A Poor Wise Man by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Lily had an unexpected visitor that afternoon, in the person of Pink Denslow. She had assumed some of Elinor's cares for the day, for Elinor herself had not been visible since breakfast. It soothed the girl to attend to small duties, and she was washing and wiping Elinor's small stock of fine china when the bell rang.
"Mr. Denslow is calling," said Jennie. "I didn't know if you'd see him, so I said I didn't know if you were in.
Lily's surprise at Pink's visit was increased when she saw him. He was covered with plaster dust, even to the brim of his hat, and his hands were scratched and rough.
"Pink!" she said. "Why, what is the matter?"
For the first time he was conscious of his appearance, and for the first time in his life perhaps, entirely indifferent to it.
"I've been digging in the ruins," he said. "Is that man Doyle in the house?"
Her color faded. Suddenly she noticed a certain wildness about Pink's eyes, and the hard strained look of his mouth.
"What ruins, Pink?" she managed to ask.
"All the ruins," he said. "You know, don't you? The bank, our bank, and the club?"
It seemed to her afterwards that she knew before he told her, saw it all, a dreadful picture which had somehow superimposed upon it a vision of Jim Doyle with the morning paper, and the thing that this was not the time for.
"That's all," he finished. "Eleven at the club, two of them my own fellows. In France, you know. I found one of them myself, this morning." He stared past her, over her head. "Killed for nothing, the way the Germans terrorized Belgium. Haven't you seen the papers?"
"No, they wouldn't let you see them, of course. Lily, I want you to leave here. If you don't, if you stay now, you're one of them, whether you believe what they preach or not. Don't you see that?"
She was not listening. Her faith was dying hard, and the mental shock had brought her dizziness and a faint nausea. He stood watching her, and when she glanced up at him it seemed to her that Pink was hard. Hard and suspicious, and the suspicion was for her. It was incredible.
"Do you believe what they preach?" he demanded. "I've got to know, Lily. I've suffered the tortures of the damned all night."
"I didn't know it meant this."
"Do you?" he repeated.
"No. You ought to know me better than that. But I don't believe that it started here, Pink. He was very angry this morning, and he wouldn't let me see the paper."
"He's behind it all right," Pink said grimly. "Maybe he didn't plant the bombs, but his infernal influence did it, just the same. Do you mean to say you've lived here all this time and don't know he is plotting a revolution? What if he didn't authorize these things last night? He is only waiting, to place a hundred bombs instead of three. A thousand, perhaps."
"We've got their own statements. Department of Justice found them. The fools, to think they can overthrow the government! Can you imagine men planning to capture this city and hold it?"
"It wouldn't be possible, Pink?"
"It isn't possible now, but they'll make a try at it."
There was a short pause, with Lily struggling to understand. Pink's set face relaxed somewhat. All that night he had been fighting for his belief in her.
"I never dreamed of it, Pink. I suppose all the talk I've heard meant that, but I never - are you sure? About Jim Doyle, I mean."
"We know he is behind it. We haven't got the goods on him yet, but we know. Cameron knows. You ask him and he'll tell you."
"Yes. He's had some vision, while the rest of us - ! He's got a lot of us working now, Lily. We are on the right trail, too, although we lost some records last night that put us back a couple of months. We'll get them, all right. We'll smash their little revolution into a cocked hat." It occurred to him, then, that this house was a poor place for such a confidence. "I'll tell you about it later. Get your things now, and let me take you home."
But Lily's problem was too complex for Pink's simple remedy. She was stricken with sudden conviction; the very mention of Willy Cameron gave Pink's statements authority. But to go like that, to leave Elinor in that house, with all that it implied, was impossible. And there was her own private problem to dispose of.
"I'll go this afternoon, Pink. I'll promise you that. But I can't go with you now. I can't. You'll have to take my word, that's all. And you must believe I didn't know."
"Of course you didn't know," he said, sturdily. "But I hate like thunder to go and leave you here." He picked up his hat, reluctantly. "If I can do anything - "
Lily's mind was working more clearly now. This was the thing Louis Akers had been concerned with, then, a revolution against his country. But it was the thing, too, that he had promised to abandon. He was not a killer. She knew him well, and he was not a killer. He had got to a certain point, and then the thing had sickened him. Even without her he would never have gone through with it. But it would be necessary now to get his information quickly. Very quickly.
"Suppose," she said, hesitatingly, "suppose I tell you that I think I am going to be able to help you before long?"
"Help? I want you safe. This is not work for women."
"But suppose I can bring you a very valuable ally?" she persisted. "Some one who knows all about certain plans, and has changed his views about them?"
"One of them?"
"He has been."
"Is he selling his information?"
"In a way, yes," said Lily, slowly.
"Ware the fellow who sells information," Pink said. "But we'll be glad to have it. We need it, God knows. And - you'll leave?"
"I couldn't stay, could I?"
He kissed her hand when he went away, doing it awkwardly and self-consciously, but withal reverently. She wondered, rather dully, why she could not love Pink. A woman would be so safe with him, so sure.
She had not even then gathered the full force of what he had told her. But little by little things came back to her; the man on guard in the garden; the incident of the locked kitchen door; Jim Doyle once talking angrily over a telephone in his study, although no telephone, so far as she knew, was installed in the room; his recent mysterious absences, and the increasing visits of the hateful Woslosky.
She went back to Louis. This was what he had meant. He had known all along, and plotted with them; even if his stomach had turned now, he had been a party to this infamy. Even then she did not hate him; she saw him, misled as she had been by Doyle's high-sounding phrases, lured on by one of those wild dreams of empire to which men were sometimes given. She did not love him any more; she was sorry for him.
She saw her position with the utmost clearness. To go home was to abandon him, to lose him for those who needed what he could give, to send him back to the enemy. She had told Pink she could secure an ally for a price, and she was the price. There was not an ounce of melodrama in her, as she stood facing the situation. She considered, quite simply, that she had assumed an obligation which she must carry out. Perhaps her pride was dictating to her also. To go crawling home, bowed to the dust, to admit that life had beaten her, to face old Anthony's sneers and her mother's pity - that was hard for any Cardew.
She remembered Elinor's home-comings of years ago, the strained air of the household, the whispering servants, and Elinor herself shut away, or making her rare, almost furtive visits downstairs when her father was out of the house.
No, she could not face that.
Her own willfulness had brought her to this pass; she faced that uncompromisingly. She would marry Louis, and hold him to his promise, and so perhaps out of all this misery some good would come. But at the thought of marriage she found herself trembling violently. With no love and no real respect to build on, with an intuitive knowledge of the man's primitive violences, the reluctance toward marriage with him which she had always felt crystallized into something very close to dread.
But a few minutes later she went upstairs, quite steady again, and fully determined. At Elinor's door she tapped lightly, and she heard movements within. Then Elinor opened the door wide. She had been lying on her bed, and automatically after closing the door she began to smooth it. Lily felt a wave of intense pity for her.
"I wish you would go away from here, Aunt Elinor," she said.
Elinor glanced up, without surprise.
"Where could I go?"
"If you left him definitely, you could go home."
Elinor shook her head, dumbly, and her passivity drove Lily suddenly to desperation.
"You know what is going on," she said, her voice strained. "You don't believe it is right; you know it is wicked. Clothe it in all the fine language in the world, Aunt Elinor, and it is still wicked. If you stay here you condone it. I won't. I am going away."
"I wish you had never come, Lily."
"It's too late for that," Lily said, stonily. "But it is not too late for you to get away."
"I shall stay," Elinor said, with an air of finality. But Lily made one more effort.
"He is killing you."
"No, he is killing himself." Suddenly Elinor flared into a passionate outburst. "Don't you think I know where all this is leading? Do you believe for a moment that I think all this can lead to anything but death? It is a madness, Lily; they are all mad, these men. Don't you know that I have talked and argued and prayed, against it?"
"Then come away. You have done all you could, and you have failed, haven't you?"
"It is not time for me to go," Elinor said. And Lily, puzzled and baffled, found herself again looking into Elinor's quiet, inscrutable eyes.
Elinor had taken it for granted that the girl was going home, and together they packed almost in silence. Once Elinor looked up from folding a garment, and said:
"You said you had not understood before, but that now you do. What did you mean?"
"Pink Denslow was here."
"What does he know?"
"Do you think I ought to tell you, Aunt Elinor? It isn't that I don't trust you. You must believe that, but don't you see that so long as you stay here - he said that to me - you are one of them."
Elinor resumed her folding.
"Yes, I suppose I am one of them," she said quietly. "And you are right. You must not tell me anything. Pink is Henry Denslow's son, I suppose."
"Do they-still live in the old house?"
Elinor continued her methodical work.