A GRASS WIDOW.A COMPLETE STORY.
Chicago, April 14.—The body of an unknown woman, well-dressed, but having a dissipated look on her face, was found in an alley, near West Wood street, Thursday. No marks of violence were found on the body, and a post-mortem will be necessary to determine the cause of death. The woman was apparently about twenty-five years of age, slightly above the middle height, with wavy brown hair, and strikingly beautiful in face and figure. There are no marks on the clothing and no papers were found on the person of the deceased by which she might be identified. A peculiar cross-shaped birthmark, high on the left temple and partly covered by her hair, may give a clue to the friends, if she has any. The body will remain at Holmes & Hartman's morgue during tomorrow.
An ordinary newspaper item, which some poor hack of a reporter had picked up on his daily round among the purlieus of a great city. Ordinarily I should have glanced casually over the paragraph, and then have turned my attention to the next column of the paper.
But there was something in it which caught my attention. And, as I reread the description grew more familiar, and I remembered a woman who had not been twenty-five nor dissipated when I knew her, but who was a little above the middle height (I had described her once as "divinely tall"), with wavy brown hair, and "strikingly beautiful in face and figure." I remembered, too, that once when I had been in her company, a passing breeze had lifted the fringe of hair worn low upon her broad, white forehead, and had revealed a tiny, blood-red cross high upon the temple. I determined to go and look at the body of this unknown woman. It might be the woman I knew; stranger things had happened.
The next morning, after breakfast, I started to the office a little earlier than usual, going a few streets out of the way in order that I might pass the morgue, which was an attachment of a large undertaking establishment. I took my place in the line of waiting visitors. There were morbid curiosity seekers, the same class who frequent murder trials and police courts—intellectual ghouls, feeding their depraved imaginations on the dead and decaying things of society; sharp-eyed young reporters, plying their nimble pencils in little red-covered notebooks; one or two old people, shabbily clad, who went in with anxious looks, and came out with lighter steps and more cheerful countenances—they had not found something they had feared to find.
I passed into the room. There were several bodies there, each lying on a marble slab, with a stream of water trickling over its face. One of these was the body of a woman. The newspaper description was correct; she had been young and fair. My presentiment had also been correct; it was the woman I had known. And now I will tell when and where.
I had finished my course at college. I had read for honors and achieved them, but at the imminent risk of my health. I graduated at the head of my class, but I left college pale and nerveless. My physician said that I had been on the verge of brain fever, and advised me to take a long rest, and to spend the summer if possible either in the country or at the seaside. I chose the former and went to visit my brother, who lived in a village twenty miles from the city where I had attended college.
George and I were the only surviving members of a once numerous family. Two of our brothers had been killed in the civil war. Our mother and two sisters had gone the way of all the earth, and only recently had our beloved father joined the silent circle of the dead, snatched away by a remorseless disease, just when the active labors of his life were over, and he was preparing to enjoy the leisure and freedom from care which the training of a large family and the exacting demands of a professional career had hitherto kept beyond his reach. My brother and I were drawn closer together by each of the successive losses, and concentrated on each other the affections which we had shared with the larger family circle. George had married several years before I left college, and his home thenceforth became mine whenever I chose to make it so. He had invested the greater part of his modest partimony in a stone quarry, on the line of a great railroad, and was doing a flourishing business. He had a wife, handsome, accomplished and lovable: gentle in demeanor, generous in sentiment, and worshipping in her husband an ideal quite different from what he really was. For while affectionate and good-tempered, George had one or two vulnerable points in his character and was easily tempted in certain directions. Though I was several years his junior my influence had more than once kept him out of serious entanglements. Since he had married, however, he had led an exemplary life, and the most exacting wife could not have demanded greater devotion than he displayed to Madge.
Their house was situated some distance from the business part of the town, on a suburban continuation of the main street of the town, and behind it, at the rear of the large kitchen garden, ran a shallow brook. A lane ran from the street to the brook which it crossed by a rustic bridge. I mentioned these details of the location of the house because they have an important bearing on my story.
The place was old-fashioned in construction and appearance. It was a charming old fashion, however, and George had wisely determined not to disfigure it with modern additions, and except for such interior changes as comfort had demanded the house remained unaltered. A profusion of shrubbery adorned the spacious yard, and a broad piazza, in front of which grew two stately elms, furnished a pleasant lounging place for summer days.
For several weeks I did nothing but read newspapers. The rest of the time I spent rambling about the woods and fields, reveling in the pure country air and the beauty of sky and verdure.
After a few weeks of idleness, however, my health grew better, the color returned to my cheek, and I felt equal to the task of beginning my novel, a work which I had long contemplated, and which I imagined I could dash off in a few weeks. I set to work upon it, and had completed the first two or three chapters, when the introduction of a new member into our household interfered somewhat with my plans.
"George," said Madge one morning as we sat at a late breakfast, "I am going to invite Laura Wharton to visit us. Poor dear! I know she must find it dreadfully lonely out there among strangers."
"Where is she?" asked George, indifferently.
"In San Francisco. Her husband is in Japan, you know."
"Oh, yes, I remember now. He went over as agent for a firm. When is he coming back?"
"Laura says he will be gone for a year, as the condition of the firm's Japanese business will require his presence at least that much longer."
"Wonder why he didn't take her with him?" asked George.
"Oh, her letter explains that. She was dreadfully anxious to go, but she is rather delicate, and her physician feared that the long voyage and the unaccustomed surroundings might have an unfavorable effect upon her health."
"Well," remarked George, as he rose from the table, "invite her by all means. An interesting young grass widow, in delicate health, will make an excellent companion for our pale student here. Besides, she'll furnish him with literary material; he can put her in his novel." Thus the matter was settled. The invitation was sent and promptly accepted. The letter of acceptance brought a request for George's aid in securing passes over the railroads. The large shipping business of the quarry gave George a claim on the railway companies to courtesies of this description. In due time he handed two handsomely engraved bits of pasteboard to Madge, who forwarded them to her distant friend.
One afternoon, a few weeks later, Madge drove down to the depot to meet the visitor. I was seated in the library, my table drawn close to the long window, and working hard on a personal description of the heroine of my novel. I was still debating the point whether to make her a statuesque blonde or a magnificent brunette, when I heard the crunching of wheels on the graveled drive, and looked up from my manuscript. The window in front of which I sat was open, and on the other side of the piazza a climbing vine had been trained, forming a leafy screen, through which I could gratify my curiosity unperceived. As I looked out a clear, musical voice exclaimed, in tones of unmistakable sincerity:
"Oh, do stop, Madge! What a lovely old place! It looks just like a picture."
I looked at the speaker through my leafy veil, and mentally exclaimed:
"What a beautiful woman! I will use her for my heroine!"
Seated by Madge, and leaning slightly forward in the eagerness of her admiration she did not appear to be nineteen; a half brunette, with wavy brown hair peeping coquettishly from beneath a charming bonnet; her dark eye sparkling with artistic appreciation of the quaint old brick house in its setting of flowers and shrubbery.
"Oh, Madge!" she exclaimed. "How delightful it must be to live in such a charming old place."
Then Madge drove up to the steps, and the guest alighted, and I saw her no more until evening. When she appeared at supper my first impression was strengthened. The traces of travel had been removed, and a becoming evening dress set off to advantage her charms of person. Her conversation was cultivated and witty. I began to think this delicate grass widow would prove a delightful adjunct to a summer vacation, and that Mrs. Wharton's grace and beauty would add immeasurably to the somewhat colorless abstraction which had hitherto done duty as the heroine of my novel.
Mrs. Wharton's presence caused several changes in our domestic habits, but principally in my own. As the only unencumbered person about the house, it naturally came about that the entertainment of the visitor devolved largely upon me. I went out riding with her, and found her by no means averse to a sharp canter along a smooth stretch of road. She rode so well that I immediately inserted an equestrian scene in my novel. I went driving with her, and she handled the reins so well that I wrote up a runaway episode, in which my heroine's skill and presence of mind prevented what might have been a dire catastrophe.
On rainy days we read together in the old library. George was generally absent at the quarry, which lay on the other side of the town. Madge was usually occupied with her household affairs. On warm afternoons Mrs. Wharton reclined in a Mexican hammock swung in the piazza, and dawdled over a novel or a book of poems.
Of course it would have been unnatural for a young man, thus thrown in daily and familiar intercourse with a young and pretty woman, not to become more or less interested in her. I will confess that I thought her charming. There was clinging tenderness in the manner in which she held my arm, for instance, when we visited the quarry and walked too near the edge of a stonepit, that was quite exhilarating. I should doubtless have fallen violently in love with her if she had been a widow or unmarried. There were several reasons why I did not. In the first place, I had been well bred. In the second place, my novel acted as an escape valve for my imagination. Besides, there was a blue-eyed little fairy with whom I had taken many long walks during my last year at college, and her image was too recently and too firmly impressed upon my youthful heart to be driven out even by the charming Mrs. Wharton. I no more dreamed of scaling the barrier which matrimony had built between us than I would have dreamed of scaling Mt. Shasta.
One day I asked her if she had heard from her husband lately.
"Have I a husband?" she asked dreamily, shooting a glance at me from beneath her long eyelashes.
"Twelve thousand miles is a long distance."
Several other remarks, uttered at various times when we were alone together, led me to think that her relations with her husband might not be as pleasant as perfect connubial bliss would require.
"George," I said one evening, when we were smoking on the piazza and Mrs. Wharton and Madge were indoors, "what sort of a fellow is Mrs. Wharton's husband?"
"Don't know," he replied laconically. He was a man of few words and many cigars.
"Do you get many letters for her?" The mail for the family always went to the office.
"Haven't got any from Japan, so far."
"I imagine she don't care much for her husband," I remarked, stating my reasons for this opinion.
"Likely enough," said George. "It's a beastly shame. A woman like that ought not to be running about the world alone. A woman like that was made to be loved. Wonder you aren't in love with her yourself before now."
I denied the soft impeachment with a blush.
A week or two after this conversation George met with an accident. A heavy fall of rain had softened the earth around the top of one of his quarry-pits, and, stepping carelessly too near the edge, the earth caved, and he was precipitated ten or fifteen feet to the bottom of the pit. His injuries were not serious, but several bruises and a sprained ankle made it necessary for him to keep quiet for a week or two. He therefore remained at home, and I attended to such of his business at the quarry as could be done in his absence. This kept me away from the house, except for a short time before and after meals.
I noticed that during the week Mrs. Wharton occupied her usual place on the verandah, and I suppose she did her best to entertain George during his convalescence. As for George, he did not seem to take his enforced inactivity as hard as he usually would have done. Ordinarily he would have fretted and fumed, would have smoked innumerable cigars, would have read a few novels and a great many newspapers. He would probably have begun to hobble about before his ankle had gained sufficient strength, with the result of making him somewhat surly and short of speech.
On the contrary, however, his confinement to the house produced none of these results. He was cheerful and even animated. The occasional hitches in his business, resulting from my inexperience, did not disturb his equanimity. I even found him reading Byron one afternoon.
"Cultivating the muses, George?" I inquired.
"Reading about this fellow Beppo," he replied carelessly. "Deuced interesting thing. Didn't know Byron had so much life in him." From which it may be inferred that George's tastes were not strictly literary.
I sat down on the chair which Mrs. Wharton had risen from before I came out on the piazza.
"Don't you think Mrs. Wharton has a beautiful voice?" he said, knocking the ashes from his cigar.
"Decidedly so," I said. "She sang with spirit and understanding to Madge's accompaniment."
"Her figure is perfect," he added, reflectively.
I assented to this.
"And then she has such a charming manner, and dresses in such exquisite taste."
"Have you expressed your opinion of her to Madge?" I inquired with a tinge of sarcasm.
"I can't say I have," he answered shortly. "Women are peculiar about these things. A man can admire a handsome woman without making a fool of himself about her. Madge is all well enough in her way, but she hasn't got Laura's chic."
"Look out, old boy," I said, laughing, "you know your weakness."
A few days later I came home from the quarry a little earlier than usual. Instead of entering at the front gate, I came down the lane which ran alongside of the yard, leading to the brook below, and came in at the side gate. As I stopped to pluck a flower, I heard Mrs. Wharton's voice speaking in a low tone. The voice came from the piazza, and on the other side of the screen of vines I could see the glimmer of her white dress.
"He was too slow," she was saying. "If he had been more like you, George, I might have loved him. He has been with me every day for three weeks, and has not said a word of love, or even kissed so much as my hand. He's a good little fellow, too good for this world. I'm afraid your brother Frank will die early, George."
This conversation promised to become interesting. I kept quiet.
"Frank is young yet, Laura. He'll grow wiser as he grows older. Your love would be wasted on a boy, even so good a boy as Frank."
I crept a little further away from the piazza, and then went around to the front steps. When I went upon the piazza George was deeply absorbed in his volume of Byron, and Mrs. Wharton was knitting with more than usual energy on the fancy sacque she was making for Madge's child, while a slight blush heightened the glow of her cheek.
Of course I said nothing of my discovery. It was clear as day to me now that Mrs. Wharton had been making love to me ever since she had been in our house. It was equally clear that she had used her charms on George with greater effect. I felt oppressed by the weight of my secret, so much so, indeed, that I did not even think of the dramatic effect with which I could work it up in my novel. I had no right to speak to Mrs. Wharton; I would not for the world have spoken to Madge, for I instinctively felt that a nature like hers would not overlook such a fault in a husband. I imagined how terrible it must be for a woman to have her dearest ideal shattered. I spoke to George. I did not tell him what I had overhead, but I intimated that I saw the drift of things very clearly. He turned the subject of conversation as soon as he could, and ridiculed the idea that there was anything serious between himself and Mrs. Wharton.
A week passed. I saw no further indication of any secret understanding between George and Laura, and I began to think that my advice had borne fruit in recalling George to his senses. It is true that they were much together for several days. Then George's ankle got better, though it seemed to me longer in recovering its strength than the nature of the injury required. At length, however, he got out to his business again, and his tete-à-tetes with the fair Laura were after that less frequent. Of course they met at table and in the family circle, and occasionally, when Mrs. Wharton had some shopping to do, she would accept a seat in George's buggy when he drove through the business part of the town on his way to the quarry.
My novel was progressing finely, and I had got the heroine involved in a position from which it would require something decidedly improbable to extricate her, when, one morning at breakfast, Mrs. Wharton announced that she had received a letter from her husband.
"I am afraid," she said, regretfully, "that I must bring my visit to an end. Ralph writes that he will arrive on The Mikado, which is due at San Francisco next week."
"How happy you must be at the prospect of meeting your husband," said Madge. "But I shall be awfully sorry to lose you," she continued.
"It's too bad you can't finish your visit," remarked George, politely, but with almost too apparent unconcern. I observed, however, that he did not look at her as he spoke.
"I'm sure I never spent a more delightful summer," she murmured, leaning over to feed a lump of sugar to Madge's little boy, Johnnie, of which precocious infant Laura seemed very fond. This stuffing with sweets was a breach of domestic discipline only allowed in view of Mrs. Wharton's approaching departure.
"You'll want passes, of course," remarked George as he folded his napkin.
"Pray don't trouble yourself," she cried, deprecatingly. "I could not allow you to bother so much on my account."
"Oh, it's no trouble at all," protested George as we rose from the table. "When do you go?"
"I think I had better leave Friday," she replied. "The Mikado is due at San Francisco the latter part of next week, and that will give me plenty of time to get there before the steamer arrives."
During the two or three days intervening before Mrs. Wharton's departure I worked away diligently on my novel, and made some progress in extricating the heroine from the disagreeable predicament into which her enemies had forced her. To accomplish this intellectual feat required a great deal of thought on my part, and I therefore did not trouble myself about Mrs. Wharton's affairs.
Thursday evening we all met at supper. Mrs. Wharton was somewhat pale and distrait. Madge was regretfully sympathetic—the regret at losing her visitor—the sympathy in Laura's anticipated pleasure at meeting her husband after such a long absence. George seemed somewhat preoccupied, and gave random answers to several questions which I asked during the meal. The conversation turned on Mrs. Wharton's journey.
"By the way," George remarked, "I have your passes," he drew out of his pocket an envelope, from which he took several papers. One was yellow, and as he opened the envelope I noticed another slip like it in color and size, which he returned to his pocket.
The next morning Mrs. Wharton, assisted by Madge, was busy with preparations for her departure. I did not feel like working on my novel that morning, so I went over to the quarry to spend an hour in watching the workmen blasting out the solid rock. To my surprise I found very few men at work. I spoke to a workman standing near.
"What's the matter," I asked. "Why are not the men at work."
"We haven't been doing anything for several days," he replied. "There don't seem to be any contracts on hand, and business has been slack ever since the boss was laid up with his sprained ankle. The men don't like it either."
This was news to me. George had said nothing at home about the condition of his business, or I would surely have heard of it. I walked up to the office. George was seated at his desk, an open letter before him. As I came in he carelessly threw the letter on the desk face downward.
"What's the matter with the business, George?" I asked. "The men say they haven't been doing anything for several weeks."
"Awfully dull for the past three weeks or so," he answered. There was a note in his voice, however, which somehow savored of insincerity.
"I have just got an order, though," he continued, "which will keep us busy for three months. I made a bid to furnish the stone for a new public building at Caldwell, and I think I'll get it. I have just received a letter from the contractor, asking for a conference at his office tomorrow morning. I guess I shall have to run down there tonight."
"You can see Mrs. Wharton a part of the way on her journey," I remarked.
"Yes, that's a fact; so I can. She'll be pleasant company. I wish you would ask Madge to have my valise packed for me."
When I went home to lunch I delivered the message to Madge. She did not evince any surprise, as George's business frequently called him away from home. "It will be pleasant for Laura to have company as far as Caldwell," she said.
When George came home to dinner he explained more fully the object of his journey. He seemed very much elated, but there was a suppressed excitement in his manner which was very unusual, and which a successful stroke of business seemed hardly sufficient to account for; and I still noticed that tone of insincerity in his voice. I do not think that Madge perceived it. It was like a slight discord in a piece of music is to an unmusical ear. I was conscious of it, but could not define it nor account for it.
The hour for the departure of the travelers approached. The train left at seven, and the depot was at least a mile from the house, on the other side of the town. Just before the time to start it began to rain. This necessitated a change in our plan, which had been to walk to the depot in a family party. It was therefore decided that Madge and I should remain at home, and George would drive Mrs. Wharton to the depot in his covered buggy. The buggy would be brought back by a servant who had gone with the trunks on an express wagon. Mrs. Wharton came down, clad in a gray traveling dress of some clinging material, which fitted her elegant figure perfectly.
"Good-by, dear Madge," she murmured, as the two women embraced. "I can not find words to tell you how I have enjoyed my visit."
I bade Mrs. Wharton farewell, and assisted her into the buggy, which rolled off down the graveled drive and out into the street. As we turned to go into the house Madge called her little boy.
"Johnnie! where are you? Come to mamma!"
The child did not come nor answer. He had been in the hall a few minutes before, and Mrs. Wharton had kissed him before she went out on the piazza. Madge went into the house to look for the child. A few minutes later she reappeared.
"Frank," she said, anxiously, "I wish you would help me look for Johnnie. I don't know where he can have gone. Please look out in the lane and down toward the brook; he may have strayed in that direction."
I went out of the side gate and down the lane toward the brook. As I neared the rustic bridge I heard a splash and a faint scream. Fear lent wings to my feet, and I reached the bridge in a moment. Looking down the stream I saw a small figure floating a few rods away. The water was shallow, but the child was only three years old. Besides, there was an eddy a short distance below, and beyond it a pool of deep water where the boys of the neighborhood were wont to disport themselves. If I could only reach the child before he got to this spot I might save him.
Springing over the low railing I made my way down the stream as rapidly as possible. Every swimmer knows how hard it is to run even in shallow water. But I could not have reached the boy any quicker by running on the bank, for the brook was fenced on each side, and I would have lost more time climbing fences than I would have gained by running on land. My efforts were only partially successful. The child reached the eddy, was whirled around one or twice, and sank, coming up a moment later in the deep water beyond, By this time I had reached the spot and caught his little skirt as he came up. A moment later and I had drawn the dripping and apparently lifeless body to the bank. I knew that prompt measures must be taken, and clasping the limp little frame in my arms I ran as fast as I could homeward.
Madge met me at the gate. She looked at me approaching, and divined from the manner in which I held the child that something was wrong. With a wild scream she sprang toward me, and seizing the lifeless form of her child, ran toward the house.
"Don't be excited," I exclaimed, as calmly as my own excitement would permit. "A few simple steps will restore him to consciousness. He was under the water only a minute."
My familiarity with the books in the library was such that I could put my hand on book or page where instructions were given for resuscitating drowned persons. By the time I found them Madge had recovered somewhat of composure and her strong good sense asserted itself in the manner in which she carried out the instructions I gave.
"The girl will help you," I said, "and I will go at once for Dr. Greene, and then go to the depot and see if I can catch George before the train leaves."
These events had not occupied a quarter of an hour from the time George and Mrs. Wharton had left for the depot. They had fully half an hour to reach it, and I hoped I could get there on foot in the fifteen minutes remaining. I dashed out of the house and down the street. The doctor's residence was but a half dozen doors from our own. As I drew near I saw his buggy standing at the gate and his rotund figure disappearing in the shrubbery.
"Doctor!" I screamed; "for God's sake, come quick!"
He turned and came back to the gate.
"George's child is drowned," I said, "and they are trying to resuscitate him. His father is going away on the seven o'clock train, and I have but fifteen minutes to reach him."
"Have you a horse?"
"Take my buggy and I will go to the house on foot. Bring him back if you can. It is not always easy to restore drowned people."
I sprang into the buggy, and seizing the whip, astonished the good doctor's easy-going old gray mare. She seemed to recognize the seriousness of the emergency, however, and responded nobly.
We reached the depot in ten minutes. I sprang out, and ran into the station house. There was no train there. I glanced at the depot clock, and it marked five minutes after train time.
"Plenty of time, sir," said a blue-clad porter, coming up behind me. "Train twenty minutes late."
I ran to the waiting-room. There were several people sitting there, but all were strangers.
"Have you seen a lady and a gentleman, together?" I inquired of the porter.
"Lady in gray-blue bonnet?" he asked.
"They've gone up the park," he answered. "Those are their things." He pointed to a pile of valises and bundles. I recognized them.
"In what direction did they go?" I asked.
"Didn't notice. Best way to catch 'em is to wait right here. Train'll be along pretty soon now, and if you go one way they may come another, and you'll miss 'em."
This was true. I could only wait. The depot stood at one side of an ornamental park, used for picnic parties and excursions. The light rain had ceased by this time, and George and Mrs. Wharton, tempted by the delicious coolness of the evening air, and having plenty of time, had strolled off down one of the winding paths. I sat down by the pile of luggage, and instinctively put my hand in my pocket for something to read—I remembered having stuck a newspaper in the inner pocket of the light overcoat which I had snatched up as I left the house. Instead of the newspaper I drew out a folded paper, which I opened with some curiosity, not remembering to have seen it before. It was a letter addressed to my brother George. I involuntarily glanced at the first few lines when I became interested, and read the letter through. It ran as follows:
Dear Sir: Your figures for the quarry are pretty steep. However, it is a valuable property and we think we can get our money out of it by prudent management. As requested by you, we will have deed prepared according to your instructions, and will be at depot with notary public to meet ten o'clock train. We have procured draft on Denver, which will be delivered on execution of deed. Yours truly.— ——
The letter was signed by a prominent stone merchant in Caldwell, with whom George had frequently had business transactions.
My first sensation was one of astonishment, and it was several moments before the full meaning of the situation had dawned upon me. George's alleged business in Caldwell was fictitious. He had been closing up his own business, and had sold out the quarry. He had procured passes for himself as well as for Mrs. Wharton. There could be but one reason for so much deception and secrecy. The wicked woman who was with him had wound her toils about his weak nature, and a wife's love, a successful business career, even honor itself, had been thrown to the winds for a pretty face.
I heard the whistle of the approaching train. The porter ran into the waiting-room and gathered up the luggage.
"This way, sir. Lady and gentleman just stepping on train."
In a moment I was in the car. "George," I cried, "Johnnie has fallen into the brook and drowned. For God's sake, come home."
He turned a ghastly white with emotion, while a look, which I can not define, came into Mrs. Wharton's eyes. Reading it in the light of my recent discovery, it expressed baffled love and disappointed hopes.
"I will go at once," said George, in a voice which sounded strange and unnatural. "Good-by," he added, turning to Laura. "I—I will—"
"I will go back with you," she said, "I ought not to leave Madge in her affliction."
George had already left the car.
"I do not think it necessary," I said coldly, as she rose from her seat. "Perhaps you had better go on and meet your husband. And as you pass through Caldwell, you might explain to the gentleman at the depot why George is not there to sign the deed for the quarry."
She saw that I knew all. She sank back into her seat, and her eyes blazed with hatred and pent-up rage. The train started and I left the car. I sprang into the buggy and soon overtook George, who had started up the street on foot. The doctor's mare made a record that evening which she has not beaten since.
The doctor and Madge were still working at the child, and it was some minutes after we arrived before the first faint signs of returning animation rewarded their efforts. Finally, however, the child breathed, then opened his eyes, and the danger was over.
George stood looking on with haggard face. When Madge had carried the child off to bed, and the good doctor had gone to his well-earned supper, I drew the letter from my pocket and handed it to George.
"You have on the wrong overcoat," I said. "You left this in your pocket."
He took the letter mechanically, but as he recognized it, his face fell.
"You read it?" he asked. I nodded assent.
He did not attempt to blame me or to excuse himself. "For God's sake, do not tell Madge," he whispered hoarsely. "It's all over now and it would kill her to know."
I never told Madge. The sale of the quarry fell through, and George had to pay a round sum to prevent a lawsuit.
I did not see Mrs. Wharton again. We learned more of her afterwards—that her marital relations were not pleasant, and that her husband had exiled himself to Japan in order to get as far away from her as possible. Madge received a note from her a week or two later to the effect that her husband had been met by dispatches at Honolulu, and had turned back to Japan. Madge did not invite her to resume her visit.
I lost sight of her from that time. What kind of life she led, through what vicissitudes of fortune or misfortune she passed, how she sank step by step from respectability to shame, I never knew. The look on the marble face in the morgue; the mysterious death in the worst quarter of a great city; the shabby finery of her attire—these things furnished the outline of a story which the imagination may fill in.
I wrote an unsigned letter to the undertaker, enclosing an amount sufficient to pay for her decent burial. I did not wish to appear personally in the matter, nor did I make my recognition of the body known to the public. She had long been lost to the world in which her early life had been passed. Better let her disappear, like a fallen star, in the darkness of oblivion.