Out Of The Night
From: Laughing Bill Hyde And Other Stories
"There is but one remedy for your complaint." Doctor Suydam settled
deeper into his chair. "Marry the girl."
"That is the only piece of your professional advice I ever cared to
follow. But how?"
"Any way you can--use force if necessary--only marry her. Otherwise I
predict all sorts of complications for you--melancholia, brain-fag,
Austin laughed. "Could you write me a prescription?"
"Oh, she'll have you, Bob. You don't seem to realize that you are a
Austin finished buckling his puttee before rising to his full height.
"That doesn't mean anything to her. She doesn't need to make a catch."
"Nonsense! She's just like all the others, only richer and nicer. Go
at her as if she were the corn-market; she won't be half so hard to
corner. You have made a name for yourself, and a blamed sight more
money than you deserve; you are young--comparatively, I mean."
The elder man stroked his shock of iron-gray hair for answer.
"Well, at any rate you are a picturesque personage, even if you can't
"Doesn't a man look like the devil in these togs?" Austin posed
awkwardly in front of a mirror.
"There's only one person who can look worse in riding-clothes than a
man--that's a woman."
"What heresy, particularly in a society doctor! But I agree with you.
I learned to ride on her account, you know. As a matter of fact, I
hate it. The sight of a horse fills me with terror."
Doctor Suydam laughed outright at this. "She tells me that you have a
very good seat."
"Really!" Austin's eyes gleamed suddenly. "You know I never had
a chance to ride when I was a youngster--in fact, I never had an
opportunity to do anything except work. That's what makes me so crude
and awkward. What I know I have picked up during the last few years."
"You make me tired!" declared the former. "You aren't--"
"Oh, I don't skate on waxed floors nor spill tea, nor clutch at my
chauffeur in a tight place, but you know what I mean. I feel lonesome
in a dress-suit, a butler fills me with gloom, and--Well, I'm not one
of you, that's all."
"Perhaps that's what makes a hit with Marmion. She's used to the other
"It seems to me that I have always worked," ruminated the former
speaker. "I don't remember that I ever had time to play, even after
I came to the city. It's a mighty sad thing to rob a boy of his
childhood; it makes him a dull, unattractive sort when he grows up.
I used to read about people like Miss Moore, but I never expected to
know them until I met you. Of course, that corn deal rather changed
"Well, I should rather say it did!" Suydam agreed, with emphasis.
"The result is that when I am with her I forget the few things I have
done that are worth while, and I become the farm-hand again. I'm
naturally rough and angular, and she sees it."
"Oh, you're too sensitive! You have a heart like a girl underneath
that saturnine front of yours, and while you look like the Sphinx,
you are really as much of a kid at heart as I am. Where do you ride
"What horse is she riding?"
The doctor shook his head. "Too many automobiles on the Drive. He's a
rotten nag for a woman, anyhow. His mouth is as tough as a stirrup,
and he has the disposition of a tarantula. Why doesn't she stick to
"You know Marmion."
"Say, wouldn't it be great if Pointer bolted and you saved her life?
She couldn't refuse you then."
Austin laughed. "That's not exactly the way I'd care to win her.
However, if Pointer bolted I'd probably get rattled and fall off my
own horse. I don't like the brutes. Come on, I'm late."
"That's right," grumbled the other, "leave me here while you make
love to the nicest girl in New York. I'm going down to the office and
They descended the single flight to the street, where Austin's groom
was struggling with a huge black.
"It's coming pretty soft for you brokers," the doctor growled, as his
companion swung himself into the saddle. "The next time I get a friend
I'll keep him to myself."
Austin leaned forward with a look of grave anxiety upon his rugged
features and said: "Wish me luck, Doc. I'm going to ask her to-day."
"Good for you, old fellow." There was great fondness in the younger
man's eyes as he wrung the rider's hand and waved him adieu, then
watched him disappear around the corner.
"She'll take him," he mused, half aloud. "She's a sensible girl even
if all New York has done its best to spoil her." He hailed a taxicab
and was hurried to his office.
It was perhaps two hours later that he was called on the telephone.
"Hello! Yes, yes! What is it?" he cried, irritably. "Mercy Hospital!
What?" The young physician started. "Hurt, you say? Run-away? Go on,
quick!" He listened with whitening face, then broke in abruptly: "Of
course he sent for me. I'll be right up."
He slammed the receiver upon its hook and, seizing his hat, bolted out
through a waiting-room full of patients. His car was in readiness, and
he called to his chauffeur in such tones that the fellow vaulted to
"Go up Madison Avenue; there's less traffic there. And for God's sake
During two years' service with New York's most fashionable physician
the driver had never received a command like this, and he opened up
his machine. A policeman warned him at Thirty-third Street and the car
slowed down, at which Suydam leaned forward, crying, roughly:
"To hell with regulations! There's a man dying!"
The last word was jerked from him as he was snapped back into his
seat. Regardless of admonitory shouts from patrolmen, the French
car sang its growing song, while truck-drivers bellowed curses
and pedestrians fled from crossings at the scream of its siren. A
cross-town car blocked them, and the brakes screeched in agony, while
Doctor Suydam was well-nigh catapulted into the street; then they were
under way again, with the car leaping from speed to speed. It was the
first time the driver had ever dared to disregard those upraised,
white-gloved hands, and it filled his joy-riding soul with exultation.
A street repair loomed ahead, whereupon, with a sickening skid, they
swung into a side street; the gears clashed again, and an instant
later they shot out upon Fifth Avenue. At the next corner they lay
motionless in a blockade, while the motor shuddered; then they dodged
through an opening where the mud-guards missed by an inch and were
whirling west toward Broadway. At 109th Street a bicycle officer
stared in amazement at the dwindling number beneath the rear axle,
then ducked his head and began to pedal. He overhauled the speeding
machine as it throbbed before the doors of Mercy Hospital, to be
greeted by a grinning chauffeur who waved him toward the building and
told of a doctor's urgency.
Inside, Doctor Suydam, pallid of face and shaking in a most
unprofessional manner, was bending over a figure in riding-clothes,
the figure of a tall, muscular man who lay silent, deaf to his words
They told him all there was to tell in the deadly, impersonal way
of hospitals, while he nodded swift comprehension. There had been a
runaway--a woman on a big, white-eyed bay, that had taken fright at an
automobile; a swift rush up the Driveway, a lunge over the neck of
the pursuing horse, then a man wrenched from his saddle and dragged
beneath cruel, murderous hoofs. The bay had gone down, and the woman
was senseless when the ambulance arrived, but she had revived and
had been hurried to her home. In the man's hand they had found the
fragment of a bridle rein gripped with such desperation that they
could not remove it until he regained consciousness. He had asked
regarding the girl's safety, then sighed himself into oblivion again.
They told Suydam that he would die.
With sick heart the listener cursed all high-spirited women and
high-strung horses, declaring them to be works of the devil, like
automobiles; then he went back to the side of his friend, where other
hands less unsteady were at work.
"Poor lonely old Bob!" he murmured. "Not a soul to care except Marmion
and me, and God knows whether she cares or not."
* * * * *
But Robert Austin did not die, although the attending surgeons said
he would, said he should, in fact, unless all the teachings of their
science were at fault. He even offended the traditions of the hospital
by being removed to his own apartments in a week. There Suydam, who
had watched him night and day, told him that Miss Moore had a broken
shoulder and hence could not come to see him.
"Poor girl!" said Austin, faintly. "If I'd known more about horses I
might have saved her."
"If you'd known more about horses you'd have let Pointer run,"
declared his friend. "Nobody but an idiot or a Bob Austin would have
taken the chance you did. How is your head?"
The sick man closed his eyes wearily. "It hurts all the time. What's
the matter with it?"
"We've none of us been able to discover what isn't the matter with it!
Why in thunder did you hold on so long?"
"Because I--I love her, I suppose."
"Did you ask her to marry you?" Suydam had been itching to ask the
question for days.
"No, I was just getting to it when Pointer bolted. I--I'm slow at such
things." There was a moment's pause. "Doc, what's the matter with my
eyes? I can't see very well."
"Don't talk so much," ordered the physician. "You're lucky to be here
at all. Thanks to that copper-riveted constitution of yours, you'll
But it seemed that the patient was fated to disappoint the predictions
of his friend as well as those of the surgeons at Mercy Hospital. He
did not recover in a manner satisfactory to his medical adviser, and
although he regained the most of his bodily vigor, the injury to his
eyes baffled even the most skilled specialists.
He was very brave about it, however, and wrung the heart of Doctor
Suydam by the uncomplaining fortitude with which he bore examination
after examination. Learned oculists theorized vaporously about optic
atrophies, fractures, and brain pressures of one sort and another; and
meanwhile Robert Austin, in the highest perfection of bodily vigor, in
the fullest possession of those faculties that had raised him from an
unschooled farm-boy to a position of eminence in the business world,
went slowly blind. The shadows crept in upon him with a deadly,
merciless certainty that would have filled the stoutest heart with
gloom, and yet he maintained a smiling stoicism that deceived all but
his closest associates. To Doctor Suydam, however, the incontestable
progress of the malady was frightfully tragic. He alone knew the man's
abundant spirits, his lofty ambitions, and his active habits. He alone
knew of the overmastering love that had come so late and was
destined to go unvoiced, and he raved at the maddening limits of his
profession. In Austin's presence he strove to be cheerful and to
lighten the burden he knew was crushing the sick man; but at other
times he bent every energy toward a discovery of some means to check
the affliction, some hand more skilled than those he knew of. In time,
however, he recognized the futility of his efforts, and resigned
himself to the worst. He had a furious desire to acquaint Marmion
Moore with the truth, and to tell her, with all the brutal frankness
he could muster, of her part in this calamity. But Austin would not
hear of it.
"She doesn't dream of the truth," the invalid told him. "And I don't
want her to learn. She thinks I'm merely weak, and it grieves her
terribly to know that I haven't recovered. If she really knew--it
might ruin her life, for she is a girl who feels deeply. I want to
spare her that; it's the least I can do."
"But she'll find it out some time."
"I think not. She comes to see me every day--"
"Yes. I'm expecting her soon."
"And she doesn't know?"
Austin shook his head. "I never let her see there's anything the
matter with my sight. She drives up with her mother, and I wait for
her there in the bay-window. It's getting hard for me to distinguish
her now, but I recognize the hoofbeats--I can tell them every time."
"But--I don't understand."
"I pretend to be very weak," explained the elder man, with a guilty
flush. "I sit in the big chair yonder and my Jap boy waits on her. She
is very kind." Austin's voice grew husky. "I'm sorry to lose sight of
the Park out yonder, and the trees and the children--they're growing
indistinct. I--I like children. I've always wanted some for myself.
I've dreamed about--that." His thin, haggard face broke into a wistful
smile. "I guess that is all over with now."
"Why?" questioned Suydam, savagely. "Why don't you ask her to marry
you, Bob? She couldn't refuse--and God knows you need her."
"That's just it; she couldn't refuse. This is the sort of thing a
fellow must bear alone. She's too young, and beautiful, and fine to be
harnessed up to a worn-out old--cripple."
"Cripple!" The other choked. "Don't talk like that. Don't be so blamed
resigned. It tears my heart out. I--I--why, I believe I feel this more
than you do."
Austin turned his face to the speaker with a look of such tragic
suffering that the younger man fell silent.
"I'm glad I can hide my feelings," Austin told him, slowly, "for that
is what I have to do every instant she is with me. I don't wish to
inflict unnecessary pain upon my friends, but don't you suppose I know
what this means? It means the destruction of all my fine hopes, the
death of all I hold dear in the world. I love my work, for I am--or I
was--a success; this means I must give it up. I'm strong in body and
brain; this robs me of my usefulness. All my life I have prayed that
I might some time love a woman; that time has come, but this means
I must give her up and be lonely all my days. I must grope my way
through the dark with never a ray of light to guide me. Do you know
how awful the darkness is?" He clasped his hands tightly. "I must go
hungering through the night, with a voiceless love to torture me. Just
at the crowning point of my life I've been snuffed out. I must fall
behind and see my friends desert me."
"Bob!" cried the other, in shocked denial.
"Oh, you know it will come to that. People don't like to feel pity
forever tugging at them. I've been a lonely fellow and my friends are
numbered. For a time they will come to see me, and try to cheer me up;
they will even try to include me in their pleasures; then when it is
no longer a new story and their commiseration has worn itself out they
will gradually fall away. It always happens so. I'll be 'poor Bob
Austin,' and I'll go feeling my way through life an object of pity, a
stumbling, incomplete thing that has no place to fill, no object to
work for, no one to care. God! I'm not the sort to go blind! Where's
the justice of it? I've lived clean. Why did this happen to me? Why?
Why? I know what the world is; I've been a part of it. I've seen the
spring and the autumn colors and I've watched the sunsets. I've looked
into men's faces and read their souls, and when you've done that you
can't live in darkness. I can't and--I won't!"
"What do you mean?"
"I'm going away."
"When I can no longer see Marmion Moore and before my affliction
becomes known to her. Where--you can guess."
"Oh, that's cowardly, Bob! You're not that sort. You mustn't! It's
unbelievable," his friend cried, in a panic.
Austin smiled bitterly. "We have discussed that too often, and--I'm
not sure that what I intend doing is cowardly. I can't go now, for the
thing is too fresh in her memory, she might learn the truth and hold
herself to blame; but when she has lost the first shock of it I shall
walk out quietly and she won't even suspect. Other interests will come
into her life; I'll be only a memory. Then--" After a pause he went
on, "I couldn't bear to see her drop away with the rest."
"Don't give up yet," urged the physician. "She is leaving for the
summer, and while she is gone we'll try that Berlin chap. He'll be
here in August."
"And he will fail, as the others did. He will lecture some clinic
about me, that's all. Marmion will hear that my eyes have given out
from overwork, or something like that. Then I'll go abroad, and--I
won't come back." Austin, divining the rebellion in his friend's
heart, said, quickly: "You're the only one who could enlighten her,
Doc, but you won't do it. You owe me too much."
"I--I suppose I do," acknowledged Suydam, slowly. "I owe you more than
I can ever repay--"
"Wait--" The sick man raised his hand, while a sudden light blazed up
in his face. "She's coming!"
To the doctor's trained ear the noises of the street rose in a
confused murmur, but Austin spoke in an awed, breathless tone, almost
as if he were clairvoyant.
"I can hear the horses. She's coming to--see me."
"I'll go," exclaimed the visitor, quickly, but the other shook his
"I'd rather have you stay."
Austin was poised in an attitude of the intensest alertness, his
angular, awkward body was drawn to its full height, his lean face was
lighted by some hidden fire that lent it almost beauty.
"She's getting out of the carriage," he cried, in a nervous voice;
then he felt his way to his accustomed arm-chair. Suydam was about to
go to the bay-window when he paused, regarding his friend curiously.
"What are you doing?"
The blind man had begun to beat time with his hand, counting under his
breath: "One! Two! Three!--"
"She'll knock when I reach twenty-five. 'Sh! 'sh!" He continued his
pantomime, and Suydam realized that from repeated practice Austin had
gauged to a nicety the seconds Marmion Moore required to mount the
stairs. This was his means of holding himself in check. True to
prediction, at "Twenty-five" a gentle knock sounded, and Suydam opened
"Come in, Marmion."
The girl paused for the briefest instant on the threshold, and the
doctor noted her fleeting disappointment at seeing him; then she took
"This is a surprise," she exclaimed. "I haven't seen you for ever so
Her anxious glance swept past him to the big, awkward figure against
the window's light. Austin was rising with apparent difficulty, and
she glided to him.
"Please! Don't rise! How many times have I told you not to exert
Suydam noted the gentle, proprietary tone of her voice, and it amazed
"I--am very glad that you came to see me." The afflicted man's voice
was jerky and unmusical. "How are you to-day, Miss?"
"He shouldn't rise, should he?" Miss Moore appealed to the physician.
"He is very weak and shouldn't exert himself."
The doctor wished that his friend might see the girl's face as he saw
it; he suddenly began to doubt his own judgment of women.
"Oh, I'm doing finely," Austin announced. "Won't you be seated?" He
waved a comprehensive gesture, and Suydam, marveling at the manner
in which the fellow concealed his infirmity, brought a chair for the
"I came alone to-day. Mother is shopping," Miss Moore was saying.
"See! I brought these flowers to cheer up your room." She held up a
great bunch of sweet peas. "I love the pink ones, don't you?"
Austin addressed the doctor. "Miss Moore has been very kind to me; I'm
afraid she feels it her duty--"
"No! No!" cried the girl.
"She rarely misses a day, and she always brings flowers. I'm very fond
of bright colors."
Suydam cursed at the stiff formality in the man's tone. How could any
woman see past that glacial front and glimpse the big, aching
heart beyond? Austin was harsh and repellent when the least bit
self-conscious, and now he was striving deliberately to heighten the
The physician wondered why Marmion Moore had gone even thus far in
showing her gratitude, for she was not the self-sacrificing kind. As
for a love match between two such opposite types, Suydam could not
conceive of it. Even if the girl understood the sweet, simple nature
of this man, even if she felt her own affections answer to his, Suydam
believed he knew the women of her set too well to imagine that she
could bring herself to marry a blind man, particularly one of no
"We leave for the mountains to-morrow," Marmion said, "so I came to
say good-by, for a time."
"I--shall miss your visits," Austin could not disguise his genuine
regret, "but when you return I shall be thoroughly recovered. Perhaps
we can ride again."
"Never!" declared Miss Moore. "I shall never ride again. Think of the
suffering I've caused you. I--I--am dreadfully sorry."
To Suydam's amazement, he saw the speaker's eyes fill with tears. A
doubt concerning the correctness of his surmises came over him and he
rose quickly. After all, he reflected, she might see and love the real
Bob as he did, and if so she might wish to be alone with him in this
last hour. But Austin laughed at his friend's muttered excuse.
"You know there's nobody waiting for you. That's only a pretense to
find livelier company. You promised to dine with me." To Miss Moore he
explained: "He isn't really busy; why, he has been complaining for an
hour that the heat has driven all his patients to the country, and
that he is dying of idleness."
The girl's expression altered curiously. She shrank as if wounded; she
scanned the speaker's face with startled eyes before turning with a
strained smile to say:
"So, Doctor, we caught you that time. That comes from being a
high-priced society physician. Why don't you practise among the
masses? I believe the poor are always in need of help."
"I really have an engagement," Suydam muttered.
"Then break it for Mr. Austin's sake. He is lonely and--I must be
going in a moment."
The three talked for a time in the manner all people adopt for a
sick-room, then the girl rose and said, with her palm in Austin's
"I owe you so much that I can never hope to repay you, but you--you
will come to see me frequently this season. Promise! You won't hide
yourself, will you?"
The blind man smiled his thanks and spoke his farewell with
meaningless politeness; then, as the physician prepared to see her to
her carriage, Miss Moore said:
"No! Please stay and gossip with our invalid. It's only a step."
She walked quickly to the door, flashed them a smile, and was gone.
Suydam heard his patient counting as before.
"One! Two! Three--!"
At "Twenty-five" the elder man groped his way to the open bay-window
and bowed at the carriage below. There came the sound of hoofs and
rolling wheels, and the doctor, who had taken stand beside his friend,
saw Marmion Moore turn in her seat and wave a last adieu. Austin
continued to nod and smile in her direction, even after the carriage
was lost to view; then he felt his way back to the arm-chair and sank
limply into it.
"Gone! I--I'll never be able to see her again."
Suydam's throat tightened miserably. "Could you see her at all?"
"Only her outlines; but when she comes back in the fall I'll be as
blind as a bat." He raised an unsteady hand to his head and closed his
eyes. "I can stand anything except that! To lose sight of her dear
face--" The force of his emotion wrenched a groan from him.
"I don't know what to make of her," said the other. "Why didn't you
let me go, Bob? It was her last good-by; she wanted to be alone with
you. She might have--"
"That's it!" exclaimed Austin. "I was afraid of myself; afraid I'd
speak if I had the chance." His voice was husky as he went on. "It's
hard--hard, for sometimes I think she loves me, she's so sweet and so
tender. At such times I'm a god. But I know it can't be; that it is
only pity and gratitude that prompts her. Heaven knows I'm uncouth
enough at best, but now I have to exaggerate my rudeness. I play
a part--the part of a lumbering, stupid lout, while my heart is
breaking." He bowed his head in his hands, closing his dry, feverish
eyes once more. "It's cruelly hard. I can't keep it up."
The other man laid a hand on his shoulder, saying: "I don't know
whether you're doing right or not. I half suspect you are doing
Marmion a bitter wrong."
"Oh, but she can't--she can't love me!" Austin rose as if
frightened. "She might yield to her impulse and--well, marry me, for
she has a heart of gold, but it wouldn't last. She would learn some
time that it wasn't real love that prompted the sacrifice. Then I
The specialist from Berlin came, but he refused to operate, declaring
bluntly that there was no use, and all during the long, hot summer
days Robert Austin sat beside his open window watching the light
die out of the world, waiting, waiting, for the time to make his
Suydam read Marmion's cheery letters aloud, wondering the while at the
wistful note they sounded now and then. He answered them in his own
handwriting, which she had never seen.
One day came the announcement that she was returning the first week in
October. Already September was partly gone, so Austin decided to sail
in a week. At his dictation Suydam wrote to her, saying that the
strain of overwork had rendered a long vacation necessary. The doctor
writhed internally as he penned the careful sentences, wondering if
the hurt of the deliberately chosen words would prevent her sensing
the truth back of them. As days passed and no answer came he judged it
The apartment was stripped and bare, the trunks were packed on the
afternoon before Austin's departure. All through the dreary mockery of
the process the blind man had withstood his friend's appeal, his stern
face set, his heavy heart full of a despairing stubbornness. Now,
being alone at last, he groped his way about the premises to fix them
in his memory; then he sank into his chair beside the window.
He heard a knock at the door and summoned the stranger to enter, then
he rose with a gasp of dismay. Marmion Moore was greeting him with
sweet, yet hesitating effusiveness.
"I--I thought you were not coming back until next week," he stammered.
"We changed our plans." She searched his face as best she could in the
shaded light, a strange, anxious expression upon her own. "Your letter
"The doctor's orders," he said, carelessly. "They say I have broken
"I know! I know what caused it!" she panted. "You never recovered from
that accident. You did not tell me the truth. I've always felt that
you were hiding something from me. Why? Oh, why?"
"Nonsense!" He undertook to laugh, but failed in a ghastly manner.
"I've been working too hard. Now I'm paying the penalty."
"How long will you be gone?" she queried.
"Oh, I haven't decided. A long time, however." His tone bewildered
her. "It is the first vacation I ever had; I want to make the most of
"You--you were going away without saying good-by to--your old
friends?" Her lips were white, and her brave attempt to smile would
have told him the truth had he seen it, but he only had her tone to go
by, so he answered, indifferently:
"All my arrangements were made; I couldn't wait."
"You are offended with me," Miss Moore said, after a pause. "How have
I hurt you? What is it; please? I--I have been too forward, perhaps?"
Austin dared not trust himself to answer, and when he made no sign the
girl went on, painfully:
"I'm sorry. I didn't want to seem bold. I owe you so much; we were
such good friends--" In spite of her efforts her voice showed her
The man felt his lonely heart swell with the wild impulse to tell her
all, to voice his love in one breathless torrent of words that would
undeceive her. The strain of repression lent him added brusqueness
when he strove to explain, and his coldness left her sorely hurt.
His indifference filled her with a sense of betrayal; it chilled the
impulsive yearning in her breast. She had battled long with herself
before coming and now she repented of her rashness, for it was plain
he did not need her. This certainty left her sick and listless,
therefore she bade him adieu a few moments later, and with aching
throat went blindly out and down the stairs.
The instant she was gone Austin leaped to his feet; the agony of death
was upon his features. Breathlessly he began to count:
"One! Two! Three--!"
He felt himself smothering, and with one sweep of his hand ripped the
collar from his throat.
"Five! Six! Seven--!"
He was battling like a drowning man, for, in truth, the very breath of
his life was leaving him. A drumming came into his ears. He felt that
he must call out to her before it was too late. He was counting aloud
now, his voice like the moan of a man on the rack.
A frenzy to voice his sufferings swept over him, but he held himself.
Only a moment more and she would be gone; her life would be spared
this dark shadow, and she would never know, but he--he would indeed be
face to face with darkness.
Toward the last he was reeling, but he continued to tell off the
seconds with the monotonous regularity of a timepiece, his every power
centered on that process. The idea came to him that he was counting
his own flickering pulse-throbs for the last time. With a tremendous
effort of will he smoothed his face and felt his way to the open
window, for by now she must be entering the landau. A moment later
and she would turn to waft him her last adieu. Her last! God! How the
seconds lagged! That infernal thumping in his ears had drowned the
noises from the street below. He felt that for all time the torture of
this moment would live with him.
Then he smiled! He smiled blindly out into the glaring sunlight, and
bowed. And bowed and smiled again, clinging to the window-casing to
support himself. By now she must have reached the corner. He freed one
hand and waved it gaily, then with outflung arms he stumbled back into
the room, the hot tears coursing down his cheeks.
Marmion Moore halted upon the stairs and felt mechanically for her
gold chatelaine. She recalled dropping it upon the center-table as she
went forward with hands outstretched to Austin; so she turned back,
then hesitated. But he was leaving to-morrow; surely he would
not misinterpret the meaning of her reappearance. Summoning her
self-control, she remounted the stairs quickly.
The door was half ajar as she had left it in her confusion. Mustering
a careless smile, she was about to knock, then paused. Austin was
facing her in the middle of the room, beating time. He was counting
aloud--but was that his voice? In the brief instant she had been gone
he had changed astoundingly. Moreover, notwithstanding the fact that
she stood plainly revealed, he made no sign of recognition, but merely
counted on and on, with the voice of a dying man. She divined that
something was sadly amiss; she wondered for an instant if the man had
lost his senses.
She stood transfixed, half-minded to flee, yet held by some pitying
desire to help; then she saw him reach forward and grope his way
uncertainly to the window. In his progress he stumbled against a
chair; he had to feel for the casing. Then she knew.
Marmion Moore found herself inside the room, staring with wide,
affrighted eyes at the man whose life she had spoiled. She pressed her
hands to her bosom to still its heavings. She saw Austin nodding down
at the street below; she saw his ghastly attempt to smile; she heard
the breath sighing from his lungs and heard him muttering her name.
Then he turned and lurched past her, groping, groping for his chair.
She cried out, sharply, in a stricken voice:
The man froze in his tracks; he swung his head slowly from side to
side, as if listening.
"What!" The word came like the crack of a gun. Then, after a moment,
"Marmion!" He spoke her name as if to test his own hearing. It was the
first time she had ever heard him use it.
She slipped forward until within an arm's-length of him, then
stretched forth a wildly shaking hand and passed it before his
unwinking eyes, as if she still disbelieved. Then he heard her moan.
"Marmion!" he cried again. "My God! little girl, I--thought I heard
"Then this, this is the reason," she said. "Oh-h-h!"
"What are you doing here? Why did you come back?" he demanded,
"I forgot my--No! God sent me back!"
There was a pause, during which the man strove to master himself; then
he asked, in the same harsh accents:
"How long have you been here?"
"Long enough to see--and to understand."
"Well, you know the truth at last. I--have gone--blind." The last word
caused his lips to twitch. He knew from the sound that she was weeping
bitterly. "Please don't. I've used my eyes too much, that is all. It
"No! No! No!" she said, brokenly. "Don't you think I understand? Don't
you think I see it all now? But why--why didn't you tell me? Why?"
When he did not answer she repeated: "God sent me back. I--I was not
meant to be so unhappy."
Austin felt himself shaken as if by a panic. He cried, hurriedly:
"You see, we've been such good friends. I knew it would distress you.
I--wanted to spare you that! You were a good comrade to me; we were
like chums. Yes, we were chums. No friend could have been dearer to me
than you, Miss Moore. I never had a sister, you know. I--I thought of
you that way, and I--" He was struggling desperately to save the girl,
but his incoherent words died on his lips when he felt her come close
and lay her cheek against his arm.
"You mustn't try to deceive me any more," she said, gently. "I was
here. I know the truth, and--I want to be happy."
Even then he stood dazed and disbelieving until she continued:
"I know that you love me, and that I love you."
"It is pity!" he exclaimed, hoarsely. "You don't mean it."
But she drew herself closer to him and turned her tear-stained face up
to his, saying, wistfully, "If your dear eyes could have seen, they
would have told you long ago."
"Oh, my love!" He was too weak to resist longer. His arms were
trembling as they enfolded her, but in his heart was a gladness that
comes to but few men.
"And you won't go away without me, will you?" she questioned,
"No, no!" he breathed. "Oh, Marmion, I have lost a little, but I have
gained much! God has been good to me."
Next: The Real And The Make-believe
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