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Out of the Past

By Agnes Boulton Burton

I-II     III-VI     VII-XIII     XIV-XVI

XIV

Afterward they walked slowly, hand in hand, up the beach, through the palm trees—where he kissed her—and out onto the long road that led back to the hotel.

"My mother came today," he said. "If it is not too late when we get back to the hotel, may I introduce you to her to-night?"

"I would love to meet her," answered Rose.

"She was delayed, you know, in getting here, because of the illness of our old housekeeper, of whom we are very fond."

They walked on, speaking in low tones of the things, nearest to their hearts.

When they reached the hotel Cuthbert took his sweetheart to one of the small parlors.

"I think that my mother is in there reading," he exclaimed, taking Rose's hand as they went toward the door. "Ah, yes, there she is!"

A small pale woman looked up and smiled as they entered.

"Mother, this is Rose. I hope you will love one another, because we—we are going to be married."

The mother let her hands fall from her book. A pallor seemed to overspread her features: then with an effort she smiled, and Rose saw a light moisture in her eyes.

"This is a surprise to me," she murmured after a short silence.

Rose impulsively put her arms around the older woman's neck and kissed her. She was aware, during this embrace, of a slight fragrant perfume and, when she raised her head and looked at her, she cried quickly:

"Oh, how pretty you are!"

A faint flush had risen in Mrs. Grey's cheeks, and Rose saw the fineness of her skin, the charm of her regular features, and the softness of her eyes. She had not imagined Cuthbert's mother would be so young.

"She has hair just like yours," said Cuthbert fondly.

His mother's hair was of the same golden hue, but little faded; her fade, rather sad in repose, was lighted now with the charming animation that happiness brings to mature years.

"This is a wonderful surprise to me," she said, looking at the young girl. "My son had not hinted at such a thing. And I am glad—" her voice trembled slighted —"that he has chosen you, dear. He is all I have in the world."

"She is coming to live on the ranch with us, Mamma," Cuthbert went on eagerly. "She loves that sort of life. Won't it be ideal?"

Mrs. Grey smiled wistfully.

"That will be my chance to travel for a while, Bert, after you two have settled down."

The boy turned to his sweetheart.

"Mother has always wanted to travel, I believe, although she would never admit it."

They sat down, and it was nearly an hour later that Mrs. Grey decided to retire. Cuthbert took Rose to the stairs, kissed her gently when no one was looking and watched her ascend to her room. Then he returned to his mother.

XV

Rose went quietly into her bedroom.

Mrs. Ransome was sitting in the chair by the bed, rocking vigorously, her lips compressed and a haughty, irritated expression on her face.

"Where were you this evening?" she exclaimed in a hard voice. "Lord Eastly called and I was obliged to tell him that I did not know where you were."

Rose walked to the bureau without looking at her mother. This woman with the stern, vindictive face seemed farther from her than ever.

"Answer me! Where were you?"

"I was on the beach." Rose picked up a small silver frame, in which Mrs. Ransome had put Lord Eastly's picture. She took the photograph out carefully and handed it to her mother.

"Here, Mamma—you can have this. I don't want it any more" 

The other woman's face flushed. "What are you talking about?"

"I am going to marry Cuthbert Grey, not Lord Eastly," said Rose in a dear, quiet voice.

Mrs. Ransome jumped from her chair, caught her daughter by the shoulder and shook her.

"What do you mean, you little fool?"

"Mamma, you lied to Cuthbert about me—"

"That boy!" Mrs. Ransome tried to think of some falsehood that would turn Rose against the boy, but at this important moment her imagination failed her. "Why, he—he—"

"He's not! He's the finest best man in the world!" cried Rose. "And, when I tell Lord Eastly, I know that he will understand."

"You will never tell Lord Eastly about this foolishness! You are going to marry him." Mrs. Ransome released the girl's arm. "You will be glad enough to marry him."

"Mamma, I don't care what you do! Cuthbert has plenty of money, and we are going to live on his ranch."

"Oh, no, you're not!" Mrs. Ransome showed all her china-like teeth in a sneering smile. "Oh, no, my dear, you're not! I dare say that this Cuthbert is an innocent young man." Her voice rose shrilly. "If you persist in this foolishness, I will tell him, and everybody, a few details about you—and see if he will think of marrying you then!"

Rose paled.

"How can you!"

"How can I? It's the truth. Oh, I've put up with you long enough—palming you off as my own daughter! You, the daughter of some fast woman!"

Rose caught at the bureau, unable to speak.

"It's the truth. Your father begged me to bring you up as mine, and gave you his name."

Mrs. Ransome paused for breath, clinched her fingers into the palms of her hands, and went on ruthlessly:

"If you don't marry Lord Eastly I will publish the truth broadcast! And then I will make your father turn you out of the house."

"Father wouldn't!" Rose spoke with white lips. "I don't believe what you said—except that you're not my mother!"

At this moment the door into the other bedroom, which had been slightly ajar, opened, and Mr. Ransome appeared before them. He was in his pajamas, his hair was rumpled and there was an angry, determined light in his eyes.

"You've been listening, have you?" snapped Mrs. Ransome. "I thought you were asleep, but it is just as well that you heard."

"You've said enough!" thundered the man. Some volcanic forces seemed to be working within him. "Rose may marry whom she pleases, and you will be the one to go if there is a row. You have never been my wife!"

Mrs. Ransome stared at her husband, then began to scream.

"Why, you lie! We were married!"

Mr. Ransome sat down heavily on the bed.

"Yes, we went through the ceremony, but it was never legal." He turned to his daughter, and his deep eyes burned ominously. "Rose, I did a great injustice to your mother. When I was a. boy I went west to a small mining village, where I met and married your mother. Then I became ambitious for wealth. She wanted only a home and my love—"

He bowed his head, continuing in a gentler voice:

"There was a chance then for me to make big money in South America. I deserted my wife. Two years later I heard in a roundabout way that she was dead. I married this woman—the daughter of a rich Yankee. My firm needed money at the time or I would have gone under. The next year we returned to New York, and I went back, on business, to the small town where I had met and married your mother—and learned that she had died just a month before, leaving you, a little toddling thing."

"Oh, Papa!" sobbed Rose.

"It's a lie!" screamed the older woman. "You told me that you had never married Rose's mother."

"Yes—I needed your money then!" exclaimed the man, turning on her fiercely. "That is why I did not tell you! But now—you're not going to spoil my girl's happiness. You know where you stand, if you say anything, don't you? Have me arrested for a bigamist! I've stood Hell for twenty years, and I will be glad to be rid of it at any cost."

"Oh, you want to get rid of me, do you?" Mrs. Ransome fell across the foot of the bed, and began to moan hysterically. "Get me the smelling-salts—the smelling-salts—"

XVI

The next morning Mrs. Ransome remained in bed. The physician stated that rest and perfect quiet were necessary. She refused to see anyone but Mr. Ransome assured his daughter that everything was all right. There would be a second marriage ceremony later, he added gloomily.

Cuthbert wanted Rose to go to the village with him and his mother to do some shopping. But she refused, explaining the reason.

Late the preceding night she had posted a note to Lord Eastly, asking him to call, as she had something important to tell him. He had phoned that he would be there at ten.

Rose received her former fiancé, wearing at her waist some flowers that Cuthbert had given her. Her face was flushed, and her manner penitent and regretful as she led him to some chairs in a cool corner.

"What is it, Rose?" asked Lord Eastly gravely. She avoided his eyes at first, looking over the railing into the dusty, dry garden.

"I—oh, I hate to tell you you've been so good to me."

"Rose—look at me."

Her eyes met his timidly, and she saw how kindly and seriously he regarded her.

"You want to break our engagement—isn't that so?" he went on.

"Oh, I hope you're not going to mind!" Her mouth curved piteously. She hated to hurt this friend, who was very dear to her.

"May I smoke?"

At her nod Lord Eastly took out a gold case, and lit a cigarette. For a moment he gazed thoughtfully into space.

"Is there someone else?" he asked at last.

"Yes," she said happily. "I—I was in love with him all the time, I think."

"Who?"

"Cuthbert Grey."

"Ah!" exclaimed Lord Eastly, raising his eyebrows. "Well, dear, I hope that you will be very happy."

"And you?" she said sympathetically, leaning toward him. He drew back abruptly.

"It hurts me, of course," he said in a low voice. "But after all, it is probably best this way. I fear that I am too old for you, Rose. There was a lot of truth in what you said to me yesterday. I will confess something to you, little girl. I asked you to marry me because I wanted to be able to keep you always near me—because you stirred a long-forgotten tenderness in my heart. But—" He paused, and gazed at her absently. "But I never felt toward you as a husband is supposed to feel toward his wife."

Rose was silent. He continued after a moment:

"I am no longer young, and I am lonely. You spoke the truth yesterday. I long for the happiness of a home, and the companionship of someone as sweet and as unspoiled by the world as yourself. But this is after all a dream to me. Deep in my heart I know that I would become restless and uneasy, and at the thought of such a situation I am terrified. I am forty-five. I have put off marriage until it is too late."

"Ah, don't say that! I think that it is the most wonderful, the most glorious thing in the world for two people to marry. Rose paused, lost in anticipation of conjugal bliss.

"Alas, youth! What would we not give to be free of the clinging habits of the years, Rose! How terrible to feel the call of sentiment, and to be unable to go to it freely, to forget what we have learned!"

Rose did not understand him, but the tone of his voice saddened her. She wanted to show him her deep confidence and fondness. Lowering her voice, she told him of what had happened the night before. Lord Eastly listened attentively, and when she had finished, he lit another cigarette.

"Most extraordinary! And what is Mrs. Ransome going to do now?"

"She can't do anything. Papa will marry her again, of course."

At this moment Rose saw Cuthbert and his mother coming up the path. They bowed, and Rose smiled at them.

Lord Eastly turned to the young girl.

"Who is that lady?" he asked in a puzzled voice.

"That is Mrs. Grey. I will bring them over. You will love her." And unmindful of the fact that it might not be very tactful to bring her new fiancé to see her old one, Rose ran over to the two who were just coming up the porch steps.

A moment later they came around the curve of the porch. Cuthbert bowed stiffly. Lord Eastly got up. Rose turned to the pretty woman whose hand she was holding.

"Mrs. Grey, this is Lord Eastly," she said.

"Alice!" exclaimed his lordship. He seemed dazed. Rose looked at them in amazement.

"We—we have met before," murmured Cuthbert's mother.

"Why, imagine it!" cried Rose joyously. "Isn't that lovely?"

"Yes—years ago. Lord Eastly cleared his throat, trying to regain his composure. "Sit—sit down, won't you?"

Mrs. Grey raised her head, and said nervously.

"Bert and I will take a little walk and leave you two together, as long as you are old friends," said Rose, innocently, taking Cuthbert's arm. "By-by!"

"Don't go far," said Mrs. Grey. She felt Lord Eastly's eyes searching her face and she turned to him.

They were quite alone, and the silence was beginning to be oppressive.

Lord Easily was still gazing at her with suppressed emotion.

"So you married?" he said in an even voice. Seeing her again he felt that after all these years he had at last found what he wanted. . . She had not changed in his eyes, and the old longing for her swept over him violently. But he controlled himself.

"So you married!" he repeated slowly. "No," she said finally. "I never married."

He started.

"But your son—"

She looked at him wistfully.

"I went away because you did not care enough," she said piteously. "I could not live that life any longer. There has been no other man in my life since then. I went to Australia. I changed my name. My—my boy was born there. He—he thinks that his father is dead." Her voice trembled.

Lord Eastly leaned toward her and put his hand over hers where it rested on the arm of the wicker chair. His face had paled.

"You—you mean—?"

Mrs. Grey raised her head, and said slowly, her eyes meeting his,

"Yes. You have guessed the truth. He is your son."

Breezy Stories, January, 1917

 

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