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 Marjorie Melton and Henry Laselle, were an ideally happy couple; for once the course of true love seemed to run smoothly, thus belying the old adage. Marjy was the pet and heiress of an old aunt with whom she lived. Henry was a young lawyer, with a fair amount of practice, a good reputation, and every prospect of success. Aunt Hattie—as she was lovingly called—lived as befitted her station, on one of the most fashionable avenues. One Monday evening Aunt Hattie received a large sum of money from the sale of property; as it was after banking hours she locked it away in a small safe in her sitting room. Henry and Marjy sat by the table reading, and commenting on a work of occult science; Henry taking the stand that it was like hunting for a half a dozen pearls in a mountain of sand; Marjy defending the theories with much warmth, as much because of their beauty as because of their truth. Hypnotism was the subject under discussion, Henry declaring that he considered the whole thing “fudge.”
Aunt Hattie locked away her money, and as she passed the table, she tossed a slip of paper on which was written the combination of the 170safe, to Marjy, saying, “Put that away, please; it is a pity that one must become so forgetful; I have but this instant locked that safe, yet I cannot even now, remember the combination.” Her tone expressed such intense disgust with herself that Henry and Marjy laughed merrily.
Henry picked up the slip of paper and read the numbers and letters aloud: “I’ll wager that I could repeat that a week from to-night!”
“I’ll take that bet; you have a good memory, but I think not quite equal to that; however I’ll put this out of your sight, so that you cannot study it;” answered she teasingly, as she hid the paper.
He left the house an hour or so later, and nothing further was said on the subject. After he reached home the letters and figures kept repeating themselves over and over in his mind, until he heartily tired of them; even after he retired they continued to dance before his mental vision, until he angrily exclaimed aloud:
“Oh, confound the things! Small chance of my forgetting them!”
He had barely reached his office the next morning when the telephone bell ran sharply; Aunt Hattie answered his, “Hello!”
“Hello! Henry, is that you?”
“Yes; what is the trouble? Anything wrong up there?”
“No—that is—nothing in particular. Say, Henry, did you take that money last night?”
“Aunt Hattie! Why should you think that I would take your money?” he cried indignantly.
“I thought that perhaps you did it to tease 171me; can’t you come to the house for a few minutes?”
“Certainly,” he replied.
He had been very busy all the morning, and had not once thought of the combination, but no sooner was he on his way to the house than, with tantalizing pertinacity, it began repeating itself over, again and again. Marjy met him at the door, she had evidently been weeping; he caught her hands: “Why, Marjy, what is the matter? Have you been crying over the loss of that money?” he asked in astonishment.
She raised her eyes to his face, a troubled questioning in their depths, “Did you not take it, Henry?”
He drew back in hurt surprise: “What do you mean, Marjy? Do you think that I would take your aunt’s money?” he asked indignantly.
Marjy burst into tears: “Auntie—Auntie—” she stammered, and there she stopped, unable to proceed.
He finished the sentence for her; “Thinks me a thief,” he said grimly.
She hung her head and sobbed: “You—you are the only person—beside auntie and me, who knew the combination, you know!” she paused, then continued desperately, “You remember that you boasted that you could repeat it a week from that day——”
“I should think so! I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind for one minute since; but what has that to do with your aunt’s money?”
“No other person knew anything about it,” she said na?vely.
172“That explains your strange look when you hid the paper; you suspected that I would steal the money.”
“Oh, Henry! I had no thought of such a thing!”
“Perhaps not, but you looked it!” he replied hotly.
She drew herself up angrily: “I tell you that there was no such thought in my mind; it must have had birth in your own consciousness; you remember the old adage about ‘fleeing when no man pursueth.’” She tossed her pretty head high in the air, and walked into the sitting room; he followed sullenly behind.
Here everything was in disorder; chairs were thrown about; books lay all over the floor with their leaves fluttered open; window drapings were shaken out of their usual prim folds; the piano cover lay in the middle of the room; and at the instant of their entrance Aunt Hattie was on her knees tearing frantically at the edge of the carpet. She turned a red and disheveled countenance toward them.
“Come and help me with this,” said she shortly.
“For what are you tearing up the carpet?” asked Marjy.
Auntie stopped her work, and dropped on to her knees staring blankly. “Looking for the money, ninny!” she ejaculated in a tone of intense disgust.
“But Auntie, you put it in the safe!”
She looked bewildered for a moment, then said fatuously, “Did I? I thought perhaps I hid it 173under the carpet. Oh, yes; I remember! Henry had the combination; there wasn’t any one knew it except you two,” she finished angrily.
Marjy turned a reproachful glance on Henry, who stood looking angrily at auntie; she returned an equally angry gaze.
“I do not think it kind of you to play such tricks upon me; give me back the money, and have done with such foolishness!” said she.
“Do you really think that I took your money?” he questioned hotly.
“Of course! There was no one else knew the combination but you——”
“Oh, confound that combination! I’ve heard it until I’m sick of it! Your niece knew it as well as I—why not suspect her? She was in the house, I was not!”
“Yes, that’s so! Marjy did you take it?” fatuously.
Marjy gave Henry a withering look: “What nonsense!” she cried.
“Well, some one took it!” gloomily iterated auntie, as she continued to lift up books, and flutter open papers.
“You had best have a detective look into the matter,” said Marjy coldly.
“Oh, not for the world! I wouldn’t be so disgraced!” cried auntie excitedly.
“I do not see how you are to ascertain the truth otherwise,” remarked Henry.
“Oh, dear! I wouldn’t care so much for the money—though it’s too much to lose—but to have to suspect those in whom we have placed so 174much confidence, and one’s very own, is awful!” wailed Aunt Hattie, not very lucidly.
Henry frowned angrily, then Marjy shot him a disdainful glance, and Aunt Hattie glared reproachfully at both.
Henry turned abruptly, lifting his hat in a sudden access of politeness; “I bid you a very good day; if you wish to arrest me, you will find me in my room, two doors away; or in my office on Tremont Street,” saying which he strode angrily away.
Marjy ran up to her room and locked herself in, despite her aunt’s shrill cry: “Come here, Marjy, and help me to look for that money! Oh, I must find it, it cannot be lost!”
Notwithstanding her asseveration, it did seem to be lost. She one moment declared that she was positive that she had locked it in the safe—and scolded and reproached Marjy—then, she railed about Henry, and how impossible it was to trust any one; taking another turn, she doubted herself; she did not know whether or not she put it in the safe at all. “It might be that I took it out after I put it there, and thought it more secure in some other place; but of course I never once thought that Henry would rob me, and he pretended to love you,” she would grumble. Then she would fall to tearing things to pieces again.
Whenever her aunt accused her, Marjy only cried out impatiently: “Oh, nonsense, auntie! What would I do with it?”
“I do not know, I am sure!” weakly.
But when she assailed Henry, then Marjy flew 175into a tempest of passion. “You know that he could not have touched it; we were all in the room together until he left, and I went to the front door, and closed and locked it after him; he lives two doors away, he couldn’t very well come through the walls,” indignantly.
“That’s so! You must have taken it, then!” hysterically.
“Much more likely that you have hidden it away yourself. Oh, dear! My life is ruined on account of that miserable money! Henry scarcely speaks to me, and says that he will never step inside the house again!”
“I do not see why you should mourn over a thief!” answered Aunt Hattie.
“He isn’t a thief. I would as soon think that you took it yourself,” she cried wrathfully.
Aunt Hattie grew pale with anger: “Take care what you say, miss,” she retorted with quivering lips.
The whole household arrangement, mind, morals and manners, seemed demoralized. Never before had an ill-natured word been spoken between auntie and Marjy. Auntie had been like the placid autumn day, Marjy like the blithe spring sunshine. Now everything was like a draught of bitter water. Henry went about his work listlessly.
The days dragged along tiresomely, Marjy and Henry met occasionally, and although no word was spoken, by tacit consent the engagement was ended. Marjy went nowhere and would receive no company. Gossips commented—there must be something wrong; a bird of the 176air whispered—there always is a telltale bird—that Henry was a defaulter; then, rumor had it, a common thief. A kind friend? told him the report—there is also always the kind friend—he was raging. He declared that he would leave the place, that he would not stay here in disgrace; he surely thought that Marjy or her aunt had circulated the report, and he was furious over it.
A little reflection caused him to change his mind about leaving: “I have done no wrong, and I will not run! If they think to drive me away by that scheme, they will get left, that’s all!” said he grimly. Meanwhile some one told Marjy that she heard that “Henry and Marjy had stolen money from her auntie, and had intended to elope; that Auntie Nelson had caught them before they could get out of the street door; she took the money from Henry, and forbid him the house. It isn’t true is it, dear?” concluded she.
Marjy astonished the gossip by such an outburst of temper as frightened her out of the house, after which she locked herself in her own chamber, to sob and cry for the rest of the day. Everything was as miserable as it was possible to be; Marjy would go out no more in daylight, but after nightfall, with a heavy veil over her face, she would steal out for a walk as though she were some guilty thing.
One night as she passed Henry’s room she paused and looked up at the window; he sat beside a small table on which was placed a lamp, his head bowed upon his arms in an attitude of 177despair; he raised his face, the change and melancholy look filled Marjy’s heart with grief. He arose wearily and began pacing to and fro. Marjy dropped her face in her hands and sobbed bitterly; the moon, which had been under a cloud, came out a flood of silver radiance; Marjy leaning against a low railing on the opposite side of the street, was, unconsciously to herself, in the full glow.
“Marjy! Marjy!” called a voice softly.
She started in affright; but Henry caught her hands, and held them fast.
“Marjy, Marjy, my pet, don’t cry!”
She made him no answer, but sobbed hysterically in his arms.
“What is it, Marjy, is there more trouble?” he asked, feeling—as most men do in the presence of a woman’s tears—perfectly helpless.
“No! no! There doesn’t need be more trouble! There isn’t any happiness left; auntie is so cross and suspicious—she suspects you, me, and even herself; for whole days at a time she doesn’t speak, and if I take a book to read she looks at me as reproachfully as though I were doing some wrong thing; if I look sad she says—she says—I am mourning over a thief, and that makes me mad, because I know it isn’t true!” she finished excitedly.
“God bless you, Marjy! That is the first bit of comfort I have received since that miserable night,” he answered.
“How could you imagine that I would think you guilty of such a thing?” reproachfully.
178“How happens it that you are out so late at night?” he asked irrelevantly.
“I cannot go out in daytime, people say such awful things about us that it makes me ashamed;” sobbing hysterically. “When I saw you looking so despondent it just broke my heart.”
“Oh, my dear, don’t cry!” helplessly.
She smiled at him through her tears: “Well, I will not, you have enough to bear as it is; but why were you so sad to-night?”
He put his hand under her chin, lifting up her face: “First, and greatest; I thought I had lost that which was dearest to me of aught on earth; I thought that you believed me guilty of taking that money, as you both said repeatedly that I was the only one who knew that accursed combination—and do you know, Marjy, that I can no more get it out of my mind than I can fly. By day and night it haunts me until I am very near insane. I see it before me like sparks of fire; I heard it iterated, and reiterated, and nothing that I can do rids me of the torture; frightful or grotesque pictures are formed, from the midst of which your aunt’s face looks out at me with wide-open, reproachful eyes.”
A shudder swept over him at the remembrance; he drew her into closer embrace, and said, “Little comforter! It is sweet to know that you have faith in me, when friends and clients are deserting me; some one is busily reporting the whole affair, with numerous embellishments;” after a moment’s pause, he continued: “Do you think that auntie would spread the report?”
179“Oh, no! No matter what she may say to me, she would not breathe a word of it to others. I must return to the house, or someone will see us talking, and there will be more reports,” added Marjy laughingly. They parted with many fond words, and Marjy went home happier than she had been in many a day. This was but one of many meetings.
Aunt Hattie’s whole mental attitude seemed changed; nothing is more true than that we have very little knowledge of ourselves; many traits lie dormant until circumstances call them out; hidden dogs that scenting prey hurry forward in restless chase. Auntie had ever been trusting to a singular degree; but now she had become suspicious of everyone, and when Marjy went out two or three nights in succession, she regarded her distrustingly. “I do wonder now, if Marjy goes out to meet that fellow! Probably they are planning that they will have a good time with that money. Oh, dear! I wish that miserable roll of bills had been burned, it wouldn’t have given me half as much trouble; it is the uncertainty that vexes me so!”
It is often quoted as an adage, “out of people’s mouths we must judge them.” I shall certainly have to differ with the wise old proverb maker, though as a rule he is right; sometimes people say the opposite of what they mean; most certainly Aunt Hattie did, when she accused either Henry or Marjy of using the money. The fact was that she was in a state of aggravating uncertainty; she had no actual opinion, being in a 180condition of endless surmise, and consequent irritability, which must have an outlet.
That night her suspicions were so wrought up that she followed Marjy, and witnessed the loving meeting of the two; she caught a sound of their low-toned conversation, although she could not distinguish their words. She was in precisely that frame of mind to imagine that everything was intended as an injury to her; she rushed at them, crying and scolding incoherently.
Marjy in an agony of shame tried to appease her, but in vain. Windows were hastily thrown up all along the street: “Oh, auntie, do come home! All the neighbors are listening; auntie! auntie! Just think of the comments!”
Auntie gave a frightened glance at the many opened windows, and at a man hurrying toward them; gossip over her affairs had been the great bugaboo of her life; she regained command of herself instantly. The man was rapidly approaching them, his face alive with curiosity; just as he was on the point of speaking to them, auntie sank to the ground with a groan and burst into loud weeping.
Marjy gave Henry a frightened glance, and turned to auntie in the greatest distress. Auntie cried out shrilly: “Lift me up, Henry! Marjy, do get hold on the other side. Oh, dear! Oh, dear. My poor ankle, I know that it is broken!” and with much groaning and crying she allowed herself to be carried into the house. No sooner had the street door closed behind them than auntie straightened up and said laughingly: “There, I think my ankle is all right now, and those old gossips have missed a treat!”
181She was so elated over the affair that she seemed more like herself than for a long time; but as a sequence Marjy could go out no more, unaccompanied by her aunt. Auntie gave Henry a frigid invitation, but he seldom came to the house, and when he did so wore a preoccupied and uncomfortable air; auntie was often disagreeable, and Marjy unhappy and despondent.
About this time a cousin of Marjy’s, James Jordan, came to visit Auntie Nelson; he was not long in discovering that things were in an unpleasant condition. He formed a great liking for Henry, who on the contrary was very jealous of James. Marjy went to places of amusement, and was frequently out riding with him; cousin James was consulted upon all occasions. Marjy had no wrong intention in so doing; she thought of him merely as her cousin, and was glad of anything that eased the tension under which they seemed to be living. Henry had become so hypersensitive that he shrank from everything. He often answered James with absolute incivility, to which he only returned some laughing answer; he understood the situation very well, and heartily sympathized with the lovers.
One evening they had gathered around the table in auntie’s room; several new magazines lay scattered about, one of which James had been reading. Henry was unusually silent and depressed; his business had steadily decreased, and more than one taunt had been leveled at him; he had ever been proud of his integrity, and scorned all things debasing—as all dishonesty whether of word or deed must be—and 182the annoyance had developed a nervous restlessness which prevented sleep, and left him worn, haggard and miserable.
James looked up from the book which he had been reading and said, “What do you think about hypnotism? I have been reading this article, and am very much impressed, as well as interested by it.”
The question was addressed to no one in particular, but Henry took it up, and answered roughly: “I think it is a lot of bosh!”
James replied pleasantly: “I don’t know that it is, though it may be so. We know that there are subtleties of the mind which we do not understand, and I do not see why there should not be the same amount of force in the higher power of man as in the physical; great feats, either of mind or muscle, are but the result of training; we think because we do not understand that to which we have scarcely g............
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