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“What are you laughing at, Kitty?  You cackle like a young hen with her first egg.”  So spoke Mrs. Tynan to her daughter, who alternately swung backwards and forwards in a big rocking-chair, silently gazing into the distant sky, or sat still and “cackled” as her mother had said.

A person of real observation and astuteness, however, would have noticed that Kitty’s laughter told a story which was not joy and gladness ­neither good humour nor the abandonment of a luxurious nature.  It was tinged with bitterness and had the smart of the nettle.

Her mother’s question only made her laugh the more, and at last Mrs. Tynan stooped over her and said, “I could shake you, Kitty.  You’d make a snail fidget, and I’ve got enough to do to keep my senses steady with all the house-work ­and now her in there!” She tossed a hand behind her fretfully.

Quick with love for her mother, as she always was, Kitty caught the other’s trembling hand.  “You’ve always had too much to do, mother; always been slaving for others.  You’ve never had time to think whether you’re happy or not, or whether you’ve got a problem ­that’s what people call things, when they’re got so much time on their hands that they make a play of their inside feelings and work it up till it sets them crazy.”

Mrs. Tynan’s mouth tightened and her brow clouded.  “I’ve had my problems too, but I always made quick work of them.  They never had a chance to overlay me like a mother overlays her baby and kills it.”

“Not ‘like a mother overlays,’ but ‘as a mother overlays,’” returned Kitty with a queer note to her voice.  “That’s what they taught me at school.  The teacher was always picking us up on that kind of thing.  I said a thing worse than that when Mrs. Crozier” ­her fingers motioned towards another room ­“came to-day.  I don’t know what possessed me.  I was off my trolley, I suppose, as John Sibley puts it.  Well, when Mrs. James Shiel Gathorne Crozier said ­oh, so sweetly and kindly ­’You are Miss Tynan?’ what do you think I replied?  I said to her, ’The same’!”

Rather an acidly satisfied smile came to Mrs. Tynan’s lips.  “That was like the Slatterly girls,” she replied.  “Your father would have said it was the vernacular of the rail-head.  He was a great man for odd words, but he knew always just what he wanted to say and he said it out.  You’ve got his gift.  You always say the right thing, and I don’t know why you made that break with her ­of all people.”

A meditative look came into Kitty’s eyes.  “Mr. Crozier says every one has an imp that loves to tease us, and trip us up, and make us appear ridiculous before those we don’t want to have any advantage over us.”

“I don’t want Mrs. Crozier to have any advantage over you and me, I can tell you that.  Things’ll never be the same here again, Kitty dear, and we’ve all got on so well; with him so considerate of every one, and a good friend always, and just one of us, and his sickness making him seem like our own, and ­”

“Oh, hush ­will you hush, mother!” interposed Kitty sharply.  “He’s going away with her back to the old country, and we might just as well think about getting other borders, for I suppose Mr. Bulrush and his bonny bride will set up a little bulrush tabernacle on the banks of the Nile” ­she nodded in the direction of the river outside ­“and they’ll find a little Moses and will treat it as their very own.”

“Kitty, how can you!”

Kitty shrugged a shoulder.  “It would be ridiculous for that pair to have one of their own.  It’s only the young mother with a new baby that looks natural to me.”

“Don’t talk that way, Kitty,” rejoined her mother sharply.  “You aren’t fit to judge of such things.”

“I will be before long,” said her daughter.  “Anyway, Mrs. Crozier isn’t any better able to talk than I am,” she added irrelevantly.  “She never was a mother.”

“Don’t blame her,” said Mrs. Tynan severely.  “That’s God’s business.  I’d be sorry for her, so far as that was concerned, if I were you.  It’s not her fault.”

“It’s an easy way of accounting for good undone,” returned Kitty.  “P’r’aps it was God’s fault, and p’r’aps if she had loved him more ­”

Mrs. Tynan’s face flushed with sudden irritation and that fretful look came to her eyes which accompanies a lack of comprehension.  “Upon my word, well, upon my word, of all the vixens that ever lived, and you looking like a yellow pansy and too sweet for daily use!  Such thoughts in your head!  Who’d have believed that you !”

Kitty made a mocking face at her mother.  “I’m more than a girl, I’m a woman, mother, who sees life all around me, from the insect to the mountain, and I know things without being told.  I always did.  Just life and living tell me things, and maybe, too, the Irish in me that father was.”

“It’s so odd.  You’re such a mixture of fun and fancy, at least you always have been; but there’s something new in you these days.  Kitty, you make me afraid ­yes, you make your mother afraid.  After what you said the other day about Mr. Crozier I’ve had bad nights, and I get nervous thinking.”

Kitty suddenly got up, put her arm round her mother and kissed her.  “You needn’t be afraid of me, mother.  If there’d been any real danger, I wouldn’t have told you.  Mr. Crozier’s away, and when he comes back he’ll find his wife here, and there’s the end of everything.  If there’d been danger, it would have been settled the night before he went away.  I kissed him that night as he was sleeping out there under the trees.”

Mrs. Tynan sat down weakly and fanned herself with her apron.  “Oh, oh, oh, dear Lord!” she said.  “I’m not afraid to tell you anything I ever did, mother,” declared Kitty firmly; “though I’m not prepared to tell you everything I’ve felt.  I kissed him as he slept.  He didn’t wake, he just lay there sleeping ­sleeping.”  A strange, distant, dreaming look came into her eyes.  She smiled like one who saw a happy vision, and an eerie expression stole into her face.  “I didn’t want him to wake,” she continued.  “I asked God not to let him wake.  If he’d waked ­oh, I’d have been ashamed enough till the day I died in one way!  Still he’d have understood, and he’d have thought no harm.  But it wouldn’t have been fair to him ­and there’s his wife in there,” she added, breaking off into a different tone.  “They’re a long way above us ­up among the peaks, and we’re at the foot of the foothills, mother; but he never made us feel that, did he?  The difference between him and most of the men I’ve ever seen!  The difference!”

“There’s the Young Doctor,” said her mother reproachfully.

“He-him!  He’s by himself, with something of every sort in him from the top to the bottom.  There’s been a ditcher in his family, and there may have been a duke.  But Shiel Crozier ­Shiel” ­she flushed as she said the name like that, but a little touch of defiance came into her face too ­“he is all of one kind.  He’s not a blend.  And he’s married to her in there!”

“You needn’t speak in that tone about her.  She’s as fine as can be.”

“She’s as fine as a bee,” retorted Kitty.  Again she laughed that almost mirthless laugh for which her mother had called her to account a moment before.  “You asked me a while ago what I was laughing at, mother,” she continued.  “Why, can’t you guess?  Mr. Crozier talked of her always as though she was ­well, like the pictures you’ve seen of Britannia, all swelling and spreading, with her hand on a shield and her face saying, ‘Look at me and be good,’ and her eyes saying, ’Son of man, get upon thy knees!’ Why, I expected to see a sort of great ­goodness ­gracious goddess, that kept him frightened to death of her.  Bless you, he never opened her letter, he was so afraid of her; and he used to breathe once or twice hard ­like that, when he mentioned her!” She breathed in such mock awe that her mother laughed with a little kindly malice too.

“Even her letter,” Kitty continued remorselessly, “it was as though she ­that little sprite ­wrote it with a rod of chastisement, as the Bible says.  It ­”

“What do you know of the inside of that letter?” asked her mother, staring.

“What the steam of the tea-kettle could let me see,” responded Kitty defiantly; and then, to her shocked mother, she told what she had done, and what the nature of the letter was.

“I wanted to help him if I could, and I think I’ll be able to do it ­I’ve worked it all out,” Kitty added eagerly, with a glint of steel in the gold of her eyes and a fantastic kind of wisdom in her look.

“Kitty,” said her mother severely and anxiously, “it’s madness interfering with other people’s affairs ­of that kind.  It never was any use.”

“This will be the exception to the rule,” returned Kitty.  “There she is” ­again she flicked a hand towards the other room ­“after they’ve been parted five years.  Well, she came after she read my letter to her, and after I’d read that unopened letter to him, which made me know how to put it all to her.  I’ve got intuition ­that’s Celtic and mad,” she added, with her chin thrusting out at her mother, to whom the Irish that her husband had been, which was so deep in her daughter, was ever a mystery to her, and of which she was more or less afraid.

“I’ve got a plan, and I believe ­I know ­it will work,” Kitty continued.  “I’ve been thinking and thinking, and if there’s trouble between them; if he says he isn’t going on with her till he’s made his fortune; if he throws that unopened letter in her face, I’ll bring in my invention to deal with the problem, and then you’ll see!  But all this fuss for a little tiny button of a thing like that in there ­pshaw!  Mr. Crozier is worth a real queen with the beauty of one of the Rhine maidens.  How he used to tell that story of the Rhinegold ­do you remember?  Wasn’t it grand?  Well, I am glad now that he’s going ­yes, whatever trouble there may be, still he is going.  I feel it in my heart.”

She paused, and her eyes took on a sombre tone.  Presently, with a slight, husky pain in her voice, like the faint echo of a wail, she went on:  “Now that he’s going, I’m glad we’ve had the things he gave us, things that can’t be taken away from us.  What you have enjoyed is yours for ever and ever.  It’s memory; and for one moment or for one day or one year of those things you loved, there’s fifty years, perhaps, for memory.  Don’t you remember the verses I cut out of the magazine: 

         “’Time, the ruthless idol-breaker,
          Smileless, cold iconoclast,
          Though he rob us of our altars,
          Cannot rob us of the past.’”

“That’s the way your father used to talk,” replied her mother.  “There’s a lot of poetry in you, Kitty.”

“More than there is in her?” asked Kitty, again indicating the region where Mrs. Crozier was.

“There’s as much poetry in her as there is in ­in me.  But she can do things; that little bit of a babywoman can do things, Kitty.  I know women, and I tell you that if that woman hadn’t a penny, she’d set to and earn it; and if her husband hadn’t a penny, she’d make his home comfortable just the same somehow, for she’s as capable as can be.  She had her things unpacked, her room in order herself ­she didn’t want your help or mine ­and herself with a fresh dress on before you could turn round.”

Kitty’s eyes softened still more.  “Well, if she’d been poor he would never have left her, and then they wouldn’t have lost five years ­think of it, five years of life with the man you love lost to you! ­and there wouldn’t be this tough old knot to untie now.”

“She has suffered ­that little sparrow has suffered, I tell you, Kitty.  She has a grip on herself like ­like ­”

“Like Mr. Crozier with a broncho under his hand,” interjected Kitty.  “She’s too neat, too eternally spick and span for me, mother.  It’s as though the Being that made her said, ’Now I’ll try and see if I can produce a model of a grown-up, full-sized piece of my work.’  Mrs. Crozier is an exhibition model, and Shiel Crozier’s over six feet three, and loose and free, and like a wapiti in his gait.  If he was a wapiti he’d carry the finest pair of antlers ever was.”

“Kitty, you make me laugh,” responded the puzzled woman.  “I declare, you’re the most whimsical creature, and ­”

At that moment there came a tapping at the door behind them, and a small, silvery voice said, “May I come in?” as the door opened and Mrs. Crozier, very precisely yet prettily dressed, entered.

“Please make yourself at home ­no need to rap,” answered Mrs. Tynan.  “Out in the West here we live in the open like.  There’s no room closed to you, if you can put up with what there is, though it’s not what you’re used to.”

“For five months in the year during the past five years I’ve lived in a house about half as large as this,” was Mrs. Crozier’s reply.  “With my husband away there wasn’t the need of much room.”

“Well, he only has one room here,” responded Mrs. Tynan.  “He never seemed too crowded in it.”

“Where is it?  Might I see it?” asked the small, dark-eyed, dark-haired wife, with the little touch of nectarine bloom and a little powder also; and though she spoke in a matter-of-fact tone, there was a look of wistfulness in her eyes, a gleam of which Kitty caught ere it passed.

“You’ve been separated, Mrs. Crozier,” answered the elder woman, “and I’ve no right to let you into his room without his consent.  You’ve had no correspondence at all for five years ­isn’t that so?”

“Did he tell you that?” the regal little lady asked composedly, but with an underglow of anger in her eyes.

“He told the court that at the Logan Trial,” was the reply.

“At the murder trial ­he told that?” Mrs. Crozier asked almost mechanically, her face gone pale and a little haggard.

“He was obliged to answer when that wolf, Gus Burlingame, was after him,” interposed Kitty with kindness in her tone, for, suddenly, she saw through the outer walls of the little wife’s being into the inner courts.  She saw that Mrs. Crozier loved her husband now, whatever she had done in the past.  The sight of love does not beget compassion in a loveless heart, but there was love in Kitty’s heart; and it was even greater than she would have wished any human being to see; and by it she saw with radium clearness through the veil of the other woman’s being.

“Surely he could have avoided answering that,” urged Mona Crozier bitterly.

“Only by telling a lie,” Kitty quickly answered, “and I don’t believe he ever told a lie in his life.  Come,” she added, “I will show you his room.  My mother needn’t do it, and so she won’t be responsible.  You have your rights as a wife until they’re denied you.  You mustn’t come, mother,” she said to Mrs. Tynan, and she put a tender hand on her arm.

“This way,” she added to the little person in the pale blue, which suited well her very dark hair, blue eyes, and rose-touched cheeks.