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They had never hitherto talked with this boyand they now stopped their car and backed up.Alice usually asked the questions. "I thoughtyou lived away at the other end of the village, laddie?"
"Yes'm, I do."
"You haven't wheeled yourself all this way?"
"What's the matter with you that you can'twalk, Tommie?" demanded Kimberly.
"My back is broken."
Alice made a sympathetic exclamation. "Mydear little fellow-I'm very sorry for you!"
The boy smiled. "Oh, don't be sorry for me."
"Not sorry for you?"
"I have a pretty good time; it's my mother-I'msorry for her."
"Ah, indeed, your mother!" echoed Alice, struckby his words. "I am sorry for both of you then.And how did you break your back?"
"In our yard-climbing, ma'am."
"Poor devil, he's not the first one that hasbroken his back climbing," muttered Kimberly, taking a note from his waistcoat. "Give himsomething, Alice."
"As much as this?" cried Alice under herbreath, looking at the note and at Kimberly.
"Why not? It's of no possible use to us, andit will be a nine-months' wonder in that littlehousehold."
Alice folded the note up and stretched herwhite-gloved hand toward the boy. "Take this hometo your mother."
"Thank you. I can make little baskets," headded shyly.
"Can you?" echoed Alice, pleased. "Wouldyou make one for me?"
"I will bring one up to your house if you wantme to."
"That would be too far! And you don't knowwhere I live."
The boy looked at the green and black car as ifhe could not be mistaken. "Up at The Towers,ma'am."
Brice, who took more than a mild interest in thesituation, grinned inwardly.
Kimberly and Alice laughed together. "Verywell; bring it to The Towers," directed Kimberly,"I'll see that she gets it."
"And see here; don't lose that note, Tommie.By Heavens, he handles money more carelesslythan I do. No matter, wait till his mother sees it."
While they were talking to the boy, Dolly droveup in her car and stopped a moment to chat andscold. They laughed at her and she drove awayas if they were hopeless.
"Your sister is the dearest woman," remarkedAlice as Dolly's car disappeared. "I am so fondof her, I believe I am growing like her."
"Don't grow too like her."
"Dolly has too much heart. It gets her intotrouble."
"She says you have too much, yourself."
"I've paid for it, too; I've been in trouble."
"And I shall be, if you don't take me homepretty soon."
"Don't let us go home as long as we can goanywhere else," pleaded Kimberly. "When wego home we are separated."
He often attempted to talk with Alice of herhusband. "Does he persecute you in any way?"demanded Kimberly, trying vainly to get to details.
Alice's answer was always the same. "Not now."
"But he used to?" Kimberly would persist.
"Don't ask me about that."
"If he ever should lay a hand on you,Alice-"
"Pray, pray," she cried, "don't look like that.And don't get excited; he is not going to lay ahand on me."
They did not reach Cedar Lodge untilsundown and when they drove up to the houseMacBirney, out from town, was seated on the bigporch alone.They called a greeting to him asthey slowed up and he answered in kind.Kimberly, without any embarrassment, got out toassist Alice from the car. The courtesy of hismanner toward her seemed emphasized inMacBirney's presence.
On this night, it was, perhaps, the picture ofKimberly standing at the door of his own cargiving his hand to MacBirney's wife to alight, thatangered the husband more than anything thathad gone before. Kimberly's consideration forAlice was so pronounced as completely to ignoreMacBirney himself.
The small talk between the two when Alicealighted, the laughing exchanges, the amiablefamiliarity, all seemed to leave no place in thesituation for MacBirney, and were undoubtedlymeant so to be understood. Kimberlygood-humoredly proffered his attentions to that endand Alice could now accept them with theutmost composure.
Fritzie had already come over to Cedar Lodgefrom Imogene's for dinner and Kimberly returnedafterward from The Towers, talking till late in theevening with MacBirney on business affairs. Hethen drove Fritzie back to The Cliffs.
MacBirney, smarting with the stings ofjealousy, found no outlet for his feeling until hewas left alone with his wife. It was after eleveno'clock when Alice, reading in her sitting-room, heard her husband try the door connecting fromhis apartments. Finding it bolted, as usual,MacBirney walked out on the loggia and came intoher room through the east door which she hadleft open for the sea-breeze. He was smoking andhe sat down on a divan. Alice laid her book onher knee.
It was a moment before he spoke. "You seemto be making Kimberly a pretty intimate memberof the family," he began.
"Oh, do you think so? Charles or Robert?"
"You know very well who I mean."
"If you mean Robert, he is a familiar in everyfamily circle around the lake. It is his way, isn'tit? I don't suppose he is more intimate here thanat Lottie's, is he? Or at Dolly's or Imogene's?"
"They are his sisters," returned MacBirney, curtly.
"Lottie isn't. And I thought you wanted merather to cultivate Robert, didn't you, Walter?"asked Alice indifferently.
He was annoyed to be reminded of the fact butmade no reply.
"Robert is a delightfully interesting man,"continued Alice recklessly, "don't you think so?"
MacBirney returned to the quarrel fromanother quarter. "Do you know how much moneyyou have spent here at Cedar Lodge in the lastfour months?"
Alice maintained her composure. "I haven'tan idea."
He paused. "I will tell you how much, sinceyou're so very superior to the subject. Just twiceas much as we spent the first five years we weremarried."
"Quite a difference, isn't it?"
"It is-quite a difference. And the differenceis reckless extravagance. You seem to have lostyour head."
"Suppose it is reckless extravagance! Whatdo you mean to say-that I spent all the money?This establishment is of your choosing, isn't it?And have you spent nothing? How do you expectto move in a circle of people such as live aroundthis lake without reckless extravagance?"
"By using a little common-sense in yourexpenditures."
For some moments they wrangled over variousdetails of the m?nage. Alice at length cut thepurposeless recrimination short. "You spoke ofthe first five years we were married. You knowI spent literally nothing the first five years ofour married life. You continually said you weretrying 'to build up.' That was your cry frommorning till night, and like a dutiful wife, I woremy own old clothes for the first two years. Thenthe next three years I wore made-over hats andhunted up ready-made suits to enable you to'build up.'"
"Yes," he muttered, "and we were a good dealhappier then than we are now."
She made an impatient gesture. "Do speakfor yourself, Walter. You were happier, nodoubt. I can't remember that you ever gave meany chance to be happy."
"Too bad about you. You look like a poor, unhappy thing-half-fed and half-clothed."
"Now that you have 'built up,'" continuedAlice, "and brought me into a circle not in theleast of my choosing, and instructed me againand again to 'keep our end up,' you complainof 'reckless extravagance.'"
"Well, for a woman that I took with a travellingsuit from a bankrupt father, and put at the headof this establishment, you certainly can holdyour 'end up,'" laughed MacBirney harshly.
"Just a moment," returned Alice, with angryeyes. "You need not taunt me about my father.When you were measuring every day the sugarand coffee we were to use during the first fiveyears of our married life, you should haveforeseen you couldn't move as a millionaire amongmultimillionaires without spending a lot of money."
MacBirney turned white. "Thank you for remindingme," he retorted, with shining teeth, "ofthe thrift of which you have since had the advantages."
"Oh dear, no, Walter. The advantages of thatkind of thrift are purely imaginary. The leastspark of loving-kindness during those years wouldhave been more to me than all the petty meannessesnecessary to build up a fortune. But it is toolate to discuss all this."
MacBirney could hardly believe his ears. Herose hastily and threw himself into another chair."You've changed your tune mightily since 'thefirst five years of our married life,'" he said.
Alice tossed her head.
"But I want you to understand, I haven't."
"I believe that!"
"And I've brought you to time before now, withall of your high airs, and I'll do it again."
"Oh, no; not again."
"I'll teach you who is master under this roof."
"How like the sweet first five years that sounds!"
He threw his cigar angrily away. "I knowexactly what's the matter with you. You have runaround with this lordly Kimberly till he has turnedyour head. Now you are going to stop it, nowand here!"
"Hadn't you better tell Mr. Kimberly that?"
"I will tell you, you are getting yourself talkedabout, and it is going to stop. Everybody istalking about you."
Alice threw back her head. "So? Where didyou hear that?"
"Lambert told me yesterday."
"I hope you were manly enough to defend yourwife. Where did you see Lambert?"
"I saw him in town."
"I shouldn't listen to silly gossip from Lambert, and I shouldn't see Lambert again."
"How long have you been adviser as to whomI had better or better not see?" askedMacBirney contemptuously.
"You will find me a good adviser on some pointsin your affairs, and that is one."
"If you value your advice highly, you shouldpart with it sparingly."
"I know what you value highly; and if RobertKimberly finds out you are consorting withLambert it will end your usefulness in hiscombinations very suddenly."
The thrust, severe in any event, was made keenerby the fact that it frightened him into rage."Since you come from a family that has made sucha brilliant financial showing-" he began.
"Oh, I know," she returned wearily, "but youhad better take care." He looked at his wifeastounded. "You have insulted me enough," sheadded calmly, "about the troubles of my father.The 'first five years' are at an end. I have spoiledyou, Walter, by taking your abuse so longwithout striking back and I won't do it any more."
"What do you mean?" he cried, springing fromhis chair. "Do you think you are to keep yourdoors bolted against me for six months at a timeand then browbeat and abuse me when I comeinto your room to talk to you? Who paid forthese clothes you wear?" he demanded, pointingin a fury.
"I try never to think of that, Walter," repliedAlice, rising to her feet but controlling herselfmore than she could have believed possible. "Itry never to think of the price I have paid foranything I have; if I did, I should go mad andstrip these rags from my shoulders."
She stood her ground with flashing eyes. "I,not you," she cried, "have paid for what I haveand the clothes I wear. I paid for them-notyou-with my youth and health and hopes andhappiness. I paid for them with the life of mylittle girl; with all that a wretched woman cansacrifice to a brute. Paid for them! God help me!How haven't I paid for them?"
She stopped for sheer breath, but before hecould find words she spoke again. "Now, I amdone with you forever. I am out of your powerforever. Thank God, some one will protect mefrom your brutality for the rest of my life-"
MacBirney clutched the back of a chair. "Soyou have picked up a lover, have you? Thissounds very edifying from my dear, dutiful, religious wife." Hardly able to form the wordsbetween his trembling lips, he smiled horribly.
She turned on him like a tigress. "No," shepanted, "no! I am no longer your religious wife.It wasn't enough that I should go shabby andhungry to make you rich. Because I still hadsomething left in my miserable life to help mebear your cruelty and meanness you must takethat away too. What harm did my religion doyou that you should ridicule it and sneer at it andthreaten and abuse me for it? You grudged thefew hours I took from your household drudgeryto get to church. You promised before youmarried me that our children should be baptized in myfaith, and then refused baptism to my dying baby."
Her words rained on him in a torrent. "Yourobbed me of my religion. You made me live incontinual sin. When I pleaded for children, youswore you would have no children. When I toldyou I was a mother you cursed and villified me."
"Stop!" he screamed, running at her with an oath.
The hatred and suffering of years werecompressed into her moment of revolt. They flamedin her cheeks and burned in her eyes as she criedout her choking words. "Stop me if you dare!"she sobbed, watching him clench his fist. "If youraise your hand I will disgrace you publicly, now,to-night!"
He struck her. She disdained even to protectherself and crying loudly for Annie fell backward.Her head caught the edge of the table from whichshe had risen.
Annie ran from the bedroom at the sound ofher mistress's voice. But when she opened theboudoir door, Alice was lying alone andunconscious on the floor.
She revived only after long and anxiousministrations on Annie's part. But with thereturn of her senses the blood surged again in herveins in defiance of her husband. Her firstthought was one of passionate hatred of him, and the throbbing pain in her head from her fallagainst the table served to sharpen her resentment.
MacBirney, possessed of enough craft to slipaway from an unpleasant situation, returned earlyto town, only hoping the affair would blow over, and still somewhat dazed by the amazingrebellion of an enduring wife.
He realized that a storm might break now atany moment over his head. Always heavilycommitted in the speculative markets, he wellunderstood that if Kimberly should be roused tovengeance by any word from Alice the consequencesto his own fortune might be appalling.
It chanced that Kimberly was away the followingday and Alice had twenty-four hours to let herwrath cool. Two days of reflection were enough.The sense of her shame and her degradation as awoman at the hands of a man so base as herhusband were alone enough to suggest moderation inspeaking to Kimberly of the quarrel.
But more than this was to be considered. Whatwould Kimberly do if she told him everything?A scandalous encounter, even a more seriousissue between the two men was too much tothink of. She felt that Kimberly was capable inanger of doing anything immoderate and it wasbetter by far, her calmer judgment told her, tobury her humiliation in her own heart than torisk something worse. She was now, she wellknew, with this secret, a terror to her cowardlyhusband, just as he had been, through a nightmareof wretched years, her own terror.
For the first time, on the afternoon of the secondday, she found herself awaiting with burningimpatience some word from The Towers. She hadresolved what to say to Kimberly and wanted nowto say it quickly. When the telephone bell rangpromptly at four o'clock her heart dilated withhappiness; she knew the call came from one whonever would fail her. Alice answered the bellherself and her tones were never so maddeningin Kimberly's ears as when she told him, notonly that he might come, but that she was wearywith waiting. She stood at the window whenhis car drove up and tripped rapidly downstairs.When she greeted him he bent down to kiss her hand.
She did not resist his eagerness. She even drewa deep breath as she returned his look, and havingmade ready for him with a woman's lovely cunning, enjoyed its reward.
"I've been crazy to see you," he cried. "It istwo days, Alice. How can I tell you how lovelyyou are?"
Her eyes, cast down, were lifted to his when shemade her confession. "Do you really like thisrig? It is the first toilet I ever made with thethought of nobody but you in my head. So Itold Annie" she murmured, letting her hand reston his coat sleeve, "to be sure I was exactly right."
He caught her hands.
"Let's go into the garden," she said as he heldthem. "I have something to say to you."
They sat down together. "Something hashappened since I saw you," she began.
"Has the break come?" demanded Kimberly instantly.
"We had a very painful scene night before last,"said Alice. "The break has come. He has goneto town-he went yesterday morning. I haveasked myself many questions since then. Myfather and mother are dead. I have no home togo to, and I will not live even under the sameroof with him any longer. I feel so strange. Ifeel turned out, though there was nothing of thatin what he said-indeed, I am afraid I did mostof the talking."
"I wish to God I had heard you!"
"It is better not. Every heart knoweth its ownbitterness-"
"Let me help bear yours."
"I feel homeless, I feel so alone, so ashamed-Idon't know what I don't feel. You will neverknow what humiliation, what pain I have beenthrough for two days. Robert-" her voice falteredfor an instant. Then she spoke on, "I never cantell you of the sickness and shame I have long feltof even pretending to live with some one I couldnot respect."
"Close the book of its recollection. I cameinto your life for just such a moment, to beeverything you need. I am home, husband, andprotection-everything."
"If I could only make my senses believe myears." She paused. "It seems as if I am in adream and shall wake with a horror."
"No, this is a dream come true. I foresaw thistime and I have provided for it. Only delicacyhas kept me from asking you before about yourvery personal affairs and your private purse,Alice. Understand at once," he took her handsvehemently, "everything I have is yours withoutthe least reserve. Do you understand? Moneyis the last thing to make any one happy, I wellknow that, but in addition to the word of myheart to your heart-the transfers to you, Alice, have long been made and at this moment you have, merely waiting for you to draw upon them, morefunds than you could make use of in ten lifetimes.Everything is provided for. There are tears inyour eyes. Sit still for a moment and let me speak."
"No, I must speak. I am in a horrible position.I cannot at such a juncture receive anythingfrom you. But there are matters to be faced.Shall I stay here? If I do, he must go. Shall Igo? And if I do go, where?"
"Let me answer with a suggestion. My familyare all devoted to us. Dolly and Imogene are goodcounsellors. I will lay the matter before them.After a family council we shall know just what todo and how. I have my own idea; we shall seewhat the others say. Dolly, you know, has takenyou under her wing from the first, and Dollyyou will find is a powerful protector. If I tell youwhat I did to-day you will gasp with astonishment.I cabled for a whole new set of photographsof the Maggiore villa. I want our firstyear together, Alice, to be in Italy."
Accompanied by Imogene, Dolly hastenedover to Cedar Lodge in the morning.Alice met them in the hall. "My dear," criedDolly, folding her impulsively in her arms, "youare charged with fate!"
Then she drew back, laid her hands on Alice'sshoulders and, bringing her face tenderly forward, kissed her. "How can I blame Robert for fallingin love with you? And yet!" She turned toImogene. "If we had been told that first nightthat this was the woman of our destiny! Howdo you bear your new honors, dearie? What!Tears! Nonsense, my child. You are freightedwith the Kimberly hopes now. You are one ofus. Tears are at an end. I, too, cried when Ifirst knew of it. Come, sit down. Imogene willtell you everything." And having announced thismuch, Dolly proceeded with the telling herself.
"When you first knew of it?" echoed Alice."Pray, when was that?"
"Oh, long, long ago-before ever you did, mydear. But no matter now. We talked last night,Arthur, Charles, Imogene, and Robert and Iuntil midnight. And this is what we said: 'Thedignity of your personal position is, beforeeverything else, to be rigidly maintained.' Mr. MacBirneywill be required to do this. He will becounselled on this point-made to understand thatthe obligation to maintain the dignity of his wife'sposition is primary. Robert, of course, objectedto this. He was for allowing no one but himselfto do anything-"
"I hope you clearly understand, Dolly, I shouldallow Mr. Kimberly to do nothing whatever atthis juncture," interposed Alice quickly.
"I understand perfectly, dear. But there areothers of us, you know, friends of your own dearmother, remember. Only, aside from all of that,we considered that the situation admitted of butone arrangement. Charles will tell Nelson exactlywhat MacBirney is to do, and Nelson will see thatit is done. The proper bankers will advise youof your credits from your husband, for thepresent-and they are to be very generous ones, mydear," added Dolly significantly. "So all that istaken care of and Mr. MacBirney will further becounselled not to come near Cedar Lodge orSecond Lake until further orders. Do you understand?"
"Why, yes, Dolly," assented Alice perplexed,"but Mr. MacBirney's acquiescence in all this isvery necessary it seems to me. And he may agreeto none of it."
"My dear, it isn't at all a question of hisagreeing. He will do as he is advised to do. Doyou imagine he can afford breaking with theKimberlys? A man that pursues money, dear heart,is no longer a free agent. His interests confronthim at every turn. Fledgling millionaires are inno way new to us. Mercy, they pass in and outof our lives every day! A millionaire, dear, isnothing but a million meannesses and they alldo exactly as they are told. Really, I am sorryfor some of them. Of all unfortunates they arenowadays the worst. They are simply ground topowder between the multi-millionaires and thelaboring classes. In this case, happily, it is onlya matter of making one do what he ought to do,so give it no thought."
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