The Lost Road (collection)/Evil to Him Who Evil Thinks
EVIL TO HIM WHO EVIL THINKS
AS a rule, the instant the season closed Aline Proctor sailed on the first steamer for London, where awaited her many friends, both English and American—and to Paris, where she selected those gowns that on and off the stage helped to make her famous. But this particular summer she had spent with the Endicotts at Bar Harbor, and it was at their house Herbert Nelson met her. After Herbert met her very few other men enjoyed that privilege. This was her wish as well as his.
They behaved disgracefully. Every morning after breakfast they disappeared and spent the day at opposite ends of a canoe. She, knowing nothing of a canoe, was happy in stabbing the waters with her paddle while he told her how he loved her and at the same time, with anxious eyes on his own paddle, skilfully frustrated her efforts to drown them both. While the affair lasted it was ideal and beautiful, but unfortunately it lasted only two months.
Then Lord Albany, temporarily in America as honorary attaché to the British embassy, his adoring glances, his accent, and the way he brushed his hair, proved too much for the susceptible heart of Aline, and she chucked Herbert and asked herself how a woman of her age could have seriously considered marrying a youth just out of Harvard! At that time she was a woman of nineteen; but, as she had been before the public ever since she was eleven, the women declared she was not a day under twenty-six; and the men knew she could not possibly be over sixteen!
Aline's own idea of herself was that without some one in love with her she could not exist—that, unless she knew some man cared for her and for her alone, she would wither and die. As a matter of fact, whether any one loved her or not did not in the least interest her. There were several dozen men who could testify to that. They knew! What she really wanted was to be head over ears in love—to adore some one, to worship him, to imagine herself starving for him and making sacrifice hits for him; but when the moment came to make the sacrifice hit and marry the man, she invariably found that a greater, truer love had arisen—for some one else.
This greater and truer love always made her behave abominably to the youth she had just jilted. She wasted no time on post-mortems. She was so eager to show her absolute loyalty to the new monarch that she grudged every thought she ever had given the one she had cast into exile. She resented him bitterly. She could not forgive him for having allowed her to be desperately in love with him. He should have known he was not worthy of such a love as hers. He should have known that the real prince was waiting only just round the corner.
As a rule the rejected ones behaved well. Each decided Aline was much too wonderful a creature for him, and continued to love her cautiously and from a distance. None of them ever spoke or thought ill of her and would gladly have punched any one who did. It was only the women whose young men Aline had temporarily confiscated, and then returned saddened and chastened, who were spiteful. And they dared say no more than that Aline would probably have known her mind better if she had had a mother to look after her. This, coming to the ears of Aline, caused her to reply that a girl who could not keep straight herself, but needed a mother to help her, would not keep straight had she a dozen mothers. As she put it cheerfully, a girl who goes wrong and then pleads "no mother to guide her" is like a jockey who pulls a race and then blames the horse.
Each of the young men Aline rejected married some one else and, except when the name of Aline Proctor in the theatrical advertisements or in electric lights on Broadway gave him a start, forgot that for a month her name and his own had been linked together from Portland to San Francisco. But the girl he married did not forget. She never understood what the public saw in Aline Proctor. That Aline was the queen of musical comedy she attributed to the fact that Aline knew the right people and got herself written about in the right way. But that she could sing, dance, act; that she possessed compelling charm; that she "got across" not only to the tired business man, the wine agent, the college boy, but also to the children and the old ladies, was to her never apparent.
Just as Aline could not forgive the rejected suitor for allowing her to love him, so the girl he married never forgave Aline for having loved her husband. Least of all could Sally Winthrop, who two years after the summer at Bar Harbor married Herbert Nelson, forgive her. And she let Herbert know it. Herbert was properly in love with Sally Winthrop, but he liked to think that his engagement to Aline, though brief and abruptly terminated, had proved him to be a man fatally attractive to all women. And though he was hypnotizing himself into believing that his feeling for Aline had been the grand passion, the truth was that all that kept her in his thoughts was his own vanity. He was not discontented with his lot—his lot being Sally Winthrop, her millions, and her estate of three hundred acres near Westbury. Nor was he still longing for Aline. It was only that his vanity was flattered by the recollection that one of the young women most beloved by the public had once loved him.
"I once was a king in Babylon," he used to misquote to himself, "and she was a Christian slave."
He was as young as that.
Had he been content in secret to assure himself that he once had been a reigning monarch, his vanity would have harmed no one; but, unfortunately, he possessed certain documentary evidence to that fact. And he was sufficiently foolish not to wish to destroy it. The evidence consisted of a dozen photographs he had snapped of Aline during the happy days at Bar Harbor, and on which she had written phrases somewhat exuberant and sentimental.
From these photographs Nelson was loath to part—especially with one that showed Aline seated on a rock that ran into the waters of the harbor, and on which she had written: "As long as this rock lasts!" Each time she was in love Aline believed it would last. That in the past it never had lasted did not discourage her.
What to do with these photographs that so vividly recalled the most tumultuous period of his life Nelson could not decide. If he hid them away and Sally found them, he knew she would make his life miserable. If he died and Sally then found them, when he no longer was able to explain that they meant nothing to him, she would believe he always had loved the other woman, and it would make her miserable. He felt he could not safely keep them in his own house; his vanity did not permit him to burn them, and, accordingly, he decided to unload them on some one else.
The young man to whom he confided his collection was Charles Cochran. Cochran was a charming person from the West. He had studied in the Beaux Arts and on foot had travelled over England and Europe, preparing himself to try his fortune in New York as an architect. He was now in the office of the architects Post & Constant, and lived alone in a tiny farmhouse he had made over for himself near Herbert Nelson, at Westbury, Long Island.
Post & Constant were a fashionable firm and were responsible for many of the French chateaux and English country houses that were rising near Westbury, Hempstead, and Roslyn; and it was Cochran's duty to drive over that territory in his runabout, keep an eye on the contractors, and dissuade clients from grafting mansard roofs on Italian villas. He had built the summer home of the Herbert Nelsons, and Herbert and Charles were very warm friends. Charles was of the same lack of years as was Herbert, of an enthusiastic and sentimental nature; and, like many other young men, the story of his life also was the lovely and much-desired Aline Proctor. It was this coincidence that had made them friends and that had led Herbert to select Charles as the custodian of his treasure. As a custodian and confidant Charles especially appealed to his new friend, because, except upon the stage and in restaurants, Charles had never seen Aline Proctor, did not know her—and considered her so far above him, so unattainable, that he had no wish to seek her out. Unknown, he preferred to worship at a distance. In this determination Herbert strongly encouraged him.
When he turned over the pictures to Charles, Herbert could not resist showing them to him. They were in many ways charming. They presented the queen of musical comedy in several new rôles. In one she was in a sailor suit, giving an imitation of a girl paddling a canoe. In another she was in a riding-habit mounted upon a pony of which she seemed very much afraid.
In some she sat like a siren among the rocks with the waves and seaweed snatching at her feet, and in another she crouched beneath the wheel of Herbert's touring car. All of the photographs were unprofessional and intimate, and the legends scrawled across them were even more intimate.
"'As long as this rock lasts!'" read Herbert. At arm's length he held the picture for Cochran to see, and laughed bitterly and unmirthfully as he had heard leading men laugh in problem plays.
"That is what she wrote," he mocked—"but how long did it last? Until she saw that little red-headed Albany playing polo. That lasted until his mother heard of it. She thought her precious lamb was in the clutches of a designing actress, and made the Foreign Office cable him home. Then Aline took up one of those army aviators, and chucked him for that fellow who painted her portrait, and threw him over for the lawn-tennis champion. Now she's engaged to Chester Griswold, and Heaven pity her! Of course he's the greatest catch in America; but he's a prig and a snob, and he's so generous with his money that he'll give you five pennies for a nickel any time you ask him. He's got a heart like the metre of a taxicab, and he's jealous as a cat. Aline will have a fine time with Chester! I knew him at St. Paul's and at Harvard, and he's got as much red blood in him as an eel!"
Cochran sprang to the defense of the lady of his dreams.
"There must be some good in the man," he protested, "or Miss Proctor——"
"Oh, those solemn snobs," declared Herbert, "impress women by just keeping still. Griswold pretends the reason he doesn't speak to you is because he's too superior, but the real reason is that he knows whenever he opens his mouth he shows he is an ass."
Reluctantly Herbert turned over to Charles the precious pictures. "It would be a sin to destroy them, wouldn't it?" he prompted.
Cochran agreed heartily.
"You might even," suggested Herbert, "leave one or two of them about. You have so many of Aline already that one more wouldn't be noticed. Then when I drop in I could see it." He smiled ingratiatingly.
"But those I have I bought," Cochran pointed out. "Anybody can buy them, but yours are personal. And they're signed."
"No one will notice that but me," protested Herbert. "Just one or two," he coaxed-"stuck round among the others. They'd give me a heap of melancholy pleasure."
Charles shook his head doubtfully.
"Your wife often comes here with you," he said. "I don't believe they'd give her melancholy pleasure. The question is, are you married to Sally or to Aline Proctor?"
"Oh, of course," exclaimed Herbert—"if you refuse!"
With suspicious haste Charles surrendered.
"I don't refuse," he explained; "I only ask if it's wise. Sally knows you were once very fond of Miss Proctor—knows you were engaged to her."
"But," protested Herbert, "Sally sees your photographs of Aline. What difference can a few more make? After she's seen a dozen she gets used to them."
No sooner had Herbert left him than the custodian of the treasure himself selected the photographs he would display. In them the young woman he had—from the front row of the orchestra—so ardently admired appeared in a new light. To Cochran they seemed at once to render her more kindly, more approachable; to show her as she really was, the sort of girl any youth would find it extremely difficult not to love. Cochran found it extremely easy. The photographs gave his imagination all the room it wanted. He believed they also gave him an insight into her real character that was denied to anybody else. He had always credited her with all the virtues; he now endowed her with every charm of mind and body. In a week to the two photographs he had selected from the loan collection for purposes of display and to give Herbert melancholy pleasure he had added three more. In two weeks there were half a dozen. In a month, nobly framed in silver, in leather of red, green, and blue, the entire collection smiled upon him from every part of his bedroom. For he now kept them where no one but himself could see them. No longer was he of a mind to share his borrowed treasure with others—not even with the rightful owner.
Chester Griswold, spurred on by Aline Proctor, who wanted to build a summer home on Long Island, was motoring with Post, of Post & Constant, in the neighborhood of Westbury. Post had pointed out several houses designed by his firm, which he hoped might assist Griswold in making up his mind as to the kind of house he wanted; but none they had seen had satisfied his client.
"What I want is a cheap house," explained the young millionaire. "I don't really want a house at all," he complained. "It's Miss Proctor's idea. When we are married I intend to move into my mother's town house, but Miss Proctor wants one for herself in the country. I've agreed to that; but it must be small and it must be cheap."
"Cheap" was a word that the clients of Post & Constant never used; but Post knew the weaknesses of some of the truly rich, and he knew also that no house ever built cost only what the architect said it would cost.
"I know the very house you want!" he exclaimed. "One of our young men owns it. He made it over from an old farmhouse. It's very well arranged; we've used his ground-plan several times and it works out splendidly. If he's not at home, I'll show you over the place myself. And if you like the house he's the man to build you one."
When they reached Cochran's home he was at Garden City playing golf, but the servant knew Mr. Post, and to him and his client threw open every room in the house.
"Now, this," exclaimed the architect enthusiastically, "is the master's bedroom. In your case it would probably be your wife's room and you would occupy the one adjoining, which Cochran now uses as a guest-room. As you see, they are entirely cut off from——"
Mr. Griswold did not see. Up to that moment he had given every appearance of being both bored and sulky. Now his attention was entirely engaged—but not upon the admirable simplicity of Mr. Cochran's ground-plan, as Mr. Post had hoped. Instead, the eyes of the greatest catch in America were intently regarding a display of photographs that smiled back at him from every corner of the room. Not only did he regard these photographs with a savage glare, but he approached them and carefully studied the inscriptions scrawled across the face of each.
Post himself cast a glance at the nearest photographs, and then hastily manœuvred his client into the hall and closed the door.
"We will now," he exclaimed, "visit the butler's pantry, which opens upon the dining-room and kitchen, thus saving——"
But Griswold did not hear him. Without giving another glance at the house he stamped out of it and, plumping himself down in the motor-car, banged the door. Not until Post had driven him well into New York did he make any comment.
"What did you say," he then demanded, "is the name of the man who owns that last house we saw?"
Post told him.
"I never heard of him!" said Griswold as though he were delivering young Cochran's death sentence. "Who is he?"
"He's an architect in our office," said Post. "We think a lot of him. He'll leave us soon, of course. The best ones always do. His work is very popular. So is he."
"I never heard of him," repeated Griswold. Then, with sudden heat, he added savagely: "But I mean to to-night."
When Griswold had first persuaded Aline Proctor to engage herself to him he had suggested that, to avoid embarrassment, she should tell him the names of the other men to whom she had been engaged.
"What kind of embarrassment would that avoid?"
"If I am talking to a man," said Griswold, "and he knows the woman I'm going to marry was engaged to him and I don't know that, he has me at a disadvantage."
"I don't see that he has," said Aline. "If we suppose, for the sake of argument, that to marry me is desirable, I would say that the man who was going to marry me had the advantage over the one I had declined to marry."
"I want to know who those men are," explained Griswold, "because I want to avoid them. I don't want to talk to them. I don't want even to know them."
"I don't see how I can help you," said Aline. "I haven't the slightest objection to telling you the names of the men I have cared for, if I can remember them, but I certainly do not intend to tell you the name of any man who cared for me enough to ask me to marry him. That's his secret, not mine—certainly not yours."
Griswold thought he was very proud. He really was very vain; and as jealousy is only vanity in its nastiest development he was extremely jealous. So he persisted.
"Will you do this?" he demanded. "If I ever ask you, 'Is that one of the men you cared for?' will you tell me?"
"If you wish it," said Aline; "but I can't see any health in it. It will only make you uncomfortable. So long as you know I have given you the greatest and truest love I am capable of, why should you concern yourself with my mistakes?"
"So that I can avoid meeting what you call your mistakes," said Griswold—"and being friendly with them."
"I assure you," laughed Aline, "it wouldn't hurt you a bit to be as friendly with them as they'd let you. Maybe they weren't as proud of their families as you are, but they made up for that by being a darned sight prouder of me!"
Later, undismayed by this and unashamed, on two occasions Griswold actually did demand of Aline if a genial youth she had just greeted joyfully was one of those for whom she once had cared.
And Aline had replied promptly and truthfully that he was. But in the case of Charles Cochran, Griswold did not ask Aline if he was one of those for whom she once had cared. He considered the affair with Cochran so serious that, in regard to that man, he adopted a different course.
In digging rivals out of the past his jealousy had made him indefatigable, but in all his researches he never had heard the name of Charles Cochran. That fact and the added circumstance that Aline herself never had mentioned the man was in his eyes so suspicious as to be almost a damning evidence of deception. And he argued that if in the past Aline had deceived him as to Charles Cochran she would continue to do so. Accordingly, instead of asking her frankly for the truth he proceeded to lay traps for it. And if there is one thing Truth cannot abide, it is being hunted by traps.
That evening Aline and he were invited to a supper in her honor, and as he drove her from the theatre to the home of their hostess he told her of his search earlier in the day.
The electric light in the limousine showed Aline's face as clearly as though it were held in a spotlight, and as he prepared his trap Griswold regarded her jealously.
"Post tells me," he said, "he has the very man you want for your architect. He's sure you'll find him most understanding and—and—sympathetic. He's a young man who is just coming to the front, and he's very popular, especially with women."
"What's his being popular with women," asked Aline, "got to do with his carrying out my ideas of a house?"
"That's just it," said Griswold—"it's the woman who generally has the most to say as to how her house shall be built, and this man understands woman. I have reasons for believing he will certainly understand you!"
"If he understands me well enough to give me all the linen-closets I want," said Aline, "he will be perfectly satisfactory."
Before delivering his blow Griswold sank back into his corner of the car, drew his hat brim over his forehead, and fixed spying eyes upon the very lovely face of the girl he had asked to marry him.
"His name," he said in fateful tones, "is Charles Cochran!"
It was supposed to be a body blow; but, to his distress, Aline neither started nor turned pale. Neither, for trying to trick her, did she turn upon him in reproof and anger. Instead, with alert eyes, she continued to peer out of the window at the electric-light advertisements and her beloved Broadway.
"Well?" demanded Griswold; his tone was hoarse and heavy with meaning.
"Well what?" asked Aline pleasantly.
"How," demanded Griswold, "do you like Charles Cochran for an architect?"
"How should I know?" asked Aline. "I've not met him yet!"
She had said it! And she had said it without the waver of one of her lovely eyelashes. No wonder the public already hailed her as a finished actress! Griswold felt that his worst fears were justified. She had lied to him. And, as he knew she had never before lied to him, that now she did so proved beyond hope of doubt that the reason for it was vital, imperative, and compelling. But of his suspicions Griswold gave no sign. He would not at once expose her. He had trapped her, but as yet she must not know that. He would wait until he had still further entangled her—until she could not escape; and then, with complete proof of her deceit, he would confront and overwhelm her.
With this amiable purpose in mind he called early the next morning upon Post & Constant and asked to see Mr. Cochran. He wished, he said, to consult him about the new house. Post had not yet reached the office, and of Griswold's visit with Post to his house Cochran was still ignorant. He received Griswold most courteously. He felt that the man who was loved by the girl he also had long and hopelessly worshipped was deserving of the highest consideration. Griswold was less magnanimous. When he found his rival—for as such he beheld him—was of charming manners and gallant appearance he considered that fact an additional injury; but he concealed his resentment, for he was going to trap Cochran, too.
He found the architect at work leaning over a drawing-board, and as they talked Cochran continued to stand. He was in his shirt-sleeves, which were rolled to his shoulders; and the breadth of those shoulders and the muscles of his sunburned arms were much in evidence. Griswold considered it a vulgar exhibition.
For over ten minutes they talked solely of the proposed house, but not once did Griswold expose the fact that he had seen any more of it than any one might see from the public road. When he rose to take his leave he said:
"How would it do if I motored out Sunday and showed your house to Miss Proctor? Sunday is the only day she has off, and if it would not inconvenience you——"
The tender heart of Cochran leaped in wild tumult; he could not conceal his delight, nor did he attempt to do so; and his expression made it entirely unnecessary for him to assure Griswold that such a visit would be entirely welcome and that they might count on finding him at home. As though it were an afterthought, Griswold halted at the door and said:
"I believe you are already acquainted with Miss Proctor."
Cochran, conscious of five years of devotion, found that he was blushing, and longed to strangle himself. Nor was the blush lost upon Griswold.
"I'm sorry," said Cochran, "but I've not had that honor. On the stage, of course——"
He shrugged the broad shoulders deprecatingly, as though to suggest that not to know Miss Proctor as an artist argues oneself unknown.
Griswold pretended to be puzzled. As though endeavoring to recall a past conversation he frowned.
"But Aline," he said, "told me she had met you-met you at Bar Harbor." In the fatal photographs the familiar landfalls of Bar Harbor had been easily recognized.
The young architect shook his head.
"It must be another Cochran," he suggested. "I have never been in Bar Harbor."
With the evidence of the photographs before him this last statement was a verdict of guilty, and Griswold, not with the idea of giving Cochran a last chance to be honest, but to cause him to dig the pit still deeper, continued to lead him on. "Maybe she meant York Harbor?"
Again Cochran shook his head and laughed.
"Believe me," he said, "if I'd ever met Miss Proctor anywhere I wouldn't forget it!"
Ten minutes later Griswold was talking to Aline over the telephone. He intended to force matters. He would show Aline she could neither trifle with nor deceive Chester Griswold; but the thought that he had been deceived was not what most hurt him. What hurt him was to think that Aline had preferred a man who looked like an advertisement for ready-made clothes and who worked in his shirt-sleeves.
Griswold took it for granted that any woman would be glad to marry him. So many had been willing to do so that he was convinced, when one of them was not, it was not because there was anything wrong with him, but because the girl herself lacked taste and perception.
That the others had been in any degree moved by his many millions had never suggested itself. He was convinced each had loved him for himself alone; and if Aline, after meeting him, would still consider any one else, it was evident something was very wrong with Aline. He was determined that she must be chastened—must be brought to a proper appreciation of her good fortune and of his condescension.
On being called to the telephone at ten in the morning, Aline demanded to know what could excuse Griswold for rousing her in the middle of the night!
Griswold replied that, though the day was young, it also was charming; that on Sunday there might be rain; and that if she desired to see the house he and Post thought would most suit her, he and his car would be delighted to convey her to it. They could make the run in an hour, lunch with friends at Westbury, and return in plenty of time for the theatre. Aline was delighted at the sudden interest Griswold was showing in the new house. Without a moment's hesitation she walked into the trap. She would go, she declared, with pleasure. In an hour he should call for her.
Exactly an hour later Post arrived at his office. He went directly to Cochran.
"Charles," he said, "I'm afraid I got you into trouble yesterday. I took a client to see your house. You have often let us do it before; but since I was there last you've made some changes. In your bedroom—" Post stopped.
Cochran's naïve habit of blushing told him it was not necessary to proceed. In tones of rage and mortification Cochran swore explosively; Post was relieved to find he was swearing at himself.
"I ought to be horsewhipped!" roared Cochran. "I'll never forgive myself! Who," he demanded, "saw the pictures? Was it a man or a woman?"
Post laughed unhappily.
"It was Chester Griswold."
A remarkable change came over Cochran. Instead of sobering him, as Post supposed it would, the information made him even more angry—only now his anger was transferred from himself to Griswold.
"The blankety-blank bounder!" yelled Cochran. "That was what he wanted! That's why he came here!"
"Here!" demanded Post.
"Not an hour ago," cried Cochran. "He asked me about Bar Harbor. He saw those pictures were taken at Bar Harbor!"
"I think," said Post soothingly, "he'd a right to ask questions. There were so many pictures, and they were very—well—very!"
"I'd have answered his questions," roared Cochran, "if he'd asked them like a man, but he came snooping down here to spy on me. He tried to trick me. He insulted me! He insulted her!" He emitted a howl of dismay. "And I told him I'd never been to Bar Harbor—that I'd never met Aline Proctor!"
Cochran seized his coat and hat. He shouted to one of the office boys to telephone the garage for his car.
"What are you—where are you going?" demanded Post.
"I'm going home first," cried Cochran, "to put those pictures in a safe, as I should have done three months ago. And then I'm going to find Chester Griswold and tell him he's an ass and a puppy!"
"If you do that," protested Post, "you're likely to lose us a very valuable client."
"And your client," roared Charles, "is likely to lose some very valuable teeth!"
As Charles whirled into the country road in which stood his house he saw drawn up in front of it the long gray car in which, that morning, Chester Griswold had called at the office. Cochran emitted a howl of anger. Was his home again to be invaded? And again while he was absent? To what extreme would Griswold's jealousy next lead him? He fell out of his own car while it still moved, and leaped up the garden walk. The front rooms of the house were empty, but from his bedroom he heard, raised in excited tones, the voice of Griswold. The audacity of the man was so surprising, and his own delight at catching him red-handed so satisfying, that no longer was Cochran angry. The Lord had delivered his enemy into his hands! And, as he advanced toward his bedroom, not only was he calm, but, at the thought of his revenge, distinctly jubilant. In the passageway a frightened maid servant, who, at his unexpected arrival, was now even more frightened, endeavored to give him an explanation; but he waved her into silence, and, striding before her, entered his bedroom.
He found confronting him a tall and beautiful young woman. It was not the Aline Proctor he knew. It was not the well-poised, gracious, and distinguished beauty he had seen gliding among the tables at Sherry's or throwing smiles over the footlights. This Aline Proctor was a very indignant young person, with flashing eyes, tossing head, and a stamping foot. Extended from her at arm's length, she held a photograph of herself in a heavy silver frame; and, as though it were a weapon, she was brandishing it in the face of Chester Griswold. As Cochran, in amazement, halted in the doorway she was exclaiming:
"I told you I didn't know Charles Cochran! I tell you so now! If you can't believe me——"
Out of the corner of her flashing eyes the angry lady caught sight of Cochran in the doorway. She turned upon the intruder as though she meant forcibly to eject him.
"Who are you?" she demanded. Her manner and tone seemed to add: "And what the deuce are you doing here?"
Charles answered her tone.
"I am Charles Cochran," he said. "I live here. This is my house!"
These words had no other effect upon Miss Proctor than to switch her indignation down another track. She now turned upon Charles.
"Then, if this is your house," cried that angry young person, "why have you filled it with photographs of me that belong to some one else?"
Charles saw that his hour had come. His sin had found him out. He felt that to prevaricate would be only stupid.
Griswold had tried devious methods—and look where his devious methods had dumped him! Griswold certainly was in wrong. Charles quickly determined to adopt a course directly opposite. Griswold had shown an utter lack of confidence in Aline. Charles decided that he would give her his entire confidence, would throw himself upon the mercy of the court.
"I have those photographs in my house, Miss Proctor," he said, "because I have admired you a long time. They were more like you than those I could buy. Having them here has helped me a lot, and it hasn't done you any harm. You know very well you have anonymous admirers all over this country. I'm only one of them. If I have offended, I have offended with many, many thousands."
Already it has been related that Cochran was very good to look upon. At the present moment, as he spoke in respectful, even soulful accents, meekly and penitently proclaiming his long-concealed admiration, Miss Proctor found her indignation melting like an icicle in the sun.
Still, she did not hold herself cheaply. She was accustomed to such open flattery. She would not at once capitulate.
"But these pictures," she protested, "I gave to a man I knew. You have no right to them. They are not at all the sort of picture I would give to an utter stranger!" With anxiety the lovely lady paused for a reply. She hoped that the reply the tall young man with appealing eyes would make would be such as to make it possible for her to forgive him.
He was not given time to reply. With a mocking snort Griswold interrupted. Aline and Charles had entirely forgotten him.
"An utter stranger!" mimicked Griswold. "Oh, yes; he's an utter stranger! You're pretty good actors, both of you; but you can't keep that up long, and you'd better stop it now."
"Stop what?" asked Miss Proctor. Her tone was cold and calm, but in her eyes was a strange light. It should have warned Griswold that he would have been safer under the bed.
"Stop pretending!" cried Griswold. "I won't have it!"
"I don't understand," said Miss Proctor. She spoke in the same cold voice, only now it had dropped several degrees nearer freezing. "I don't think you understand yourself. You won't have what?"
Griswold now was frightened, and that made him reckless. Instead of withdrawing he plunged deeper.
"I won't have you two pretending you don't know each other," he blustered. "I won't stand being fooled! If you're going to deceive me before we're married, what will you do after we're married?"
Charles emitted a howl. It was made up of disgust, amazement, and rage. Fiercely he turned upon Miss Proctor.
"Let me have him!" he begged.
"No!" almost shouted Miss Proctor. Her tone was no longer cold—it was volcanic. Her eyes, flashing beautifully, were fixed upon Griswold. She made a gesture as though to sweep Charles out of the room. "Please go!" she demanded. "This does not concern you."
Her tone was one not lightly to be disregarded. Charles disregarded it.
"It does concern me," he said briskly. "Nobody can insult a woman in my house—you, least of all!" He turned upon the greatest catch in America. "Griswold," he said, "I never met this lady until I came into this room; but I know her, understand her, value her better than you'd understand her if you knew her a thousand years!"
Griswold allowed him to go no farther.
"I know this much," he roared: "she was in love with the man who took those photographs, and that man was in love with her! And you're that man!"
"What if I am!" roared back Charles. "Men always have loved her; men always will—because she's a fine, big, wonderful woman! You can't see that, and you never will. You insulted her! Now I'll give you time to apologize for that, and then I'll order you out of this house! And if Miss Proctor is the sort of girl I think she is, she'll order you out of it, too!"
Both men swung toward Miss Proctor. Her eyes were now smiling excitedly. She first turned them upon Charles, blushing most becomingly.
"Miss Proctor," she said, "hopes she is the sort of girl Mr. Cochran thinks she is." She then turned upon the greatest catch in America. "You needn't wait, Chester," she said, "not even to apologize."
Chester Griswold, alone in his car, was driven back to New York. On the way he invented a story to explain why, at the eleventh hour, he had jilted Aline Proctor; but when his thoughts reverted to the young man he had seen working with his sleeves rolled up he decided it would be safer to let Miss Proctor tell of the broken engagement in her own way.
Charles would not consent to drive his fair guest back to New York until she had first honored him with her presence at luncheon. It was served for two, on his veranda, under the climbing honeysuckles. During the luncheon he told her all.
Miss Proctor, in the light of his five years of devotion, magnanimously forgave him.
"Such a pretty house!" she exclaimed as they drove away from it. "When Griswold selected it for our honeymoon he showed his first appreciation of what I really like."
"It is still at your service!" said Charles.
Miss Proctor's eyes smiled with a strange light, but she did not speak. It was a happy ride; but when Charles left her at the door of her apartment-house he regarded sadly and with regret the bundle of retrieved photographs that she carried away.
"What is it?" she asked kindly.
"I'm thinking of going back to those empty frames," said Charles, and blushed deeply. Miss Proctor blushed also. With delighted and guilty eyes she hastily scanned the photographs. Snatching one from the collection, she gave it to him and then ran up the steps.
In the light of the spring sunset the eyes of Charles devoured the photograph of which, at last, he was the rightful owner. On it was written: "As long as this rock lasts!"
As Charles walked to his car his expression was distinctly thoughtful.