Read CHAPTER XXIV of The Return of Peter Grimm Novelised From the Play , free online book, by David Belasco, on ReadCentral.com.

THE GOOD-BYE

Frederik Grimm turned away from looking down at the pathetically small figure in the darkened room. His face was expressionless. He had stood there but a few minutes. And his eyes, riveted on the still, white little form, had not softened nor blurred with tears.

Wearily he descended the gallery stairs into the living-room, where the morning sunlight was already turning the desk bowl of roses into a riot of burning colour.

He was halfway across the room, toward the door, when he was aware that Kathrien had risen from the desk chair and was looking at him. Her look was cold and devoid of pity as she surveyed him. But as he halted, hesitant, the sunlight fell full on his face. And in the visage that had seemed so vapidly blank to McPherson, she read much.

The cold glint died from her eyes and she stepped forward with hand outstretched.

“Frederik,” she said gently.

He came haltingly toward her. He held out his hand to meet hers. But he could not touch the fingers that were waiting to press his own. His hand fell limply to his side.

She understood. And the warm pity in her face deepened.

“I am sorry,” she said simply.

“He is happier,” muttered the man.

“I don’t mean for Willem. For you. You understand what it all means at last.”

“And, too late,” he assented. “It is always too late when one understands.”

“It is never too late,” she denied eagerly. “Frederik, you have everything ahead of you. You can ”

“I have nothing ahead of me,” he contradicted dully.

“You have wealth, youth, the power to undo what wrong you did, to start afresh ”

“As the broken-winged bird has the power to start a new flight. Don’t waste your divine sympathy on me, Kitty. It would be thrown away. In a very little time, as Dr. McPherson has kindly pointed out to me, I shall be convalescent from my attack of remorse. And then all life will lie before me, as you say. All life except the one thing that makes life worth living.”

He stopped. For he saw she understood.

“You always understood,” he went on, voicing his thought. “That was one of the wonderful things about you, Kitty. Even now, you saw the pain I am in. And it made you forget what you believe I am. It was sweet of you. It will be good to remember.”

“I wish I could help you,” she said.

“You have helped me,” he answered. “For you’ve given me a Memory to carry till I can shake off the load till I can get clear of McPherson’s ‘man-built hell.’ It won’t be long. So don’t worry. Even now, my common sense tells me I’ve made a fool of myself. And I’m human enough to be more ashamed of being a fool than of being a knave. I had everything in my own hands. And I threw away the game because an attack of fright kept me from playing my winning cards. Last night I was afraid of a ghost. This morning I’m sane enough to know that ghosts were invented by the first nervous man who was alone at night. This morning I am heart-broken because my little boy lies dead. To-morrow I shall be sane enough to know that it is as lucky for me as it is for him, that he died. And in a week I’ll be congratulating myself over it all and revelling in a freedom and a fortune I’ve always craved. So you see I’m quite incurable.”

“Why do you say such things?” she cried. “You know they aren’t true.”

“When I said you ‘always understand,’ Kitty, I was wrong. You don’t understand. No woman understands that a man doesn’t reform. A good man may have taken a wrong twist. And when he finds his way back to the straight road, they say he has ‘reformed.’ He hasn’t. He’s only struck his own natural gait again. As he was bound to. And my kind of man sometimes takes a momentary twist in the right direction. Then people say he has reformed. And they are just as much mistaken as they were in the other case. For, water won’t run uphill after the first pressure is withdrawn.”

“But in the fires of affliction ”

“The fires of affliction,” he retorted sadly, “have burned away the dross from the pure gold of many a soul, I suppose. But no fires were ever heated that could burn dross fiercely enough to turn it into gold. Yet ”

He hesitated, then said, without daring to look at her:

“There’s one thing I do want you to know, Kitty. Whatever I was and am, and whatever shams went to make up my daily life here you know my love for you was true and absolute and that I loved and love you more than the whole world besides?”

“Yes,” she returned, unembarrassed. “I believe that, Frederik. In part. You loved me as much as you could love any one. But ”

“Why must there be a ’but’?” he entreated.

“But,” she went on with the relentlessness of the Young, “not as much as you loved yourself.”

“More! Ten thousand times more!” he declared vehemently.

“No,” she contradicted. “For you didn’t love me enough to give me up when you knew I cared for another man. The Perfect Love would have ”

“The ’perfect love’!” he scoffed. “I have read of it. But I have yet to see it.”

“You cannot see it,” she replied, “for the same reason I could not see Oom Peter when he was fighting my battle here last night. My eyes were blinded by the world I live in. Perfect love is everywhere. It is within and about us. But ”

“But I would be too ignoble to recognise it if I chanced upon it? Perhaps. But why strip me of my last illusion? In the torment of my self-abasement this morning, I have clung to that one comfort: That I love you with a love which a truly worthless man could not feel. And now ”

Don’t misunderstand me,” she begged, half-tearfully. “I ”

“You have shown me the truth. And I ought to thank you for it. Perhaps some day I can. If I still remember it then. Good-bye, dear. I shan’t be here again. I’ve I’ve left you a little present. Dr. McPherson will give it to you.”

“But I can’t take ”

“Oh, yes, you can. It isn’t really from me. That’s just another of my lies to make a good impression. I’ve gotten so in the habit of telling them that it is going to take me a long time to realise that one of the chief advantages of being a rich man is the immunity from the need to lie. The present isn’t really from me. It’s from Oom. Peter. You can’t refuse it from him. If you doubt it’s Oom Peter’s own direct gift, ask Dr. McPherson. It was bad enough,” he sighed, in mock despair, “for Oom Peter to squander so much of my money while he was alive, without keeping on doing it after he died. I hope he has stopped it at last. Or I’ll soon be reduced to standing at the subway steps with a tin cup in my hand.”

Through the forced lightness, whose effort wrung sweat from the man’s forehead, Kathrien was woman enough to see the mortal agony that lay beneath. And again she held out her hand.

“Good-bye, Frederik,” she said gently. “And may you be happy!”

He looked doubtfully at the shapely little hand. Then, with an awkwardness strangely foreign to his normal grace, he took the hand in both his own and stood a moment, looking down at it as though not knowing what to do with it.

Then, very simply, he fell on his knees, touched the warm, roseleaf palm to his lips, got up and, without looking back, hurried out of the house.

Kathrien watched his slender, carefully groomed figure until it was lost at a turn in the rose bushes. Then she came back into the room and stood beside Peter Grimm’s old chair.

“Oom Peter!” she whispered. “This is my wedding day. You know it, don’t you? And oh, please let me think you are close close beside me all the time!”