Gray Envelopes





It was with more than the usual sinking of heart that Jasper let

himself that evening into the beautiful house which Betty and he

called their home. Joan's too expressive look had stung the old

soreness of his disillusionment. He knew that the house was empty of

welcome. He took off his hat and coat dejectedly. There were footsteps

of his man who came from the far end of the hall.



While he stood waiting, Jasper noticed the absence of a familiar

fragrance. For the first time in years Betty had forgotten to order

flowers. The red roses which Jasper always caressed with a long,

appreciative finger as he went by the table in the hall, were missing.

Their absence gave him a faint sensation of alarm.



"Mr. Kane, Mrs. Morena's brother, has called to see you, sir. He is

waiting."



Jasper's eyebrows rose. "To see me? Is he with Mrs. Morena now?"



"No, sir. Mrs. Morena went out this morning and has not yet returned.

Mr. Kane has been here since five o'clock, sir."



"Very well."



It was a mechanical speech of dismissal. The footman went off. Jasper

stood tapping his chin with his finger. Woodward Kane come to see him

during Betty's absence! Woodward had not spoken more than three or four

icy words of necessity to him since the marriage. After a stiff,

ungracious fashion this brother had befriended Betty, but to his Jewish

brother-in-law he had shown only a slightly disguised distaste. The Jew

was well used to such a manner. He treated it with light bitterness,

but he did not love to receive the users of it in his own house. It was

with heightened color and bent brows that he pushed apart the long,

crimson hangings and came into the immense drawing-room.



It was softly lighted and pleasantly warmed. A fire burned. The tall,

fair visitor rose from a seat near the blaze and turned all in one

rigid piece toward his advancing host. Jasper was perfectly conscious

that his own gesture and speech of greeting were too eager, too

ingratiating, that they had a touch of servility. He hated them

himself, but they were inherited with his blood, as instinctive as the

wagging of a dog's tail. They were met by a precise bow, no smile, no

taking of his outstretched hand.



Jasper drew himself up at once, put the slighted hand on the back of a

tall, crimson-damask chair, and looked his stateliest and most

handsome self.



"Betty hasn't come in yet," he said. "You've been waiting for her?"



Woodward Kane pulled at his short, yellow mustache and stared at

Jasper with his large, blank, blue eyes. "As a matter of fact I didn't

call to see my sister, but to see you. I have just come from

Elizabeth. She is at my house. She came to me this morning."



Jasper's fingers tightened on the chair. "She is sick?"



"No." There was a pause during which the blank, blue eyes staring at

him slowly gathered a look of cold pleasure. Jasper was aware that

this man who hated him was enjoying his present mission.



"Shall we sit down? I shall have to take a good deal of your time, I

am afraid. There is rather a good deal to be gone over."



Jasper sat down in the chair the back of which he had been holding.

"Will you smoke?" he asked, and smiled his charming smile.



There was now not a trace of embarrassment, anger, or anxiety about

him. His eyes were quiet, his voice flexible. Woodward declined to

smoke, crossed his beautifully clothed legs and drew a small gray

envelope from his pocket. Jasper's eyes fastened upon it at once. It

was Betty's paper and her angular, boyish writing marched across it.

Evidently the note was addressed to him. He waited while Woodward

turned it about in his long, stiff, white fingers.



"About two months ago Betty came to me one evening in great distress

of mind. She asked for my advice and to the best of my ability I gave

it to her. I wish that she had asked for it ten years ago. She might

have saved herself a great deal. This time she has not only asked for

it, but she has been following it, and, in following it, she has now

left your house and come to mine. This, of course, will not surprise

you."



"It does, however, surprise me greatly." It was still the gentle

murmur, but Jasper's cigarette smoke veiled his face.



"I cannot understand that. However, it's not my business. Betty has

asked me to interview you to-day so that she may be spared the

humiliation. After this, you must address your communications to her

lawyers. In a short time Rogers and Daring will serve you with notice

of divorce."



Jasper sat perfectly still, leaning slightly forward, his cigarette

between his fingers.



"So-o!" he said after a long silence. Then he held out his hand. "I

may have Betty's letter?"



Woodward Kane withheld it and again that look of pleasure was visible

in his eyes. "Just a moment, please. I should like to have my own say

out first. I shall have to be brutal, I am afraid. In these matters

there is nothing for it but frankness. Your infidelity has been common

talk for some time. The story of it first came to Betty's ears on the

evening when she came to me two months ago. Since then there has been

but one possible course."



Jasper kept another silence, more difficult, however, than his last.

His pallor was noticeable. "You say my--infidelity is common talk.

There has been a name used?"



"Your protegee from Wyoming--Jane West."



Jasper was on his feet, and Woodward too rose, jerkily holding up a

hand. "No excitement, please," he begged. "Let us conduct this

unfortunate interview like gentlemen, if possible."



Jasper laughed. "As you say--if possible. Why, man, it was Betty who

helped me bring Miss West to New York, it was Betty who helped me to

install her here, it was Betty who chose the furnishings for her

apartment, who helped her buy her clothes, who engaged her maid, who

gave her most of her training. This is the most preposterous, the most

filthy perversion of the truth. Betty must know it better than any one

else. Come, now, Woodward, there's something more in it than this?"

Jasper had himself in hand, but it was easy now to see the effort it

cost him. The veins of his forehead were swollen.



"I shall not discuss the matter with you. Betty has excellent

evidence, unimpeachable witnesses. There is no doubt in my mind, nor

in the minds of her lawyers, that she will win her suit and get her

divorce, her release. Of course, you will not contest--"



Jasper stopped in his pacing which had begun to take the curious,

circling, weaving form characteristic of him, and, standing now with

his head thrown back, he spoke sonorously.



"Do you imagine for one instant, Kane,--does Betty imagine for one

instant,--that I shall not contest?"



This changed the look of cold pleasure in Woodward's eyes, which grew

blank again. "Do you mean me to understand--Naturally, I took it for

granted that you would act as most gentlemen act under the

circumstances."



"Then you have taken too much for granted, you and Betty. Ten years

ago your sister gave herself to me. She is mine. I will not for a

whim, for a passion, for a temporary alienation, let her go. Neither

will I have my good name and the name of a good woman besmirched for

the sake of this impertinent desire for a release. I love my

wife"--his voice was especially Hebraic and especially abhorrent to

the other--"and as a husband I mean to keep her from the ruin this

divorce would mean to her--"



"Far from being her ruin, Morena, it would be the saving of her. Her

ruin was as nearly as possible brought about ten years ago, when

against the advice, against the wishes of every one who loved her, she

made her insane marriage with an underbred, commercial, and licentious

Jew. She was seventeen and you seized your opportunity."



Jasper had stepped close. He was a head taller and several inches

broader of shoulder than his brother-in-law. "As long as you are in my

house, don't insult me. I am, as you say, a Jew, and I am, as you say,

of a commercial family. But I am not, I have never been licentious. Is

it necessary to use such language? You suggested that this interview

be conducted by us like gentlemen."



"The man who refuses to give her liberty to a wife that loathes him,

scarcely comes under the definition."



"My ideas on the matter are different. We need not discuss them. If

you will let me read my wife's letter, I think that we can come to an

end of this."



Woodward unwillingly surrendered the small, gray envelope to a

quivering, outstretched hand. Jasper turned away and stood near the

lamp. But his excitement prevented him from reading. The angular

writing jumped before his eyes. At last, the words straightened

themselves.



I am glad that you have given me this opportunity to escape from a

life that for a long time has been dreadful to me. Ten years ago I

made a disaster of my life and yours. Forgive me if you can and

let me escape. I will not see you again. Whatever you may have to

say, please say it to Woodward. From now on he is my protector. In

other matters there are my lawyers. It is absolutely not to be

thought of that I should speak to you. I hope never to see you

alone. I want you to hate me and this note ought to make it easy

for you.



Betty



Jasper stared at the name. He was utterly bewildered, utterly

staggered, by the amazing dissimulation practiced by this small,

soft-lipped, round-eyed girl who had lived with him for so long,

sufficiently pliable, sufficiently agreeable. What was back of it all?

Another man, of course. In imagination he was examining the faces of

his acquaintances, narrowing his lids as though the real men passed in

review before him.



"Perhaps you understand the situation better now?" asked Woodward

cruelly.



Jasper's intense pain and humiliation gave him a sort of calm. He

seemed entirely cool when he moved back toward his brother-in-law; his

eyes were clear, the heat had gone from his temples. He was even

smiling a little, though there was a white, even frame to his lips.



"I shall not write to Betty nor attempt to see her," he said quietly.

"But I shall ask you to take a message to her."



Woodward assented.



"Tell her she shall have her release, but to get it she will have to

walk through the mire and there will be no one waiting for her on the

other side. Can you remember that? Not even you will be there." He was

entirely self-assured so that Woodward felt a chill of dismay.



"I shall contest the suit," went on Jasper, "and I believe that I

shall win it. You may tell Betty so if you like or she can wait to

hear it from my lawyer." He put the envelope into his pocket, crossed

the room, and held back one of the crimson curtains of the door.



"If you have nothing more to say," he smiled, "neither have I.

Good-bye."



He bowed slightly, and Woodward found himself passing before him in

silence and some confusion. He stood for a moment in the hall and,

having stammered his way to a cold "Good-afternoon," he put on his hat

and went out.



Jasper returned to the empty drawing-room and began his weaving march.



Before he could begin his spinning which he hoped would entangle Betty

and leave her powerless for him to hold or to release at will, he must

go to Jane West and tell her what trick life with his help had played

upon her. The prospect was bitterly distasteful. Jasper accused

himself of selfishness. Because she cared nothing for the world, was a

creature apart, he had let the world think what it would. He knew that

an askance look would not hurt her; for himself, secure in innocence,

he did not care; for Betty, he had thought her cruelly certain of him.



He went to Jane the day after his interview with Woodward Kane. It was

Sunday afternoon. She was out, but came in very soon, and he stood up

to meet her with an air of confusion and guilt.



"What's the matter with you?" she asked, pulling her gloves from her

long hands.



Her quickly observant eyes swept him. She walked to him and stood

near. The frosty air was still about her and her face was lightly

stung to color with exercise. Her wild eyes were startling under the

brim of her smart, tailored hat.



Jasper put a hand on either of her shoulders and bent his head before

her. "My poor child--if I'd only left you in your kitchen!"



Joan tightened her lips, then smiled uncertainly. "You've got me

scared," she said, stepped back and sat down, her hands in her muff.

"What is it?" she asked; and in that moment of waiting she was sickly

reminded of other moments in her life--of the nearing sound of

Pierre's webs on a crystal winter night, of the sound of Prosper's

footsteps going away from her up the mountain trail on a swordlike,

autumn morning.



Jasper began his pacing. Feeling carefully for delicate phrases, he

told her Betty's accusation, of her purpose.



Joan took off her hat, pushed back the hair from her forehead; then,

as he came to the end, she looked up at him. Her pupils were larger

than usual and the light, frosty tint of rose had left her cheeks.



"Would you mind telling me that again?" she asked.



He did so, more explicitly.



"She thinks, Betty thinks, that I have been--that we have been--? She

thinks that of me? No wonder she hasn't been coming to see me!" She

stopped, staring blindly at him; then, "You must tell her it isn't

true," she said pitifully, and the quiver of her lips hurt him.



"Ah! But she doesn't want to believe that, my dear. She wants to

believe the worst. It is her opportunity to escape me."



"Haven't you loved her? Have you hurt her?" asked Joan.



"God knows I have loved her. I have never hurt her--consciously. Even

she cannot think that I have."



"Why must she blame me? Why do I have to be brought into this, Mr.

Morena? Can't she go away from you? Why do the lawyers have to take it

up? You are unhappy, and I am so sorry. But you wouldn't want her to

stay if--if she doesn't love you?"



"I want her. I mean to keep her or--break her." He turned his back to

say this and went toward the window. Joan, fascinated, watched his

fingers working into one another, tightening, crushing. "It's another

man she wants," he said hoarsely, "and if I can prevent it, she shall

not have him. I will force her to keep her vows to me--force her. If

it kills her, I'll break this passion, this fancy. I'll have her

back--" He wheeled round, showing a twitching face. "I'll prove her

infidelity whether she's been unfaithful or not, and then I'll take

her back, after the world has given her one of its names--"



"You don't love her," said Joan, very white. "You want to brand her."



"By God!" swore the Jew, "and I will brand her. I'll brand her."



He fumbled in his pocket and brought out the small envelope Woodward

Kane had handed to him the day before. He stood turning the letter

about in his hands as though some such meaningless occupation was a

necessity to him. Joan's eyes, falling upon the letter, widened and

fixed.



"She has written to me," said Jasper. "She wants her liberty. She

wants it in such a way that she will fly clear and I--yes, and you,

too, will be left in the mud. There's a man somewhere, of course. She

thinks she has evidence, witnesses against me. I don't know what

rubbish she has got together. But I'm going to fight her. I'm going to

win. I'll save you if I can, Jane; if not, of course I am at your

service for any amends--"



He stopped in his halting speech, for Joan had stood up and was moving

across the room, her eyes fastened on the letter in his hands. She had

the air of a sleep-walker.



She opened a drawer of her desk, took out an old tin box, once used

for tobacco, and drew forth a small, gray envelope torn in two. Then

she came back to him and said, "Let me see that letter," and he obeyed

as though she had the right to ask.



She took his letter and hers and compared the two, the small, gray

squares lying unopened on her knee, and she spoke incomprehensibly.



"Betty is 'the tall child,'" she said, and laughed with a catch in her

breath.



Jasper looked at the envelopes. They were identical; Betty's gray

note-paper crossed by Betty's angular, upright hand, very bold, very

black. The torn envelope was addressed to Prosper Gael. Jasper took

it, opened each half, laid the parts together, and read:



Jasper is dying. By the time you get this he will be dead. If

you can forgive me for having failed you in courage last year,

come back. What I have been to you before I will be again, only,

this time, we can love openly. Come back.



"Jane,"--Morena spoke brokenly,--"what does it mean?"



"He built that cabin in Wyoming for her," said Joan, speaking as

though Jasper had seen the canyon hiding-place and known its history,

"and she didn't come. He brought me there on his sled. I was hurt. I

was terribly hurt. He took care of me--"



"Prosper?" Jasper thrust in. His face was drawn with excitement.



"Yes. Prosper Gael. I was there with him for months. At first I wasn't

strong enough to go away, and then, after a while, I tried. But I was

too lonely and sorrowful. In the spring I loved him. I thought I loved

him. He wanted me. I was all alone in the world. I didn't know that he

loved another woman. I thought she was dead--like Pierre. Prosper had

clothes for her there. I suppose--I've thought it out since--that she

was to leave as if for a short journey, and then secretly go on that

long one, and she couldn't take many things with her. So he had

beautiful stuffs for her--and a little suit to wear in the snow.

That's how I came to call her 'the tall child,' seeing that little

suit, long and narrow.... This letter came one morning, one awfully

bright morning. He read it and went out and the next day he went away.

Afterwards I found the letter torn in two beside his desk on the

floor. I took it and I've always kept it. 'The tall child'! He looked

so terrible when I called her that.... And she was your Betty all the

time!"



"Yes," said Morena slowly. "She was my Betty all the time." He gave

her a twisted smile and put the two papers carefully into an inside

pocket. "I am going to keep this letter, Jane. Truly the ways of the

Lord are past finding out."



Joan looked at him in growing uneasiness. Her mind, never quick to

take in all the bearings and the consequences of her acts, was

beginning to work. "What are you going to do with it, Mr. Morena? I

don't want you to do Betty a hurt. She must have loved Prosper Gael.

Perhaps she still loves him."



This odd appeal drew another difficult smile from Betty's husband.

"Quite obviously she still loves him, Jane. She is divorcing me so

that she can marry him."



"But, Mr. Morena, I don't believe he will marry her now. He is tired

of her. He is that kind of lover. He gets tired. Now he would like to

marry me. He told me so. Perhaps--if Betty knew that--she might come

back to you, without your branding her."



Jasper was startled out of his vengeful stillness.



"Prosper Gael wants to marry you? He has told you so?"



"Yes." She was sad and humbled. "Now he wants to marry me and once

he told me things about marrying. He said"--Joan quoted slowly, her

eyes half-closed in Prosper's manner, her voice a musical echo of his

thin, vibrant tone--"'It's man's most studied insult to woman.'"



"Yes. That's Prosper," murmured Jasper.



"I wouldn't marry him, Mr. Morena, even if I could--not if I were to

be--burnt for refusing him."



Jasper looked probingly at her, a new speculation in his eyes. She had

begun to fit definitely into his plans. It seemed there might be a way

to frustrate Betty and to keep a hold upon his valuable protegee.

"Are you so sure of that, Jane?"



"Ah!" she answered; "you doubt it because I once thought I loved him?

But you don't know all about me...."



He stood silent, busy with his weaving. At last he looked at her

rather blankly, impersonally. Joan was conscious of a frightened,

lonely chill. She put out her hand uncertainly, a wrinkle appearing

sharp and deep between her eyes.



"Mr. Morena, please--I haven't any one but you. I don't understand

very well what this divorcing rightly means. Nor what they will do to

me. Will you be thinking of me a little? I wouldn't ask it, for I know

you are unhappy and bothered enough, but, you see--"



He did not notice the hand. "It will come out right, Jane. Don't

worry," he said with absent gentleness. "Keep your mind on your work.

I'll look out for your best interests. Be sure of that." He came near

to her, his hat in his hand, ready to go. "Try to forget all about it,

will you?"



"Oh, I can't do that. I feel sort of--burnt. Betty thinking--that! But

I'll do my work just the same, of course."



She sighed heavily and sat, the unnoticed hand clasped in its fellow.



When he had gone she called nervously for her maid. She had a hitherto

unknown dread of being alone. But when Mathilde, chosen by Betty, came

with her furtive step and treacherous eyes, Joan invented some duty

for her. It occurred to her that Mathilde might be one of Betty's

witnesses. For some time the girl's watchfulness and intrusions had

become irritatingly noticeable. And Morena was Joan's only frequent

and informal visitor.



"Mathilde thinks I am--that!" Joan said to herself; and afterwards,

with a burst of weeping, "And, of course, that is what I am." Her past

sin pressed upon her and she trembled, remembering Pierre's wistful,

seeking face. If he should find her now, he would find her branded,

indeed--now he could never believe that she had indeed been innocent

of guilt in the matter of Holliwell. Her father had first put a mark

upon her. Since then the world had only deepened his revenge.



There followed a sleepless, dry, and aching night.





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