The Trial Balance by Maximilian
Author of "Corrie Who?" etc.
Like so many others of her class, Stella Willoughby was a
satisfied, confident woman, placidly aware of the station her
husband's money assured to her. For Willoughby was accounted
wealthy even in this lake town, where riches were so much in
evidence; and if the wife betrayed a cool superiority because of
his money, it was only natural, perhaps, since she and most of
her associates knew no other means of gauging success, or worth,
or the individual's place in life. Looking over her shoulder now,
she glanced nonchalantly across the club dining-room.
"You mean those people—the Severances, Mrs. Kinsman?" There was
a bland indifference in her tone that made the guest beside Mrs.
Willoughby look at her curiously, for she knew that Severance had
once been a suitor for Mrs. Willoughby's hand. "I believe we did
know them before they dropped out. He lost everything, didn't
he?—went to smash, as I vaguely remember."
Still with the same air of unconcern, she dipped the tips of her
fingers in the finger-bowl, and prepared to rise. "Queer they
should come back here, isn't it?" she commented idly; and then,
as if the subject had passed from her mind with the observation,
Mrs. Willoughby pushed back her chair in signal to her guests,
and led the way from the room. In the hall, while the maid was
putting on her wraps, she turned and looked back, still idly as
before. Her eyes, traveling about, rested a moment on the man
sitting at the distant table, and then, when he half rose from
his place as if to bow, they journeyed on again, coolly
unconcerned. A moment later, smiling gayly, she walked down the
steps to her carriage, and, with her guests, was driven away to
Yet, somehow, in spite of this sureness of speech and manner, the
sight of her old-time suitor had wakened in Mrs. Willoughby the
subtle discontent that occasionally affected her—the discontent
of women who have only themselves to think about. One might have
said that at these times she was subconsciously wearied of her
form of life; that, in so many words, though ignorant of the
fact, though, consciously, her vacuous life immensely satisfied
her, she was BORED. But to-day, bluntly speaking, it was about
her husband that her vague dissatisfaction centered; and when she
had glanced coolly at her former suitor, it was for the purpose
Willoughby was a fair type of the money-getter. Furthermore, what
he had built had been raised by his own hands unaided; he was a
self-made man, whose one boast was that he owed nothing to any
one, not even so little as a debt of gratitude. One realized the
fact, too, in the way he carried on his affairs; for in his
business he was alert and determined, implacably pursuing his
money-making as if it were a warfare, and considerate of none but
those joined with him in the moment's harvesting venture. Perhaps
his reasons were sufficient—who knows? Perhaps Willoughby was as
well aware as they that the friends of to-day might reasonably
become the enemies of to-morrow.
But at home the money gathered so ruthlessly elsewhere was thrown
about with a lavish hand. Nothing that wealth could provide was
denied Mrs. Willoughby or her boy; and though she had been poor
when she married, money, in the mere crudity of having it to
spend, had long since lost its novelty. To-day, beyond the pride
of having it, and beyond the luxury and ostentation it could buy,
money possessed for her a far greater significance in its power
to make one powerful. In that she had already tasted the
illogical enjoyment of one that can obtain power in no other way.
And it was because of this place that his money had bought her
that Mrs. Willoughby began to look on her husband with a critical
For she was an ambitious woman, though one with definite
limitations. Among different surroundings and in an atmosphere
less sordidly striving and commonplace, she was fitted to have
become, with some encouragement, an admirable and utterly
inconspicuous wife and mother. But here, in this narrow,
money-getting environment, many things prevented; among them,
primarily, the way in which she had been brought up. For her
father, too, had been driven by this lust for riches; and though
he had failed, to the last he had been goaded on by his one
eager, grasping hope. He had drummed into her head the single
lesson that without money one is nothing.
In itself it suggested to the few a plausible reason why she had
married Willoughby. There had been nothing openly unhappy in
their life together. Still, as others saw, Willoughby was much
older than his wife, radically without her social instincts, and,
furthermore, when she had accepted him, it had been pretty
generally understood that Severance had won her heart.
And now, as she sat back in her carriage, remembrance came
rapping like an unwelcome, unadmitted visitant. She tried to put
it away by chattering smartly; the theatre-wagon rolled along to
the clicking of hoofs on the asphalt; but through it all the
troublous knocking persistently recurred. For this was one of the
few times when she had lingered upon a thought of that first
romance of hers; and now, coupled with her hardening criticism of
Willoughby, it brought forth insistent questions.
Whether she had really loved her husband when she married him, or
whether she had not instead been dazzled by his peculiar
abilities remained in doubt.
Severance had come first; he had a little money to begin, and he
was doing well with it and seemed on the road to do better.
Therefore, her friends were secure in the belief that she would
marry him, when Willoughby had made his appearance.
He went at this love-making of his as he went at all his
affairs—implacably bold and ruthlessly sweeping aside whoever or
whatever came into his way. The fact that he and Severance were
considered friends seemed to have counted little; and when, a few
months later, it was learned that she had dropped one to take the
other, it was also learned that Severance had played at ducks and
drakes with his money. Briefly, he had become bankrupt in a
mining deal. He and others, Willoughby among them, had gone into
a Wyoming copper prospect—the Teton Sisters Company—and while
Willoughby apparently got off without damage, Severance had
dropped everything. How, was never clearly understood. Severance
and his sister had parted with their home to satisfy his
creditors, and then moved away.
In the twelve years of the Willoughbys' married life, the tide of
money had kept steadfastly on the flood. Nothing his hands
touched seemed to fail him. He had his fingers in every kind of
venture—mines and mills, foundries and furnaces, steam roads,
trolley lines and public utilities; and to each and every one of
these promotions, the name of Willoughby affixed the hall-mark of
success. Now his dollars jingled in every state of the Union—and
they jingled in his own home, too, almost as the only evidences
that the home was his. For Willoughby, pursuing money everywhere,
seemed to have lost interest in all else but his money-grubbing,
just as Willoughby's wife, excepting for the same money-grubbing,
seemed to have lost all interest in him.
And now she had looked at Severance; her eyes had rested on him
long enough to make comparisons—Severance much improved, cool,
suave, presentable, and deferential; her husband big and
masterful, a brooding, preoccupied man, and a kind of Orson to be
kept denned in his money caves. She sighed to herself
Some minutes after Mrs. Willoughby had found her seat in the
theatre box she was aware of another party coming down the aisle.
"Hello!" exclaimed the man beside her, "here come Hudson Mills
and his wife with Case Severance. I didn't know he was in town."
Mrs. Willoughby laid a gloved finger to her lips and affected to
yawn, though she stole a glance out of the corner of her eye. Her
guest was now nodding over her shoulder at the arrivals in the
"Severance has made a ten-strike, I hear," he volunteered, in an
expressive, if inelegant, idiom of the money game; "there's a
story going the rounds that Mills and Severance have been gunning
together and that some one else got burned. Anyway, I hear
they've lined their pockets. Severance is rich again."
This mixed metaphor affected Mrs. Willoughby with a curious
interest. "Oh, is he!" she exclaimed, and, glancing down, she
looked unexpectedly into Severance's watching eyes.
But she seemed not in the least disconcerted. Severance was just
turning away, mindful of the previous snub, when, with a
reassuring smile, she bowed, and then smiled again. For why not?
Severance's position had been reestablished in her world.
It was late that night when Mrs. Willoughby returned home. There
was a light in her husband's library, and before going to her
room she stopped and tapped at the door. Willoughby, with a pile
of papers stacked before him, sat with his chin in his hand,
staring absently at the wall. As the door opened, he turned for a
moment, and then, seeing who it was, thrust his hands into his
pockets and slouched down in his chair. "Well?" he murmured,
Mrs. Willoughby, slipping out of her wrap, dropped into a
"Are you still at it? It's nearly one o'clock, Harmon." Yawning
slightly, she wriggled her feet out of her carriage slippers and
kicked them under her chair. Willoughby looked up, silently
watching her, and a momentary small shadow crept into his face.
Yet the shadow, small as it was, could not have been because of
any flaw in his wife's appearance. Mrs. Willoughby was still
young and fair to look upon, clear-eyed and almost girlish, her
rounded, regular features set off picturesquely by her hat and
its flowing purple plumes, even though both hat and plumes were
extravagant in size. Willoughby must have known another reason to
"Where've you been?" he demanded, heavily, his voice bare of any
interest. He was a large, florid man, heavily built,
square-jawed, and with the deep, scrutinous eyes of one aware of
his own power and accustomed to enforce it. But now his eyes
seemed listless, as if weary of the strain that had kept them so
long on the alert.
"I? At the club," she answered, briefly. Though her own home was
large and amply appointed, few were ever asked there to anything
more formal than a luncheon or an afternoon at bridge. Home
hospitality and the housekeeping it involved had long since
become a bore to her; like many others in her set, she had
learned to square her obligations through the convenience of her
husband's club. The hospitality there entailed no other bother
than paying the bills. "Just dinner at the club, and the theatre
She stripped off her long gloves and dropped them to the floor
beside her carriage slippers. Again her husband studied her,
almost covertly, one might have thought.
"Any one there?" Willoughby began absently to pick at the edges
of the papers on his desk.
She shook her head. "No one you'd care about, I think. There were
only three tables besides mine. Mrs. Chardon and her daughter
with some of her young friends, and then—" Mrs. Willoughby
closely inspected one of her rubies. "The Severances are back in
town, Harmon. He and his sister were there with Hudson Mills and
"Severance—with MILLS!" cried her husband, lifting his head
alertly. It was not often that Mrs. Willoughby's talk with him
evoked such instant attention. "See here, Stella, are you sure it
"Sure? Sure whether it was Severance? Why, of course I am!" she
answered petulantly. She and her husband had never discussed the
man, and it seemed a late day now to begin. "What in the world
is—?" she began, and then desisted. Willoughby, slouched down in
his chair again, had dropped his chin on his breast and was
nervously gnawing his lip.
His wife leaned over and gathered up slippers and gloves. "I
think I'll go to bed," she murmured carelessly, and wandered
toward the door. Willoughby made no response, and she turned and
slowly came back. A calendar hanging from the gas bracket had
fallen a little aslant, and she reached up and critically
straightened it. "Harmon, I hear Case Severance is rich again. I
wonder how he managed it."
"Hey? Who?" Willoughby jerked up his head as if startled from a
dream—and not a very pretty dream, either, if one might judge
from his countenance. "Oh, you mean HIM," he uttered thickly.
"How do I know. I suppose he's been up to some of his games
again." An almost savage dislike and contempt evidenced
themselves in his tone, and pushing back his chair, he picked up
his papers and arose. "You'd better go to bed Stella," he
suggested brusquely, averting his eyes from her quick scrutiny;
"I've got a lot of work here."
She laid a hand on his arm. "What's wrong with you?" she asked
intently. There was alertness in the question, rather than
responsive softness. Willoughby drew a hand across his mouth.
"Nothing's wrong Stella. I've had a hard day. Aren't you going?"
"Yes—in just a moment." She had moved toward the door again, and
now was standing with her hand on the knob. "It's Willard's
birthday next Wednesday." Willard was their boy. "He'll be
eleven, an he wants an electric runabout. The Doane boys have
one, and he's just crazy about it We'd better let him have it."
Willoughby frowned, and irritably ruffled the papers in his hand.
"A runabout. No; he sha'n't have it. He's too young, and
"Oh, nonsense, Harmon!"
Willoughby fluttered his papers more irritably than before.
"Well, he can't have it; that's all I have to say." Ordinarily,
he gave to her and the boy what they wished, never questioning
the cost or character of what they bought "Eleven, and wants an
automobile!" he commented, sullenly. "When I was his age I was
working day and night to support my——"
"Yes, I know, Harmon," interrupted Mrs. Willoughby, affecting to
stifle a yawn "but Willard, fortunately, doesn't have to think of
Mrs. Willoughby gave her gloves a disdainful, careless twirl, and
went on her way to her room. To her astonishment, a few moments
later, she heard the front door slam. Willoughby had gone out.
He was away for nearly a week; and when he returned, his eyes
were heavy and blood-shot, his face was pallid and wearily drawn.
"Well, so you are back. What have you been doing?" Mrs.
Willoughby asked, perfunctorily. Though it was late in the
morning she was still in bed, sitting up in a dressing sack, and
turning the pages of a weekly publication that dealt in news of
local high life. Its chief item, to-day, was the announcement of
a dance she was to give shortly—at the club, as usual—and she
had just finished for the second time the commentator's glib and
He answered evasively, "Oh, just away on business." As he walked
to the window and looked out, she carelessly turned the pages.
"Stella, what did you do for the boy's birthday?" he asked,
slowly pacing back to the foot of the bed.
She turned another page. "The boy? Oh, I gave him some money, and
sent him down-town with the coachman. I was too busy." Smiling
lightly, she went on glancing through the paper. "I suspect he
stuffed himself on candy."
But there was no answering smile on Willoughby's face. "On candy?
How much did you give him?"
Without looking up, she answered as lightly as before. "Oh, I
can't remember now. Let me think." Then she vaguely named an
amount, and Willoughby pressed his lips together.
"Stella," he said slowly, after a moment's darkening of his eyes,
"do you know that amounts to a week's salary of more than one of
my clerks? Don't you think it was a great deal to give a boy?"
She looked up now, astonished—a little vexed, too; for this was
the second time he had questioned her use of money. "Well, what
of it? It seems of little consequence." She buried her face in
the paper again after this shot, and Willoughby stared at her.
"No," he murmured, reflectively, an alarming bitterness in his
voice; "nothing seems of any consequence."
As she glanced casually over the top of her paper, she saw him
draw a hand across his face; but, still vexed, she took no
warning from the sign. "Well, there's no need of making a fuss,
is there?" she asked, rebukingly. Thus showing how distasteful
the subject had become, and, having had her say, she instantly
changed the topic. "You're coming home Thursday night, aren't
Willoughby watched her absorbedly. "I don't know. Why?"
"Oh, I just wanted to find out. It's the night of my dance, you
"A dance? Your dance?" He drew in his breath, and his hands,
gripping the bed's footboard, closed a little tighter. "I'd
forgotten that. Yes, your dance, and I——"
He broke off wearily, his lips framing a mere wraith of a smile,
and in its gravity she still saw no warning of deep waters
stirring troublously. "A dance—you're giving a dance!" he
repeated, and there came into his eyes a subtle hint of mockery
that, coupled with the words, gave them almost the significance
of a jeer.
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Harmon!" Mrs. Willoughby threw down her
paper irritably, aware only of the unspoken protest in his
manner, and disdaining to analyze it. "See here—are you going to
make a fuss about that, too? Or are you still growling about the
boy? I should think a man with your money would be above——"
It seemed unnecessary to round out the sentence; in itself the
fragment, sharply uttered, peevish and fretful, conveyed more
than enough. "You wouldn't let him have what he wanted; so what's
the use of making it any worse? He swallowed his disappointment;
but if you're getting ready to complain about me now, I'll——"
"Yes, I've thought there was good stuff in the boy," he
interrupted, the slow words cutting short her vehement protest.
"Where is he now?" he added abruptly. " I think I'd like to see
Mrs. Willoughby flounced down among the pillows. "I don't
know—at school, I suppose. Aren't you going to your office
Willoughby shook his head. He turned to the door, moving heavily;
and there, at last, in his sunken head, his shoulders wearily
bent, she caught some hint of the man's hidden emotion.
Astonishment at first ousted all else from her thought, and she
gaped at him in wonder. Then came a small, chilling touch of
"HARMON!" At the swift call he looked back at her. "Harmon! Has
His answer was an evasion, and she knew it. "I'm staying home to
see some men. That's all."
But the moment's fear was too stressful to be so easily set at
rest. "Wait—do you hear?" She slipped from the bed, and, with
her eyes still fastened on him she groped about till she found
her down slippers. Willoughby had slowly opened the door, but his
wife angrily reached over his shoulder and pushed it shut. "You
SHALL tell me!" she insisted, fiercely determined. "I want to
know what's happened."
Willoughby shook off her hand, and renewed his effort at the
door. "I've nothing to tell you," he rumbled sullenly; and
then—"What do you want to know for?"
She caught her breath, certain now of the fear that shook her
like an ague. He was in trouble, and trouble, to her, meant but
the one thing—a money trouble. It was the first time in her
years of placid, self-possessed vanity that any terror like this
had come to jar her. To lose it now—this bought and paid-for
complacency, this counterpart of happiness, struck her to the
heart with a keener, more convincingly human emotion than she had
known for many a day in her negligent, shallow existence.
"You want to know?" he answered, and smiled at her in grim,
accusing mockery. "All right, then; I'll tell you. You'd better
be ready for it, too." In his brutality there was a guarded note
of self-pity, as if to see her suffer would somehow rejoice him
in his own trouble. "Well, I'm smashed up—that's all. I'm
Mrs. Willoughby, shrinking away, laid a hand on her lips and
stared with distended eyes. "RUINED?" she gasped, unable to
believe him—incredulously, as if at some barbaric jest.
"Ruined?" She had turned quite white. "Oh," she cried, wetting
her lips, "does it mean there is nothing left? How did it happen?
Oh, it can't be true!"
"How did it happen?" Willoughby had thrust both hands into his
pockets, and his head was turned sideways, as if the better to
study the depths of her emotion. "Oh, the usual way—flying too
many kites, I suppose. Poor?" he growled savagely. "Yes; we're
poor as Job's turkey! They've cleaned me out of
everything—their——Teton Sisters, too!"
In her mind's bewilderment of distress she caught at the name; it
was the property in which Severance had lost his money; and she
recalled ugly rumors that, before, had not affected her. Now that
his money was gone, they attached to themselves a newer
significance, accusing and indefensible. "The Teton Sisters! What
do you mean?" For was the shame of losing his wealth to be
coupled with the shameful admission that he had taken a hand in
gouging her former suitor? It was singular she hadn't thought of
it before; now it struck home with redoubled poignancy.
"Mean, hey? I mean they've got it away from me—Mills and that
fellow Severance. It was the prettiest thing I owned, too," he
groaned, careless of what he was saying, and blurting out the
acknowledgment. "But that ain't the worst—no, not by a long
chalk! Do you know what they're going to do?" he demanded,
hoarsely, and with an almost weeping resentment, yet as if glad
to find some one to whom to pour it out. "They're going to sue
for the money, too!"
"What money?" she persisted, hollowly, determined now to know
all. It might be dreadful to lose one's money—it was dreadful;
but to have this man drag her down into his own shame, too—ah!
Willoughby threw up both hands in a gesture of ungovernable
petulance. "Oh, what's the use of talking about it?" he growled,
and then instantly his voice dropped. "Stella, I'm sorry for your
sake. We'll have to begin all over again, dear."
"But you shall talk of it!" she directed, with a cruel and
cutting significance in her voice. "You can't hide it from me
His mouth opened dumbfoundedly. Then he thrust out his jaw with a
reawakened truculency, now aimed at her.
"Well, then—it was the money I took from that fellow—from your
old friend, Severance. He was——"
"You took it from him!" she cried. "You mean you STOLE it!"
Willoughby's mouth twitched, as if she had struck him a blow. "So
that's the way you look at it now, is it?" he said, his voice
quietly effective. "All right, then! I came in here hoping to get
a word of sympathy from you—perhaps a little kindness. But I
knew it was only a hope." He drew a deep breath. "Now don't work
yourself up over him, I warn you, my dear. I won't tell you why I
ruined him, years ago, but I'll tell you how. You've called me a
thief, so I'll give you some more facts before you jump at
"I don't want excuses—it's explanations!"
It was another taunt that struck home, but Willoughby again
mastered himself grimly. "Any one of us would have done it," he
answered, ignoring the remark. "Severance made it easy. I did to
him only what he tried to do to others. When he saw how good the
mine was, he wanted me to help him rook them out of their stock,
so that we could get it. Simple enough, of course, but they'd
been square with me. No, I refused—but I did accommodate him to
the extent of doing him out of his own block. He'd mortgaged
everything to buy shares, and when he was where I wanted him, all
tied up with loans and not able to borrow another cent, I told
the mine people what Severance was trying to do. So they put in a
ruinous report, and every one from whom he'd borrowed a cent just
called his loans and foreclosed on him right and left. He went
down and out—and that's all there was to it. Nobody else got
hurt, and we divided his stock among us. Can't you see how it
was, Stella?" he asked quietly, and stood awaiting her verdict.
"Yes! I see how it was!" she flashed. "It was robbery—you can't
If she had wished to sting him again, the attempt seemed to
become fruitful. "Excuses! I make none, do you hear?" he
retorted, incensed. " I ruined him to get him out of your
way—yes!—oh, you needn't say it!—out of mine, too. Look here!"
he cried, passionately; "don't you think I didn't know you? All
you looked for or lived for was—" But he broke off there, and
surveyed her with an affronted dullness, as if it were only
wasted effort. "Oh, well, what's the use?" he muttered, and with
morose and glowering eyes slouched through the doorway.
Mrs. Willoughby lay among the pillows, her arms flung out and her
face half hidden by her disordered hair. TO BE POOR! Her mind
seized on that as the one incalculable shame that had befallen
her—on that, rather than on her view of his dishonesty.
Curiously enough, it was not only the loss of the money itself
and the imminent surrender of her ease and luxury and ostentation
that dismayed her. She was anguished, as well, by the stigma of
being poor. She was able to see only the mean side of it; the
pity of her friends already rang in her ears like scorn, mocking
her because the one thing that had made her was now stripped
away. Hers was not the nature to see the other side of it—the
helpful nobility of self-denial, the heroism of unselfishness,
the courage that stoically faces the narrow and sordid effort
whose rewards are only in the future. No, indeed!—there was only
a savage resentment in her mind, the inexplicable sense that
somehow she had been tricked and cheated, and that he alone was
Though she accused him of dishonesty in the Severance affair, the
charge was only secondary. Given another time, she might
carelessly have acquitted him, taking his own say-so as enough;
but Willoughby now had chosen a poor hour for his acknowledgment,
when he linked it to the tidings of his ruin. All that day she
kept to her bed, her mind absorbed with the catastrophe that had
swept out from under her the unsolid prop of her arrogant money
pride. For, again, without money what was left?
She showed herself the day following, wan and silent. Willoughby
was away; the news of his failure was public property, and she
writhed when she read of it in the daily prints. But in the
following days she suffered other pangs that were a healthy
counter-irritant—she learned to pick and number her FRIENDS, and
to know, among so large a list of acquaintances, how very few
they were. Though she was prepared for this, well aware what
befalls the one with broken playthings, nevertheless she was
filled with bitter exasperation against those who were no more
careless than she had been herself. So she left orders with the
servants that none was to be admitted.
Her husband was not so easily evaded. He returned, three days
later, and, walking straight to her, laid a hand on her shoulder.
"Stella, I'm mighty sorry; but if you'll help me, I can get on my
"Oh, don't bother me!" she retorted, flinging off his hand.
Willoughby flushed, seemed about to make a bitter retort, and
apparently changed his mind. "Stella, I'm in a good deal of
trouble. A kind word or two would help." But the wife maintained
a sullen dumbness, her eyes turned away from him; and Willoughby
retired, shaking his head.
At the week end he tried again, hopefully. "Stella, it's not so
bad as we first thought. I think we'll save enough to live
on—maybe enough to keep our home. But you'll have to lend a
She looked up from her packing. "What do you say?" she demanded,
with a rekindled interest, and at the sight of it his eyes
"Why, if you're willing to go slowly, and put up with a few
things, we might be able to do it."
"Humh!" Mrs. Willoughby bent over her trunk again. "I suppose
that means you'd make me a kind of drudge. Thank you; I prefer
the other way."
"The other way?" he inquired, looking at her closely. "What do
you mean by that?"
She affected to show her carelessness by smoothing the clothes in
the trunk tray. "Oh, I'm going to take the boy and go away
somewhere for a while."
It was not unexpected. Willoughby came a step nearer, his brow
wrinkled ominously. "You shall not!" he said, with a slow
distinctness, every syllable rapped out decisively. Then his
anger, righteous enough in its way, got the better of him.
"Listen to me, Stella!' he gritted, clenching his hands beside
him. "I can see clear through you. You haven't the nerve to face
this down, so you're going to sling me overboard. That's it,
isn't it? Well, you sha'n't. I've handled you like a fool, these
years, and now I'm going to take charge. You'll stay here—not
because of yourself or me—but for the boy!" he cried; and Mrs.
Willoughby arose, quiet, but white.
"No," she answered, clearly; "we've played this farce too long,
Harmon. I don't think I'm suited to you, and I'm sure you're not
suited to me. We married under false ideas of each other."
Willoughby turned white, too, but, restraining himself, he peered
at her from under his heavy brows. "No, we didn't!" he retorted,
solemnly. "YOU did, but I didn't! You married me thinking my
money would buy you what you wanted. I question whether you
thought of ME at all. But I married you, Stella, knowing exactly
what you were, and, since I've paid for it, I intend you shall
stick to your bargain."
"Oh, yes," she answered, smiling a little in scorn, "it would be
like you to call it a bargain. But you can't prevent my leaving."
"No—perhaps not; but I can give you a good, strong argument why
you shouldn't. Don't think I'm the only one that knows you—why,
good Lord, Stella, I've no monopoly on the knowledge! Do you know
what they'll say of you, all these fair weather friends that've
dropped you like a smashed toy? I DO—they'll say you've wrung
me dry, and that now I'm ruined you've chucked me just as they
thought you would. If you care to know, I've heard whispers of it
already; so I'm going to save my boy, if I can."
Mrs. Willoughby stood with a hand at her throat, gasping; the
shot had struck home. "How dare you?" she whispered. "How dare
you, after what I know of you? You say that, after cheating me
into marrying you?"
Willoughby tossed his head. "Do you still refer to Severance?" he
inquired, caustically; and then his face darkened. "I'll tell you
why I cheated you into marrying me. It was because I loved you, I
think," he said, and there came a wistfulness into his voice that
almost startled her. But she put it away scornfully.
"You mean you stole his money to get me!" she retorted,
"I did—you're quite right!" he answered quickly. "And do you
know what became of the money?" he demanded, pausing long enough
to wet his lips, but giving her no time to reply "Well, it bought
the clothes you wore—your hats—your gloves—your jewels. It's
paid for your extravagances—or a part of them. It bought you the
carriage you wanted; your string of pearls too. My soul!" he
cried in a kind of fierce wonderment, "it bought nearly all there
is of you, I think! It bought you, besides—that money did—his,
with a lot more added to it!"
Mrs. Willoughby stared at him confounded—the situation had
become reversed. She found herself impugned and called to defend
when she had thought only to attack. It was a bitter reflection
that he had, all along, hidden his contempt, while she had been
idly picking flaws in him.
"Oh, yes!" he cried, going on; "all you looked for or lived for
was money. I'd heard your father drum it into your head, and I'd
seen the way you took it in!" He threw up his hand with a gesture
of intolerable regret, this man who had been only a
money-grubbing automaton. "I was ashamed, at first, but as you'd
seemed to take a fancy to me, I deluded myself into thinking you
cared. I knew Severance, too. He was clever and shrewd, but
crooked as a fish-hook. At the time he was making love to you,
there was another. But, never mind, I won't talk of that. I saw
you, and it didn't take long to turn my head." He smiled
wistfully, as before. "I'd never seen a woman like you, you know.
I'd been too busy trying to keep alive. But there was this
Severance, and—oh, well, what's the use?" he muttered again
thickly. "You got your money, and I got the woman I loved. Yes, I
got her—my soul!" he protested; "and it's a pretty trial
balance, isn't it, to cast up on a day like this?"
Silenced, she stood and watched him, waiting for the next storm
of his passion. But Willoughby's rage seemed to have burned
itself out. He drifted across the room and reached his hand for
the bell-pull. "Put away that trunk," he ordered quietly, facing
her; "I'm going to run things now. If you're determined to leave
me, you'll have to put it off a while. I'm going to save the boy.
When I'm on my feet again, I'll give you what money you want; but
there shall be no open scandal." Still silent, she was watching
him, when the maid came in answer to the bell. "Help Mrs.
Willoughby with these," he said curtly, denoting the half-packed
trunk; "we're not going away." And in the presence of the servant
she dared make no rejoinder. Later in the day he looked in again;
Mrs. Willoughby and the maid were rearranging the room, and the
trunk had been whisked away. He smiled grimly, and withdrew.
There could be but two results from a conflict like this: she
would either scorn him the more or she would come to respect him.
For days the outcome wavered in the balance. They met at the
table only—she sitting preoccupied, he talking quietly with the
boy. At the week end he brought her a roll of bills. "For the
house money," he said briefly; and when she would not reach out a
hand for it, he dropped it in her lap, and went away. But that
night she entered into the talk at the table, a little quiet,
still repressed, and showing her hurt. Willoughby, quietly
deferential, kept to his part of the conversation exactly as if
nothing ugly had occurred between them. His bantering with his
son was genial and affectionate, and once she thought he tried to
include her in this camaraderie. The few last shreds of her
vanity, however, still waved distressing signals of the hurt, and
she evaded it. But she felt strangely alone, notwithstanding;
with an almost unconquerable self-pity she reflected on the
fair-weather friends that had deserted her. A little sense of
comfort trickled into her heart, though, when she thought of her
boy. HE, at all events, had not been affected by the rumble of
drums that had beaten her out of the worldly camp where once she
had commanded. That night Willoughby looked in at her, while she
sat musing over a book, and when she would not look up at him he
went away again. A more complete sense of her loneliness came
over her as the hours passed in the big, silent house. So she
laid down her book, and went up-stairs to her boy's room.
"Who's there?" he cried, awakening from a doze.
"Just I, Willard. I came up to see whether you were all right."
"Oh, yes, I am!" he answered, a little perplexed; it had not been
often that she had found time from her busy affairs for a visit
like this. The boy took her hand in his and snuggled down in the
pillows. "It's nice to have you, mumsy," he mumbled, comfortably.
Willoughby, coming home the next evening, heard her talking to
the cook. "You mustn't be so wasteful, Annie. Unless you can do
better, I shall have to get some one else." Her voice was
peevish, but to Willoughby it sounded full of inexplicable
melody. Nor when she carried her complaint to him later, at the
dinner-table, was he less affected with a secret joy.
"Harmon—we'd better take a smaller house. I can't do it any
longer on what we have."
"You needn't," he answered lightly; "I can let you have more.
Things are working out better than I expected. Just let me know
what you're short at the end of the week. I can manage it."
That night, too, he came and sat in the room where she was
reading. He said nothing, and picked up another book. But she
knew what he wished, and resolutely steeled herself. The next
night he was there again. "Good night, dear," he said cheerfully,
daring the added word when she arose to go.
"Good night," she answered.
But on the evening following they talked together, each evading
the shoals of past regret, and threading only the safe channels
of the commonplace. "Good night, Stella dear," he said,
unaffectedly, as she picked up her things; and she answered:
"Good night, Harmon."
He came close to her, and looked down into her face. "Stella," he
said, quietly; "Stella, it would make me very happy if you—if I
might—why, kiss you good night."
Mrs. Willoughby gathered up the remainder of her things, and then
slowly shook her head.
"No, we won't talk of that—yet!" she answered, and went away up
the stairs. Willoughby bit his lip, looking silently after her.
"Why, mumsy!" exclaimed the boy, his hand touching his mother's
cheek as she leaned over him. "What's wrong?"
She shook her head vehemently in the dark. "Nothing at all, dear.
You must go to sleep now."
The next day, Willoughby, on his return from down-town, found her
busily superintending the two servants while they cleaned up his
room. It was an unexpected attention on her part. He withdrew
quietly. A little while later, leaning over the balusters, she
saw Willard whispering to him earnestly. "Did she, my boy?" she
heard the man cry under his breath. "Why, now, mumsy must just
have been a little tired. I don't think it was anything else."
Willoughby's smile seemed enough at the moment to reassure almost
At dinner his lightness, good-nature, geniality became
infectious. Even Mrs. Willoughby suffered herself to smile at his
whimsical jollity with the boy. Later there was the little comedy
of the good night; and then they parted again. But Willoughby did
not go out as usual.
It was very late that night when Mrs. Willoughby awoke with the
conviction that some one was in her room. Her first impulse was
to cry out in alarm; then, in terror she lay quiet, peering from
beneath her half-closed lids. Across the lighter background of
the curtained window a figure moved, big and familiar in its
bulk. She knew then, and there seemed a greater reason than ever
why she should remain quiet.
Nor was she wrong in her surmise. A moment later Willoughby
leaned over, and she felt his lips lightly brush her cheek. A
little sigh followed, and then he was gone, tiptoeing cautiously.
Mrs. Willoughby sat up in bed, her face in her hands, and
reflected in the stillness that presages the storm. But
loneliness no longer pained her; the solitude had become suddenly
peopled with vivid, poignant regrets, shouting loudly their
indictment and their appeal.
Then, with the curious informality of a woman's emotion—whether
of grief or of joy, whether of pleasure or of pain—she rocked
down her head to her knees, while through her fingers poured the
scalding tears. Mrs. Willoughby had become sincere at last.