Read CHAPTER XXXVI of The Breaking Point, free online book, by Mary Roberts Rinehart, on

During August Dick had labored in the alfalfa fields of Central Washington, a harvest hand or “working stiff” among other migratory agricultural workers.  Among them, but not entirely of them.  Recruited from the lowest levels as men grade, gathered in at a slave market on the coast, herded in bunk houses alive with vermin, fully but badly fed, overflowing with blasphemy and filled with sullen hate for those above them in the social scale, the “stiffs” regarded him with distrust from the start.

In the beginning he accepted their sneers with a degree of philosophy.  His physical condition was poor.  At night he ached intolerably, collapsing into his wooden bunk to sleep the dreamless sleep of utter exhaustion.  There were times when he felt that it would be better to return at once to Norada and surrender, for that he must do so eventually he never doubted.  It was as well perhaps that he had no time for brooding, but he gained sleep at the cost of superhuman exertion all day.

A feeling of unreality began to obsess him, so that at times he felt like a ghost walking among sweating men, like a resurrection into life, but without life.  And more than once he tried to sink down to the level of the others, to unite himself again with the crowd, to feel again the touch of elbows, the sensation of fellowship.  The primal instinct of the herd asserted itself, the need of human companionship of any sort.

But he failed miserably, as Jud Clark could never have failed.  He could not drink with them.  He could not sink to their level of degradation.  Their oaths and obscenity sickened and disgusted him, and their talk of women drove him into the fresh air.

The fact that he could no longer drink himself into a stupor puzzled him.  Bad whiskey circulated freely among the hay stacks and bunk houses where the harvest hands were quartered, and at ruinous prices.  The men clubbed together to buy it, and he put in his share, only to find that it not only sickened him, but that he had a mental inhibition against it.

They called him the “Dude,” and put into it gradually all the class hatred of their wretched sullen lives.  He had to fight them, more than once, and had they united against him he might have been killed.  But they never united.  Their own personal animosities and angers kept them apart, as their misery held them together.  And as time went on and his muscles hardened he was able to give a better account of himself.  The time came when they let him alone, and when one day a big shocker fell off a stack and broke his leg and Dick set it, he gained their respect.  They asked no questions, for their law was that the past was the past.  They did not like him, but in the queer twisted ethics of the camp they judged the secret behind him by the height from which he had fallen, and began slowly to accept him as of the brotherhood of derelicts.

With his improvement in his physical condition there came, toward the end of the summer, a more rapid subsidence of the flood of the long past.  He had slept out one night in the fields, where the uncut alfalfa was belled with purple flowers and yellow buttercups rose and nodded above him.  With the first touch of dawn on the mountains he wakened to a clarity of mind like that of the morning.  He felt almost an exaltation.  He stood up and threw out his arms.

It was all his again, never to lose, the old house, and David and Lucy; the little laboratory; the church on Sunday mornings.  Mike, whistling in the stable.  A wave of love warmed him, a great surging tenderness.  He would go back to them.  They were his and he was theirs.  It was at first only a great emotion; a tingling joyousness, a vast relief, as of one who sees, from a far distance, the lights in the windows of home.  Save for the gap between the drunken revel at the ranch and his awakening to David’s face bending over him in the cabin, everything was clear.  Still by an effort, but successfully, he could unite now the two portions of his life with only a scar between them.

Not that he formulated it.  It was rather a mood, an impulse of unreasoning happiness.  The last cloud had gone, the last bit of mist from the valley.  He saw Haverly, and the children who played in its shaded streets; Mike washing the old car, and the ice cream freezer on Sundays, wrapped in sacking on the kitchen porch.  Jim Wheeler came back to him, the weight of his coffin dragging at his right hand as he helped to carry it; he was kneeling beside Elizabeth’s bed, and putting his hand over her staring eyes so she would go to sleep.

The glow died away, and he began to suffer intensely.  They were all lost to him, along with the life they represented.  And already he began to look back on his period of forgetfulness with regret.  At least then he had not known what he had lost.

He wondered again what they knew.  What did they think?  If they believed him dead, was that not kinder than the truth?  Outside of David and Lucy, and of course Bassett, the sole foundation on which any search for him had rested had been the semi-hysterical recognition of Hattie Thorwald.  But he wondered how far that search had gone.

Had it extended far enough to involve David?  Had the hue and cry died away, or were the police still searching for him?  Could he even write to David, without involving him in his own trouble?  For David, fine, wonderful old David ­David had deliberately obstructed the course of justice, and was an accessory after the fact.

Up to that time he had drifted, unable to set a course in the fog, but now he could see the way, and it led him back to Norada.  He would not communicate with David.  He would go out of the lives at the old house as he had gone in, under a lie.  When he surrendered it would be as Judson Clark, with his lips shut tight on the years since his escape.  Let them think, if they would, that the curtain that had closed down over his memory had not lifted, and that he had picked up life again where he had laid it down.  The police would get nothing from him to incriminate David.

But he had a moment, too, when surrender seemed to him not strength but weakness; where its sheer supineness, its easy solution to his problem revolted him, where he clenched his fist and looked at it, and longed for the right to fight his way out.

When smoke began to issue from the cook-house chimney he stirred, rose and went back.  He ate no breakfast, and the men, seeing his squared jaw and set face, let him alone.  He worked with the strength of three men that day, but that night, when the foreman offered him a job as pacer, with double wages, he refused it.

“Give it to somebody else, Joe,” he said.  “I’m quitting.”

“The hell you are!  When?”

“I’d like to check out to-night.”

His going was without comment.  They had never fully accepted him, and comings and goings without notice in the camp were common.  He rolled up his bedding, his change of under-garments inside it, and took the road that night.

The railroad was ten miles away, and he made the distance easily.  He walked between wire fences, behind which horses moved restlessly as he passed and cattle slept around a water hole, and as he walked he faced a situation which all day he had labored like three men to evade.

He was going out of life.  It did not much matter whether it was to be behind bars or to pay the ultimate price.  The shadow that lay over him was that he was leaving forever David and all that he stood for, and a woman.  And the woman was not Elizabeth.

He cursed himself in the dark for a fool and a madman; he cursed the infatuation which rose like a demoniac possession from his early life.  When that failed he tried to kill it by remembering the passage of time, the loathing she must have nursed all these years.  He summoned the image of Elizabeth to his aid, to find it eclipsed by something infinitely more real and vital.  Beverly in her dressing-room, grotesque and yet lovely in her make-up; Beverly on the mountain-trail, in her boyish riding clothes.  Beverly.

Probably at that stage of his recovery his mind had reacted more quickly than his emotions.  And by that strange faculty by which an idea often becomes stronger in memory than in its original production he found himself in the grip of a passion infinitely more terrible than his earlier one for her.  It wiped out the memory, even the thought, of Elizabeth, and left him a victim of its associated emotions.  Bitter jealousy racked him, remorse and profound grief.  The ten miles of road to the railroad became ten miles of torture, of increasing domination of the impulse to go to her, and of final surrender.

In Spokane he outfitted himself, for his clothes were ragged, and with the remainder of his money bought a ticket to Chicago.  Beyond Chicago he had no thought save one.  Some way, somehow, he must get to New York.  Yet all the time he was fighting.  He tried again and again to break away from the emotional associations from which his memory of her was erected; when that failed he struggled to face reality; the lapse of time, the certainty of his disappointment, at the best the inevitable parting when he went back to Norada.  But always in the end he found his face turned toward the East, and her.

He had no fear of starving.  If he had learned the cost of a dollar in blood and muscle, he had the blood and the muscle.  There was a time, in Chicago, when the necessity of thinking about money irritated him, for the memory of his old opulent days was very clear.  Times when his temper was uncertain, and he turned surly.  Times when his helplessness brought to his lips the old familiar blasphemies of his youth, which sounded strange and revolting to his ears.

He had no fear, then, but a great impatience, as though, having lost so much time, he must advance with every minute.  And Chicago drove him frantic.  There came a time there when he made a deliberate attempt to sink to the very depths, to seek forgetfulness by burying one wretchedness under another.  He attempted to find work and failed, and he tried to let go and sink.  The total result of the experiment was that he wakened one morning in his lodging-house ill and with his money gone, save for some small silver.  He thought ironically, lying on his untidy bed, that even the resources of the depths were closed to him.

He never tried that experiment again.  He hated himself for it.

For days he haunted the West Madison Street employment agencies.  But the agencies and sidewalks were filled with men who wandered aimlessly with the objectless shuffle of the unemployed.  Beds had gone up in the lodging-houses to thirty-five cents a night, and the food in the cheap restaurants was almost uneatable.  There came a day when the free morning coffee at a Bible Rescue Home, and its soup and potatoes and carrots at night was all he ate.

For the first time his courage began to fail him.  He went to the lakeside that night and stood looking at the water.  He meant to fight that impulse of cowardice at the source.

Up to that time he had given no thought whatever to his estate, beyond the fact that he had been undoubtedly adjudged legally dead and his property divided.  But that day as he turned away from the lake front, he began to wonder about it.  After all, since he meant to surrender himself before long, why not telegraph collect to the old offices of the estate in New York and have them wire him money?  But even granting that they were still in existence, he knew with what lengthy caution, following stunned surprise, they would go about investigating the message.  And there were leaks in the telegraph.  He would have a pack of newspaper hounds at his heels within a few hours.  The police, too.  No, it wouldn’t do.

The next day he got a job as a taxicab driver, and that night and every night thereafter he went back to West Madison Street and picked up one or more of the derelicts there and bought them food.  He developed quite a system about it.  He waited until he saw a man stop outside an eating-house look in and then pass on.  But one night he got rather a shock.  For the young fellow he accosted looked at him first with suspicion, which was not unusual, and later with amazement.

“Captain Livingstone!” he said, and checked his hand as it was about to rise to the salute.  His face broke into a smile, and he whipped off his cap.  “You’ve forgotten me, sir,” he said.  “But I’ve got your visiting card on the top of my head all right.  Can you see it?”

He bent his head and waited, but on no immediate reply being forthcoming, for Dick was hastily determining on a course of action, he looked up.  It was then that he saw Dick’s cheap and shabby clothes, and his grin faded.

“I say,” he said.  “You are Livingstone, aren’t you?  I’d have known ­”

“I think you’ve made a mistake, old man,” Dick said, feeling for his words carefully.  “That’s not my name, anyhow.  I thought, when I saw you staring in at that window ­How about it?”

The boy looked at him again, and then glanced away.

“I was looking, all right,” he said.  “I’ve been having a run of hard luck.”

It had been Dick’s custom to eat with his finds, and thus remove from the meal the quality of detached charity.  Men who would not take money would join him in a meal.  But he could not face the lights with this keen-eyed youngster.  He offered him money instead.

“Just a lift,” he said, awkwardly, when the boy hesitated.  “I’ve been there myself, lately.”

But when at last he had prevailed and turned away he was conscious that the doughboy was staring after him, puzzled and unconvinced.

He had a bad night after that.  The encounter had brought back his hard-working, care-free days in the army.  It had brought back, too, the things he had put behind him, his profession and his joy in it, the struggles and the aspirations that constitute a man’s life.  With them there came, too, a more real Elizabeth, and a wave of tenderness for her, and of regret.  He turned on his sagging bed, and deliberately put her away from him.  Even if this other ghost were laid, he had no right to her.

Then, one day, he met Mrs. Sayre, and saw that she knew him.