But as the lovely, peaceful, healing days passed, that bitter and contracted heart had to expand somewhat. Gradually the ferocity faded, leaving in its room an anxious and brooding wonder. God knows what thoughts passed through that somber mind in those long hours, when, concentrated upon himself, he must have faced the problem of his future and, like one before an impassable stone wall, had to fall back, baffled. He could be sure of only one thing: that never again could he be what he had been once—“the slickest cracksman in America.” This in itself tortured him. Heretofore, life had been exactly what he chose to make it: he had put himself to the test, and he had proven himself the most daring, the coolest, shrewdest, most cunning, in that sinister world in which he had shone with so evil a light. He had been Slippy McGee. Sure of himself, his had been that curious inverted pride which is the stigmata of the criminal.
More than once I saw him writhe in his chair, tormented, shaken, spent with futile curses, impotently lamenting his lost kingdom. He still had the skill, the cold calculating brain, the wit, the will; and now, by a cruel chance and a stupid accident, he had lost out! The end had come for him, and he in his heyday! There were moments when, watching him, I had the sensation as of witnessing almost visibly, here in our calm sunny garden, the Dark Powers fighting openly for a soul.
"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."
If I have not heretofore spoken of Mary Virginia, it is because all that winter she and Mrs. Eustis had been away; and in consequence Appleboro was dull enough. For the Eustises are our wealthiest and most important family, just as the Eustis house, with its pillared, Greek-temple-effect front, is by far the handsomest house in town. When we have important folks to entertain, we look to the Eustises to save our faces for us by putting them up at their house.
One afternoon, shortly after we had gotten settled in Appleboro, I came home to find my mother entertaining no less a personage than Mrs. Eustis; she wasn’t calling on the Catholic priest and his mother, you understand; far from it! She was recognizing Armand De Rance and Adele de Marsignan!
Mrs. Eustis was a fair, plump little partridge of a woman, so perfectly satisfied with herself that brains, in her case, would have amounted to a positive calamity. She is an instance of the fascination a fool seems to have for men of undoubted powers of mind and heart, for Eustis, who had both to an unusual degree, loved her devotedly, even while he smiled at her. She had, after some years of childlessness, laid him under an everlasting obligation by presenting him with a daughter, an obligation deepened by the fact that the child was in every sense her father’s child, not her mother’s.