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Taken at the Flood I

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[ALL RIGHTS RESBRVEIX] I Taken at the Flood I BY A LYS HALLABD, Author of Mrs. Benton's Lodger," The Uninvited Guest &cl "Max, can you lend me twenty fraaca ilatil to-morrow?" No, Alf, I can't, and T should be glad if Jrou would give up bursting into my studio ike a hurricane during my working hours. Maxwell Stevens was standing before him ossel putting a few finishing touches to a canvas on whicit he had been at work for a long time. He T as a tall, well-built man of about thirty, wi h square shouldera and the •trength of a giant. His thick, fair hair 4Jurled over a low, broad forehead, and him deep-set blue eyes were singularly expressive. "I fancy the sea's a bit too dark," re- marked Alfred Thornton, looking critically at the picture. He was totally unabashed by the rebuff, for as he often said himself, fee was so accustomed to being badgered by overyone that he had learnt to take things philosophically. He was not more than twenty-five years of age, and, in appearance, decided eontrast to Maxwell Stevens, as he was Blight and almost effeminate-looking, with dark hair and eyes. He always dressed with great care tn clothes of the latest cut. "I don't appreciate criticism until my pic- ture is finished, and, as you know, I paint alone, simply to avoid it," said Stevens, coldly. How many years have you been at work, Max?" asked Thornton, with sublime indiffe- rence to the very evident fact that he was an unwelcome visitor. "Six," answered the other man, impa- liently. rr Six years, and not a single picture in the Sal oft!" "I have never sent one," said Max. "I did not coasidcr my work good enough to ex- hibit." Olt, well, this is my first year, but I shall certainly send a picture in." If Do you suppose it will be accepted?" By George, yes, I do. Judging by a lot of the rubbish I saw last year hangmg on the walls I should think the jury will be glad to have mine." If You are very young, Alf," said Max, •arcastically, H younger than your years." I've sworn I'll get a picture in the Salon, and I'm going to do it. My father has pro- mised to double my allowance from the day I have one either here or in the Academy, and I'm going to get one hung. 'HVork more and tz. k less then." The fact is I'm a bit unsettled-" Chronic condition with you, I fancy," remarked Stevens, standing back to judge the effect of the touches he had jusfc given to a cloii. Yes, but this time I'm hard hit." "Oh, indeed, is she a waitress in the new restaurant you have ji;st discovered?'' "I'm not joking, Max. It's Mary Duncan. Mary Duncan!" and the elder man turned round and gazed at Thornton in blank amazement, and then, after a minute's •ilencc, he added, brusquely, Don't get tooling with that girl, Allied." "I'm not fooling with her. I never was im suSli dead earnest in my life, and the proof is I've told kcr eo." "■You've told her so!" and Maxwell's blue eyes hashed with anger. Why shouldn't I tell her? You introduced us, bdt you are not her brother. She's liv- ing a one in Paris, but she seems quite able to take care of herself. She's a fine girl, Max, and no mistake, and talented too. "Did she send you about your business?" asked Stevens, ignoring the criticism. No, she didn't, she's going to wait and see if I get a picture accepted. She told me franklv that she would never marry a man who thl not succeed." "OIl. you asked her to marry you, did you?" Of course I did." And pray how are you going to support a wife Do you count on your friends supply- ing the needful?" Thornton's face flushed as he remembered that hill debt to Stevens had increased every monthince he had been in Paris. "n 1 get my picture accepted my father will do something for me." "Ärrl if you don't get it accepted?" I" W eli, we should have to wait." ATa do you think it is honourable to ask a girl like Mary Duncan to wait for you, while \'ou are flinging money down the gutter every eicnth, and then borrowing from every- one for your necessary expenses!" I've been a fool, I know, but this is the last time I shall borrow. It's this con- founded month with thirty one days to it. I could have got through thirty, but this one day hrs floored mc. I'm clean broke, Max, look!" and he turned his pockets out to prove tile truth of his assertion. Stew.is took no notice whatever. He had put hi brushes down, for in his present state of min i he was afraid of touching his picture. H Yo" know your money's safe, Max," urged Vlfred Thornton. Ho" do I know it?" Well, hang it all, my father isn't a pauper" "You told me he had warned you not to exceed your allowance, as he would n-jver pay your debts." H Oh. that's just a way all fathers have of talking bosh, but when things come to a crisis they have to stump up to save the family name and all that sort of thing." "I should be glad if you'd clear out of here I want to work." Walking across the room, Stevens opened the door and waited to close it after his visitor. t; All I can say is, I'm very much mistake. in you. I always thought you were such a de- cent chap," and with 'this parting shaft Thornton wended his way to the staircase. Never in his life before had Maxwell Stevens been so harsh to one of his friends or acquaintances. He was a good-natured, easy- going man, who went his own way and made a point of never interfering with other people. He had hitherto treated Alfred Thornton most indulgently, but had never taken him seriously; and as he closed and bolted his studio door after the departure of his crestfallen debtor he owned to himself that he had been amazingly blind. "She is such a sensible girl," he said aloud, as he kicked a log of wood in his grate until it began to blaze and crackle afresh. "I should have thought she would have seen what he is without my warning her. And now it in too late," he said aloud, looking down at the fire. "He has spoken and she has agreed to wait. I cannot say anything or do anything now. What a hopeless fool j have bee a, to be sure." He had dismissed his visitor on the plea 01 work that lie wished to accomplish, but he deliberately turned his back now on easei ana bco a, and, sitting down in front of the crhcxhag fire, gave himself up to thoughts which, judging from the expression of his which, judging from the expression of his I face, W0 not ch<?->-rlul ones. He was asHysg <>1 at tka embers çrLat w¡;U 1 iae u»s of Ms work and his efforts after &U. j Half an hour 's»t«r the little clock on his j ckimiwsjr-p: .rrcek twelve, and he rose I mechaw^aliy and proceeded to put his pic- Is tore cat cf sight behind a screen, before go- I ing to the restaurant where he usuallj iiunc-uee! ith seferal, artists. "Tafcss ai the iiood," he said aloud, with a riiig oi arcasia in his voice, as he lifted the canvas fro-ju the easel and looked at it. It was the picture he intended sending to the Salon tha following month, and it repre- I sented tiro children, a boy and a girl, play- ing stogeifier on the sea-shore. They had suc- ceeded in launching their little boat at pre- cisely the right moment, and were now ststid- ing hand ics hand, each waving a little sag and eagerly watching their outward bound vessel. The hoy's face had been copied from a photograph cf himself at the age of seven, which Maxwell had found one day in an eld album,. Ths girl's face waa not seen. Stlf was dressed in white muslin, and her lorig, dark brown hair nun blown round her shoul- ders by IPA breeze. I "W.?Il, IV-s had some enjoyment out of m, subject l1; anj rate," said Maxwell, look. at the pict* regretfully, before propping H up behind f*xe scre&n. "J liked my little al. legcry as2 y~t over it, and now missed the *K: after all, and someone e! has lakeit it at the flood." It was Yiraishing Day, and the Salon vnn throaged fit. a the heterogeneous assemblj peculiar to that function. In one of the roomi leading from the long gallery a little group of artists, among whom was Alfred Thorn- ton, were gathered round a picture. "All I '? Bty is, you're a prodigy," re- marked one of the men. "You've only been at work a -A,r and here you are with a pic- ture in the Salon, and a little master-piece, too." "Yes, you don't mind my saying so, do you, Thorn* n," put in another, "but you really have amazed us." "How d you look, though; what's ■p?" asked a third. "Weli, i arist own I was taken by surprise myself," Thornton, "and I have not, quite got it. Ah, here comes Miss Du-i- can," he suddenly, leaving his com- panions e. advancing to meet a girl who had jusi red the room. "Dome honours of your picture?" she asked, &■ shook hands with him. "I was » ting for you," he answered, and then sk "'f:lt sullenly he added, "You would, a mc call for you." "No- i v 1.-1-e Mr. Stevens, I can't do with visitors into my studio at all hours of the d By the bye, how is he?" "OJt 41 1; np yesterday for the first time, but he t Tfftchedly ill." "1 cm .der he's alive' after being xmrwed b,' let of men." "We our best." yare no good when there's illness." "You ;■■■: ■* a. lot of interest in him," said Thereto.. resentfully. "Of c -• I do, he's a great friend of suine." .I woi whether you would care if I were to t "Y«5, uld care," replied Mary Dun- can, "hw -Pftiavyg, not quite as much, be- cauvic, air. Stevens is an oider friend than you "Well, i «i-?<?ring your promise in case I had a pic: *-3 in the Salon-" "My Bf repeated the girl, I never made any "nn:'s" I I I t. was understanding anyway." "VV liat ,tj mean?" and Mary Duncan stood sfcii ,.Ld waited for Thornton's ex- planation. Well,, ;¡ told me to wait until I had a picture &c< ted." "Jl mad. v premise whatever." "I undo "1 it as a promise, and the proof is I s.-ovenS." "You to'. Mr. Stevens what?" "Why, t ■" you had promised to marry me when I ha J. picture hung." "You d.' .1 tO invent such an untruth!" and the g- ;1 eyes shaded by their long, dark ^incd with indignation. j She cn< ilood many things now which [ had seeme «' a*»ge to her during the last few weeks. r did not speak again until she had reachc the group of artists, who were still stanG. talking together near Thorn- ton's pîch They all greeted her with a mixture 0 .•.••naradei?hip and deference, and ft wag -ident that Mary Duncan was a great favo ,■ e in the Bohemian world in which she >u pitched her tent. "WhatL you think of Thornton?" asked one of the en as she stood back to examine the picture HI -nt lh%.ve thought he could have raited 81- a pietnrc," was her reply, which was greete a burst of laughter from all the men, r; Ihs one most deeply inte- xeeteti. "Rather back handed compliment," re- marked T" -tcu nocdHy. Oh, it intended for a compliment at all," sb »'->swercd. "Stevens all that's miraculous!" sud- I denly exclo. one of the men; and, as they all tru d, they saw Maxwell walking very slowly do-v. the long gallery towards them. He looked ill, and had the collar of his overcoat 4ci id up as though he felt the cold. "He rani ae mad!" said Thornton, almost angrily. he doctor ordered him to stay IN indoors at -sat another week. Excuse me," be added t Mary Duncan, and, hurrying away, he w l forward, to meet the invalid. The girl's ..jjt impulse had been to accom- pany him, Maxwell Stevens had been at death's doo:" l she had last seen him, and she wsntau welcome him back to life, but the memory i what Alfred Thornton had told her a f luiautes previously held her back now, d caused the colour to come in to her chet'ii: As soon f 4,.Ize two men met, Alfred said something ta brought Stevens to a stand- still. A fe •• Hi sences were exchanged, and, judging by expression of amazement and then of aiif. which came into Maxwell's tell-tale eyt it was evident that Thornton had just be aore than usually audacious to the elder a -is he approached the pic- ture the lit froup advanced to meet him. "How te. y imprudent of you to come w te-- iiii out!" said "i"V Duncan, as she put her hand into h ind looked up at him with such sympathy in 1 frank eyes that he winced as he met > b¡.zC. "I could stay indoors on Varnishing Day," h« 'ed, "and you see I Inn re | warded." He s n- with the men and then jy* J picture, so that it was not t ii"'b renHukhad been intended as a Duucan, his friends, cy the ivick} 1-1 wuo had his canvas litti,,il. -M- "It's an awful shame about your picture,, Max," said one of the artists. "I'm nat complaining," remarked Stevens, glaneiag at Mary Duncan aiii then at A w 1 ;;o. 1 ut mece was a, stern lOOK in the deep-set eyes, which seemed to indicate that there had not been fair play. ( "I have no patience with the jury," ex- c'iaimed the young girl, for she knew how patiently this man had worked and waited before venturing to send in a picture to be judged. "They eertainly do in ar- an awfri lottos flukes," observed one of tSsp men. "They've done Alf justica, though what do you think of his success, Max? "I've just toid him what I think," replied Stevens, and there jsps sorcietTnng in the tone of his voice whath made Mary Duncao look at Thornton. He appeared to be examining a small can- vas underneath his own, but Mary Duncam was watching him closely, and she was sure his interest in it was feigned. "Well, what do you think of Alf's work," asked another of the men. "Are you 8ur-- prised at this picture, aa we were?" Surprised No, J had seen it before, yott know." "Ah, you were in the secret?" "Which secret?" asked Sue?ens, smiling. "Well, Alf tells us he's taken a leaf out of your book." I I "Yes, lie certainly has." "And lie does not, le' anyone see his work until he has completed it.; "I saw this, every stroke as it was doney didn't I, Alf?" nM. "Yes, every stroke, replied Thornton,, without turning round to face his interlocu- tor. I. -2 "Well, you're a fraud, AIL" exclaimed one of the men. "You made us believe that not a living soul had seen the picture until it was, .g handed in here." "Oh, yes, he's a fraud," said Maxwell Ste- vens, "don't believe anything he says. They all laughed except Mai-y Duncan. She alone had guessed that the jesting words veiled a hidden m-eaning, which Alfred Thornton understood perfectly v.-ell. Just at that moment she happened, to look from the picture to M&xwell's face, and an idea came to her mind which seemed like a revelation. • Two or three hours t).ter: as Maxwell was, lying back in an easy chair in his studio, rather exhausted from the effccts of his visit to the Salon, there was a rap at his door, and in answer to his unceremonious invitation ta eater, Mary Dunesn stood befo: him. "Don't get up," she said, "you are at iwbit6 as a ghost." "A little exercise is very good for me, he answered, smiling, as he drew up his most comfortable armchair for her. "You are rather surprised to see me here, of course," she said. I "I am delighted "Well, I couldr.'t icip coming," she inter- rsipted, "and before post time, too. I ¡¡anwd to tell you that 1 know all about the picture." "You know all about the picture!" re- psated Max, in consternation. "Yes, I know that 'Taken at the Flood* is yours, and that Alfred Thornton has been sailing under false colours." "But- began Maxwell. "How did I find out, I suppose you want to know. It was simply intuition, a woman's intuition. When you arrived at the Salon this afternoon I was just saying that I was amazed to find Alfred Thornton could paint a picture like that. Then, when he saw you, and went forward to meet you, I thought his manner was strange. He said something to you that made you furious, in fact, I thought your eyes would slay him on the spot. There was no time for you to reflect, as you were rushed into acting as you did, with all of ut for spectators. You played your part very well, but I detected something unusual in the tone of your voice, and, you know, when a woman's curiosity is roused, she'll stir up heaven and earth until she has discovered all she wants to know." "But I cannot imagine How I could have detected anything in your voice? Well, you see, you are naturally so good-natured that when you suddenly be- come sarcastic it is quite evident that some- thing is wrong." "Was I sarcastic?" "Rather, and then, too, there was some- thing else. The real clue was the child's face." Ileally? said Maxwell, smiling. "Yes, I saw that you were that child, and I naturally began to wonder——" "But I could have lent Alf the photo- graph." Yes, but he could not have cosied it. I happened to know that much. He once tried to copy a photograph of mine, and I can assure you that his talent does not lie in por- j trait pain ling. As soon as ever vou had dis- appeared through the doorway of that room j in the Salon, 1 turned back"to the picture, and I asked Alfred Thornton who had panned the boy's face. He was so liorribly cor-fiised that I knew my suspicions were well founded, and I accused him of sailing j under false colours. He saw that it was no use denying it all, and he told me what cer- tainly sounds a very lame story." "It is quite true "that I entrusted him with my picture, and that he packed his own with I mine and took them both to their destina- tion." "Yes, but the story about the labels get- ting changed, and the surprise he had when he discovered that your picture was hung in I hia name, then the struggle he had with him- self before yielding to temptation. Oh, it was all very well told, it was most pa- thetic!" And Mary Duncan's voice was hard with the intense scorn she felt for the man she had just left. "As you recognised the boy in my pic- fare, said Stevens, "did you also recognise the girl?" ° "Yes," replied Mary Duncan, but this time she did not look np. She felt Maxwell's eyes on her, and somehow she could not meet their gaze just at that moment. "And did you notice that they were hand in hand, and that they had launched their boat together?" Mary Duncan nodded her head, for she could not trust herself to speak. She rose from her chair rather abruptly, as though to put an end to the embarrassing situation, but Maxwell rose, too, and took both her hands in his. "Shall we try together to launch our boat?" he asked, and then, when she Had agreed to this, lie told her of all the misery he had endured he believed he had missed for ever the tide in life which must be taken at the- flood. | Uft_ot;I

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