Frederik Grimm turned away from looking
down at the pathetically small figure in the darkened
room. His face was expressionless. He had
stood there but a few minutes. And his eyes,
riveted on the still, white little form, had not softened
nor blurred with tears.
Wearily he descended the gallery stairs
into the living-room, where the morning sunlight was
already turning the desk bowl of roses into a riot
of burning colour.
He was halfway across the room, toward
the door, when he was aware that Kathrien had risen
from the desk chair and was looking at him. Her
look was cold and devoid of pity as she surveyed him.
But as he halted, hesitant, the sunlight fell full
on his face. And in the visage that had seemed
so vapidly blank to McPherson, she read much.
The cold glint died from her eyes
and she stepped forward with hand outstretched.
“Frederik,” she said gently.
He came haltingly toward her.
He held out his hand to meet hers. But he could
not touch the fingers that were waiting to press his
own. His hand fell limply to his side.
She understood. And the warm pity in her face
“I am sorry,” she said simply.
“He is happier,” muttered the man.
“I don’t mean for Willem.
For you. You understand what it all means
“And, too late,” he assented.
“It is always too late when one understands.”
“It is never too late,”
she denied eagerly. “Frederik, you have
everything ahead of you. You can ”
“I have nothing ahead of me,” he contradicted
“You have wealth, youth, the
power to undo what wrong you did, to start
“As the broken-winged bird has
the power to start a new flight. Don’t
waste your divine sympathy on me, Kitty. It would
be thrown away. In a very little time, as Dr.
McPherson has kindly pointed out to me, I shall be
convalescent from my attack of remorse. And then
all life will lie before me, as you say. All
life except the one thing that makes life worth living.”
He stopped. For he saw she understood.
“You always understood,”
he went on, voicing his thought. “That was
one of the wonderful things about you, Kitty.
Even now, you saw the pain I am in. And it made
you forget what you believe I am. It was sweet
of you. It will be good to remember.”
“I wish I could help you,” she said.
“You have helped me,”
he answered. “For you’ve given me
a Memory to carry till I can shake off the load till
I can get clear of McPherson’s ‘man-built
hell.’ It won’t be long. So don’t
worry. Even now, my common sense tells me I’ve
made a fool of myself. And I’m human enough
to be more ashamed of being a fool than of being a
knave. I had everything in my own hands.
And I threw away the game because an attack of fright
kept me from playing my winning cards. Last night
I was afraid of a ghost. This morning I’m
sane enough to know that ghosts were invented by the
first nervous man who was alone at night. This
morning I am heart-broken because my little boy lies
dead. To-morrow I shall be sane enough to know
that it is as lucky for me as it is for him, that he
died. And in a week I’ll be congratulating
myself over it all and revelling in a freedom and
a fortune I’ve always craved. So you see
I’m quite incurable.”
“Why do you say such things?”
she cried. “You know they aren’t true.”
“When I said you ‘always
understand,’ Kitty, I was wrong. You don’t
understand. No woman understands that
a man doesn’t reform. A good man may have
taken a wrong twist. And when he finds his way
back to the straight road, they say he has ‘reformed.’
He hasn’t. He’s only struck his own
natural gait again. As he was bound to. And
my kind of man sometimes takes a momentary
twist in the right direction. Then people
say he has reformed. And they are just
as much mistaken as they were in the other case.
For, water won’t run uphill after the first pressure
“But in the fires of affliction ”
“The fires of affliction,”
he retorted sadly, “have burned away the dross
from the pure gold of many a soul, I suppose.
But no fires were ever heated that could burn dross
fiercely enough to turn it into gold. Yet ”
He hesitated, then said, without daring to look at
“There’s one thing I do
want you to know, Kitty. Whatever I was and am,
and whatever shams went to make up my daily life here you
know my love for you was true and absolute
and that I loved and love you more than the
whole world besides?”
“Yes,” she returned, unembarrassed.
“I believe that, Frederik. In part.
You loved me as much as you could love any one.
“Why must there be a ’but’?”
“But,” she went on with
the relentlessness of the Young, “not as much
as you loved yourself.”
“More! Ten thousand times more!”
he declared vehemently.
“No,” she contradicted.
“For you didn’t love me enough to give
me up when you knew I cared for another man.
The Perfect Love would have ”
“The ’perfect love’!”
he scoffed. “I have read of it. But
I have yet to see it.”
“You cannot see it,” she
replied, “for the same reason I could not see
Oom Peter when he was fighting my battle here last
night. My eyes were blinded by the world I live
in. Perfect love is everywhere. It is within
and about us. But ”
“But I would be too ignoble
to recognise it if I chanced upon it? Perhaps.
But why strip me of my last illusion? In the torment
of my self-abasement this morning, I have clung to
that one comfort: That I love you with a love
which a truly worthless man could not feel.
And now ”
me,” she begged, half-tearfully. “I ”
“You have shown me the truth.
And I ought to thank you for it. Perhaps some
day I can. If I still remember it then. Good-bye,
dear. I shan’t be here again. I’ve I’ve
left you a little present. Dr. McPherson will
give it to you.”
“But I can’t take ”
“Oh, yes, you can. It isn’t
really from me. That’s just another of my
lies to make a good impression. I’ve gotten
so in the habit of telling them that it is going to
take me a long time to realise that one of the chief
advantages of being a rich man is the immunity from
the need to lie. The present isn’t really
from me. It’s from Oom. Peter.
You can’t refuse it from him. If
you doubt it’s Oom Peter’s own direct gift,
ask Dr. McPherson. It was bad enough,”
he sighed, in mock despair, “for Oom Peter to
squander so much of my money while he was alive, without
keeping on doing it after he died. I hope he has
stopped it at last. Or I’ll soon be reduced
to standing at the subway steps with a tin cup in
Through the forced lightness, whose
effort wrung sweat from the man’s forehead,
Kathrien was woman enough to see the mortal agony that
lay beneath. And again she held out her hand.
she said gently. “And may you be happy!”
He looked doubtfully at the shapely
little hand. Then, with an awkwardness strangely
foreign to his normal grace, he took the hand in both
his own and stood a moment, looking down at it as though
not knowing what to do with it.
Then, very simply, he fell on his
knees, touched the warm, roseleaf palm to his lips,
got up and, without looking back, hurried out of the
Kathrien watched his slender, carefully
groomed figure until it was lost at a turn in the
rose bushes. Then she came back into the room
and stood beside Peter Grimm’s old chair.
“Oom Peter!” she whispered.
“This is my wedding day. You know it, don’t
you? And oh, please let me think you
are close close beside
me all the time!”