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to Grace that there were at least ten millions of good
money represented in the party.

The cocktails were served in the living room to the
accompaniment of much lively chatter. Grace found
herself observing with interest the readiness with
which the young women who were strangers to The
Shack's hospitality entered into the spirit of the occa-
sion and met on terms of familiar good fellowship the
men they hadn't seen before. It helped her to forget
her disappointment at the size of the party to specu-
late about the men and the curious phase of human
nature that made it possible for gentlemen whose
names were well known throughout America, who
looked as though they might pass the plate in church


every Sunday, to enter joyfully into the pleasures of
such a function. Irene had made no mistake in her
choice of girls; they were handsome; they looked well
in their summer frocks; they were lively and re-
sponsive; they were pastmistresses of the gentle art of
Jkidding. There was no question but that the visiting
gentlemen of wealth and social position enjoyed being
kidded, and the fact that some of them had daughters
at home much older than the girls who did the kidding
in no wise mitigated their joy.

One of the gentlemen evidently preferred Grace to
the girl who had been assigned to him. Under the in-
spiration of his cocktail he told Grace that he had long
wished to meet her; that now they had met he was
resolved that they should never part again. Grace
summoned all her powers of flirtation and encouraged
him, realizing that to snub him would be to prove
herself a poor sport; and she had heard enough of
parties from Irene to know that a girl must not when
"on a party" give cause for any suspicion that she is
of the melancholy tribe of kill-joys. She took a sip
of the "Tommy Kemp" and handed it to the gentle-
man who was so beguiled by her charms, who drained
the glass, murmuring ecstatically:

"To the most beautiful girl in the world!"

"Don't let grandpa worry you," whispered Irene.
"Just tease him a little and he'll think he's having the
time of his life. We're not drinking you and I.
This is positively my last party! I'm going to have
my hands full keeping Tommy sober."

Trenton was talking during the cocktailing period
to one of the most attractive of the girls, and when
Grace glanced at him he smiled and held up his un-
emptied glass and put it back on the tray. He was
not drinking, not even the single cocktail he usually


permitted himself. There was serious business before
them; both must keep their heads clear for it.

The dinner seemed endlessly long. Now and then
Grace felt the reassuring pressure of Trenton's hand,
but the gentleman on the other side of her, under the
mellowing influence of champagne piled upon the
"Tommy Kemps" he had imbibed, was making violent
love to her; and his elaborate tributes of adoration
could not be wholly ignored. Seeing that Trenton was
talking little, Kemp, still sober, thanks to Irene's
watchfulness, addressed him directly:

"I've got news for you, Ward. At five o'clock this
afternoon I closed a deal for Cummings's plant.
Bought Isaac Cummings's controlling interest and for
better or worse the darned thing's mine. Please,
everybody, drink to good luck!"

"We don't know what it's all about, but we're for
you, Tommy," cried one of the girls.

"I thought you said you'd never do it, Tommy,"
said Trenton, smiling at his friend and lifting his
champagne glass, reversed as it had stood on the

Kemp protested that this was bad luck and ordered
Jerry to serve no more food until every one had drunk
to the success of the merger. This brought them all
to their feet with lifted glasses.

"Oh, king, live forever!" cried Irene.

"That's something like it," said Kemp. "I didn't
mention the matter just to advertise my business. I
wanted you to know, Grace, that it gave me a special
satisfaction on your account to see Cummings pass
out. It was a downright low trick he played on your
father. Things do sort o' even up in this world and
this struck quick and hard. When Cummings threw
your father out the business was ripe for bankruptcy.


Don't let Ward scold me. He advised me against it."

"I advised you against taking on new responsibil-
ities," Trenton replied. "You've got enough on your
hands now."

"You think I'm a sick man," said Kemp. "But I'm
going to see you all under the sod. I like this world
and I'm going to live a hundred years. Jerry, fill 'em

There was more food than anyone needed or wanted
and when Jerry began serving dessert Trenton sug-
gested to Grace that they leave the table. Their leav-
ing evoked loud protests. Irene was now furiously
angry at Kemp, who had been unable to resist the lure
of the champagne, a vintage without duplicate in all
America, he declared.

The gentleman at Grace's left, reduced to a maudlin
state by his host's generous distribution of wine, loudly
importuned her not to go. Kemp announced his pur-
pose to make a speech and was trying to get upon his
feet when Irene pulled him down. One of the visitors
began to sing and seized a candle from the table with
which to beat time. He was bawling, "He's a jolly
good fellow," as Grace and Trenton effected their

They breathed deep of the clean country air when
they reached the long veranda at the side of the house.

"Poor Tommy; I suppose there's no way of stop-
ping him," remarked Trenton.

Both were aware of a new restraint the moment they
were alone. The still night was sweet with spring and
the earth seemed subdued by the mystery of green
things growing.

Grace walked the length of the veranda, then back
to the steps, Trenton beside her. He was still trou-
bled by a sense of responsibility for Kemp. The dis-


cordant noises from the dining room followed them
and they debated whether they should try to break up
the party but decided against it.

"Let's get away from the racket," said Trenton.
"When I suggested coming out for supper it didn't
occur to me that Tommy would be pulling off a bac-
chanalian feast. Tommy's incorrigible dear old
Tommy! But we must talk. Shall we go up yonder
where we can look out over the river?"

The stars and an old moon that stared blandly
across the heavens made the path easily discernible.
As they loitered along he spoke of Kemp's purchase of
the Cummings concern.

"I did advise Tommy against it," he said, "because
of the additional burdens he'll have to carry. But it's
a good business stroke. He's wiped out an old com-
petitor and with your father's improvements on Cum-
mings's motor Tommy's going to be greatly strength-

"I've been afraid," said Grace, "that father's ideas
wouldn't prove practical. He's seemed terribly wor-
ried lately."

"Only the usual perplexities of a genius who's worn
out from long application ! He can breathe easy now.
The motor's going to be a wonder. I was with your
father all day and he's attained every excellence he
claimed. You have every reason to be proud of him."

"It's all your kindness," she murmured.

"Oh, not a bit of it! There's no sentiment about
mechanics. You've either got it or you haven't. And
your father is sound on the fundamentals where most
inventors are weak."

They sat down on a rustic bench on the bluff above
the river and he threw his overcoat across her knees.
Above them towered a sycamore; below they heard


the murmur and ripple of running water. He put his
arm about her, drew her close and kissed her.

"I wish it were all true, as we can imagine it to
be in this quiet place, that we're absolutely alone in
the world just ourselves."

"But it isn't true; we've just run away from the
world for a little while," she said, "but I'm glad for

She laid her hand on his and gently stroked it.

"I hope you understood why I didn't go yesterday
as I'd intended. I couldn't leave without explaining.
I couldn't have you think that I took you to Miss
Reynolds's just to make you uncomfortable. It was
my mistake and a stupid blunder."

"No; the mistake was mine," she insisted. "I
realized afterwards that my first feeling was right,
that it was foolish to go."

"I was honest about it. Mrs. Trenton had led me
to think that she wouldn't resent meeting any woman
who promised to give me the love and companionship
it wasn't in her power to give me. I took her at her
word. You understand that, don't you?"

"You ought to have known, Ward, and so should I,
that no woman would ever have anything but hatred
for another woman her husband falls in love with."

"But what I've given you she never had! I want
you to believe me when I say that I was really de-
ceived by what I took to be her wholly friendly atti-

"It doesn't make the least difference now, Ward.
I know you wouldn't have taken me to see her if you'd
known what would happen. I'll never have any but
the kindest thoughts of you. Please believe that."

She moved a little away from him and leaned back,
her hands relaxed in her lap.


"It's all been a mistake everything from the be-
ginning," she went on in a low voice.

"My loving you hasn't bean a mistake," he said
earnestly. "Nothing has changed that or can ever
change it."

"You merely think that. If you didn't see me for
a while you'd forget me," she said, following uncon-
sciously the ritual of unhappy lovers in all times.

"No," he gently protested. "That isn't the way of
it. You don't really think that. Please say that you

His tone of pleading caused her to turn to him and
fling her arms about his neck.

"Oh, I love you so! I love you so!" she sobbed.

His face was wet with her tears. He took her again
into his arms, turning her face that he might kiss the
tears away. Her whole body shook with her con-
vulsive sobs.

"Dearest little girl! Poor, dear little child!"

In the branches above a bird fluttered and cheeped
as though startled in its dreaming. She freed herself,
sought her handkerchief to dry her eyes. With the
impotence of man before a woman's grief he sought to
brush back a wisp of hair that had fallen across her
cheek and his hand trembled. Her face seemed to
hover in the star dusk; he saw the quiver of her lashes,
the parted lips, felt for an instant the throbbing pulse
in her throat.

"I knew the end would come," she said, with a deep
sigh, "But I didn't know it would be like this. It's
been so dear, so wonderful ! I thought it would go on

Her gaze was upon the dark uneven line of the
trees across the river where they brushed the stars.


"But it isn't the end, dear! A love like ours can't
die. It belongs to the things of all time."

"Please, Ward," she said impatiently, drawing her
cloak more tightly about her shoulders. "Let's not
deceive ourselves any more. You know we can't go
on," she continued, as one who has reasoned through
a thing and reached an irrefutable conclusion. "It's
all been like a dream; but dreams don't last. And
this should never have begun!"

"You break my heart when you say things like
that! As we've said so many times it all had to be!"

"We were fools to think it could last," she said.
"But it was more my fault than yours. And you've
been dear and kind Oh, so beautifully kind."

"You've trusted me; you've proved that! You've
never doubted you don't doubt now that I love you!"

"Oh, it does no good to talk let's just be quiet
I do love you "

"I must talk," he replied stubbornly. "You are the
dearest thing in the world to me. I couldn't foresee
what happened. It's only right you should know
what occurred after you left Miss Reynolds's."

"No! Please no! I have no right to know; and it
can make no difference. I knew it was all over when
I left the house, but I did want to see you once
more "

She was trying to be brave but the words faltered
and died.

"I didn't discuss you, try to explain you in any way.
I only expressed my indignation at the wholly unneces-
sary manner in which Mrs. Trenton treated you, after
encouraging me to believe that you would be treated
with every courtesy. I suppose it was jealousy that
prompted her to speak to you as she did. Miss Rey-


nolds came in at once. You must have met her and
I took leave after I'd tried to cover up the fact that
something disagreeable had happened. That was all."

"It was enough. There wasn't a thing you could
say. Mrs. Trenton had every right on her side. I
hope you'll go back to her and tell her that any feeling
you had for me was just a mistake; make light of the
whole thing. Of course she loves you. If she didn't
she wouldn't be jealous. There's nothing for you to
do now but to make your peace with her. Don't trou-
ble about me. I don't want to stand in the way of
your happiness."

"Grace," he said, patient in spite of her strained
petulant tone, "there's no question of love about it.
We know we love each other; but we've got to be
sane about this."

"Let's not talk about it, Ward! You know as well
as I do that we've reached the end. And please, dear,
don't make it harder for me by pretending it isn't. I'm
not a child, you know."

"We're not going to pretend anything, Grace, least
of all we're not going to pretend that everything's
over when we know we couldn't forget if we wanted
to. But we've got to have a care for a little while at
least, now that Mrs. Trenton knows just enough to
arouse her suspicions. I feel my responsibility about
you very seriously. Please won't you believe me
when I say that it's of you I'm thinking first? We
might go on seeing each other as we have been, or I
might take you away with me I've thought of that; 1
but I've thought too of the danger. I can't promise
you that Mrs. Trenton wouldn't spy upon us, do
something that would drag you into the newspapers,
make an ugly mess. Her prominence would make at-


tractive newspaper material of you and me, too. I
love you too dearly to take any chances. Don't you
understand? Isn't it better "

"Oh, please stop, Wardl Don't talk to me as
though I were a child 1 It all comes to the same thing,
that we mustn't see each other any more. I knew it
when I left Miss Reynolds's yesterday. It would
have been better if we hadn't come out here."

"It won't be forever," he doggedly persisted. "In
the end I'm going to have you. I want you to remem-
ber that."

"Ward, how perfectly foolish of you to talk that
wayl If we were to go on as we have been we
wouldn't be happy. Let's just acknowledge that this
is the last time."

"No," he protested. "It's not going to be that wayl
You've lost your courage and I can't blame you for
seeing things black. If I had only myself to consider
I'd run away with you tonight; but that would be a
despicable thing for me to do. I love you too much
for that!"

The protestation of his love brought her no ease.
She was half angered by his stubborn refusal to face
the truth, and his professed belief that sometime in
some way they were to be reunited. He was trying
to see the light of hope ahead where all was dark to

It was strange to be sitting there beside him, think-
ing already of their love with all its intimacies, that
had seemed to bind them together forever, as some-
thing that had been swept into a past from which, in
a little while, memory would cease to recall it. This
was love! This was the thing that had been
written of and sung of in all the ages; and it was a
lure contrived only to bruise and break and destroy.


She touched the lowest depths of despair, snatched
away her hand when he tried to possess it; thought of
him for an instant with repulsion. The wistful tender-
ness of the night, the monotonous ripple of water be-
neath, the very tranquillity of the stars seemed to
mock and taunt her.

He waited patiently, silent, impassive, as though he
knew what she was thinking and knew, too, that such
thoughts were inevitable and must run their course.

The silence fell upon her like a soothing hand. The
tumultuous rush of her thoughts ceased; she was
amazed at the serenity with which suddenly she
viewed the situation.

He was finer than she, wiser, more far seeing.
Something in his figure, in his dimly etched profile in
the faint starlight touched her profoundly. It was
selfish of her to forget that he too suffered. He was a
man she had given herself to without reservation, and
with all the honesty and fervor of her young heart, and
to think harshly of him was to acknowledge herself a
shameless wanton, no better than a girl on the street.
She could not think ill of him without debasing her-
self. And she did love him; she had loved him from
the first, and it was not the way of love to wound.

Perhaps he had been sincere in saying that he
wished to protect her this was like him, and it was
cruel of her to question his love, to fail to help him
when he sought with all kindness and consideration
to find some hope in the future. They must part and
it might be for the last time, but she would not send
him away feeling that she had not appreciated all
that his love had been and would continue to be to her.
Without him, without some knowledge of his where-
abouts and activities and the assurance of his well-
being, life would be unbearable. She was all tender-


ness, all solicitude, wholly self-forgetful, as she softly
uttered his name.

"Ward!" her arms found their way round his shoul-
ders. "I'm selfish, I was thinking that you taught
me to love you only to thrust me away. But I know
better, dear. You are dearer to me than anything in
all the world dearer than my life even and I know
you mean to be kind. I know you want to do the
right thing for both of us."

"Yes; yes!" he whispered eagerly and kissed her
gently on lips and eyes. "If we truly love each other
there will be some way. It was not of our ordering
any of this."

"Yes, we must believe that, dear! There can never
be any man for me but you!"

"And no woman for me but you!"

They clung to each other, silent, fearing to utter
even the reassuring and consoling words that formed
on their lips. Beyond the river a train passed swiftly
with a long blast of the locomotive.

They drew apart, listening till the whistle's last echo
and the rumble of cars died away. Trenton sighed
deeply. The disturbance had been an unwelcome re-
minder of the energies of the world of men hidden by
the night. Grace was the first to speak.

"It's been so dear to have this hour! But, we
mustn't meet again. Please don't ask me to see you
ever not in any way. We'll both be happier if what
we say tonight is final. We can't just begin over again
and be friends. That would mean forgetfulness and
we can't forget. Please don't write me. I'm going to be
all right. I'll be happy just thinking of you. We're
both brave and strong and knowing that will help
won't it, dear?"

He knew that at the moment at least she was the


braver and stronger. He had nothing to add to what
she had said. She rose and took his face in her hands
and kissed him gently, passionlessly; passed her hands
across his eyes, spoke his name softly. He neither
spoke nor responded to her caresses.

"Come, dear!"

She touched his arm lightly and started down the
path. He waited a moment before following.

She talked in a cheery tone of irrelevant things,
laughed merrily when she lost the path; and so they
came back to the garden where the lights of the house
confronted them. At the veranda steps he caught her
suddenly in his arms.

"It can't be like this ! I'm not going to give you up!
Tell me you understand that it's only for a little
while "

"We're not going to talk about it any more "
she said without a quaver with even a little ring of
confidence in her voice. But she suffered his kiss,
yielded for a moment to his embrace.

"I'll love you always, always, always!" she said

"I'll love you till I die!" he replied. They stood
with hands clasped for an instant, then she turned
and ran into the house.


They had been gone more than an hour and the
other members of the party stared at them as though
they were intruders. Two of the men, not too be-
fuddled by their potations to remember that they were
leaving town by a midnight train, were trying to con-
vince Kemp that it was time to go. Tommy was ex-


plaining elaborately that there were plenty of trains;
that if there was anything the city was proud of it
was the frequency with which trains departed for all
points of the compass.

Irene in her disgust with Kemp for exceeding the
limits she had fixed for his indulgence in the prized
champagne had retired to the kitchen to talk to Jerry.
Hearing Trenton's voice expostulating with Tommy
she appeared, and announced that she was going
home. One of the girls, overcome by champagne had
retired and Irene went upstairs to see what could
be done to restore her.

"Ask Jerry for some black coffee, Grace, that will
fix her," said Irene.

She confided to Grace her indignation at the young
woman for not behaving herself; she was disappointed
in her. A girl, she declared, shouldn't go on a party
if she hadn't any more sense than to get drunk. How-
ever, she ministered to the young woman effectively
and kindly.

Trenton got the three visiting gentlemen and the
young women who had accompanied them into a ma-
chine and dispatched them to town and resumed his
efforts to persuade Kemp to go home. Kemp wished
to discuss with Trenton his business plans for the fu-
ture. He wanted Trenton to promise to move to In-
dianapolis immediately to assist him in the management
of his plant. Finding Trenton unwilling to commit him-
self Kemp fixed his attention upon Irene. He became
tearful as he talked of Irene. She was the most beauti-
ful girl in the world, and she had brightened his life; he
would always be grateful to her. And now that she
had grown tired of what he called their little arrange-
ment, he wanted her to be happy. He wished Tren-
ton and Grace to bear witness that he bore no hard
feeling but wished her well. If at any time Irene


needed help of any kind it would break his heart if
she didn't appeal to him.

Finding that the others were impatient at the delay
these deliverances were causing he assumed an injured
air and bade them take him home. They didn't love
him; nobody loved him. When finally they got him
out to the big touring car he insisted that he would do
the driving and this called for a long argument before
he was dissuaded. He refused to enter the car at all
until the others were settled in the back seat. He
guessed he knew the demands of hospitality! Craig
roused his ire by attempting to help him in and he
waited till the chauffeur was seated and ready to start
before he would move. Then he adjusted one of the
disappearing seats, got in and began an ironical lec-
ture on the instability of friendship. Some of his re-
marks were amusing and they encouraged him to go
on feeling that so long as they manifested interest he
would not revive the question of driving to the various
points he had proposed as attractive places to run for
breakfast. He announced suddenly that he had al-
ways wanted to visit the Tippecanoe Battle Ground
and demanded an opinion from Craig as to how long
it would take to drive there. He was irritated because
the chauffeur professed not to know the route; he de-
clared that he would get even with Craig for lying to

He became quiet presently and Trenton tried to in-
terest him in a description of a mechanical stoker that
had lately been put on the market.

"I mus' look into it," said Kemp. "Awfu' nice of
you to tell me 'bout it, Ward."

Then before they knew what he was about he
clutched the back of the front seat and threw one leg
over. He swayed toward the driver and to steady
himself grabbed the wheel.


Craig, believing Kemp wholly interested in Tren-
ton's talk, was caught off guard. The car, which had
been running swiftly over the smooth road, swerved
sharply and plunged into the deep drainage ditch that
paralleled the road. As the radiator struck the further
side of the ditch Kemp was thrown forward and his
head crashed against the windshield with terriffic force.

The three passengers on the back seat were pitched
violently to the floor. Craig had shut off the motor
instantly and jumped out, and when Trenton joined
him in the road he was tearing off the curtains.

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Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonBroken barriers → online text (page 24 of 27)