November turned chilly, and in its second week there was even a flutter
of snow at Clark's Hills. Rachael did not dislike it, and it was a huge
adventure to the boys. Nevertheless, she began to feel that a longer
stay down on the bleak coast might be unwise. The old house, for all
its purring furnace and double windows, was draughty enough to admit
icy little fingers of the outside air, here and there, and the village,
getting under storm shutters and closing up this wing or that room for
the winter, was so businesslike in its preparations as to fill
Rachael's heart with mild misgivings.
Alice still brought her brood down for the week-ends, and it was on one
of these that Rachael suddenly decided to move. The two women discussed
it, Rachael finally agreeing to go to the Valentines' for a week before
going on to Boston--or it might be Washington or Philadelphia--any
other city than the one in which she might encounter the boys' father.
Alice had never won her to promise a visit before, and although
Rachael's confidence in her--for Rachael neither extracted a promise
from Alice as to any possible encounter with Warren, nor reminded her
friend that she placed herself entirely at Alice's mercy--rather
disconcerted Alice, she had a simple woman's strong faith in
coincidence, and she felt, she told George, that the Lord would not let
this opportunity for a reconciliation go by. Mrs. Valentine had seen
Warren Gregory now, more than once, and far more potent than any
argument that he might have made was his silence, his most unexpected
and unnatural silence. There was no explanation; indeed Warren had
little to say on any subject in these days. He liked to come now and
then, in the evening, to the Valentine house, but he would not dine
there, and confined his remarks almost entirely to answers to George.
Physically, Alice thought him shockingly changed.
"He is simply broken," she said to George, in something like fright. "I
didn't know human beings could change that way. Warren--who used to be
so positive! Why, he's almost timid!"
She did not tell Rachael this, and George insisted that, while Rachael
and the boys were at the house, Warren must be warned to keep away; so
that Alice had frail enough material with which to build her dreams.
Nevertheless, she dreamed.
It was finally arranged that Rachael and little Jim should go up to
town on a certain Monday with Alice; that Rachael should make various
engagements then, as to storage, packing, and such matters as the care
of the piano and the car, for the winter. Then Jim, for the first time
in his life, would stay away from his mother overnight with Aunt Alice,
Rachael returning to Clark's Hills to bring Mary and Derry up the next
day in the car. Jim was to go to the dentist, and to get shoes; there
were several excellent reasons why it seemed wise to have him await his
mother and brother in town rather than make the long trip twice in one
day. Mary smuggled Derry out of sight when the Monday morning came, and
Rachael and her oldest son went away with the Valentines in the car.
It was a fresh, sweet morning in the early winter, and both women,
furred to the eyes, enjoyed the trip. The children, snuggled in between
them, chattered of their own affairs, and Rachael interrupted her
inexhaustible talk with Alice only to ask a question of the driver now
"I shall have to bring my own car over this road to-morrow, Kane," she
explained. "I have never been at the wheel myself before in all the
times I have done it."
"Mar-r-tin does be knowin' every step of the way," suggested Kane.
"But Martin hasn't been with me this summer," the lady smiled.
"I thought I saw him runnin' the docther's car yesterda' week," mused
Kane who was a privileged character. "Well,'tis not hard, Mrs. Gregory.
The whole place is plasthered wid posts. But the thing of it is,
ma'am," he added, after a moment, turning back toward her without
taking his eyes from the road, "there does be a big storm blowin' up.
Look there, far over there, how black it is."
"But that won't break to-day?" Rachael said uneasily, thinking of Derry.
"Well, it may not--that's thrue. But these roads will be in a grand
mess if we have anny more rain--that's a fact for ye," Kane persisted.
"Then don't come until Wednesday," suggested Alice.
"Oh, Alice, but I'll be so frantic to see my boy!"
"Twenty-four hours more, you goose!" Alice laughed. Rachael laughed,
too, and took several surreptitious kisses from the back of Jimmy's
neck as a fortification against the coming separation.
Indeed, she found it unbelievably hard to leave him, trotting happily
upstairs with his beloved Katharine, and to go about her day's business
anticipating the long trip back to Home Dunes without him. However,
there were not many hours to spare, and Rachael had much to do. She set
herself systematically to work.
By one o'clock everything was done, with an hour to spare for train
time. But she had foolishly omitted luncheon, and felt tired and dizzy.
She turned toward a downtown lunchroom, and was held at the crossing of
Fifth Avenue and one of the thirties idly watching the crowd of cars
that delayed her when she saw Warren in his car.
He was on the cross street, and so also stopped, but he did not see
her. Martin was at the wheel, Warren buttoned to the neck in a gray
coat, his hat well down over his eyes, alone in the back seat. He was
staring steadily, yet with unseeing eyes, before him, and Rachael felt
a sense of almost sickening shock at the sight of his altered face.
Warren, looking tired and depressed, looking discouraged, and with some
new look of diffidence and hurt, besides all these, in his face! Warren
old! Warren OLD!
Rachael felt as if she should faint. She was rooted where she stood.
Fifth Avenue pushed gayly and busily by her under the leaden sky.
Furred old ladies, furred little girls, messenger boys and club men,
jostling, gossiping, planning. Only she stood still. And after a while
she looked again where Warren had been. He was gone. But had he seen
her? her heart asked itself with wild clamor. Had he seen her?
She began to walk rapidly and blindly, conscious of taking a general
direction toward the Terminal Station, but so vague as to her course
that she presently looked bewilderedly about to find that she was in
Eighth Avenue and that, standing absolutely still again, and held by
thought, she was being curiously regarded by a policeman. She gave the
man a dazed and sickly smile.
"I am afraid I am a little out of my way," she stammered. "I am going
to the station."
He pointed out the direction, and she thanked him, and blindly went on
her way. But her heart was tearing like a living thing in her breast,
and she walked like a wounded creature that leaves a trail of life
Oh, she was his wife--his wife--his wife! She belonged there, in that
empty seat beside him, with her shoulder against that gray overcoat!
What was she doing in this desolate street of little shops, faint and
heartsick and alone! Oh, for the security of that familiar car again!
How often she had sat beside him, arrested by the traffic, content to
placidly watch the shifting crowd, to wait for the shrill little
whistle that gave them the right of way! If she were there now, where
might they be going? Perhaps to a concert, perhaps to look at a picture
in some gallery, but first of all certainly to lunch. His first
question would be: "Had your lunch?" and his answer only a satisfied
nod. But he would direct Martin to the first place that suggested
itself to him as being suitable for Rachael's meal. And he would order
it, no trouble was too much for her; nothing too good for his wife.
She was not beside him. She was still drifting along this hideous
street, battling with faintness and headache, and never, perhaps, to
see her husband again. One of her sons was in the city, another miles
away, To her horror she felt herself beginning to cry. She quickened
her pace, and reckless of the waiter's concern, entered the station
restaurant and ordered herself a lunch. But when it came she could not
eat it, and she was presently in the train, without a book or magazine,
still fasting except for a hurried half cup of tea, and every instant
less and less able to resist the corning flood of her tears.
All the long trip home she wept, quietly and steadily, one arm on the
window sill, a hand pressed against her face. There were few other
passengers in the train, which was too hot. The winter twilight shut
down early, and at last the storm broke; not violently, but with a
stern and steady persistence. The windows ran rain, and were blurred
with steam, the darkening landscape swept by under a deluge. When the
train stopped at a station, a rush of wet air, mingled with the odors
of mackintoshes and the wet leather of motor cars, came in. Rachael
would look out to see meetings, lanterns and raincoats, umbrellas
dripping over eager, rosy faces.
She would be glad to get home, she said to herself, to her snuggly
little comforting Derry. They would not attempt to make the move
to-morrow--that was absurd. It had been far too much of a trip to-day,
and Alice had advised her against it. But it had not sounded so
formidable. To start at seven, be in town at ten, after the brisk run,
and take the afternoon train home--this was no such strain, as they had
planned it. But it had proved to be a frightful strain. Leaving Jim,
and then catching that heart-rending glimpse of the changed
Warren--Warren looking like a hurt child who must bear a punishment
without understanding it.
"Oh, what are we thinking about, to act in this crazy manner!" Rachael
asked herself desperately. "He loves me, and I--I've always loved him.
Other people may misjudge him, but I know! He's horrified and shamed
and sorry. He's suffering as much as I am. What fools--what utter FOOLS
And suddenly--it was nearly six o'clock now, and they were within a few
minutes of Clark's Hills--she stopped crying, and began to plan a
letter that should end the whole terrible episode.
"Your stop Quaker Bridge?" asked the conductor, coming in, and
beginning to shift the seats briskly on their iron pivots, as one who
expected a large crowd to accompany him on the run back.
"Clark's Hills," Rachael said, noticing that she was alone in the train.
"Don't know as we can get over the Bar," the man said cheerily.
"Looks as if we were going to try it!" Rachael answered with equal
aplomb as the train ran through Quaker Bridge without stopping, and
went on with only slightly decreased speed. And a moment later she
began to gather her possessions together, and the conductor remarked
amiably: "Here we are! But she surely is raining," he added. "Well,
we've only got to run back as far as the car barn--that's
Seawall--to-night. My folks live there."
Rachael did not mind the rain. She would be at home in five minutes.
She climbed into a closed surrey, smelling strongly of leather and
horses, and asked the driver pleasantly how early the rain had
commenced. He evidently did not hear her, at all events made no answer,
and she did not speak again.
"Where's my Derry?" Rachael's voice rang strong and happy through the
house. "Mary--Mary!" she added, stopping, rather puzzled, in the hall.
"Where is he?"
How did it come to her, by what degrees? How does such news tell
itself, from the first little chill, that is not quite fear, to the
full thundering avalanche of utter horror? Rachael never remembered
afterward, never tried to remember. The moment remained the blackest of
all her life. It was not the subtly changed atmosphere of the house,
not Mary's tear-swollen face, as she appeared, silent, at the top of
the stairs; not Millie, who came ashen-faced and panting from the
kitchen; not the sudden, weary little moan that floated softly through
the hallway--no one of all these things.
Yet Rachael knew--Derry was dying. She needed not to know how or why.
Her furs fell where she stood, her hat was gone, she had flown upstairs
as swiftly as light. She knew the door, she knew what she would see.
She went down on her knees beside him.
Her little gallant, reckless, shouting Derry! Her warm, beautiful boy,
changed in these few hours to this crushed and moaning little being,
this cruelly crumpled and tortured little wreck of all that had been
gay and sound and confident babyhood!
In that first moment at his side it had seemed to Rachael that she must
die, too, of sheer agony of spirit. She put her beautiful head down
against the brown little limp hand upon which a rusty stain was drying,
and she could have wailed aloud in the bitter rebellion of her soul.
Not Derry, not Derry, so small and innocent and confiding--her own
child, her own flesh and blood, the fibre of her being! Trusting them,
obeying them, and betrayed--brought to this!
At her first look she had thought the child dead; now, as she drew back
from him, and caught her self-control with a quivering breath, and
wrung her hands together in desperate effort to hold back a scream, she
found it in her heart to wish he were. His little face was black from a
great bruise that spread from temple to chin, his mouth cut and
swollen, his eyes half shut. His body was doubled where it lay, a great
bubble of blood moved with his breath. He breathed lightly and faintly,
with an occasional deep gasp that invariably brought the long,
heart-sickening moan. They had taken off part of his clothes, his shoes
and stockings, but he still wore his Holland suit, and the dark-blue
woolen coat had only been partly removed.
Rachael, ashen-faced, rose from her knees, and faced Mary and Millie.
With bitter tears the story was told. He had been playing, as usual, in
the barn, and Mary had been swinging him. Not high, nothing like as
high as Jimmie went. And Millie came out to say that their dinner was
ready, and all of a sudden he called out that he could swing without
holding on, and put both his hands up in the air. And then Mary saw him
fall, the board of the swing falling, too, and striking him as he fell,
and his face dashing against the old mill-wheel that stood by the door.
And he had not spoken since.
His arm had hung down loose-like, as Mary carried him in, and Millie
had run for the doctor. But Doctor Peet wouldn't be back until seven,
and the girls had dared do no more than wash off his face a little and
try to make him comfortable. "I wish the Lord had called me before the
day came," said Mary, "me, that would have died for him--for any of
"I know that, Mary," Rachael said. "It would have happened as easily
with me. We all know what you have been to the boys, Mary. But you
mustn't cry so hard. I need you. I am going to drive him into town."
"Oh, my God, in this storm?" exclaimed Millie.
"There's nothing else to do," Rachael said. "He may die on the way, but
his mother will do what she can. I couldn't have Doctor Peet, kind as
he is. Doctor Gregory--his father--will know. It's nearly seven now. We
must start as fast as we can. You'll have to pin something all about
the back seat, Mary, and line it with comforters. We'll put his
mattress on the seat--you'll make it snug, won't you?--and you'll sit
on the floor there, and steady him all you can, for I'll have to drive.
We ought to be there by midnight, even in the storm."
"I'll fix it," Mary said, with one great sob, and immediately, to
Rachael's great relief, she was her practical self.
"And I want some coffee, Millie," she said, "strong; I'm not hungry,
but if you have something ready, I'll eat what I can. Did Ruddy come up
and get the car to-day, for oil and gas, and so on?"
"He did," said Millie, eager to be helpful.
"That's a blessing." Rachael turned to look at the little figure on the
bed. Her heart contracted with a freezing spasm of terror whenever her
eyes even moved in that direction.
But there was plenty to do. She got herself into dry, warm clothes. She
leaned over her little charge, straightening and adjusting as best she
could, shifting the little body as gently as was possible to the
smaller mattress, covering it warmly but lightly. As she did so she
wondered which one of those long, moaning breaths would be the last;
when would little Derry straighten himself--and lie still?
No time to think of that. She tied on her hat and veil, and went out to
look at the car. The rear seat was lined with pillows, the curtain
drawn. She had matches, her electric flashlight, her road maps, a flask
of brandy--what else?
Millie had run for neighbors, and the chains were finally adjusted. The
car had been made ready for the run, and was in good shape.
The big shadowy barn that was the garage was full of dancing shapes in
the lantern-light. The rain splashed and spattered incessantly outside;
a black sky seemed to have closed down just over their heads. She was
in a fever to get away.
Slowly the dazzling headlights moved in the pitchy blackness, the
wheels grated but held their own. The car came to the side door, and
the little mattress came out, and the muffled shape that was Mary got
in beside it. Then there was buttoning of storm curtains by willing
hands, and many a whispered good wish to Rachael as she slipped in
under the wheel. Millie was beside her, at the last moment, begging to
be of some use if she might.
"There's just this, Mrs. Gregory," said Ruddy Simms nervously, when the
engine was humming, and, Rachael's gloved hand racing the accelerator,
"they say the tide's making fast in all this rain! I don't know how
you'll do at the Bar. She's ugly a night, like this; what with the bay
eating one side, and the sea breaking over the other!"
"Thank you," Rachael said, not hearing him. "God bless you! Good-bye!"
She released the clutch. The big car leaped forward, into the darkness.
The clock before her eyes said thirty-five minutes past seven. Rain
beat against the heavy cloth of the curtains, water swished and
splashed under the wheels, and above the purring of the engine they
could hear the clinking fall of the chains. There was no other sound
except when Derry caught a moaning breath.
Clark's Hills passed in blackness, the road dropped down toward the
Bar. Rachael could feel that Mary, in the back seat, was praying, and
that Millie was praying beside her. Her own heart rose on a wild and
desperate prayer. If they could cross this narrow strip between the bay
and the ocean, then whatever the fortune of the road, she could meet
it. Telephones, at least, were on the other side, resources of all
sorts. But to be stopped here!
The look of the Bar, when they reached it, struck chill even to
Rachael's heart. In the clear tunnels of light flung from the car lamps
it seemed all a moving level of restless water smitten under sheets of
rain. Anything more desperate than an effort to find the little belt of
safety in this trackless spread of merciless seas it would be hard to
imagine. At an ordinary high tide the Bar was but a few inches above
the sea; now, with a wind blowing, a heavy rain falling, and the tide
almost at the full, no road whatever was visible. It was there, the
friendly road that Rachael and the hot and sandy boys had tramped a
hundred times, but even she could not believe it, now, so utterly
impassable did the shifting surface appear.
But she gallantly put the car straight into the heart of it, moving as
slowly as the engine permitted, and sending quick, apprehensive glances
into the darkness as she went.
"At the worst, we can back out of this, Millie," said she.
"Of course we can," Millie said, suppressing frightened tears with some
The water was washing roughly against the running boards; to an
onlooker the car would have had the appearance of being afloat,
hub-deep, at sea.
Slowly, slowly, slowly they were still moving. The car stopped short.
The engine was dead. Rachael touched her starter, touched it again and
again. No use. The car had stopped. The rain struck in noisy sheets
against the curtains. The sea gurgled and rushed about them. Derry
And now the full madness of the attempted expedition struck her for the
first time. She had never thought that, at worst, she could not go
back. What now? Should they stand here on the shifting sand of the Bar
until the tide fell--it was not yet full. Rachael felt her heart
beating quick with terror. It began to seem like a feverish dream.
Neither maid spoke, perhaps neither one realized the full extent of the
calamity. With the confidence of those who do not understand the
workings of a car, they waited to have it start again.
But both girls screamed when suddenly a new voice was heard. Rachael,
starting nervously as a man's figure came about the car out of the
black night, in the next second saw, with a great rush of relief, that
it was Ruddy Simms. He was a mighty fellow, devoted to the Gregorys. He
proceeded rather awkwardly to explain that he hadn't liked to think of
their trying to cross the Bar, and so had come with them on the running
"Oh, Ruddy, how grateful I am to you!" Rachael said. "Perhaps you can
go back and get us a tow? What can we do?"
"Stuck?" asked Ruddy, wading as unconcernedly about the car as if the
sun were shining on the scene.
"No, I don't think so, not yet. But I can feel the road under us giving
already. And I've killed my engine!"
"Won't start, eh?"
"She simply WON'T!"
"Ain't got a crank, have ye?"
"Why, yes, we have, under my seat here. But is there a chance that she
might start on cranking?" she said eagerly.
"Dun't know," Ruddy said non-committally.
Rachael was instantly on her feet, and after some groping and
adjusting, the cranking was attempted. Failure. Ruddy went bravely at
it again. Failure. Again Rachael touched the starter.
"No use!" she said with a sinking heart.
But Ruddy was bred of sea-folk who do not expect quick results. He
tugged away again vigorously, and again after that. And suddenly--the
most delicious sound that Rachael's ears had ever heard--there was the
sucking and plunging that meant success. The car panted like a giant
revived, and Ruddy stood back in the merciless green light and sent
Rachael a smile. His homely face, running rain, looked at her as bright
as an angel's.
"Dun't know as I'd stand there, s'deep in my tracks!" shouted Ruddy.
Gingerly, timidly, she pushed the car on some ten feet. "What I's
thinking," suggested Ruddy then, coming to put his face in close to
hers, and shouting over the noise of wind and water, "is this: if I was
to walk ahead of ye, kinder feeling for the road with my feet, then you
could come after, d'ye see?"
"Oh, Ruddy, do you think we can make it, then?" Rachael's face was wet
"Dun't know," he said. He took off his immense boots and gray socks,
and rolled up his wet trousers, the better to feel every inch of rise
or fall in the ground beneath his feet, and Millie held these for him
as if it were a sacred charge.
And then, with the full light of the lamps illumining his big figure,
and with the water rushing and gurgling about them, and the rain
pouring down as if it were an actual deluge, they made the crossing at
Clark's Bar. The shifting water almost blinded Rachael sometimes, and
sometimes it seemed as if any way but the way that Ruddy's waving arms
indicated was the right one; as if to follow him were utter madness.
The water spouted up through the clutch, and once again the engine
stopped, and long moments went by before it would respond to the crank
again. But Rachael pushed slowly on. She was not thinking now, she was
conscious of no feeling but that there was an opposite shore, and she
must reach it.
And presently it rose before them. The road ran gradually upward, a
shallow sheet of running water covering it, but firm, hard roadway
discernible nevertheless. Rachael stopped the car, and Ruddy came again
and put his face close to hers, through the curtains.
"Now ye've got straight road, Mrs. Gregory, and I hope to the good Lord
you'll have a good run. Thank ye, Millie--much obliged!"
"Ruddy!" said Rachael passionately, her wet gloves holding his big,
hairy hands tight. "I'll never forget this! If he has a chance to live
at all, this is his chance, and you've given it to him! God bless you,
a thousand times!"
"That's all right," said Ruddy, terribly embarrassed. "You've always
been awful good to my folks. I'm glad we done it! Good-night!" Then
Ruddy had turned back for the walk home in the streaming blackness, and
Rachael, drawing a deep breath, was on her way again. She stopped only
for a quick question to Mary.
"Just the same."
The wet miles flew by; rain beat untiringly against the curtains,
slished in two great feathers of water from under the rushing wheels.
Rachael watched her speedometer;
twenty-five--twenty-eight--thirty--they could not do better than that
in this weather. And they had a hundred miles to go.
But that hundred was only eighty-six now, only eighty. Villages flew
by, and men came out and stood on the dripping porches of crossroad
stores to marvel as the long scream of Rachael's horn cut through the
night air. Twenty minutes past eight o'clock--eight minutes of nine
o'clock. The little villages began to grow dark.
There was nothing to pass on the road; so much was gain. Except in the
villages, and once or twice where a slow, rattling wagon was plodding
along on the wet mirror-like asphalt, Rachael might make her own speed.
The road lay straight, and was an exceptionally good road, even in this
weather. She need hardly pause for signboards. The rain still fell in
sheets. Seventy-two miles to go.
"How is he, Mary?"
"The same, Mrs. Gregory. Except that he gives a little groan now and
then--when it shakes him!"
"My boy! But not sleeping?" "Oh, no, Mrs. Gregory. He just lies quiet
"God bless him!" Rachael said under her breath. Aloud she said:
"Millie, couldn't you lean over, and watch him a few minutes, and see
what you think?"
Then they were flying on again. Rachael began to wonder just how long
the run was. They always carelessly called it "a hundred miles." But
was it really a hundred and two, or ninety-eight? What a difference two
or three miles would make to-night! She fell into a nervous shiver;
suppose they reached the bridge, and then Mary should touch her arm.
"He doesn't look right, Mrs. Gregory!" Suppose that for the little boy
that they finally carried into New York there was no longer any hope.
Her little Derry--
The child that might have been the joy of a happy home, that might have
grown to a dignified inheritance of the love and tenderness that had
been between his father and mother. Robbed in his babyhood, taken away
from the father he adored, and now--this! Sixty-one miles to go.
"Detour to New York." The sign, with all its hideous import, rose
before her suddenly. No help for it; she must lose one or two, perhaps
a dozen miles, she must give up the good road for a bad one. She must
lose her way, too, perhaps. Had Kane gone over this road yesterday? It
was much farther on that she had spoken to Kane. Perhaps he had, but
she could not remember, doubt made every foot of the way terrible to
Rachael. She could only plunge on, over rocks, over bumps, into
mud-holes. She could only blindly take what seemed of two turnings the
one most probably right.
"Oh--Mother!" The little wail came from Derry. Rachael, her heart
turned to ice, slowed down--stopped and leaned into the half darkness
in the back of the car. The child's lovely eyes were opened. Rachael
could barely see his white face.
"My darling!" she said.
"Will you not--bump me so, Mother?" the little boy whispered.
"I will try not to, my heart!" Rachael, wild with terror, looked to
Mary's face. Was he dying, now and here?
"Oh Moth--it hurts so!"
"Does it, my darling?"
He drowsed again. Rachael turned back to her wheel. They must go more
slowly now, at any cost.
The road was terrible, in parts, after the hours of heavy rain, it
seemed almost impassable. Rachael pushed on. Presently they were back
in the main road again, and could make better time. Of the hundred
miles only fifty remained. But that meant nothing now. How much time
had she lost in that frightful bypath? Rachael's face was dripping with
rain, rain had trickled under her clothing at neck and wrists. Through
her raincoat the breast of her gown was soaking, and her feet ached
with the strain of controlling the heavy car. Water came in long
runnels through the wind-shield, and struck her knees; she had turned
her dress back, her thin silk petticoat was soaked, and the muscles of
knees and ankles were cold and sore. But she felt these things not at
all. Her eyes burned ahead, into the darkness, she heard nothing but
the occasional fluttering moan from Derry; she thought nothing but that
she might be too late--too late--too late!
At the first town of any size she stopped, a telegram to George taking
shape in her mind. But the wires here were down, as they had been
farther down the Island. The rain was thinning, but the wind was rising
every second, and as she rushed on she saw that in many places the
lights on the road were out; all the Island lay battered and bruised
under the storm.
Slowly as they seemed to creep, yet the miles were going by.
Freeport--Lynbrook--Jamaica--like a woman in a dream she reached the
bridge and a moment later looked down upon the long belt of lights
winking in the rain that was New York.
And here, on the very apex of the bridge, came the most heart-rending
moment of the run, for the little boy began to cough, and for two or
three frightful minutes the women hung over him, speechless with
terror, and knowing that at any second the exhausted little body might
succumb to the strain. Blindly, as with a long, choked cry he sank back
again, Rachael went back to her wheel. Third Avenue--Fifth
Avenue--Forty-second Street tore by; they were running straight down
toward Washington Arch as the clocks everywhere struck midnight. The
wide street was deserted in the rain, it shone like a mirror,
reflecting long pendants of light.
They were turning the corner; she was out of the car, and had glanced
at the familiar old house. Wet, exhausted, fired by a passion that made
her feel curiously light and sure, Rachael put her arms about her
child, and carried him up the steps. Mary had preceded her, the door
was opened; a dazed and frightened maid was looking at her.
Then she was crossing the familiar hall; lights were in the library,
and Warren in the library, somebody with him, but Rachael only caught a
glimpse of the old familiar attitude: he was sitting in a
straight-backed chair, his legs crossed, and one firm hand grasping a
silk-clad ankle as he intently listened to whatever was being said.
"Warren!" she said in a voice that those who heard it remembered all
their lives. "It's Derry! He's hurt--he's dying, I think! Can you--can
you save him?" And with a great burst of tears she gave up the child.
"My God--what is it!" said Warren Gregory on his feet, and with Derry
in his arms, even as he spoke. For a second the tableau held: Rachael,
agonized, her beautiful face colorless, and dripping with rain, her
husband staring at her as if he could not credit his senses, the
child's limp body in his arms, yet not quite freed from hers. In the
background were the whitefaced servants and the gray-headed doctor upon
whose conversation the newcomers had so abruptly broken.
"We've just brought him up from Clark's Hills!" Rachael said.
"From Clark's Hills--YOU!"
His look, the dear familiar look of solicitude and concern, tore her to
"There was nothing else to do!" she faltered.
"But--you drove up to-night?"
He looked at her, and Rachael felt the look sink into her soul like
rain into parched land.
"And you came straight to me!" His voice sank. "Rachael," he said, "I
will save him for you if I can!"
And instantly there began such activities in the old house as perhaps
even its dignified century of living had never known. Rachael, hungry
through these terrible hours of suspense for just the wild rush and
hurry, watched her husband as if she had never seen him before.
Presently lights blazed from cellar to attic, maids flew in every
direction, fires were lighted, the moving of heavy furniture shook the
floors. Derry, the little unconscious cause of it all, lay quiet, with
Mary watching him.
New York had been asleep; it was awakened now. Motor cars wheeled into
the Gregorys' street; Mrs. Gregory herself answered the door. Here was
the nurse, efficient, yet sympathetic, too, with her paraphernalia and
her assistants. Yes, she had been able to get it, Doctor Gregory. Yes,
Doctor, she had that. Here was the man from the drug store--that was
all right, Doctor, that was what he expected, being waked up in the
night; thank you, Doctor. And here was George Valentine, too much
absorbed in the business in hand to say more than an affectionate
"Hello" to Rachael. But with George was Alice, white-faced but smiling,
and little sleepy Jimmy, who was to be smuggled immediately into bed.
"I thought you'd rather have him here," said Alice.
Rachael knew why. Rachael knew what doctors said to each other, when
they gathered, and used those quick, low monosyllables. She knew why
Miss Redding was speeding the arrangements for the improvised
operating-room with such desperate hurry. She knew why one of these
assisting doctors was delegated to do nothing but sit beside Derry,
watching the little hurt breast rise and fall, watching the bubble of
blood form and break on the swollen mouth.
Warren had told her to get into dry clothing, and then to take a
stimulant, and have something to eat. And eager to save him what she
could, she was warm and dry now. She sat in Derry's room, and
presently, when they came to stand beside him, Warren and George, they
found her agonized eyes, bright with questions, facing them. But she
knew better than to speak.
Neither man spoke for a few dreadful moments. Warren looked at the
child without a flicker of change in his impassive look; George bit his
lip, and almost imperceptibly shook his head. And in their faces
Rachael read the death of her last faint hope.
"We don't dare anesthetize him until we know just the lie of those
broken ribs," said Warren gravely to his wife, "and yet the little chap
is so exhausted that the strain of trying to touch it may--may be too
much for him. There's no time for an X-ray. Some of these fellows think
it is too great a risk. I believe it may be done. If there are internal
injuries, we can't hope to--" He paused. "But otherwise, I believe--"
Again his voice dropped. He stood looking at the little boy with eyes
that were not a surgeon's now; all a father's.
"Good little chap," he said softly. "Do you remember how he used to
watch Jim, through the bars of his crib, when he was about eight months
old, and laugh as if Jim was the funniest thing in the world?"
Rachael looked up and nodded with brimming eyes. She could not speak.
They carried Derry away, and Rachael followed them up to the head of
the stairway outside of the operating-room, and sat there, her hands
locked in her lap, her head resting against the wall. Alice dared not
join her, she kept her seat by the library fire, and with one hand
pressed tight against her eyes, tried to pray.
Rachael did not pray. She was unable even to think clearly. Visions
drifted through her tired brain, the panorama of the long day and night
swept by unceasingly. She was in Eighth Avenue again, she was in the
hot train, with the rain beating against the windows, and tears running
down her hot cheeks. She was entering the house--"Where's my boy?" And
then she was driving the car through that cruel world of water and
wind. She would have saved him if she could! She had done her share.
Instantly, unflinchingly, she had torn through blackness and storm; a
battered ship beating somehow toward the familiar harbor. Now he must
be saved. Rachael knew that madness would come upon her if these
hideous hours were only working toward the moment when she would know
that she had been too late. For the rest of her life she would only
review them: the Bar, the wet roads, the detour, and the frightful
seconds on the bridge. There had been something expiatory, something
symbolic in this mad adventure, this flight through the night. The
fires that had been burning in her heart for the past terrible hours
were purged, she must be changed forevermore after to-night. But for
the new birth, Derry must not be the price! The strain had been too
great, the delicate machinery of her brain would give, she could not
take up life again, having lost him--and lost him in this way--
They were torturing him; the child's cry of utter agony reached her
where she sat. It came to her, in a flash, that Warren had said there
might be no merciful chloroform. Cold water broke out on her forehead,
she covered her ears with her hands, her breath coming wild and deep.
"Oh, no--Daddy! Oh, no, Daddy! Oh, Mother--Mother--!"
"Oh, my God! this is not right," Rachael said half aloud. "Oh, take
him, take him, but don't let him suffer so!"
She was writhing as if the suffering were her own. For perhaps five
horrible moments the house rang, then there was sudden silence.
"Now he is dead," Rachael said in the same quiet, half-audible tone. "I
am glad. He will never know what pain is again. Five perfect little
years, with never one instant that was not sweet and good. Gerald
Fairfax Gregory--five years old. One sees it in the papers almost every
day. But who thinks what it means? Just the mother, who remembers the
first cry, and the little crumpled flannel wrappers, and the little
hand crawling up her breast. He walked so much sooner than Jim did, but
of course he was lighter. And how he would throw things out of
windows--the camera that hit the postman! Oh, my God!"
For the anguished screaming had recommenced, and the child wanted his
Rachael bore it for endless, agonizing minutes. Presently Alice,
white-faced, was kneeling on the step below her, and their wet hands
"Dearest, why do you sit here!"
"Oh, Alice, could I get Warren, do you think? They mustn't--it's too
cruel! He's only a baby, he doesn't understand! Better a thousand times
to let him go--tell them so! Get George--tell him I say so!"
"Rachael, it's terrible," said Alice, who was crying hard, "b-b-but
they must think there is a chance, dear. We couldn't interrupt them
now. He would see you--there, he's quiet again. That may be all!"
But it was not the end for many hours. The women on the stairs, and the
sobbing maids in the diningroom, hoped and despaired, and grew faint
and sick themselves as the merciless work went on. Once George came out
of the room for a few minutes, with a face flaked with white, and his
surgeon's gown crumpled, wet with water and stained here and there a
terrible red. He did not speak to either woman, and in answer to
Alice's breath of interrogation merely shook his head.
At four o'clock Warren himself came to the door. Rachael sprang to her
feet, was close to him in a second. The sight of him, his gown, his
hands, his dreadful face, turned Alice faint, but Rachael's voice was
"What is it?"
"We are nearly done. Nearly done," Warren said. "I can't tell
yet--nobody can. But I must finish it. Do you think you could--he keeps
asking for you. I am sorry to ask you--"
"Hold him?" Rachael's voice of agony said. "Yes, I could do that. I--I
have been wanting to!"
"No--there is no necessity for that. He is on the table. But if he
could see you. It is the very end of our work," he answered. "It may be
that he can't--you must be ready for that."
"I am ready," she said.
A second later she was in the room with the child. She saw nothing but
Derry, his little body beneath the sheet rigidly strapped to the table.
The group gave place, and Rachael stood beside him. His beautiful baby
eyes, wild with terror and agony, found her; she bent over him, and
laid her fingers on his wet little forehead. He wanted his mother to
take him away, he had been calling her--hadn't she heard him? Please,
please, not to let anyone touch him again!
Rachael summoned a desperate courage. She spoke to him, she could even
smile. Did he remember the swing--yes, but he didn't remember Mother
bringing him all the way up, so that Daddy and Uncle George--
His brave eyes were fixed on hers. He was trying to remember, trying to
answer her smile, trying to think of other things than the recommencing
No use. The hoarse, terrible little screams began again. His little
hand writhed in hers.
"Mother--PLEASE--will you make them stop?"
Rachael was breathing deep, her own forehead was wet. She knew the
child's strength was gone.
"Just a little more, dearest," she said, white lipped; eyes full of
agonized appeal turned to George.
"Doctor--" One of the nurses, her hand on his pulse, said softly.
George Valentine looked up.
Rachael's apprehensive glance questioned them both. But Warren Gregory
did not falter, did not even glance away from his own hands.
Then it was over. The tension in the room broke suddenly, the
atmosphere changed, although there was not an audible breath. The
nurses moved swiftly and surely, needing no instructions. George lifted
Derry's little hand from Rachael's, and put one arm about her. Warren
put down his instrument, and bent, his face a mask of anxiety, over the
child. Derry was breathing--no more. But on the bloodless face that
Warren raised there was the light of hope.
"I believe he will make it, George," he said. "I think we have saved
him for you, Rachael! No--no--leave him where he is, Miss Moore. Get a
flat pillow under his head if you can. Cover him up. I'm going to stay
"Wouldn't he be more comfortable in his bed?" Rachael's shaken voice
asked in a low tone. She was conscious only that she must not faint now.
"He would be, of course. But it may be just by that fraction of energy
that he is hanging on. Brave little chap, he has been helping us just
as if he knew--"
But this Rachael could not endure. Her whole body shook, the room
rocked before her eyes. She had strength to reach the hall, saw Alice
standing white and tense, at the top of the stairs--then it was all
It seemed hours later, though it was only minutes, that Rachael came
dreamily to consciousness in her own old room, on her own bed. Her idly
moving eyes found the shaded lamp, found Alice sitting beside her.
Alice's hand lay over her own. For a long time they did not speak.
A perfect circle of shadow was flung on the high ceiling from the lamp.
Outside of the shadow were the familiar window draperies, the white
mantel with its old candlesticks, the exquisite crayon portrait of Jim
at three, and Derry a delicious eighteen-months-old. There was the
white bowl that had always been filled with violets, empty now. And
there were the low bookcases where a few special favorites were kept,
and the quaint old mahogany sewing-table that had been old Mrs.
Gregory's as a bride.
Rachael was exhausted in every fibre of body and soul, consecutive
thought was impossible now; her aching head defied the effort, but
lying here, in this dim light, there came to her a vision of the years
that might be. If she were ever rested again, if little Derry were
again his sunny, resolute self, if Warren and she were reunited, then
what an ideal of fine and simple and unselfish living would be hers!
How she would cling to honor and truth and goodness, how she would
fortify herself against the pitfalls dug by her own impulsiveness. She
and Warren had everything in life worth while, it was not for them to
throw their gifts away. Their home should be the source of help to
other homes, their sons should some day go out into the world equipped
with wisdom, disciplined and self-controlled, ready to meet life far
more bravely than ever their mother had.
There was a low voice at her door. Alice was gone, and Warren was
kneeling beside her. And as she laid one tired arm about his neck, in
the dear familiar fashion of the past, and as their eyes met, Rachael
felt that all her life had been a preparation for this exquisite minute.
"I thought you would like to know that he is sleeping, and we have
moved him," Warren said. "In three days you will have him roaring to
Tears brimmed Rachael's eyes.
"You saved him," she whispered.
"YOU saved him; George says so, too. If that fellow down there had
given him chloroform, there would have been no chance. Our only hope
was to relieve that pressure on his heart, and take the risk of it
being too much for him. He's as strong as a bull. But it was a fight!
And no one but a woman would have rushed him up here in the rain."
Rachael's eyes were streaming. She could not speak. She clung to her
husband's hand for a moment or two of silence.
"And now, I want to speak to you," Warren said, ending it. "I have
nothing to say in excuse. I know--I shall know all my life, what I have
done. It is like a bad dream."
His uncertain voice stopped. Husband and wife looked full at each
other, both breathing quickly, both faces drawn and tense.
"But, Rachael," Warren went on, "I think, if you knew how I have
suffered, that you would--that some day, you would forgive me. I was
never happy. Never anything but troubled and excited and confused. But
for the last few months, in this empty house, seeing other men with
their wives, and thinking what a wife you were--It has been like
finding my sight--like coming out of a fever--" He paused. Rachael did
"I know what I deserve at your hands," Warren said.
"Nobody--nobody--not old George, not anyone--can think of me with the
contempt and the detestation with which I think of myself! It has
changed me. I will never--I can never, hold up my head again. But,
Rachael, you loved me once, and I made you happy--you've not forgotten
that! Give me another chance. Let me show you how I love you, how
bitterly sorry I am that I ever caused you one moment of pain! Don't
leave me alone. Don't let me feel that between you and me, as the years
go by, there is going to be a widening gulf. You don't know what the
loneliness means to me! You don't know how I miss my wife every time I
sit down to dinner, every time I climb into the car. I think of the
years to come--of what they might have been, of what they will be
without you! And I can't bear it. Why, to go down with you and the boys
to Clark's Hills, to tell you about my work, to take you to dinner
again--my God! it seems to me like Heaven now, and I look back a few
years, when it was all mine, and wonder if I have been sane, wonder if
too much work, and all the other responsibilities, of the boys, and
Mother's death, and the estate, and poor little Charlie, whether I
really wasn't a little twisted mentally!"
Rachael tightened her arms about his neck, pressed her wet face to his.
"Sweetheart," said her wonderful voice, a mere tired essence of a voice
now, "if there is anything to forgive, I am so glad to forgive it! You
are mine, and I am yours. Please God we will never be parted again!"
And then for a long time there was silence in the room, while husband
and wife clung together, and the hurt of the long months was cured, and
dissolved, and gone forever. What Warren felt, Rachael could only know
from his tears, and his passionate kisses, and the grip of his arms.
For herself, she felt that she might gladly die, being so held against
his heart, feeling through her entire being the rising flood of
satisfied love that is life and breath to such a nature as hers.
"I am changed," said Warren after long moments; "you will see it, for I
see it myself. I can see now what my mother meant, years ago, when she
talked to me about myself. And I am older, Rachael."
"I am not younger," Rachael said, smiling. "And I think I am changed,
too. All the pressure, all the nervous worry of the last few years,
seem to be gone. Washed away, perhaps, by tears--there have been tears
enough! But somehow--somehow I am confident, Warren, as I never was
before, that happiness is ahead. Somehow I feel sure that you and I
have won to happiness, now, won to sureness. With each other, and the
boys, and books and music, and Home Dunes, the years to come seem all
bright. After all, we are young to have learned how to live!"
And again she drew his face down to hers.
Alice did not come back again, but Mary came in with a cup of smoking
soup. Mrs. Valentine had taken the doctor home, but they would be back
later on. It was after six, and Doctor Gregory said Mrs. Gregory was to
drink this, and try to get some sleep. But first Mary and Rachael must
talk over the terrible and wonderful night, and Rachael must creep down
the hall, to smile at the nurse, who sat by the heavily sleeping Derry.
Then she slept, for hours and hours, while the winter sun smiled down
on the bare trees in the square and women in furs and babies in woolens
walked and chattered on the leaf-strewn paths.
Such a sleep and such a waking are memorable in a lifetime. Rachael
woke, smiling and refreshed, in a radiant world. Afternoon sunshine was
streaming in at her windows, she felt rested, deliciously ready for
To bathe, to dress with the chatting Jimmy tying strings to her
dressing-table, to have the maids quietly and cheerfully coming and
going in the old way; this in itself was delight. But when she tiptoed
into Derry's room, and found hope and confidence there, found the blue
eyes wide open, under the bandage, and heard the enchanting little
voice announce, "I had hot milk, Mother," Rachael felt that her cup of
joy was brimming.
He had fallen out of the swing, Derry told her, and Dad had hurted him,
and Jimmy added sensationally that Derry had broken his leg!
"But just the same, we wanted our Daddy the moment we woke up this
morning," Miss Moore smiled, "and we managed to hold up one arm to
welcome him, and it was Daddy that held the glass of milk, wasn't it,
"She calls me Gerald because she doesn't know me very well," said Derry
in a tactful aside, and Rachael, not daring to laugh for fear of
beginning to cry, could only kiss the brown hand, and devour, with
tear-dazzled eyes, the eager face.
Then she and Jimmy went down to have a meal that was like breakfast and
luncheon and tea in one, with Warren. And to Rachael, thinking of all
their happy meals together, since honeymoon days, this seemed the best
of all. The afternoon light in the breakfast-room, the maids so poorly
concealing their delight in this turn of events, little Jim so pleased
at finding a meal served at this unusual hour, and his parents
seemingly disposed to let him eat anything and everything, and Warren,
tired--so strangely gray--and yet utterly content and at peace; these
made the hour memorably happy; a forerunner of other happy hours to
"It seems to me that there never was such a bright sunshine, and never
such a nice little third person, and never such coffee, and such
happiness!" said Rachael, her eyes reflecting something of the placid
winter day; soul and body wrapped in peace. "Yesterday--only yesterday,
I was wretched beyond all believing! To-day I think I have had the best
hours of my life!"
"It is always going to be this way for you, Rachael," her husband said,
"my life is going to be one long effort to keep you absolutely happy.
You will never grieve on my account again!"
"Say rather," she said seriously, "that we know each other, and
ourselves, now. Say that I will never demand utter perfection of you,
or you of me. But, Warren--Warren--as long as we love each other--"
He had come around the table to her side, and was kneeling with his
arms about her, and Rachael locked her hands about his neck. He was
tired, he had had no sleep after the difficult night, and he seemed to
her strangely broken, strangely her own. Rachael felt that he had never
been so infinitely dear, so much hers to protect and save. The wonder
of marriage came to her, the miracle of love rooted too deep for
disturbance, of love fed on faults as well as virtues; so light a tie
in the beginning, so powerful a bond as the years go by.
"As long as we love each other!" she said, smiling through tears, her
eyes piercing him to the very soul.
He did not speak, and so for a moment they remained motionless, looking
at each other. But when she released him, with one of her quick, shy
kisses, he knew that the heart of Rachael was satisfied.