Read CHAPTER XI - BETTY of The Green Mouse, free online book, by Robert W. Chambers, on ReadCentral.com.

In Which the Remorseless and Inexorable Results of Psychical Research Are Revealed to the Very Young

At intervals for the next ten minutes her fresh, sweet, fascinating voice came to him where he stood in the yard; then he heard it growing fainter, more distant, receding; then silence.

Listening, he suddenly heard a far, rushing sound from subterranean depths ­like a load of coal being put in ­then a frightened cry.

He sprang into the basement, ran through laundry and kitchen.  The cellar door swung wide open above the stairs which ran down into darkness; and as he halted to listen Clarence dashed up out of the depths, scuttled around the stairs and fled upward into the silent regions above.

“Betty!” he cried, forgetting in his alarm the lesser conventions, “where are you?”

“Oh, dear ­oh, dear!” she wailed.  “I am in such a dreadful plight.  Could you help me, please?”

“Are you hurt?” he asked.  Fright made his voice almost inaudible.  He struck a match with shaking fingers and ran down the cellar stairs.

“Betty!  Where are you?”

“Oh, I am here ­in the coal.”

“What?”

“I ­I can’t seem to get out; I stepped into the coal pit in the dark and it all ­all slid with me and over me and I’m in it up to the shoulders.”

Another match flamed; he saw a stump of a candle, seized it, lighted it, and, holding it aloft, gazed down upon the most heart rending spectacle he had ever witnessed.

The next instant he grasped a shovel and leaped to the rescue.  She was quite calm about it; the situation was too awful, the future too hopeless for mere tears.  What had happened contained all the dignified elements of a catastrophe.  They both realized it, and when, madly shoveling, he at last succeeded in releasing her she leaned her full weight on his own, breathing rapidly, and suffered him to support and guide her through the flame-shot darkness to the culinary regions above.

Here she sank down on a chair for one moment in utter collapse.  Then she looked up, resolutely steadying her voice: 

“Could anything on earth more awful have happened to a girl?” she asked, lips quivering in spite of her.  She stretched out what had once been a pair of white gloves, she looked down at what had been a delicate summer gown of white.  “How,” she asked with terrible calmness, “am I to get to Oyster Bay?”

He dropped on to a kitchen chair opposite her, clasping his coal-stained hands between his knees, utterly incapable of speech.

She looked at her shoes ­once snowy white; with a shudder she stripped the soiled gloves from elbow to wrist and flung them aside.  Her arms and hands formed a starling contrast to the remainder of the ensemble.

“What,” she asked, “am I to do?”

“The thing to do,” he said, “is to telephone to your family at Oyster Bay.”

“The telephone has been disconnected.  So has the water ­we can’t even w-wash our hands!” she faltered.

He said:  “I can go out and telephone to your family to send a maid with some clothes for you ­if you don’t mind being left alone in an empty house for a little while.”

“No, I don’t; but,” she gazed uncertainly at the black opening of the cellar, “but, please, don’t be gone very long, will you?”

He promised fervidly.  She gave him the number and her family’s name, and he left by the basement door.

He was gone a long time, during which, for a while, she paced the floor, unaffectedly wringing her hands and contemplating herself and her garments in the laundry looking-glass.

At intervals she tried to turn on the water, hoping for a few drops at least; at intervals she sat down to wait for him; then, the inaction becoming unendurable, musing goaded her into motion, and she ascended to the floor above, groping through the dimness in futile search for Clarence.  She heard him somewhere in obscurity, scurrying under furniture at her approach, evidently too thoroughly demoralized to recognize her voice.  So, after a while, she gave it up and wandered down to the pantry, instinct leading her, for she was hungry and thirsty; but she knew there could be nothing eatable in a house closed for the summer.

She lifted the pantry window and opened the blinds; noon sunshine flooded the place, and she began opening cupboards and refrigerators, growing hungrier every moment.

Then her eyes fell upon dozens of bottles of Apollinaris, and with a little cry of delight she knelt down, gathered up all she could carry, and ran upstairs to the bathroom adjoining her own bedchamber.

“At least,” she said to herself, “I can cleanse myself of this dreadful coal!” and in a few moments she was reveling, elbow deep, in a marble basin brimming with Apollinaris.

As the stain of the coal disappeared she remembered a rose-colored morning gown reposing in her bedroom clothespress; and she found more than that there ­rose stockings and slippers and a fragrant pile of exquisitely fine and more intimate garments, so tempting in their freshness that she hurried with them into the dressing room; then began to make rapid journeys up and downstairs, carrying dozens of quarts of Apollinaris to the big porcelain tub, into which she emptied them, talking happily to herself all the time.

“If he returns I can talk to him over the banisters!...  He’s a nice boy....  Such a funny boy not to remember me....  And I’ve thought of him quite often....  I wonder if I’ve time for just one, delicious plunge?” She listened; ran to the front windows and looked out through the blinds.  He was nowhere in sight.

Ten minutes later, delightfully refreshed, she stood regarding herself in her lovely rose-tinted morning gown, patting her bright hair into discipline with slim, deft fingers, a half-smile on her lips, lids closing a trifle over the pensive violet eyes.

“Now,” she said aloud, “I’ll talk to him over the banisters when he returns; it’s a little ungracious, I suppose, after all he has done, but it’s more conventional....  And I’ll sit here and read until they send somebody from Sandcrest with a gown I can travel in....  And then we’ll catch Clarence and call a cab ­”

A distant tinkling from the area bell interrupted her.

“Oh, dear,” she exclaimed, “I quite forgot that I had to let him in!”

Another tinkle.  She cast a hurried and doubtful glance over her attire.  It was designed for the intimacy of her boudoir.

“I ­I couldn’t talk to him out of the window!  I’ve been shocking enough as it is!” she thought; and, finger tips on the banisters, she ran down the three stairs and appeared at the basement grille, breathless, radiant, forgetting, as usual, her self-consciousness in thinking of him, a habit of this somewhat harebrained and headlong girl which had its root in perfect health of body and wholesomeness of mind.

“I found some clothes ­not the sort I can go out in!” she said, laughing at his astonishment, as she unlocked the grille.  “So, please, overlook my attire; I was so full of coal dust! and I found sufficient Apollinaris for my necessities.... What did they say at Sandcrest?”

He said very soberly:  “We’ve got to discuss this situation.  Perhaps I had better come in for a few minutes ­if you don’t mind.”

“No, I don’t mind....  Shall we sit in the drying room?” leading the way.  “Now tell me what is the matter?  You rather frighten me, you know.  Is ­is anything wrong at Sandcrest?”

“No, I suppose not.”  He touched his flushed face with his handkerchief; “I couldn’t get Oyster Bay on the ’phone.”

“W-why not?”

“The wires are out of commission as far as Huntington; there’s no use ­I tried everything!  Telegraph and telephone wires were knocked out in this morning’s electric storm, it seems.”

She gazed at him, hands folded on her knee, left leg crossed over, foot swinging.

“This,” she said calmly, “is becoming serious.  Will you tell me what I am to do?”

“Haven’t you anything to travel in?”

“Not one solitary rag.”

“Then ­you’ll have to stay here to-night and send for some of your friends ­you surely know somebody who is still in town, don’t you?”

“I really don’t.  This is the middle of July.  I don’t know a woman in town.”

He was silent.

“Besides,” she said, “we have no light, no water, nothing to eat in the house, no telephone to order anything ­”

He said:  “I foresaw that you would probably be obliged to remain here, so when I left the telephone office I took the liberty of calling a taxi and visiting the electric light people, the telephone people and the nearest plumber.  It seems he is your own plumber ­Quinn, I believe his name is; and he’s coming in half an hour to turn on the water.”

“Did you think of doing all that?” she asked, astonished.

“Oh, that wasn’t anything.  And I ventured to telephone the Plaza to serve luncheon and dinner here for you ­”

“You did?

“And I wired to Dooley’s Agency to send you a maid for to-day ­”

“That was perfectly splendid of you!”

“They promised to send one as soon as possible....  And I think that may be the plumber now,” as a tinkle came from the area bell.

It was not the plumber; it was waiters bearing baskets full of silver, china, table linen, ice, fruits, confections, cut flowers, and, in warmers, a most delectable luncheon.

Four impressive individuals commanded by a butler formed the processional, filing solemnly up the basement stairs to the dining room, where they instantly began to lay the table with dexterous celerity.

In the drying room below Betty and Beekman Brown stood confronting each other.

“I suppose,” began Brown with an effort, “that I had better go now.”

Betty said thoughtfully:  “I suppose you must.”

“Unless,” continued Brown, “you think I had better remain ­somewhere on the premises ­until your maid arrives.”

“That might be safer,” said Betty, more thoughtfully.

“Your maid will probably be here in a few minutes.”

“Probably,” said Betty, head bent, slim, ringless fingers busy with the sparkling drop that glimmered pendant from her neckchain.

Silence ­the ironing board between them ­she standing, bright head lowered, worrying the jewel with childish fingers; he following every movement, fascinated, spellbound.

After a moment, without looking up:  “You have been very, very nice to me ­ in the nicest possible way,” she said....  “I am not going to forget it easily ­even if I might wish to.”

“I can never forget you!...  I d-don’t want to.”

The sparkling pendant escaped her fingers; she picked it up again and spoke as though gravely addressing it: 

“Some day somewhere,” she said, looking at the jewel, “perhaps chance ­ the hazard of life ­may bring us to ­togeth ­to acquaintance ­a more formal acquaintance than this....  I hope so.  This has been a little ­ irregular, and perhaps you had better not wait for my maid....  I hope we may meet ­sometime.”

“I hope so, too,” he managed to say, with so little fervor and so successful an imitation of her politely detached interest in convention that she raised her eyes.  They dropped immediately, because his quiet voice and speech scarcely conformed to the uncontrolled protest in his eyes.

For a moment she stood, passing the golden links through her white fingers like a young novice with a rosary.  Steps on the stairs disturbed them; the recessional had begun; four solemn persons filed out the area gate.  At the same moment, suave and respectful, her butler pro tem. presented himself at the doorway: 

“Luncheon is served, madam.”

“Thank you.”  She looked uncertainly at Brown, hesitated, flushed a trifle.

“I will stay here and admit the plumber and then ­then ­I’ll g-go,” he said with a heartbroken smile.

“I suppose you took the opportunity to lunch when you went out?” she said.  Her inflection made it a question.

Without answering he stepped back to allow her to pass.  She moved forward, turned, undecided.

Have you lunched?”

“Please don’t feel that you ought to ask me,” he began, and checked himself as the vivid pink deepened in her cheeks.  Then she freed herself of embarrassment with a little laugh.

“Considering,” she said, “that we have been chasing cats on the back fences together and that, subsequently, you dug me out of the coal in my own cellar, I can’t believe it is very dreadful if I ask you to luncheon with me....  Is it?”

“It is ador ­it is,” he corrected himself firmly, “exceedingly civil of you to ask me!”

“Then ­will you?” almost timidly.

“I will.  I shall not pretend any more.  I’d rather lunch with you than be President of this Republic.”

The butler pro tem. seated her.

“You see,” she said, “a place had already been laid for you.”  And with the faintest trace of malice in her voice:  “Perhaps your butler had his orders to lay two covers.  Had he?”

“From me?” he protested, reddening.

“You don’t suspect me, do you?” she asked, adorably mischievous.  Then glancing over the masses of flowers in the center and at the corners of the lace cloth:  “This is deliciously pretty.  But you are either dreadfully and habitually extravagant or you believe I am.  Which is it?”

“I think both are true,” he said, laughing.

And a little while later when he returned from the basement after admitting Mr. Quinn, the plumber: 

“Do you know that this is a most heavenly luncheon?” she said, greeting his return with delightfully fearless eyes.  “Such Astrakan caviar!  Such salad!  Everything I care for most.  And how on earth you guessed I can’t imagine....  I’m beginning to think you are rather wonderful.”

They lifted the long, slender glasses of iced Ceylon tea and regarded one another over the frosty rims ­a long, curious glance from her; a straight gaze from him, which she decided not to sustain too long.

Later, when she gave the signal, they rose as though they had often dined together, and moved leisurely out through the dim, shrouded drawing-rooms where, in the golden dusk, the odor of camphor hung.

She had taken a great cluster of dewy Bride’s roses from the centerpiece, and as she walked forward, sedately youthful, beside him, her fresh, young face brooded over the fragrance of the massed petals.

“Sweet ­how sweet!” she murmured to herself, and as they reached the end of the vista she half turned to face him, dreamily, listless, confident.

They looked at one another, she with chin brushing the roses.

“The strangest of all,” she said, “is that it seems all right ­and ­and we know that it is all quite wrong....  Had you better go?”

“Unless I ought to wait and make sure your maid does not fail you....  Shall I?” he asked evenly.

She did not answer.  He drew a linen-swathed armchair toward her; she absently seated herself and lay back, caressing the roses with delicate lips and chin.

Twice she looked up at him, standing there by the boarded windows.  Sunshine filtered through the latticework at the top ­enough for them to see each other as in a dull afterglow.

“I wonder how soon my maid will come,” she mused, dropping the loose roses on her knees.  “If she is going to be very long about it perhaps ­ perhaps you might care to find a chair ­if you have decided to wait.”

He drew one from a corner and seated himself, pulses hammering his throat.

Through the stillness of the house sounded at intervals the clink of glass from the pantry.  Other sounds from above indicated the plumber’s progress from floor to floor.

“Do you realize,” she said impulsively, “how very nice you have been to me?  What a perfectly horrid position I might have been in, with poor Clarence on the back fence!  And suppose I had dared follow him alone to the cellar?  I ­I might have been there yet ­up to my neck in coal?”

She gazed into space with considerable emotion.

“And now,” she said, “I am safe here in my own home.  I have lunched divinely, a maid is on the way to me, Clarence remains somewhere safe indoors, Mr. Quinn is flitting from faucet to faucet, the electric light and the telephone will be in working order before very long ­and it is all due to you!”

“I ­I did a few things I almost w-wish I hadn’t,” stammered Brown, “b-because I can’t, somehow, decently t-tell you how tremendously I ­I ­” He stuck fast.

“What?”

“It would look as though I were presuming on a t-trifling service rendered, and ­oh, I can’t say it; I want to, but I can’t.”

“Say what?  Please, I don’t mind what you are ­are going to say.”

“It’s ­it’s that I ­”

“Y-es?” in soft encouragement.

“W-want to know you most tremendously now.  I don’t want to wait several years for chance and hazard.”

“O-h!” as though the information conveyed a gentle shock to her.  Her low-breathed exclamation nearly finished Brown.

“I knew you’d think it unpardonable for me ­at such a time ­to venture to ­to ­ask ­say ­express ­convey ­”

“Why do you ­how can I ­where could we ­” She recovered herself resolutely.  “I do not think we ought to take advantage of an accident like this....  Do you?  Besides, probably, in the natural course of social events ­”

“But it may be years! months! weeks!” insisted Brown, losing control of himself.

“I should hope it would at least be a decently reasonable interval of several weeks ­”

“But I don’t know what to do if I never see you again for weeks!  I c-care so much ­for ­you.”

She shrank back in her chair, and in her altered face he read that he had disgraced himself.

“I knew I was going to,” he said in despair.  “I couldn’t keep it ­I couldn’t stop it.  And now that you see what sort of a man I am I’m going to tell you more.”

“You need not,” she said faintly.

“I must.  Listen!  I ­I don’t even know your full name ­all I know is that it is Betty, and that your cat’s name is Clarence and your plumber’s name is Quinn.  But if I didn’t know anything at all concerning you it would have been the same.  I suppose you will think me insane if I tell you that before the car, on which you rode, came into sight I knew you were on it.  And I ­cared ­for ­you ­before I ever saw you.”

“I don’t understand ­”

“I know you don’t. I don’t.  All I understand is that what you and I have done has been done by us before, sometime, somewhere ­part only ­ down to ­down to where you changed cars.  Up to that moment, before you took the Lexington Avenue car, I recognized each incident as it occurred....  But when all this happened to us before I must have lost courage ­for I did not recognize anything after that except that I cared for you.... Do you understand one single word of what I have been saying?”

The burning color in her face had faded slowly while he was speaking; her lifted eyes grew softer, serious, as he ended impetuously.

She looked at him in retrospective silence.  There was no mistaking his astonishing sincerity, his painfully earnest endeavor to impart to her some rather unusual ideas in which he certainly believed.  No man who looked that way at a woman could mean impertinence; her own intelligence satisfied her that he had not meant and could never mean offense to any woman.

“Tell me,” she said quietly, “just what you mean.  It is not possible for you to ­care ­for ­me....  Is it?”

He disclosed to her, beginning briefly with his own name, material and social circumstances, a pocket edition of his hitherto uneventful career, the advent that morning of the emissary from The Green Mouse, his discussion with Smith, the strange sensation which crept over him as he emerged from the tunnel at Forty-second Street, his subsequent altercation with Smith, and the events that ensued up to the eruption of Clarence.

He spoke in his most careful attorney’s manner, frank, concise, convincing, free from any exaggeration of excitement or emotion.  And she listened, alternately fascinated and appalled as, step by step, his story unfolded the links in an apparently inexorable sequence involving this young man and herself in a predestined string of episodes not yet ended ­ if she permitted herself to credit this astounding story.

Sensitively intelligent, there was no escaping the significance of the only possible deduction.  She drew it and blushed furiously.  For a moment, as the truth clamored in her brain, the self-evidence of it stunned her.  But she was young, and the shamed recoil came automatically.  Incredulous, almost exasperated, she raised her head to confront him; the red lips parted in outraged protest ­parted and remained so, wordless, silent ­the soundless, virginal cry dying unuttered on a mouth that had imperceptibly begun to tremble.

Her head sank slowly; she laid her white hands above the roses heaped in her lap.

For a long while she remained so.  And he did not speak.

First the butler went away.  Then Mr. Quinn followed.  The maid had not yet arrived.  The house was very still.

And after the silence had worn his self-control to the breaking point he rose and walked to the dining room and stood looking down into the yard.  The grass out there was long and unkempt; roses bloomed on the fence; wistaria, in its deeper green of midsummer, ran riot over the trellis where Clarence had basely dodged his lovely mistress, and, after making a furry pin wheel of himself, had fled through the airhole into Stygian depths.

Somewhere above, in the silent house, Clarence was sulkily dissembling.

“I suppose,” said Brown, quietly coming back to where the girl was sitting in the golden dusk, “that I might as well find Clarence while we are waiting for your maid.  May I go up and look about?”

And taking her silence as assent, he started upstairs.

He hunted carefully, thoroughly, opening doors, peeping under furniture, investigating clothespresses, listening at intervals, at intervals calling with misleading mildness.  But, like him who died in malmsey, Clarence remained perjured and false to all sentiments of decency so often protested purringly to his fair young mistress.

Mechanically Brown opened doors of closets, knowing, if he had stopped to think, that cats don’t usually turn knobs and let themselves into tightly closed places.

In one big closet on the fifth floor, however, as soon as he opened the door there came a rustle, and he sprang forward to intercept the perfidious one; but it was only the air stirring the folds of garments hanging on the wall.

As he turned to step forth again the door gently closed with an ominous click, shutting him inside.  And after five minutes’ frantic fussing he realized that he was imprisoned by a spring lock at the top of a strange house, inhabited only by a cat and a bewildered young girl, who might, at any moment now that the telephone was in order, call a cab and flee from a man who had tried to explain to her that they were irrevocably predestined for one another.

Calling and knocking were dignified and permissible, but they did no good.  To kick violently at the door was not dignified, but he was obliged to do it.  Evidently the closet was too remote for the sound to penetrate down four flights of stairs.

He tried to break down the door ­they do it in all novels.  He only rebounded painfully, ineffectively, which served him right for reading fiction.

It irked him to shout; he hesitated for a long while; then sudden misgiving lest she might flee the house seized him and he bellowed.  It was no use.

The pitchy quality of the blackness in the closet aided him in bruising himself; he ran into a thousand things of all kinds of shapes and textures every time he moved.  And at each fresh bruise he grew madder and madder, and, holding the cat responsible, applied language to Clarence of which he had never dreamed himself capable.

Then he sat down.  He remained perfectly still for a long while, listening and delicately feeling his hurts.  A curious drowsiness began to irritate him; later the irritation subsided and he felt a little sleepy.

His heart, however, thumped like an inexpensive clock; the cedar-tainted air in the closet grew heavier; he felt stupid, swaying as he rose.  No wonder, for the closet was as near air-tight as it could be made.  Fortunately he did not realize it.

And, meanwhile, downstairs, Betty was preparing for flight.

She did not know where she was going ­how far away she could get in a rose-silk morning gown.  But she had discovered, in a clothespress, an automobile duster, cap, and goggles; on the strength of these she tried the telephone, found it working, summoned a coupe, and was now awaiting its advent.  But the maid from Dooley’s must first arrive to take charge of the house and Clarence until she, Betty, could summon her family to her assistance and defy The Green Mouse, Beekman Brown, and Destiny behind her mother’s skirts.

Flight was, therefore, imperative ­it was absolutely indispensable that she put a number of miles between herself and this young man who had just informed her that Fate had designed them for one another.

She was no longer considering whether she owed this amazing young man any gratitude, or what sort of a man he might be, agreeable, well-bred, attractive; all she understood was that this man had suddenly stepped into her life, politely expressing his conviction that they could not, ultimately, hope to escape from each other.  And, beginning to realize the awful import of his words, the only thing that restrained her from instant flight on foot was the hidden Clarence.  She could not abandon her cat.  She must wait for that maid.  She waited.  Meanwhile she hunted up Dooley’s Agency in the telephone book and called them up.  They told her the maid was on the way ­as though Dooley’s Agency could thwart Destiny with a whole regiment of its employees!

She had discarded her roses with a shudder; cap, goggles, duster, lay in her lap.  If the maid came before Brown returned she’d flee.  If Brown came back before the maid arrived she’d tell him plainly what she had decided on, thank him, tell him kindly but with decision that, considering the incredible circumstances of their encounter, she must decline to encourage any hope he might entertain of ever again seeing her.

At this stern resolve her heart, being an automatic and independent affair, refused to approve, and began an unpleasantly irregular series of beats which annoyed her.

“It is true,” she admitted to herself, “that he is a gentleman, and I can scarcely be rude enough, after what he has done for me, to leave him without any explanation at all....  His clothes are ruined.  I must remember that.”

Her heart seemed to approve such sentiments, and it beat more regularly as she seated herself at a desk, found in it a sheet of notepaper and a pencil, and wrote rapidly: 

Dear Mr. Brown:

“If my maid comes before you do I am going.  I can’t help it.  The maid will stay to look after Clarence until I can return with some of the family.  I don’t mean to be rude, but I simply cannot stand what you told me about our ­about what you told me....  I’m sorry you tore your clothes.

“Please believe my flight has nothing to do with you personally or your conduct, which was perfectly (’charming’ scratched out) proper.  It is only that to be suddenly told that one is predestined to (’marry’ scratched out) become intimately acquainted (all this scratched out and a new line begun).

“It is unendurable for a girl to think that there is no freedom of choice in life left her ­to be forced, by what you say are occult currents, into ­friendship ­with a perfectly strange man at the other end.  So I don’t think we had better ever again attempt to find anybody to present us to each other.  This doesn’t sound right, but you will surely understand.

“Please do not misjudge me.  I must appear to you uncivil, ungrateful, and childish ­but I am, somehow, a little frightened.  I know you are perfectly nice ­but all that has happened is almost, in a way, terrifying to me.  Not that I am cowardly; but you must understand.  You will ­won’t you?....  But what is the use of my asking you, as I shall never see you again.

“So I am only going to thank you, and say (’with all my heart’ crossed out) very cordially, that you have been most kind, most generous and considerate ­most ­most ­”

Her pencil faltered; she looked into space, and the image of Beekman Brown, pleasant-eyed, attractive, floated unbidden out of vacancy and looked at her.

She stared back at the vision curiously, more curiously as her mind evoked the agreeable details of his features, resting there, chin on the back of her hand, from which, presently, the pencil fell unheeded.

What could he be doing upstairs all this while.  She had not heard him for many minutes now.  Why was he so still?

She straightened up at her desk and glanced uneasily across her shoulder, listening.

Not a sound from above; she rose and walked to the foot of the stairs.

Why was he so still?  Had he found Clarence?  Had anything gone wrong?  Had Clarence become suddenly rabid and attacked him.  Cats can’t annihilate big, strong young men.  But where was he?  Had he, pursuing his quest, emerged through the scuttle on to the roof ­and ­and ­fallen off?

Scarcely knowing what she did she mounted on tiptoe to the second floor, listening.  The silence troubled her; she went from room to room, opening doors and clothespresses.  Then she mounted to the third floor, searching more quickly.  On the fourth floor she called to him in a voice not quite steady.  There was no reply.

Alarmed now, she hurriedly flung open doors everywhere, then, picking up her rose-silk skirts, she ran to the top floor and called tremulously.

A faint sound answered; bewildered, she turned to the first closet at hand, and her cheeks suddenly blanched as she sprang to the door of the cedar press and tore it wide open.

He was lying on his face amid a heap of rolled rugs, clothes hangers and furs, quite motionless.

She knew enough to run into the servants’ rooms, fling open the windows and, with all the strength in her young body, drag the inanimate youth across the floor and into the fresh air.

“O-h!” she said, and said it only once.  Then, ashy of lip and cheek, she took hold of Brown and, lashing her memory to help her in the emergency, performed for that inanimate gentleman the rudiments of an exercise which, if done properly, is supposed to induce artificial respiration.

It certainly induced something resembling it in Brown.  After a while he made unlovely and inarticulate sounds; after a while the sounds became articulate.  He said:  “Betty!” several times, more or less distinctly.  He opened one eye, then the other; then his hands closed on the hands that were holding his wrists; he looked up at her from where he lay on the floor.  She, crouched beside him, eyes still dilated with the awful fear of death, looked back, breathless, trembling.

“That is a devil of a place, that closet,” he said faintly.

She tried to smile, tried wearily to free her hands, watched them, dazed, being drawn toward him, drawn tight against his lips ­felt his lips on them.

Then, without warning, an incredible thrill shot through her to the heart, stilling it ­silencing pulse and breath ­nay, thought itself.  She heard him speaking; his words came to her like distant sounds in a dream: 

“I cared for you.  You give me life ­and I adore you....  Let me.  It will not harm you.  The problem of life is solved for me; I have solved it; but unless some day you will prove it for me ­Betty ­the problem of life is but a sorry sum ­a total of ciphers without end....  No other two people in all the world could be what we are and what we have been to each other.  No other two people could dare to face what we dare face.”  He paused:  “Dare we, Betty?”

Her eyes turned from his.  He rose unsteadily, supported on one arm; she sprang to her feet, looked at him, and, as he made an awkward effort to rise, suddenly bent forward and gave him both hands in aid.

“Wait ­wait!” she said; “let me try to think, if I can.  Don’t speak to me again ­not yet ­not now.”

But, at intervals, as they descended the flights of stairs, she turned instinctively to watch his progress, for he still moved with difficulty.

In the drawing-room they halted, he leaning heavily on the back of a chair, she, distrait, restless, pacing the polished parquet, treading her roses under foot, turning from time to time to look at him ­a strange, direct, pure-lidded gaze that seemed to freshen his very soul.

Once he stooped and picked up one of the trodden roses bruised by her slim foot; once, as she passed him, pacing absently the space between the door and him, he spoke her name.

But:  “Wait!” she breathed.  “You have said everything.  It is for me to reply ­if I speak at all.  C-can’t you wait for ­me?”

“Have I angered you?”

She halted, head high, superb in her slim, young beauty.

“Do I look it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Nor I. Let me find out.”

The room had become dimmer; the light on her hair and face and hands glimmered dully as she passed and re-passed him in her restless progress ­ restless, dismayed, frightened progress toward a goal she already saw ahead ­close ahead of her ­every time she turned to look at him.  She already knew the end.

That man!  And she knew that already he must be, for her, something that she could never again forget ­something she must reckon with forever and ever while life endured.

She paused and inspected him almost insolently.  Suddenly the rush of the last revolt overwhelmed her; her eyes blazed, her white hands tightened into two small clenched fists ­and then tumult died in her ringing ears, the brightness of the eyes was quenched, her hands relaxed, her head sank low, lower, never again to look on this man undismayed, heart free, unafraid ­never again to look into this man’s eyes with the unthinking, unbelieving tranquillity born of the most harmless skepticism in the world.

She stood there in silence, heard his step beside her, raised her head with an effort.

“Betty!”

Her hands quivered, refusing surrender.  He bent and lifted them, pressing them to his eyes, his forehead.  Then lowered them to the level of his lips, holding them suspended, eyes looking into hers, waiting.

Suddenly her eyes closed, a convulsive little tremor swept her, she pressed both clasped hands against his lips, her own moved, but no words came ­only a long, sweet, soundless sigh, soft as the breeze that stirs the crimson maple buds when the snows of spring at last begin to melt.

From a dark corner under the piano Clarence watched them furtively.