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The Trial Balance by Maximilian Foster

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 the theatre.

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 of comparison.

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 eye.

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 regretfully.

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 seats below.

"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, absently.

Mrs. Willoughby, slipping out of her wrap, dropped into a convenient seat.

"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 frown.

"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 afterward."

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 his wife."

"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 was Severance?"

"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 besides——"

"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 that."

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 unctuous phrasing.

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 you?"

Willoughby watched her absorbedly. "I don't know. Why?"

"Oh, I just wanted to find out. It's the night of my dance, you know."

"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 him."

Mrs. Willoughby flounced down among the pillows. "I don't know—at school, I suppose. Aren't you going to your office to-day?"

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 fear.

"HARMON!" At the swift call he looked back at her. "Harmon! Has anything happened?"

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 ruined!"

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 now."

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 conclusions."

"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 excuse yourself."

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 to blame.

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 feet again."

"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 hand."

She looked up from her packing. "What do you say?" she demanded, with a rekindled interest, and at the sight of it his eyes lightened.

"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, unequivocally.

"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 any one.

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.