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   Chapter 7 A STOLEN KISS

The One Woman By Thomas Dixon Characters: 11310

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


For several weeks after Gordon flung down the gauntlet to his Board of Trustees and began his battle for supremacy, his wife maintained a strange attitude of silence and reserve.

She had hired a nurse and resumed her study of music. Her contralto voice, one of great depth and sweetness, he had admired extravagantly in the days of their courtship, but she had ceased to sing of late years. He always listened to her lullaby to the children with fascination. The soft round notes from her delicate throat seemed full of magic and held him in a spell.

Before he left for his study one morning, she looked up into his face with yearning in her dark eyes.

"Come into the parlour, Frank; I will sing for you."

She took her seat at the piano, and her white tapering fingers ran lightly over the keys with deft, sure touch.

"What would you like to hear?" she asked timidly, from beneath her long lashes, with the old haunting charm in her manner.

"Tennyson's 'Break, break, break, on thy cold gray stones, O Sea!'

No poet ever dreamed that song as you have sung it, Ruth."

Never did he hear her sing with such feeling. Her Voice, low, soft and caressing with the languid sensuousness of the South, quivered with tenderness, and then rose with the storm and broke in round, deep peals of passion until he could hear the roar of the surf and feel its white spray in his face. Her erect lithe figure, with the small white hands and wrists flashing over the keys, the petite anxious face with stormy eyes and raven hair, seemed the incarnate soul of the storm.

"Glorious, Ruth!" he cried, with boylike wonder.

And then she bent over the piano and burst into tears.

"Why, what ails you, my dear?"

"Oh, Frank, I'm selfish to leave the children to a nurse and study music."

"Nonsense. Self-sacrifice is rational only as it is the highest form of self-development. It is your duty to develop yourself. Self is the source of all knowledge and strength; books are its record; the world exists only through its eyes."

"I'm afraid of it. I wish to give all to you and the children, not to myself. I want you all to myself, and you are growing away from me. I know it, and it is breaking my heart."

He laughed at her fears, kissed her and went to his study.

Since his break with his Board, he had grown daily in power-power in himself and over his people. Conflict was always to him the trumpet call to heroic deeds. The knowledge that Van Meter was now his open enemy and that he was attempting to build a hostile faction within the church roused his soul to its depths. Thrown back thus upon himself and his appeal to the greater tribunal of the people, he preached as never before in his life. His sermons had the vigour and prophetic fire of the crusader. His crowds increased until it was necessary to ask for police aid to control the exits and entrances to the building. Long before the hour of service, a dense mass of men and women were packed against the doors.

Van Meter watched this growth of influence with wonder and disgust. He determined to leave no stone unturned that might put a stumbling-block in his way. His detectives had failed as yet to find any clue that might compromise him. Once they rushed to his office with the information that they had tracked him to a questionable house. The Deacon called up his son-in-law and asked excitedly for a reporter to write a thrilling piece of news. The reporter found that Gordon had called at the house, but in answer to a summons to see a dying girl.

Van Meter insisted upon the item being printed, but the young city editor scowled and threw it in the waste basket.

The Deacon at length discovered Ruth's jealousy and located the woman who was its object. A costly bouquet of flowers was placed on Gordon's desk in the study every morning, and an enormous one blossomed every Sunday morning and evening on the little table beside his chair in the pulpit. The sexton could not tell who paid the bills. A florist sent them.

The Deacon had been bitterly chagrined at the outcome of his movement in reducing the salary. At first the people heard it with amazement, and then, when Gordon informed a reporter of the fight in progress and it was published, they laughed, and a cheque was sent him for two thousand dollars to make good the deficit and add one thousand more.

The day after this advent he had a hard day's work. A procession of people drained him of every cent of money he could spare and every ounce of sympathy and shred of nerve force in his body.

He had tried the year before to establish a free employment bureau to relieve him of this strain. But the bureau added to his work. He had to close it. It had required the employment of five assistants, and even these could make little impression on the list of applicants who crowded the rooms and blocked the pavements from morning until night.

When the sick and hungry and out-of-works had been disposed of after a fashion, the miscellaneous crowd filed in.

An old college mate came in shivering in a dirty suit. He fumbled at his hat nervously until he caught Gordon's eye and saw him smile.

"Well, by the great hornspoon, Ned, you look like you've fallen into a well!"

"Worse'n that, Frank; I slipped clean into hell. I got with some fellows, went on a drunk, stayed a month and lost my place. I want you to loan me money to get to Baltimore, buy a decent suit of clothes, and I'll get another position. Yes, and I'll lift my head up and be a man."

Gordon sent out to the bank and got the money for him.

Another seedy one softly explained to him that he was a

fellow countryman from Indiana. Gordon gave him a quarter.

A sobbing woman closely veiled he recognised as a bride he had married in the church after prayer meeting two weeks before.

"Doctor," she said in a whisper, "I've called to beg you please not to allow any one to know of my marriage. My husband turned out to be a burglar. He stole ten thousand dollars from an old lady who is one of our boarders, and skipped. He married me to get the run of the house. He tried to marry her first, though she was seventy-five years old, got in her room last night, stole the money, and now he's gone. I'm heartbroken!"

"What! because he's gone?"

"No; because I was a fool. I know he has a dozen wives. He was so handsome."

"Madam, I'm not very sorry for you. I tried to prevent you marrying him that night. I begged you to go back to Jersey City to your own church."

"You will keep it secret, Doctor?" she begged.

"I'll not publish it. But the certificate is on file in the Hall of Records. Any one can see it who wishes. It is beyond my control."

An old woman with bedraggled skirt, reddened eyes and a fat, motherly face timidly approached. She had been overlooked.

"Doctor, you're my last chance. I come up to New York to see my son-in-law, as grand a rascal as ever lived. He owes me a thousand dollars and won't pay it. We lost our crop down in Old Virginia. So I scraped up the money and got here to squeeze what he owed out of that rascal. Now he's turned me out into the street and moved where I can't find him. I'm starvin' to death. I ain't got a cent to go home; an' what's worse'n all, I got a letter this mornin' tellin' me my idiot boy's down sick an' cryin' for me. I'm the only one can do anything for him. He can't understand nobody else."

Her voice broke and she bit her lips to keep back the tears.

"I've begged all day. Everybody laughs at me. I heard you preach one Sunday. I knowed you wouldn't laugh at me. I want you to loan me twenty dollars to get home quick. I'll start the minute I can get to the train, an' I'll pay you back if I have to sell my feather beds. Now, will you do it?"

"Well, a more improbable story was never told a New Yorker, but something whispers to me you're telling the truth."

"You'll do it?"

"Yes."

She drew a deep breath, and cried with streaming eyes:

"Oh, Lord, have mercy on my poor soul, that I doubted You, and thought You had forsaken me!"

Gordon handed her the cheque.

"I'm going to kiss you!" she fairly screamed.

Before he could lift his hand or protest, she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.

As he took her hands down from his shoulders and drew his face away from the mouldy-smelling old shawl, he looked toward the door, and Ruth stood in the entrance. Her eyes blazed with wrath, but as she saw the faded and bedraggled dress and moth-eaten shawl and looked into the tear-stained motherly old face she burst into hysterical laughter.

Gordon rose and escorted the woman to the door with courtesy.

"You will find the bank at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Twenty-third Street-the Garfield National. Write me how your son is when you reach home, and send me the money when you are able."

"I will. God bless you, sir," she answered with fervour.

When he returned to his study, Ruth was still hysterical, and he sat down without a word and began to write.

"Frank, I'm sorry to have been so rude," she said at length.

"Is that all?"

"No; I'm sorry I humiliated myself by spying on you."

She sat twisting her handkerchief, glancing at him timidly.

"And you can't understand how deeply you have wounded me by such an act, Ruth. I hope you have heard all that passed here this morning."

"It's strange how I always seem to be in the wrong. Frank, I am very sorry. You must forgive me. And I have another confession. I've been receiving anonymous letters about you for the past three weeks. I was too weak and cowardly to show them to you. It was one of these letters which caused me to come here this morning. And now I've wounded you, and alienated your heart from me more than ever. I feel I shall die."

She began to sob.

"Come, Ruth, you must conquer this insanity. Naturally you are bright, witty, cheerful and altogether charming. Jealousy reduces you to a lump of stupidity."

"You do forgive me?"

"Yes; and don't, for heaven's sake, do such a thing again. Ask me what you wish to know. I am not a liar; I will tell you the truth."

"But I don't want to hear it if it's cruel," she protested.

"The truth is best, gentle or cruel."

She kissed him impulsively and left.

He sat for an hour, tired, sore and brooding over this scene with his wife. He caught the perfume of the flowers on his desk, and in the tints of the roses saw the warm blushes of the woman who had sent them. Her voice was friendly and caressing and her speech, words of sweetest flattery-flattery that cleared the stupor from his brain and gave life and new faith in himself and his work; flattery that had in it a mysterious personal flavour that piqued his curiosity and fed his vanity. How clearly he recalled her-the superb figure, with rounded bust and arms full and magnificent, in the ripe glory of youth, her waving auburn hair so thick and long it could envelop half her body. Often he had watched the light blaze through its red tints while he talked to her of his dreams, her lips half parted with lazy tenderness and ready with gentle words. He recalled the rhythmic music of her walk, strong and insolent in its luxury of health. And he was grateful for the cheer she had brought into his life.

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