Valancy walked quickly through the back streets and through Lover's Lane. Sh_id not want to meet any one she knew. She didn't want to meet even people sh_idn't know. She hated to be seen. Her mind was so confused, so torn, s_essy. She felt that her appearance must be the same. She drew a sobbin_reath of relief as she left the village behind and found herself on the "u_ack" road. There was little fear of meeting any one she knew here. The car_hat fled by her with raucous shrieks were filled with strangers. One of the_as packed with young people who whirled past her singing uproariously:
> "My wife has the fever, O then, > My wife has the fever, O then, > My wife has the fever, > Oh, I hope it won't leave her, > For I want to be single again."
Valancy flinched as if one of them had leaned from the car and cut her acros_he face with a whip.
She had made a covenant with death and death had cheated her. Now life stoo_ocking her. She had trapped Barney. Trapped him into marrying her. An_ivorce was so hard to get in Ontario. So expensive. And Barney was poor.
With life, fear had come back into her heart. Sickening fear. Fear of wha_arney would think. Would say. Fear of the future that must be lived withou_im. Fear of her insulted, repudiated clan.
She had had one draught from a divine cup and now it was dashed from her lips.
With no kind, friendly death to rescue her. She must go on living and longin_or it. Everything was spoiled, smirched, defaced. Even that year in the Blu_astle. Even her unashamed love for Barney. It had been beautiful becaus_eath waited. Now it was only sordid because death was gone. How could any on_ear an unbearable thing?
She must go back and tell him. Make him believe she had not meant to tric_im—she _must_ make him believe that. She must say good-bye to her Blu_astle and return to the brick house on Elm Street. Back to everything she ha_hought left behind forever. The old bondage—the old fears. But that did no_atter. All that mattered now was that Barney must somehow be made to believ_he had not consciously tricked him.
When Valancy reached the pines by the lake she was brought out of her daze o_ain by a startling sight. There, parked by the side of old, battered ragge_ady Jane, was another car. A wonderful car. A purple car. Not a dark, roya_urple but a blatant, screaming purple. It shone like a mirror and it_nterior plainly indicated the car caste of Vere de Vere. In the driver's sea_at a haughty chauffeur in livery. And in the tonneau sat a man who opened th_oor and bounced out nimbly as Valancy came down the path to the landing- place. He stood under the pines waiting for her and Valancy took in ever_etail of him.
A stout, short, pudgy man, with a broad, rubicund, good-humoured face—a clean- shaven face, though an unparalysed little imp at the back of Valancy'_aralysed mind suggested the thought, "Such a face should have a fringe o_hite whisker around it." Old-fashioned, steel-rimmed spectacles on prominen_lue eyes. A pursey mouth; a little round, knobby nose. Where—where—where, groped Valancy, had she seen that face before? It seemed as familiar to her a_er own.
The stranger wore a green hat and a light fawn overcoat over a suit of a lou_heck pattern. His tie was a brilliant green of lighter shade; on the plum_and he outstretched to intercept Valancy an enormous diamond winked at her.
But he had a pleasant, fatherly smile, and in his hearty, unmodulated voic_as a ring of something that attracted her.
"Can you tell me, Miss, if that house yonder belongs to a Mr. Redfern? And i_o, how can I get to it?"
Redfern! A vision of bottles seemed to dance before Valancy's eyes—lon_ottles of bitters—round bottles of hair tonic—square bottles o_iniment—short, corpulent little bottles of purple pills—and all of the_earing that very prosperous, beaming moon-face and steel-rimmed spectacles o_he label. Dr. Redfern!
"No," said Valancy faintly. "No—that house belongs to Mr. Snaith."
Dr. Redfern nodded.
"Yes, I understand Bernie's been calling himself Snaith. Well, it's his middl_ame—was his poor mother's. Bernard Snaith Redfern—that's him. And now, Miss, you can tell me how to get over to that island? Nobody seems to be home there.
I've done some waving and yelling. Henry, there, wouldn't yell. He's a one-jo_an. But old Doc Redfern can yell with the best of them yet, and ain't abov_oing it. Raised nothing but a couple of crows. Guess Bernie's out for th_ay."
"He was away when I left this morning," said Valancy. "I suppose he hasn'_ome home yet."
She spoke flatly and tonelessly. This last shock had temporarily bereft her o_hatever little power of reasoning had been left her by Dr. Trent'_evelation. In the back of her mind the aforesaid little imp was jeeringl_epeating a silly old proverb, "It never rains but it pours." But she was no_rying to think. What was the use?
Dr. Redfern was gazing at her in perplexity.
"When you left this morning? Do you live—over there?"
He waved his diamond at the Blue Castle.
"Of course," said Valancy stupidly. "I'm his wife."
Dr. Redfern took out a yellow silk handkerchief, removed his hat and moppe_is brow. He was very bald, and Valancy's imp whispered, "Why be bald? Wh_ose your manly beauty? Try Redfern's Hair Vigor. It keeps you young."
"Excuse me," said Dr. Redfern. "This is a bit of a shock."
"Shocks seem to be in the air this morning." The imp said this out loud befor_alancy could prevent it.
"I didn't know Bernie was—married. I didn't think he _would_ have go_arried without telling his old dad."
Were Dr. Redfern's eyes misty? Amid her own dull ache of misery and fear an_read, Valancy felt a pang of pity for him.
"Don't blame him," she said hurriedly. "It—it wasn't his fault. It—was all m_oing."
"You didn't ask him to marry you, I suppose," twinkled Dr. Redfern. "He migh_ave let me know. I'd have got acquainted with my daughter-in-law before thi_f he had. But I'm glad to meet you now, my dear—very glad. You look like _ensible young woman. I used to sorter fear Barney'd pick out some pretty bi_f fluff just because she was good-looking. They were all after him, o_ourse. Wanted his money? Eh? Didn't like the pills and the bitters but like_he dollars. Eh? Wanted to dip their pretty little fingers in old Doc'_illions. Eh?"
"Millions!" said Valancy faintly. She wished she could sit down somewhere—sh_ished she could have a chance to think—she wished she and the Blue Castl_ould sink to the bottom of Mistawis and vanish from human sight forevermore.
"Millions," said Dr. Redfern complacently. "And Bernie chucks them for—that."
Again he shook the diamond contemptuously at the Blue Castle, "Wouldn't yo_hink he'd have more sense? And all on account of a white bit of a girl. H_ust have got over _that_ feeling, anyhow, since he's married. You mus_ersuade him to come back to civilisation. All nonsense wasting his life lik_his. Ain't you going to take me over to your house, my dear? I suppose you'v_ome way of getting there."
"Of course," said Valancy stupidly. She led the way down to the little cov_here the disappearing propeller boat was snuggled.
"Does your—your man want to come, too?"
"Who? Henry. Not he. Look at him sitting there disapproving. Disapproves o_he whole expedition. The trail up from the road nearly gave him a conniption.
Well, it _was_ a devilish road to put a car on. Whose old bus is that u_here?"
"Good Lord! Does Bernie Redfern ride in a thing like that? It looks like th_reat-great-grandmother of all the Fords."
"It isn't a Ford. It's a Grey Slosson," said Valancy spiritedly. For som_ccult reason, Dr. Redfern's good-humoured ridicule of dear old Lady Jan_tung her to life. A life that was all pain but still _life._ Better tha_he horrible half-dead-and-half-aliveness of the past few minutes—or years.
She waved Dr. Redfern curtly into the boat and took him over to the Blu_astle. The key was still in the old pine—the house still silent and deserted.
Valancy took the doctor through the living-room to the western verandah. Sh_ust at least be out where there was air. It was still sunny, but in th_outhwest a great thundercloud, with white crests and gorges of purple shadow, was slowly rising over Mistawis. The doctor dropped with a gasp on a rusti_hair and mopped his brow again.
"Warm, eh? Lord, what a view! Wonder if it would soften Henry if he could se_t."
"Have you had dinner?" asked Valancy.
"Yes, my dear—had it before we left Port Lawrence. Didn't know what sort o_ild hermit's hollow we were coming to, you see. Hadn't any idea I was goin_o find a nice little daughter-in-law here all ready to toss me up a meal.
Cats, eh? Puss, puss! See that. Cats love me. Bernie was always fond of cats!
It's about the only thing he took from me. He's his poor mother's boy."
Valancy had been thinking idly that Barney must resemble his mother. She ha_emained standing by the steps, but Dr. Redfern waved her to the swing seat.
"Sit down, dear. Never stand when you can sit. I want to get a good look a_arney's wife. Well, well, I like your face. No beauty—you don't mind m_aying that—you've sense enough to know it, I reckon. Sit down."
Valancy sat down. To be obliged to sit still when mental agony urges us t_tride up and down is the refinement of torture. Every nerve in her being wa_rying out to be alone—to be hidden. But she had to sit and listen to Dr.
Redfern, who didn't mind talking at all.
"When do you think Bernie will be back?"
"I don't know—not before night probably."
"Where did he go?"
"I don't know that either. Likely to the woods—up back."
"So he doesn't tell you his comings and goings, either? Bernie was always _ecretive young devil. Never understood him. Just like his poor mother. But _hought a lot of him. It hurts me when he disappeared as he did. Eleven year_go. I haven't seen my boy for eleven years."
"Eleven years." Valancy was surprised. "It's only six since he came here."
"Oh, he was in the Klondike before that—and all over the world. He used t_rop me a line now and then—never give any clue to where he was but just _ine to say he was all right. I s'pose he's told you all about it."
"No. I know nothing of his past life," said Valancy with sudden eagerness. Sh_anted to know—she must know now. It hadn't mattered before. Now she must kno_ll. And she could never hear it from Barney. She might never even see hi_gain. If she did, it would not be to talk of his past.
"What happened? Why did he leave his home? Tell me. Tell me."
"Well, it ain't much of a story. Just a young fool gone mad because of _uarrel with his girl. Only Bernie was a stubborn fool. Always stubborn. Yo_ever could make that boy do anything he didn't want to do. From the day h_as born. Yet he was always a quiet, gentle little chap, too. Good as gold.
His poor mother died when he was only two years old. I'd just begun to mak_oney with my Hair Vigor. I'd dreamed the formula for it, you see. Some drea_hat. The cash rolled in. Bernie had everything he wanted. I sent him to th_est schools—private schools. I meant to make a gentleman of him. Never ha_ny chance myself. Meant he should have every chance. He went through McGill.
Got honours and all that. I wanted him to go in for law. He hankered afte_ournalism and stuff like that. Wanted me to buy a paper for him—or back hi_n publishing what he called a 'real, worthwhile, honest-to-goodness Canadia_agazine.' I s'pose I'd have done it—I always did what he wanted me to do.
Wasn't he all I had to live for? I wanted him to be happy. And he never wa_appy. Can you believe it? Not that he said so. But I'd always a feeling tha_e wasn't happy. Everything he wanted—all the money he could spend—his ow_ank account—travel—seeing the world—but he wasn't happy. Not till he fell i_ove with Ethel Traverse. Then he was happy for a little while."
The cloud had reached the sun and a great, chill, purple shadow came swiftl_ver Mistawis. It touched the Blue Castle—rolled over it. Valancy shivered.
"Yes," she said, with painful eagerness, though every word was cutting her t_he heart. "What—was—she—like?"
"Prettiest girl in Montreal," said Dr. Redfern. "Oh, she was a looker, al_ight. Eh? Gold hair—shiny as silk—great, big, soft, black eyes—skin like mil_nd roses. Don't wonder Bernie fell for her. And brains as well. _She_asn't a bit of fluff. B.A. from McGill. A thoroughbred, too. One of the bes_amilies. But a bit lean in the purse. Eh! Bernie was mad about her. Happies_oung fool you ever saw. Then—the bust-up."
"What happened?" Valancy had taken off her hat and was absently thrusting _in in and out of it. Good Luck was purring beside her. Banjo was regardin_r. Redfern with suspicion. Nip and Tuck were lazily cawing in the pines.
Mistawis was beckoning. Everything was the same. Nothing was the same. It wa_ hundred years since yesterday. Yesterday, at this time, she and Barney ha_een eating a belated dinner here with laughter. Laughter? Valancy felt tha_he had done with laughter forever. And with tears, for that matter. She ha_o further use for either of them.
"Blest if I know, my dear. Some fool quarrel, I suppose. Bernie just li_ut—disappeared. He wrote me from the Yukon. Said his engagement was broke_nd he wasn't coming back. And not to try to hunt him up because he was neve_oming back. I didn't. What was the use? I knew Bernie. I went on piling u_oney because there wasn't anything else to do. But I was mighty lonely. All _ived for was them little notes now and then fro_ernie—Klondike—England—South Africa—China—everywhere. I thought maybe he'_ome back some day to his lonesome old dad. Then six years ago even th_etters stopped. I didn't hear a word of or from him till last Christmas."
"Did he write?"
"No. But he drew a check for fifteen thousand dollars on his bank account. Th_ank manager is a friend of mine—one of my biggest shareholders. He'd alway_romised me he'd let me know if Bernie drew any checks. Bernie had fift_housand there. And he'd never touched a cent of it till last Christmas. Th_heck was made out to Aynsley's, Toronto—"
"Anysley's?" Valancy heard herself saying Aynsley's! She had a box on he_ressing-table with the Aynsley trademark.
"Yes. The big jewellery house there. After I'd thought it over a while, I go_risk. I wanted to locate Bernie. Had a special reason for it. It was time h_ave up his fool hoboing and come to his senses. Drawing that fifteen told m_here was something in the wind. The manager communicated with th_ynsleys—his wife was an Aynsley—and found out that Bernard Redfern had bough_ pearl necklace there. His address was given as Box 444, Port Lawrence, Muskoka, Ont. First I thought I'd write. Then I thought I'd wait till the ope_eason for cars and come down myself. Ain't no hand at writing. I've motore_rom Montreal. Got to Port Lawrence yesterday. Enquired at the post-office.
Told me they knew nothing of any Bernard Snaith Redfern, but there was _arney Snaith had a P. O. box there. Lived on an island out here, they said.
So here I am. And where's Barney?"
Valancy was fingering her necklace. She was wearing fifteen thousand dollar_round her neck. And she had worried lest Barney had paid fifteen dollars fo_t and couldn't afford it. Suddenly she laughed in Dr. Redfern's face.
"Excuse me. It's so—amusing," said poor Valancy.
"Isn't it?" said Dr. Redfern, seeing a joke—but not exactly hers. "Now, yo_eem like a sensible young woman, and I dare say you've lots of influence ove_ernie. Can't you get him to come back to civilisation and live like othe_eople? I've a house up there. Big as a castle. Furnished like a palace. _ant company in it—Bernie's wife—Bernie's children."
"Bless you, yes. Two years after Bernie levanted. But she's a widow now.
Pretty as ever. To be frank, that was my special reason for wanting to fin_ernie. I thought they'd make it up, maybe. But, of course, that's all of_ow. Doesn't matter. Bernie's choice of a wife is good enough for me. It's m_oy I want. Think he'll soon be back?"
"I don't know. But I don't think he'll come before night. Quite late, perhaps.
And perhaps not till tomorrow. But I can put you up comfortably. He'l_ertainly be back tomorrow."
Dr. Redfern shook his head.
"Too damp. I'll take no chances with rheumatism."
"Why suffer that ceaseless anguish? Why not try Redfern's Liniment?" quote_he imp in the back of Valancy's mind.
"I must get back to Port Lawrence before rain starts. Henry goes quite ma_hen he gets mud on the car. But I'll come back tomorrow. Meanwhile you tal_ernie into reason."
He shook her hand and patted her kindly on the shoulder. He looked as if h_ould have kissed her, with a little encouragement, but Valancy did not giv_t. Not that she would have minded. He was rather dreadful an_oud—and—and—dreadful. But there was something about him she liked. Sh_hought dully that she might have liked being his daughter-in-law if he ha_ot been a millionaire. A score of times over. And Barney was his son—an_eir.
She took him over in the motor boat and watched the lordly purple car rol_way through the woods with Henry at the wheel looking things not lawful to b_ttered. Then she went back to the Blue Castle. What she had to do must b_one quickly. Barney _might_ return at any moment. And it was certainl_oing to rain. She was thankful she no longer felt very bad. When you ar_ludgeoned on the head repeatedly, you naturally and mercifully become more o_ess insensible and stupid.
She stood briefly like a faded flower bitten by frost, by the hearth, lookin_own on the white ashes of the last fire that had blazed in the Blue Castle.
"At any rate," she thought wearily, "Barney isn't poor. He will be able t_fford a divorce. Quite nicely."