She was just a little girl, slender and insignificant. It was only her love that made her heroic. Meanwhile, the man was big, broad, a man to be noticed in a crowd, but his love made him as helpless as a little child. They were standing opposite each other in the poor, shabbily furnished little room. His eyes scanned her face wildly, incredulously, but her eyes were, all the time, fixed upon a great hole in the faded carpet on the floor. Her mind seemed to be in a state of chaos, for with his eagerly spoken words of love came others that totally bewildered her. Alongside the man’s passionate words of love for her, his yearning to have her for himself and the promise to live and work only for her happiness, the man added other words. He spoke of his ambition and great hopes, of his intention to travel the world far and wide, of his hardships and discomforts that he would have to bear for the sake of a book that was yet to be written. It would be a book, he was certain, that would bring fame and great satisfaction to its author. As he spoke, his words held a deep note of earnestness and strength, which overpowered those eager, pleasant tones that had been pleading to her so wildly.
“I called you ‘Kathleen My Darling’ last night. Do you remember? You smiled and blushed as I spoke!” he protested to her. “Why did you do it, Kathleen? I know you love me, you do! Why don’t you speak to me? I tell you, I have seen it in your eyes. So, why do you deny it now?”
The girl shook her head, and in an agonising tone of voice she pleaded with him to tell her, “How long? How long?”
The man held out his arms to her despairingly and in a humble, quiet voice that was unnatural to him he asked, “Won’t you try, then? For Kitty, little Kitty, I cannot live without you!”
Calmly and quietly she told him, “I have a singing lesson to give at one o’clock,” and in response the man’s arms fell limply to his sides.
The sun was streaming through the window and on to the pretty, pale, face of the girl, as well as on to the white, haggard face of the man who stood opposite her. There were no shadows in that little room, for it was all glare and shabbiness. “I will leave,” the man said curtly, and then his eyes began to fill with an angry fire. “But, you are a flirt! Do you hear me, a pitiable and heartless flirt! You have led me on and played with my feelings for you. You have softened your eyes, made your lips sweet and tempting, and amuse yourself at my expense! How can you do such a thing?” He gave a little cynical laugh and then continued, “You have been very clever in your own way – you know——” and he moved towards the door. As he reached the door, he stopped and turned toward the girl, saying icily, “I beg your pardon, I should not have spoken so to a woman. Good-bye.”
“You will begin travelling now?” she asked.
He laughed and said, “Why keep up the pretence? It’s rather late now to pretend you have any interest in my life.” For her part, she was silent and watched as he paused at the door. This was a proud man, and he had an iron will. But his love for this woman had made him helpless and weak as a little child. “Kathleen,” he breathed, “you are sure?” As he awaited her reply for a moment, she stood still and rigid as a statue. “Oh, little one, I love you so much,” He sighed, his voice soft and caressing. Her love, however, made her heroic and strong. She raised her head and steadily told him, “I am certain,” she said steadily.
The young girl sat in a corner of the warm, well-furnished drawing-room, and she wished that people would not nod and stare at her so energetically as they passed by. She was used to it by now, but she had grown very tired of it. In fact, she had never liked it, but accepted that fame brings notoriety with it, and notoriety, unfortunately, brings nods, whispers and stares. She was dressed beautifully. It was not a major surprise, for she had always liked pretty things, and now she could have as many as she wanted. But, a man standing in a doorway across the road was watching her with contempt in his eyes. He had not seen her for five years, and as he stood there another man approached him and spoke. “Looking at our wee star, are you?” the passer-by asked. “That wee girl is the best thing that ever happened to this place, you know. Have you ever heard her sing? No? Well, maybe you’re just back from your travels and sure you can go to the Town Hall tomorrow evening. She’s going to sing there, and her voice is something wonderful to hear. Now, I never go to hear the girl myself for it makes me so sad, like a miserable sinner somehow. But, I’ve heard her twice, and then I stopped, because I didn’t like feeling so bad.”
The man slowly walked away again, and the watcher with contempt in his eyes continued to stare at her. The girl’s head was turned away from him, allowing him only a view of her soft, fair cheek and little ear nestling in a soft mass of hair, a white throat, and a lot of pale chiffon and silk. And suddenly the cheek and even the neck were flooded with a red blush, and then they looked whiter than before. He wondered at the cause for a moment, and he smiled bitterly as he did so. The girl’s eyes, however, remained firmly fixed, eager, and fascinated on the long looking-glass before her. But, she was not looking at herself. Afterwards he sought her out. “You were wise,” he spoke mockingly, and her normally soft, sweet eyes grew dark with pain. Meanwhile, he took the vacant seat beside her and played with the costly fan he had picked up from a dressing table. “I must congratulate you,” he said indifferently and with a wave towards her dress and the diamonds around her throat he added, “This is much better than the old days.”
“Yes,” she replied softly “But, perhaps you have forgotten since it has been, how long? Is it ten, no, five years ago?”
“No.” For a moment she furled and unfurled the fan in silence, admiring her beauty and wondering who had given her the Parma violets blooms for her hair. “Your book?” she asked timidly. But, as he stared back at her blankly she could feel herself begin to slowly redden. “You were going to travel and write about your adventures in strange places …” she continued falteringly.
“Oh, yes, I believe I was, some five years ago,” he replied and her face returned to its normal colour.
“Have you travelled far?” she asked.
“Oh, yes! I’ve done nothing else for five years. I’ve shot tigers in India and bears in the Himalayas. I’ve lived with Chinamen and African tribesmen, even making friends with cannibals on one occasion. Oh! I’ve had a fine time!” he declared with a laugh. Her eyes were filled with yearning as her hostess brought up a man to be introduced. Then, when she turned again to the other man she saw that the chair was empty again and she did not see him again for two weeks.
In those days there was an added sadness in her beautiful voice as she sang. But, although she brought tears to many thousands of eyes, her own were dry and restless. It was now beginning to dawn on her that she had made a mistake five years ago.
“Have you seen Hugh Hagan?” she heard one man say to another. “Never have I been so disappointed in a man in all of my life. Several years past he had the promise of being able to achieve some fame. Those articles that he wrote about ‘Foreign Ways and Customs’ made quite a sensation, you know. There was also some talk of wild travels and a book that was going to be a ‘Best Seller”. Well, he has had the travels alright, but where’s the book?”
“It’s down to the usual thing. A woman,” the other man replied. “Didn’t you know? Some pretty young thing. The usual scenario, but the cost to him was heavier than he could handle. It knocked the life out of him, you know. I don’t think I have ever saw a fellow so hard hit. That all happened five years ago, and he’s never written a line since. Poor fellow!”
The knowledge that she had made a mistake five years ago was becoming much clearer in her mind now and, at the end of the fortnight, she met with him and asked him to come and see her. Although he smiled pleasantly he chose not to visit and this upset her very much, causing her eyes to swell in her small, sad face. Then, she met him again, and when she asked him why he had not come, he looked down into her soft, sweet eyes and immediately began to feel love for her weakening his will once again. Once more he promised that he would come to visit her. But, when he came, he only stayed with her for five minutes. As she opened the door to him, he looked at her sternly and greeted her tersely. “Why do you want me?” he asked her, and watched the colour come and go in her cheeks with his pitiless eyes.
“We used to be friends,” she replied in a quiet and halting voice. He stood before her and laughed.
“Never! I never felt friendship for you,” he said mockingly, “nor you for me. You forget. Five years is a long time, but I have a retentive memory. I forget nothing.”
“Nor I,” she murmured.
“No? Then why did you ask me to come and see you?” When she gave him no answer, he looked round the pretty shaded room for a moment and he laughed again. “There is a difference in you too,” he told her.
She looked up at him quickly and confidently said, “I am the same.”
“Are you?” he asked and there was anger in his eyes.
“Listen,” he said, in a low, tense voice, “I am five years wiser than I was, then and I will never be anyone’s plaything again. You have ruined my life; doesn’t that make you happy? I would have staked my life on your goodness and your purity in those days. But, I can’t allow myself to believe in the goodness of any woman since you, with your angel’s eyes, proved to be so false. I used to be full of ambition and hope, but you killed both in me. I even tried to write my book after we had split, and I found that I couldn’t. Now, I shall never do anything and never be anything. I despise myself, and it’s not a nice feeling for any man to live with. It makes men desperate. But, still I love you. Do you understand? I have loved you all the time, and I hate myself for it.” His voice changed. “You may triumph,” he said, “but now that you understand, I will not come again.”
She stretched out her arms after him, but he was gone. And in that one moment she knew quite clearly that she had made a terrible mistake five years ago. She did not see him again for three and a half weeks. Then she saw him, one day when he thought he was alone. From a distance she studied his face and her eyes ached at what they saw, bringing her almost to tears. Then she decided to go to where he was sitting, and she touched him gently on his arm. “Well?” he asked, feeling the softness of her touch.
“Will you come,” she said in a soft voice, “to see me——”
“Thanks, but no thank you,” he told her as his eyes rested bitterly on her rich gown. Nevertheless, it came across his mind again just how wise she had been. Being tied to him, he was convinced, she could not have been as she was now.
“I have something I must say to you,” she said nervously, “will you please come, just this once?” He looked down into those soft, warm eyes with the beautiful light in them.
“I would rather not,” he said gently, but firmly.
The weariness that was in his eyes brought a sob to her throat and she pleaded with him, “Ah, do! I won’t ask you again.”
He looked at her, not really believing she meant what she said, and then he turned away. She had looked the same way that she had looked five years ago. Then she laid a small, despairing hand on his, and the iciness of her touch went to his heart. “I will come,” he said gently, and went away. On this occasion, when he came, he wondered at the apparent agitation in her small white face. Her eyes were red with the tears she had cried, and he waited silently and watched her twist her hands restlessly together. He noticed that she was trembling, and he drew a chair forward. “Please, will you sit down?” he said.
She sat down in a nest of softest cushions. “I, I,” she began to speak hesitatingly, and put up her hand up to her throat, “I want to, to, to explain.” His face darkened as she rose from her seat restlessly and faced him. His thoughts turned to that time when they had faced each other before, in the shabby, glaring little room, and his face hardened toward her. “When you,” she began, “I thought it was for you. I had heard you say.”
“Are you going back five years?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“Then please don’t,” he said. “There can be no good come from it, and to me at least it is not a pleasant subject.”
“I must!” she burst into tears. “Oh! Can’t you help me? It is so hard!”
As she held out her hands pathetically toward him, a darkness came over his tanned face, and he stood still, looking at her with a strange expression. “I think I will go,” he said; “there is no use in prolonging this.”
“Do you love me still?” she cried suddenly.
He turned on her in a white passion of anger. “You’re not content yet?” he breathed. “What are you made of? Do you want me to show you all my degradation? Why? Oh, Kitty, Kitty, be merciful! Be true to those eyes of yours.” He abruptly stopped speaking and moved over to the door.
“Hugh, I love you!” She said in the quietest of whispers, but it forced him to stop, and it brought a great light of happiness leaping into his eyes. Just as quickly that light died down again.
“It is too late!” he said wearily and turned away from her again.
“Hugh, please listen! I have always loved you, even five years ago. It was for your sake …”
“Kitty?” he said uncertainly, as he turned back to her.
She went on bravely, encouraged by the deep love she felt for him. “I was a poor and insignificant person, while you were ambitious and clever. I had heard all your dreams for fame and greatness. Hugh, how could you travel into those wild countries with me? I knew you would give up your dreams, and how could I bear that? To be a drag, a hindrance to you! And in the coming years I thought you would resent me. Hugh, you were poor, too, though not so poor as me. I did it for you and it nearly killed me, Hugh. I was ill after we parted, but it was for you!”
As her voice died away into silence, Hugh stood very still, and his face turned was white, as if it all the blood had drained from it. But within his eyes there was a new reverence for the woman before him. “Forgive me!” he said urgently.
She smiled softly at him and said, “Oh, yes.” The cynicism had gone from his face, as well as the hardness and bitterness he had felt.
“Oh, can’t you help me? It is so hard!” He pleaded and, as she looked at him wistfully, he turned his head away from her eyes and hid his face in his hands. “It was a mistake,” he said, slowly, and dully.
“Yes,” she replied softly, and she waited to see his face. When he finally looked up she tried to read his face but failed. It was sad, and set, and yet there was also a new light there.
Hugh now gently took her hands in his, and told her, “Kathleen, God knows what I think of you, and I can work now. So, Good-bye to you my dear.” She was mystified by his response and she raised her eyes anxiously to his. He answered the silent question in those eyes, very gently, but with a firmness that would ensure there was no mistake. “You are famous,” he said, “when I have made a name for myself in the world I will come to you. Will you wait for me, Kitty?”
“For ever, Hugh,” she answered, knowing that this answer was enough for him.
He now bent forward and tenderly kissed her hands.
Kitty knelt at the side of Hugh’s bed. She paid no attention to the nurse at the other side of the room, and her warm, soft tears flowed from her eyes, wetting his hand. His right hand and arm were swathed in bandages, and he smiled sadly as he looked up at her. “I am a failure,” he said.
“Ah, no, no! All of Ireland is filled with praise for your name, Hugh,” she said, her face all alight with pride and joy. “You are famous now!”
A little flush rose to his white face as she spoke. “Nonsense,” he replied, “rescuing a woman and a few children from being burnt to death. Sure, anyone would have done the same.”
“Ah, no, Hugh! Not just anyone! Brave men shrank back from that storm-tossed sea and burning ship!”
He lifted his bandaged hand and after looking at it for a few moments he said, “I must learn to write with my left hand.”
Kitty bent closer to him and whispered, “Let me write for you. Let me finish your book, Hugh, while you dictate it to me. I do not sing now in public, you know.”
“Yes, I know,” he said and drew her closer to him, resting cheek against her soft hair. “I said I would not come to you again until I had made a name for myself in the world. I am a wreck now! I shall be a wreck for a long while …”
“But, you are famous, my darling!” she interrupted him lovingly.
“I cannot do without you any longer, Kitty,” he sighed, “I am a beaten man at last. Will you take a wreck?”
“I will take you, Hugh, a famous …”
“A famous wreck,” he finished with a smile.