half past one."
"Went around and met her. She's wonderful, Elizabeth. But do you
know what would happen if I told them? They'd have a fit."
She felt rather helpless, because she knew he was right from his
"I know. I'm surprised at Les, Jim."
"Oh, Les! He just trailed along. He's all right."
She kissed him and he went out, leaving her to lie awake for a long
time. She would have had all her world happy those days, and all
her world good. She didn't want anybody's bread and butter spilled
on the carpet.
So the days went on, and the web slowly wove itself into its
complicated pattern: Bassett speeding West, and David in his quiet
room; Jim and Leslie Ward seeking amusement, and finding it in the
littered dressing-room of a woman star at a local theater; Clare
Rossiter brooding, and the little question being whispered behind
hands, figuratively, of course - the village was entirely well-bred;
Gregory calling round to see Bassett, and turning away with the
information that he had gone away for an indefinite time; and Maggie
Donaldson, lying in the cemetery at the foot of the mountains
outside Norada, having shriven her soul to the limit of her strength
so that she might face her Maker.
Out of all of them it was Clare Rossiter who made the first conscious
move of the shuttle; Clare, affronted and not a little malicious, but
perhaps still dramatizing herself, this time as the friend who feels
forced to carry bad tidings. Behind even that, however, was an
unconscious desire to see Dick again, and this time so to impress
herself on him that never again could he pass her in the street
On the day, then, that David first sat up in bed Clare went to the
house and took her place in the waiting-room. She was dressed with
extreme care, and she carried a parasol. With it, while she waited,
she drilled small nervous indentations in the old office carpet,
and formulated her line of action.
Nevertheless she found it hard to begin.
"I don't want to keep you, if you're busy," she said, avoiding his
eyes. "If you are in a hurry - "
"This is my business," he said patiently. And waited.
"I wonder if you are going to understand me, when I do begin?"
"You sound alarmingly ominous." He smiled at her, and she had a
moment of panic. "You don't look like a young lady with anything
eating at her damask cheek, or however it goes."
"Doctor Livingstone," she said suddenly, "people are saying something
about you that you ought to know."
He stared at her, amazed and incredulous.
"About me? What can they say? That's absurd."
"I felt you ought to know. Of course I don't believe it. Not for
a moment. But you know what this town is."
"I know it's a very good town," he said steadily. "However, let's
have it. I daresay it is not very serious."
She was uneasy enough by that time, and rather frightened when she
had finished. For he sat, quiet and rather pale, not looking at
her at all, but gazing fixedly at an old daguerreotype of David
that stood on his desk. One that Lucy had shown him one day and
which he had preempted; David at the age of eight, in a small black
velvet suit and with very thin legs.
"I thought you ought to know," she justified herself, nervously.
Dick got up.
"Yes," he said. "I ought to know, of course. Thank you."
When she had gone he went back and stood before the picture again.
From Clare's first words he had had a stricken conviction that the
thing was true; that, as Mrs. Cook Morgan's visitor from Wyoming
had insisted, Henry Livingstone had never married, never had a son.
He stood and gazed at the picture. His world had collapsed about
him, but he was steady and very erect.
"David, David!" he thought. "Why did you do it? And what am I?
Characteristically his first thought after that was of David himself.
Whatever David had done, his motive had been right. He would have
to start with that. If David had built for him a false identity it
was because there was a necessity for it. Something shameful,
something he was to be taken away from. Wasn't it probable that
David had heard the gossip, and had then collapsed? Wasn't the fear
that he himself would hear it behind David's insistence that he go
His thoughts flew to Elizabeth. Everything was changed now, as to
Elizabeth. He would have to be very certain of that past of his
before he could tell her that he loved her, and he had a sense of
immediate helplessness. He could not go to David, as things were.
Probably he would have gone to Lucy at once, but the telephone rang.
He answered it, got his hat and bag and went out to the car. Years
with David had made automatic the subordination of self to the
demands of the practice.
At half past six Lucy heard him come in and go into his office.
When he did not immediately reappear and take his flying run up
the stairs to David's room, she stood outside the office door and
listened. She had a premonition of something wrong, something of
the truth, perhaps. Anyhow, she tapped at the door and opened it,
to find him sitting very quietly at his desk with his head in his
"Dick!" she exclaimed. "Is anything wrong?"
"I have a headache," he said. He looked at his watch and got up.
"I'll take a look at David, and then we'll have dinner. I didn't
know it was so late."
But when she had gone out he did not immediately move. He had been
going over again, painfully and carefully, the things that puzzled
him, that he had accepted before without dispute. David and Lucy's
reluctance to discuss his father; the long days in the cabin, with
David helping him to reconstruct his past; the spring, and that slow
progress which now he felt, somehow, had been an escape.
He ate very little dinner, and Lucy's sense of dread increased.
When, after the meal, she took refuge in her sitting-room on the
lower floor and picked up her knitting, it was with a conviction
that it was only a temporary reprieve. She did not know from what.
She heard him, some time later, coming down from David's room. But
he did not turn into his office. Instead, he came on to her door,
stood for a moment like a man undecided, then came in. She did not
look up, even when very gently he took her knitting from her and
laid it on the table.
"Don't you think we'd better have a talk?"
"What about?" she asked, with her heart hammering.
"About me." He stood above her, and looked down, still with the
tenderness with which he always regarded her, but with resolution
in his very attitude. "First of all, I'll tell you something.
Then I'll ask you to tell me all you can."
She yearned over him as he told her, for all her terror. His voice,
for all its steadiness, was strained.
"I have felt for some time," he finished, "that you and David were
keeping something from me. I think, now, that this is what it was.
Of course, you realize that I shall have to know."
"Dick! Dick!" was all she could say.
"I was about," he went on, with his almost terrible steadiness, "to
ask a girl to take my name. I want to know if I have a name to
offer her. I have, you see, only two alternatives to believe about
myself. Either I am Henry Livingstone's illegitimate son, and in
that case I have no right to my name, or to offer it to any one, or
I am - "
He made a despairing gesture.
" - or I am some one else, some one who was smuggled out of the
mountains and given an identity that makes him a living lie."
Always she had known that this might come some time, but always
too she had seen David bearing the brunt of it. He should bear it.
It was not of her doing or of her approving. For years the danger
of discovery had hung over her like a cloud.
"Do you know which?" he persisted.
"Would you have the unbelievable cruelty not to tell me?"
She got up, a taut little figure with a dignity born of her fear
and of her love for him.
"I shall not betray David's confidence," she said. "Long ago I
warned him that this time would come. I was never in favor of
keeping you in ignorance. But it is David's problem, and I cannot
take the responsibility of telling you."
He knew her determination and her obstinate loyalty. But he was
"You know that if you don't tell me, I shall go to David?"
"If you go now you will kill him."
"It's as bad as that, is it?" he asked grimly. "Then there is
something shameful behind it, is there?"
"No, no, Dick. Not that. And I want you, always, to remember this.
What David did was out of love for you. He has made many sacrifices
for you. First he saved your life, and then he made you what you
are. And he has had a great pride in it. Don't destroy his work
Her voice broke and she turned to go out, her chin quivering, but
half way to the door he called to her.
"Aunt Lucy - " he said gently.
She heard him behind her, felt his strong arms as he turned her
about. He drew her to him and stooping, kissed her cheek.
"You're right," he said. "Always right. I'll not worry him with it.
My word of honor. When the time comes he'll tell me, and until it
comes, I'll wait. And I love you both. Don't ever forget that."
He kissed her again and let her go.
But long after David had put down his prayer-book that night, and
after the nurse had rustled down the stairs to the night supper on
the dining-room table, Lucy lay awake and listened to Dick's slow
pacing of his bedroom floor.
He was very gentle with David from that time on, and tried to return
to his old light-hearted ways. On the day David was to have his
first broiled sweetbread he caught the nurse outside, borrowed her
cap and apron and carried in the tray himself.
"I hope your food is to your taste, Doctor David," he said, in a
high falsetto which set the nurse giggling in the hall. "I may not
be much of a nurse, but I can cook."
Even Lucy was deceived at times. He went his customary round, sent
out the monthly bills, opened and answered David's mail, bore the
double burden of David's work and his own ungrudgingly, but off
guard he was grave and abstracted. He began to look very thin, too,
and Lucy often heard him pacing the floor at night. She thought
that he seldom or never went to the Wheelers'.
And so passed the tenth day of David's illness, with the smile on
Elizabeth's face growing a trifle fixed as three days went by
without the shabby car rattling to the door; with "The Valley"
playing its second and final week before going into New York; and
with Leslie Ward unconsciously taking up the shuttle Clare had
dropped, and carrying the pattern one degree further toward
JUST how Leslie Ward had drifted into his innocuous affair with the
star of "The Valley" he was not certain himself. Innocuous it
certainly was. Afterwards, looking back, he was to wonder sometimes
if it had not been precisely for the purpose it served. But that
was long months after. Not until the pattern was completed and he
was able to recognize his own work in it.
The truth was that he was not too happy at home. Nina's smart
little house on the Ridgely Road had at first kept her busy. She
had spent unlimited time with decorators, had studied and rejected
innumerable water-color sketches of interiors, had haunted auction
rooms and bid recklessly on things she felt at the moment she could
not do without, later on to have to wheedle Leslie into
straightening her bank balance. Thought, too, and considerable
energy had gone into training and outfitting her servants, and still
more into inducing them to wear the expensive uniforms and livery
But what she made, so successfully, was a house rather than a home.
There were times, indeed, when Leslie began to feel that it was not
even a house, but a small hotel. They almost never dined alone,
and when they did Nina would explain that everybody was tied up.
Then, after dinner, restlessness would seize her, and she would want
to run in to the theater, or to make a call. If he refused, she
nursed a grievance all evening.
And he did not like her friends. Things came to a point where, when
he knew one of the gay evenings was on, he would stay in town,
playing billiards at his club, or occasionally wandering into a
theater, where he stood or sat at the back of the house and watched
the play with cynical, discontented eyes.
The casual meeting with Gregory and the introduction to his sister
brought a new interest. Perhaps the very novelty was what first
attracted him, the oddity of feeling that he was on terms of
friendship, for it amounted to that with surprising quickness,
with a famous woman, whose face smiled out at him from his morning
paper or, huge and shockingly colored, from the sheets on the bill
He formed the habit of calling on her in the afternoons at her hotel,
and he saw that she liked it. It was often lonely, she explained.
He sent her flowers and cigarettes, and he found her poised and
restful, and sometimes, when she was off guard, with the lines of
old suffering in her face.
She sat still. She didn't fidget, as Nina did. She listened, too.
She was not as beautiful as she appeared on the stage, but she was
attractive, and he stilled his conscience with the knowledge that
she placed no undue emphasis on his visits. In her world men came
and went, brought or sent small tribute, and she was pleased and
grateful. No more. The next week, or the week after, and other
men in other places would be doing the same things.
But he wondered about her, sometimes. Did she ever think of Judson
Clark, and the wreck he had made of her life? What of resentment
and sorrow lay behind her quiet face, or the voice with its careful
intonations which was so unlike Nina's?
Now and then he saw her brother. He neither liked nor disliked
Gregory, but he suspected him of rather bullying Beverly. On the
rare occasions when he saw them together there was a sort of nervous
tension in the air, and although Leslie was not subtle he sensed
some hidden difference between them. A small incident one day
almost brought this concealed dissension to a head. He said to
"By the way, I saw you in Haverly yesterday afternoon."
"Must have seen somebody else. Haverly? Where's Haverly?"
Leslie Ward had been rather annoyed. There had been no mistake
about the recognition. But he passed it off with that curious sense
of sex loyalty that will actuate a man even toward his enemies.
"Funny," he said. "Chap looked like you. Maybe a little heavier."
Nevertheless he had a conviction that he had said something better
left unsaid, and that Beverly Carlysle's glance at her brother was
almost hostile. He had that instantaneous picture of the two of
them, the man defiant and somehow frightened, and the woman's eyes
anxious and yet slightly contemptuous. Then, in a flash, it was
He had meant to go home that evening, would have, probably, for he
was not ignorant of where he was drifting. But when he went back
to the office Nina was on the wire, with the news that they were
to go with a party to a country inn.
"For chicken and waffles, Les," she said. "It will be oceans of
fun. And I've promised the cocktails."
"I'm tired," he replied, sulkily. "And why don't you let some of
the other fellows come over with the drinks? It seems to me I'm
always the goat."
"Oh, if that's the way you feel!" Nina said, and hung up the
He did not go home. He went to the theater and stood at the back,
with his sense of guilt deadened by the knowledge that Nina was
having what she would call a heavenly time. After all, it would
soon be over. He counted the days. "The Valley" had only four
more before it moved on.
He had already played his small part in the drama that involved
Dick Livingstone, but he was unaware of it. He went home that
night, to find Nina settled in bed and very sulky, and he retired
himself in no pleasant frame of mind. But he took a firmer hold
of himself that night before he slept. He didn't want a smash,
and yet they might be headed that way. He wouldn't see Beverly
He lived up to his resolve the next day, bought his flowers as
usual, but this time for Nina and took them with him. And went
home with the orchids which were really an offering to his own
But Nina was not at home. The butler reported that she was dining
at the Wheelers', and he thought the man eyed him with restrained
"Did she say I am expected there?" he asked.
"She ordered dinner for you here, sir."
Even for Nina that sounded odd. He took his coat and went out
again to the car; after a moment's hesitation he went back and
got the orchids.
Dick Livingstone's machine was at the curb before the Wheeler house,
and in the living-room he found Walter Wheeler, pacing the floor.
Mr. Wheeler glanced at him and looked away.
"Anybody sick?" Leslie asked, his feeling of apprehension growing.
"Nina is having hysterics upstairs," Mr. Wheeler said, and continued
"That's what I said," replied Mr. Wheeler, suddenly savage.
"You've made a nice mess of things, haven't you?"
Leslie placed the box of orchids on the table and drew off his
gloves. His mind was running over many possibilities.
"You'd better tell me about it, hadn't you?"
"Oh, I will. Don't worry. I've seen this coming for months. I'm
not taking her part. God knows I know her, and she has as much
idea of making a home as - as" - he looked about - "as that poker
has. But that's the worst you can say of her. As to you - "
Mr. Wheeler's anxiety was greater than his anger. He lowered his
"She got a bill to-day for two or three boxes of flowers, sent to
some actress." And when Leslie said nothing, "I'm not condoning it,
mind you. You'd no business to do it. But," he added fretfully,
"why the devil, if you've got to act the fool, don't you have your
bills sent to your office?"
"I suppose I don't need to tell you that's all there was to it?
Flowers, I mean."
"I'm taking that for granted. But she says she won't go back."
Leslie was aghast and frightened. Not at the threat; she would go
back, of course. But she would always hold it against him. She
cherished small grudges faithfully. And he knew she would never
understand, never see her own contribution to his mild defection,
nor comprehend the actual innocence of those afternoons of tea
There was no sound from upstairs. Mr. Wheeler got his hat and went
out, calling to the dog. Jim came in whistling, looked in and said:
"Hello, Les," and disappeared. He sat in the growing twilight and
cursed himself for a fool. After all, where had he been heading?
A man couldn't eat his cake and have it. But he was resentful, too;
he stressed rather hard his own innocence, and chose to ignore the
less innocent impulse that lay behind it.
After a half hour or so he heard some one descending and Dick
Livingstone appeared in the hall. He called to him, and Dick entered
the room. Before he sat down he lighted a cigarette and in the
flare of the match Leslie got an impression of fatigue and of
something new, of trouble. But his own anxieties obsessed him.
"She's told you about it, I suppose?"
"I was a fool, of course. But it was only a matter of a few
flowers and some afternoon calls. She's a fine woman, Livingstone,
and she is lonely. The women have given her a pretty cold deal
since the Clark story. They copy her clothes and her walk, but
they don't ask her into their homes."
"Isn't the trouble more fundamental than that, Ward? I was
thinking about it upstairs. Nina was pretty frank. She says you've
had your good time and want to settle down, and that she is young
and now is her only chance. Later on there may be children, you
know. She blames herself, too, but she has a fairly clear idea of
how it happened."
"Do you think she'll go back home?"
"She promised she would."
They sat smoking in silence. In the dining-room Annie was laying
the table for dinner, and a most untragic odor of new garden peas
began to steal along the hall. Dick suddenly stirred and threw away
"I was going to talk to you about something else," he said, "but
this is hardly the time. I'll get on home." He rose. "She'll be
all right. Only I'd advise very tactful handling and - the
fullest explanation you can make."
"What is it? I'd be glad to have something to keep my mind
occupied. It's eating itself up just now."
"It's a personal matter."
Ward glanced up at him quickly.
"Have you happened to hear a story that I believe is going round?
One that concerns me?"
"Well, I have," Leslie admitted. "I didn't pay much attention.
Nobody is taking it very seriously."
"That's not the point," Dick persisted. "I don't mind idle gossip.
I don't give a damn about it. It's the statement itself."
"I should say that you are the only person who knows anything
Dick made a restless, impatient gesture.
"I want to know one thing more," he said. "Nina told you, I suppose.
Does - I suppose Elizabeth knows it, too?"
"I rather think she does."
Dick turned abruptly and went out of the room, and a moment later
Leslie heard the front door slam. Elizabeth, standing at the head
of the stairs, heard it also, and turned away, with a new droop to
her usually valiant shoulders. Her world, too, had gone awry, that
safe world of protection and cheer and kindliness. First had come
Nina, white-lipped and shaken, and Elizabeth had had to face the
fact that there were such things as treachery and the queer hidden
things that men did, and that came to light and brought horrible
And that afternoon she had had to acknowledge that there was
something wrong with Dick. No. Between Dick and herself. There
was a formality in his speech to her, an aloofness that seemed to
ignore utterly their new intimacy. He was there, but he was miles
away from her. She tried hard to feel indignant, but she was only
Peace seemed definitely to have abandoned the Wheeler house. Then
late in the evening a measure of it was restored when Nina and Leslie
effected a reconciliation. It followed several bad hours when Nina
had locked her door against them all, but at ten o'clock she sent for
Leslie and faced him with desperate calmness.
To Elizabeth, putting cold cloths on her mother's head as she lay
on the bed, there came a growing conviction that the relation
between men and women was a complicated and baffling thing, and
that love and hate were sometimes close together.
Love, and habit perhaps, triumphed in Nina's case, however, for at
eleven o'clock they heard Leslie going down the stairs and later
on moving about the kitchen and pantry while whistling softly. The
servants had gone, and the air was filled with the odor of burning
bread. Some time later Mrs. Wheeler, waiting uneasily in the upper
hall, beheld her son-in-law coming up and carrying proudly a tray
on which was toast of an incredible blackness, and a pot which
smelled feebly of tea.
"The next time you're out of a cook just send for me," he said
Mrs. Wheeler, full and overflowing with indignation and the piece
of her mind she had meant to deliver, retired vanquished to her
Late that night when Nina had finally forgiven him and had settled
down for sleep, Leslie went downstairs for a cigar, to find Elizabeth
sitting there alone, a book on her knee, face down, and her eyes
wistful and with a question in them.
"Sitting and thinking, or just sitting?" he inquired.
"I was thinking."
"Air-castles, eh? Well, be sure you put the right man into them!"
He felt more or less a fool for having said that, for it was
extremely likely that Nina's family was feeling some doubt about
"What I mean is," he added hastily, "don't be a fool and take Wallie
Sayre. Take a man, while you're about it."
"I would, if I could do the taking."
"That's piffle, Elizabeth." He sat down on the arm of a chair and
looked at her. "Look here, what about this story the Rossiter
girl and a few others are handing around about Dick Livingstone?
You're not worrying about it, are you?"
"I don't believe it's true, and it wouldn't matter to me, anyhow."
"Good for you," he said heartily, and got up. "You'd better go to
bed, young lady. It's almost midnight."