The Diamond Brooches by Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews
The room was filled with signs of breeding and cultivation; it was bare of the things which mean money. Books were everywhere; family portraits, gone brown with time, hung on the walls; a tall silver candlestick gleamed from a corner; there was the tarnished gold of carved Florentine frames, such as people bring still from Italy. But the furniture-covering was faded, the carpet had been turned, the place itself was the small parlor of a cheap apartment, and the wall-paper was atrocious. The least thoughtful, listening for a moment to that language which a room speaks of those who live in it, would have known this at once as the home of well-bred people who were very poor.
So quiet it was that it seemed empty. If an observer had stood in the doorway, it might have been a minute before he saw that a man sat in front of the fireless hearth with his arms stretched before him on the table and his head fallen into them. For many minutes there was no sound, no stir of the man's nerveless pose; it might have been that he was asleep. Suddenly the characterless silence of the place was flooded with tragedy, for the man groaned, and a child would have known that the sound came from a torn soul. He lifted his face--a handsome, high-bred face, clever, a bit weak,--and tears were wet on his cheeks. He glanced about as if fearing to be seen as he wiped them away, and at the moment there was a light bustle, low voices down the hall. The young man sprang to his feet and stood alert as a step came toward him. He caught a sharp breath as another man, iron-gray, professional, stood in the doorway.
"Doctor! You have made the examination--you think--" he flung at the newcomer, and the other answered with the cool incisive manner of one whose words weigh.
"Mr. Newbold," he said, "when you came to my office this morning I told you my conjectures and my fear. I need not, therefore, go into details again. I am very sorry to have to say to you--" he stopped, and looked at the younger man kindly. "I wish I might make it easier, but it is better that I should tell you that your mother's condition is as I expected."
Newbold gave way a step as if under a blow, and his color went gray. The doctor had seen souls laid bare before, yet he turned his eyes to the floor as the muscles pulled and strained in this young face. It seemed minutes that the two faced each other in the loaded silence, the doctor gazing gravely at the worn carpet, the other struggling for self-control. At last Newbold spoke, in the harsh tone which often comes first after great emotion.
"You mean that there is--no hope?"
And the doctor, relieved at the loosening of the tension, answered readily, glad to merge his humanity in his professional capacity: "No, Mr. Newbold; I do not mean just that. It is this bleak climate, the raw winds from the lake, which make it impossible for your mother to take the first step which might lead to recovery. There is, in fact--" he hesitated. "I may say that there is no hope for her cure while here. But if she is taken to a warm climate at once--at once--within two weeks--and kept there until summer, then, although I have not the gift of prophecy, yet I believe she would be in time a well woman. No medicine, can do it, but out-of-doors and warmth would do it--probably."
He put out his hand with a smile. "I am indeed glad that I may temper judgment with mercy," he said. "Try the south, Mr. Newbold,--try Bermuda, for instance. The sea air and the warmth there might set your mother up marvellously." And as the young man stared at him unresponsively he gave a grasp to the hand he held, and turning, found his way out alone. He stumbled down the dark steps of the third-rate apartment-house and into his brougham, and as the rubber tires bowled him over the asphalt he communed with himself:
"Queer about those Newbolds. Badly off, of course, to live in that place, yet they know what it means to call me in. There must be some money. I wonder if they have enough for a trip, poor souls. Bah! they must have--everybody has when it comes to life and death. They'll get it somehow--rich relations and all that. Burr Claflin is their cousin, I know. David Newbold himself was rich enough five years ago, when he made that unlucky gamble in stocks--which killed him, they say. Well--life is certainly hard." And the doctor turned his mind to a new pair of horses he had been looking at in the afternoon, with a comfortable sense of a wind-guard or so, at the least, between himself and the gales of adversity.
In the little drawing-room, with its cheap paper and its old portraits, Randolph Newbold faced his sister with the news. He knew her courage, yet, even in the stress of his feeling, he wondered at it now; he felt almost a pang of jealousy when he saw her take the blow as he had not been able to take it.
"It is a death-sentence," he said, brokenly. "We have not the money to send her south, and we cannot get it."
Katherine Newbold's hands clenched. "We will get it," she said. "I don't know how just now, but we'll get it, Randolph. Mother's life shall not go for lack of a few hundred dollars. Oh, think--just think--six years ago it would have meant nothing. We went south every winter, and we were all well. It is too cruel! But we'll get the money--you'll see."
"How?" the young man asked, bitterly. "The last jewel went so that we could have Dr. Renfrew. There's nothing here to sell--nobody would buy our ancestors," and he looked up mournfully at the painted figures on the wall. The very thought seemed an indignity to those stately personalities--the English judge in his wig, the colonial general in his buff-faced uniform, harbored for a century proudly among their own, now speculated upon as possible revenue. The girl put up a hand toward them as if deprecating her brother's words, and his voice went on: "You know the doctor practically told me this morning. I have had no hope all day, and all day I have lived in hell. I don't know how I did my work. To-night, coming home, I walked past Litterny's. The windows were lighted and filled with a gorgeous lot of stones--there were a dozen big diamond brooches. I stopped and looked at them, and thought how she used to wear such things, and how now her life was going for the value of one of them, and--you may be horrified, Katherine, but this is true: If I could have broken into that window and snatched some of that stuff, I'd have done it. Honesty and all I've been brought up to would have meant nothing--nothing. I'd do it now, in a second, if I could, to get the money to save my mother. God! The town is swimming in money, and I can't get a little to keep her alive!"
The young man's eyes were wild with a passion of helplessness, but his sister gazed at him calmly, as if considering a question. From a room beyond came a painful cough, and the girl was on her feet.
"She is awake; I must go to her. But I shall think--don't be hopeless, boy--I shall think of a way." And she was gone.
Worn out with emotion, Randolph Newbold was sleeping a deep sleep that night. With a start he awoke, staring at a white figure with long, fair braids.
"Randolph, it's I--Katherine. Don't be startled."
"What's the matter? Is she worse?" He lifted himself anxiously, blinking sleep from his eyes.
"No--oh no! She's sleeping well. It's just that I have to talk to you, Randolph. Now. I can't wait till morning--you'll understand when I tell you. I haven't been asleep at all; I've been thinking. I know now how we can get the money."
"Katherine, are you raving?" the brother demanded; but the girl was not to be turned aside.
"Listen to me," she said, and in her tone was the authority of the stronger personality, and the young man listened. She sat on the edge of his bed and held his hand as she talked, and through their lives neither might ever forget that midnight council.
* * * * *
The room had an air of having come in perfect and luxurious condition, fur-lined and jewel-clasped, as it were, from the hands of a good decorator, and of having stopped at that. The great triple lamp glowed green as if set with gigantic emeralds; and its soft light shone on a scheme of color full of charm for the eye. The stuffs, the woodwork, were of a delightful harmony, but it seemed that the books and the pictures were chosen to match them. The man talking, in the great carved armchair by the fire, fitted the place. His vigorous, pleasant face looked prosperous, and so kindly was his air that one might not cavil at a lack of subtler qualities. He drew a long breath as he brought out the last words of the story he was telling.
"And that, Mr. North," he concluded, "is the way the firm of Litterny Brothers, the leading jewellers of this city, were done yesterday by a person or persons unknown, to the tune of five thousand dollars." His eyes turned from the blazing logs to his guest.
The young man in his clerical dress stood as he listened, with eyes wide like a child's, fixed on the speaker. He stooped and picked up a poker and pushed the logs together as he answered. The deliberateness of the action would not have prepared one for the intensity of his words. "I never wanted to be a detective before," he said, "but I'd give a good deal to catch the man who did that. It was such planned rascality, such keen-witted scoundrelism, that it gives me a fierce desire to show him up. I'd like to teach the beggar that honesty can be as intelligent as knavery; that in spite of his strength of cunning, law and right are stronger. I wish I could catch him," and the brass poker gleamed in a savage flourish. "I'd have no mercy. The hungry wretch who steals meat, the ignorant sinner taught to sin from babyhood--I have infinite patience for such. But this thief spoke like a gentleman, and the maid said he was 'a pretty young man'--there's no excuse for him. He simply wanted money that wasn't his,--there's no excuse. It makes my blood boil to think of a clever rascal like that succeeding in his rascality." With that the intense manner had dropped from him as a garment, and he was smiling the gentlest, most whimsical smile at the older man. "You'll think, Mr. Litterny, that it's the loss of my new parish-house that's making me so ferocious, but, honestly, I'd forgotten all about it." And no one who heard him could doubt his sincerity. "I was thinking of the case from your point of view. As to the parish-house, it's a disappointment, but of course I know that a large loss like this must make a difference in a man's expenditures. You have been very good to St. John's already,--a great many times you have been good to us."
"It's a disappointment to me as well," Litterny said. "Old St. John's of Newburyport has been dear to me many years. I was confirmed and married there--but you know. Everything I could do for it has been a satisfaction. And I looked forward to giving this parish-house. In ordinary years a theft of five thousand dollars would not have prevented me, but there have been complications and large expenses of late, to which this loss is the last straw. I shall have to postpone the parish-house,--but it shall be only postponed, Mr. North, only postponed."
The young rector answered quietly: "As I said before, Mr. Litterny, you have been most generous. We are grateful more than I know how to say." His manner was very winning, and the older man's kind face brightened.
"The greatest luxury which money brings is to give it away. St. John's owes its thanks not to me, but to you, Mr. North. I have meant for some time to put into words my appreciation of your work there. In two years you have infused more life and earnestness into that sleepy parish than I thought possible. You've waked them up, put energy into them, and got it out of them. You've done wonders. It's right you should know that people think this of you, and that your work is valued."
"I am glad," Norman North said, and the restraint of the words carried more than a speech.
Mr. Litterny went on: "But there's such a thing as overdoing, young man, and you're shaving the edge of it. You're looking ill--poor color--thin as a rail. You need a rest."
"I think I'll go to Bermuda. My senior warden was there last year, and he says it's a wonderful little place--full of flowers and tennis and sailing, and blue sea and nice people." He stood up suddenly and broadened his broad shoulders. "I love the south," he said. "And I love out-of-doors and using my muscles. It's good to think of whole days with no responsibility, and with exercise till my arms and legs ache. I get little exercise, and I miss it. I was on the track team at Yale, you see, and rather strong at tennis."
Mr. Litterny smiled, and his smile was full of sympathy. "We try to make a stained-glass saint out of you," he said, "and all the time you're a human youngster with a human desire for a good time. A mere lad," he added, reflectively, and went on: "Go down to Bermuda with a light heart, my boy, and enjoy yourself,--it will do your church as much good as you. Play tennis and sail--fall in love if you find the right girl,--nothing makes a man over like that." North was putting out his hand. "And remember," Litterny added, "to keep an eye out for my thief. You're retained as assistant detective in the case."
* * * * *
On a bright, windy morning a steamship wound its careful way through the twisted water-road of Hamilton Harbor, Bermuda. Up from cabins mid corners poured figures unknown to the decks during the passage, and haggard faces brightened under the balmy breeze, and tired eyes smiled at the dark hills and snowy sands of the sliding shore. In a sheltered corner of the deck a woman lay back in a chair and drew in breaths of soft air, and a tall girl watched her.
"You feel better already, don't you?" she demanded, and Mrs. Newbold put her hand into her daughter's.
"It is Paradise," she said. "I am going to get well."
In an hour the landing had been made, the custom-house passed; the gay, exhilarating little drive had been taken to the hotel, through white streets, past white-roofed houses buried in trees and flowers and vines; the sick woman lay quiet and happy on her bed, drawn to the open window, where the healing of the breeze touched her gently, and where her eyes dreamed over a fairy stretch of sea and islands. Katherine, moving about the room, unpacking, came to sit in a chair by her mother and talk to her for a moment.
"To-morrow, if you're a good child, you shall go for a drive. Think--a drive in an enchanted island. It's Shakespeare's Tempest island,--did I tell you I heard that on the boat? We might run across Caliban any minute, and I think at least we'll find 'M' and 'F', for Miranda and Ferdinand, cut into the bark of a tree somewhere. We'll go for a drive every day, every single day, till we find it. You'll see."
Mrs. Newbold's eyes moved from the sea and rested, perplexed, on her daughter. "Katherine, how can we afford to drive every day? How can we be here at all? I don't understand it. I'm sure there was nothing left to sell except the land out west, and Mr. Seaton told us last spring that it was worthless. How did you and Randolph conjure up the money for this beautiful journey that is going to save my life?"
The girl bent impulsively and kissed her with tender roughness. "It is going to do that--it is!" she cried, and her voice broke. Then: "Never mind how the money came, dear,--invalids mustn't be curious. It strains their nerves. Wait till you're well and perhaps you'll hear a tale about that land out west."
Day after day slipped past in the lotus-eating land whose unreality makes it almost a change of planets from every-day America. Each day brought health with great rapidity, and soon each day brought new friends. Mrs. Newbold was full of charm, and the devotion between the ill mother and the blooming daughter was an attractive sight. Yet the girl was not light-hearted. Often the mother, waking in the night, heard a shivering sigh through the open door between their rooms; often she surprised a harassed look in the young eyes which, with all that the family had gone through, was new to them. But Katherine laughed at questions, and threw herself so gayly into the pleasures which came to her that Mrs. Newbold, too happy to be analytical, let the straws pass and the wind blow where it would.
There came a balmy morning when the two were to take, with half a dozen others, the long drive to St. George's. The three carriage-loads set off in a pleasant hubbub from the white-paved courtyard of the hotel, and as Katherine settled her mother with much care and many rugs, her camera dropped under the wheels. Everybody was busy, nobody was looking, and she stooped and reached for it in vain. Then out of a blue sky a voice said:
"I'll get it for you," She was pushed firmly aside and a figure in a blue coat was grovelling adventurously beneath the trap. It came out, straightened; she had her camera; she was staring up into a face which contemplated her, which startled her, so radiant, so everything desirable it seemed to her to be. The man's eyes considered her a moment as she thanked him, and then he had lifted his hat and was gone, running, like a boy in a hurry for a holiday, toward the white stone landing. An empty sail flopped big at the landing, and the girl stood and looked as he sprang in under it and took the rudder. Joe, the head porter, the familiar friend of every one, was stowing in a rug.
"That gen'l'man's the Reverend Norman North,--he come by the Trinidad last Wednesday; he's sailin' to St. George's," Joe volunteered. "Don't look much like a reverend, do he?" And with that the carriage had started.
Seeing the sights at St. George's, they came to the small old church, on its western side a huge flight of steps, capped with a meek doorway; on its eastern end a stone tower guarding statelily a flowery graveyard. The moment the girl stepped inside, the spell of the bright peace which filled the place caught her. The Sunday decorations were still there, and hundreds of lilies bloomed from the pillars; sunshine slanted through the simple stained glass and lay in colored patches on the floor; there were square pews of a bygone day; there was a pulpit with a winding stair; there were tablets on the walls to shipwrecked sailors, to governors and officers dead here in harness. The clumsy woodwork, the cheap carpets, the modest brasses, were in perfect order; there were marks everywhere of reverent care.
"Let me stay," the girl begged. "I don't want to drive about. I want to stay in this place. I'll meet you at the hotel for lunch, if you'll leave me." And they left her.
The verger had gone, and she was quite alone. Deep in the shadow of a gallery she slid to her knees and hid her face. "O God!" she whispered,--"O God, forgive me!" And again the words seemed torn from her--"O God, forgive me!"
There were voices in the vestibule, but the girl in the stress of her prayer did not hear.
"Deal not with us according to our sins, neither reward us according to our iniquities," she prayed, the accustomed words rushing to her want, and she was suddenly aware that two people stood in the church. One of them spoke.
"Don't bother to stay with me," he said, and in the voice, it seemed, were the qualities that a man's speech should have--strength, certainty, the unteachable tone of gentle blood, and beyond these the note of personality, always indescribable, in this case carrying an appeal and an authority oddly combined. "Don't stay with me. I like to be alone here. I'm a clergyman, and I enjoy an old church like this. I'd like to be alone in it," and a bit of silver flashed.
If the tip did it or the compelling voice, the verger murmured a word about luncheon, was gone, and the girl in her dim corner saw, as the other turned, that he was the rescuer of her camera, whose name was, Joe had said and she remembered, Norman North. She was about to move, to let herself be seen, when the young man knelt suddenly in the old-fashioned front pew, as a good child might kneel who had been taught the ways of his mother church, and bent his dark head. She waited quietly while this servant spoke to his Master. There was no sound in the silent, sun-lanced church, but outside one heard as from far away the noises of the village. Katherine's eyes rested on the bowed head, and she wondered uncertainly if she should let him know of her presence, or if it might not be better to slip out unnoticed, when in a moment he had risen and was swinging with a vigorous step up the little corkscrew stairway of the pulpit. There he stood, facing the silence, facing the flower-starred shadows, the empty spaces; facing her, but not seeing her. And the girl forgot herself and the question of her going as she saw the look in his face, the light which comes at times to those who give their lives to holiness, since the day when the people, gazing at Stephen, the martyr, "saw his face as it had been the face of an angel." When his voice floated out on the dim, sunny atmosphere it rested as lightly on the silence as if the notes of an organ rolled through its own place. He spoke a prayer of a service which, to those whose babyhood has been consecrated by it, whose childhood and youth have listened to its simple and stately words, whose manhood and womanhood have been carried over many a hard place by the lift of its familiar sentences,--he spoke a prayer of that service which is less dear only, to those bred in it, than the voices of their dearest. As a priest begins to speak to his congregation he began, and the hearer in the shadow of the gallery listened, awed:
"The Lord is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him."
And in the little church was silence as if all the earth obeyed. The collect for the day came next, and a bit of jubilant Easter service, and then his mind seemed to drift back to the sentences with which the prayer-book opens.
"This is the day which the Lord hath made," the ringing voice announced. "Let us rejoice and be glad in it." And then, stabbing into the girl's fevered conscience, "I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me." It was as if an inflexible judge spoke the words for her. "When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive," the pure, stern tones went on.
She was not turning away from wickedness; she did not mean to turn away; she would not do that which was lawful. The girl shivered. She could not hear this dreadful accusal from the very pulpit. She must leave this place. And with that the man, as if in a sudden passion of feeling, had tossed his right hand high above him; his head was thrown back; his eyes shone up into the shadows of the roof as if they would pierce material things and see Him who reigned; he was pleading as if for his life, pleading for his brothers, for human beings who sin and suffer.
"O Lord," he prayed, "spare all those who confess their sins unto Thee, that they whose consciences by sin are accused, by Thy merciful pardon may be absolved; through Christ our Lord." And suddenly he was using the very words which had come to her of themselves a few minutes before. "Deal not with us according to our sins--deal not with us," he repeated, as if wresting forgiveness for his fellows from the Almighty. "Deal not with us according to our sins, neither reward us according to our iniquities." And while the echo of the words yet held the girl motionless he was gone.
* * * * *
Down by the road which runs past the hotel, sunken ten feet below its level, are the tennis-courts, and soldiers in scarlet and khaki, and blue-jackets with floating ribbons, and negro bell-boys returning from errands, and white-gowned American women with flowery hats, and men in summer flannels stop as they pass, and sit on the low wall and watch the games. There is always a gallery for the tennis-players. But on a Tuesday morning about eleven o'clock the audience began to melt away in disgust. Without doubt they were having plenty of amusement among themselves, these tennis-players grouped at one side of the court and filling the air with explosions of laughter. But the amusement of the public was being neglected. Why in the world, being rubber-shod as to the foot and racqueted as to the hand, did they not play tennis? A girl in a short white dress, wearing white tennis-shoes and carrying a racquet, came tripping down the flight of stone steps, and stopped as she stood on the last landing and seemed to ask the same question. She came slowly across the empty court, looking with curiosity at the bunch of absorbed people, and presently she caught her breath. The man who was the centre of the group, who was making, apparently, the amusement, was the young clergyman, Norman North.
There was an outburst, a chorus of: "You can't have that one, Mr. North!" "That's been used!" "That's Mr. Dennison's!"
A tall English officer--a fine, manly mixture of big muscles and fresh color and khaki--looked up, saw the girl, and swung toward her. "Good morning, Miss Newbold. Come and join the fun. Devil of a fellow, that North,--they say he's a parson."
"What is it? What are they laughing at?" Katherine demanded.
"They're doing a Limerick tournament, which is what North calls the game. Mr. Gale is timekeeper. They're to see which recites most rhymes inside five minutes. The winner picks his court and plays with Miss Lee."
Captain Comerford imparted this in jerky whispers, listening with one ear all the time to a sound which stirred Katherine, the voice which she had heard yesterday in the church at St. George's. The Englishman's spasmodic growl stopped, and she drifted a step nearer, listening. As she caught the words, her brows drew together with displeasure, with shocked surprise. The inspired saint of yesterday was reciting with earnestness, with every delicate inflection of his beautiful voice, these words:
"There was a young curate of Kidderminster, Who kindly, but firmly, chid a spinster, Because on the ice She said something not nice When he quite inadvertently slid ag'inst her."
As the roar which followed this subsided, Katherine's face cleared. What right had she to make a pattern of solemn righteousness for this stranger and be insulted if he did not fit? Certainly he was saintly--she had seen his soul bared to her vision; but certainly he was human also, as this moment was demonstrating. It flashed over her vaguely to wonder which was the dominant quality--which would rule in a stress of temptation--the saintly side or the human? But at least he was human with a winning humanity. His mirth and his enjoyment of it were as spontaneous as a mischievous, bright child's, and it was easy to see that the charm of his remarkable voice attracted others as it had attracted her.
"There was a young fellow from Clyde, Who was often at funerals espied--"
he had begun, and with that, between her first shock and her swift recovery, with the contrast between the man of yesterday and the man of to-day, Katherine suddenly laughed aloud. North stopped short, and turned and looked at her, and for a second and their eyes met, and each read recognition and friendliness. The Limerick went on:
"When asked who was dead, He nodded and said, 'I don't know--I just came for the ride.'"
"Eleven for Mr. North--one-half minute more," called Mr. Gale, and instantly North was in the breach:
"A sore-hipped hippopotamus quite flustered Objected to a poultice made of custard; 'Can't you doctor up my hip With anything but flip?' So they put upon the hip a pot o' mustard.'"
And the half-minute was done and North had won, and there was clapping of hands for the victor, and at once, before the little uproar was over, Katherine saw him speak a word to Mr. Gale, and saw the latter, turning, stare about as if searching for some one, and, meeting her glance, smile.
"I want to present Mr. North, Miss Newbold," Gale said.
"Why did you laugh in the middle of my Limerick? Had you heard it?" North demanded, as if they had known each other a year instead of a minute.
"No, I had not heard it." Katherine shook her head.
"Then why did you laugh?"
She looked at him reflectively. "I don't know you well enough to tell you that."
"How soon will you know me well enough--if I do my best?"
She considered. "About three weeks from yesterday."
* * * * *
Many things grow fast in southern climates--fruits, flowers, even friendship and love. Three weeks later, on a hot, bright morning of April, North and Katherine Newbold were walking down a road of Bermuda to the sea, and between them was what had ripened in the twenty-one days from a germ to a full-grown bud, ready to open at the lightest touch into flower. As they walked down such a road of a dream, the man talked to the girl as he had never talked to any one before. He spoke of his work and its hopes and disappointments, of the pathos, the tragedy, the comedy often of a way of life which leads by a deeper cut through men's hearts than any other, and he told her also, modestly indeed, and because he loved to tell her what meant much to him, of the joy of knowing himself successful in his parish. He went into details, absorbingly interesting to him, and this new luxury of speaking freely carried him away.
"I hope I'm not boring you." His frank gaze turned on her anxiously. "I don't know what right I have to assume that the increase in the Sunday-school, or even the new brass pulpit, is a fascinating subject to you. I never did this before," he said, and there was something in his voice which hindered the girl from answering his glance. But there was no air of being bored about her, and he went on. "However, life isn't all good luck. I had a serious blow just before I came down here--a queer thing happened. I told you just now that all the large gifts to St. John's had come from one man--a former parishioner. The man was James Litterny, of the great firm of--Why, what's the matter--what is it?" For Katherine had stopped short, in her fast, swinging walk, and without a sound had swayed and caught at the wall as if to keep herself from falling. Before he could reach her she had straightened herself and was smiling.
"I felt ill for a second--it's nothing,--let's go along."
North made eager suggestions for her comfort, but the girl was firm in her assertion, that she was now quite well, so that, having no sisters and being ignorant that a healthy young woman does not, any more than a healthy young man, go white and stagger without reason, he yielded, and they walked briskly on.
"You were telling me something that happened to you--something connected with Mr.--with the rich parishioner." Her tone was steady and casual, but looking at her, he saw that she was still pale.
"Do you really want to hear my yarns? You're sure it isn't that which made you feel faint--because I talked so much?"
"It's always an effort not to talk myself," she laughed up at him, yet with a strange look in her eyes. "All the same, talk a little more. Tell me what you began to tell about Mr. Litterny." The name came out full and strong.
"Oh, that! Well, it's a story extraordinary enough for a book. I think it will interest you."
"I think it will," Katherine agreed.
"You see," he went on, "Mr. Litterny promised us a new parish-house, the best and largest practicable. It was to cost, with the lot, ten thousand dollars. It was to be begun this spring. Not long before I came to Bermuda, I had a note one morning from him, asking me to come to his house the next evening. I went, and he told me that the parish-house would have to be given up for the present, because the firm of Litterny Brothers had just met with a loss, through a most skilful and original robbery, of five thousand dollars."
"A robbery?" the girl repeated. "Burglars, you mean?"
"Something much more artistic than burglars. I told you this story was good enough for a book. It's been kept quiet because the detectives thought the chance better that way of hunting the thief to earth." (Why should she catch her breath?) "But I'm under no promise--I'm sure I may tell you. You're not likely to have any connection with the rascal."
Katherine's step hung a little as if she shrank from the words, but she caught at a part of the sentence and repeated it, "'Hunting the thief to earth'--you say that as if you'd like to see it done."
"I would like to see it done," said North, with slow emphasis. "Nothing has ever more roused my resentment. I suppose it's partly the loss of the parish-house, but, aside from that, it makes me rage to think of splendid old James Litterny, the biggest-hearted man I know, being done in that way. Why, he'd have helped the scoundrel in a minute if he'd gone to him instead of stealing from him. Usually my sympathies are with the sinner, but I believe if I caught this one I'd be merciless."
"Would you mind sitting down here?" Katherine asked, in a voice which sounded hard. "I'm not ill, but I feel--tired. I want to sit here and listen to the story of that unprincipled thief and his wicked robbery."
North was all solicitude in a moment, but the girl put him aside impatiently.
"I'm quite right. Don't bother. I just want to be still while you talk. See what a good seat this is."
Over the russet sand of the dunes the sea flashed a burning blue; storm-twisted cedars led a rutted road down to it; in the salt air the piny odor was sharp with sunlight. Katherine had dropped beneath one of the dwarfed trees, and leaning back, smiled dimly up at him with a stricken face which North did not understand.
"You are ill," he said, anxiously. "You look ill. Please let me take care of you. There is a house back there--let me--" but she interrupted:
"I'm not ill, and I won't be fussed over. I'm not exactly right, but I will be in a few minutes. The best thing for me is just to rest here and have you talk to me. Tell me that story you are so slow about."
He took her at her word. Lying at full length at her feet--his head propped on a hillock so that he might look into her face, one of his hands against the hem of her white dress,--the shadows of the cedars swept back and forth across him, the south sea glittered beyond the sand-dunes, and he told the story.
"Mr. Litterny was in his office in the early afternoon of February 18," he began, "when a man called him up on the telephone. Mr. Litterny did not recognize the voice, but the man stated at once that he was Burr Claflin, whose name you may know. He is a rich broker, and a personal friend of both the Litternys. Voice is so uncertain a quantity over a telephone that it did not occur to Mr. Litterny to be suspicious on that point, and the conversation was absolutely in character otherwise. The talker used expressions and a manner of saying things which the jeweller knew to be characteristic of Claflin.
"He told Mr. Litterny that he had just made a lucky hit in stocks, and 'turned over a bunch of money,' as he put it, and that he wanted to make his wife a present. 'Now--this afternoon--this minute,' he said, which was just like Burr Claflin, who is an impetuous old chap. 'I want to give her a diamond brooch, and I want her to wear it out to dinner to-night,' he said. 'Can't you send two or three corkers up to the house for me?' That surprised Mr. Litterny and he hesitated, but finally said that he would do it. It was against the rules of the house, but as it was for Mr. Claflin he would do it. They had a little talk about the details, and Claflin arranged to call up his wife and tell her that the jewels would be there at four-thirty, so that she could look out for them personally. All that was the Litterny end of the affair. Simple enough, wasn't it?"
Katherine's eyes were so intent, so brilliant, that Norman North went on with a pleased sense that he told the tale well:
"Now begins the Claflin experience. At half past four a clerk from Litterny's left a package at the Claflin house in Cleveland Avenue, which was at once taken, as the man desired, to Mrs. Claflin. She opened it and found three very handsome diamond brooches, which astonished her extremely, as she knew nothing about them. However, it was not unusual for Claflin to give her jewelry, and he is, as I said, an impulsive man, so that unexpected presents had come once or twice before; and altogether, being much taken with the stones, she concluded simply that she would understand when her husband came home to dinner.
"However, her hopes were dashed, for twenty minutes later, barely long enough for the clerk to have got back to the shop, she was called to the telephone by a message, said to be from Litterny's, and a most polite and apologetic person explained over the line that a mistake had been made; that the diamonds had been addressed and sent to her by an error of the shipping-clerk; that they were not intended for Mrs. Burr Claflin, but for Mrs. Bird Catlin, and that the change in name had been discovered on the messenger's return. Would Mrs. Claflin pardon the trouble caused, and would she be good enough to see that the package was given to their man, who would call for it in fifteen minutes? Now the Catlins, as you must know, are richer people even than the Claflins, so that the thing was absolutely plausible. Mrs. Claflin tied up the jewels herself, and entrusted them to her own maid, who has been with her for years, and this woman answered the door and gave the parcel into the hands of a man who said that he was sent from Litterny's for it. All that the maid could say of him was that he was 'a pretty young man, with a speech like a gentleman.' And that was the last that has been seen of the diamond brooches. Wasn't it simple? Didn't I tell you that this affair was an artistic one?" North demanded.
Katherine Newbold drew a deep breath, and the story-teller, watching her face, saw that she was stirred with an emotion which he put down, with a slight surprise, to interest in his narrative.
"Is there no clew to the--thief? Have they no idea at all? Haven't those wonderful detectives yet got on--his track?"
North shook his head. "I had a letter by yesterday's boat from Mr. Litterny about another matter, and he spoke of this. He said the police were baffled--that he believed now that it could never be traced."
"Thank God!" Katherine said, slowly and distinctly, and North stared in astonishment.
"What?" His tone was incredulous.
"Oh; don't take me so seriously," said the girl, impatiently. "It's only that I can't sympathize with your multimillionaire, who loses a little of his heaps of money, against some poor soul to whom that little may mean life or death--life or death, maybe, for his nearest and dearest. Mr. Litterny has had a small loss, which he won't feel in a year from now. The thief, the rascal, the scoundrel, as you call him so fluently, has escaped for now, perhaps, with his ill-gotten gains, but he is a hunted thing, living with a black terror of being found out--a terror which clutches him when he prays and when he dances. It's the thief I'm sorry for--I'm sorry for him--I'm sorry for him." Her voice was agitated and uneven beyond what seemed reasonable.
"'The way of the transgressor is hard,'" Norman North said, slowly, and looked across the shifting sand-stretch to the inevitable sea, and spoke the words pitilessly, as if an inevitable law spoke through him.
They cut into the girl's soul. A quick gasp of pain broke from her, and the man turned and saw her face and sprang to his feet.
"Come," he said,--"come home," and held out his hands.
She let him take hers, and he lifted her lightly, and did not let her hands go. For a second they stood, and into the silence a deep boom of the water against the beach thundered and died away. He drew the hands slowly toward him till he held them against him. There seemed not to be any need for words.
Half an hour later, as they walked back through the sweet loneliness of Springfield Avenue, North said: "You've forgotten something. You've forgotten that this is the day you were to tell me why you had the bad manners to laugh at me before you knew me. Now that we are engaged it's your duty to tell me if I'm ridiculous."
There was none of the responsive, soft laughter he expected. "We're not engaged--we can't be engaged," she threw back, impetuously, and as he looked at her there was suffering in her face.
"What do you mean? You told me you loved me." His voice was full of its curious mixture of gentleness and sternness, and she shrank visibly from the sternness.
"Don't be hard on me," she begged, like a frightened child, and he caught her hand with a quick exclamation. "I'll tell you--everything. Not only that little thing about my laughing, but--but more--everything. Why I cannot be engaged to you. I must tell you--I know it--but, oh! not to-day--not for a little while! Let me have this little time to be happy. You sail a week from to-day. I'll write it all for you, and you can read it on the way to New York. That will do--won't that do?" she pleaded.
North took both her hands in a hard grasp and searched her face and her eyes--eyes clear and sweet, though filled with misery. "Yes, that will do," he said. "It's all nonsense that you can't be engaged to me. You are engaged to me, and you are going to marry me. If you love me--and you say you do,--there's nothing I'll let interfere. Nothing--absolutely nothing." There was little of the saint in his look now; it was filled with human love and masterful determination, and in his eyes smouldered a recklessness, a will to have his way, that was no angel, but all man.
A week later Norman North sailed to New York, and in his pocket was a letter which was not to be read till Bermuda was out of sight. When the coral reef was passed, when the fairy blue of the island waters had changed to the dark swell of the Atlantic, he slipped the bolt in the door of his cabin and took out the letter.
"I laughed because you were so wonderfully two men in one," it began, "I was in the church at St. George's the day when you sent the verger away and went into the pulpit and said parts of the service. I could not tell you this before because it came so close to the other thing which I must tell you now; because I sat trembling before you that day, hidden in the shadow of a gallery, knowing myself a criminal, while you stood above me like a pitiless judge and rolled out sentences that were bolts of fire emptied on my soul. The next morning I heard you reciting Limericks. Are you surprised that I laughed when the contrast struck me? Even then I wondered which was the real of you, the saint or the man,--which would win if it came to a desperate fight. The fight is coming, Norman.
"That's all a preamble. Here is what you must know: I am the thief who stole Mr. Litterny's diamonds."
The letter fell, and the man caught at it as it fell. His hand shook, but he laughed aloud.
"It is a joke," he said, in a queer, dry voice. "A wretched joke. How can she?" And he read on:
"You won't believe this at first; you will think I am making a poor joke; but you will have to believe it in the end. I will try to put the case before you as an outside person would put it, without softening or condoning. My mother was very ill; the specialist, to pay whom we had sold her last jewel, said that she would die if she were not taken south; we had no money to take her south. That night my brother lost his self-control and raved about breaking into a shop and stealing diamonds, to get money to save her life. That put the thought into my mind, and I made a plan. Randolph, my brother, is a clever amateur actor, and the rich Burr Claflin is our distant cousin. We both know him fairly well, and it was easy enough for Randolph to copy his mannerisms. We knew also, of course, more or less, his way of living, and that it would not be out of drawing that he should send up diamonds to his wife unexpectedly. I planned it all, and I made Randolph do it. I have always been able to influence him to what I pleased. The sin is all mine, not his. We had been selling my mother's jewels little by little for several years, so we had no difficulty in getting rid of the stones, which Randolph took from their settings and sold to different dealers. My mother knows nothing of where the money came from. We are living in Bermuda now, in comfort and luxury, I as well as she, on the profits of my thievery. I am not sorry. It has wrecked life, perhaps eternity, for me, but I would do it again to save my mother.
"I put this confession into your hands to do with, as far as I am concerned, what you like. If the saint in you believes that I ought to be sent to jail, take this to Mr. Litterny and have him send me to jail. But you shan't touch Randolph--you are not free there. It was I who did it--he was my tool,--any one will tell you I have the stronger will. You shall not hurt Randolph--that is barred.
"You see now why I couldn't be engaged to you--you wouldn't want to marry a thief, would you, Norman? I can never make restitution, you know, for the money will be mostly gone before we get home, and there is no more to come. You could not, either, for you said that you had little beyond your salary. We could never make it good to Mr. Litterny, even if you wanted to marry me after this. Mr. Litterny is your best friend; you are bound to him by a thousand ties of gratitude and affection. You can't marry a thief who has robbed him of five thousand dollars, and never tell him, and go on taking his gifts. That is the way the saint will look at it--the saint who thundered awful warnings at me in the little church at St. George's. But even that day there was something gentler than the dreadful holiness of you. Do you remember how you pleaded, begged as if of your father, for your brothers and sisters? 'Deal not with us according to our sins, neither reward us according to our iniquities,' you said. Do you remember? As you said that to God, I say it to you, I love you. I leave my fate at your mercy. But don't forget that you yourself begged that, with your hands stretched out to heaven, as I stretch my hands to you, Norman, Norman--'Deal not with me according to my sins, neither reward me according to my iniquities.'"
The noises of a ship moving across a quiet ocean went on steadily. Many feet tramped back and forth on the deck, and cheerful voices and laughter floated through the skylight, and down below a man knelt in a narrow cabin with his head buried in his arms, motionless.