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The Reparation by Emery Pottle

 

He looked up from the desk where he had been sitting for the last hour, his head down on his arms, trying to shut out the brave, old cry of life coming in through the open windows, pulling gently at his heart, cheeping through the darkened room as lightly and as blithely as the birds in the horse-chestnut tree just outside—the brave cry of life that, somehow, for all its clamorous traditions, seemed just then something peaceful, something that held release, freedom.

He stared about him, furtively, for an instant, as if instinctively on his guard against an unwelcome eye. Then, presently, he smiled, and going to a window, pushed open the blinds, leaning, with elbows on the sill, gratefully out into the rectangular enclosure, walled in high by houses, where the late afternoon sun glanced with uncertain warmth on the horse-chestnut.

There was now, he told himself, no use of evading or denying it longer; right or wrong, things had come to a point with him where anything but the truth was unbearable; it was there, like a live thing with him in the room, and out in the court, too,—almost as if he could put out his hand and draw it in close to him. Freedom, that was it. His lips made the word noiselessly, again and again, fascinated with the sensation. “Free, free,” he kept whispering, stretching out his hands greedily, drawing in full breaths of the late September air.

“I'm glad, that's all there is to it—glad. I can't help being glad—I've tried, too, but now, to-day, it's bound to come out. Glad! It's like being let out of school.”

That word—school—brought him back sharply. It seemed to precipitate all the old worry in the solution that but a moment ago was so clear. He came back hesitatingly from the window and threw himself down before the desk again, unable to restrain something he vaguely named his conscience from its weary accusations.

“It's an awful thing. It's true, it is. I'm a beast. I'm all wrong to be like this. It's a terrible thing to be glad a person is—” He shivered as he withheld the end of the sentence, though he realized his cowardice in so withholding. “And that person your—” Again he hesitated.

Haldane, by the desk, was a figure to make, involuntarily, demands on one's sympathy. It seemed all his life—perhaps thirty years long—he had been doing this in one way or another, and by no effort of his. People had a fashion of “looking out for him.” Not that he had grown up particularly incapable or helpless; it might rather have been due to a certain appealing gentleness of bearing, something that was the resultant of a half-shy manner, expanding into boyish confidence winningly; a shortish, slender figure, scarcely robust; eager, friendly brown eyes behind his glasses; and a keen desire to be liked. It might be seen, in the present sharp nervous play of emotion over his face, how utterly he was unsuited to the weight of mental discomfort,—how it fretted and galled him. That he was a gentleman, and by nature of a morbidly just and fair disposition, only made his present distress the more intolerable to him.

“Lord God,” he muttered, hopelessly, “why, why had it all to be?” And this question might, in the end, be taken as an aimless appeal to the Almighty to know why He had deliberately led him into a wretchedly miserable condition of mind and left him there.

It was the day after Ida's burial—Haldane's wife's burial. A week ago he had taken her to a city hospital, and she had died there—she and her baby—in the night, away from Haldane. He had gone dazedly, very conscientiously, through the dreadful, relentless activity that follows immediately on the heels of death; there was some alleviation in the thought that everything had been done just as she would have liked to have it. To-day the house was free of the grieving, sickening smell of flowers; the last of the people had mercifully fulfilled their duty to Ida and him and had gone, leaving him the humiliation of their honest, warm-hearted words and halting phrases of sympathy.

“Great God!” he had kept saying to himself as he listened to them, “if you knew,—if you knew!”

At times he felt, as he thought of those friends, secretly resentful. “If it hadn't been for them, I don't believe I,” he caught himself saying—“I'd ever have married.” But again he stopped his mental train abruptly. It was such a wearisome business, this “being fair”—he put it so—to her; this conscientious erasing of self-justification which he felt to be so unworthy. It would have been such a relief to Haldane to be, for an hour, obliviously selfish in his estimate of his two years of marriage with Ida.

There had been nothing, after all, remarkable in Haldane's experience—save for him; nothing very far removed from the commonplace. His father—a simple-hearted musician—had trained his son in music since the days when the lad could first hold a violin under his little chin. He had died when the boy was twenty, and Haldane had gone on, contentedly enough and absorbed, to take his father's place among the violins of an orchestra, and to teach music. As he grew older his father's friends told him he was leading a wretchedly lonely life; that he ought to marry. And at this Haldane smiled his deprecating, affectionate smile—a smile that, somehow, convinced his advisers in their own wisdom.

When Ida Locke came to live in a hall bedroom of the untidy boarding-house Haldane for years had called home, it was not long before she, too, quite unaffectedly, took to the idea that the good-natured musician needed “looking after.” And since, all her life, she had tremendously given herself to the care of people around her, it was no unusual experience—she sought it frankly, importantly.

It is scarcely probable that, in the beginning, any thought of ultimate marriage entered her head. Those who knew her invariably said, “Ida is a sensible girl.” Rather, her “looking after” Haldane took itself out in the hearty channels of dry boots, overshoes, tea of late afternoons, candid suggestions as to proper winter underwear, remedies for his frequent colds. This solicitude—which was, in essence, quite maternal—made a bond between the two; this and the fact that they both were workers—for Ida taught English in a private school.

It is hardly necessary to elaborate their romance, if it was such, from this point. Gradually, hastened by the awful propinquity in a third-rate boarding-house, Haldane really came to believe—as along the line of least resistance—in his personal incapacity and his loneliness; gradually Ida Locke began to realize that, for the first time, this Love she had read of and dreamed of doubtfully had become a reality for her. She was not a little amazed and gratified at its plain practicability—its sensibleness, she put it.

That she so liked him—indeed, he liked her enormously, he considered—assured Haldane in his moments of misgiving. The very largeness in her ample effect of good looks, her genius for managing his affairs and hers, her prim neatness of dress, her utter freedom from any sort of weak dependence on him, her uncompromising rigidity of moral attitude, and, above all, her goodness to him—this convinced him of her ultimate fitness to be a wife to him; and it must be said that he had never heretofore given anything but the scantest attention to the matter of sentimental attachments; it had not occurred to him, definitely, that he was even likely some day to fall splendidly in love.

So when he asked her, shyly, gently, to marry him she consented frankly—too frankly, Haldane almost admitted. And since, in the world as she knew it, men did not ask women to marry them unless they loved them really, she took much for granted, and began, at once, to look for a cheap flat.

Ida gave up her teaching when they married and went to their Harlem flat. Indeed, she considered this her domestic right; now, after almost a dozen years—she was older than Haldane—of instruction, she wanted “to rest, and keep house,” she told her husband.

Then, suddenly, illogically perhaps, after not more than three months of it, Haldane knew it was all quite intolerable to him. Before the desk to-day, Ida's desk, he saw luminously just how intolerable it had been—these two years of marriage.

The more irritatingly unbearable, too, it was because of the excellence of Ida's qualities—qualities he had taken humorously before marriage, but which later he had to take seriously. He began to hate her constant and intimate possession of his motives and tastes, her inquiries as to what he ate for lunch, and whether he considered his flannels quite adequate. He childishly resented her little nagging economies—and especially because he knew they were generally necessary. He chafed at the practical, sensible view he was argued resolutely into on every matter. What made it hard was that Haldane could not decently account for his revulsion of feeling toward Ida, now she was his wife. Worse than all, he saw how lightly she held in esteem his music—his one real love. To her it was a graceful trade to earn a living by—nothing else. And when she finally made it out that in his position in the orchestra he was likely never to rise much higher, unconsciously the fiddling seemed to her rather more of a small business. She told him he ought to be more ambitious.

One night Haldane had played to Ida—he resented so her name Ida—parts of the score of a light opera he had been at work on for years;—he would never play it on the boarding-house piano.

The moment was as vivid for Haldane now as it was then. He could hear again her brisk cheerful voice when he had finished and was waiting—more hopeful than he had ever yet been with her: “That's pretty. It's funny—isn't it, dear?—to think you made it up out of your own head. I never could understand—Leonard, have you got entirely rid of your sore throat?—Why don't you try to sell some of your little tunes?”

The disappointment of it all, for an instant, had brought angry tears to his eyes. He remembered now just the bitter hopelessness of feeling how she had failed him—and the remembrance hurt anew. That night he had seen almost clearly how it was to be with him and her in all the years to come.

There was, in Haldane's subsequent attitude toward the question of his marriage to Ida Locke, nothing worth the name of heroic. Indeed, looked at from the commonplace, critical standpoint, the situation was not so bad. It was Haldane's personal conception of it which caused the difficulty. Probably it was his sense of fairness to her which made him accept matters quietly—as he did accept them. It was his comfort to-day, out of all the ruck of his artificial self-reproach, that Ida had never known—as he said—how he felt toward her.

“She never knew,” he repeated often, “she never knew. She couldn't, I'm sure. Thank God for that!”

What she had never known was, in Haldane's mind, his real idea of her as his wife. For he had been very kind; he had patiently let her look out for him; he had kept the fret of his heart off his tongue, and the sulkiness of his temper off his face. What he had not succeeded in doing, however, was to keep the hurt of his soul out of his eyes. So they had gone on with it for the two years, with a prospect of going on with it forever, Haldane growing daily quieter, more reserved, if anything more gently kind, and more pathetically hopeless. With Ida it was, rather, a large, legitimate outlet for all the sensibleness, practicality, capable qualities, she so generously possessed. It seemed to her, when she knew her child was coming, that she was wonderfully reaching the culmination of womanhood and wifehood. Yet, after all, it had been but just death for Ida.

All this was running through Haldane's brain as he sat, on the day after his wife's burial, before her little oak desk. And the result he had to make out of it was always the same:

“I'm glad it's over. I'm glad.”

       * * * * *

The room seemed less burdensome when he came back to it late that night. Oppressed with the hatefulness of his attitude of the afternoon, Haldane had seized his hat and had fled out into the streets. He had dined at a restaurant, a thing he had not done in years, and had listened to a bad orchestra play cheerful tunes—tunes that somehow livened him up, stayed comfortably in his mind afterwards. Every one he saw seemed so happy. He assured himself that happiness—a quiet content, at least—was to be his now. Why not? Why disguise the fact that he was really, underneath, glad? So he smiled and lingered and sipped his coffee, feeling suddenly the beautiful realization that he was again of the world—irresponsible, careless. Coming back into the dull flat was not half the gloomy effort he had fancied it was going to be. For one blessed thing, he came when he chose. Besides, something had given him a sense of his right, his cheerful right, to be as he liked, what he liked. Haldane went about the tiny rooms humming gently; he played softly on the piano some old love-songs he had composed when he was twenty—things she had never heard.

Presently he sat down, lighted a fresh cigarette, and set himself to thinking out matters anew.

“It was a mistake, that's all,” he said, at last. “And that's plain. A mistake for me. But now it's all over and done with. There's nothing to be got out of this endless accusing and regret over something that couldn't be helped—helped, at least, after it was once started.... I'll always wear my hurt of it; that I know. It hurts like the devil to think I didn't—couldn't—give her the love she ought to have had. If there were any way—any possible way of reparation, ... but I suppose there isn't. Nothing except to live decently and honorably—if that's reparation. Thank God, 'tisn't as if there were any other woman mixed up in it—I haven't got that to worry me at any rate. I wonder whether a man gets his punishment for—but no, you can't help feeling, and being, and loving, just as it comes. It's this dreadful unconventionality of—not really liking—loving a person you are supposed to love that warps your judgment. And we lie about it to ourselves and to others till when we have to face the real truth we go all to pieces.... But, just the same, I'd feel so much easier if there were only some way I could make it up to Ida now that she's gone. Poor Ida, poor Ida.”

Haldane's eyes strayed to the little, cheap desk again, and for a moment the distress of the afternoon was renewed. But he resolutely threw off the accusing mood he so feared. There was a pile of letters lying there—letters that he had had neither the time nor the heart to look into for the past week. He picked them up now with relief at finding something tangible to be done. Most of them were letters of consolation and sympathy for him from his friends and hers; the worn phrases one can so little avoid in such missives touched him with a sense of their dual ineffectuality. Other letters were addressed to Ida—commonplace messages and bills which she had not been able to open. And there was one from her mother—written evidently before she had heard of her daughter's imminent illness and death. This last Haldane laid aside until he had finished the others; and even then he looked at it long and somewhat tenderly before he opened it.

“It must have come very hard to her; Ida was all she had,” he considered. “It must have been very hard.” He thought of the tear-stained, illegible letter Ida's mother had sent him after she had had his telegram. An illness had prevented her from coming to the funeral; and she lived so far away, somewhere in Iowa. Her heart was bleeding for him, she wrote. Her own loss was almost blotted out in the thought of his terrible grief. He had never finished it—that letter; he could not. Such words had seemed too sacred for him to read, feeling as he did. So he had torn it up.

“Ida was very good to her mother,” he reflected; “at least she was conscientiously always trying to do her best by her, support her and all that. She took it awfully as a duty—but she did it.”

Once, after they were married, Ida had gone back, for six months, to the private school that she might have money to send her mother in a sudden financial stress. Haldane thought of that, too, with keen regret that he had not been able to earn the necessary money himself—he was ill that winter. Yes, surely, Ida had been splendid in the matter of her mother. “It's a pity that things weren't so that Ida's mother could have come to see us here in New York,” Haldane said, as he opened the envelope—“come before Ida died.” The letter itself was not long. When he had finished with it—and this only after a third reading—he laid it down slowly and stared silently at the fine old-fashioned characters.

“Great God!” he said at last, gently, “the poor old lady!”

“My dear daughter,” ran the letter, “mother is so sorry to have to tell you this now when all your thoughts and energies must be centred on the wonderful event so soon to happen. It seems to me I've always been calling on you for help and you have done so much. Oh, it hurts me to have to worry and distress you now, dear.

“The truth is that Mr. Liddell is going to foreclose the mortgage on the house. He says he cannot wait longer than a week or two. I've tried every way to get the interest, but I can't do it. The little I had left, your cousin George invested for me, and now he tells me—I don't understand it at all—that it's quite lost. I know you'll say I was foolish to let George have it, but he promised so much—and George has been so good to me. I won't ask you and Leonard to give me a home; that would be unfair to you both. I'm so distressed and upset. Write me, if you can, and tell me what you think is best.” And there was more in the same distressed key.

Haldane was as near his decision, perhaps, when he laid down the letter as hours afterward when he stumbled to bed. It was strangely clear to him—the attitude he was to assume. Not that he did not make a fight of it, and a sharp fight. But, after all, he knew from the first how it was destined to end.

“I asked for my chance to make it up to her,” he muttered. “Well, I've got it, haven't I? Isn't this it? If where she is she knows to-night that I never loved her—sometimes even hated her—then she knows that I'll try to pay it back to her in the only way I can. I'll bring her mother here to live with me.... My God! and I wanted so the freedom of it all again, just to feel free.... No, this is it—my way—I'll take it. It's what I owe Ida. I can't reason it out logically and I dare say the world would put it straight that I didn't have to do this—take her mother—but I will. I wouldn't feel right about it in this life or in any next if I didn't. Yes, that's the reparation.”

Haldane's last thought before he slept that night, as it was in the fortnight before she came, was, “What is Ida's mother like? I wonder if—she is like—like Ida?”

       * * * * *

It had been six months—a whole winter and more—since Ida's mother had come to live with Leonard Haldane. And altogether unexpectedly it had been, for Haldane, quite the most beautiful winter he had ever spent. As for Ida's mother—well, when she was alone her eyes were constantly filling with tears—tears of thankfulness that the Lord had sent her, in the language of her frequent prayers of gratitude, a son to stay the declining years of her life—a son to her who had so wanted a son all these years.

Haldane could never forget that night he had gone, with sharp misgivings, to the station to meet Mrs. Locke. “I suppose I'm a fool,” he had muttered, as he paced miserably up and down the draughty, smoky enclosure where her train, already very late, was to come in. “But it's my debt to the dead I'm going to pay.” He added a moment later: “What I shall hate most of all, what will be hardest to bear, will be her endless sympathy. For she won't know—she'll never know—just how it was between Ida and me.”

He was to look for a “little dried-up, frightened woman in a black bonnet, with a handkerchief in her left hand”—so Mrs. Locke had written him. Haldane had smiled at the frank characterization—that, somehow, didn't sound like Ida's spirit in her mother.

She was the last to come out through the iron gate. Almost he had given her up, she had delayed so long. A little, dried-up, frightened woman in a black bonnet—that was she. Like a tiny, stray cloud, very nervous and out of place. Her face was white with fatigue, the excitement of the journey, and the thought of how she should meet—ought she to call him Leonard? And when Haldane saw her he suddenly smiled boyishly—as if there could be such a thing as a problem over this scared, half-tearful, ridiculously pathetic, white-haired old woman with a black-bordered handkerchief in her shaking left hand.

Before he considered it he had said gently, “Well, mother—”

The tears in her eyes welled over as she gasped in a whisper, “My boy!”

So, after all, there was no awkward, conscious period of adjustment for the two. They took up their life simply and quite as if it were no new thing to them both—as if they had come together again after a long separation. And it was, perhaps, in a way, just that—a coming together of elements that had long been kept apart. “She's not like Ida,” Haldane kept saying to himself.

“You're just like a mother in a storybook; the kind you always want when you read about them,” Haldane often told her. “You know, I never had one—one that I remember; mine died so long ago.”

“And you—you're—quite my son,” she would answer shyly, her voice trembling with the joy of it. It was such a regret to her that she hadn't Leonard's readiness of speech and the courage to break down her reserve—for she wanted to tell him, as she said to herself, just how she felt, just how good he was to her.

So it was a beautiful winter for them both. Naturally there was the fact of Ida that had to be faced. That was tremendously hard at first. He constantly felt her grieving for him, for the failure of all his hopes, the wreck of all a man holds so precious. And there were all the details of Ida's sickness and death to be gone over with her mother—the things she had done just before. How she looked; the quantity of flowers; even what she wore for her burial. Instinctively Haldane knew how dear these matters were to her, and he went over them faithfully, effacing his own bitterness of memory as best he might. When Mrs. Locke hesitatingly asked him one evening if—if Ida had—had said anything—left any message for her, Haldane's heart ached for her; Ida had left no message. He softened it as best he might.

“You see, she didn't know, couldn't know, that—that she was going to die. It was all so sudden, you know, so awfully sudden.”

Mrs. Locke nodded. “Yes—I see. Poor Ida! She did so much for me always.”

After a month or so, quite unconsciously, they ceased to mention Ida. Haldane, when he thought of it at all—and that with relief—wondered vaguely why Ida's mother did not talk more about her. “Perhaps it's because she doesn't want to keep hurting me,” he thought it out, “bless her!”

Gradually the intimacy between Haldane and his mother—for she was quite that to him—grew into a relation that was as rare as it was tender. They both felt it keenly. Their talk was all of him, his affairs, his music. He played to her for hours in the evenings he was not at the orchestra; when he was teaching in the mornings she would steal into the room, and sit, sewing, in a corner, listening gratefully to the dreary routine of his pupils' exercises. She seemed never to tire of “being near Leonard.” And always she was asking, “Won't you play a little from the opera, Leonard?”

Once she said to him, with her timid smile: “It's like heaven, having so much music all the time. Seems as if all my life I've been just starved to death for tunes.”

Haldane bent and kissed her white hair. “Well, mother,” he laughed, “it's quite a real piece of heaven to have you around the place.”

“You're spoiling me,” she cried; “how can I ever go back to Iowa?”

“Who said Iowa in this house?” he demanded of her. “You're to stay always—as long as you can stand me—always.”

“My son!” she kept murmuring after he had gone, as if she loved the words on her lips. “He's just the kind of son I used to hope I might have,” she sighed. “I don't see—it's so strange why he's so good to me. I'm not at all like her. Ida was so sensible always, and I'm not at all—Ida always told me I couldn't take care of myself, that I was very foolish. I don't see why Leonard is so kind to me. It must he just because I'm her mother. Leonard must have loved her so much, and understood her. Poor Ida!”

       * * * * *

The spring had broken through its first slender greenish film into the freshness of its young beauty. The sense of faint, far voices endlessly calling was in the air. Again the windows of the little flat were opened and again the afternoon sun warmed to golden green the new growth of leaves on the horse-chestnut in the rectangular enclosure outside.

Haldane had never felt so splendidly the birth of new things—in himself and in the world. All the morning he had been constantly picking up his violin, playing what he called his “Spring-feelings”— unrhythmic wild snatches of melody.

“God! it's good, good, good,” he cried, throwing back his head. “Good to have lived out of it all into this.”

“Mother,” he called presently, “what on earth are you doing there all alone? Come out and play with me. You've looked over those old books and papers, spring-cleaned your old closets, too long. If you don't come out at once, I'll come and drag you out bodily—I will indeed.”

He ran to her door in another moment, and flinging it open wide, he called: “If you will insist on being led forth—Why, mother, what is it? what's the matter? What is it? Are you ill? Why—”

She sat on a low stool drawn up close to her bed. Her hands were clasped straight out before her over a little book bound in faded imitation red leather—a little book Haldane, on the instant, with curious alertness, knew as one of Ida's old school note-books. On her face was a look so bewildered, so grieved, so terror-stricken almost, that Haldane suddenly ceased to speak. She raised her eyes to him with the pleading of a hurt animal. For a time neither uttered a word. And then, all at once, it seemed to Haldane as if he knew. His gaze fell hesitatingly. When, at last, he spoke, it was in a very gentle voice.

“Mother—is it anything we can talk out together—now?”

She shook her head dumbly, the tears gathering in her eyes. “Oh, Lennie!” she whispered, finally, as if he were a little boy. “It isn't true, is it?”

Haldane did not reply. She reached out the little red book to him slowly. “You'd—you'd better read it. I—found it—this afternoon.”

He took the book, without wonder, and went back, softly closing the door on her. Unconsciously he sat down before the little, cheap, oak desk—Ida's desk—and began to read. It was, perhaps, two hours afterward when he had finished. The room was dark and very still.

“So she knew,” he said, slowly. “After all, she knew. And I never guessed.” His head sank down on his arms.

It was a curious inconsistency in the mind of Ida Locke which had prompted her to write in that red-covered note-book just what she had written. No one would have guessed the secret strain of introspection in her, nor guessed the impulse which led her to put into writing her hidden life. Unless, indeed, that introspection and that impulse are always part of the intuitions of love—yielded to or not, as may be. The entries were scattered—as if put down when the stress of feeling had overcome her. They ranged over the two years of their married life. In each one she had seemed, with a startling lucidity, to have apprehended exactly her husband's state of mind toward her. She had written freely, baldly, without excess of sentimentality. “I know he hates me sometimes; I see it in his eyes.” Again: “He is hideously kind.” “He lives in a mental room that I can't break into.” In another place it ran: “Why is it? I am his mental equal; his superior in education. I'm his wife and he asked me to marry him. And yet he can't bear to have me near him. He hates me to-day.” “I'm afraid,” she wrote again, “how Leonard will regard our child. If he should hate it, too. Perhaps we shall both not live through it.” And so it ran on, with awful candor.

“I'm so sorry she had to know,” Haldane sighed again and again. “And, now, what's to be the end of it? What will Ida's mother do? Lord God, she'll never forgive me—never.”

       * * * * *

Late that night Mrs. Locke came in. Haldane had scarcely stirred from his chair. The note-book lay open before him on the desk. He looked at her compassionately, for now his thoughts were all for the shrinking, hurt woman beside him. She had never before seemed so fragile, so dependent, and yet he could not but mark in her hearing a new resolution of forces, a dignity as of a stern decision. Haldane did not wait for her to question.

“You will want to know,” he began, wearily, “if all this written here is true. All this Ida wrote down. You want to ask me that? It's—it's all true, quite true.” He waited, but she gave no sign. “Quite true; I—I suppose it wouldn't be worth while for me to explain things now. You will think I've lied to you all along. In a way, I have. No, I suppose you don't want to hear me make futile explanations, excuses.”

“If there—there is anything to be said, Leonard, you had better say it—now,” she answered, nervously, twisting her handkerchief in her fingers.

He hesitated painfully. “Everything I might say seems to be trying to shift the load from my shoulders on to—another's,” he said, at last. “It was a mistake—that's all. A mistake for us. Before it began—our marriage—it was different, but afterward—She was very good to me; looked after me and all that, but—Oh, I'm afraid I'm only hurting you the worse by saying all this. You won't, you can't understand. Let it be that it was all my fault. It was, it was. Believe that, please.... And I know you won't want to stay here with me any longer—after this. I quite understand that. A man who—who felt as she wrote it all down here—such a man you wouldn't, you couldn't—” He stopped hopelessly. “I can't bear to have you go,” he burst out, impulsively. “Where will you go? Back there to Iowa?”

She nodded sorrowfully.

“And have no more music? And—and—oh, it's cruel. Why had you to find it out? It didn't matter anyway when it was all done with. Why did you have to know? ... And you haven't any money. You must let me help you. Let me do that—just that. Can't you forget it all enough for that? Surely you've liked me—for what you've liked in me, let me help you. Great heavens, if I thought of you alone out there, without money—Must you go?”

Haldane was fast losing control of himself. With an effort he pulled himself together and tried to smile.

“You're right to go,” he said. “Right. You wouldn't want anything to do with me now.”

He looked up at her, though loath to meet her eyes. There was a wonderful pity in her face. “Don't!” he cried, sharply, not understanding.

“I want to say this,” he broke out again, almost roughly. “I never guessed that she knew how I felt toward her. I wasn't cruel or beastly—I was kind. They say that's cruelty, too. I tried—my God! how I tried!—never to let her know the truth. That's all I can say for myself; ... you'd better go.”

She was so silent that at last he faced her again. She was crying softly, and, it appeared, without bitterness. Haldane stared at her curiously.

“I wanted to know that—that last you said,” Mrs. Locke gasped, with difficulty. “I—I—I've been thinking it all over in my room. It's very hard to say—please let me go on with it just as I can, I—I've said I wanted to hear that last. But I knew it—in my heart—all the time. I knew you couldn't be cruel to a living thing. And—and—somehow— it changed—things. I've had such a terrible struggle all alone. I've tried to pray over it and—oh, I'm afraid I'm very wrong and very wicked—I almost know I am.” Her voice sank to a whisper. “But—oh, Leonard ... somehow I just seemed to feel inside me just how you felt, just how—it was with you those two years. Oh, it's a dreadful thing to say, isn't it? Poor Ida! She was so good to me, and yet sometimes—“ The trembling old woman's voice faltered and broke.

Haldane's eyes were full of tears. A great light was slowly breaking for him. He dared not speak.

“Don't think I'm a wicked old woman, Leonard; I never even guessed—till I came here—how I felt. And then you were like a son—my son—the boy I wanted so, and—I loved the music so, and being with you, more than anything I ever knew—it doesn't seem as if—”

Haldane put his hand on hers gently, “As if you could go away now?”

She turned to him with a little sad smile, and in her face was a sweet dignity.

“Yes, I cannot go—now, my son.”

 
 
 

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