The last two days of the voyage
Bartley found almost intolerable.
The stop at Queenstown, the tedious
passage up the Mersey, were things
that he noted dimly through his
growing impatience. He had planned
to stop in Liverpool; but, instead,
he took the boat
train for London.
Euston at half-past three o'clock
in the afternoon,
Alexander had his luggage sent
to the Savoy and drove at once
to Bedford Square. When Marie
met him at the door, even her
strong sense of the proprieties
could not restrain her surprise
and delight. She blushed and
smiled and fumbled his card in
her confusion before she ran
upstairs. Alexander paced up
and down the hallway, buttoning
and unbuttoning his overcoat,
until she returned and took him
up to Hilda's living-room. The
room was empty when he entered.
A coal fire was crackling in
the grate and the lamps were
lit, for it was already beginning
to grow dark outside. Alexander
did not sit down. He stood his
ground over by the windows until
Hilda came in. She called his
name on the threshold, but in
her swift flight across the room
she felt a change in him and
caught herself up so deftly that
he could not tell just when she
did it. She merely brushed his
cheek with her lips and put a
hand lightly and joyously on
either shoulder. "Oh, what a
grand thing to happen on a raw
day! I felt it in my bones when
I woke this morning that something
splendid was going to turn up.
I thought it might be Sister
Kate or Cousin Mike would be
happening along. I never dreamed
it would be you, Bartley. But
why do you let me chatter on
like this? Come over to the fire;
you're chilled through."
She pushed him toward the big
chair by the fire, and sat down
on a stool at the opposite side
of the hearth, her knees drawn
up to her chin, laughing like
a happy little girl.
"When did you
come, Bartley, and how did
it happen? You haven't
spoken a word."
"I got in about
ten minutes ago. I landed at
morning and came down on the
Alexander leaned forward and
warmed his hands before the blaze.
Hilda watched him with perplexity.
troubling you, Bartley. What
lower over the fire. "It's
the whole thing that troubles
me, Hilda. You and I."
Hilda took a quick, soft breath.
She looked at his heavy shoulders
and big, determined head, thrust
forward like a catapult in leash.
"What about us, Bartley?" she
asked in a thin voice.
He locked and unlocked his
hands over the grate and spread
his fingers close to the bluish
flame, while the coals crackled
and the clock ticked and a street
vendor began to call under the
window. At last Alexander brought
out one word:--
Hilda was pale by this time,
and her eyes were wide with fright.
She looked about desperately
from Bartley to the door, then
to the windows, and back again
to Bartley. She rose uncertainly,
touched his hair with her hand,
then sank back upon her stool.
"I'll do anything you wish
me to, Bartley," she said tremulously. "I
can't stand seeing you miserable."
"I can't live with myself any
longer," he answered roughly.
He rose and pushed the chair
behind him and began to walk
miserably about the room, seeming
to find it too small for him.
He pulled up a window as if the
air were heavy.
Hilda watched him from her
corner, trembling and scarcely
breathing, dark shadows growing
about her eyes.
"It . . . it hasn't always
made you miserable, has it?" Her
eyelids fell and her lips quivered.
it's worse now. It's unbearable.
me every minute."
"But why NOW?" she
asked piteously, wringing her
her question. "I
am not a man who can live two
lives," he went on feverishly. "Each
life spoils the other. I get
nothing but misery out of either.
The world is all there, just
as it used to be, but I can't
get at it any more. There is
this deception between me and
At that word "deception," spoken
with such self-contempt, the
color flashed back into Hilda's
face as suddenly as if she had
been struck by a whiplash. She
bit her lip and looked down at
her hands, which were clasped
tightly in front of her.
you sit down and talk about
it quietly, Bartley,
as if I were a friend, and not
some one who had to be defied?"
back heavily into his chair
by the fire. "It was
myself I was defying, Hilda.
I have thought about it until
I am worn out."
He looked at her and his haggard
face softened. He put out his
hand toward her as he looked
away again into the fire.
She crept across
to him, drawing her stool after
her. "When did
you first begin to feel like
very first. The first was--
sort of in play,
quivered, but she whispered: "Yes,
I think it must have been.
But why didn't
you tell me when you were here
in the summer?"
Alexander groaned. "I
meant to, but somehow I couldn't.
had only a few days, and your
new play was just on, and you
were so happy."
"Yes, I was happy, wasn't I?" She
pressed his hand gently in gratitude. "Weren't
you happy then, at all?"
She closed her eyes and took
a deep breath, as if to draw
in again the fragrance of those
days. Something of their troubling
sweetness came back to Alexander,
too. He moved uneasily and his
"Yes, I was
then. You know. But afterward.
"Yes, yes," she hurried, pulling
her hand gently away from him.
Presently it stole back to his
coat sleeve. "Please tell me
one thing, Bartley. At least,
tell me that you believe I thought
I was making you happy."
His hand shut
down quickly over the questioning
on his sleeves. "Yes, Hilda;
I know that," he said simply.
She leaned her head against
his arm and spoke softly:--
"You see, my
mistake was in wanting you
to have everything.
I wanted you to eat all the cakes
and have them, too. I somehow
believed that I could take all
the bad consequences for you.
I wanted you always to be happy
and handsome and successful--to
have all the things that a great
man ought to have, and, once
in a way, the careless holidays
that great men are not permitted."
Bartley gave a bitter little
laugh, and Hilda looked up and
read in the deepening lines of
his face that youth and Bartley
would not much longer struggle
"I understand, Bartley. I was
wrong. But I didn't know. You've
only to tell me now. What must
I do that I've not done, or what
must I not do?" She listened
intently, but she heard nothing
but the creaking of his chair. "You
want me to say it?" she whispered. "You
want to tell me that you can
only see me like this, as old
friends do, or out in the world
among people? I can do that."
"I can't," he
and sat still. Bartley leaned
his head in his
hands and spoke through his teeth. "It's
got to be a clean break, Hilda.
I can't see you at all, anywhere.
What I mean is that I want you
to promise never to see me again,
no matter how often I come, no
matter how hard I beg."
Hilda sprang up like a flame.
She stood over him with her hands
clenched at her side, her body
"No!" she gasped. "It's
too late to ask that. Do you
me, Bartley? It's too late. I
won't promise. It's abominable
of you to ask me. Keep away if
you wish; when have I ever followed
you? But, if you come to me,
I'll do as I see fit. The shamefulness
of your asking me to do that!
If you come to me, I'll do as
I see fit. Do you understand?
Bartley, you're cowardly!"
and shook himself angrily. "Yes, I know I'm cowardly.
I'm afraid of myself. I don't
trust myself any more. I carried
it all lightly enough at first,
but now I don't dare trifle with
it. It's getting the better of
me. It's different now. I'm growing
older, and you've got my young
self here with you. It's through
him that I've come to wish for
you all and all the time." He
took her roughly in his arms. "Do
you know what I mean?"
her face back from him and
began to cry bitterly. "Oh,
Bartley, what am I to do? Why
didn't you let me be angry with
you? You ask me to stay away
from you because you want me!
And I've got nobody but you.
I will do anything you say--but
that! I will ask the least imaginable,
but I must have SOMETHING!"
Bartley turned away and sank
down in his chair again. Hilda
sat on the arm of it and put
her hands lightly on his shoulders.
"Just something Bartley. I
must have you to think of through
the months and months of loneliness.
I must see you. I must know about
you. The sight of you, Bartley,
to see you living and happy and
successful--can I never make
you understand what that means
to me?" She pressed his shoulders
gently. "You see, loving some
one as I love you makes the whole
world different. If I'd met you
later, if I hadn't loved you
so well-- but that's all over,
long ago. Then came all those
years without you, lonely and
hurt and discouraged; those decent
young fellows and poor Mac, and
me never heeding--hard as a steel
spring. And then you came back,
not caring very much, but it
made no difference."
She slid to the floor beside
him, as if she were too tired
to sit up any longer. Bartley
bent over and took her in his
arms, kissing her mouth and her
wet, tired eyes.
"Don't cry, don't cry," he
whispered. "We've tortured each
other enough for tonight. Forget
everything except that I am here."
"I think I have forgotten everything
but that already," she murmured. "Ah,
your dear arms!"