tired and careworn. There were
shadows under his eyes, and his dark skin looked rather bloodless.

“Why didn’t you tell me that you had an accident the day before
yesterday?” she asked at once.

“Who told you I had?” he enquired.

“Mr. Miner. I went out alone yesterday, after you had gone, and I met
him at the corner of Washington Square. He told me all about it. How can
you do such things, Jack? How can you risk your life in that way? And
then, not to tell me! It wasn’t kind. You seem to think I don’t care. I
wish you wouldn’t! I’m sure I turned perfectly green when Mr. Miner told
me--he must have thought it very extraordinary. You might at least have
given me warning.”

“I’m very sorry,” said Ralston. “I didn’t think it was worth mentioning.
Wasn’t I all right when I came to see you?”

He looked at her rather anxiously again--for another reason, this time.
But her answer satisfied him.

“Oh--you were ‘dear’--even nicer than usual! But don’t do it again--I
mean, such things. You don’t know how frightened I was when he told me.
In fact, I’m rather ashamed of it, and it’s much better that you
shouldn’t know.”

“All right!” And Ralston smiled happily. “Now,” he continued after a
moment’s thought, “I want to explain to you what I’ve found out about
this idea of yours.”

“Don’t call it an idea, Jack. You promised that you would do it, you
know.”

“Yes. I know I did. But it’s absolutely impossible to have it quite a
secret--theoretically, at least.”

“Why?” She slackened her pace instinctively, and then, seeing that they
were just entering Fifth Avenue, walked on more briskly, turning down in
the direction of the Square.

Ralston told her in a few words what he had learned from the lawyer.

“You see,” he concluded, “there’s no way out of it. And, of course,
anybody may go to the Bureau of Vital Statistics and look at the
records.”

“But is anybody likely to?” asked Katharine. “Is the Clerk of the
Records, or whatever you call him, the sort of man who would be likely
to know papa, for instance? That’s rather important.”

“No. I shouldn’t think so. But everybody knows all about you. You might
as well be the President of the United States as be a Lauderdale, as far
as doing anything incognito is concerned.”

“There’s only one President at a time, and there are twenty-three
Lauderdales in the New York directory besides ourselves, and six of them
are Alexanders.”

“Are there? How did you happen to know that?” asked Ralston.

“Grandpapa looked them up the other day. He’s always looking up things,
you know--when he’s not asleep, poor dear!”

“That certainly makes a difference.”

“Of course it does,” said Katharine. “No doubt the Clerk of the Records
has seen the name constantly. Besides, I don’t suppose he does the work
himself. He only signs things. He probably looks at the books once a
month, or something of that sort.”

“Even then--he might come across the entry. He may have heard my name,
too--you see my father was rather a bigwig in the Navy--and then, seeing
the two together--”

“And what difference does it make? It isn’t really a secret marriage,
you know, Jack--at least, it’s not to be a secret after I tell uncle
Robert, which will be within twenty-four hours, you know. On the
contrary, I shall tell him that we meant to tell everybody, and that it
will be an eternal disgrace to him if he does nothing for you.”

“He’ll bear that with equanimity, dear. You won’t succeed.”

“Something will have to be done for us. When we’re married and everybody
knows it, we can’t go on living as if we weren’t--indefinitely--it would
be too ridiculous. Papa couldn’t stand that--he’s rather afraid of
ridicule, I believe, though he’s not afraid of anything else. So, as I
was saying, something will have to be done.”

“That’s a hopeful view,” laughed Ralston. “But I like the idea that it’s
not to be a secret for more than a day. It makes it look different.”

“But I always told you that was what I meant, dear--I couldn’t do
anything mean or underhand. Didn’t you believe me?”

“Of course--but somehow I didn’t see it exactly as I do now.”

“Oh, Jack--you have no more sense than--than a small yellow dog!”

At which very remarkable simile Ralston laughed again, as he caught
sight of the creature that had suggested it--a small yellowish cur
sitting on the pavement, bolt upright against the railing, and looking
across the street, grinning from ear to ear and making his pink tongue
shake with a perfectly unnecessary panting, the very picture of canine
silliness.

“Yes--that’s the dog I mean,” said Katharine. “Look at him--he’s
behaving just as you do, sometimes. But let’s be serious. What am I to
do? Who is going to marry us?”

“Oh--I’ll find somebody,” answered Ralston, confidently. “They all say
it’s easy enough to be married in New York, but that it’s awfully hard
to be divorced.”

“All the better!” laughed Katharine. “By the bye--what time is it?”

“Five minutes to eleven,” answered Ralston, looking at his watch.

“Dear me! And at eleven I’m due at Mr. Crowdie’s for my portrait. I
shall be late. Go and see about finding a clergyman while I’m at the
studio. It can’t be helped.”

Ralston glanced at her in surprise. Of her sitting for her portrait he
had not heard before.

“I must say,” he answered, “you don’t seem inclined to waste time this
morning--”

“Certainly not! Why should we lose time? We’ve lost a whole year
already. Do you think I’m the kind of girl who has to talk everything
over fifty times to make up her mind? When you came, day before
yesterday, I’d decided the whole matter. And now I mean--yes, you may
look at me and laugh, Jack--I mean to put it through. I’m much more
energetic than you seem to think. I believe you always imagined I was a
lazy, pokey, moony sort of girl, with too much papa and mamma and weak
tea and buttered toast in her nature. I’m not, you know. I’m just as
energetic for a girl as you are for a man.”

“Rather more so,” said Ralston, watching her with intense admiration of
her strong and beautiful self, and with considerable indifference to
what she was saying, though her words amused him. “Please tell me about
Crowdie and the portrait.”

“Oh--the portrait? Mr. Crowdie wants to paint it for Hester. I’m going
to sit the first time this morning. That’s all. Here we are at the
corner. We must cross here to get over to Lafayette Place.”

“Well, then,” said Ralston, as they walked on, “there’s only one more
point, and that’s to find a clergyman. I suppose you can’t suggest
anybody, can you?”

“Hardly! You must manage that. I’m sure I’ve done quite enough already.”

They discussed the question as they walked, without coming to any
conclusion. Ralston determined to spend the day in looking for a proper
person. He could easily withhold his name in every case, until he had
made the arrangements. As a matter of fact, it is not hard to find a
clergyman under the circumstances, since no clergyman can properly
refuse to marry a respectable couple against whom he knows nothing. The
matter of subsequent secrecy becomes for him more a question of taste
than of conscience.

They reached the door of the Crowdie house, and Katharine turned at the
foot of the white stone steps to say good-bye.

“Say you’re glad, Jack dear!” she said suddenly, as she put out her
hand, and their eyes met.

“Glad! Of course I’m glad--no, I really am glad now, though I wasn’t at
first. It looks different--it looks all right to-day.”

“You don’t look just as I expected you would, though,” said Katharine,
doubtfully. “And yet it seems to me you ought--” She stopped.

“Katharine--dear--you can’t expect me to be as enthusiastically happy as
though it really meant being married to you--can you?”

“But it does mean it. What else should it mean, or could it mean? Why
isn’t it just the same as though we had a big wedding?”

“Because things won’t turn out as you think they will,” answered
Ralston. “At least, not soon--uncle Robert won’t do anything, you know.
One can’t take fate and destiny and fortune and shuffle them about as
though they were cards.”

“One can, Jack! That’s just it. Everybody has one chance of being happy.
We’ve got ours now, and we’ll take it.”

“We’ll take it anyhow, whether it’s really a chance or not.
Good-bye--dear--dear--”

He pressed her hand as he spoke, and his voice was tender and rang true,
but it had not that quaver of emotion in it which had so touched
Katharine on that one evening, and which she longed to hear again; and
Ralston missed the wave of what had seemed like deep feeling, and wished
it would come back. His nerves were perfectly steady now, though he had
been late at his club on the previous evening, and had not slept much.

“I’ll write you a note this afternoon,” he said, “as soon as I’ve
arranged with the clergyman. If it has to be very early, you must find
some excuse for going out of the house. Of course, I’ll manage it as
conveniently as I can for you.”

“Oh, there’ll be no trouble about my going out,” answered Katharine.
“Nobody ever asks me where I’m going in the morning. You’ll let me have
the note as soon as you can, won’t you?”

“Of course. Before dinner, at all events. Good-bye again, dear.”

“Good-bye--until to-morrow.”

She added the last two words very softly. Then she nodded affectionately
and went up the steps. As she turned, after ringing the bell, she saw
him walking away. Then he also turned, instinctively, and waved his hat
once, and smiled, and was gone. Fletcher opened the door, and Katharine
went in.

“How is Mr. Crowdie to-day--is he painting?” she asked of the servant.

“Yes, Miss Katharine, Mr. Crowdie’s very well, and he left word that he
expected you at eleven, Miss.”

“Yes, I know--I’m late.”

And she hurried up the stairs, for she had often been to the studio with
Hester and with Crowdie himself, to see his pictures, and knew her way.
But she knocked discreetly at the door when she had reached the upper
story of the house.

“Come in, Miss Lauderdale,” said Crowdie’s silvery voice, and she heard
his step on the polished floor as he left his work and came forward to
meet her.

It seemed to her that his face was paler and his mouth redder than ever,
and the touch of his soft white hand was exceedingly unpleasant to her,
even through her glove.

He had placed a big chair ready for her, and she sat down as she was,
with her hat and veil on, and looked about. Crowdie pushed away the
easel at which he had been working. It ran almost noiselessly over the
waxed oak, and he turned it with the face of the picture to the wall in
a corner at some distance.

The studio was, as has been said, a very large room, occupying almost
the whole upper story of the house, which was deeper than ordinary
houses, though not very broad on the front. The studio was, therefore,
nearly twice as long as its width, and looked even larger than it was
from having no windows below, and only one door. There was, indeed, a
much larger exit, by which Crowdie had his pictures taken out, by an
exterior stair to the yard, but it was hidden by a heavy curtain on one
side of the enormous fireplace. There were great windows, high up, on
the north side, which must have opened above the roof of the
neighbouring house, and which were managed by cords and weights, and
could be shaded by rolling shades of various tints from white to dark
grey. Over it was a huge skylight, also furnished with contrivances for
modifying the light or shutting it out altogether.

So far, the description might answer for the interior of a
photographer’s establishment, but none of the points enumerated struck
Katharine as she sat in her big chair waiting to be told what to do.

The first impression was that of a magnificent blending of perfectly
harmonious colours. There was an indescribable confusion of soft and
beautiful stuffs of every sort, from carpets to Indian shawls and
Persian embroideries. The walls, the chairs and the divans were covered
with them, and even the door which gave access to the stairs was draped
and made to look unlike a door, so that when it was shut there seemed to
be no way out. The divans were of the Eastern kind--great platforms, as
it were, on which were laid broad mattresses, then stuffs, and then
endless heaps of cushions, piled up irregularly and lying about in all
directions. Only the polished floor was almost entirely bare--the rest
was a mass of richness. But that was all. There were no arms, such as
many artists collect in their studios, no objects of metal, save the
great dull bronze fire-dogs with lions’ heads, no plants, no flowers,
and, excepting three easels with canvases on them, there was nothing to
suggest the occupation of Walter Crowdie--nor any occupation at all.
Even the little Japanese censer in which Hester said that he burned
strange perfumes was hidden out of sight when not in use. There was not
so much as a sketch or a drawing or a bit of modelled clay to be seen.
There was not even a table with paints and brushes. Such things were
concealed in a sort of small closet built out upon the yard, on the
opposite side from the outer staircase, and hidden by curtains.

The total absence of anything except the soft materials with which
everything was covered, produced rather a strange effect, and for some
mysterious reason it was not a pleasant one. Crowdie’s face was paler
and his lips were redder than seemed quite natural; his womanish eyes
were too beautiful and their glance was a caress--as warm velvet feels
to the hand.

“Won’t you let me help you to take off your veil?” he said, coming close
to Katharine.

“Thank you--I can do it myself,” she answered, with unnecessary
coldness.



CHAPTER X.


Crowdie stepped backward from her, as she laid her hat and veil upon her
knee. He slowly twisted a bit of crayon between his fingers, as though
to help his thoughts, and he looked at her critically.

“How are you going to paint me?” she asked, regretting that she had
spoken so very coldly a moment earlier.

“That’s one of those delightful questions that sitters always ask,”
answered the artist, smiling a little. “That’s precisely what I’m asking
myself--how in the world am I going to paint you?”

“Oh--that isn’t what I meant! I meant--full face or side face, you
know.”

“Oh, yes,--of course. I was only laughing at myself. You have no idea
what an extraordinary change taking off your hat makes, Miss Lauderdale.
It would be awfully rude to talk to a lady about her face under ordinary
circumstances. In detail, I mean. But you must forgive me, because it’s
my profession.”

He moved about with sudden steps, stopping and gazing at her each time
that he obtained a new point of view.

“How does my hat make such a difference?” asked Katharine. “What sort of
difference?”

“It changes your whole expression. It’s quite right that it should. When
you have it on, one only sees the face--the head from the eyes
downwards--that means the human being from the perceptions downwards.
When you take your hat off, I see you from the intelligence upwards.”

“That would be true of any one.”

“No doubt. But the intelligence preponderates in your case, which is
what makes the contrast so strong.”

“I didn’t know I was as intelligent as all that!” Katharine laughed a
little at what she took for a piece of rather gross flattery.

“No,” answered Crowdie, thoughtfully. “That is your peculiar charm. Do
you mind the light in your eyes? Just to try the effect? So? Does that
tire you?”

He had changed the arrangement of some of the shades so as to throw a
strong glare in her face. She looked up and the white light gleamed like
fire in her grey eyes.

“I couldn’t stand it long,” she said. “Is it necessary?”

“Oh, no. Nothing is necessary. I’ll try it another way. So.” He moved
the shades again.

“What a funny speech!” exclaimed Katharine. “To say that nothing is
necessary--”

“It’s a very true speech. Nothing is the same as Pure Being in some
philosophies, and Pure Being is the only condition which is really
absolutely necessary. Now, would you mind letting me see you in perfect
profile? I’m sorry to bother you, but it’s only at first. When we’ve
made up our minds--if you’d just turn your head towards the fireplace, a
little more--a shade more, please--that’s it--one moment so--”

He stood quite still, gazing at her side face as though trying to fix it
in his memory in order to compare it with other aspects.

“I want to paint you every way at once,” he said. “May I ask--what do
you think, yourself, is the best view of your face?”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” answered Katharine, with a little laugh. “What
does Hester think? As it’s to be for her, we might consult her.”

“But she doesn’t know it’s for her--she thinks it’s for you.”

“We might ask her all the same, and take her advice. Isn’t she at home?”

“No,” answered Crowdie, after a moment’s hesitation. “I think she’s gone
out shopping.”

Katharine was not naturally suspicious, but there was something in the
way Crowdie hesitated about the apparently insignificant answer which
struck

[Illustration: “‘What have you decided?’ she enquired.”--Vol. I., p.
203.]

her as odd. She had made the suggestion because his mere presence was so
absurdly irritating to her that she longed for Hester’s company as an
alleviation. But it was evident that Crowdie did not want his wife at
that moment. He wanted to be alone with Katharine.

“You might send and find out,” said the young girl, mercilessly.

“I’m pretty sure she’s gone out,” Crowdie replied, moving up an easel
upon which was set a large piece of grey pasteboard. “Even if she is in,
she always has things to do at this time.”

He looked steadily at Katharine’s face and then made a quick stroke on
the pasteboard, then looked again and then made another stroke.

“What have you decided?” she enquired.

“Just as you are now, with your head a little on one side and that clear
look in your eyes--no--you were looking straight at me, but not in full
face. Think of what you were thinking about just when you looked.”

Katharine smiled. The thought had not been flattering to him. But she
did as he asked and met his eyes every time he glanced at her. He worked
rapidly, with quick, sure strokes, using a bit of brown chalk. Then he
took a long, new, black lead pencil, with a very fine point, from the
breast-pocket of his jacket, and very carefully made a few marks with
it. Instead of putting it back when he used the bit of pastel again, he
held the pencil in his teeth. It was long and stuck out on each side of
his bright red lips. Oddly enough, Katharine thought it made him look
like a cat with black whiskers, and the straight black line forced his
mouth into a wide grin. She even fancied that to increase the
resemblance his eyes looked green when he gazed at her intently, and
that the pupils were not quite round, but were turning into upright
slits. She looked away for a moment and almost smiled. His legs were a
little in-kneed, as those of a cat look when she stands up to reach
after anything. There was something feline even in his little feet,
which were short with a very high instep, and he wore low shoes of dark
russet leather.

“There is a smile in your eyes, but not in your face,” said Crowdie,
taking the pencil from between his teeth. “I suppose it’s rude to ask
you what you are thinking about?”

“Not at all,” answered Katharine. “I was thinking how funny you looked
with that pencil in your mouth.”

“Oh!” Crowdie laughed carelessly and went on with his work.

Katharine noticed that when he next wished to dispose of the pencil he
put it into his pocket. As he had chosen a position in which she must
look directly at him, she could not help observing all his movements,
while her thoughts went back to her own interests and to Ralston. It was
much more pleasant to think of John than of Crowdie.

“I’m discouraged already,” said Crowdie, suddenly, after a long silence,
during which he had worked rapidly. “But it’s only a first attempt at a
sketch. I want a lot of them before I begin to paint. Should you like to
rest a little?”

“Yes.”

Katharine rose and came forward to see what he had been doing. She felt
at once a little touch of disappointment and annoyance, which showed
that she was not altogether deficient in vanity, though of a pardonable
sort, considering what she saw. To her unpractised eye the sketch
presented a few brown smudges, through which a thin pencil-line ran here
and there.

“You don’t see any resemblance to yourself, I suppose,” said Crowdie,
with some amusement.

“Frankly--I hope I’m better looking than that,” laughed Katharine.

“You are. Sometimes you’re divinely beautiful.” His voice grew
exquisitely caressing.

Katharine was not pleased.

“I didn’t ask for impossible compliments,” she said coolly.

“Now look,” answered Crowdie, taking no notice of the little rebuke, and
touching the smudge with his fingers. “You mustn’t look too close, you
know. You must try and get the effect--not what you see, but what I
see.”

Without glancing at her face he quickly touched the sketch at many
points with his thumb, with his finger, with his bit of crayon, with his
needle-pointed lead pencil. Katharine watched him intently.

“Shut your eyes a little, so as not to see the details too distinctly,”
he said, still working.

The face began to stand out. There was very little in the sketch, but
there was the beginning of the expression.

“I begin to see something,” said Katharine, with increasing interest.

“Yes--look!”

He glanced at her for a moment. Then, holding the long pencil almost by
the end and standing well back from the pasteboard, he drew a single
line--the outline of the part of the face and head furthest from the
eye, as it were. It was so masterly, so simple, so faultless, and yet so
striking in its effect, that Katharine held her breath while the point
moved, and uttered an exclamation when it stopped.

“You are a great artist!”

Crowdie smiled.

“I didn’t ask for impossible compliments,” he said, repeating her own
words and imitating her tone, as he stepped back from the easel and
looked at what he had done. “She’s not so bad-looking, is she?” He
fumbled in his pocket and found two or three bits of coloured pastels
and rubbed a little of each upon the pasteboard with his fingers. “More
life-like, now. How do you like that?”

“It’s wonderful!”

“Wonderfully like?”

“How can I tell? I mean that it’s a wonderful performance. It’s not for
me to judge of the likeness.”

“Isn’t it? In spite of proverbs, we’re the only good judges of
ourselves--outwardly or inwardly. Will you sit down again, if you are
rested? Do you know, I’m almost inclined to dab a little paint on the
thing--it’s a lucky hit--or else you’re a very easy subject, which I
don’t believe.”

“And yet you were so discouraged a moment ago.”

“That’s always my way. I don’t know about other artists, of course. It’s
only amateurs that tell each other their sensations about their daubs.
We don’t. But I’m always in a fit just before I’m going to succeed.”

Katharine said nothing as she went back to her seat, but the expression
he had just used chilled her suddenly. She had received a vivid
impression from the account Hester had given her of his recent attack,
and she had unconsciously associated the idea of a fit with his
ailment. Then she was amused at her own folly.

Crowdie looked at her keenly, then at his drawing, and then seemed to
contemplate a particular point at the top of her head. She was not
watching him, as she knew that he was not yet working again. There was
an odd look in his beautiful eyes which would not have pleased her, had
she seen it. He left the easel again and came towards her.

“Would you mind letting me arrange your hair a little?” he asked,
stopping beside her.

Katharine instinctively raised one hand to her head, and it unexpectedly
met his fingers, which were already about to touch her hair. The
sensation was so inexpressibly disagreeable to her that she started,
lowering her head as though to avoid him, and speaking sharply.

“Don’t!” she cried. “I can do it myself.”

“I beg your pardon,” said Crowdie, drawing back. “It’s the merest
trifle--but I don’t see how you can do it yourself. I didn’t know you
were so nervous, or I would have explained. Won’t you let me take the
end of my pencil and just lift your hair a little? It makes such a
difference in the outline.”

It struck Katharine that she was behaving very foolishly, and she sat up
straight in her chair.

“Of course,” she said, quite naturally. “Do it in any way you like.
I’ve a horror of being touched unexpectedly, that’s all. I suppose I
really am nervous.”

Which was not at all true in general, though as regards Crowdie it was
not half the truth.

“Thank you,” he answered, proceeding to move her hair, touching it very
delicately with his pointed white fingers. “It was stupid of me, but
most people don’t mind. There--if you only knew what a difference it
makes. Just a little bit more, if you’ll let me--on the other side. Now
let me look at you, please--yes--that’s just it.”

Katharine suffered intensely during those few moments. Something within
her, of which she had never been conscious before, but which was most
certainly a part of herself, seemed to rise up in fury, outraged and
insulted, against something in the man beside her, which filled her with
a vague terror and a positive disgust. While his soft and womanish
fingers touched her hair, she clasped her hands together till they hurt,
and repeated to herself with set lips that she was foolish and nervous
and unstrung. She could not help the sigh of relief which escaped her
lips when he had finished and went back to his easel. Perhaps he noticed
it. At all events he became intent on his work and said nothing for
fully five minutes.

During that time she looked at him and tried to solve the mystery of
her unaccountable sensations. She thought of what her mother had
said--that Crowdie was like a poisonous flower. He was so white and red
and soft, and the place was so still and warm, with its masses of rich
drapery that shut off every sound of life from without. And she thought
of what Miner had said--oddly enough, in exactly the same strain, that
he was like some strange tropical fruit--gone bad at the core. Fruit or
flower, or both, she thought. Either was apt enough.

The air was perfectly pure. It was only warm and still. Possibly there
was the slightest smell of turpentine, which is a clean smell and a
wholesome one. Whatever the perfumes might be which he occasionally
burned, they left no trace behind. And yet Katharine fancied they were
there--unholy, sweet, heavy, disquieting, offending that something which
in the young girl had never been offended before. The stillness seemed
too warm--the warmth too still--his face too white--his mouth was as
scarlet and as heavy as the blossom of the bright red calla lily. There
was something repulsively fascinating about it, as there is in a wound.

“You’re getting tired,” he said at last. “I’m not surprised. It must be
much harder to sit than to paint.”

“How did you know I was tired?” asked Katharine, moving from her
position, and looking at a piece of Persian embroidery on the opposite
wall.

“Your expression had changed when I spoke,” he said. “But it’s not at
all necessary to sit absolutely motionless as though you were being
photographed. It’s better to talk. The expression is like--” He stopped.

“Like what?” she asked, curious to hear a definition of what is said too
often to be undefinable.

“Well--I don’t know. Language isn’t my strong point, if I have any
strong point at all.”

“That’s an affectation, at all events!” laughed Katharine, becoming
herself again when not obliged to look at him fixedly.

“Is it? Well--affectation is a good word. Expression is not expression
when it’s an affected expression. It’s the tone of voice of the picture.
That sounds wild, but it means something. A speech in print hasn’t the
expression it has when it’s well spoken. A photograph is a speech in
print. It’s the truth done by machinery. It’s often striking at first
sight, but you get tired of it, because what’s there is all there--and
what is not there isn’t even suggested, though you know it exists.”

“Yes, I see,” said Katharine, who was interested in what he said, and
had momentarily forgotten his personality.

“That shows how awfully clever you are,” he answered with a silvery
little laugh. “I know it’s far from clear. There’s a passage somewhere
in one of Tolstoi’s novels--‘Peace and War,’ I think it is--about the
impossibility of expressing all one thinks. It ought to follow that the
more means of expression a man has, the nearer he should get to
expressing everything in him. But it doesn’t. There’s a fallacy
somewhere in the idea. Most things--ideas, anything you choose to call
them--are naturally expressible in a certain material--paint, wood,
fiddle-strings, bronze and all that. Come and look at yourself now. You
see I’ve restrained my mania for oils a few minutes. I’m trying to be
conscientious.”

“I wish you would go on talking about expression,” said Katharine,
rising and coming up to the easel. “It seems very much improved,” she
added as she saw the drawing. “How fast you work!”

“There’s no such thing as time when things go right,” replied Crowdie.
“Excuse me a moment. I’ll get something to paint with.”

He disappeared behind the curtain in the corner, to the out-built closet
in which he kept his colours and brushes, and Katharine was left alone.
She stood still for a few moments contemplating the growing likeness of
herself. There was as yet hardly any colour in the sketch, no more, in
fact, than he had rubbed on while she had watched him do it, when she
had rested the first time. It was not easy to see what he had done
since, and yet the whole effect was vastly improved. As she looked, the
work itself, the fine pencil-line, the smudges of brown and the
suggestions of colouring seemed all so slight as to be almost
nothing--and yet she felt that her expression was there. She thought of
her mother’s laborious and minutely accurate drawing, which never
reached any such effect as this, and she realized the almost impossible
gulf which lies between the artist and the amateur who has tried too
late to become one--in whom the evidence of talent is made
unrecognizable by an excess of conscientious but wholly misapplied
labour. The amateur who has never studied at all may sometimes dash off
a head with a few lines, which would be taken for the careless scrawling
of a clever professional. But the amateur who, too late, attempts to
perfect himself by sheer study and industry is almost certainly lost as
an artist--a fact which is commonly interpreted to mean that art itself
comes by inspiration, and that so-called genius needs no school; whereas
it only means that if we go to school at all we must go at the scholar’s
age and get the tools of expression, and learn to handle them, before we
have anything especial to express.

“Still looking at it?” asked Crowdie, coming out of his sanctum with a
large palette in his left hand, and a couple of brushes in his right.
“Now I’m going to begin by spoiling it all.”

There were four or five big, butter-like squeezings of different colours
on the smooth surface of the board. Crowdie stuck one of his brushes
through the thumb-hole of the palette, and with the other mixed what he
wanted, dabbing it into the paints and then daubing them all together.
Katharine sat down once more.

“I thought painters always used palette-knives,” she said, watching him.

“Oh--anything answers the purpose. I sometimes paint with my
fingers--but it’s awfully messy.”

“I should think so,” she laughed, taking her position again as he looked
at her.

“Yes--thank you,” he said. “If you won’t mind looking at me for a minute
or two, just at first. I want your eyes, please. After that you can look
anywhere you like.”

“Do you always paint the eyes first?” asked Katharine, idly, for the
sake of not relapsing into silence.

“Generally--especially if they’re looking straight out of the picture.
Then they’re the principal thing, you know. They are like little
holes--if you look steadily at them you can see the real person inside.
That’s the reason why a portrait that looks at you, if it’s like at all,
is so much more like than one that looks away.”

“How naturally you explain things!” exclaimed the young girl, becoming
interested at once.

“Things are so natural,” answered the painter. “Everything is natural.
That’s one of my brother-in-law’s maxims.”

“It sounds like a truism.”

“Everything that is true sounds like a truism--and is one. We know
everything that’s true, and it all sounds old because we do know it
all.”

“What an extraordinary way of putting it--to say that we know
everything! But we don’t, you know!”

“Oh, yes, we do--as far as we ever can know at all. I don’t mean little
peddling properties of petroleum and tricks with telephones--what they
call science, you know. I mean about big things that don’t
change--ideas.”

“Oh--about ideas. You mean right and wrong, and the future life and the
soul, I suppose.”

“Yes. That’s exactly what I mean. In a hundred thousand ages we shall
never get one inch further than we are now. A little bit more to the
right, please--but go on looking at me a moment longer, if you’re not
tired.”

“I’ve only just sat down again. But what you were saying--you meant to
add that we know nothing, and that it’s all a perfectly boundless
uncertainty.”

“Not at all. I think we know some things and shan’t lose them, and we
don’t know some others and never shall.”

“What kind of things, for instance?” asked Katharine. “In the first
place, there is a soul, and it is immortal.”

“Lucretius says that there is a soul, but that it isn’t immortal.
There’s something, anyhow--something I can’t paint. People who deny the
existence of the soul never tried to paint portraits, I believe.”

“You certainly have most original ideas.”

“Have I? But isn’t that true? I know it is. There’s something in every
face that I can’t paint--that the greatest painter that ever lived can’t
paint. And it’s not on account of the material, either. One can get just
as near to it in black and white as in colours,--just near enough to
suggest it,--and yet one can see it. I call it the ghost. I don’t know
whether there are ghosts or not, but people say they’ve seen them. They
are generally colourless, apparently, and don’t stay long. But did you
ever notice, in all those stories, that people always recognize the
ghost instantly if it’s that of a person they’ve known?”

“Yes. Now I think of it, that’s true,” said Katharine.

“Well, that’s why I call the recognizable something about the living
person his ghost. It’s what we can’t get. Now, another thing. If one is
told that the best portrait of some one whom one knows is a portrait of
some one else instead, one isn’t much surprised. No, really--I’ve tried
it, just to test the likeness. Most people say they are surprised, but
they’re not. They fall into the trap in a moment, and tell you that they
see that they were mistaken, but that it’s a strong resemblance. That
couldn’t happen with a real person. It happens easily with a
photograph--much more easily than with a picture. But with a real person
it’s quite different, even though he may have changed immensely since
you saw him--far beyond the difference between a good portrait and the
sitter, so far as details are concerned. But the person--you recognize
him at once. By what? By that something which we can’t catch in a
picture. I call it the ghost--it’s a mere fancy, because people used to
believe that a ghost was a visible soul.”

“How interesting!” exclaimed Katharine. “And it sounds true.”

“A thing must sound true to be interesting,” said Crowdie. “Excuse me a
moment. I want another colour.”

He dived into the curtained recess, and Katharine watched the
disagreeable undulation of his movements as he walked. She wondered why
she was interested as soon as he talked, and repelled as soon as he was
silent. Much of what he said was more or less paradoxical, she thought,
and not altogether unlike the stuff talked by cynical young men who pick
up startling phrases out of books, and change the subject when they are
asked to explain what they mean. But there was something more in what he
said, and there was the way of saying it, and there was the weight a
man’s sayings carry when he is a real master of one thing, no matter how
remote from the subject of which he is speaking. Crowdie came back
almost immediately with his paint.

“Your eyes are the colour of blue fox,” he remarked, dabbing on the
palette with his brush.

“Are they? They’re a grey of some sort, I believe. But you were talking
about the soul.”

“Yes, I know I was; but I’m glad I’ve done with it. I told you that
language wasn’t my strong point.”

“Yes--but you may be able to say lots of interesting things, besides
painting well.”

“Not compared with people who are good at talking. I’ve often been
struck by that.”

He stopped speaking, and made one or two very careful strokes,
concentrating his whole attention for the moment.

“Struck by what?” asked Katharine.

“By the enormous amount some men know as compared with what they can do.
I believe that’s what I meant to say. It wasn’t particularly worth
saying, after all. There--that’s better! Just one moment more, please.
I know I’m tiring you to death, but I’m so interested--”

Again he executed a very fine detail.

“There!” he exclaimed. “Now we can talk. Don’t you want to move about a
little? I don’t ask you to look at the thing--it’s a mere beginning of a
sketch--it isn’t the picture, of course.”

“But I want to see it,” said Katharine.

“Oh, of course. But you won’t like it so much now as you did at first.”

Katharine saw at once that he was right, and that the painting was not
in a stage to bear examination, but she looked at it, nevertheless, with
a vague idea of learning something about the art by observing its
processes. Crowdie stood at a little distance behind her, his palette
and brushes still in his hand. Indeed, there was no place but the floor
where he could have laid them down. She knew that he was there, and she
was certain that he was looking at her. The strange nervousness and
sense of repulsion came over her at once, but in her determination not
to yield to anything which seemed so foolish, she continued to
scrutinize the rough sketch on the easel. Crowdie, on his part, said
nothing, as though fearing lest the sound of his voice should disturb
the graceful lines of her figure as she stood there.

At last she moved and turned away, but not towards him. Suddenly, from
feeling that he was looking at her, she felt that she could not meet
his eyes. She knew just what they would be like, long, languishing and
womanish, with their sweeping lashes, and they attracted her, though she
did not wish to see them. She walked a few steps down the length of the
great room, and she was sure that those eyes were following her. An
intense and quite unaccustomed consciousness overcame her, though she
was never what is called shy.

She was positively certain that his eyes were fixed on the back of her
head, willing her to turn and look at him; but she would not. Then she
saw that she was reaching the end of the room, and that, unless she
stood there staring at the tapestries and embroideries, she must face
him. She felt the blood rush suddenly to her throat and just under her
ears, and she knew that she who rarely blushed at all was blushing
violently. She either did not know or she forgot that a blush is as
beautiful in most dark women as it is unbecoming and even painful to see
in fair ones. She was only conscious that she had never, in all her many
recollections, felt so utterly foolish, and angry with herself, and
disgusted with the light, as she did at that moment. Just as she reached
the wall, she heard his footstep, and supposing that he had changed his
position, she turned at once with a deep sense of relief.

Crowdie was standing before his easel again, studying what he had done,
as unconcernedly as though he had not noticed her odd behaviour.

“I feel flushed,” she said. “It must be very warm here.”

“Is it?” asked Crowdie. “I’ll open something. But if you’ve had enough
of it for the first day, I can leave it as it is till the next sitting.
Can you come to-morrow?”

“Yes. That is--no--I may have an engagement.” She laughed nervously as
she thought of it.

“The afternoon will do quite as well, if you prefer it. Any time before
three o’clock. The light is bad after that.”

“I think the day after to-morrow would be better, if you don’t mind. At
the same hour, if you like.”

“By all means. And thank you, for sitting so patiently. It’s not every
one who does. I suppose I mustn’t offer to help you with your hat.”

“Thanks, I can easily manage it,” answered Katharine, careful, however,
to speak in her ordinary tone of voice. “If you had a looking-glass
anywhere--” She looked about for one.

“There’s one in my paint room, if you don’t mind.”

He led the way to the curtain behind which he had disappeared in search
of his colours, and held it up. There was an open door into the little
room--which was larger than Katharine had expected--and a dressing-table
and mirror stood in the large bow-window that was built out over the
yard. Crowdie stood holding the curtain back while she tied her veil and
ran the long pin through her hat. It did not take more than a minute,
and she passed out again.

“That’s a beautiful arrangement,” she said. “A looking-glass would spoil
the studio.”

“Yes,” he answered, as he walked towards the door by her side. “You see
there isn’t an object but stuffs and cushions in the place, and a chair
for you--and my easels--all colour. I want nothing that has shape except
what is human, and I like that as perfect as possible.”

“Give my love to Hester,” said Katharine, as she went out. “Oh, don’t
come down; I know the way.”

He followed her, of course, and let her out himself. It was past twelve
o’clock, and she felt the sun on her shoulders as she turned to the
right up Lafayette Place, and she breathed the sparkling air with a
sense of wild delight. It was so fresh and pure, and somehow she felt as
though she had been in a contaminating atmosphere during the last three
quarters of an hour.



CHAPTER XI.


Alexander Lauderdale Junior was a man of regular ways, as has been seen,
and of sternly regular affections, so far as he could be said to have
any at all. Most people were rather afraid of him. In the Trust Company
which occupied his attention he was the executive member, and it was
generally admitted that it owed something of its exceptional importance
to his superior powers of administration, his cast-iron probity and his
cold energy in enforcing regulations. The headquarters of the Company
were in a magnificent granite building, on the second floor at the
front, and Alexander Junior sat all day long in a spotless and speckless
office, behind a highly polished table and before highly polished
bookcases, upon which the light fell in the daytime through the most
expensive and highly polished plate glass windows, and on winter
afternoons from glittering electric brackets and chandeliers. He himself
was not less perfect and highly polished in appearance than his
surroundings. He was like one of those beautiful models of machinery
which work silently and accurately all day long, apparently for the
mere satisfaction of feeling their own wheels and cranks go round,
behind the show window of the shop where the patent is owned, producing
nothing, indeed, save a keen delight in the soul of the admiring
mechanician.

He was perfect in his way. It was enough to catch one glimpse of him, as
he sat in his office, to be sure that the Trust Company could be
trusted, that the widow’s portion should yield her the small but regular
interest which comforts the afflicted, and that the property of the
squealing and still cradle-ridden orphan was silently rolling up, to be
a joy to him when he should be old enough to squander it. The Trust
Company was not a new institution. It had been founded in the dark ages
of New York history, by just such men as Alexander Junior, and just such
men had made it what it now was. Indeed, the primeval Lauderdale, whom
Charlotte Slayback called Alexander the Great, had been connected with
it before he died, his Scotch birth being counted to him for
righteousness, though his speech was imputed to him for sin. Neither of
his sons had, however, had anything to do with it, nor his sons’ sons,
but his great-grandson, Alexander the Safe, was predestined from his
childhood to be the very man wanted by the Company, and when he was come
to years of even greater discretion than he had shown as a small boy,
which was saying much, he was formally installed behind the plate glass
and the very shiny furniture of the office he had occupied ever since.
With the appearance of his name on the Company’s reports the business
increased, for in the public mind all Lauderdales were as one man, and
that one man was Robert the Rich, who had never been connected with any
speculation, and who was commonly said to own half New York. Acute
persons will see that there must have been some exaggeration about the
latter statement, but as a mere expression it did not lack force, and
pleased the popular mind. It mattered little that New York should have
enough halves to be distributed amongst a considerable number of very
rich men, of whom precisely the same thing was said. Robert the Rich was
a very rich man, and he must have his half like his fellow rich men.

Alexander Junior had no more claim upon his uncle’s fortune than Mrs.
Ralston. His father was one of Robert’s brothers and hers had been the
other. Nor was Robert the Rich in any way constrained to leave any money
to any of his relations, nor to any one in particular in the whole wide
world, seeing that he had made it himself, and was childless and
answerable to no man for his acts. But it was probable that he would
divide a large part of it between his living brother, the
philanthropist, and the daughter of his dead brother Ralph--the soldier
of the family, who had been killed at Chancellorsville. Now as it was
certain that the philanthropist, for his part, if he had control of what
came to him, would forthwith attempt to buy the Central Park as an
airing ground for pauper idiots, or do something equally though
charitably outrageous, the chances were that his portion--if he got
any--would be placed in trust, or that it would be paid him as income by
his son, if the latter were selected to manage the fortune. This was
what most people expected, and it was certainly what Alexander Junior
hoped.

It was natural, too, and in a measure just. The male line of the
Lauderdales was dying out, and Alexander Junior would be the last of
them, in the natural succession of mortality, being by far the youngest
as he was by far the strongest. It would be proper that he should
administer the estate until it was finally divided amongst the female
heirs and their children.

He was really and truly a man of spotless probity, in spite of the
suspicion which almost inevitably attaches to people who seem too
perfect to be human. On the surface these perfections of his were so
hard that they amounted to defects. It is aggressive virtue that
chastises what it loves--by its mere existence. But neither his probity,
nor his exterior mechanical superiority, so to say, was connected with
the mainspring of his character. That lay much deeper, and he concealed
it with as much skill as though to reveal its existence would have
ruined him in fortune and reputation, though it would probably have
affected neither the one nor the other. The only members of the family
who suspected the truth were his daughter Charlotte and Robert the Rich.

Charlotte, who was afraid of nothing, not even of certain things which
she might have done better to respect, if not to fear, said openly in
the family, and even to the face of her father, that she did not believe
he was poor. Thereupon, Alexander Junior usually administered a stern
rebuke in his metallic voice, whereat Charlotte would smile and change
the subject, as though she did not care to talk of it just then, but
would return to it by and by. She had magnificent teeth, and, when she
chose, her smile could be almost as terribly electric as Alexander’s
own.

As for Robert Lauderdale, he had more accurate knowledge, but not much.
Like many eminently successful men he had an unusual mastery of details,
and an unfailing memory for those which interested him. He knew the
exact figure of his nephew’s salary from the Trust Company, and he was
able to calculate with tolerable exactness, also, what the Lauderdales
spent, what Mrs. Lauderdale earned and how much the annual surplus must
be. He knew also that Alexander Junior’s mother, who had thoroughly
understood her husband, the philanthropist, had left what she possessed
to her only son, and only a legacy to her husband. Her property had been
owned in New England; the executor had been a peculiarly taciturn New
England lawyer, and Alexander had never said anything to any one else
concerning the inheritance. His mother had died after he had come of
age, but before he had been married, and there were no means whatever of
ascertaining what he had received. The philanthropist and his son had
continued to live together, as they still did; but the old gentleman had
always left household matters and expenses in his wife’s charge, and had
never in the least understood, nor cared to understand, the details of
daily life. He had his two rooms, he had enough to eat and he spent
nothing on himself, except for the large quantity of tobacco he consumed
and for his very modest toilet. As for the cigars, Alexander had brought
him down, in the course of ten years, by very fine gradations, from the
best Havanas which money could buy to ‘old Virginia cheroots,’ at ten
cents for a package of five,--a luxury which even the frugal inhabitant
of Calabrian Mulberry Street would consider a permissible extravagance
on Sundays. Alexander, who did not smoke, saw that the change had not
had any ill effect upon his father’s health, and silently triumphed. If
the old gentleman’s nerves had shown signs of weakness, Alexander had
previously determined to retire up the scale of prices to the extent of
one cent more for each cigar. In the matter of dress the elder Alexander
pleased himself, and in so doing pleased his son also, for he generally
forgot to get a new coat until the old one was dropping to pieces, and
he secretly bought his shoes of a little Italian shoemaker in the South
Fifth Avenue, as has been already noticed; the said shoemaker being the
unhappy father of one of the philanthropist’s most favourite and
unpromising idiots.

But of old Mrs. Lauderdale’s money, nothing more was ever heard, nor of
several thousand dollars yearly, which, according to old Robert’s
calculations, Alexander Junior saved regularly out of his salary.

Yet the youngest of the Lauderdale men was always poor, and his wife
worked as hard as she could to earn something for her own little
pleasures and luxuries. Robert the Rich had once been present when
Alexander Junior had borrowed five dollars of his wife. It had impressed
him, and he had idly wondered whether the money had ever been returned,
and whether Alexander did not manage in this way to extract a
contribution from his wife’s earnings, as a sort of peace-offering to
the gold-gods, because she wasted what she got by such hard work, in
mere amusement and hats, as Alexander cruelly put it. But Robert, who
had a broader soul, thought she was quite right, since, next to true
love, those were the things by which a woman could be made most happy.
It is true that Robert the Rich had never been married. As a matter of
fact, Alexander Lauderdale never returned the small sums he succeeded in
borrowing from his wife from time to time. But he kept a rigidly
accurate account of them, which he showed her occasionally, assuring her
that she ‘might draw on him’ for the money, and that he credited her
with five per cent interest so long as it was ‘in his hands’--which were
of iron, as she knew--and further, that it would be to her advantage to
invest all the money she earned in the same way, with him. A hundred
dollars, he said, would double itself in fourteen years, and in time it
would become a thousand, which would be ‘a nice little sum for her.’ He
had a set of expressions which he used in speaking of money, wherewith
he irritated her exceedingly. More than once she asked him to give her a
trifle out of what she had lent him, when she was in a hurry, or really
had nothing. But he invariably answered that he had nothing about him,
as he always paid everything by cheque,--which was true,--and never
spent but ten cents daily for his fare in the elevated road to and from
his office. He lunched somewhere, she supposed, during the day, and
would need money for that; but in this she was mistaken, for his strong
constitution needed but two meals daily, breakfast at eight and dinner
at half-past seven. At one o’clock he drank a glass of water in his
office, and in fine weather took a turn in Broad Street or Broadway. He
sometimes, if hard pressed by her, said that he would include what she
wanted in the next cheque he drew for household expenses--and he
examined the accounts himself every Saturday afternoon--but he always
managed to be alone when he did this, and invariably forgot to make any
allowance for the purpose of paying his just debts.

Robert Lauderdale knew, therefore, that there must be a considerable sum
of money, somewhere, the property of Alexander Junior, unless the latter
had privately squandered it. This, however, was a supposition which not
even the most hopelessly moonstruck little boy in the philanthropist’s
pet asylum would have entertained for a moment. The rich man had watched
his nephew narrowly from his boyhood to his middle age, and was a knower
of men and a good judge of them, and he was quite sure that he was not
mistaken. Moreover, he knew likewise Alexander’s strict adherence to the
letter of truth, for he had proved it many times, and Alexander had
never said that he had no money. But he never failed to say that he was
poor--which was a relative term. He would go so far as to say that he
had no money for a particular object, clearly meaning that he would not
spend anything in that direction, but he had never said that he had
nothing. Now the great Robert was not the man to call a sum of several
hundred thousands a nothing, because he had so much more himself. He
knew the value of money as well as any man living. He used to say that
to give was a matter of sentiment, but that to have was a matter of
fact,--probably meaning thereby that the relation between length of head
and breadth of heart was indeterminate, but that although a man might
not have fifty millions, if he had half a million he was well enough off
to be able to give something to somebody, if he chose. But Robert the
Rich was fond of rather enigmatical sayings. He had seen the world from
quite an exceptional point of view and believed that he had a right to
judge it accordingly.

He had watched his nephew during more than thirty years, and one half of
that period had sufficed to bring him to the conclusion that Alexander
Junior was a thoroughly upright but a thoroughly miserly person, and the
remaining half of the time had so far confirmed this judgment as to make
him own that the younger man was not only miserly, but in the very most
extended sense an old-fashioned miser in the midst of a new-fashioned
civilization, and therefore an anachronism, and therefore, also, not a
man to be treated like other men.

Robert had long ago determined that Alexander should have some of the
money to do with as he pleased. His sole idea would be to hoard it and
pile it up to fabulous dimensions, and if anything happened to it he
would probably go mad, thought the great man. But the others were also
to have some of it, more or less according to their characters, and it
was interesting to speculate upon their probable actions when they
should be very rich. None of them, Robert believed, were really poor,
and certainly Alexander Junior was not. If they had been in need, the
old gentleman would have helped them with actual sums of money. But they
were not. As for Mrs. Lauderdale and her daughters, they really had all
that was necessary. Alexander did not starve them. He did not go so far
as that--perhaps because in his social position it would have been found
out. His wife was an excellent housekeeper, and old Robert liked the
simplicity of the little dinners to which he occasionally came without
warning, asking for ‘a bite,’ as though he were a poor relation. He
loved what was simple and, in general, all things which could be loved
for their own sake, and not for their value, and which were not beyond
his rather limited æsthetic appreciation.

It was a very good thing, he thought, that Mrs. Lauderdale should do a
little work and earn a little money. It was an interest and an
occupation for her. It was fitting that people should be willing to do
something to earn money for their charities, or even for their smaller
luxuries, though it was very desirable that they should not feel obliged
to work for their necessities. If everybody were in that position, he
supposed that every one would be far happier. And Mrs. Lauderdale had
her beauty, too. Robert the Rich was fond of her in a fatherly way, and
knowing what a good woman she was, he had determined to make her a
compensation when she should lose her good looks. When her beauty
departed, she should be made rich, and he would manage it in such a way
that her husband should not be able to get hold of any of her wealth, to
bury with what Robert was sure he had, in secret and profitable
investment. Alexander Junior should have none of it.

As for his elder brother, the philanthropist, Robert Lauderdale had his
own theories. He did not think that the old man’s charities were by any
means always wise ones, and he patronized others of his own, of which he
said nothing. Robert thought that too much was done for the deserving
poor, and too little for the undeserving poor, and that the starving
sinner might be just as hungry as the starving saint--a point of view
not popular with the righteous, who covet the unjust man’s sunshine for
themselves and accuse him unfairly of bringing about cloudy weather,
though every one knows that clouds, even the very blackest, are
produced by natural evaporation.

But it was improbable, as Robert knew, that his brother should outlive
him, and he contributed liberally to the support and education of the
idiots, and his brother was mentioned in the will in connection with a
large annuity which, however, he had little chance of surviving to
enjoy.

There were plenty of others to divide the vast inheritance when the time
should come. There were Mrs. Lauderdale and her two daughters, and her
baby grandson, Charlotte’s little boy. And there was Katharine Ralston
and there was John. And then there were the two Brights and their
mother, whose mother had been a Lauderdale, so that they were direct
relations. And there were the Miners--the three old-maid sisters and
little Frank Miner, who really seemed to be struggling hard to make a
living by literature--not near connections, these Miners, but certainly
included in the tribe of the Lauderdales on account of their uncle’s
marriage with the millionaire’s first cousin--whom he remembered as
‘little cousin Meg’ fifty years ago. Robert the Rich always smiled--a
little sadly--when he reached this point in the enumeration of the
family, and was glad that the Miners were in his will.

The Miners would really have been the poorest of the whole connection,
for their father had been successively a spendthrift bankrupt, a
drunkard and a lunatic,--which caused Alexander Junior to say severely
that Livingston Miner had an unnatural thirst for emotions; but a
certain very small investment which Frank Miner had made out of the
remnants of the estate had turned out wonderfully well. Miner had never
known that old Lauderdale had mentioned the investment to old Beman, and
that the two great men had found the time to make it roll over and over
and grow into a little fortune at a rate which would have astonished
persons ignorant of business--after which they had been occupied with
other things, each in his own way, and had thought nothing more about
the matter. So that the Miners were comparatively comfortable, and the
three old maids stayed at home and ‘took care’ of their extremely
healthy brother instead of going out as governesses--and when they were
well stricken in old-maidhood they had a queer little love story all to
themselves, which perhaps will be told some day by itself.

The rich man made few presents, for he had few wants, and did not
understand them in others. He was none the less on that account a
generous man, and would often have given, had he known what to give; but
those who expressed their wishes were apt to offend him by expressing
them too clearly. The relations all lived in good houses and had an
abundance of bread and a sufficient allowance of butter, and John
Ralston was the only one in connection with whom he had heard mention of
a tailor’s bill--John Ralston was more in the old gentleman’s mind than
any one knew. What did the others all want? Jewels, perhaps, and horses
and carriages and a lot of loose cash to throw out of the window. That
was the way he put it. He had never kept a brougham himself until he was
fifty years of age. It was true that he had no womankind and was a
strong man, like all his tribe. But then, many of his acquaintances who
might have kept a dozen horses, said it was more trouble than it was
worth, and hired what they wanted. His relations could do the same--it
was a mere curiosity on their part to experience the sensation of
looking rich. Robert Lauderdale knew the sensation very well and knew
that it was quite worthless. Of course, he thought, they all knew that
at his death they would be provided for--even lazy Jack, as he mentally
nicknamed Ralston. At least, he supposed that they knew it. They should
have a fair share of the money in the end.

But he was conscious, and acutely conscious, that most of them wanted
it, and he had very little belief in the disinterested affection of any
of them. Even the old philanthropist, if he had been offered the chance
by a playful destiny, would have laid violent hands on it all for his
charities, to the exclusion of the whole family. His son would have
buried it in his own Trust Company, and longed to have it for that
purpose, and for no other. Jack Ralston wanted to squander it; Hamilton
Bright wanted to do banking with it and to out-Rothschild the
Rothschilds in the exchanges of the world. Crowdie, whom Robert the Rich
detested, wanted his wife to have it in order that he might build marble
palaces with it on the shores of more or less mythic lakes. Katharine
Ralston would have liked some of it because she liked to be above all
considerations of money, and her husband’s death had made a great
difference in her income. Mrs. Lauderdale wanted it, of course, and her
ideal of happiness would be realized in having three or four princely
establishments, in moving with the seasons from one to the other and in
always having her house full of guests. She was born in Kentucky--and
she would be a superb hostess. Perhaps she should have a chance some
day. Charlotte Slayback wanted as much as she could get because her
husband was rich, and she had nothing, and she had good blood in her
veins, but an abundance of evil pride in her heart. There was Katharine
Lauderdale, about whom the great man was undecided. He liked her and
thought she understood him. But of course she wanted the money too--in
order to marry lazy Jack--and wake up love’s young dream with a jump, as
he expressed it familiarly. She should not have it for that purpose, at
all events. It would be much better that she should marry Hamilton
Bright, who was a sensible fellow. Had not Ralston been offered two
chances, at both of which he had pitiably failed? He had no idea of
doing anything more for the boy at present. If he ever got any of the
money it should be from his mother. The two Katharines were out and out
the best of the tribe. He had a great mind to tear up his old will and
divide the whole fortune equally between Katharine Ralston and Katharine
Lauderdale. No doubt there would be a dispute about the will in any
case--he might just as well follow his inclinations, if he could not
prevent fighting.

And then, when he reached that point, he was suddenly checked by a
consideration which does not present itself to ordinary men. As he
leaned back in his leathern writing chair, while his knotted fingers
played with the cork pen-holder he used, his great head slowly bowed
itself, and he sat long in deep thought.

It was all very well for him to play at being just a capricious old
uncle with some money to leave, as he pleased, to this one or that one,
as old uncles did in story books, making everybody happy in the end.
That was all very well. He had his little likes and dislikes, his
attachments and his detestations, and he had a right to have them, as
smaller men had. A little here and a little there would of course give
pleasure and might even make happiness. But how much would it need to
make them all rich, compared with their present position? Robert
Lauderdale did not laugh as he answered the question to himself. One
year’s income alone, divided amongst them, would give each a fortune.
The income of two years would give them wealth. And the capital would
remain--the vast possession which in a few years he must lay down
forever, which at any moment might be masterless, for he was an old man,
over seventy years of age. If he had a son, it would be different.
Things would follow their natural course for good or evil, and he would
not himself be to blame for what happened. But he had no one, and the
thing he must leave to some one was great power in its most serviceable
form--money.

He had been face to face with the problem for years and had not solved
it. It is a great one in America, at the present day, and Robert
Lauderdale knew it. He was well aware that he and a score of others,
some richer, some less rich than himself, were execrated by a certain
proportion of the community and pointed out as the disturbers of the
equal distribution of wealth. He was made personally sure of the fact by
hundreds of letters, anonymous and signed, warning him of the
approaching destruction of himself and his property. People who did not
even know that he was a bachelor, threatened to kidnap his children and
keep them from him until he should give up his wealth. He was
threatened, entreated, admonished, preached at and held up to ridicule
by every species of fanatic which the age produces. He was not afraid of
any of them. He did not have himself guarded by detectives in plain
clothes and athletes in fashionable coats, when he chose to walk in the
streets, and he did not yield to the entreaties of women who wrote to
him from Texas that they should be perfectly happy if he would send them
grand pianos to the addresses they gave. He was discriminating, he was
just according to his light and he tried to do good, while he took no
notice of those who raved and abused him. But he knew that there was a
reason for the storm, and was much more keenly alive to the difficulties
of the situation than any of his anonymous correspondents.

He had in his own hands and at his absolute disposal the wealth which,
under a proper administration, would perpetually supply between seven
and eight thousand families with the necessaries of life. He had made
that calculation one day, not idly, but in the endeavour to realize what
could really be done with so much money. He was not a visionary
philanthropist like his brother, though he helped him in many of his
schemes. He was not a saint, though he was a good man, as men go. He
had not the smallest intention of devoting a gigantic fortune
exclusively to the bettering of mankind, for he was human. But he felt
that in his lonely wealth he was in a measure under an obligation to all
humanity--that he had created for himself a responsibility greater than
one man could bear, and that he and others like him had raised a
question, and proposed a problem which had not before been dreamt of in
the history of the world. He, an individual with no especial gifts
besides his keen judgment in a certain class of affairs, with nothing
but his wealth to distinguish him from any other individual, possessed
the equivalent of a sum of money which would have seemed very large in
the treasury of a great nation, or which would have been considered
sufficient as a reserve wherewith to enter upon a great war. And there
were others in an exactly similar position. He knew several of them. He
could count half a dozen men who, together with himself, could upset the
finances of the world if they chose. It needed no tortuous reasoning and
but little vanity to show him that he and they did not stand towards
mankind as other men stood. And the thought brought with it the
certainty that there was a right course for him to pursue in the
disposal of his money, if he could but see it in the right light.

This was the man whom all the Lauderdale tribe called uncle Robert, and
to whom Katharine intended to appeal as soon as she had been secretly
married to John Ralston, and from whom she felt sure of obtaining what
she meant to ask. He was capable of surprising her.

‘You have a good house, good food, good clothes--and so has your
husband. What right have you, Katharine Lauderdale, or Mrs. John
Ralston, to claim more than any member of each of the seven or eight
thousand families whom I could support would get in the distribution?’

That was the answer she might receive--in the form of a rather
unanswerable question.



CHAPTER XII.


The afternoon which followed the first sitting in Crowdie’s studio
seemed very long to Katharine. She did all sorts of things to make the
time pass, but it would not. She even set in order a whole drawer full
of ribbons and gloves and veils and other trifles, which is generally
the very last thing a woman does to get rid of the hours.

And all the time she was thinking, and not sure whether it would not be
better to fight against her thoughts. For though she was not afraid of
changing her mind she had a vague consciousness that the whole question
might raise its head again and face her like a thing in a dream, and
insist that she should argue with it. And then, there was the plain and
unmistakable fact that she was on the eve of doing something which was
hardly ever done by the people amongst whom she lived.

It was not that she was timid, or dreaded the remarks which might be
made. Any timidity of that sort would have checked her at the very
outset. If the man she loved had been any one but Jack Ralston, whom she
had known all her life, she could never have thought of proposing such
a thing. Oddly enough, she felt that she should blush, as she had
blushed that morning at the studio, at the mere idea of a secret
marriage, if Ralston were any one else. But not from any fear of what
other people might say. Not only had the two been intimate from
childhood--they had discussed during the last year their marriage, and
all the possibilities of it, from every point of view. It was a subject
familiar to them, the difficulties to be overcome were clear to them
both, they had proposed all manner of schemes for overcoming them, they
had talked for hours about running away together and had been sensible
enough to see the folly of such a thing. The mere matter of saying
certain words and of giving and receiving a ring had gradually sunk into
insignificance as an event. It was an inevitable formality in Ralston’s
eyes, to be gone through with scrupulous exactness indeed, and to be
carefully recorded and witnessed, but there was not a particle of
romance connected with it, any more than with the signing and witnessing
of a title-deed or any other legal document.

Katharine had a somewhat different opinion of it, for it had a real
religious value in her eyes. That was one reason why she preferred a
secret wedding. Of course, the moment would come, sooner or later, for
they were sure to be married in the end, publicly or privately. But in
any case it would be a solemn moment. The obligations, as she viewed
them, were for life. The very words of the promise had an imposing
simplicity. In the church to which she strongly inclined, marriage was
called a sacrament, and believed to be one, in which the presence of the
Divine personally sanctified the bond of the human. Katharine was quite
willing to believe that, too. And the more she believed it, the more she
hated the idea of a great fashionable wedding, such as Charlotte
Slayback had endured with much equanimity. She could imagine nothing
more disagreeable, even painful, than to be the central figure of such
an exhibition.

That holy hour, when it came at last, should be holy indeed. There
should be nothing, ever thereafter, to disturb the pure memory of its
sanctity. A quiet church, the man she loved, herself and the interpreter
of God. That was all she wanted--not to be disturbed in the greatest
event of her life by all the rustling, glittering, flower-scented,
grinning, gossiping crowd of critics, whose ridiculous presence is
considered to lend marriage a dignity beyond what God or nature could
bestow upon it.

This was Katharine’s view, and as she had no intention of keeping her
marriage to Ralston a secret during even so much as twenty-four hours,
it was neither unnatural nor unjustifiable. But in spite of all the real
importance which she gave to the ceremony as a fact, it seemed so much a
matter of course, and she had thought of it so long and under so many
aspects, that in the chain of future events it was merely a link to be
reached and passed as soon as possible. It was not the ring, nor the
promise nor the blessing, by which her life was to be changed. She knew
that she loved John Ralston, and she could not love him better still
from the instant in which he became her lawful husband. The difficulties
began beyond that, with her intended attack upon uncle Robert. She told
herself that she was sure of success, but she was not, since she could
not see into the future one hour beyond the moment of her meeting with
the old gentleman. That seeing into the future is the test of
confidence, and the only one.

It struck her suddenly that everything which was to happen after the
all-important interview was a blank to her. She paused in what she was
doing--she was winding a yellow ribbon round her finger--and she looked
out of the window. It was raining, for the weather had changed quickly
during the afternoon. Rain in Clinton Place is particularly dreary.
Katharine sat down upon the chair that stood before her little writing
table in the corner by the window, and watched the grey lace veil which
the falling raindrops wove between her and the red brick houses
opposite.

A feeling of despair came over her. Uncle Robert would refuse to do
anything. What would happen then? What could she do? She was brave
enough to face her father’s anger and her mother’s distress, for she
loved Ralston with all her heart. But what would happen? If uncle Robert
failed her, the future was no longer blank but black. No one else could
do anything. Of what use would the family battle be? Her father could
not, and would not, do anything for her or her husband. He was the sort
of man who would take a stern delight in seeing her bear the
consequences of her mistake--it could not be called a fault, even by
him. To impose herself on Mrs. Ralston was more than Katharine’s pride
could endure to contemplate. Of course, it would be possible to
live--barely to live--on the charity of her husband’s mother. Mrs.
Ralston would do anything for her son, and would sacrifice herself
cheerfully. But to accept any such sacrifice was out of the question.
And then, too, Katharine knew what extreme economy meant, for she had
suffered from it long under her father’s roof, and it was not pleasant.
Yet they would be poorer still at the Ralstons, and she would be the
cause of it.

If uncle Robert refused to help them, the position would be desperate.
She watched the rain and tried to think it all over. She supposed that
her father would insist upon--what? Not upon keeping the secret, for
that would not be like him. He was a horribly virtuous man, Charlotte
used to say. Oh, no! he would not act a lie on any account, not he!
Katharine wondered why she hated this scrupulous truthfulness in her
father and admired it above all things in Ralston. Jack would not act a
lie either. But then, if there were to be no secret, and if the marriage
were to be announced, what would happen? Would her father insist upon
her living at home until her husband should be able to support her? What
a situation! She cared less than most girls about social opinion, but
she really wondered what society would say. Her father would say
nothing. He would smile that electric smile of his, and hold his head
higher than ever. ‘This is what happens to daughters who disobey their
parents,’ he would seem to tell the world. She had always thought that
he might be like the first Brutus, and she felt sure of it now.

It seemed like weakness to think of going to uncle Robert that very
afternoon, before the inevitable moment was past. Yet it would be such
an immense satisfaction to have had the interview and to have his
promise to do something for Ralston. The thought seemed cowardly and yet
she dwelt on it. Of course, her chief weapon with the old gentleman was
to be the fact that the thing was done and could not be undone, so that
he could have no good advice to give. And, yet, perhaps she might move
him by saying that she had made up her mind and was to be married
to-morrow. He might not believe her, and might laugh and send her
away--with one of his hearty avuncular kisses--she could see his dear
old face in her imagination. But if he did that, she could still return
to-morrow, and show him the certificate of her marriage. He would not
then be able to say that she had not given him fair warning. She wished
it would not rain. She would have walked in the direction of his house,
and when she was near it she knew in her heart that she would
yield--since it seemed like a temptation--and perhaps it would be
better.

But it was raining, and uncle Robert lived far away from Clinton Place
in a house he had built for himself at the corner of a new block facing
the Central Park. He had built the whole block and had kept possession
of it afterwards. It was almost three miles from Alexander Lauderdale’s
house in unfashionable Clinton Place--three miles of elevated road, or
of horse-car or of walking--and in any case it meant getting wet in such
a rain storm. Moreover, Katharine rarely went alone by the elevated
road. She wished it would stop raining. If it would only stop for half
an hour she would go. Perhaps it was as well to let fate decide the
matter in that way.

Just then a carriage drove up to the door. She flattened her face
against the window, but could not see who got out of it. It was a cab,
however, and the driver had a waterproof hat and coat. In all
probability it came from one of the hotels. Any one might have taken it.
Katharine drew back a little and looked idly at the little mottled mist
her breath had made upon the window pane. The door of her room opened
suddenly.

“Kitty, are you there?” asked a woman’s voice.

Katharine knew as the handle of the latch was turned that her sister
Charlotte had come. No one else ever entered her room without knocking,
and no one else ever called her ‘Kitty.’ She hated the abbreviation of
her name and she resented the familiarity of the unbidden entrance. She
turned rather sharply.

“Oh--is that you? I thought you were in Washington.” She came forward,
and the two exchanged kisses mechanically.

“Benjamin Slayback of Nevada had business in New York, so I came up to
get a breath of my native microbes,” said Charlotte, going to the mirror
and beginning to take off her hat very carefully so as not to disturb
her hair. “We are at a hotel, of course--but it’s nice, all the same. I
suppose mamma’s at work and I know papa’s down town, and the ancestor is
probably studying some new kind of fool--so I came to your room.”

“Will you have some tea?” asked Katharine.

“Tea? What wild extravagance! I suppose you offer it to me as ‘Mrs.
Slayback.’ I wonder if papa would. I can see him smile--just like
this--isn’t it just like him?”

She smiled before the mirror and then turned suddenly on Katharine. The
mimicry was certainly good. Mrs. Slayback, however, was fair, like her
mother, with a radiant complexion, golden hair and good
features,--larger and bolder than Mrs. Lauderdale’s, but not nearly so
classically perfect. There was something hard in her face, especially
about the eyes.

“It’s just the same as ever,” she said, seating herself in the
small arm-chair--the only one in the room. “The same dear,
delightful, dreary, comfortless, furnace-heated, gas-lighted,
‘put-on-your-best-hat-to-go-to-church’ sort of existence that it always
was! I wonder how you all stand it--how I stood it so long myself!”

Katharine laughed and turned her head. She had been looking out of the
window again and wondering whether the rain would stop after all. She
and her sister had never lived very harmoniously together. Their pitched
battles had begun in the nursery with any weapons they could lay hands
on, pillows, moribund dolls, soapy sponges, and the nurse’s shoes.
Though Katharine was the younger, she had soon been the stronger at
close quarters. But Charlotte had the sharper tongue and was by far the
better shot with any projectile when safely entrenched behind the bed.
At the first show of hostilities she made for both sponges--a rag-doll
was not a bad thing, if she got a chance to dip it into the basin, but
there was nothing like a sponge, when it was ‘just gooey with soap,’ as
the youthful Charlotte expressed it. She carried the art of throwing to
a high degree of perfection, and on very rare occasions, after she was
grown up, she surprised her adorers by throwing pebbles at a mark with
an unerring accuracy which would have done credit to a poacher’s
apprentice.

Since the nursery days the warfare had been carried on by words and the
encounters had been less frequent, but the contrast was always apparent
between Katharine’s strength and Charlotte’s quickness. Katharine
waited, collected her strength, chose her language and delivered a heavy
blow, so to say. Charlotte, as Frank Miner put it, ‘slung English all
over the lot.’ Both were effective in their way. But they had the good
taste to quarrel in private and, moreover, in many things they were
allies. With regard to their father, Katharine took an evil and silent
delight in her sister’s sarcasms, and Charlotte could not help admiring
Katharine’s solid, unyielding opposition on certain points.

“Oh, yes!” said Katharine, answering Charlotte’s last remark. “There’ll
be less change than ever now that you’re married.”

“I suppose so. Poor Kitty! We used to fight now and then, but I know
you enjoyed looking on when I made a row at dinner. Didn’t you?”

“Of course I did. I’m a human being.” Katharine laughed again. “Won’t
you really have tea? I always have it when I want it.”

“You brave little thing! Do you? Well--if you like. You quiet people
always have your own way in the end,” added Mrs. Slayback, rather
thoughtfully. “I suppose it’s the steady push that does it.”

“Don’t you have your way, too?” asked Katharine, in some surprise at her
sister’s tone of voice.

“No. I’m ashamed to say that I don’t. No--” She seemed to be
recapitulating events. “No--I don’t have my way at all--not the least
little bit. I have the way of Benjamin Slayback of Nevada.”

“Why do you talk of your husband in that way?” enquired Katharine.

“Shall I call him Mr. Slayback?” asked Charlotte, “or Benjamin--dear
little Benjamin! or Ben--the ‘soldier bold’? How does ‘Ben’ strike you,
Kitty? I know--I’ve thought of calling him Minnie--last syllable of
Benjamin, you see. There was a moment when I hesitated at
‘Benjy’--‘Benjy, darling, another cup of coffee?’--it would sound so
quiet and home-like at breakfast, wouldn’t it? It’s fortunate that papa
made us get up early all our lives. My dream of married happiness--a
nice little French maid smiling at me with a beautiful little tea-tray
just as I was opening my eyes--I had thought about it for years! Well,
it’s all over. Benjamin Slayback of Nevada takes his breakfast like a
man--a regular Benjamin’s portion of breakfast, and wants to feast his
eyes on my loveliness, and his understanding on my wit, and his inner
man on the flesh of kine--and all that together at eight o’clock in the
morning--Benjamin Slayback of Nevada--there’s no other name for him!”

“The name irritates me--you repeat it so often!”

“Does it, dear? The man irritates me, and that’s infinitely worse. I
wish you knew!”

“But he’s awfully good to you, Charlie. You can’t deny that, at all
events.”

“Yes--and he calls me Lottie,” answered Charlotte, with much disgust.
“You know how I hate it. But if you are going to lecture me on my
husband’s goodness--Kitty, I tell you frankly, I won’t stand it. I’ll
say something to you that’ll make you--just frizzle up! Remember the
soapy sponge of old, my child, and be nice to your sister. I came here
hoping to see you. I want to talk seriously to you. At least--I’m not
sure. I want to talk seriously to somebody, and you’re the most serious
person I know.”

“More so than your husband?”

“He’s grave enough sometimes, but not generally. It’s almost always
about his constituents. They are to him what the liver is to some
people--only that they are beyond the reach of mineral waters.
Besides--it’s about him that I want to talk. You look surprised, though
I’m sure I don’t know why. I suppose--because I’ve never said anything
before.”

“But I don’t even know what you’re going to say--”

Mrs. Slayback looked at her younger sister steadily for a moment, and
then looked at the window. The rain was still falling fast and steadily;
and the room had a dreary, dingy air about it as the afternoon advanced.
It had been Charlotte’s before her marriage, and Katharine had moved
into it since because it was better than her own. The elder girl had
filled it with little worthless trifles which had brightened it to a
certain extent; but Katharine cared little for that sort of thing, and
was far more indifferent to the aspect of the place in which she lived.
There were a couple of dark engravings of sacred subjects on the
walls,--one over the narrow bed in the corner, and the other above the
chest of drawers, and there was nothing more which could be said to be
intended for ornament. Yet Charlotte Slayback’s hard face softened a
little as her eyes wandered from the window to the familiar, faded wall
paper and the old-fashioned furniture. The silence lasted some time.
Then she turned to her sister again.

[Illustration: “‘Kitty--don’t do what I’ve done,’ she said
earnestly.”--Vol. I., p. 257.]

“Kitty--don’t do what I’ve done,” she said, earnestly.

She watched the girl’s face for a change of expression, but Katharine’s
impassive features were not quick to express any small feeling beyond
passing annoyance.

“Aren’t you happy, Charlie?” Katharine asked, gravely.

“Happy!”

The elder woman only repeated the single word, but it told her story
plainly enough. She would have given much to have come back to the old
room, dreary as it looked.

“I’m very sorry,” said Katharine, in a lower voice and beginning to
understand. “Isn’t he kind to you?”

“Oh, it’s not that! He’s kind--in his way--it makes it worse--far
worse,” she repeated, after a moment’s pause. “I hadn’t been much used
to that sort of kindness before I was married, you know--except from
mamma, and that was different--and to have it from--” She stopped.

Katharine had never seen her sister in this mood before. Charlotte was
generally the last person to make confidences, or to complain softly of
anything she did not like. Katharine thought she must be very much
changed.

“You say you’re unhappy,” said the young girl. “But you don’t tell me
why. Has there been any trouble--anything especial?”

“No. You don’t understand. How should you? We never did understand each
other very well, you and I. I don’t know why I come to you with my
troubles, either. You can’t help me. Nobody can--unless it were--a
lawyer.”

“A lawyer?” Katharine was taken by surprise now, and her eyes showed it.

“Yes,” answered Charlotte, her voice growing cold and hard again.
“People can be divorced for incompatibility of temper.”

“Charlotte!” The young girl started a little, and leaned forward, laying
her hand upon her sister’s knee.

“Oh, yes! I mean it. I’m sorry to horrify you so, my dear, and I suppose
papa would say that divorce was not a proper subject for conversation.
Perhaps he’s right--but he’s not here to tell us so.”

“But, Charlie--” Katharine stopped short, unable to say the first word
of the many that rushed to her lips.

“I know,” said Charlotte, paying no attention. “I know exactly what
you’re going to say. You are going to argue the question, and tell me in
the first place that I’m bad, and then that I’m mad, and then that I’m a
mother,--and all sorts of things. I’ve thought of them all, my dear; and
they’re very terrible, of course. But I’m quite willing to be them all
at once, if I can only get my freedom again. I don’t expect much
sympathy, and I don’t want any good advice--and I haven’t seen a lawyer
yet. But I must talk--I must say it out--I must hear it! Kitty--I’m
desperate! I never knew what it meant before.”

She rose suddenly from her seat, walked twice up and down the room, and
then stood still before Katharine, and looked down into her face.

“Of course you can’t understand,” she said, as she had said before. “How
should you?” She seemed to be waiting for an answer.

“I think I could, if you would tell me more about yourself,” Katharine
replied. “I’m trying to understand. I’d help you if I knew how.”

“That’s impossible.” Mrs. Slayback seated herself again. “But it’s this.
You must have wondered why I married him, didn’t you?”

“Well--not exactly. But it seemed to me--there were other men, if you
meant to marry a man you didn’t love.”

“I don’t believe in love,” said Charlotte. “But I wanted to be married
for many reasons--most of all, because I couldn’t bear the life here.”

“Yes--I know. You’re not like me. But why didn’t you choose somebody
else? I can’t understand marrying without love; but it seems to me, as I
said, that if one is going to do such a thing one had better make a
careful choice.”

“I did. I chose my husband for many reasons. He is richer than any of
the men who proposed to me, and that’s a great thing. And he’s very
good-natured, and what they call ‘an able man.’ There were lots of good
reasons. There were things I didn’t like, of course; but I thought I
could make him change. I did--in little things. He never wears a green
tie now, for instance--”

“As if such things could make a difference in life’s happiness!” cried
Katharine, contemptuously.

“My dear--they do. But never mind that. I thought I could--what shall I
say?--develop his latent social talent. And I have. In that way he’s
changed a good deal. You’ve not seen him this year, have you? No, of
course not. Well, he’s not the same man. But it’s in the big things. I
thought I could manage him, by sheer force of superior will, and make
him do just what I wanted--oh, I made such a mistake!”

“And because you’ve married a man whom you can’t order about like a
servant, you want to be divorced,” said Katharine, coldly.

“I knew you couldn’t understand,” Charlotte answered, with unusual
gentleness. “I suppose you won’t believe me if I tell you that I suffer
all the time, and--very, very much.”

Katharine did not understand, but her sister’s tone told her plainly
enough that there was real trouble of some sort.

“Charlie,” she said, “there’s something on your mind--something else.
How can I know what it is, unless you tell me, dear?”

Mrs. Slayback turned her head away, and bit her lip, as though the kind
words had touched her.

“It’s my pride,” she said suddenly and very quickly. “He hurts it so!”

“But how? Merely because he does things in his own way? He probably
knows best--they all say he’s very clever in politics.”

“Clever! I should think so! He’s a great, rough, good-natured,
ill-mannered--no, he’s not a brute. He’s painfully kind. But with that
exterior--there’s no other word. He has the quickness of a woman in some
ways. I believe he can be anything he chooses.”

“But all you say is rather in his favour.”

“I know it is. I wish it were not. If I loved him--the mere idea is
ridiculous! But if I did, I would trot by his side and carry the basket
through life, like his poodle. But I don’t love him--and he expects me
to do it all the same. I’m curled, and scented, and fed delicately, and
put to sleep on a silk cushion, and have a beautiful new ribbon tied
round my neck every morning, just like a poodle-dog--and I must trot
quietly and carry the basket. That’s all I am in his life--it wasn’t
exactly my dream,” she added bitterly.

“I see. And you thought that it was to be the other way, and that he was
to trot beside you.”

“You put it honestly, at all events. Yes. I suppose I thought that. I
did not expect this, anyhow--and I simply can’t bear it any longer! So
long as there’s any question of social matters, of course, everything is
left to me. He can’t leave a card himself, he won’t make visits--he
won’t lift a finger, though he wants it all properly and perfectly done.
Lottie must trot--with the card-basket. But if I venture to have an
opinion about anything, I have no more influence over him than the
furniture. I mustn’t say this, because it will be repeated that his wife
said it; and I mustn’t say that, because those are not his political
opinions; and I mustn’t say something else, because it might get back to
Nevada and offend his constituents--and as for doing anything, it’s
simply out of the question. When I’m bored to death with it all, he
tells me that his constituents expect him to stay in Washington during
the session, and he advises me to go away for a few days, and offers to
draw me a cheque. He would probably give me a thousand dollars for my
expenses if I wanted to stay a week with you. I don’t know whether he
wants to seem magnificent, or whether he thinks I expect it, or if he
really imagines that I should spend it. But it isn’t that I want,
Kitty--it isn’t that! I didn’t marry for money, though it was very nice
to have so much--it wasn’t for that, it really, really wasn’t! I suppose
it’s absurd--perfectly wild--but I wanted to be somebody, to have some
influence in the world, to have just a little of what people call real
power. And I haven’t got it, and I can’t have it; and I’m nothing but
his poodle-dog, and I’m perfectly miserable!”

Katharine could find nothing to say when her sister paused after her
long speech. It was not easy for her to sympathize with any one so
totally unlike herself, nor to understand the state of mind of a woman
who wanted the sort of power which few women covet, who had practically
given her life in exchange for the hope of it, and who had pitiably
failed to obtain it. She stared out of the window at the falling rain,
and it all seemed very dreary to her.

“It’s my pride!” exclaimed Charlotte, suddenly, after a pause. “I never
knew what it meant before--and you never can. It’s intolerable to feel
that I’m beaten at the very beginning of life. Can’t you understand
that, at least?”

“Yes--but, Charlie dear,--it’s a long way from a bit of wounded pride to
a divorce--isn’t it?”

“Yes,” answered Charlotte, disconsolately. “I suppose it is. But if you
knew the horrible sensation! It grows worse and worse--and the less I
can find fault with him for other things, the worse it seems to grow.
And it’s quite useless to fight. You know I’m good at fighting, don’t
you? I used to think I was, until I tried to fight my husband. My
dear--I’m not in it with him!”

Katharine rose and turned her back, feeling that she could hardly
control herself if she sat still. There was an incredible frivolity
about her sister at certain moments which was almost revolting to the
young girl.

“What is it?” asked Charlotte, observing her movement.

“Oh--nothing,” answered Katharine. “The shade isn’t quite up and it’s
growing dark, that’s all.”

“I thought you were angry,” said Mrs. Slayback.

“I? Why should I be angry? What business is it of mine?” Katharine
turned and faced her, having adjusted the shade to her liking. “Of
course, if you must say that sort of thing, you had better say it to me
than to any one else. It doesn’t sound well in the world--and it’s not
pleasant to hear.”

“Why not?” asked Charlotte, her voice growing hard and cold again. “But
that’s a foolish question. Well--I’ve had my talk out--and I feel
better. One must sometimes, you know.” Her tone softened again,
unexpectedly. “Don’t be too hard on me, Kitty dear--just because you’re
a better woman than I am.” There was a tremor in her last words.

Katharine did not understand. She understood, however, and for the
first time in her life, that a frivolous woman can suffer quite as much
as a serious one--which is a truth not generally recognized. She put her
arm round her sister’s neck very gently, and pressed the fair head to
her bosom, as she stood beside her.

“I’m not better than you, Charlie--I’m different, that’s all. Poor dear!
Of course you suffer!”

“Dear!” And Charlotte rubbed her smooth cheek affectionately against the
rough grey woollen of her sister’s frock.



CHAPTER XIII.


The rain continued to fall, and even if the weather had changed it would
have been too late for Katharine to go and see Robert Lauderdale after
her sister had left her. On the whole, she thought, it would probably
have been a mistake to speak to him beforehand. She had felt a strong
temptation to do so, but it had not been the part of wisdom. She waited
for Ralston’s note.

At last it came. It was short and clear. He had, with great difficulty,
found a clergyman who was willing to marry them, and who would perform
the ceremony on the following morning at half-past nine o’clock. The
clergyman had only consented on Ralston’s strong representations, and on
the distinct understanding that there was to be no unnecessary secrecy
after the fact, and that the couple should solemnly promise to inform
their parents of what they had done at the earliest moment consistent
with their welfare. Ralston had written out his very words in regard to
that matter, for he liked them, and felt that Katharine should.

John had been fortunate in his search, for he had accidentally come
upon a man whose own life had been marred by the opposition of a young
girl’s family to her marriage with him. He himself had in consequence
never married; the young girl had taken a husband and had been a most
unhappy woman. He sympathized with Ralston, liked his face, and agreed
to marry Ralston and Katharine immediately. His church lay in a distant
part of the city, and he had nothing to do with society, and therefore
nothing to fear from it. If trouble arose he was justified beforehand by
the fact that no clergyman has an absolute right to refuse marriage to
those who ask it, and by the thought that he was contributing to
happiness of the kind which he himself had most desired, but which had
been withheld from him under just such circumstances as those in which
Ralston and Katharine were placed. The good man admired, too, the wisdom
of the course they were taking. When he had said that he would consider
the matter favourably, provided that there was no legal obstacle,
Ralston had told him the whole truth, and had explained exactly what
Katharine and he intended to do. Of course, he had to explain the
relationship which existed between them and old Robert Lauderdale, and
the clergyman, to Ralston’s considerable surprise, took Katharine’s view
of the possibilities. He only insisted that the plan should be
conscientiously carried out as soon as might be, and that Katharine
should therefore go, in the course of the same day, and tell her story
to Mr. Robert Lauderdale. Ralston made no difficulty about that, and
agreed to be at the door of the clergyman’s house on the following
morning at half-past nine. The latter would open the church himself. It
was very improbable that any one should see them at that hour, and in
that distant part of the city.

There is no necessity for entering upon a defence of the clergyman’s
action in the affair. It was a case, not of right or wrong, nor of doing
anything irregular, but possibly excusable. Theoretically, it was his
duty to comply with Ralston’s request. In practice, it was a matter of
judgment and of choice, since if he had flatly refused, as several
others had done without so much as knowing the names of the parties,
Ralston would certainly have found it out of the question to force his
consent. He believed that he was doing right, he wished to do what was
kind, and he knew that he was acting legally and that the law must
support him. He ran the risk of offending his own congregation if the
story got abroad, but he remembered his own youth and he cheerfully took
that risk. He would not have done as much for any two who might have
chanced to present themselves, however. But Ralston impressed him as a
man of honour, a gentleman and very truthful, and there was just enough
of socialistic tendency in the good man, as the pastor of a very poor
congregation, to enjoy the idea that the rich man should be forced, as a
matter of common decency, to do something for his less fortunate
relation. With his own life and experience behind him, he could not
possibly have seen things as Robert Lauderdale saw them.

So the matter was settled, and Katharine had Ralston’s note. He added
that he would be in Clinton Place at half-past eight o’clock in the
morning, on foot. They might be seen walking together at almost any
hour, by right of cousinship, but to appear together in a carriage,
especially at such an hour, was out of the question.

It would have been unlike her to hesitate now. She had made up her mind
long before she had spoken to Ralston on Monday evening, and there was
nothing new to her in the idea. But she could not help wondering about
the future, as she had been doing when Charlotte Slayback had
unexpectedly appeared in the afternoon. Meanwhile the evening was before
her. She was going to a dinner-party of young people and afterwards to
the dance at the Thirlwalls’, of which she had spoken to Ralston. He
would be there, but would not be at the dinner, as she knew. At the
latter there were to be two young married women who were to chaperon the
young girls to the other house afterwards.

At eight o’clock Katharine sat down to table between two typical,
fashion-struck youths, one of whom took more champagne than was good for
him, and talked to her of college sports and football matches in which
he had not taken part, but which excited his enthusiasm, while the other
drank water, and asked if she preferred Schopenhauer or Hegel. Of the
two, she preferred the critic of athletics. But the dinner seemed a very
long one to Katharine, though it was really of the short and fashionable
type.

Then came another girls’ talk while the young men smoked furiously
together in another room. The two married women managed to get into a
corner, and told each other long stories in whispers, while the young
girls, who were afraid of romping and playing games because they were in
their ball-dresses, amused themselves as they could, with a good deal of
highly slangy but perfectly harmless chaff, and an occasional attempt at
a little music. As all the young men smoked the very longest and
strongest cigars, because they had all been told that cigarettes were
deadly, it was nearly ten o’clock when they came into the drawing-room.
They were all extremely well behaved young fellows, and the one who had
talked about athletics to Katharine was the only one who was a little
too pink. The dance was an early affair, and in a few moments the whole
party began to get ready to go. They transferred themselves from one
house to another in big carriages, and all arrived within a short time
of one another.

Ralston was in the room when Katharine entered, and she saw instantly
that he had been waiting for her and expected a sign at once. She smiled
and nodded to him from a distance, for he had far too much tact to make
a rush at her as soon as she appeared. It was not until half an hour
later that they found themselves together in the crowded entrance hall,
and Ralston assured himself more particularly that everything was as she
wished it to be.

“So to-morrow is our wedding day,” he said, looking at her face. Like
most dark beauties, she looked her best in the evening.

“Yes--it’s to-morrow, Jack. You are glad, aren’t you?” she asked,
repeating almost exactly the last words she had spoken that morning as
he had left her at the door of the Crowdies’ house.

“Do you doubt that I’m as glad as you are?” asked Ralston, earnestly.
“I’ve waited for you a long time--all my life, it seems to me.”

“Have you?”

Her grey eyes turned full upon him as she put the question, which
evidently meant more to her than the mere words implied. He paused
before answering her, with an over-scrupulous caution, the result of her
own earnestness.

“Why do you hesitate?” she asked, suddenly. “Didn’t you mean exactly
what you said?”

“I said it seemed to me as though I had waited all my life,” he
answered. “I wanted to be--well--accurate!” He laughed a little. “I am
trying to remember whether I had ever cared in the least for any one
else.”

Katharine laughed too. He sometimes had an almost boyish simplicity
about him which pleased her immensely.

“If it takes such an effort of memory, it can’t have been very serious,”
she said. “I’m not jealous. I only wish to know that you are.”

“I love you with all my heart,” he answered, with emphasis.

“I know you do, Jack dear,” said Katharine, and a short silence
followed.

She was thinking that this was the third time they had met since Monday
evening, and that she had not heard again that deep vibration, that
heart-stirring quaver, in his words, which had touched her that first
time as she had never been touched before. She did not analyze her own
desire for it in the least, any more than she doubted the sincerity of
his words because they were spoken quietly. She had heard it once and
she wanted to hear it again, for the mere momentary satisfaction of the
impression.

But Ralston was very calm that evening. He had been extremely careful
of what he did since Monday afternoon, for he had suffered acutely when
his mother had first met him on the landing, and he was determined that
nothing of the sort should happen again. The excitement, too, of
arranging his sudden marriage had taken the place of all artificial
emotions during the last forty-eight hours. His nerves were young and
could bear the strain of sudden excess and equally sudden abstention
without troubling him with any physical distress. And this fact easily
made him too sure of himself. To a certain extent he was cynical about
his taste for strong drink. He said to himself quite frankly that he
wanted excitement and cared very little for the form in which he got it.
He should have preferred a life of adventure and danger. He would have
made a good soldier in war and a bad one in peace--a safe sailor in
stormy weather and a dangerous one in a calm. That, at least, was what
he believed, and there was a foundation of truth in it, for he was
sensible enough to tell himself the truth about himself so far as he was
able.

On the evening of the dance at which he met Katharine he had dined at
home again. His mother was far too wise to ask many questions about his
comings and goings when he was with her, and it was quite natural that
he should not tell her how he had spent his day. He wished that he were
free to tell her everything, however, and to ask her advice. She was
eminently a woman of the world, though of the more serious type, and he
knew that her wisdom was great in matters social. For the rest, she had
always approved of his attachment for Katharine, whom she liked best of
all the family, and she intended that, if possible, her son should marry
the young girl before very long. With her temper and inherited impulses
it was not likely that she should blame Ralston for any honourable piece
of rashness. Having once been convinced that there was nothing underhand
or in the least unfair to anybody in what he was doing, Ralston had not
the slightest fear of the consequences. The only men of the family whom
he considered men were Katharine’s father and Hamilton Bright. The
latter could have nothing to say in the matter, and Ralston knew that
his friendship could be counted on. As for Alexander Junior, John looked
forward with delight to the scene which must take place, for he was a
born fighter, and quarrelsome besides. He would be in a position to tell
Mr. Lauderdale that neither righteous wrath nor violent words could undo
what had been done properly, decently and in order, under legal
authority, and by religious ceremony. Alexander Junior’s face would be a
study at that moment, and Ralston hoped that the hour of triumph might
not be far distant.

“I wonder whether it seems sudden to you,” said Katharine, presently.
“It doesn’t to me. You and I had thought about it ever so long.”

“Long before you spoke to me on Monday?” asked John. “I thought it had
just struck you then.”

“No, indeed! I began to think of it last year--soon after you had seen
papa. One doesn’t come to such conclusions suddenly, you know.”

“Some people do. Of course, I might have seen that you had thought it
all out, from the way you spoke. But you took me by surprise.”

“I know I did. But I had gone over it again and again. It’s not a light
matter, Jack. I’m putting my whole life into your hands because I love
you. I shan’t regret it--I know that. No--you needn’t protest, dear. I
know what I’m doing very well, but I don’t mean to magnify it into
anything heroic. I’m not the sort of girl to make a heroine, for I’m far
too sensible and practical. But it’s practical to run risks sometimes.”

“It depends on the risk, I suppose,” said Ralston. “Many people would
tell you that I’m not a safe person to--”

“Nonsense! I didn’t mean that,” interrupted the young girl. “If you were
a milksop, trotting along at your mother’s apron strings, I wouldn’t
look at you. Indeed, I wouldn’t! I know you’re rather fast, and I like
it in you. There was a little boy next to me at dinner this evening--a
dear little pale-faced thing, who talked to me about Schopenhauer and
Hegel, and drank five glasses of Apollinaris--I counted them. There are
lots of them about nowadays--all the fittest having survived, it’s the
turn of the unfit, I suppose. But I wouldn’t have you one little tiny
bit better than you are. You don’t gamble, and you don’t drink, and
you’re merely supposed to be fast because you’re not a bore.”

Ralston was silent, and his face turned a little pale. A violent
struggle arose in his thoughts, all at once, without the slightest
warning nor even the previous suspicion that it could ever arise at all.

“That’s not the risk,” continued Katharine. “Oh, no! And perhaps what I
mean isn’t such a very great risk after all. I don’t believe there is
any, myself--but I suppose other people might. It’s that uncle Robert
might not, after all--oh, well! We won’t talk about such things. If one
only takes enough for granted, one is sure to get something in the end.
That isn’t exactly Schopenhauer, is it? But it’s good philosophy.”

Katharine laughed happily and looked at him. But his face was unusually
grave, and he would not laugh.

“It’s too absurd that I should be telling you to take courage and be
cheerful, Jack!” she said, a moment later. “I feel as though you were
reproaching me with not being serious enough for the occasion. That
isn’t fair. And it is serious--it is, indeed.” Her tone changed. “I’m
putting my very life into your hands, dear, as I told you, because I
trust you. What’s the matter, Jack? You seem to be thinking--”

“I am,” answered Ralston, rather gloomily. “I was thinking about
something very, very important.”

“May I know?” asked Katharine, gently. “Is it anything you should like
me to know--or to ask me about, before to-morrow?”

“To-morrow!” Ralston repeated the word in a low voice, as though he were
meditating upon its meaning.

They were seated on a narrow little sofa against the lower woodwork of
the carved staircase. The hall was crowded with young people coming and
going between the other rooms. Katharine was leaning back, her head
supported against the dark panel, her eyes apparently half closed--for
she was looking down at him as he bent forward. He held one elbow on his
knee and his chin rested in his hand, as he looked up sideways at her.

“Katharine”--he began, and then stopped suddenly, and she saw now that
he was turning very pale, as though in fear or pain.

“Yes?” She paused. “What is it, Jack dear? There’s something on your
mind--are you afraid to tell me? Or aren’t you sure that you should?”

“I’m afraid,” said Ralston. “And so I’m going to do it,” he added a
moment later. “Did you ever hear that I was what they call dissipated?”

“Is that it?” Katharine laughed, almost carelessly. “No, I never heard
that said of you. People say you’re fast, and rather wild--and all that.
I told you what I thought of that--I like it in you. Perhaps it isn’t
right, exactly, to like a dash of naughtiness--is it?”

“I don’t know,” answered Ralston, evidently not comprehending the
question, but intent upon his own thoughts. In the short pause which
followed he did not change his position, but the veins swelled in his
temples, and his eyelids drooped a little when he spoke again.
“Katharine--I sometimes drink too much.”

Katharine trembled a little, but he did not see it. For some seconds she
did not move, and did not take her eyes from him. Then she very slowly
raised her hand and passed it over her brow, as though she were
confused, and presently she bent forward, as he was bending, resting one
elbow on her knee and looking earnestly into his face.

“Why do you do it, Jack? Don’t you love me?” She asked the two questions
slowly and distinctly, but in the one there was all her pity--in the
other all her love.

Again, as more than once lately, Ralston was almost irresistibly
impelled to make a promise, simple and decisive, which should change
his life, and which at all costs and risks he would keep. The impulse
was stronger now, with Katharine’s eyes upon his, and her happiness on
his soul, than it had been before. But the arguments for resisting it
were also stronger. He was calm enough to know the magnitude of his
temptations and his habitual weakness in resisting them. He said
nothing.

“Why don’t you answer me, dear?” Katharine asked softly. “They were not
hard questions, were they?”

“You know that I love you,” he answered--then hesitated, and then went
on. “If I did not love you, I should not have told you. Do you believe
that?”

He guessed that she only half realized and half understood all the
meaning of what he had said. He had no thought of gaining credit in her
opinion for having done what very few men would have risked in his
position. The wish to speak had come from the heart, not from the head.
But he had not foreseen that it must appear very easy to her for him to
overcome a temptation which seemed insignificant in her eyes, compared
with a life’s happiness.

“Yes--I know that,” she answered. “But, Jack dear--yes, it was brave and
honest of you--but you don’t think I expected a confession, do you? I
daresay you have done many things that weren’t exactly wrong and that
were not at all dishonourable, but which you shouldn’t like to tell me.
Haven’t you?”

“Of course I have. Every man has, by the time he’s five and twenty--lots
of things.”

“Well--but now, Jack--now, when we are married, you won’t do such
things--whatever they may be--any more--will you?”

“That’s it--I don’t know,” answered Ralston, determined to be honest to
the very end, with all his might, in spite of everything.

“You don’t know?” As Katharine repeated the words her face changed in a
way that shocked him, and he almost started as he saw her expression.

“No,” he answered, steadily enough. “I don’t--in regard to what I spoke
of. For other things, for anything else in the world that you ask me, I
can promise, and feel sure. But that one thing--it comes on me
sometimes, and it gets the better of me. I know--it’s weak--it’s
contemptible, it’s brutal, if you like. But I can’t help it, every time.
Of course you can’t understand. Nobody can, who hasn’t felt it.”

“But, Jack--if you promised me that you wouldn’t?”

Her face changed again, and softened, and her voice expressed the
absolute conviction that he would and could do anything which he had
given his word that he would do. That perfect belief is more flattering
than almost anything else to some men.

“Katharine--I can’t!” Ralston shook his head. “I won’t give you a
promise which I might break. If I broke it, I should--you wouldn’t see
me any more after that. I’ll promise that I’ll try, and perhaps I shall
succeed. I can’t do more--indeed, I can’t.”

“Not for me, Jack dear?” Her whole heart was in her voice, pleading,
pathetic, maidenly.

“Don’t ask me like that. You don’t know what you’re asking. You’ll make
me--no, I won’t say that. But please don’t--”

Once more Katharine’s expression changed. Her face was quite white, and
her grey eyes were light and had a cold flash in them. The small, angry
frown that came and went quickly when she was annoyed, seemed chiselled
upon the smooth forehead. Ralston’s head was bent down and his hand
shaded his eyes.

“And you made me think you loved me,” said Katharine, slowly, in a very
low voice.

“I do--”

“Don’t say it again. I don’t want to hear it. It means nothing, now that
I know--it never can mean anything again. No--you needn’t come with me.
I’ll go alone.”

She rose suddenly to her feet, overcome by one of those sudden
revulsions of the deepest feelings in her nature, to which strong people
are subject at very critical moments, and which generally determine
their lives for them, and sometimes the lives of others. She rose to
leave him with a woman’s magnificent indifference when her heart speaks
out, casting all considerations, all details, all questions of future
relation to the winds, or to the accident of a chance meeting at some
indefinite date.

There were many people in the hall just then. A dance was beginning, and
the crowd was pouring in so swiftly that for a moment the young girl
stood still, close to Ralston, unable to move. He did not rise, but
remained seated, hidden by her and by the throng. He seized her hand
suddenly, as it hung by her side. No one could have noticed the action
in the press.

“Katharine--” he cried, in a low, imploring tone.

She drew her hand away instantly. He remembered afterwards that it had
felt cold through her glove. He heard her voice, and, looking past her,
saw Crowdie’s pale face and red mouth--and met Crowdie’s languorous
eyes, gazing at him.

“I want to go somewhere else, Mr. Crowdie,” Katharine was saying. “I’ve
been in a draught, and I’m cold.”

Crowdie gave her his arm, and they moved on with the rest. Ralston had
risen to his feet as soon as he saw that Crowdie had caught sight of
him, and stood looking at the pair. His face was drawn and tired, and
his eyes were rather wild.

His first impulse was to get out of the house, and be alone, as soon as
he could, and he began to make his way through the crowd to a small room
by the door, where the men had left their coats. But, before he had
succeeded in reaching the place, he changed his mind. It looked too much
like running away. He allowed himself to be wedged into a corner, and
stood still, watching the people absently, and thinking over what had
occurred.

In the first place, he wondered whether Katharine had meant as much as
her speech and action implied--in other words, whether she intended to
let him know that everything was altogether at an end between them. It
seemed almost out of the question. After all, he had spoken because he
felt that it was a duty to her. He was, indeed, profoundly hurt by her
behaviour. If she meant to break off everything so suddenly, she might
have done it more kindly. She had been furiously angry because he would
not promise an impossibility. It was true that she could not understand.
He loved her so much, even then, that he made excuses for her conduct,
and set up arguments in her favour.

Was it an impossibility, after all? He stood still in his corner, and
thought the matter over. As he considered it, he deliberately called the
temptation to him to examine it. And it came, in its full force. Men who
have not felt it no more know what it means than Katharine Lauderdale
knew, when she accused John Ralston of not loving her, and left him,
apparently forever, because he would not promise never to yield to it
again.

During forty-eight hours he had scarcely tasted anything stronger than a
cup of coffee, for the occurrence of Monday had produced a deep
impression on him--and this was Wednesday night. For several years he
had been used to drinking whatever he pleased, during the day, merely
exercising enough self-control to keep out of women’s society when he
had taken more than was good for him, and enough discretion in the
matter of hours to avoid meeting his mother when he was not quite
himself. There are not so many men in polite society who regulate their
lives on such principles as there used to be, but there are many still.
Men know, and keep the matter to themselves. Insensibly, of course, John
Ralston had grown more or less dependent on a certain amount of
something to drink every day, and he had very rarely been really
abstemious for so long a time as during the last two days. He had lived,
too, in a state of considerable anxiety, and had scarcely noticed the
absence of artificial excitement. But now, with the scene of the last
quarter of an hour, the reaction had come. He had received a violent
shock, and his head clamoured for its accustomed remedy against all
nervous disturbances. Then, too, he was very thirsty. He honestly
disliked the taste of water--as his father had hated it before him--and
he had not really drunk enough of it. He was more thirsty than he had
been when he had swallowed a pint of champagne at a draught on Monday
afternoon. That, to tell the truth, was the precise form in which the
temptation presented itself to him at the present moment. It was
painfully distinct. He knew that the Thirlwalls, in whose house he was,
always had Irroy Brut, which chanced to be the best dry wine that year,
and he knew that he had only to follow the crowd to the supper room and
swallow as much of it as he desired. Everybody was drinking it. He could
hear the glasses faintly ringing in the distance, as he stood in his
corner. He let the temptation come to see how strong it would be.

It was frightfully vivid, as he let the picture rise before his eyes. He
was now actually in physical pain from thirst. He could see clearly the
tall pint-glass, foaming and sparkling with the ice-cold, pale wine. He
could hear the delicious little hiss of the tiny bubbles as thousands
of them shot to the surface. He could smell the aromatic essence of the
lemon peel as the brim seemed to come beneath his nostrils. He could
feel the exquisite sharp tingle, the inexpressible stinging delight of
the perfect liquid, all through his mouth, to his very throat--just as
he had seen and smelt and tasted it all on Monday afternoon, and a
thousand times before that--but not since then.

It became intolerable, or almost intolerable, but still he bore it, with
that curious pleasure in the pain of it which some people are able to
feel in self-imposed suffering. Then he opened his eyes wide, and tried
to drive it away.

But that was not so easy. That diabolical clinking and ringing of
distant glasses, away, far away, as it seemed, but high and distinct
above the hum of voices, tortured him, and drew him towards it. His
mouth and throat were actually parched now. It was no longer
imagination. And now, too, the crowd had thinned, and as he looked he
saw that it would be very easy for him to get to the supper room.

After all, he thought, it was a perfectly legitimate craving. He was
excessively thirsty, and he wanted a glass of champagne. He knew very
well that in such a place he should not take more than one glass, and
that could not hurt him. Did he ever drink when there were women
present, in the sense of drinking too much? On Monday the accident had
made a difference. Surely, as he had often heard, the manly course was
to limit himself to what he needed, and not go beyond it. All those
other people did that--why should not he? What was the difference
between them and him? How the thirst burned him, and the ring of the
glasses tortured him!

He moved a step from the corner, in the direction of the door, fully
intending to have his glass of wine. Then something seemed to snap
suddenly over his heart, with a sharp little pain.

“I’ll be damned if I do,” said Ralston, almost audibly.

And he went back to his corner, and tried to think of something else.



CHAPTER XIV.


Crowdie’s artistic temperament was as quick as a child’s to understand
the moods of others, and he saw at a glance that something serious had
happened to Katharine. He had not the amateur’s persistent desire to
feel himself an artist at every moment. On the contrary, he had far more
of the genuine artist’s wish to feel himself a man of the world when he
was not at his work. What he saw impressed itself upon his accurate and
retentive memory for form and colour, but he was not always studying
every face he met, and thinking of painting it. He was fond of trying to
read character, and prided himself upon his penetration, which was by no
means great. It is a common peculiarity of highly gifted persons to
delight in exhibiting a small talent which seems to them to be their
greatest, though unappreciated by the world. Goethe thought himself a
painter. Michelangelo believed himself a poet. Crowdie, a modern artist
of reputation, was undoubtedly a good musician as well, but in his own
estimation his greatest gift was his knowledge of men. Yet in this he
was profoundly mistaken. Though his reasoning was often as clear as his
deductions were astute, he placed the centre of human impulses too low,
for he judged others by himself, which is an unsafe standard for men who
differ much from the average of their fellow-men. He mistook his
quickness of perception for penetration, and the heart of men and things
escaped him.

He looked at Katharine and saw that she was very angry. He had caught
sight of Ralston’s face, and he supposed that the latter had been
drinking. He concluded that Ralston had offended Katharine, and that
there was to be a serious quarrel. Katharine, too, had evidently been in
the greatest haste to get away, and had spoken to Crowdie and taken his
arm merely because of the men she knew he had been nearest to her in the
crowd. The painter congratulated himself upon his good fortune in
appearing at that moment.

“Will you have some supper?” he asked, guiding his companion toward the
door.

“It’s too early--thanks,” answered the young girl, almost absently. “I’d
rather dance, if you don’t mind,” she added, after a moment.

“Of course!” And he directed his course towards the dancing room.

In spite of his bad figure, Crowdie danced very well. He was very light
on his feet, very skilful and careful of his partner, and, strange to
say, very enduring. Katharine let herself go on his arm, and they
glided and swayed and backed and turned to the right and left to the
soft music. For a time she had altogether forgotten her strong antipathy
for him. Indeed, she had almost forgotten his existence. Momentarily, he
was a nonentity, except as a means of motion.

As she moved the colour slowly came back to her pale face, the frown
disappeared and the cold fire in her eyes died away. She also danced
well and was proud of it, though she was far from being equal to her
mother, even now. With Katharine it was an amusement; with Mrs.
Lauderdale it was still a passion. But now she did not care to stop, and
went on and on, till Crowdie began to wonder whether she were not
falling into a dreamy and half-conscious state, like that of the Eastern
dervishes.

“Aren’t you tired?” he asked.

“No--go on!” she answered, without hesitation.

He obeyed, and they continued to dance till many couples stopped to look
at them, and see how long they would keep it up. Even the musicians
became interested, and went on playing mechanically, their eyes upon the
couple. At last they were dancing quite alone. As soon as the young girl
saw that she was an object of curiosity, she stopped.

“Come away!” she said quickly. “I didn’t realize that they were all
looking at us--it was so nice.”

It was not without a certain degree of vanity that Crowdie at last led
her out of the room. He remembered her behaviour to him that morning and
on former occasions, and he thought that he had gained a signal success.
It was not possible, he thought, that if he were still as repulsive to
her as he undoubtedly had been, she should be willing to let him dance
with her so long. Dancing meant much to him.

“Shall we sit down somewhere?” he asked, as they got away from the crowd
into a room beyond.

“Oh, yes--if there’s a place anywhere. Anything!” She spoke carelessly
and absently still.

They found two chairs a little removed from the rest, and sat down side
by side.

“Miss Lauderdale,” said Crowdie, after a momentary pause, “I wish you’d
let me ask you a question. Will you?”

“If it’s not a rude one,” answered Katharine, indifferently, and
scarcely looking at him. “What is it?”

“Well--you know--we’re relations, or connections, at least. Hester is
your cousin, and she’s your most intimate friend. Isn’t she?”

“Yes. Is it about her? There she is, just over there--talking to that
ugly, thin man with the nice face. Do you see her?”

Crowdie looked in the direction indicated, though he did not in the
least wish to talk about his wife to Katharine.

“Oh, yes; I see her,” he answered. “She’s talking to Paul Griggs, the
writer. You know him, don’t you? I wonder how he comes here!”

“Is that Paul Griggs?” asked Katharine, with a show of interest. “I’ve
always wished to see him.”

“Yes. But it has nothing to do with Hester--”

“What has nothing to do with Hester?” asked Katharine, with despairing
absence of mind, as she watched the author’s face.

“The question I was going to ask you--if you would let me.”

Katharine turned towards him. He could produce extraordinarily soft
effects with his beautiful voice when he chose, and he had determined to
attract her attention just then, seeing that she was by no means
inclined to give it.

“Oh, yes--the question,” she said. “Is it anything very painful? You
spoke--how shall I say?--in such a pathetic tone of voice.”

“In a way--yes,” answered Crowdie, not at all disturbed by her manner.
“Painful is too strong a word, perhaps--but it’s something that makes me
very uncomfortable. It’s this--why do you dislike me so much? Or don’t
you know why?”

Katharine paused a moment, being surprised by what he asked. She had no
answer ready, for she could not tell him that she disliked his white
face and scarlet lips and the soft sweep of his eyelashes. She took
refuge in her woman’s right to parry one question with another.

“What makes you think I dislike you?” she enquired.

“Oh--a thousand things--”

“I’m very sorry there are so many!” She laughed good-humouredly, but
with the intention of turning the conversation if possible.

“No,” said Crowdie, gravely. “You don’t like me, for some reason which
seems a good one to you. I’m sure of that, because I know that you’re
not capricious nor unreasonable by nature. I should care, in any
case--even if we were casual acquaintances in society, and only met
occasionally. Nobody could be quite indifferent to your dislike, Miss
Lauderdale.”

“No? Why not? I’m sure a great many people are. And as for that, I’m not
so reasonable as you think, I daresay. I’m sorry you think I don’t like
you.”

“I don’t think--I know it. No--please! Let me tell you what I was going
to say. We’re not mere ordinary acquaintances, though I don’t in the
least hope ever to be a friend of yours, exactly. You see--owing to
Hester--and on account of the portrait, just now--I’m thrown a good deal
in your way. I can’t help it. I don’t want to give up painting you--”

“But I don’t wish you to! I’ll come every day, if you like--every day I
can.”

“Yes; you’re very good about it. It’s just because you are, that I’m
more sensitive about your dislike, I suppose.”

“But, my dear Mr. Crowdie, how--”

“My dear Miss Lauderdale, I’m positively repulsive to you. You can’t
deny it really, though you’ll put it much more gently. To-day, when I
wanted to help you to take off your hat, you started and changed
colour--just as though you had touched a snake. I know that those things
are instinctive, of course. I only want you to tell me if you have any
reason--beyond a mere uncontrollable physical repulsion. There’s no
other way of putting it, I’m afraid. I mean, whether I’ve ever done
anything to make you hate the sight of me--”

“You? Never. On the contrary, you’re always very kind, and nice in every
way. I wish you would put it out of your head--the whole idea--and talk
about something else. No, honestly, I’ve nothing against you, and I
never heard anything against you. And I’m really very much distressed
that I should have given you any such impression. Isn’t that the answer
to your question?”

“Yes--in a way. It reduces itself to this--if you never looked at me,
and never heard my voice, you wouldn’t hate me.”

“Oh--your voice--no!” The words escaped her involuntarily, and conveyed
a wrong impression; for though she meant that his voice was beautiful,
she knew that its mere beauty sometimes repelled her as much as his
appearance did.

“Then it’s only my looks,” he said with a laugh. “Thanks! I’m quite
satisfied now, and I quite agree with you in that. You noticed to-day
that there were no mirrors in the studio.” He laughed again quite
naturally.

“Really!” exclaimed Katharine, as a sort of final protest, and taking
the earliest opportunity of escaping from the difficult situation he had
created. “I wish you would tell me something about Mr. Griggs, since you
know him. I’ve been watching him--he has such a curious face!”

“Paul Griggs? Oh, yes--he’s a curious creature altogether.” And Crowdie
began to talk about the man.

Katharine was in reality perfectly indifferent, and followed her own
train of thought while Crowdie made himself as agreeable as he could,
considering that he was conscious of her inattention. He would have been
surprised had he known that she was thinking about him.

Since Hester had told her the story of his strange illness, Katharine
could not be near him without remembering her cousin’s vivid description
of his appearance and condition during the attack. It was but a step
from such a picture to the question of the morphia and Crowdie’s story,
and one step further brought the comparison between slavery to one form
of excitement and slavery to another; in other words, between John
Ralston and the painter, and then between Hester’s love for Crowdie and
Katharine’s for her cousin. But at this point the divergence began.
Crowdie, who looked weak, effeminate and anything but manly, had found
courage and strength to overcome a habit which was said to be almost
unconquerable. Katharine would certainly never have guessed that he had
such a strong will, but Hester had told her all about it, and there
seemed to be no other explanation of the facts. And Ralston, with his
determined expression and all his apparently hardy manliness, had
distinctly told her that he did not feel sure of keeping a promise, even
for the sake of her love. It seemed incredible. She would have given
anything to be able to ask Crowdie questions about his life, but that
was impossible, under the circumstances. He might never forgive his wife
for having told his secret.

Her sudden and violent anger had subsided, and she already regretted
what she had said and done with Ralston. Indeed, she found it hard to
understand how she could have been so cruelly unkind, all in a moment,
when she had hardly found time to realize the meaning of what he had
told her. Another consideration and another question presented
themselves now, as she remembered and recapitulated the circumstances of
the scene. For the first time she realized the man’s loyalty in
thrusting his shortcomings under her eyes before the final step was
taken. It must have been a terrible struggle for him, she thought. And
if he was brave enough to do such a thing as that,--to tell the truth to
her, and the story of his shameful weakness,--what must that temptation
be which even he was not brave enough to resist? No doubt, he did resist
it often, she thought, and could do so in the future, though he said
that he could not be sure of himself. He was so brave and manly. Yet it
was horrible to think of him in connection with something which appeared
to be unspeakably disgusting in her eyes.

The vice was one which she could not understand. Few women can; and it
would be strange, indeed, if any young girl could. She had seen drunken
men in the streets many times, but that was almost all she knew of it.
Occasionally, but by no means often, she had seen a man in society who
had too much colour, or was unnaturally pale, and talked rather wildly,
and people said that he had taken too much wine--and generally laughed.
Such a man was making himself ridiculous, she thought, but she
established no connection between him and the poor wretch reeling blind
drunk out of a liquor shop, who was pointed out to her by her father as
an awful example. She had even seen a man once who was lying perfectly
helpless in the gutter, while a policeman kicked him to make him get
up--and it had made a strong impression upon her. She remembered
distinctly his swollen face, his bloodshot blue eyes and his filthy
clothes--all disgusting enough.

That was the picture which rose before her eyes when John Ralston,
putting his case more strongly than was necessary in order to clear his
conscience altogether, had told her that he could not promise to give up
a bad habit for her sake. In the first moment she had thought merely of
the man in society who behaved a little foolishly and talked too loud,
but Ralston’s earnest manner had immediately evoked the recollection of
her father’s occasional discourses upon what he called the besetting sin
of the lower classes in America, and had vividly recalled therewith the
face of the besotted wretch in the gutter. She knew of no intermediate
stage. To be a slave to drink meant that and nothing else. The society
man whom she took as an example was not a slave to drink; he was merely
foolish and imprudent, and might get into trouble. To think of marrying
a man who had lain in the gutter, half blind with liquor, to be kicked
by a policeman, was more than she could bear. The inevitable comic side
to things is rarely discernible to those brought most closely into
connection with them. It was not only serious to Katharine; it was
horrible, repulsive, sickening. It was no wonder that she had sprung
from her seat and turned her back on Ralston, and that she had done the
first thing which presented itself as a means of distracting her
thoughts.

But now, matters began to look differently to her calmer judgment. It
was absurd to think that Ralston should make a mountain of a mole-hill,
and speak as he had spoken of himself, if he only meant that he now and
then took a glass of champagne more than was good for him. Besides, if
he did it habitually, she must have seen him now and then behaving like
her typical young gentleman, and making a fool of himself. But she had
never noticed anything of the kind. On the other hand, she could not
believe that he could ever, under any circumstances, turn into the kind
of creature who had been held up to her as an example of the habitual
drunkard. There must be something between the two, she felt sure,
something which she could not understand. She would find out. And she
must see John again, before she left the dance. Her eyes began to look
for him in the crowd.

There are times when the processes of a girl’s mind are primitive in
their simplicity. Katharine suddenly remembered hearing that men drank
out of despair. She had seen Ralston’s face when she had risen and left
him, and it had certainly expressed despair very strongly. Perhaps he
had gone at once to drown his cares--that was the expression she had
heard--and it would be her fault.

Such a sequence of ideas looks childish in this age of profound
psychological analysis, but it is just such reasoning which sometimes
affects people most when their hearts are touched. We have all thought
and done very childish things at times.

Katharine forgot all about Crowdie and what he was saying. She had given
a sort of social, mechanical attention to his talk, nodding
intelligently from time to time, and answering by vague monosyllables,
or with even more vague questions. Crowdie had the sense to understand
that she did not mean to be rude, and that her mind was wholly
absorbed--most probably with what had taken place between her and
Ralston a quarter of an hour earlier. He talked on patiently, since he
could do nothing else, but he was not at all surprised when she at last
interrupted him.

“Would you mind looking to see if my cousin--Jack Ralston, you know,--is
still in the hall?” she asked, without ceremony.

“Certainly,” said Crowdie, rising. “Shall I tell him you want him, if
he’s there?”

“Do, please. It’s awfully good of you, Mr. Crowdie,” she added, with a
preoccupied smile.

Crowdie dived into the crowd, looking about him in every direction, and
then making his way straight to Ralston, who had not left his corner.

“Miss Lauderdale wants to speak to you, Ralston,” said the painter, as
he reached him. “Hallo! What’s the matter? You look ill.”

“I? Not a bit!” answered Ralston. “It’s the heat, I suppose. Where is
Miss Lauderdale?” He spoke in a curiously constrained tone.

“I’ll take you to her--come along!”

The two moved away together, Ralston following Crowdie through the
press. Through the open door of the boudoir Ralston saw Katharine’s eyes
looking for him.

“All right,” he said to Crowdie, “I see her. Don’t bother.”

“Over there in the low chair by the plants,” answered the painter, in
unnecessary explanation.

“All right,” said Ralston again, and he pushed past Crowdie, who turned
away to seek amusement in another direction. Katharine looked up gravely
at him as he came to her side, and then pointed to the chair Crowdie had
left vacant.

“Sit down. I want to talk to you,” she said quickly, and he obeyed,
drawing the chair a little nearer.

“I thought you never meant to speak to me again,” he said bitterly.

“Did you? You thought that? Seriously?”

“I suppose most men would have thought very much the same.”

“You thought that I could change completely, like that--in a single
moment?”

“You seemed to change.”

“And that I did not love you any more?”

“That was what you made me think--what else? You’re perfectly justified,
of course. I ought to have told you long ago.”

“Please don’t speak to me so--Jack.”

“What do you expect me to say?” he asked, and with a weary look in his
eyes he leaned back in his low chair and watched her.

“Jack--dear--you didn’t understand when I told Mr. Crowdie to call
you--you don’t understand now. I was angry then--by the staircase. I’m
sorry. Will you forgive me?”

Ralston’s face changed instantly, and he leaned forward again, so as to
be able to speak in a lower tone.

“Darling--don’t say such things! I’ve nothing to forgive--”

“You have, Jack! Indeed, you have--oh! why can’t we be alone for ten
minutes--I’d explain it all--what I thought--”

“But there’s nothing to explain, if you love me still--at least, not for
you.”

“Yes, there is. There’s ever so much. Jack, why did you tell me? You
frightened me so--you don’t know! And it seemed as though it were the
end of everything, and of me, myself, when you said you couldn’t be sure
of keeping a promise for my sake. You didn’t mean what you said--at
least, not as I thought you meant it--you didn’t mean that you wouldn’t
try--and of course you would succeed in the end.”

“I think I should succeed very soon, with you to help me, Katharine. But
that’s not what a man--who is a man--accepts from a woman.”

“Her help--not her help, Jack? How can you say so!”

“Yes, I mean it. Suppose that I should fail, what sort of life should
you lead--tied to a man who drinks? Don’t start, dear--it’s the truth.
We shall never talk about it again, after this, perhaps, and I may just
as well say what I think. I must say it, if I’m ever to respect myself
again.”

Katharine looked at him, realized again what his courage had been in
making the confession, and she loved him more than ever.

“Jack--” she began, and hesitated. “Since we are talking of it, and must
talk of it--can’t you tell me what makes you do it--I mean--you know!
What is it that attracts you? It must be something very strong--isn’t
it? What is it?”

“I wish I knew!” answered Ralston, half savagely. “It began--oh, at
college, you know. I was vain of being able to stand more than the
other fellows and of going home as steady as though I’d had nothing.”

“But a man who can walk straight isn’t drunk, Jack--”

“Oh, isn’t he!” exclaimed Ralston, with a sour smile. “They’re the worst
kind, sometimes--”

“But I thought that a man who was really drunk--was--was quite
senseless, and tumbled down, you know--in a disgusting state.”

“It’s not a pretty subject--especially when you talk about it, dear--but
it’s not always of that description.”

It shocked Ralston’s refined nature to hear her speak of such things.
For he had all the refinement of nervous natures, like many a man who
has been wrecked by drink--even to men of genius without number.

“Isn’t it quite--no, of course it’s not. I know well enough.” Katharine
paused an instant. “I don’t care if it’s not what they call refined,
Jack. I’m not going to let that sort of squeamishness come between you
and me. It’s not as though I’d come upon it as a subject of
conversation--and--and I’m not afraid you’ll think any the worse of me
because I talk about horrid things, when I must talk about them--when
everything depends on them--you and I, and our lives. I must know what
it is that you feel--that you can’t resist.”

Ralston felt how strong she was, and was glad.

“Go on,” she said. “Tell me all about it--how it began.”

“That was it--at college, I suppose,” he answered. “Then it grew to be a
habit--insensibly, of course. I thought it didn’t hurt me and I liked
the excitement. Perhaps I’m naturally melancholic and depressed.”

“I don’t wonder!”

“No--it’s not the result of anything especial. I’ve not had at all an
unhappy life. I was born gloomy, I suppose--and unlucky, too. You see
the trouble is that those things get hold of one’s nerves, and then it
becomes a physical affair and not a mere question of will. Men get so
far that it would kill them to stop, because they’re used to it. But
with me--no, I admit the fact--it is a question of will and nothing
else. Just now--oh, well, I’ve talked enough about myself.”

“What--‘just now’? What were you going to say? You wanted to go and
drink, just after I left you?”

“How did you guess that?”

“I don’t know. I was sure of it. And--and you didn’t, Jack?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Why not? What stopped you? It was so easy!”

“I felt that I should be a brute if I did--so I didn’t. That’s all.
It’s not worth mentioning--only it shows that it is a question of will.
I’m all right now--I don’t want it any more. Perhaps I shan’t, for days.
I don’t know. It’s a hopeless sort of thing, anyway. Sometimes I’m just
on the point of taking an oath. But if I broke it, I should blow my
brains out, and I shouldn’t be any better off. So I have the sense not
to promise myself anything.”

“Promise me one thing,” said Katharine, thoughtfully. “It’s a thing you
can promise--trust me, won’t you?”

“Yes--I promise,” answered Ralston, without hesitation.

“That you will never bind yourself by any oath at all, will you?”

Ralston paused a moment.

“Yes--I promise you that,” he said. “I think it’s very sensible. Thank
you, dear.”

There was a short silence after he had spoken. Then Katharine laughed a
little and looked at him affectionately.

“How funny we are!” she exclaimed. “Half an hour ago I quarrelled with
you because you wouldn’t promise, and now I’ve got you to swear that you
never will promise, under any circumstances.”

“Yes,” he answered. “It’s very odd. But other things are changed, too,
since then, though it’s not long.”

“You’re mistaken, Jack,” she said, misunderstanding him. “Haven’t I said
enough? Don’t you know that I love you just as much as I ever did--and
more? But nothing is changed--nothing--not the least little bit of
anything.”

“Dear--how good you are!” Ralston’s voice was very tender just then.
“But I mean--about to-morrow.”

“Nothing’s changed, Jack,” said Katharine, leaning forward and speaking
very earnestly.

But Ralston shook his head, sadly, as he met her eyes.

“Yes, dear, it’s all changed. That can’t be as you wanted it--not now.”

“But if I say that I will? Oh, don’t you understand me yet? It’s made no
difference. I lost my head for a moment--but it has made no difference
at all, except that I respect you ever so much more than I did, for
being so honest!”

“Respect me!” repeated Ralston, with grave incredulity. “Me! You can’t!”

“I can and I do. And I mean to be married to you--to-morrow, just as we
said. I wonder what you think I’m made of, to change and take back my
word and promise! Don’t you see that I want to give you everything--my
whole life--much more than I did this morning? Yes, ever so much more,
for you need me more than I knew or guessed. You see, I didn’t quite
understand at first, but it’s all clear now. You’re much more
unhappy--and much more foolish about it--than I am. I don’t want to go
back over it all again, but won’t it be much easier for you when you
have me to help you? It seems to me that it must be, because I love you
so! Won’t it be much easier? Tell me!”

“Yes--of course it would. I don’t like to think of it, because I mustn’t
do it. I should never have asked you to marry me at all, until I was
sure of myself. But--well, I couldn’t help it. We loved each other.”

“Jack--what do you mean?”

“That I love you far too much to tie myself round your life, like a
chain. I won’t do it. I’ll do the best I can to get over this thing and
if I do--I shan’t be half good enough for you--but if you will still
have me then, we’ll be married. If I can’t get over it--why then, that
means that I shall go to the devil, I suppose. At all events, you’ll be
free.”

He spoke very quietly, but the words hurt him as they came. He did not
realize until he had finished speaking that the resolution had been
formed within the last five minutes, though he felt that he was right.

“If you knew how you hurt me, when you talk like that!” said Katharine,
in a low voice.

“It’s a question of absolute right and wrong--it’s a question of
honour,” he continued, speaking quickly to persuade himself. “Just put
yourself in the position of a third person, and think about it. What
should you say of a man who did such a thing--who accepted such a
sacrifice as you wish to make?”

“It isn’t a sacrifice--it’s my life.”

“Yes--that’s it! What would your life be, with a man on whom you
couldn’t count--a man you might be ashamed of, at any moment--who can’t
even count on himself--a fellow who’s good for nothing on earth, and
certainly for nothing in heaven--a failure, like me, who--”

“Stop! You shan’t say any more. I won’t listen! Jack, I shall go away,
as I did before--”

“Well--but isn’t it all true?”

“No--not a word of it is true! And if it were true twenty times over,
I’d marry you--now, in spite of everybody. I--I believe I’d commit a sin
to marry you. Oh, it’s of no use! I can’t live without you--I can’t,
indeed! I called you back to tell you so--”

She stopped, and she was pale. He had never seen her as she was now, and
she had never looked so beautiful to him.

“For that matter, I couldn’t live without you,” he said, in a rather
uncertain voice.

“And you shall not!” she answered, with determination. “Don’t talk to me
of sacrifice--what could anything be compared with that--with giving
you up? You don’t know what you’re saying. I couldn’t--I couldn’t do
it--not if it meant death!”

“But, dear--Katharine dear--if I fail, as I shall, I’m sure--just
think--”

“If you do--but you won’t--well, if you should think you had--oh, Jack!
If you were the worst man alive, I’d rather die with you than live for
any one else! God knows I would--”

“It’s very, very hard!” Ralston twisted his fingers together and bowed
his head, still trying to resist her.

She bent forward again.

“Dear--tell me! A little while ago--out there--when you wanted
it--wasn’t that hard?”

Ralston nodded silently.

“And didn’t you resist because it was a little--just a little for my
sake? Just at that moment when you said to yourself that you wouldn’t,
you know, or just before, or just afterwards--didn’t you think a little
of me, dear?”

“Of course I did. Oh, Katharine, Katharine--” His voice was shaking now.

“Yes. I know now,” she answered. “I don’t want anything but that--all my
life.”

Still Ralston bent his head again, looking down at his hands and
believing that he was still resisting. He could not have spoken, had he
tried, and Katharine saw it. She leaned still nearer to him.

“Dear--I’m going home now. I shall be walking in Clinton Place at
half-past eight to-morrow morning, as we arranged. Good-night--dear.”

Before he realized what she meant to do, she had risen and reached the
door. He sprang to his feet and followed her, but the crowd had closed
again and she was gone.



CHAPTER XV.


Katharine Lauderdale slept sweetly that night. She had, as she thought,
at last reached the crisis of her life, and the moment of action was at
hand. She felt, too, that almost at the last moment she had avoided a
great risk and made a good resolution--she felt as though she had saved
John Ralston from destruction. Loving him as truly as she did, her
satisfaction over what she had done was far greater than her pain at
what he had told her of himself.

But this was not insignificant, though she wilfully made it seem as
small as she could. It was quite clear that it was not a matter to be
laughed at, and that Ralston did not deserve to be called quixotic
because he had thought it his duty to tell her of his weakness. It was
not a mountain, she was sure, but she admitted that it was not a
mole-hill either. Men who exaggerated the golden letter of virtue at the
expense of the gentle spirit of charity, as her father did, exaggerated
also, as a rule, those forms of wickedness to which they were themselves
least liable. She knew that. But she was also aware that drinking too
much was not by any means an imaginary vice. It was a matter of fact,
with which whole communities had to deal, and about which men very
unlike her father in other ways spoke gravely. Nevertheless, though a
fact, all details connected with it were vague. It seemed to her a
matter of certainty that John Ralston would at once change his life and
become in that respect, as in all others, exactly what her ideal of a
man always had been since she had loved him.

Her mistake, if it were one, was pardonable enough. Had she become aware
of his fault by accident, and when, having succumbed to his weakness,
she could have seen him not himself, the whole effect upon her mind
would have been very different. But she had never seen him, as she
believed, in any such condition. It was as though he had told it as of
another man, and she found it impossible really to connect any such
ideas of inebriety as she had with the man she loved. It was as vague as
though he had told her that he had once had the scarlet fever. She would
have known very well what the scarlet fever was like, but she could not
have associated it with him in any really distinct way. It was because
it had seemed such a small matter at first sight that she had been
suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of bitter disappointment when he had
refused to give his promise for her sake. As soon as she had begun to
understand even a little of what he really felt, she had been as ready
and as determined to stand by him through everything as though it had
been a question of a bodily illness, for which he was not responsible,
but in which she could really help him. When she had been angry, and
afterwards, when, in spite of him, she had so strongly insisted upon the
marriage, she had been alike under a false impression, though in
different degrees. She had not now any idea of what she had really
undertaken to do.

With her nature she would probably have acted just as she did in the
last case, even had she understood all, by actual experience. She was
capable of great sacrifices--even greater than she dreamed of. But, not
understanding, it did not seem to her that she had done or promised
anything very extraordinary, and she was absolutely confident of
success. It was natural to her to accept wholly what she accepted at
all, and it had always seemed to her that there was something mean in
complaining of what one had taken voluntarily, and in finding fault with
details when one had agreed, as it were, to take over the whole at a
moral valuation.

It has seemed necessary to dwell at great length on the events which
filled the days preceding Katharine’s marriage. Her surroundings had
made her what she was, and justified, if anything could justify, the
extraordinary step she was about to take, and which she actually took
on the morning after the dance at the Thirlwalls’. It is under such
circumstances that such things are done, when they are done at all. The
whole balance of opinion in her family was against her marrying John
Ralston. The whole weight of events, so far as she was concerned, was in
favour of the marriage.

That she loved him with all her heart, there was no doubt; and he loved
her with all that his nature could give of love, which was, indeed, less
than what she gave, but was of a good and faithful sort in its way.
Love, like most passions, good and bad, flourishes under restraint when
it is real and perishes almost immediately before opposition when it has
grown out of artificial circumstances--to revive, sometimes, in the
latter case, if the artificiality is resuscitated. Katharine had found
herself opposed at every turn in her love for Ralston. The result was
natural and simple--it had grown to be altogether the dominant reality
of her life.

Even those persons who did not actively do their best to hinder her
marriage, contributed, by their actions and even by their existence, to
the fortifying of her resolution, as it seemed to her, but in reality to
the growth of the passion which needed no resolutions to direct it. For
instance, Crowdie’s repulsive personality threw Ralston’s undeniable
advantages into higher relief. His wife’s devotion to him made
Katharine’s devotion to John seem ten times more reasonable than it was.
Charlotte Slayback’s wretchedly petty and miserable life with a man whom
she had not married for love, made a love match seem the truest
foundation for happiness. Old Robert Lauderdale’s solitary existence was
itself an argument in favour of marriage. The small, daily discomfort
which Alexander Junior’s miserly economy imposed upon his household, and
which Katharine had been forced to endure all her life, made Ralston’s
careless generosity a virtue by contrast. Even Mrs. Lauderdale had
turned against her daughter at last, for reasons which the young girl
could not understand, either at the time or for a long time afterwards.

She felt herself very much alone in the world, in spite of her position.
And yet, since her mother had begun to lose her supreme beauty,
Katharine was looked upon as the central figure of the Lauderdale tribe,
next to Robert the Rich himself. ‘The beautiful Miss Lauderdale’ was a
personage of much greater importance than she herself knew, in the eyes
of society. She had grown used to hearing reports to the effect that she
was engaged to be married to this man, or that, and that her uncle
Robert had announced his intention of wrapping his wedding present in a
cheque for a million of dollars. Stories of that sort got into the
papers from time to time, and Alexander Junior never failed to write a
stern denial of the report to the editor of the journal in which the
tale appeared. Katharine was used to seeing the family name in print on
all possible occasions and paid little attention to it. She did not know
how far people must have become subjects of general conversation before
they become the paragraphist’s means of support in the dull season of
the year. The paragraphists on a great daily paper have an intimate
knowledge of the public taste, for which they get little credit amongst
the social lights, who flatter themselves that the importance of the
paper in question depends very largely on their opinion of it. Society
is very much like a little community of lunatics, who live in an asylum
all by themselves, and who know nothing whatever about the great public
that lives beyond the walls, whereas the public knows a good deal about
the lunatics, and takes a lively interest in their harmless, or
dangerous, vagaries. And in the same way society itself forms a small
public for its own most prominent individuals,--for its own favourite
lunatics, so to say,--and watches their doings and talks about them with
constant interest, and flatters them when it thinks they are agreeable,
and abuses them bitterly behind their backs when it thinks they are not.
The daily dinner-party conversation is society’s imprinted but widely
circulated daily paper. It is often quite ignorant of state secrets,
but it is never unacquainted with social events, and generally has
plenty of sound reasons with which to explain them. Society’s
comparative idleness, even in America, gives it opportunities of
conversation which no equally large body of men and women can be said to
possess outside of its rather elastic limits. It talks the same sort of
matter which the generally busy great public reads and wishes to read in
the daily press--and as talking is a quicker process than controversy in
print, society manages to say as much for and against the persons it
discusses, in a day, as the newspapers can say in a week, or perhaps
more. As a mere matter of statistics, there is no doubt that a couple of
talkative people spending an evening together can easily ‘talk off’ ten
thousand words in an hour--which is equal to about eight columns of an
ordinary big daily paper, and they are not conscious of making any great
effort. It is manifestly possible to say a great many things in eight
columns of a newspaper, especially if one is not very particular about
what one says.

Katharine realized, no doubt, that there would some day be plentiful
discussion of her rashness in marrying Ralston against the wishes of the
family, and she knew that the circumstances would to some extent be
regarded as public property. But she was far from realizing her own
social importance, or that of the whole Lauderdale tribe, as compared
with that of many people who spent enormous sums in amusing their
friends, consciously and unconsciously, but who could never be
Lauderdales, though it was not their fault.

At the juncture she had now reached, such considerations would have had
little weight with her, but the probability is that, had she known
exactly what she was doing, and how it would be regarded should others
know of it, she would have vastly preferred to rebel openly and to leave
New York with John Ralston on the day she married him, in uncompromising
defiance of her family. Most people have known in the course of life of
one or two secret marriages and must have noticed that the motives to
secrecy generally seem inadequate. As a rule, they are, if taken by
themselves. But in actual fact they have mostly acted upon the persons
concerned through a medium of some sort of ignorance and in conjunction
with an impatient passion. It is common enough, even in connection with
more or less insignificant matters, to hear some one say, ‘I wonder why
I did that--I might have known better!’ Humanity is never wholly
logical, and is never more than very partially wise, even when it is old
enough to ‘know better.’ In nine cases out of ten, when it is said of a
man that ‘a prophet is without honour in his own country,’ the reason is
that his own country is the best judge of what he prophesies. And
similarly, society judges the doings of all its members by its own
individual knowledge of its own customs, so that very few who do
anything not sanctioned by those customs get any credit, but, on the
contrary, are in danger of being called fools for believing that
anything not customary can be done at all.

At half-past eight on Thursday morning Katharine left the house in
Clinton Place, and turned eastward to meet John Ralston. Her only source
of anxiety was the fear lest her father should by some accident go out
earlier than usual. There was no particular reason to expect that he
should be irregular on that particular day of all others, and she had
left him over his beefsteak, discussing the relative amounts of the
nutriment--as compared with the price per pound--contained in beef and
mutton. He had never been able to understand why any one who could get
meat should eat anything else, and the statistics of food consumption
interested his small but accurate mind. His wife listened quietly but
without response, so that the discussion was very one-sided. The
philanthropist generally shuffled down to breakfast when everything was
cold, a point about which he was utterly indifferent. He had long ago
discovered that by coming down late he could always be the last to
finish his meal, and could therefore begin to smoke as soon as he had
swallowed his last mouthful which was a habit very important to his
enjoyment and very destructive to that of any one else, especially
since his son had reduced him to ‘Old Virginia Cheroots’ at ten cents
for five.

But Alexander Junior was no more inclined than usual to reach his office
a moment before his accustomed time. Katharine generally left the
dining-room as soon as she had finished breakfast, and often went out
immediately afterwards for a turn in Washington Square, so that her
departure excited no remark. The rain had ceased, and though the air was
still murky and the pavements wet, it was a decently fine morning.
Ralston was waiting for her, walking up and down on a short beat, and
the two went away together.

At first they were silent, and the silence had a certain constraint
about it which both of them felt, but did not know how to escape from.
Ralston was the first to speak.

“You ought not to have come,” he said rather awkwardly, with a little
laugh.

“But I told you I was coming,” she answered demurely. “Didn’t I?”

“I know. That’s just it. You told me so suddenly that I couldn’t
protest. I ran after you, but you were gone to get your things, and when
you came downstairs there were a lot of people, and I couldn’t speak to
you.”

“I saw you,” said Katharine. “It was just as well. You had nothing to
say to me that I didn’t know, and we couldn’t have begun the discussion
of the matter all over again at the last instant. And now, please, Jack
dear, don’t begin and argue. I’ve told you a hundred times that I know
exactly what I’m doing--and that it’s I who am making you do it. And
remember that unless we are married first uncle Robert will never make
up his mind to do anything for us. It’s never of any use to try and
overcome people’s objections. The only way is to ignore them, which is
just what we’re doing.”

“There’s no doubt about that,” answered Ralston. “There’s one thing I
look forward to with pleasure, in the way of a row, though--I mean when
your father finds it out. I hope you’ll let me tell him and not spoil my
fun. Won’t you?”

“Oh, yes, if you like. Why not? Not that I’m at all afraid. You don’t
know papa. When he finds that the thing is done, that it’s the
inevitable course of events, in fact, he’ll be quite different. He’ll
very likely talk of submission to the Divine will and offer to speak to
Beman Brothers about letting you try the clerkship again. I know papa!
Providence has an awfully good time with him--but nobody else does.”

At which piece of irreverence Ralston laughed, for it exactly expressed
his idea of Alexander Junior’s character.

“And there’s one other thing I don’t want you to speak of, Jack,”
pursued Katharine, more gravely. “I mean what you told me last night. I
don’t intend ever to mention it again--do you understand, dear? I’ve
thought it all over since then. I’m glad you told me, and I admire you
for telling me, because it must have been hard, especially until I began
to understand. A woman doesn’t know everything, you see! Indeed, we
don’t know much about anything. We can only feel. And it did seem very
hard at first--only for a moment, Jack--that you should not be willing
to promise what I asked, when it was to make such a difference to me,
and I was willing to promise you anything. You see how I felt, don’t
you?”

“Of course,” answered Ralston, looking down at the pavement as he walked
on and listened. “It was natural.”

“Yes. I’m so glad you see it. But afterwards, when I thought of things
I’d heard--why, then I thought a great deal too much, you know--dreadful
things! But I understood better what it all meant. You see, at first, it
seemed so absurd! Just as though I had asked you not to--not to wear a
green tie, for instance, as Charlotte asked her husband. Absurd, wasn’t
it? So I was frightfully angry with you and got up and went away. I’m so
ashamed of myself for it, now. But then, when it grew clearer--when I
really knew that there was suffering in it, and remembered hearing that
it was something like morphia and such things, that have to be cured by
degrees--you know what I mean--why, then I wanted you more than ever.
You know I’d give anything to help you--just to make it a little easier
for you, dear.”

“You do! You’re doing everything--you’re giving me everything,” said
Ralston, earnestly.

“Well--not everything--but myself, because that’s all I have to give--if
it’s any use to you.”

“Dear--as if you weren’t everything the world has, and the only thing
and the best thing altogether!”

“And if I didn’t love you better than anything--better than kings and
queens--I wouldn’t do it. Because, after all, though I’m not much, I’m
all I have. And then--I’m proud--inside, you know, Jack. Papa says I’m
not, because mamma and I sometimes go to the theatre in the gallery, for
economy. But that’s hardly a test in real life, I think--and besides, I
know I am. Don’t you think so?”

“Yes--a little, in the right way. It’s nice. I like it in you.”

“I’m so glad. It’s because I’m proud that I don’t want to talk about
that matter any more. It just doesn’t exist for me. That’s what I want
you to feel. But I want you to feel, too, that I’m always there, that I
shall always understand, and that if I can help you the least little
bit, I mean to. I’ve turned into a woman all at once, Jack, in the last
twenty-four hours, and now in an hour I shall be your wife, though
nobody will know about it for a day or two. But I don’t mean to turn
into your grandmother, too, and be always lecturing you and asking
questions, and that sort of thing. You wouldn’t like it either, would
you?”

“Hardly!”

Ralston laughed again, for everything she said made him feel happier and
helped to destroy the painful impression of the previous night.

“Why do you laugh, Jack? Oh, I suppose it’s my way of putting it. But
it’s what I mean, and that’s the principal thing. I’d rather die than
watch you all the time, to see what you do. Imagine if I were always
asking questions--‘Jack, where did you go last night?’ And--‘Jack, is
that your third or fourth glass of wine to-day?’ The mere idea is
disgusting. No. You must just do your best, and feel that I’m always
there--even when I’m not--and that I’m never watching you, even when I
look as though I were, and that neither you nor I are ever going to say
a word about it--from this very minute, forever! Do you understand?
Isn’t that the best way, Jack? And that I’m perfectly sure that it will
be all right in the end--you must remember that, too.”

“I think you’re right,” said Ralston. “You’ve suddenly turned into a
woman, and into a very clever one. Those are just the things which most
women never will understand. They’d be much happier if they did.”

The two walked on rapidly, talking as they went, and assuredly not
looking at all like a runaway couple. But though it was very early, they
avoided the streets in which they might easily meet acquaintances, for
it was the hour when men who had any business were going to it in
various ways, according to their tastes, but chiefly by the elevated
road. They had no difficulty in reaching unobserved the house of the
clergyman who had promised to marry them.

He was in readiness, and at his window, and as they came in sight he
left the house and met them. All three walked silently to his church,
and he let them in with his own key, followed them and locked the door
behind them.

In ten minutes the ceremony was over. The clergyman beckoned them into
the vestry, and immediately signed a form of certificate which he had
already filled in, and handed it to John without a word. John took a new
treasury note from his pocket-book and laid it upon the oak table.

“I’m sure you must have many poor people in your parish,” he said, in
explanation.

“I have,” said the clergyman. “Thank you,” he added, placing the money
in his own pocket-book, which was an old black one, much the worse for
wear.

“It is we who have to thank you,” answered John, “for helping us out of
a very difficult situation.”

“Hm!” ejaculated the elder man, rubbing his chin with his hand and
fixing a penetrating glance on Ralston’s face. “Perhaps you won’t thank
me hereafter,” he said suddenly. “Perhaps you think it strange that a
man in my position should be a party to a secret marriage. But I do not
anticipate that you will ask me for a justification of my action. I had
reasons--reasons--old reasons.” He continued to rub his chin
thoughtfully. “I should like to say a word to you, Mrs. Ralston,” he
added, turning to Katharine.

She started and blushed a little. She had not expected to be addressed
by what was now her name. But she held up her head, proudly, as though
she were by no means ashamed of it.

“I shall not detain you a moment,” continued the clergyman, looking at
her as earnestly as he had looked at John. “I have perfect confidence in
Mr. Ralston, as I have shown by acceding to his very unusual request. He
has told you what I said to him yesterday, and I do not wish him to
doubt that I am sure that he has done so. It is merely as a matter of
conscience, to satisfy my own scruples in fact, that I wish to repeat,
as nearly as possible, the same words, ‘mutatis mutandis,’ which I said
to him. I have married you and have given you my certificate that the
ceremony has been duly and properly performed, and you are man and wife.
But I have married you thus secretly and without witnesses--none being
indispensable--on the distinct understanding that your union is not to
be kept a secret by you any longer than you shall deem secrecy
absolutely necessary to your future happiness. Mr. Ralston informed me
that it was your intention to acknowledge what you had done to a near
relation, the head of your family, in fact, without any delay. I am sure
that it is really your intention to do so. But let me entreat you, if it
is possible, to lose no time, but to go, even at this hour, to the
person in question and tell your story, one or the other of you, or both
together. I am an old man, and human life is very uncertain, and human
honour is rightly held very dear, for if honour means anything, it means
the social application of that truth which is by nature divine.
To-morrow I may no longer be here to testify that I signed that document
with my own hand. To-day the person in whom you intend to confide can
come and see me and I will answer for what I have done, or he can
acknowledge your marriage without question, whichever he chooses to do;
it will be better if it be done quickly. It always seems to me that
to-morrow is the enemy of to-day, and lies in ambush to attack it
unawares. Therefore, I entreat you to go at once to him you have chosen
and tell him what you have done. And so good-bye, and may God bless you
and make you happy and good.”

“I shall go now,” said Katharine. “And we thank you very much,” she
added, holding out her hand.

The clergyman let them out and stood looking after them for a few
seconds. Then he slowly nodded twice and re-entered the church. Ralston
and Katharine walked away very slowly, both looking down, and each
inwardly wondering whether the other would break the silence. It was
natural that they should not speak at first. The words of the service
had brought very clearly before them the meaning of what they had done,
and the clergyman’s short speech, made as he said for the sake of
satisfying his own scruples of conscience, had influenced them by its
earnestness. They reached a crossing without having exchanged a
syllable. As usual in such cases, a chance exclamation broke the ice.

“Take care!” exclaimed Ralston, laying his hand on Katharine’s arm, and
looking at an express wagon which was bearing down on them.

“It’s ever so far off still,” said Katharine, smiling suddenly and
looking into his face. “But I like you to take care of me,” she added.

He smiled, too, and they waited for the wagon to go by. The clouds had
broken away at last and the low morning sun shone brightly upon them.

“I’m so glad it’s fine on our wedding day, Jack!” exclaimed Katharine.
“It was horrid yesterday afternoon. How long ago that seems! Did you
hear him call me Mrs. Ralston? Katharine Ralston--how funny it sounds!
It’s true, that’s your mother’s name.”

“You’ll be Mrs. John Ralston--to distinguish.” John laughed. “Yes--it
does seem long ago. What did you do with yourself yesterday?”

“Yesterday? Let me see--I sat for my portrait, and then I went home, and
then late in the afternoon Charlotte suddenly appeared, and then I dined
with the Joe Allens--the young couple, you know, don’t you? And then I
went to the dance. I hardly knew what I was doing, half the time.”

“And I hardly know why I asked the question. Isn’t it funny? I believe
we’re actually trying to make conversation!”

“You are--I’m not,” laughed Katharine. “It was you who began asking. I
was talking quite sentimentally and appropriately about yesterday
seeming so long ago, you know. But it’s true. It does--it seems ages. I
wonder when time will begin again--I feel as though it had stopped
suddenly.”

“It will begin again, and it will seem awfully long, before this
afternoon--when uncle Robert has refused to have anything to do with
us.”

“He won’t refuse--he shan’t refuse!” Katharine spoke with an energy
which increased at every syllable. “Now that the thing is done, Jack,
just put yourself in his position for a moment. Just imagine that you
have anywhere between fifty and a hundred millions, all of your own.
Yes--I know. You can’t imagine it. But suppose that you had. And suppose
that you had a grand-niece, whom you liked, and who wasn’t altogether a
disagreeable young person, and whom you had always rather tried to pet
and spoil--not exactly knowing how to do it, but out of sheer good
nature. And suppose that you had known ever so long that there was only
one thing which could make your nice niece perfectly happy--”

“It’s all very well, Katharine,” interrupted Ralston, “but has he known
that?”

“I’ve never failed to tell him so, on the most absurdly inadequate
provocation. So it must be his fault if he doesn’t know it--and I shall
certainly tell him all over again before I bring out the news. It
wouldn’t do to be too sudden, you know. Well, then--suppose all that,
and that the young gentleman in question was a proper young gentleman
enough, as young gentlemen go, and didn’t want money, and wouldn’t take
it if it were offered to him, but merely asked for a good chance to
work and show what he could do. That’s all very simple, isn’t it? And
then realize--don’t suppose any more--just what’s going to happen inside
of half an hour. The devoted niece goes to the good old uncle, and says
all that over again, and calmly adds that she’s done the deed and
married the young gentleman and got a certificate, which she
produces--by the bye, you must give it to me. Don’t be afraid of my
losing it--I’m not such a goose. And she goes on to say that unless the
good uncle does something for her husband, she will simply make the
uncle’s life a perfectly unbearable burden to him, and that she knows
how to do it, because if he’s a Lauderdale, she’s a Lauderdale, and her
husband is half a Lauderdale, so that it’s all in the family, and no
entirely unnecessary consideration is to be shown to the victim--well?
Don’t you think that ought to produce an effect of some sort? I do.”

“Yes,” laughed Ralston, “I think so, too. Something is certainly sure to
happen.”

                            END OF VOL. I.





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