Read CHAPTER XIII.  KITTY SPEAKS HER MIND AGAIN of You Never Know Your Luck‚ Complete, free online book, by Gilbert Parker, on ReadCentral.com.

A moment later they stood inside Shiel Crozier’s room.  The first glance his wife gave took in the walls, the table, the bureau, and the desk which contained her own unopened letter.  She was looking for a photograph of herself.

There was none in the room, and an arid look came into her face.  The glance and its sequel did not escape Kitty’s notice.  She knew well ­as who would not? ­what Mona Crozier was hoping to see, and she was human enough to feel a kind of satisfaction in the wife’s chagrin and disappointment; for the unopened letter in the baize-covered desk which she had read was sufficient warrant for a punishment and penalty due the little lady, and not the less because it was so long delayed.  Had not Shiel Crozier had his draught of bitter herbs to drink over the past five years?

Moreover, Kitty was sure beyond any doubt at all that Shiel Crozier’s wife, when she wrote the letter, did not love her husband, or at least did not love him in the right or true way.  She loved him only so far as her then selfish nature permitted her to do; only in so far as the pride of money which she had, and her husband had not, did not prevent; only in so far as the nature of a tyrant could love ­though the tyranny was pink and white and sweetly perfumed and had the lure of youth.  In her primitive way Kitty had intuitively apprehended the main truth, and that was enough to justify her in contributing to Mona Crozier’s punishment.

Kitty’s perceptions were true.  At the start, Mona was in nature proportionate to her size; and when she married she had not loved Crozier as he had loved her.  Maybe that was why ­though he may not have admitted it to himself ­he could not bear to be beholden to her when his ruin came.  Love makes all things possible, and there is no humiliation in taking from one who loves and is loved, that uncapitalised and communal partnership which is not of the earth earthy.  Perhaps that was why, though Shiel loved her, he had had a bitterness which galled his soul; why he had a determination to win sufficient wealth to make himself independent of her.  Down at the bottom of his chivalrous Irish heart he had learned the truth, that to be dependent on her would beget in her contempt for him, and he would be only her paid paramour and not her husband in the true sense.  Quixotic he had been, but under his quixotism there was at least the shadow of a great tragical fact, and it had made him a matrimonial deserter.  Whether tragedy or comedy would emerge was all on the knees of the gods.

“It’s a nice room, isn’t it?” asked Kitty when there had passed from Mona Crozier’s eyes the glaze or mist ­not of tears, but stupefaction ­which had followed her inspection of the walls, the bureau, the table, and the desk.

“Most comfortable, and so very clean ­quite spotless,” the wife answered admiringly, and yet drearily.  It made her feel humiliated that her man could live this narrow life of one room without despair, with sufficient resistance to the lure of her hundred and fifty thousand pounds and her own delicate and charming person.  Here, it would seem, he was content.  One easy-chair, made out of a barrel, a couch, a bed ­a very narrow bed, like a soldier’s, a bed for himself alone ­a small table, a shelf on the wall with a dozen books, a little table, a bureau, and an old-fashioned, sloping-topped, shallow desk covered with green baize, on high legs, so that like a soldier too he could stand as he wrote (Crozier had made that high stand for the desk himself).  That was what the room conveyed to her ­the spirit of the soldier, bare, clean, strong, sparse:  a workshop and a chamber of sleep in one, like the tent of an officer on the march.  After the feeling had come to her, to heighten the sensation she espied a little card hung under the small mirror on the wall.  There was writing on it, and going nearer, she saw in red pencil the words, “Courage, soldier!”

These were the words which Kitty was so fond of using, and the girl had a thrill of triumph now as she saw the woman from whom Crozier had fled looking at the card.  She herself had come and looked at it many times since Crozier had gone, for he had only put it there just before he left on his last expedition to Aspen Vale to carry through his deal.  It had brought a great joy to Kitty’s heart.  It had made her feel that she had some share in his life; that, in a way, she had helped him on the march, the vivandière who carried the water-bag which would give him drink when parched, battle-worn, or wounded.

Mona Crozier turned away from the card, sadly reflecting that nothing in the room recalled herself; that she was not here in the very core of his life in even the smallest way.  Yet this girl, this sunny creature with the call of youth and passion in her eyes, this Ruth of the wheat-fields, came and went here as though she was a part of it.  She did this and that for him, and she was no doubt on such terms of intimacy with him that they were really part of each other’s life in a scheme of domesticity unlike any boarding-house organization she had ever known.  Here in everything there was the air, the decorum, and the unartificial comfort of home.

This was why he could live without his wedded wife and her gold and her brocade, and the silk and the Persian rugs, and the grand piano and the carriages and the high silk hat from Piccadilly.  Her husband had had the luxuries of wealth, and here he was living like a Spartan on his hill ­and alone; though he had a wife whom men had beseiged both before and after marriage.  A feeling of impotent indignation suddenly took possession of her.  Here he was with two women, unattached, ­one interesting and good and agreeable and good-looking, and the other almost a beauty, ­who were part of the whole rustic scheme in which he lived.  They made him comfortable, they did the hundred things that a valet or a fond wife would do; they no doubt hung on every word he uttered ­and he could be interesting beyond most men.  She had realised terribly how interesting he was after he had fled; when men came about her and talked to her in many ways, with many variations, but always with the one tune behind all they said; always making for the one goal, whatever the point from which they started or however circuitous their route.

As time went on she had hungrily longed to see her husband again, and other men had no power to interest her; but still she had not sought to find him.  At first it had been offended pride, injured self-esteem, in which the value of her own desirable self and of her very desirable fortune was not lost; then it became the pride of a wife in whom the spirit of the eternal woman was working; and she would have died rather than have sought to find him.  Five years ­and not a word from him.

Five years ­and not a letter from him!  Her eyes involuntarily fell on the high desk with the greenbaize top.  Of all the letters he had written at that desk not one had been addressed to her.  Slowly, and with an unintentional solemnity, she went up to it and laid a hand upon it.  Her chin only cleared the edge of it-he was a tall man, her husband.

“This is the place of secrets, I suppose?” she said, with a bright smile and an attempt at gaiety to Kitty, who had watched her with burning eyes; for she had felt the thrill of the moment.  She was as sensitive to atmosphere of this sad play of life as nearly and as vitally as the deserted wife.

“I shouldn’t think it a place of secrets,” Kitty answered after a moment.  “He seldom locks it, and when he does I know where the key is.”

“Indeed?” Mona Crozier stiffened.  A look of reproach came into her eyes.  It was as though she was looking down from a great height upon a poor creature who did not know the first rudiments of personal honour, the fine elemental customs of life.

Kitty saw and understood, but she did not hasten to reply, or to set things right.  She met the lofty look unflinchingly, and she had pride and some little malice too ­it would do Mrs. Crozier good, she thought ­in saying, as she looked down on the humming-bird trying to be an eagle: 

“I’ve had to get things for him-papers and so on, and send them on when he was away, and even when he was at home I’ve had to act for him; and so even when it was locked I had to know where the key was.  He asked me to help him that way.”

Mona noted the stress laid upon the word home, and for the first time she had a suspicion that this girl knew more than even the Logan Trial had disclosed, and that she was being satirical and suggestive.

“Oh, of course,” she returned cheerfully in response to Kitty ­“you acted as a kind of clerk for him!” There was a note in her voice which she might better not have used.  If she but knew it, she needed this girl’s friendship very badly.  She ought to have remembered that she would not have been here in her husband’s room had it not been for the letter Kitty had written ­a letter which had made her heart beat so fast when she received it, that she had sunk helpless to the floor on one of those soft rugs, representing the soft comfort which wealth can bring.

The reply was like a slap in the face.

“I acted for him in any way at all that he wished me to,” Kitty answered, with quiet boldness and shining, defiant face.

Mona’s hand fell away from the green baize desk, and her eyes again lost their sight for a moment.  Kitty was not savage by nature.  She had been goaded as much by the thought of the letter Crozier’s wife had written to him in the hour of his ruin as by the presence of the woman in this house, where things would never be as they had been before.  She had struck hard, and now she was immediately sorry for it:  for this woman was here in response to her own appeal; and, after all, she might well be jealous of the fact that Crozier had had close to him for so long and in such conditions a girl like herself, younger than his own wife, and prettier ­yes, certainly prettier, she admitted to herself.

“He is that kind of a man.  What he asked for, any good woman could give and not be sorry,” Kitty convincingly added when the knife had gone deep enough.

“Yes, he was that kind of a man,” responded the other gently now, and with a great sigh of relief.  Suddenly she came nearer and touched Kitty’s arm.  “And thank you for saying so,” she added.  “He and I have been so long parted, and you have seen so much more of him than I have of late years!  You know him better ­as he is.  If I said something sharp just now, please forgive me.  I am ­indeed, I am grateful to you and your mother.”

She paused.  It was hard for her to say what she felt she must say, for she did not know how her husband would receive her ­he had done without her for so long; and she might need this girl and her mother sorely.  The girl was a friend in the best sense, or she would not have sent for her.  She must remind herself of this continually lest she should take wrong views.

Kitty nodded, but for a moment she did not reply.  Her hand was on the baize-covered desk.  All at once, with determination in her eyes, she said:  “You didn’t use him right or you’d not have been parted for five years.  You were rich and he was poor, he is poor now, though he may be rich any day, and he wouldn’t stay with you because he wouldn’t take your money to live on.  If you had been a real wife to him he wouldn’t have seen that he’d be using your money; he’d have taken it as though it was his own, out of the purse always open and belonging to both, just as though you were partners.  You must feel ­”

“Hush, for pity’s sake, hush!” interrupted the other.

“You are going to see him again,” Kitty persisted.  “Now, don’t you think it just as well to know what the real truth is?”

“How do you know what is the truth?” asked the trembling little stranger with a last attempt to hold her position, to conceal from herself the actual facts.

“The Young Doctor and my mother and I were with him all the time he was ill after he was shot, and the Trial had only told half the truth.  He wanted us, his best friends here, to know the whole truth, so he told us that he left you because he couldn’t bear to live on your money.  It was you made him feel that, though he didn’t say so.  All the time he told his story he spoke of you as though you were some goddess, some great queen ­”

A look of hope, of wonder, of relief came into the tiny creature’s eyes.  “He spoke like that of me; he said ?”

“He said what no one else would have said, probably; but that’s the way with people in love ­they see what no one else sees, they think what no one else thinks.  He talked with a sort of hush in his voice about you till we thought you must be some stately, tall, splendid Helen of Troy with a soul like an ocean, instead of” ­she was going to say something that would have seemed unkind, and she stopped herself in time ­“instead of a sort of fairy, one of the little folk that never grow up; the same as my father used to tell me about.”

“You think very badly of me, then?” returned the other with a sigh.  Her courage, her pride, her attempt to control the situation had vanished suddenly, and she became for the moment almost the child she looked.

“We’ve only just begun.  We’re all his friends here, and we’ll judge you and think of you according to what happens between you and him.  You wrote him that letter!”

She suddenly placed her hand on the desk as the inspiration came to her to have this matter of the letter out now, and to have Mrs. Crozier know exactly what the position was, no matter what might be thought of herself.  She was only thinking of Shiel Crozier and his future now.

“What letter did I write?” There was real surprise and wonder in her tone.

“That last letter you wrote to him ­the letter in which you gave him fits for breaking his promise, and talked like a proud, angry angel from the top of the stairs.”

“How do you know of that letter?  He, my husband, told you what was in that letter; he showed it to you?” The voice was indignant, low, and almost rough with anger.

“Yes, your husband showed me the letter ­unopened.”

“Unopened ­I do not understand.”  Mona steadied herself against the foot of the bed and looked in a helpless way at Kitty.  Her composure was gone, though she was very quiet, and she had that look of a vital absorption which possesses human beings in crises of their lives.

Suddenly Kitty took from behind a book on the shelf a key, opened the desk, and drew out the letter which Crozier had kept sealed and unopened all the years, which he had never read.

“Do you know that?” Kitty asked, and held it out for Mrs. Crozier to see.

Two dark blue eyes stared confusedly at the letter ­at her own handwriting.  Kitty turned it over.  “You see it is closed as it was when you sent it to him.  He has never opened it.  He does not know what is in it.”

“He has-kept it ­five years ­unopened,” Mona said in broken phrases scarce above a whisper.

“He has never opened it, as you see.”

“Give ­give it to me,” the wife said, stepping forward to stay Kitty’s hand as she opened the lid of the desk to replace the letter.

“It’s not your letter ­no, you shall not,” said Kitty firmly as she jerked aside the hand laid upon her wrist, and threw one arm on the lid, holding it down as Mrs. Crozier tried to keep it open.  Then with a swift action of the free hand she locked the desk and put the key in her pocket.

“If you destroyed this letter he would never believe but that it was worse than it is; and it is bad enough, Heaven knows, for any woman to have written to her husband ­or to any one else’s husband.  You thought you were the centre of the world when you wrote that letter.  Without a penny, he would be a great man, with a great future; but you are only a pretty little woman with a fortune, who has thought a great lot of herself, and far too much of herself only, when she wrote that letter.”

“How do you know what is in it?” There was agony and challenge at once in the other’s voice.  “Because I read it ­oh, don’t look so shocked!  I’d do it again.  I knew just how to act when I’d read it.  I steamed it open and closed it up again.  Then I wrote to you.  I’m not sorry I did it.  My motive was a good one.  I wanted to help him.  I wanted to understand everything, so that I’d know best what to do.  Though he’s so far above us in birth and position, he seemed in one way like our own.  That’s the way it is in new countries like this.  We don’t think of lots of things that you finer people in the old countries do, and we don’t think evil till it trips us up.  In a new country all are strangers among the pioneers, and they have to come together.  This town is only twenty years old, and scarcely anybody knew each other at the start.  We had to take each other on trust, and we think the best as long as we can.  Mr. Crozier came to live with us, and soon he was just part of our life ­not a boarder; not some one staying the night who paid you what he owed you in the morning.  He was a friend you could say your prayers with, or eat your meals with, or ride a hundred miles with, and just take it as a matter of course; for he was part of what you were part of, all this out here ­don’t you understand?”

“I am trying hard to do so,” was the reply in a hushed voice.  Here was a world, here were people of whom Mona Crozier had never dreamed.  They were so much of an antique time ­far behind the time that her old land represented; not a new world, but the oldest world of all.  She began to understand the girl also, and her face took on a comprehending look, as with eyes like bronze suns Kitty continued: 

“So, though it was wrong ­wicked ­in one way, I read the letter, to do some good by it, if it could be done.  If I hadn’t read it you wouldn’t be here.  Was it worth while?”

At that moment there was a knock at the outer door of the other room, or, rather, on the lintel of it.  Mona started.  Suppose it was her husband ­that was her thought.

Kitty read the look.  “No, it isn’t Mr. Crozier.  It’s the Young Doctor.  I know his knock.  Will you come and see him?”

The wife was trembling, she was very pale, her eyes were rather staring, but she fought to control herself.  It was evident that Kitty expected her to do so.  It was also quite certain that Kitty meant to settle things now, in so far as it could be done.

“He knows as much as you do?” asked Mrs. Crozier.

“No, the Young Doctor hasn’t read the letter and I haven’t told him what’s in it; but he knows that I read it, and what he doesn’t know he guesses.  He is Mr. Crozier’s honest, clever friend.  I’ve got an idea ­an invention to put this thing right.  It’s a good one.  You’ll see.  But I want the Young Doctor to know about it.  He never has to think twice.  He knows what to do the very first time.”

A moment later they were in the other room, with the Young Doctor smiling down at “the little spot of a woman,” as he called Crozier’s wife.