Michael O'Halloran by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter VI. The Song of a Bird
"Leslie," said the voice of Mrs. James Minturn over the telephone, "is there any particular time of the day when that bird of yours sings better than at another?"
"Morning, Mrs. Minturn; five, the latest. At that time one hears the full chorus, and sees the perfect beauty. Really, I wouldn't ask you, if I were not sure, positively sure, that you'd find the trip worth while."
"I'll be ready in the morning, but that's an unearthly hour!" came the protest.
"It is almost unearthly sights and sounds to which you are going," answered Leslie. "And be sure you wear suitable clothing."
"What do you call suitable clothing?"
"High heavy shoes," said Leslie, "short stout skirts."
"As if I had such things!" laughed Mrs. Minturn.
"Let me send you something of mine," offered Leslie. "I've enough for two."
"You're not figuring on really going in one of those awful places, are you?" questioned Mrs. Minturn.
"Surely!" cried Leslie. "The birds won't sing to an automobile. And you wouldn't miss seeing such flowers on their stems as you saw at Lowry's for any money. It will be something to tell your friends about."
"Send what I should have. I'd ride a llama through a sea of champagne for a new experience."
Mrs. Minturn turned from the telephone with a contemptuous sneer on her face; but Leslie's gay laugh persisted in her ears. Restlessly she moved through her rooms thinking what she might do to divert herself, and shrinking from all the tiresome things she had been doing for years until there was not a drop of the fresh juice of life to be extracted from them.
"I'm going to take a bath, go to bed early and see if I can sleep," she muttered. "I don't know what it is that James is contemplating, but his face haunts me. Really, if he doesn't be more civil, and stop his morose glowering when I do see him, I'll put him or myself where we won't come in contact. He makes it plain every day that he blames me about Elizabeth. Why should he? He couldn't possibly know of the call of that wild-eyed reformer. So unfortunate that she should come just at that time too! Of course hundreds of children die from spoiled milk every summer, the rich as well as the poor. I'll never get over regretting that I didn't finish what I started to do; but I'd scarcely touched her in her life. She always was so pink and warm, and that awful whiteness chilled me to the soul. I wish I had driven, forced myself! Then I could defy James with more spirit. That's what I lack--spirit! Maybe this trip to the swamp will steady my nerves! Something must be done soon, and I believe, actually I believe he is thinking of doing it! Pooh! What could he do? There isn't an irregularity in my life he can lay his fingers on!"
She rang for her maid and cancelling two engagements for the evening, went to bed, but not to sleep. When she was called early in the morning, she gladly arose, and was dressed in Leslie Winton's short skirts, a waist of khaki, and high shoes near enough her size to be comfortable. Her bath had refreshed her, a cup of hot coffee stimulated her, and despite the lack of sleep she felt better than she had that spring as she went down to the car. On the threshold she met her husband. Evidently he had been out all night on strenuous business. His face was haggard, his eyes bloodshot, while in both hands he gripped a small, square paper-wrapped package. They looked at each other a second that seemed long to both, then the woman laughed.
"Evidently an accounting is expected," she said. "Leslie Winton at the door and the roll of music I carry should be sufficient to prove why I am going out at this hour. You heard us make the arrangement. Thank Heaven I've no interest in knowing where you have been, or what your precious package contains."
His expression and condition frightened her.
"For the weight of a straw overbalance," he said, "only for a hint that you have a soul, I'd freeze it for all time with the contents of this package."
"A threat? You to me?" she cried in amazement.
"Verily, Madam," he said. "I wish you all the joy of the birds and flowers this morning."
"You've gone mad!" she cried.
"Contrarily, I have come to my senses after years of insanity," he said. "I will see you when you return."
She stood bewildered, watching him go down the hall and enter his library. That and his sleeping room were the only places in the house sacred to him. No one entered, no one, not even the incorrigible children, touched anything there. She slowly went to the car, trying to rally to Leslie's greeting, struggling to fix her mind on anything pointed out to her as something she might enjoy.
At last she said: "I don't know what is the matter with me Leslie. James is planning something, I haven't an idea what; but his grim, reproachful face is slowly driving me wild. I'm getting so I can't sleep. You saw him come home as I left. He talked positively crazy, as if he had the crack of doom in his hands and were prepared to crack it. He said he 'would see me when I came back.' Indeed he will--to his sorrow! He will be as he used to be, or we will separate. The idea, with scarcely a cent to his name, of him undertaking to dictate to me, to me! Do you blame me Leslie? You heard him the other day! You know how he insulted me!"
Leslie leaned forward, laying a firm hand in a grip on Mrs. Minturn's arm.
"Since you ask me," she said, "I will answer. If you find life with Mr. Minturn insufferable, an agony to both of you, I would separate, and speedily. If it has come to the place where you can't see each other or speak without falling into unpleasantness, then I'd keep apart."
"That is exactly the case!" cried Mrs. Minturn. "Oh Leslie, I am so glad you agree with me!"
"But I haven't finished," said Leslie, "you interrupted me in the middle. If you are absolutely sure you can't go on peaceably, I would stop; but if I once had loved a man enough to give my life and my happiness into his keeping, to make him the father of my children, I would not separate from him, until I had exhausted every resource, to see if I couldn't in some possible way end with credit."
"If you had been through what I have," said Mrs. Minturn, "you wouldn't endure it any longer."
"Perhaps," said Leslie. "But you see dear Mrs. Minturn, I am handicapped by not knowing what you have been through. To your world you appear to be a woman of great wealth, who does exactly as she pleases and pays her own bills. You seem to have unlimited money, power, position, leisure for anything you fancy. I'll wager you don't know the names of half the servants in your house; a skillful housekeeper takes the responsibility off your hands. You never are seen in public with your children; competent nurses care for them. You don't appear with your husband any more; yet he is a man of fine brain, unimpeachable character, who handles big affairs for other men, and father says he believes his bank account would surprise you. He has been in business for years; surely all he makes doesn't go to other men."
"You know I never thought of that!" cried Mrs. Minturn. "He had nothing to begin on and I've always kept our establishment; he's never paid for more than his clothing. Do you suppose that he has made money?"
"I know that he has!" said Leslie. "Not so fast as he might! Not so much as he could, for he is incorruptible; but money, yes! He is a powerful man, not only in the city, but all over the state. Some of these days you're going to wake up to find him a Senator, or Governor. You seem to be the only person who doesn't know it, or who doesn't care if you do. But when it comes about, as it will, you'll be so proud of him! Dear Mrs. Minturn, please, please go slowly! Don't, oh don't let anything happen that will make a big regret for both."
"Leslie, where did you get all this?" asked Mrs. Minturn in tones of mingled interest and surprise.
"From my father!" answered Leslie. "And from Douglas Bruce. Douglas' office is across the hall from Mr. Minturn's; they meet daily, and from the first they have been friends. Mr. Minturn took Douglas to his clubs, introduced him and helped him into business, so often they work together. Why only yesterday Douglas came to me filled with delight. Mr. Minturn secured an appointment for him to make an investigation for the city which will be a great help to Douglas. It will bring him in contact with prominent men, give him big work and a sample of how mercenary I am--it will bring him big pay and he knows how to use the money in a big way. Douglas knows Mr. Minturn so well, and respects him so highly, yet no one can know him as you do----"
"That is quite true! I live with him! I know the real man!" cried Mrs. Minturn.
"How mean of you!" laughed Leslie, "to distort my reasoning like that! I don't ask you to think up all the little things that have massed into one big grievance against him; I mean stop that for to-day, out here in the country where everything is so lovely, and go back where I am."
"He surely has an advocate! Leslie, when did you start making an especial study of Mr. Minturn?"
"When Douglas Bruce began speaking to me so frequently of him!" answered Leslie. "Then I commenced to watch him and to listen to what people were saying about him, and to ask Daddy."
"It's very funny that every one seems so well informed and so enthusiastic just at the time when I feel that life is unendurable with him," said Mrs. Minturn. "I can't understand it!"
"Mrs. Minturn, try, oh do try to get my viewpoint before you do anything irreparable," begged Leslie. "Away up here in the woods let's think it out! Let's discuss James Minturn in every phase of his nature and see if the big manly part doesn't far outweigh the little irritations. Let's see if you can't possibly go to the meeting he wants when we return with a balance struck in his favour. A divorced woman is always--well, it's disagreeable. Alone you'd feel stranded. Attempt marrying again, where would you find a man with half the points that count for good, to replace him? In after years when your children realize the man he is, how are you going to explain to them why you couldn't live with him?"
"From your rush of words, it is evident you have your arguments at hand," said Mrs. Minturn. "You've been thinking more about my affairs than I ever did. You bring up points I never have thought of; you make me see things that would not have occurred to me; yet as you put them, they have awful force. You haven't exactly said it, but what you mean is that you believe me in the wrong; so do all my friends. All of you sympathize with Mr. Minturn! All of you think him a big man worthy of every consideration and me deserving none."
"You're putting that too strong," retorted Leslie. "You are right about Mr. Minturn; but I won't admit that I find you 'worthy of no consideration at all,' or I wouldn't be imploring you to give yourself a chance at happiness."
"'Give myself a chance at happiness!'"
"Dear Mrs. Minturn, yes!" said Leslie. "All your life, so far, you have lived absolutely for yourself; for your personal pleasure. Has happiness resulted?"
"Happiness?" cried Mrs. Minturn in amazement. "You little fool! With my husband practically a madman, my children incorrigible, my nerves on edge until I can't sleep, because one thought comes over and over."
"Well you achieved it in society!" said Leslie. "It's the result of doing exactly what you wanted to! You can't say James Minturn was to blame for what you had the money and the desire to do. You can't think your babies would have preferred their mother to the nurses and governesses they have had----"
"If you say another word about that I'll jump from the car and break my neck," threatened Mrs. Minturn. "No one sympathizes with me!"
"That is untrue," said Leslie. "I care, or I wouldn't be doing what I am now. And as for sympathy, I haven't a doubt but every woman of your especial set will weep tears of condolence with you, if you'll tell them what you have me. There is Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Farley, and a dozen women among your dearest friends who have divorced their husbands, and are free lances or remarried; you can have friends enough to suit you in any event."
"Fools! Shallow-pated fools!" cried Mrs. Minturn. "They never read anything! Their idea of any art would convulse you! They don't know a note of real music!"
"But they are your best friends," interposed Leslie. "What then is their attraction?"
"I am sure I don't know!" said Mrs. Minturn. "I suppose it's unlimited means to follow any fad or fancy, to live extravagantly as they choose, to dress faultlessly as they have taste, freedom to go as they please! Oh they do have a good time!"
"Are you sure that they didn't go through the same 'good time' you are having right now, before they lost the men they loved and married, and then became mothers who later deliberately orphaned their own children?"
"Leslie, for God's sake where did you learn it?" cried Mrs. Minturn. "How can you hit like that? You make me feel like a--like a----! Oh Lord!"
"Don't let's talk any more, Mrs. Minturn," suggested Leslie. "You know what all refined, home-loving people think. You know society and what it has to offer. You're making yourself unhappy, while I am helping you, but if some one doesn't stop you, you may lose the love of a good man, the respect of the people worth while, and later of your own children! See, here is the swamp and this is as close as we can go with the car."
"Is this where you found the flowers for your basket?"
"Yes," said Leslie.
"No snakes, no quicksands?"
"Snakes don't like this kind of moss," answered Leslie; "this is an old lake bed grown up with tamaracks and the bog of a thousand years."
"Looks as if ten thousand might come closer!"
"Where you ever in such a place?" asked Leslie.
"Never!" said Mrs. Minturn.
"Well to do this to perfection," said Leslie, "we should go far enough for you to see the home life of our rarest wild flowers and to get the music full effect. We must look for a high place to spread this waterproof sheet I have brought along, then nestle down and keep still. The birds will see us going in, but if we make ourselves inconspicuous, they will soon forget us. Have you the score?"
"Yes," answered Mrs. Minturn. "Go ahead!"
Leslie had not expected Mrs. Minturn's calm tones and placid acceptance of the swamp. The girl sent one searching look the woman's way, then came enlightenment. This was a stunt. Mrs. Minturn had been doing stunts in the hope of new sensations all her life. What others could do, she could, if she chose; in this instance she chose to penetrate a tamarack swamp at six o'clock in the morning, to listen to the notes of a bird.
"I'll select the highest places and go as nearly where we were as I can," said Leslie. "If you step in my tracks you'll be all right."
"Why, you're not afraid, are you?" asked Mrs. Minturn.
"Not in the least," said Leslie. "Are you?"
"No!" said Mrs. Minturn. "One strikes almost everything motoring through the country, in the mountains or at sea, and travelling. This looks interesting. How deep could one sink anyway?"
"Deeply enough to satisfy you," laughed Leslie. "Come quietly now!"
Grasping the score she carried, Mrs. Minturn unconcernedly plunged after Leslie. Purposely the girl went slowly, stooping beneath branches, skirting too wet places, slipping over the high hummocks, turning to indicate by gesture a moss bed, a flower, or glancing upward to try to catch a glimpse of some entrancing musician.
Once Leslie turned to look back and saw Mrs. Minturn on her knees separating the silvery green moss heads and thrusting her hand deeply to learn the length of the roots. She noticed the lady's absorbed face, and the wet patches spreading around her knees. Leslie fancied she could see Mrs. Minturn entering the next gathering of her friends, smiling faintly and crying: "Dear people, I've had a perfectly new experience!" She could hear every tone of Mrs. Minturn's voice saying: "Ferns as luxuriant as anything in Florida! Moss beds several feet deep. A hundred birds singing, and all before sunrise, my dears!" When Mrs. Minturn arose Leslie went forward slowly until she reached the moccasin flowers, but remembering, she did not stop. The woman did. She stooped and Leslie winced as she snapped one to examine it critically. She held it up in the gray light, turning it.
"Did you ever see--little Elizabeth?" she asked.
"Yes," said Leslie.
"Do you think----?" She stopped abruptly.
"That one is too deep," said Leslie. "The colour he saw was on a freshly opened one like that."
She pointed to a paler moccasin of exquisite pink with red lavender veining. Mrs. Minturn assented.
"He can't forget anything," she said, "or let any one else. He always will keep harping."
"We were peculiarly unfortunate that day," said Leslie. "He really had no intention of saying anything, if he hadn't been forced."
"Oh he doesn't require forcing," said Mrs. Minturn. "He's always at the overflow point about her."
"Perhaps he was very fond of her," suggested Leslie.
"He was perfectly foolish about her," said Mrs. Minturn impatiently. "I lost a nurse or two through his interference. When I got such a treasure as Lucette I just told her to take complete charge, make him attend his own affairs, and not try being a nursery maid. It really isn't done these days!"
Leslie closed her lips, moving forward until she reached the space where the ragged boys and the fringed girls floated their white banners, where lacy yellow and lavender blooms caressed each other, there on the highest place she could select, across a moss-covered log, she spread the waterproof sheet, and seating herself, motioned Mrs. Minturn to do the same. She reached for the music and opening it ran over the score. Her finger paused on the notes she had whistled, while with eager face she sat waiting.
Mrs. Minturn dropped into an attitude of tense listening. The sun began dissipating the gray mists and heightening the exquisite tints on all sides. Every green imaginable was there from palest silver to the deepest, darkest shades; all dew wet, rankly growing, gold tinted and showing clearer each minute. Gradually Mrs. Minturn relaxed, made herself comfortable as possible, then turned to the orchids of the open space. The colour flushed and faded on her tired face, she nervously rolled the moccasin stem in her fingers, or looked long at the delicate flower. She was thinking so intently that Leslie saw she was neither seeing the swamp, nor hearing the birds.
It was then that a little gray singer straying through the tamaracks sent a wireless to his mate in the bushes of borderland, in which he wished to convey to her all there was in his heart about the wonders of spring, the joy of mating, the love of her, and their nest. He waited a second, then tucking his tail, swelled his throat, and made sure he had done his best.
At the first measure, Leslie thrust the sheet before Mrs. Minturn, pointing to the place. Instantly the woman scanned the score, then leaned forward listening. As the bird flew, Leslie faced Mrs. Minturn with questioning eyes. She cried softly: "He did it! Perfectly! If I hadn't heard I never would have believed."
"There is another that can do this from Verdi's Traviata." Leslie whistled the notes. "We may hear him also."
Again they waited. Leslie realized that Mrs. Minturn was not listening, and would have to be recalled if the bird sang. Leslie sat silent. The same bird sang, and others, but to the girl had come the intuition that Mrs. Minturn was having her hour in the garden, so wisely she remained silent. After an interminable time she arose, making her way forward as far as she could penetrate and still see the figure of the woman, then hunting an old stump, climbed upon it and did some thinking herself.
At last she returned to the motionless figure. Mrs. Minturn was leaning against the tamarack's scraggy trunk, her head resting on a branch, lightly sleeping. A rivulet staining her cheeks from each eye showed where slow tears had slipped from under her closed lids. Leslie's heart ached with pity. She thought she never had seen any one seem so sad, so alone, so punished for sins of inheritance and rearing. She sat beside Mrs. Minturn, waiting until she awakened.
"Why I must have fallen asleep!" she cried.
"For a minute," said Leslie.
"But I feel as if I had rested soundly a whole night," said Mrs. Minturn. "I'm so refreshed. And there goes that bird again. Verdi to take his notes! Who ever would have thought of it? Leslie, did you bring any lunch? I'm famished."
"We must go back to the car," said Leslie.
They spread the waterproof sheet on the ground where it would be bordered with daintily traced partridge berry, and white-lined plantain leaves, and sitting on it ate their lunch. Leslie did what she could to interest Mrs. Minturn and cheer her, but at last that lady said: "Thank you dear, you are very good to me; but you can't entertain me to-day. Some other time we'll come back and bring the scores you suggest, and see what we can really hear from these birds. But to-day, I've got the battle of my life to fight. Something is coming; I should be in a measure prepared, and as I don't know what to expect, it takes all the brains I have to figure things out."
"You don't know, Mrs. Minturn?" asked Leslie.
"No," she said wearily. "I know James hates the life I lead; he thinks my time wasted. I know he's a disappointed man, because he thought when he married me he could cut me out of everything worth while in the world, and set me to waiting on him, and nursing his children. Every single thing I have done since, or wanted or had, has been a disappointment to him. I know now he never would have married me, if he hadn't figured he was going to make me over; shape me and my life to suit his whims, and throw away my money to please his fancies. He's been utterly discontented since Elizabeth was born. Why Leslie, we haven't lived together since then. He said if I were going to persist in bringing 'orphans' into the world, babies I wouldn't mother myself, or wouldn't allow him to father, there would be no more children. I laughed at him, because I didn't think he meant it; but he did, so that ended even a semblance of content. Half the time I don't know where he is, or what he is doing; he seldom knows where I am; if we appear together it is accidental; I thought I had my mind made up to leave him, and soon; but what you say, coupled with doubts I had myself, have set me to thinking, till I don't know. I hate a scandal. You know how careful I always have been. All my closest friends have jeered me for a prude; there isn't a flaw he can find, there has been none!"
"Certainly not," said Leslie. "Every one knows that."
"Leslie, you don't know, do you?" asked Mrs. Minturn. "He didn't say anything to Bruce, did he?"
"You want an honest answer?" questioned Leslie.
"Of course I do!" cried Mrs. Minturn.
"Douglas did tell me in connection with Mr. Minturn joining the Brotherhood and taking a gamin from the streets into his office, that he said he was scarcely allowed to see his own sons, not to exercise the slightest control, so he was going to try his theories on a Little Brother. But Douglas wouldn't mention it, only to me, and of course I wouldn't repeat it to any one. Mr. Minturn seemed to feel that Douglas thought it peculiar for a man having sons, to take so much pains with a newsboy; they're great friends, so he said that much to Bruce."
"'He said that much----'" scoffed Mrs. Minturn.
"Well, even so, that is very little compared with what you've said about him to me," retorted Leslie. "You shouldn't complain on that score."
"I suppose, in your eyes, I shouldn't complain about anything," said Mrs. Minturn.
"A world of things, Mrs. Minturn, but not the ones you do," said Leslie.
"Oh!" cried Mrs. Minturn.
"I think your grievance is that you were born in, and reared for, society," said Leslie, "and in your extremity it has failed you. I believe I can give you more help to-day than any woman of your age and intimate association."
"That's true Leslie, quite true!" exclaimed Mrs. Minturn eagerly. "And I need help! Oh I do!"
"You poor soul, you!" comforted Leslie. "Turn where you belong! Turn to your own blood!"
"My mother would jeer me for a weakling," said Mrs. Minturn. "She has urged me to divorce James, ever since Elizabeth was born."
"I didn't mean your mother," said Leslie. "I meant closer relatives, I meant your husband and sons."
"My husband would probably tell me he had lost all respect for me, while my sons would very likely pull my hair and kick my shins if I knelt to them for sympathy," said Mrs. Minturn. "They are perfect little animals."
"Oh Mrs. Minturn!" cried Leslie amazed. "Then you simply must take them in charge and save them; they are so fine looking, while you're their mother, you are!"
"It means giving up life as I have known it always, just about everything!" said Mrs. Minturn.
"Look at yourself now!" said Leslie. "I should think you would be glad to give up your present state."
"Leslie, do you think it wrong to gather those orchids?"
"I think it unpardonable sin to exterminate them," answered Leslie. "If you have any reason for wanting a few, and merely gather the flowers, leaving the roots to spread and bloom another year, I should say take them."
"Will you wait in the car until I go back?" she asked.
"But I wish to be alone," said Mrs. Minturn.
"You're not afraid? You won't become lost?"
"I am not afraid, and I will not lose myself," said Mrs. Minturn. "Must I hurry?"
"Take all the time you want," said Leslie.
It was mid-afternoon when she returned, her hands filled with a dripping moss ball in which she had embedded the stems of a mass of feathery pink- fringed orchids. Her face was flushed with tears, but her eyes were bright, her step quick and alert.
"Leslie, what do you think I am going to do?" she cried. Then without awaiting a reply: "I'm going to ask James to go with me to take these to Elizabeth, to beg him to forgive my neglect of her; to pledge the rest of my life to him and the boys."
Leslie caught Mrs. Minturn in her arms. "Oh you darling!" she exulted. "Oh you brave, wonderful girl!"
"After all, it's no more than fair," Mrs. Minturn said. "I have had everything my way since we were married. And I did love James. He's the only man I have ever really wanted. Leslie, he will forgive me and start over, won't he?"
"He'll be at your feet!" cried Leslie.
"Fortunately, I have decided to be at his," said Mrs. Minturn. "I've reached the place where I will even wipe James Jr.'s nose and dress Malcolm, and fix James' studs if it will help me to sleep, and have only a tinge of what you seem to be running over with. Leslie, you are the most joyous soul!"
"You see, I never had to think about myself," said Leslie. "Daddy always thought for me, so there was nothing left for me to spend my time and thought on but him. It was a beautiful arrangement."
"Leslie, this is your car, but won't you dear, drive fast!" begged Mrs. Minturn.
"Of course Nellie!" exclaimed the girl.
"Leslie, will you stand by me, and show me the way, all you can?" asked Mrs. Minturn anxiously. "I'll lose every friend I have got; my house must be torn down and built up from the basement on a new system, as to management; and I haven't an idea how to do it. Oh, I hope James can help me."
"You may be sure James will know and can help you," comforted Leslie. "You'll be leaving for the seashore in a few days; install a complete new retinue, and begin all fresh. Half the servants you keep, really interested in their work, would make you far more comfortable than you are now."
"Yes, I think that too!" agreed Mrs. Minturn eagerly. "Some way I feel as if I were turning against Lucette. I never want to see her again, after I tell her to go; not that I know what I shall do without her. The boys will probably burn down the house, and where I'll find a woman who will tolerate them, I don't know."
"Employ a man until you get control," suggested Leslie. "They are both old enough; hire a man, and explain all you want to him. They'd be afraid of a man."
"Afraid!" cried Mrs. Minturn. "They are afraid of Lucette! I can't understand it. I wonder if James----"
"Poor James!" laughed Leslie. "Honestly Nellie, don't impose too much of your--your work on him. Undertake it yourself. Show him what a woman you are."
"Great Heavens, Leslie, you don't know what you are saying!" cried Mrs. Minturn. "My only hope lies in deceiving him. If I showed him the woman I am, as I saw myself back there in that swamp an hour ago, he'd take one look, and strangle me for the public good."
"How ridiculous!" exclaimed Leslie. "Why must a woman always rush from one extreme to the other? Choose a middle course and keep it."
"That's what I am telling you I must do," said Mrs. Minturn. "Leslie, it is wonderful how I feel. I'm almost flying. Do you honestly think it is possible that there is going to be something new, something interesting, something really worth while in the world for me?"
"I know it," said Leslie. "Such interest, such novelty, such joy as you never have experienced!"
With that hope in her heart, her eyes filled with excitement, Nellie Minturn rang her bell, ran past her footman and hurried up the stairs. She laid her flowers on a table, summoned her maid, then began throwing off her hat and outer clothing.
"Do you know if Mr. Minturn is here?"
"Yes. He----" began the maid.
"Never mind what 'he.' Get out the prettiest, simplest dress I own, and the most becoming," she ordered. "Be quick! Can't you see I'm in a hurry?"
"Mrs. Minturn, I think you will thank me for telling you there is an awful row in the library," said the maid.
"'An awful row?'" Mrs. Minturn paused.
"Yes. I think they are killing Lucette," explained the maid. "She's shrieked bloody murder two or three times."
"Who? What do you mean?" demanded Mrs. Minturn.
She slipped on the bathrobe she had picked up, and stood holding it together, gazing at the maid.
"Mr. Minturn came with two men. One was a park policeman we know. They went into the library and sent for Lucette. There she goes again!"
"Is there any way I could see, could hear, what is going on, without being seen?"
"There's a door to the den from the back hall, and that leads to the library," suggested the maid.
"Show me! Help me!" begged Mrs. Minturn.
As they passed the table the orchids hanging over the edge caught on the trailing robe and started to fall. Mrs. Minturn paused to push them back, then studied the flowers an instant, and catching up the bunch carried it along. She closed the den door after her without a sound, and creeping beside the wall, hid behind the door curtain and peeped into the library. There were two men who evidently were a detective and a policeman. She saw Lucette backed against the wall, her hands clenched, her eyes wild with fear. She saw her husband's back, and on the table beside him a little box, open, its wrappings near, its contents terrifying to the woman.
"To sum up then," said Mr. Minturn in tones she never before had heard: "I can put on oath this man, who will be forced to tell what he witnessed or be impeached by others who saw it at the same time, and are ready to testify to what he said; I can produce the boy who came to tell me the part he took in it; I have the affidavit and have just come from the woman who interfered and followed you here in an effort to save Elizabeth; I have this piece of work in my hands, done by one of the greatest scientists and two of the best surgeons living. Although you shrink from it, I take pleasure in showing it to you. This ragged seam is an impress of the crack you made in a tiny skull lying in a vault out at Forest Hill."
He paused, holding a plaster cast before the woman.
"It's a little bit of a thing," he said deliberately. "She was a tiny creature to have been done to death at your hands. I hope you will see that small pink face as I see it, and feel the soft hair in your fingers, and--after all, I can't go on with that. But I am telling you, and showing you exactly what you are facing, because you must go from this house with these men; your things will be sent. You must leave this city and this country on the boat they take you to, and where you go you will be watched; if ever you dare take service handling a child again, I shall have you promptly arrested and forced to answer for the cold-blooded murder of my little daughter. Live you must, I suppose, but not longer by the torture of children. Go, before I strangle you as you deserve!"
How Mrs. Minturn came to be standing beside her husband, she never afterward knew; only that she was, pulling down his arm to stare at the white cast. Then she looked up at him and said simply: "But Lucette didn't murder her; it was I. I was her mother. I knew she was beaten. I knew she was abused! I didn't stop my pleasure to interfere, lest I should lose a minute by having to see to her myself! A woman did come to me, and a boy! I knew they were telling the truth! I didn't know it was so bad, but I knew it must have been dreadful, to bring them. I had my chance to save her. I went to her as the woman told me to, and because she was quiet, I didn't even turn her over. I didn't run a finger across her little head. I didn't call a surgeon. I preferred an hour of pleasure to taking the risk of being disturbed. I am quite as guilty as Lucette! Have them take me with her."
James Minturn stepped back, gazing at his wife. Then he motioned the men toward the door, so with the woman they left the room.
"Lucette just had her sentence," he said, "now for yours! Words are useless! I am leaving your house with my sons. They are my sons, and with the proof I hold, you will not claim them. If you do, you will not get them. I am taking them to the kind of a house I deem suitable for them, and to such care as I can provide. I shall keep them in my presence constantly as possible until I see just what harm has been done, and how to remedy what can be changed. I shall provide such teachers as I see fit for them, and devote the remainder of my life to them. All I ask of you is to spare them the disgrace of forcing me to prove my right to them, or ever having them realize just what happened to their sister, and your part in it."
She held the flowers toward him.
"I brought these----" she began, then paused. "You wouldn't believe me, if I should tell you. You are right! Perfectly justified! Of course I shall not bring this before the public. Go!"
At the door he looked back. She had dropped into a chair beside the table, holding the cast in one hand, the fringed orchids in the other.