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Title: Septimus
Author: Locke, William John, 1863-1930
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Septimus" ***

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SEPTIMUS


BY THE SAME AUTHOR

IDOLS
JAFFERY
VIVIETTE
SEPTIMUS
DERELICTS
THE USURPER
STELLA MARIS
WHERE LOVE IS
THE ROUGH ROAD
THE MOUNTEBANK
THE RED PLANET
THE WHITE DOVE
FAR-AWAY STORIES
THE GREAT PANDOLFO
SIMON THE JESTER
THE COMING OF AMOS
THE TALE OF TRIONA
A STUDY IN SHADOWS
A CHRISTMAS MYSTERY
THE WONDERFUL YEAR
THE HOUSE OF BALTAZAR
THE FORTUNATE YOUTH
THE BELOVED VAGABOND
AT THE GATE OF SAMARIA
THE GLORY OF CLEMENTINA
THE MORALS OF MARCUS ORDEYNE
THE DEMAGOGUE AND LADY PHAYRE
THE JOYOUS ADVENTURES OF ARISTIDE PUJOL



SEPTIMUS

BY
WILLIAM J. LOCKE



NEW YORK
DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY
1931



Copyright, 1908
By The Phillips Publishing Company

Copyright, 1909
By Dodd, Mead & Company



Printed in U.S.A.

The Vail-Ballou Press
Binghamton and New York



RUTGER BLEECKER JEWETT

CARO SEPTIMI
AUCTORISQUE AMICO HIC LIBER
SEPTIMI INSCRIBITUR



SEPTIMUS

CHAPTER I


"I love Nunsmere," said the Literary Man from London. "It is a spot where
faded lives are laid away in lavender."

"I'm not a faded life, and I'm not going to be laid away in lavender,"
retorted Zora Middlemist.

She turned from him and handed cakes to the Vicar. She had no desire to pet
the Vicar, but he was less unbearable than the Literary Man from London
whom he had brought to call on his parishioners. Zora disliked to be called
a parishioner. She disliked many things in Nunsmere. Her mother, Mrs.
Oldrieve, however, loved Nunsmere, adored the Vicar, and found
awe-inspiring in his cleverness the Literary Man from London.

Nunsmere lies hidden among the oaks of Surrey, far from the busy ways of
men. It is heaven knows how many miles from a highroad. You have to drive
through lanes and climb right over a hill to get to it. Two old Georgian
houses covered with creepers, a modern Gothic church, two much more
venerable and pious-looking inns, and a few cottages settling peacefully
around a common form the village. Here and there a cottage lurks up a lane.
These cottages are mostly inhabited by the gentle classes. Some are really
old, with great oak beams across the low ceilings, and stone-flagged
kitchens furnished with great open fireplaces where you can sit and get
scorched and covered with smoke. Some are new, built in imitation of the
old, by a mute, inglorious Adam, the village carpenter. All have long
casement windows, front gardens in which grow stocks and phlox and
sunflowers and hollyhocks and roses; and a red-tiled path leads from the
front gate to the entrance porch. Nunsmere is very quiet and restful.
Should a roisterer cross the common singing a song at half-past nine at
night, all Nunsmere hears it and is shocked--if not frightened to the
extent of bolting doors and windows, lest the dreadful drunken man should
come in.

In a cottage on the common, an old one added to by the local architect,
with a front garden and a red-tiled path, dwelt Mrs. Oldrieve in entire
happiness, and her daughter in discontent. And this was through no peevish
or disagreeable traits in Zora's nature. If we hear Guy Fawkes was fretful
in the Little-Ease, we are not pained by Guy Fawkes's lack of Christian
resignation.

When the Vicar and the Literary Man from London had gone, Zora threw open
the window and let the soft autumn air flood the room. Mrs. Oldrieve drew
her woolen shawl around her lean shoulders.

"I'm afraid you quite snubbed Mr. Rattenden, just when he was saying one of
his cleverest things."

"He said it to the wrong person, mother. I'm neither a faded life nor am I
going to be laid away in lavender. Do I look like it?"

She moved across the room, swiftly, and stood in the slanting light from
the window, offering herself for inspection. Nothing could be less like a
faded life than the magnificent, broad-hipped, full-bosomed woman that met
her mother's gaze. Her hair was auburn, her eyes brown with gold flecks,
her lips red, her cheeks clear and young. She was cast, physically, in
heroic mold, a creature of dancing blood and color and warmth. Disparaging
tea-parties called her an Amazon. The Vicar's wife regarded her as too
large and flaring and curvilinear for reputable good looks. She towered
over Nunsmere. Her presence disturbed the sedateness of the place. She was
a wrong note in its harmony.

Mrs. Oldrieve sighed. She was small and colorless. Her husband, a wild
explorer, a tornado of a man, had been killed by a buffalo. She was afraid
that Zora took after her father. Her younger daughter Emmy had also
inherited some of the Oldrieve restlessness and had gone on the stage. She
was playing now in musical comedy in London.

"I don't see why you should not be happy here, Zora," she remarked, "but if
you want to go, you must. I used to say the same to your poor, dear
father."

"I've been very good, haven't I?" said Zora. "I've been the model young
widow and lived as demurely as if my heart were breaking with sorrow. But
now, I can't stand it any longer. I'm going out to see the world."

"You'll soon marry again, dear, and that's one comfort."

Zora brought her hands down passionately to her sides.

"Never. Never--do you hear, mother? Never. I'm going out into the world, to
get to the heart of the life I've never known. I'm going to live."

"I don't see how you are going to 'live,' dear, without a man to take care
of you," said Mrs. Oldrieve, on whom there occasionally flashed an eternal
verity.

"I hate men. I hate the touch of them--the very sight of them. I'm going to
have nothing more to do with them for the rest of my natural life. My dear
mother!" and her voice broke, "haven't I had enough to do with men and
marriage?"

"All men aren't like Edward Middlemist," Mrs. Oldrieve argued as she
counted the rows of her knitting.

"How am I to know that? How could anyone have told that he was what he was?
For heaven's sake don't talk of it. I had almost forgotten it all in this
place."

She shuddered and, turning to the window, stared into the sunset.

"Lavender has its uses," said Mrs. Oldrieve.

Here again it must be urged on Zora's behalf that she had reason for her
misanthropy. It is not cheerful for a girl to discover within twenty-four
hours of her wedding that her husband is a hopeless drunkard, and to see
him die of delirium tremens within six weeks. An experience so vivid, like
lightning must blast something in a woman's conception of life. Because one
man's kisses reeked of whisky the kisses of all male humanity were
anathema.

After a long spell of silence she came and laid her cheek against her
mother's.

"This is the very last time we'll speak of it, dear. I'll lock the skeleton
in its cupboard and throw away the key."

She went upstairs to dress and came down radiant. At dinner she spoke
exultingly of her approaching freedom. She would tear off her widow's weeds
and deck herself in the flower of youth. She would plunge into the great
swelling sea of Life. She would drink sunshine and fill her soul with
laughter. She would do a million hyperbolic things, the mention of which
mightily confused her mother. "I, my dear," said the hen in the fairy tale,
"never had the faintest desire to get into water." So, more or less, said
Mrs. Oldrieve.

"Will you miss me very dreadfully?" asked Zora.

"Of course," but her tone was so lacking in conviction that Zora laughed.

"Mother, you know very well that Cousin Jane will be a more sympathetic
companion. You've been pining for her all this time."

Cousin Jane held distinct views on the cut of under-clothes for the
deserving poor, and as clouds disperse before the sun so did household dust
before her presence. Untidiness followed in Zora's steps, as it does in
those of the physically large, and Cousin Jane disapproved of her
thoroughly. But Mrs. Oldrieve often sighed for Cousin Jane as she had never
sighed for Zora, Emily, or her husband. She was more than content with the
prospect of her companionship.

"At any rate, my dear," she said that evening, as she paused, candle in
hand, by her bedroom door, "at any rate I hope you'll do nothing that is
unbecoming to a gentlewoman."

Such was her benison.

Zora bumped her head against the oak beam that ran across her bedroom
ceiling.

"It's quite true," she said to herself, "the place is too small for me, I
don't fit."

       *       *       *       *       *

What she was going to do in this wide world into whose glories she was
about to enter she had but the vaguest notion. All to her was the Beautiful
Unknown. Narrow means had kept her at Cheltenham and afterwards at
Nunsmere, all her life. She had met her husband in Ipswich while she was
paying a polite visit to some distant cousins. She had married him offhand,
in a whirl of the senses. He was a handsome blackguard, of independent
means, and she had spent her nightmare of a honeymoon at Brighton. On three
occasions, during her five-and-twenty years of existence, she had spent a
golden week in London. That was all she knew of the wide world. It was not
very much. Reading had given her a second-hand acquaintance with the doings
of various classes of mankind, and such pictures as she had seen had filled
her head with dreams of strange and wonderful places. But otherwise she was
ignorant, beautifully, childishly ignorant--and undismayed.

What was she going to do? Sensitive and responsive to beauty, filled with
artistic impulses, she could neither paint, act, sing, nor write pretty
little stories for the magazines. She had no special gift to develop. To
earn her living in a humdrum way she had no need. She had no high Ibsenite
notions of working out her own individuality. She had no consuming passion
for reforming any section of the universe. She had no mission--that she
knew of--to accomplish. Unlike so many of her sex who yearn to be as men
and go out into the world she had no inner mandate to do anything, no
ambition to be anything. She was simply a great, rich flower, struggling
through the shade to the sunlight, plenty of sunlight, as much sunlight as
the heavens could give her.

The Literary Man from London happened to be returning to town by the train
that carried Zora on the first stage of her pilgrimage. He obtained her
consent to travel up in the same carriage. He asked her to what branch of
human activity she intended to devote herself. She answered that she was
going to lie, anyhow, among the leaves. He rebuked her.

"We ought," said he, "to justify our existence."

She drew herself up and flashed an indignant glance at him.

"I beg your pardon," he apologized. "You do justify yours."

"How?"

"You decorate the world. I was wrong. That is the true function of a
beautiful woman, and you fulfill it."

"I have in my bag," replied Zora slowly, and looking at him steady-eyed, "a
preventive against sea-sickness; I have a waterproof to shelter me from
rain; but what can I do to shield myself against silly compliments?"

"Adopt the costume of the ladies of the Orient," said the Literary Man from
London, unabashed.

She laughed, although she detested him. He bent forward with humorous
earnestness. He had written some novels, and now edited a weekly of
precious tendencies and cynical flavor.

"I am a battered old man of thirty-five," said he, "and I know what I am
talking about. If you think you are going to wander at a loose end about
Europe without men paying you compliments and falling in love with you and
making themselves generally delightful, you're traveling under a grievous
hallucination."

"What you say," retorted Zora, "confirms me in my opinion that men are an
abominable nuisance. Why can't they let a poor woman go about in peace?"

The train happened to be waiting at Clapham Junction. A spruce young man,
passing by on the platform, made a perceptible pause by the window, his
eyes full on her. She turned her head impatiently. Rattenden laughed.

"Dear lady," said he, "I must impart to you the elements of wisdom. Miss
Keziah Skaffles, with brain cordage for hair, and monoliths for teeth, and
a box of dominoes for a body, can fool about unmolested among the tribes
of Crim Tartary. She doesn't worry the Tartars. But, permit me to say it,
as you are for the moment my disciple, a beautiful woman like yourself,
radiating feminine magnetism, worries a man exceedingly. You don't let him
go about in peace, so why should he let you?"

"I think," said Zora, as the train moved on, "that Miss Keziah Skaffles is
very much to be envied, and that this is a very horrid conversation."

She was offended in her provincial-bred delicacy. It was enough to make her
regard herself with repulsion. She took up the fashion paper she had bought
at the station--was she not intending to run delicious riot among the
dressmakers and milliners of London?--and regarding blankly the ungodly
waisted ladies in the illustrations, determined to wear a wig and paint her
face yellow, and black out one of her front teeth, so that she should not
worry the Tartars.

"I am only warning you against possible dangers," said Rattenden stiffly.
He did not like his conversation to be called horrid.

"To the race of men?"

"No, to yourself."

She laughed scornfully. "No fear of that. Why does every man think himself
irresistible?"

"Because he generally is--if he wants to be," said the Literary Man from
London.

Zora caught her breath. "Well of all--" she began.

"Yes, I know what you're going to say. Millions of women have said it and
eaten their words. Why should you--beautiful as you are--be an exception to
the law of life? You're going out to suck the honey of the world, and
men's hearts will be your flowers. Instinct will drive you. You won't be
able to get away from it. You think you're going to be thrilled into
passionate raptures by cathedrals and expensive restaurants and the set
pieces of fashionable scenery. You're not. Your store of honey will consist
of emotional experiences of a primitive order. If not, I know nothing at
all about women."

"Do you know anything about them?" she asked sweetly.

"More than would be becoming of me to tell," he replied. "Anyhow," he
added, "that doesn't matter. I've made my prophecy. You'll tell me
afterwards, if I have the pleasure of seeing you again, whether it has come
true."

"It won't come true," said Zora.

"We shall see," said the wise man.

She dashed, that afternoon, into her sister's tiny flat in Chelsea. Emily,
taken by surprise, hastily stuffed to the bottom of her work-basket a man's
silk tie which she was knitting, and then greeted Zora affectionately.

She was shorter, slimmer, paler than her sister: of a certain babyish
prettiness. She had Mrs. Oldrieve's weak mouth and gentle ways.

"Why, Zora, who would have thought of seeing you? What are you doing in
town?"

"Getting hats and frocks--a trousseau of freedom. I've left Nunsmere. I'm
on my own."

Her eyes sparkled, her cheeks were flushed. She caught Emily to her bosom.

"Oh, darling! I'm so happy--a bird let out of a cage."

"An awful big bird," laughed Emily.

"Yes, let out of an awful small cage. I'm going to see the world, for the
first time in my life. I'm going to get out of the cold and wet--going
South--to Italy--Sicily--Egypt--anywhere."

"All by yourself?"

"There'll be Turner."

"Turner?"

"Ah, you don't know her. My new maid. But isn't it glorious? Why shouldn't
you come with me, darling? Do. Come."

"And throw up my engagement? I couldn't. I should love it, but you don't
know how hard engagements are to get."

"Never mind. I'll pay for everything."

But Emily shook her fluffy head. She had a good part, a few lines to speak
and a bit of a song to sing in a successful musical comedy. She looked back
on the two years' price she had paid for that little bit of a song. It was
dearer to her than anything--save one thing--in life.

"I can't. Besides, don't you think a couple of girls fooling about alone
look rather silly? It wouldn't really be very funny without a man."

Zora rose in protest. "The whole human race is man-mad! Even mother. I
think everybody is detestable!"

The maid announced "Mr. Mordaunt Prince," and a handsome man with finely
cut, dark features and black hair parted in the middle and brushed tightly
back over the head, entered the room. Emmy presented him to Zora, who
recognized him as the leading man at the theater where Emmy was playing.
Zora exchanged a few polite commonplaces with the visitor and then took her
leave. Emmy accompanied her to the front door of the flat.

"Isn't he charming?"

"That creature?" asked Zora.

Emmy laughed. "In your present mood you would find fault with an
archangel. Good-bye, darling, and take care of yourself."

She bore no malice, having a kind heart and being foolishly happy. When she
returned to the drawing-room the man took both her hands.

"Well, sweetheart?"

"My sister wanted to carry me off to Italy."

"What did you say?"

"Guess," said the girl, lifting starry eyes.

The man guessed, after the manner of men, and for a moment Emmy forgot
Zora, who went her own way in pursuit of happiness, heedless of the wisdom
of the wise and of the foolish.



CHAPTER II


For five months Zora wandered over the world--chiefly Italy--without an
experience which might be called an adventure. When the Literary Man from
London crossed her mind she laughed him to scorn for a prophetic popinjay.
She had broken no man's heart, and her own was whole. The tribes of Crim
Tartary had exhibited no signs of worry and had left her unmolested. She
had furthermore taken rapturous delight in cathedrals, expensive
restaurants, and the set pieces of fashionable scenery. Rattenden had not a
prophetic leg to stand on.

Yet she longed for the unattainable--for the elusive something of which
these felicities were but symbols. Now the wanderer with a haunting sense
of the Beyond, but without the true vagabond's divine gift of piercing the
veil, can only follow the obvious; and there are seasons when the obvious
fails to satisfy. When such a mood overcame her mistress, Turner railed at
the upsetting quality of foreign food, and presented bicarbonate of soda.
She arrived by a different path at the unsatisfactory nature of the
obvious. Sometimes, too, the pleasant acquaintances of travel were lacking,
and loneliness upset the nice balance of Zora's nerves. Then, more than
ever, did she pine for the Beyond.

Yet youth, receptivity, imagination kept her buoyant. Hope lured her on
with renewed promises from city to city. At last, on her homeward journey,
he whispered the magic name of Monte Carlo, and her heart was aflutter in
anticipation of wonderland.

She stood bewildered, lonely, and dismayed in the first row behind the
chairs, fingering an empty purse. She had been in the rooms ten minutes,
and she had lost twenty louis. Her last coup had been successful, but a
bland old lady, with the white hair and waxen face of sainted motherhood,
had swept up her winnings so unconcernedly that Zora's brain began to swim.
As she felt too strange and shy to expostulate she stood fingering her
empty purse.

The scene was utterly different from what she had expected. She had
imagined a gay, crowded room, wild gamblers shouting in their excitement, a
band playing delirious waltz music, champagne corks popping merrily,
painted women laughing, jesting loudly, all kinds of revelry and devilry
and Bacchic things undreamed of. This was silly of her, no doubt, but the
silliness of inexperienced young women is a matter for the pity, not the
reprobation, of the judicious. If they take the world for their oyster and
think, when they open it, they are going to find pearl necklaces
ready-made, we must not blame them. Rather let hoary-headed sinners envy
them their imaginings.

The corners of Zora Middlemist's ripe lips drooped with a child's pathos of
disillusionment. Her nose delicately marked disgust at the heavy air and
the discord of scents around her. Having lost her money she could afford to
survey with scorn the decorous yet sordid greed of the crowded table. There
was not a gleam of gaiety about it. The people behaved with the correct
impassiveness of an Anglican congregation. She had heard of more jocular
funerals.

She forgot the intoxication of her first gold and turquoise day at Monte
Carlo. A sense of loneliness--such as a solitary dove might feel in a
wilderness of evil bats--oppressed her. Had she not been aware that she
was a remarkably attractive woman and the object of innumerable glances,
she would have cried. And twenty louis pitched into unprofitable space! Yet
she stood half fascinated by the rattle of the marble on the revolving
disc, the glitter of the gold, the soft pat of the coins on the green cloth
as they were thrown by the croupier. She began to make imaginary stakes.
For five coups in succession she would have won. It was exasperating. There
she stood, having pierced the innermost mystery of chance, without even a
five-franc piece in her purse.

A man's black sleeve pushed past her shoulder, and she saw a hand in front
of her holding a louis. Instinctively she took it.

"Thanks," said a tired voice. "I can't reach the table. She threw it, _en
plein_, on Number Seventeen; and then with a start, realizing what she had
done, she turned with burning cheeks.

"I _am_ so sorry."

Her glance met a pair of unspeculative blue eyes, belonging to the owner of
the tired voice. She noted that he had a sallow face, a little brown
mustache, and a shock of brown hair, curiously upstanding, like Struwel
Peter's.

"I am _so_ sorry," she repeated. "Please ask for it back. What did you want
me to play?"

"I don't know. It doesn't matter, so long as you've put it somewhere."

"But I've put it _en plein_ on Seventeen," she urged. "I ought to have
thought what I was doing."

"Why think?" he murmured.

Mrs. Middlemist turned square to the table and fixed her eyes on the staked
louis. In spite of the blue-eyed man's implied acquiescence she felt
qualms of responsibility. Why had she not played on an even chance, or one
of the dozens, or even a _transversale_? To add to her discomfort no one
else played the full seventeen. The whole table seemed silently jeering at
her inexperience.

The croupiers had completed the payments of the last coup. The marble fell
with its sharp click and whizzed and rattled around the disc. Zora held her
breath. The marble found its compartment at last, and the croupier
announced:

_"Dix-sept, noir, impair et manque."_

She had won. A sigh of relief shook her bosom. Not only had she not lost a
stranger's money, but she had won for him thirty-five times his stake. She
watched the louis greedily lest it should be swept away by a careless
croupier--perhaps the only impossible thing that could not happen at Monte
Carlo--and stretched out her arm past the bland old lady in tense
determination to frustrate further felonious proceedings. The croupier
pitched seven large gold coins across the table. She clutched them
feverishly and turned to deliver them to their owner. He was nowhere to be
seen. She broke through the ring, and with her hands full of gold scanned
the room in dismayed perplexity.

At last she espied him standing dejectedly by another table. She rushed
across the intervening space and held out the money.

"See, you have won!"

"Oh, Lord!" murmured the man, removing his hands from his dinner-jacket
pockets, but not offering to take his winnings. "What a lot of trouble I
have given you."

"Of course you have," she said tartly. "Why didn't you stay?"

"I don't know," he replied. "How can one tell why one doesn't do things?"

"Well, please take the money now and let me get rid of it. There are seven
pieces of five louis each."

She counted the coins into his hand, and then suddenly flushed scarlet. She
had forgotten to claim the original louis which she had staked. Where was
it? What had become of it? As well try, she thought, to fish up a coin
thrown into the sea. She felt like a thief.

"There ought to be another louis," she stammered.

"It doesn't matter," said the man.

"But it does matter. You might think that I--I kept it."

"That's too absurd," he answered. "Are you interested in guns?"

"Guns?"

She stared at him. He appeared quite sane.

"I remember now I was thinking of guns when I went away," he explained.
"They're interesting things to think about."

"But don't you understand that I owe you a louis? I forgot all about it. If
my purse weren't empty I would repay you. Will you stay here till I can get
some money from my hotel--the Hôtel de Paris?"

She spoke with some vehemence. How could the creature expect her to remain
in his debt? But the creature only passed his fingers through his
upstanding hair and smiled wanly.

"Please don't say anything more about it. It distresses me. The croupiers
don't return the stake, as a general rule, unless you ask for it. They
assume you want to back your luck. Perhaps it has won again. For goodness'
sake don't bother about it--and thank you very, very much."

He bowed politely and moved a step or two away. But Zora, struck by a
solution of the mystery which had not occurred to her, as one cannot grasp
all the ways and customs of gaming establishments in ten minutes, rushed
back to the other table. She arrived just in time to hear the croupier
asking whom the louis on seventeen belonged to. The number had turned up
again.

This time she brought the thirty-six louis to the stranger.

"Dear me," said he, taking the money. "It is very astonishing. But why did
you trouble?"

"Because I'm a woman of common sense, I suppose."

He looked at the coins in his hand as if they were shells which a child at
the seaside might have brought him, and then raised his eyes slowly to
hers.

"You are a very gracious lady." His glance and tone checked an impulse of
exasperation. She smiled.

"At any rate, I've won fifty-six pounds for you, and you ought to be
grateful."

He made a little gesture of acknowledgement. Had he been a more dashing
gentleman he might have expressed his gratitude for the mere privilege of
conversing with a gracious lady so beautiful. They had drifted from the
outskirts of the crowded table and found themselves in the thinner crowd of
saunterers. It was the height of the Monte Carlo season and the feathers
and diamonds and rouge and greedy eyes and rusty bonnets of all nations
confused the sight and paralyzed thought. Yet among all the women of both
worlds Zora Middlemist stood out remarkable. As Septimus Dix afterwards
explained, the rooms that evening contained a vague kind of conglomerate
woman and Zora Middlemist. And the herd of men envied the creature on whom
she smiled so graciously.

She was dressed in black, as became a young widow, but it was a black
which bore no sign of mourning. The black, sweeping ostrich plume of a
picture hat gave her an air of triumph. Black gloves reaching more than
halfway up shapely arms and a gleam of snowy neck above a black chiffon
bodice disquieted the imagination. She towered over her present companion,
who was five foot seven and slimly built.

"You've brought me all this stuff, but what am I to do with it?" he asked
helplessly.

"Perhaps I had better take care of it for you."

It was a relief from the oppressive loneliness to talk to a human being; so
she lingered wistfully in conversation. A pathetic eagerness came into the
man's face.

"I wish you would," said he, drawing a handful from his jacket pocket. "I
should be so much happier."

"You can hardly be such a gambler," she laughed.

"Oh, no! It's not that at all. Gambling bores me."

"Why do you play, then?"

"I don't. I staked that louis because I wanted to see whether I should be
interested. I wasn't, as I began to think about the guns. Have you had
breakfast?"

Again Zora was startled. A sane man does not talk of breakfasting at nine
o'clock in the evening. But if he were a lunatic perhaps it were wise to
humor him.

"Yes," she said. "Have you?"

"No. I've only just got up."

"Do you mean to say you've been asleep all day?"

"What's the noisy day made for?"

"Let us sit down," said Zora.

They found one of the crimson couches by the wall vacant, and sat down.
Zora regarded him curiously.

"Why should you be happier if I took care of your money?"

"I shouldn't spend it. I might meet a man who wanted to sell me a
gas-engine."

"But you needn't buy it."

"These fellows are so persuasive, you see. At Rotterdam last year, a man
made me buy a second-hand dentist's chair."

"Are you a dentist?" asked Zora.

"Lord, no! If I were I could have used the horrible chair."

"What did you do with it?"

"I had it packed up and despatched, carriage paid, to an imaginary person
at Singapore."

He made this announcement in his tired, gentle manner, without the flicker
of a smile. He added, reflectively--

"That sort of thing becomes expensive. Don't you find it so?"

"I would defy anybody to sell me a thing I didn't want," she replied.

"Ah, that," said he with a glance of wistful admiration, "that is because
you have red hair."

If any other strange male had talked about her hair, Zora Middlemist would
have drawn herself up in Junoesque majesty and blighted him with a glance.
She had done with men and their compliments forever. In that she prided
herself on her Amazonianism. But she could not be angry with the
inconclusive being to whom she was talking. As well resent the ingenuous
remarks of a four-year-old child.

"What has my red hair to do with it?" she asked pleasantly.

"It was a red-haired man who sold me the dentist's chair."

"Oh!" said Zora, nonplussed.

There was a pause. The man leaned back, embracing one knee with both hands.
They were nerveless, indeterminate hands, with long fingers, such as are in
the habit of dropping things. Zora wondered how they supported his knee.
For some time he stared into vacancy, his pale-blue eyes adream. Zora
laughed.

"Guns?" she asked.

"No," said he, awaking to her presence. "Perambulators."

She rose. "I thought you might be thinking of breakfast. I must be going
back to my hotel. These rooms are too hot and horrible. Good night."

"I will see you to the lift, if you'll allow me," he said politely.

She graciously assented and they left the rooms together. In the atrium she
changed her mind about the lift. She would leave the Casino by the main
entrance and walk over to the Hôtel de Paris for the sake of a breath of
fresh air. At the top of the steps she paused and filled her lungs. It was
a still, moonless night, and the stars hung low down, like diamonds on a
canopy of black velvet. They made the flaring lights of the terrace of the
Hôtel and Café de Paris look tawdry and meretricious.

"I hate them," she said, pointing to the latter.

"Stars are better," said her companion.

She turned on him swiftly.

"How did you know I was making comparisons?"

"I felt it," he murmured.

They walked slowly down the steps. At the bottom a carriage and pair
seemed to rise mysteriously out of the earth.

"'Ave a drive? Ver' good carriage," said a voice out of the dimness. Monte
Carlo cabmen are unerring in their divination of the Anglo-Saxon.

Why not? The suggestion awoke in her an instant craving for the true beauty
of the land. It was unconventional, audacious, crazy. But, again, why not?
Zora Middlemist was answerable for her actions to no man or woman alive.
Why not drink a great draught of the freedom that was hers? What did it
matter that the man was a stranger? All the more daring the adventure. Her
heart beat gladly. But chaste women, like children, know instinctively the
man they can trust.

"Shall we?"

"Drive?"

"Yes--unless--" a thought suddenly striking her--"unless you want to go
back to your friends."

"Good Lord!" said he, aghast, as if she were accusing him of criminal
associations. "I have no friends."

"Then come."

She entered the carriage. He followed meekly and sat beside her. Where
should they drive? The cabman suggested the coast road to Mentone. She
agreed. On the point of starting she observed that her companion was
bare-headed.

"You've forgotten your hat."

She spoke to him as she would have done to a child.

"Why bother about hats?"

"You'll catch your death of cold. Go and get it at once."

He obeyed with a docility which sent a little tingle of exaltation through
Mrs. Middlemist. A woman may have an inordinate antipathy to men, but she
loves them to do her bidding. Zora was a woman; she was also young.

He returned. The cabman whipped up his strong pair of horses, and they
started through the town towards Mentone.

Zora lay back on the cushions and drank in the sensuous loveliness of the
night--the warm, scented air, the velvet and diamond sky, the fragrant
orange groves--the dim, mysterious olive trees, the looming hills, the
wine-colored, silken sea, with its faint edging of lace on the dusky sweep
of the bay. The spirit of the South overspread her with its wings and took
her amorously in its arms.

After a long, long silence she sighed, remembering her companion.

"Thank you for not talking," she said softly.

"Don't," he replied. "I had nothing to say. I never talk. I've scarcely
talked for a year."

She laughed idly.

"Why?"

"No one to talk to. Except my man," he added conscientiously. "His name is
Wiggleswick."

"I hope he looks after you well," said Zora, with a touch of maternal
instinct.

"He wants training. That's what I am always telling him. But he can't hear.
He's seventy and stone-deaf. But he's interesting. He tells me about jails
and things."

"Jails?"

"Yes. He spent most of his time in prison. He was a professional
burglar--but then he got on in years. Besides, the younger generation was
knocking at the door."

"I thought that was the last thing a burglar would do," said Zora.

"They generally use jemmies," he said gravely. "Wiggleswick has given me
his collection. They're very useful."

"What for?" she asked.

"To kill moths with," he replied dreamily.

"But what made you take a superannuated burglar for a valet?"

"I don't know. Perhaps it was Wiggleswick himself. He came up to me one day
as I was sitting in Kensington Gardens, and somehow followed me home."

"But, good gracious," cried Zora--forgetful for the moment of stars and
sea--"aren't you afraid that he will rob you?"

"No. I asked him, and he explained. You see, it would be out of his line. A
forger only forges, a pickpocket only snatches chains and purses, and a
burglar only burgles. Now, he couldn't burgle the place in which he was
living himself, so I am safe."

Zora gave him sage counsel.

"I'd get rid of him if I were you."

"If I were you, I would--but I can't," he replied. "If I told him to go he
wouldn't. I go instead sometimes. That's why I'm here."

"If you go on talking like that, you'll make my brain reel," said Zora
laughing. "Do tell me something about yourself. What is your name?"

"Septimus Dix. I've got another name--Ajax--Septimus Ajax Dix--but I never
use it."

"That's a pity," said Zora. "Ajax is a lovely name."

He dissented in his vague fashion. "Ajax suggests somebody who defies
lightning and fools about with a spear. It's a silly name. A maiden aunt
persuaded my mother to give it to me. I think she mixed it up with
Achilles. She admired the statue in Hyde Park. She got run over by a
milkcart."

"When was that?" she inquired, more out of politeness than interest in the
career of Mr. Dix's maiden aunt.

"A minute before she died."

"Oh," said Zora, taken aback by the emotionless manner in which he
mentioned the tragedy. Then, by way of continuing the conversation:--

"Why are you called Septimus?"

"I'm the seventh son. All the others died young. I never could make out why
I didn't."

"Perhaps," said Zora with a laugh, "you were thinking of something else at
the time and lost the opportunity."

"It must have been that," said he. "I lose opportunities just as I always
lose trains."

"How do you manage to get anywhere?"

"I wait for the next train. That's easy. But there's never another
opportunity."

He drew a cigarette from his case, put it in his mouth, and fumbled in his
pockets for matches. Finding none, he threw the cigarette into the road.

"That's just like you," cried Zora. "Why didn't you ask the cabman for a
light?"

She laughed at him with an odd sense of intimacy, though she had known him
for scarcely an hour. He seemed rather a stray child than a man. She longed
to befriend him--to do something for him, motherwise--she knew not what.
Her adventure by now had failed to be adventurous. The spice of danger had
vanished. She knew she could sit beside this helpless being till the day of
doom without fear of molestation by word or act.

He obtained a light for his cigarette from the cabman and smoked in
silence. Gradually the languor of the night again stole over her senses,
and she forgot his existence. The carriage had turned homeward, and at a
bend of the road, high up above the sea, Monte Carlo came into view,
gleaming white far away below, like a group of fairy palaces lit by fairy
lamps, sheltered by the great black promontory of Monaco. From the gorge on
the left, the terraced rock on the right, came the smell of the wild thyme
and rosemary and the perfume of pale flowers. The touch of the air on her
cheek was a warm and scented kiss. The diamond stars drooped towards her
like a Danaë shower. Like Danaë's, her lips were parted. Her eyes strained
far beyond the stars into an unknown glory, and her heart throbbed with a
passionate desire for unknown things. Of what nature they might be she did
not dream. Not love. Zora Middlemist had forsworn it. Not the worship of a
man. She had vowed by all the saints in her hierarchy that no man should
ever again enter her life. Her soul revolted against the unutterable sex.

As soon as one realizes the exquisite humbug of sublunary existence he must
weep for the pity of it.

The warm and scented air was a kiss, too, on the cheek of Septimus Dix; and
his senses, too, were enthralled by the witchery of the night. But for him
stars and scented air and the magic beauty of the sea were incarnate in the
woman by his side.

Zora, as I have said, had forgotten the poor devil's existence.



CHAPTER III


When they drove up to the Hôtel de Paris, she alighted and bade him a
smiling farewell, and went to her room with the starlight in her eyes. The
lift man asked if Madame had won. She dangled her empty purse and laughed.
Then the lift man, who had seen that light in women's eyes before, made
certain that she was in love, and opened the lift door for her with the
confidential air of the Latin who knows sweet secrets. But the lift man was
wrong. No man had a part in her soul's exultation. If Septimus Dix crossed
her mind while she was undressing, it was as a grotesque, bearing the same
relation to her emotional impression of the night as a gargoyle does to a
cathedral. When she went to bed, she slept the sound sleep of youth.

Septimus, after dismissing the cab, wandered in his vague way over to the
Café de Paris, instinct suggesting his belated breakfast, which, like his
existence, Zora had forgotten. The waiter came.

"_Monsieur désire?_"

"Absinthe," murmured Septimus absent-mindedly, "and--er--poached eggs--and
anything--a raspberry ice."

The waiter gazed at him in stupefaction; but nothing being too astounding
in Monte Carlo, he wiped the cold perspiration from his forehead and
executed the order.

The unholy meal being over, Septimus drifted into the square and spent most
of the night on a bench gazing at the Hôtel de Paris and wondering which
were her windows. When she mentioned casually, a day or two later, that
her windows looked the other way over the sea, he felt that Destiny had
fooled him once more; but for the time being he found a gentle happiness in
his speculation. Chilled to the bone, at last, he sought his hotel bedroom
and smoked a pipe, meditative, with his hat on until the morning. Then he
went to bed.

Two mornings afterwards Zora came upon him on the Casino terrace. He
sprawled idly on a bench between a fat German and his fat wife, who were
talking across him. His straw hat was tilted over his eyes and his legs
were crossed. In spite of the conversation (and a middle-class German does
not whisper when he talks to his wife), and the going and coming of the
crowd--in spite of the sunshine and the blue air, he slumbered peacefully.
Zora passed him once or twice. Then by the station lift she paused and
looked out at the bay of Mentone clasping the sea--a blue enamel in a
setting of gold. She stood for some moments lost in the joy of it when a
voice behind her brought her back to the commonplace.

"Very lovely, isn't it?"

A thin-faced Englishman of uncertain age and yellow, evil eyes met her
glance as she turned instinctively.

"Yes, it's beautiful," she replied coldly; "but that is no reason why you
should take the liberty of speaking to me."

"I couldn't help sharing my emotions with another, especially one so
beautiful. You seem to be alone here?"

Now she remembered having seen him before--rather frequently. The previous
evening he had somewhat ostentatiously selected a table near hers at
dinner. He had watched her as she had left the theater and followed her to
the lift door. He had been watching for his opportunity and now thought it
had come. She shivered with sudden anger, and round her heart crept the
chill of fright which all women know who have been followed in a lonely
street.

"I certainly am not alone," she said wrathfully. "Good morning."

The man covered his defeat by raising his hat with ironic politeness, and
Zora walked swiftly away, in appearance a majestic Amazon, but inwardly a
quivering woman. She marched straight up to the recumbent Dix. The Literary
Man from London would have been amused. She interposed herself between the
conversing Teutons and awakened the sleeper. He looked at her for a moment
with a dreamy smile, then leaped to his feet.

"A man has insulted me--he has been following me about and tried to get
into conversation with me."

"Dear me," said Septimus. "What shall I do? Shall I shoot him?"

"Don't be silly," she said seriously. "It's serious. I'd be glad if you'd
kindly walk up and down a little with me."

"With pleasure." They strolled away together. "But I _am_ serious. If you
wanted me to shoot him I'd do it. I'd do anything in the world for you.
I've got a revolver in my room."

She laughed, disclaiming desire for supreme vengeance.

"I only want to show the wretch that I am not a helpless woman," she
observed, with the bewildering illogic of the sex. And as she passed by the
offender she smiled down at her companion with all the sweetness of
intimacy and asked him why he carried a revolver. She did not point the
offender out, be it remarked, to the bloodthirsty Septimus.

"It belongs to Wiggleswick," he replied in answer to her question. "I
promised to take care of it for him."

"What does Wiggleswick do when you are away?"

"He reads the police reports. I take in _Reynolds_ and the _News of the
World_ and the illustrated _Police News_ for him, and he cuts them out and
gums them in a scrap book. But I think I'm happier without Wiggleswick. He
interferes with my guns."

"By the way," said Zora, "you talked about guns the other evening. What
have you got to do with guns?"

He looked at her in a scared way out of the corner of his eye,
child-fashion, as though to make sure she was loyal and worthy of
confidence, and then he said:

"I invent 'em. I have written a treatise on guns of large caliber."

"Really?" cried Zora, taken by surprise. She had not credited him with so
serious a vocation. "Do tell me something about it."

"Not now," he pleaded. "Some other time. I'd have to sit down with paper
and pencil and draw diagrams. I'm afraid you wouldn't like it. Wiggleswick
doesn't. It bores him. You must be born with machinery in your blood.
Sometimes it's uncomfortable."

"To have cogwheels instead of corpuscles must be trying," said Zora
flippantly.

"Very," said he. "The great thing is to keep them clear of the heart."

"What do you mean?" she asked quickly.

"Whatever one does or tries to do, one should insist on remaining human.
It's good to be human, isn't it? I once knew a man who was just a
complicated mechanism of brain encased in a body. His heart didn't beat; it
clicked and whirred. It caused the death of the most perfect woman in the
world."

He looked dreamily into the blue ether between sea and sky. Zora felt
strangely drawn to him.

"Who was it?" she asked softly.

"My mother," said he.

They had paused in their stroll, and were leaning over the parapet above
the railway line. After a few moments' silence he added, with a faint
smile:--

"That's why I try hard to keep myself human--so that, if a woman should
ever care for me, I shouldn't hurt her."

A green caterpillar was crawling on his sleeve. In his vague manner he
picked it tenderly off and laid it on the leaf of an aloe that grew in the
terrace vase near which he stood.

"You couldn't even hurt that crawling thing--let alone a woman," said Zora.
This time very softly.

He blushed. "If you kill a caterpillar you kill a butterfly," he said
apologetically.

"And if you kill a woman?"

"Is there anything higher?" said he.

She made no reply, her misanthropical philosophy prompting none. There was
rather a long silence, which he broke by asking her if she read Persian. He
excused his knowledge of it by saying that it kept him human. She laughed
and suggested a continuance of their stroll. He talked disconnectedly as
they walked up and down.

The crowd on the terrace thinned as the hour of déjeuner approached.
Presently she proclaimed her hunger. He murmured that it must be near
dinner time. She protested. He passed his hands across his eyes and
confessed that he had got mixed up in his meals the last few days. Then an
idea struck him.

"If I skip afternoon tea, and dinner, and supper, and petit déjeuner, and
have two breakfasts running," he exclaimed brightly, "I shall begin fair
again." And he laughed, not loud, but murmuringly, for the first time.

They went round the Casino to the front of the Hôtel de Paris, their
natural parting place. But there, on the steps, with legs apart, stood the
wretch with the evil eyes. He looked at her from afar, banteringly.
Defiance rose in Zora's soul. She would again show him that she was not a
lone and helpless woman at the mercy of the casual depredator.

"I'm taking you in to lunch with me, Mr. Dix. You can't refuse," she said;
and without waiting for a reply she sailed majestically past the wretch,
followed meekly by Septimus, as if she owned him body and soul.

As usual, many eyes were turned on her as she entered the restaurant--a
radiant figure in white, with black hat and black chiffon boa, and a deep
red rose in her bosom. The maître d'hôtel, in the pride of reflected glory,
conducted her to a table near the window. Septimus trailed inconclusively
behind. When he seated himself he stared at her silently in a mute surmise
as the gentlemen in the poem did at the peak in Darien. It was even a
wilder adventure than the memorable drive. That was but a caprice of the
goddess; this was a sign of her friendship. The newness of their intimacy
smote him dumb. He passed his hand through his Struwel Peter hair and
wondered. Was it real? There sat the goddess, separated from him by the
strip of damask, her gold-flecked eyes smiling frankly and trustfully into
his, pulling off her gloves and disclosing, in almost disconcerting
intimacy, her warm wrists and hands. Was he dreaming, as he sometimes did,
in broad daylight, of a queer heaven in which he was strong like other men
and felt the flutter of wings upon his cheek? Something soft was in his
hand. Mechanically he began to stuff it up his sleeve. It was his napkin.
Zora's laugh brought him to earth--to happy earth.

It is a pleasant thing to linger _tête-à-tête_ over lunch on the terrace of
the Hôtel de Paris. Outside is the shade of the square, the blazing
sunshine beyond the shadow; the fountain and the palms and the doves; the
white gaiety of pleasure houses; the blue-gray mountains cut sharp against
the violet sky. Inside, a symphony of cool tones: the pearl of summer
dresses; the snow, crystal, and silver of the tables; the tender green of
lettuce, the yellows of fruit, the soft pink of salmon; here and there a
bold note of color--the flowers in a woman's hat, the purples and topazes
of wine. Nearer still to the sense is the charm of privacy. The one human
being for you in the room is your companion. The space round your chairs is
a magic circle, cutting you off from the others, who are mere decorations,
beautiful or grotesque. Between you are substances which it were gross to
call food: dainty mysteries of coolness and sudden flavors; a fish salad in
which the essences of sea and land are blended in cold, celestial harmony;
innermost kernels of the lamb of the salted meadows where must grow the
Asphodel on which it fed, in amorous union with what men call a sauce, but
really oil and cream and herbs stirred by a god in a dream; peaches in
purple ichor chastely clad in snow, melting on the palate as the voice of
the divine singer after whom they are named melts in the soul.

It is a pleasant thing--hedonistic? yes; but why live on lentils when
lotus is to your hand? and, really, at Monte Carlo lentils are quite as
expensive--it is a pleasant thing, even for the food-worn wanderer of many
restaurants, to lunch _tête-à-tête_ at the Hôtel de Paris; but for the
young and fresh-hearted to whom it is new, it is enchantment.

"I've often looked at people eating like this and I've often wondered how
it felt," said Septimus.

"But you must have lunched hundreds of times in such places."

"Yes--but by myself. I've never had a--" he paused. "A what?"

"A--a gracious lady," he said, reddening, "to sit opposite me."

"Why not?"

"No one has ever wanted me. It has always puzzled me how men get to know
women and go about with them. I think it must be a gift," he asserted with
the profound gravity of a man who has solved a psychological problem. "Some
fellows have a gift for collecting Toby jugs. Everywhere they go they
discover a Toby jug. I couldn't find one if I tried for a year. It's the
same thing. At Cambridge they used to call me the Owl."

"An owl catches mice, at any rate," said Zora.

"So do I. Do you like mice?"

"No. I want to catch lions and tigers and all the bright and burning things
of life," cried Zora, in a burst of confidence.

He regarded her with wistful admiration.

"Your whole life must be full of such things."

"I wonder," she said, looking at him over the spoonful of pêche Melba which
she was going to put in her mouth, "I wonder whether you have the faintest
idea who I am and what I am and what I'm doing here all by myself, and why
you and I are lunching together in this delightful fashion. You have told
me all about yourself--but you seem to take me for granted."

She was ever so little piqued at his apparent indifference. But if men like
Septimus Dix did not take women for granted, where would be the chivalry
and faith of the children of the world? He accepted her unquestioningly as
the simple Trojan accepted the Olympian lady who appeared to him clad in
grace (but otherwise scantily) from a rosy cloud.

"You are yourself," he said, "and that has been enough for me."

"How do you know I'm not an adventuress? There are heaps of them, people
say, in this place. I might be a designing thief of a woman."

"I offered you the charge of my money the other night."

"Was that why you did it? To test me?" she asked.

He reddened and started as if stung. She saw the hurt instantly, and with a
gush of remorse begged for forgiveness.

"No. I didn't mean it. It was horrid of me. It is not in your nature to
think such a thing. Forgive me."

Frankly, impulsively, she stretched her hand across the table. He touched
it timidly with his ineffectual fingers, not knowing what to do with it,
vaguely wondering whether he should raise it to his lips, and so kept
touching it, until she pressed his fingers in a little grip of
friendliness, and withdrew it with a laugh.

"Do you know, I still have that money," he said, pulling a handful of great
five-louis pieces from his pocket. "I can't spend it. I've tried to. I
bought a dog yesterday but he wanted to bite me and I had to give him to
the hotel porter. All this gold makes such a bulge in my pocket."

When Zora explained that the coins were only used as counters and could be
changed for notes at the rooms, he was astonished at her sapience. He had
never thought of it. Thus Zora regained her sense of superiority.

This lunch was the first of many meals they had together; and meals led to
drives and excursions, and to evenings at the theater. If she desired still
further to convince the wretch with the evil eyes of her befriended state,
she succeeded; but the wretch and his friends speculated evilly on the
relations between her and Septimus Dix. They credited her with pots of
money. Zora, however, walked serene, unconscious of slander, enjoying
herself prodigiously. Secure in her scorn and hatred of men she saw no harm
in her actions. Nor was there any, from the point of view of her young
egotism and inexperience. It scarcely occurred to her that Septimus was a
man. In some aspects he appealed to her instinctive motherhood like a
child. When she met him one day coming out of one of the shops in the
arcade, wearing a newly bought Homburg hat too small for him, she marched
him back with a delicious sense of responsibility and stood over him till
he was adequately fitted. In other aspects he was like a woman in whose shy
delicacy she could confide. She awoke also to a new realization--that of
power. Now, to use power with propriety needs wisdom, and the woman who is
wise at five-and-twenty cannot make out at sixty why she has remained an
old maid. The delightful way to use it is that of a babe when he first
discovers that a stick hits. That is the way that Zora, who was not wise,
used it over Septimus. For the first time in her life she owned a human
being. A former joy in the possession of a devoted dog who did tricks was
as nothing to this rapture. It was splendid. She owned him. Whenever she
had a desire for his company--which was often, as solitude at Monte Carlo
is more depressing than Zora had realized--she sent a page boy, in the true
quality of his name of _chasseur_, to hunt down the quarry and bring him
back. He would, therefore, be awakened at unearthly hours, at three o'clock
in the afternoon, for instance, when, as he said, all rational beings
should be asleep, it being their own unreason if they were not; or he would
be tracked down at ten in the morning to some obscure little café in the
town where he would be discovered eating ices and looking the worse for
wear in his clothes of the night before. As this meant delay in the
execution of her wishes, Zora prescribed habits less irregular. By means of
bribery of chambermaids and porters, and the sacrifice of food and sleep,
he contrived to find himself dressed in decent time in the mornings. He
would then patiently await her orders or call modestly for them at her
residence, like the butcher or the greengrocer.

"Why does your hair stand up on end, in that queer fashion?" she asked him
one day. The hat episode had led to a general regulation of his personal
appearance.

He pondered gravely over the conundrum for some time, and then replied that
he must have lost control over it. The command went forth that he should
visit a barber and learn how to control his hair. He obeyed, and returned
with his shock parted in the middle and plastered down heavily with
pomatum, a saint of more than methodistical meekness. On Zora declaring
that he looked awful (he was indeed inconceivably hideous), and that she
preferred Struwel Peter after all, he dutifully washed his head with soda
(after grave consultation with the chambermaid), and sunned himself once
more in the smiles of his mistress.

Now and then, however, as she was kind and not tyrannical, she felt a
pin-prick of compunction.

"If you would rather do anything else, don't hesitate to say so."

But Septimus, after having contemplated the world's potentialities of
action with lack-luster eye, would declare that there was nothing else that
could be done. Then she could rate him soundly.

"If I proposed that we should sail up the Andes and eat fried moonbeams,
you would say 'yes.' Why haven't you more initiative?"

"I'm like Mrs. Shandy," he replied. "Some people are born so. They are
quiescent; other people can jump about like grasshoppers. Do you know
grasshoppers are very interesting?" And he began to talk irrelevantly on
insects.

Their intercourse encouraged confidential autobiography. Zora learned the
whole of his barren history. Fatherless, motherless, brotherless, he was
alone in the world. From his father, Sir Erasmus Dix, a well-known
engineer, to whose early repression much of Septimus's timidity was due, he
had inherited a modest fortune. After leaving Cambridge he had wandered
aimlessly about Europe. Now he lived in a little house in Shepherd's Bush,
with a studio or shed at the end of the garden which he used as a
laboratory.

"Why Shepherd's Bush?" asked Zora.

"Wiggleswick likes it," said he.

"And now he has the whole house to himself? I suppose he makes himself
comfortable in your quarters and drinks your wine and smokes your cigars
with his friends. Did you lock things up?"

"Oh, yes, of course," said Septimus.

"And where are the keys?"

"Why Wiggleswick has them," he replied.

Zora drew in her breath. "You don't know how angry you make me. If ever I
meet Wiggleswick--"

"Well?"

"I'll talk to him," said Zora with a fine air of menace.

She, on her side, gave him such of her confidences as were meet for
masculine ears. Naturally she impressed upon him the fact that his sex was
abhorrent to her in all its physical, moral, and spiritual manifestations.
Septimus, on thinking the matter over, agreed with her. Memories came back
to him of the men with whom he had been intimate. His father, the
mechanical man who had cogs instead of corpuscles in his blood, Wiggleswick
the undesirable, a few rowdy men on his staircase at Cambridge who had led
shocking lives--once making a bonfire of his pyjamas and a brand-new
umbrella in the middle of the court--and had since come to early and
disastrous ends. His impressions of the sex were distinctly bad. Germs of
unutterable depravity, he was sure, lurked somewhere in his own nature.

"You make me feel," said he, "as if I weren't fit to black the boots of
Jezebel."

"That's a proper frame of mind," said Zora. "Would you be good and tie this
vexatious shoestring?"

The poor fool bent over it in reverent ecstasy, but Zora was only conscious
of the reddening of his gills as he stooped.

This, to her, was the charm of their intercourse: that he never presumed
upon their intimacy. When she remembered the prophecy of the Literary Man
from London, she laughed at it scornfully. Here was a man, at any rate, who
regarded her beauty unconcerned, and from whose society she derived no
emotional experiences. She felt she could travel safely with him to the end
of the earth.

This reflection came to her one morning while Turner, her maid, was
brushing her hair. The corollary followed: "why not?"

"Turner," she said, "I'll soon have seen enough of Monte Carlo. I must go
to Paris. What do you think of my asking Mr. Dix to come with us?"

"I think it would be most improper, ma'am," said Turner.

"There's nothing at all improper about it," cried Zora, with a flush. "You
ought to be ashamed of yourself."



CHAPTER IV


At Monte Carlo, as all the world knows, there is an Arcade devoted to the
most humorously expensive lace, diamond and general vanity shops in the
universe, the Hôtel Métropole and Ciro's Restaurant. And Ciro's has a
terrace where there are little afternoon tea-tables covered with pink
cloths.

It was late in the afternoon, and save for a burly Englishman in white
flannels and a Panama hat, reading a magazine by the door, and Zora and
Septimus, who sat near the public gangway, the terrace was deserted.
Inside, some men lounged about the bar drinking cocktails. The red Tzigane
orchestra were already filing into the restaurant and the electric lamps
were lit. Zora and Septimus had just returned from a day's excursion to
Cannes. They were pleasantly tired and lingered over their tea in a
companionable silence. Septimus ruminated dreamily over the nauseous
entanglement of a chocolate eclair and a cigarette while Zora idly watched
the burly Englishman. Presently she saw him do an odd thing. He tore out
the middle of the magazine,--it bore an American title on the
outside,--handed it to the waiter and put the advertisement pages in his
pocket. From another pocket he drew another magazine, and read the
advertisement pages of that with concentrated interest.

Her attention was soon distracted by a young couple, man and woman,
decently dressed, who passed along the terrace, glanced at her, repassed
and looked at her more attentively, the woman wistfully, and then stopped
out of earshot and spoke a few words together. They returned, seemed to
hesitate, and at last the woman, taking courage, advanced and addressed
her.

"_Pardon, Madame_--but Madame looks so kind. Perhaps will she pardon the
liberty of my addressing her?"

Zora smiled graciously. The woman was young, fragile, careworn, and a
piteous appeal lay in her eyes. The man drew near and raised his hat
apologetically. The woman continued. They had seen Madame there--and
Monsieur--both looked kind, like all English people. Although she was
French she was forced to admit the superior generosity of the English. They
had hesitated, but the kind look of Madame had made her confident. They
were from Havre. They had come to Nice to look after a lawsuit. Nearly all
their money had gone. They had a little baby who was ill. In desperation
they had brought the remainder of their slender fortune to Monte Carlo.
They had lost it. It was foolish, but yet the baby came out that day with
nine red spots on its chest and it seemed as if it was a sign from the bon
Dieu that they should back nine and red at the tables. Now she knew too
late that it was measles and not a sign from the bon Dieu at all. But they
were penniless. The baby wanted physic and a doctor and would die. As a
last resource they resolved to sink their pride and appeal to the
generosity of Monsieur and Madame. The woman's wistful eyes filled with
tears and the corners of her mouth quivered. The man with a great effort
choked a sob. Zora's generous heart melted at the tale. It rang so stupidly
true. The fragile creature's air was so pathetic. She opened her purse.

"Will a hundred francs be of any use to you?" she asked in her schoolgirl
French.

"Oh, Madame!"

"And I, too, will give a hundred to the baby," said Septimus. "I like
babies and I've also had the measles." He opened his pocketbook.

"Oh, Monsieur," said the man. "How can I ever be sufficiently grateful?"

He held out his hand for the note, when something hit him violently in the
back. It was the magazine hurled by the burly Englishman, who followed up
the assault by a torrent of abuse.

_"Allez-vous-ong! Cochons! Et plus vite que ça!"_ There was something
terrific in his awful British accent.

The pair turned in obvious dismay. He waved them off.

"Don't give them anything. The baby hasn't any red spots. There isn't a
baby. They daren't show their noses in the rooms. _Oh je vous connais. Vous
êtes George Polin et Celestine Macrou. Sales voleurs. Allez-vous-ong ou
j'appelle la police_."

But the last few words were shouted to the swiftly retiring backs of the
pathetic couple.

"I've saved you two hundred francs," said the burly Englishman, picking up
his magazine and tenderly smoothing it. "Those two are the most
accomplished swindlers in this den of thieves."

"I can't believe it," said Zora, half hurt, half resentful. "The woman's
eyes were full of tears."

"It's true," said her champion. "And the best of it is that the man is
actually an accredited agent of Jebusa Jones's Cuticle Remedy."

He stood, his hands on his broad hips, regarding her with the piercing
eyes of a man who is imparting an incredible but all-important piece of
information.

"Why the best of it?" asked Zora, puzzled.

"It only shows how unscrupulous they are in their business methods. A man
like that could persuade a fishmonger or an undertaker to stock it. But
he'll do them in the end. They'll suffer for it."

"Who will?"

"Why, Jebusa Jones, of course. Oh, I see," he continued, looking at the two
perplexed faces, "you don't know who I am. I am Clem Sypher."

He looked from one to the other as if to see the impression made by his
announcement.

"I am glad to make your acquaintance," said Septimus, "and I thank you for
your services."

"Your name?"

"My name is Dix--Septimus Dix."

"Delighted to meet you. I have seen you before. Two years ago. You were
sitting alone in the lounge of the Hôtel Continental, Paris. You were
suffering from severe abrasions on your face."

"Dear me," said Septimus. "I remember. I had shaved myself with a safety
razor. I invented it."

"I was going to speak to you, but I was prevented." He turned to Zora.

"I've met you too, on Vesuvius in January. You were with two elderly
ladies. You were dreadfully sunburnt. I made their acquaintance next day in
Naples. You had gone, but they told me your name. Let me see. I know
everybody and never forget anything. My mind is pigeon-holed like my
office. Don't tell me."

He held up his forefinger and fixed her with his eye.

"It's Middlemist," he cried triumphantly, "and you've an Oriental kind of
Christian name--Zora! Am I right?"

"Perfectly," she laughed, the uncanniness of his memory mitigating the
unconventionality of his demeanor.

"Now we all know one another," he said, swinging a chair round and sitting
unasked at the table. "You're both very sunburnt and the water here is hard
and will make the skin peel. You had better use some of the cure. I use it
myself every day--see the results."

He passed his hand over his smooth, clean-shaven face, which indeed was as
rosy as a baby's. His piercing eyes contrasted oddly with his chubby, full
lips and rounded chin.

"What cure?" asked Zora, politely.

"What cure?" he echoed, taken aback, "why, my cure. What other cure is
there?"

He turned to Septimus, who stared at him vacantly. Then the incredible
truth began to dawn on him.

"I am Clem Sypher--Friend of Humanity--Sypher's Cure. Now do you know?"

"I'm afraid I'm shockingly ignorant," said Zora.

"So am I," said Septimus.

"Good heavens!" cried Sypher, bringing both hands down on the table,
tragically. "Don't you ever read your advertisements?"

"I'm afraid not," said Zora.

"No," said Septimus.

Before his look of mingled amazement and reproach they felt like
Sunday-school children taken to task for having skipped the Kings of
Israel.

"Well," said Sypher, "this is the reward we get for spending millions of
pounds and the shrewdest brains in the country for the benefit of the
public! Have you ever considered what anxious thought, what consummate
knowledge of human nature, what dearly bought experience go to the making
of an advertisement? You'll go miles out of your way to see a picture or a
piece of sculpture that hasn't cost a man half the trouble and money to
produce, and you'll not look at an advertisement of a thing vital to your
life, though it is put before your eyes a dozen times a day. Here's my
card, and here are some leaflets for you to read at your leisure. They will
repay perusal."

He drew an enormous pocketbook from his breast pocket and selected two
cards and two pamphlets, which he laid on the table. Then he arose with an
air of suave yet offended dignity. Zora, seeing that the man, in some
strange way, was deeply hurt, looked up at him with a conciliatory smile.

"You mustn't bear me any malice, Mr. Sypher, because I'm so grateful to you
for saving us from these swindling people."

When Zora smiled into a man's eyes, she was irresistible. Sypher's pink
face relaxed.

"Never mind," he said. "I'll send you all the advertisements I can lay my
hands on in the morning. Au revoir."

He raised his hat and went away. Zora laughed across the table.

"What an extraordinary person!"

"I feel as if I had been talking to a typhoon," said Septimus.

       *       *       *       *       *

They went to the theater that evening, and during the first entr'acte
strolled into the rooms. Except the theater the Casino administration
provides nothing that can allure the visitor from the only purpose of the
establishment. Even the bar at the end of the atrium could tempt nobody not
seriously parched with thirst. It is the most comfortless pleasure-house in
Europe. You are driven, deliberately, in desperation into the rooms.

Zora and Septimus were standing by the decorous hush of a _trente et
quarante_ table, when they were joined by Mr. Clem Sypher. He greeted them
like old acquaintances.

"I reckoned I should meet you sometime to-night. Winning?"

"We never play," said Zora.

Which was true. A woman either plunges feverishly into the vice of gambling
or she is kept away from it by her inborn economic sense of the uses of
money. She cannot regard it like a man, as a mere amusement. Light loves
are somewhat in the same category. Hence many misunderstandings between the
sexes. Zora found the amusement profitless, the vice degraded. So, after
her first evening, she played no more. Septimus did not count.

"We never play," said Zora.

"Neither do I," said Sypher.

"The real way to enjoy Monte Carlo is to regard these rooms as
non-existent. I wish they were."

"Oh, don't say that," Sypher exclaimed quickly. "They are most useful. They
have a wisely ordained purpose. They are the meeting-place of the world. I
come here every year and make more acquaintances in a day than I do
elsewhere in a month. Soon I shall know everybody and everybody will know
me, and they'll take away with them to Edinburgh and Stockholm and Uruguay
and Tunbridge Wells--to all corners of the earth--a personal knowledge of
the cure."

"Oh--I see. From that point of view--" said Zora.

"Of course. What other could there be? You see the advantage? It makes the
thing human. It surrounds it with personality. It shows that 'Friend of
Humanity' isn't a cant phrase. They recommend the cure to their friends.
'Are you sure it's all right?' they are asked. 'Of course it is,' they can
reply. _'I know the man, Clem Sypher himself.'_ And the friends are
convinced and go about saying they know a man who knows Clem Sypher, and so
the thing spreads like a snowball. Have you read the pamphlet?"

"It was most interesting," said Zora mendaciously.

"I thought you'd find it so. I've brought something in my pocket for you."

He searched and brought out a couple of little red celluloid boxes, which
he handed to Septimus.

"There are two sample boxes of the cure--one for Mrs. Middlemist and one
for yourself, Mr. Dix. You both have a touch of the sun. Put it on
to-night. Let it stay there for five minutes; then rub off with a smooth,
dry towel. In the morning you'll see the miracle." He looked at Septimus
earnestly. "Quite sure you haven't anything in the nature of an eruption on
you?"

"Good Lord, no. Of course not," said Septimus, startled out of a dreamy
contemplation of the two little red boxes.

"That's a pity. It would have been so nice to cure you. Ah!" said he, with
a keen glance up the room. "There's Lord Rebenham. I must enquire after his
eczema. You won't forget me now. Clem Sypher. Friend of Humanity."

He bowed and withdrew, walking kindly and broad-shouldered trough the
crowd, like a benevolent deity, the latest thing in Æsculapiuses, among his
devotees.

"What am I to do with these?" asked Septimus, holding out the boxes.

"You had better give me mine, or heaven knows what will become of it," said
Zora, and she put it in her little chain bag, with her handkerchief, purse,
and powder-puff.

The next morning she received an enormous basket of roses and a bundle of
newspapers; also a card, bearing the inscription "Mr. Clem Sypher. The
Kurhaus. Kilburn Priory, N.W." She frowned ever so little at the flowers.
To accept them would be to accept Mr. Sypher's acquaintance in his private
and Kilburn Priory capacity. To send them back would be ungracious, seeing
that he had saved her a hundred francs and had cured her imaginary sunburn.
She took up the card and laughed. It was like him to name his residence
"The Kurhaus." She would never know him in his private capacity, for the
simple reason that he hadn't one. The roses were an advertisement. So
Turner unpacked the basket, and while Zora was putting the roses into water
she wondered whether Mr. Sypher's house was decorated with pictorial
advertisements of the cure instead of pictures. Her woman's instinct,
however, caused the reflection that the roses must have cost more than all
the boxes of the cure she could buy in a lifetime.

Septimus was dutifully waiting for her in the hall. She noted that he was
more spruce than usual, in a new gray cashmere suit, and that his brown
boots shone dazzlingly, like agates. They went out together, and the first
person who met their eyes was the Friend of Humanity sunning himself in the
square and feeding the pigeons with bread crumbs from a paper bag. As soon
as he saw Zora he emptied his bag and crossed over.

"Good morning, Mrs. Middlemist. Good morning, Mr. Dix. Used the cure? I
see you have, Mrs. Middlemist. Isn't it wonderful? If you'd only go about
Monte Carlo with an inscription 'Try Sypher's Cure!' What an advertisement!
I'd have you one done in diamonds! And how did you find it, Mr. Dix?"

"I--oh!" murmured Septimus. "I forgot about it last night--and this morning
I found I hadn't any brown boot polish--I--"

"Used the cure?" cried Zora, aghast.

"Yes," said Septimus, timidly. "It's rather good," and he regarded his
dazzling boots.

Clem Sypher burst into a roar of laughter and clapped Septimus on the
shoulder.

"Didn't I tell you?" he cried delightedly. "Didn't I tell you it's good for
everything? What cream could give you such a polish? By Jove! You deserve
to be on the free list for life. You've given me a line for an ad. 'If your
skin is all right, try it on your boots.' By George! I'll use it. This is a
man with ideas, Mrs. Middlemist. We must encourage him."

"Mr. Dix is an inventor," said Zora. She liked Sypher for laughing. It made
him human. It was therefore with a touch of kindly feeling that she thanked
him for the roses.

"I wanted to make them blush at the sight of your complexion after the
cure," said he.

It was a compliment, and Zora frowned; but it was a professional
compliment--so she smiled. Besides, the day was perfect, and Zora not only
had not a care in the wide world, but was conscious of a becoming hat. She
could not help smiling pleasantly on the world.

An empty motor car entered the square, and drew up near by. The chauffeur
touched his cap.

"I'll run you both over to Nice," said Clem Sypher. "I have to meet my
agent there and put the fear of God into him. I shan't be long. My methods
are quick. And I'll run you back again. Don't say no."

There was the car--a luxurious 40 h.p. machine, upholstered in green; there
was Clem Sypher, pink and strong, appealing to her with his quick eyes;
there was the sunshine and the breathless blue of the sky; and there was
Septimus Dix, a faithful bodyguard. She wavered and turned to Septimus.

"What do you say?"

She was lost. Septimus murmured something inconclusive. Sypher triumphed.
She went indoors to get her coat and veil. Sypher admiringly watched her
retreating figure--a poem of subtle curves--and shrugging himself into his
motor coat, which the chauffeur brought him from the car, he turned to
Septimus.

"Look here, Mr. Dix, I'm a straight man, and go straight to a point. Don't
be offended. Am I in the way?"

"Not in the least," said Septimus, reddening.

"As for me, I don't care a hang for anything in the universe save Sypher's
Cure. That's enough for one man to deal with. But I like having such a
glorious creature as Mrs. Middlemist in my car. She attracts attention; and
I can't say but what I'm not proud at being seen with her, both as a man
and a manufacturer. But that's all. Now, tell me, what's in your mind?"

"I don't think I quite like you--er--to look on Mrs. Middlemist as an
advertisement," said Septimus. To speak so directly cost him considerable
effort.

"Don't you? Then I won't. I love a man to speak straight to me. I respect
him. Here's my hand." He wrung Septimus's hand warmly. "I feel that we are
going to be friends. I'm never wrong. I hope Mrs. Middlemist will allow me
to be a friend. Tell me about her."

Septimus again reddened uncomfortably. He belonged to a class which does
not discuss its women with a stranger even though he be a newly sworn
brother.

"She mightn't care for it," he said.

Sypher once more clapped him on the shoulder. "Good again!" he cried,
admiringly. "I shouldn't like you half so much if you had told me. I've got
to know, for I know everything, so I'll ask her myself."

Zora came down coated and veiled, her face radiant as a Romney in its frame
of gauze. She looked so big and beautiful, and Sypher looked so big and
strong, and both seemed so full of vitality, that Septimus felt criminally
insignificant. His voice was of too low a pitch to make itself carry when
these two spoke in their full tones. He shrank into his shell. Had he not
realized, in his sensitive way, that without him as a watchdog--ineffectual
spaniel that he was--Zora would not accept Clem Sypher's invitation, he
would have excused himself from the drive. He differentiated, not
conceitedly, between Clem Sypher and himself. She had driven alone with him
on her first night at Monte Carlo. But then she had carried him off between
her finger and thumb, so to speak, as the Brobdingnagian ladies carried off
Gulliver. He knew that he did not count as a danger in the eyes of
high-spirited young women. A man like Sypher did. He knew that Zora would
not have driven alone with Sypher any more than with the wretch of the evil
eyes. He did not analyze this out himself, as his habit of mind was too
vague and dreamy. But he knew it instinctively, as a dog knows whom he can
trust with his mistress and whom he cannot. So when Sypher and Zora, with
a great bustle of life, were discussing seating arrangements in the car, he
climbed modestly into the front seat next to the chauffeur, and would not
be dislodged by Sypher's entreaties. He was just there, on guard, having no
place in the vigorous atmosphere of their personalities. He sat aloof,
smoking his pipe, and wondering whether he could invent a motor
perambulator which could run on rails round a small garden, fill the baby's
lungs with air, and save the British Army from the temptation of
nursery-maids. His sporadic discourse on the subject perplexed the
chauffeur.

It was a day of vivid glory. Rain had fallen heavily during the night,
laying the dust on the road and washing to gay freshness the leaves of
palms and gold-spotted orange trees and the purple bourgainvillea and other
flowers that rioted on wayside walls. All the deep, strong color of the
South was there, making things unreal: the gray mountains, fragile masses
against the solid cobalt of the sky. The Mediterranean met the horizon in a
blue so intense that the soul ached to see it. The heart of spring throbbed
in the deep bosom of summer. The air as they sped through it was like cool
spiced wine.

Zora listened to Clem Sypher's dithyrambics. The wine of the air had got
into his head. He spoke as she had heard no man speak before. The turns of
the road brought into sight view after magic view, causing her to catch her
breath: purple rock laughing in the sea, far-off townlets flashing white
against the mountain flank, gardens of paradise. Yet Clem Sypher sang of
his cure.

First it was a salve for all external ills that flesh is heir to. It spared
humanity its heritage of epidermatous suffering. It could not fail. He
reeled off the string of hideous diseases with a lyrical lilt. It was his
own discovery. An obscure chemist's assistant in Bury St. Edmunds, he had,
by dint of experiments, hit on this world-upheaving remedy.

"When I found what it was that I had done, Mrs. Middlemist," said he
solemnly, "I passed my vigil, like a knight of old, in my dispensary, with
a pot of the cure in front of me, and I took a great oath to devote my life
to spread it far and wide among the nations of the earth. It should bring
comfort, I swore, to the king in his palace and the peasant in his hut. It
should be a household word in the London slum and on the Tartar steppe.
Sypher's Cure could go with the Red Cross into battle, and should be in the
clerk's wife's cupboard in Peckham Rye. The human chamois that climbs the
Alps, the gentle lunatic that plays golf, the idiot that goes and gets
scalped by Red Indians, the missionary that gets half roasted by
cannibals--if he gets quite roasted the cure's no good; it can't do
impossibilities--all should carry Sypher's Cure in their waistcoat pockets.
All mankind should know it, from China to Peru, from Cape Horn to Nova
Zembla. It would free the tortured world from plague. I would be the Friend
of Humanity. I took that for my device. It was something to live for. I was
twenty then. I am forty now. I have had twenty years of the fiercest battle
that ever man fought."

"And surely you've come off victorious, Mr. Sypher," said Zora.

"I shall never be victorious until it has overspread the earth!" he
declared. And he passed one hand over the other in a gesture which
symbolized the terrestrial globe with a coating of Sypher's Cure.

"Why shouldn't it?"

"It shall. Somehow, I believe that with you on my side it will."

"I?" Zora started away to the corner of the car, and gazed on him in blank
amazement. "I? What in the world have I to do with it?"

"I don't know yet," said Sypher. "I have an intuition. I'm a believer in
intuitions. I've followed them all my life, and they've never played me
false. The moment I learned that you had never heard of me, I felt it."

Zora breathed comfortably again. It was not an implied declaration.

"I'm fighting against the Powers of Darkness," he continued. "I once read a
bit of Spenser's 'Faërie Queene.' There was a Red Cross Knight who slew a
Dragon--but he had a fabulous kind of woman behind him. When I saw you, you
seemed that fabulous kind of woman."

At a sharp wall corner a clump of tall poinsettias flamed against the sky.
Zora laughed full-heartedly.

"Here we are in the middle of a Fairy Tale. What are the Powers of Darkness
in your case, Sir Red Cross Knight?"

"Jebusa Jones's Cuticle Remedy," said Sypher savagely.



CHAPTER V


That was Clem Sypher's Dragon--Jebusa Jones's Cuticle Remedy. He drew so
vivid a picture of its foul iniquity that Zora was convinced that the earth
had never harbored so scaly a horror. Of all Powers of Evil in the universe
it was the most devastating.

She was swept up by his eloquence to his point of view, and saw things with
his eyes. When she came to examine the poor dragon in the cool light of her
own reason it appeared at the worst to be but a pushful patent medicine of
an inferior order which, on account of its cheapness and the superior
American skill in distributing it, was threatening to drive Sypher's Cure
off the market.

"I'll strangle it as Hercules strangled the dog-headed thing," cried
Sypher.

He meant the Hydra, which wasn't dog-headed and which Hercules didn't
strangle. But a man can be at once unmythological and sincere. Clem Sypher
was in earnest.

"You talk as if your cure had something of a divine sanction," said Zora.
This was before her conversion.

"Mrs. Middlemist, if I didn't believe that," said Sypher solemnly, "do you
think I would have devoted my life to it?"

"I thought people ran these things to make money," said Zora.

It was then that Sypher entered on the exordium of the speech which
convinced her of the diabolical noisomeness of the Jebusa Jones unguent.
His peroration summed up the contest as that between Mithra and Ahriman.

Yet Zora, though she took a woman's personal interest in the battle
between Sypher's Cure and Jebusa Jones's Cuticle Remedy, siding loyally and
whole-heartedly with her astonishing host, failed to pierce to the
spirituality of the man--to divine him as a Poet with an Ideal.

"After all," said Sypher on the way back--Septimus, with his coat-collar
turned up over his ears, still sat on guard by the chauffeur, consoled by a
happy hour he had spent alone with his mistress after lunch, while Sypher
was away putting the fear of God into his agent, during which hour he had
unfolded to her his scientific philosophy of perambulators--"after all,"
said Sypher, "the great thing is to have a Purpose in Life. Everyone can't
have my Purpose "--he apologized for humanity--"but they can have some
guiding principle. What's yours?"

Zora was startled by the unexpected question. What was her Purpose in Life?
To get to the heart of the color of the world? That was rather vague. Also
nonsensical when so formulated. She took refuge in jest.

"I thought you had decided that my mission was to help you slay the
dragon?"

"We have to decide on our missions for ourselves," said he.

"Don't you think it sufficient Purpose for a woman who has been in a gray
prison all her life--when she finds herself free--to go out and see all
that is wonderful in scenery like this, in paintings, architecture,
manners, and customs of other nations, in people who have other ideas and
feelings from those she knew in prison? You speak as if you're finding
fault with me for not doing anything useful. Isn't what I do enough? What
else can I do?"

"I don't know," said Sypher, looking at the back of his gloves; then he
turned his head and met her eyes in one of his quick glances. "But you,
with your color and your build and your voice, seem somehow to me to stand
for Force--there's something big about you--just as there's something big
about me--Napoleonic--and I can't understand why it doesn't act in some
particular direction."

"Oh, you must give me time," cried Zora. "Time to expand, to find out what
kind of creature I really am. I tell you I've been in prison. Then I
thought I was free and found a purpose, as you call it. Then I had a
knock-down blow. I am a widow--I supposed you've guessed. Oh, now, don't
speak. It wasn't grief. My married life was a six-weeks' misery. I forget
it. I went away from home free five months ago--to see all this"--she waved
her hand--"for the first time. Whatever force I have has been devoted to
seeing it all, to taking it all in."

She spoke earnestly, just a bit passionately. In the silence that followed
she realized with sudden amazement that she had opened her heart to this
prime apostle of quackery. As he made no immediate reply, the silence grew
tense and she clasped her hands tight, and wondered, as her sex has done
from time immemorial, why on earth she had spoken. When he answered it was
kindly.

"You've done me a great honor in telling me this. I understand. You want
the earth, or as much of it as you can get, and when you've got it and
found out what it means, you'll make a great use of it. Have you many
friends?"

"No," said Zora. He had an uncanny way of throwing her back on to
essentials. "None stronger than myself."

"Will you take me as a friend? I'm strong enough," said Sypher.

"Willingly," she said, dominated by his earnestness.

"That's good. I may be able to help you when you've found your vocation. I
can tell you, at any rate, how to get to what you want. You've just got to
keep a thing in view and go for it and never let your eyes wander to right
or left or up or down. And looking back is fatal--the truest thing in
Scripture is about Lot's wife. She looked back and was turned into a pillar
of salt."

He paused, his face assumed an air of profound reflection, and he added
with gravity:

"And the Clem Sypher of the period when he came by, made use of her, and
plastered her over with posters of his cure."

       *       *       *       *       *

The day she had appointed as the end of her Monte Carlo visit arrived. She
would first go to Paris, where some Americans whom she had met in Florence
and with whom she had exchanged occasional postcards pressed her to join
them. Then London; and then a spell of rest in the lavender of Nunsmere.
That was her programme. Septimus Dix was to escort her as far as Paris, in
defiance of the proprieties as interpreted by Turner. What was to become of
him afterwards neither conjectured; least of all Septimus himself. He said
nothing about getting back to Shepherd's Bush. Many brilliant ideas had
occurred to him during his absence which needed careful working out.
Wherefore Zora concluded that he proposed to accompany her to London.

A couple of hours before the train started she dispatched Turner to
Septimus's hotel to remind him of the journey. Turner, a strong-minded
woman of forty--like the oyster she had been crossed in love and like her
mistress she held men in high contempt--returned with an indignant tale.
After a series of parleyings with Mr. Dix through the medium of the hotel
_chasseur_, who had a confused comprehension of voluble English, she had
mounted at Mr. Dix's entreaty to his room. There she found him, half clad
and in his dressing-gown, staring helplessly at a wilderness of clothing
and toilet articles for which there was no space in his suit cases and bag,
already piled mountain high.

"I can never do it, Turner," he said as she entered. "What's to be done?"

Turner replied that she did not know; her mistress's instructions were that
he should catch the train.

"I'll have to leave behind what I can't get in," he said despondently. "I
generally have to do so. I tell the hotel people to give it to widows and
orphans. But that's one of the things that make traveling so expensive."

"But you brought everything, sir, in this luggage?"

"I suppose so. Wiggleswick packed. It's his professional training, Turner.
I think they call it 'stowing the swag.'"

As Turner had not heard of Wiggleswick's profession, she did not catch the
allusion. Nor did Zora enlighten her when she reported the conversation.

"If they went in once they'll go in again," said Turner.

"They won't. They never do," said Septimus.

His plight was so hopeless, he seemed so immeasurably her sex's inferior,
that he awoke her contemptuous pity. Besides, her trained woman's hands
itched to restore order out of masculine chaos.

"Turn everything out and I'll pack for you," she said resolutely,
regardless of the proprieties. On further investigation she held out
horrified hands.

He had mixed up shirts with shoes. His clothes were rolled in bundles, his
collars embraced his sponge, his trees, divorced from boots, lay on the top
of an unprotected bottle of hair-wash; he had tried to fit his brushes
against a box of tooth-powder and the top had already come off. Turner
shook out his dress suit and discovered a couple of hotel towels which had
got mysteriously hidden in the folds. She held them up severely.

"No wonder you can't get your things in if you take away half the hotel
linen," and she threw them to the other side of the room.

In twenty minutes she had worked the magic of Wiggleswick. Septimus was
humbly grateful.

"If I were you, sir," she said, "I'd go to the station at once and sit on
my boxes till my mistress arrives."

"I think I'll do it, Turner," said Septimus.

Turner went back to Zora flushed, triumphant, and indignant.

"If you think, ma'am," said she, "that Mr. Dix is going to help us on our
journey, you're very much mistaken. He'll lose his ticket and he'll lose
his luggage and he'll lose himself, and we'll have to go and find them."

"You must take Mr. Dix humorously," said Zora.

"I've no desire to take him at all, ma'am." And Turner snorted virtuously,
as became her station.

Zora found him humbly awaiting her on the platform in company with Clem
Sypher, who presented her with a great bunch of roses and a bundle of
illustrated papers. Septimus had received as a parting guerdon an enormous
package of the cure, which he embraced somewhat dejectedly. It was Sypher
who looked after the luggage of the party. His terrific accent filled the
station. Septimus regarded him with envy. He wondered how a man dared
order foreign railway officials about like that.

"If I tried to do it they would lock me up. I once interfered in a street
row."

Zora did not hear the dire results of the interference. Sypher claimed her
attention until the train was on the point of starting.

"Your address in England? You haven't given it."

"The Nook, Nunsmere, Surrey, will always find me."

"Nunsmere?" He paused, pencil in hand, and looked up at her as she stood
framed in the railway carriage window. "I nearly bought a house there last
year. I was looking out for one with a lawn reaching down to a main railway
track. This one had it."

"Penton Court?"

"Yes. That was the name."

"It's still unsold," laughed Zora idly.

"I'll buy it at once," said he.

_"En voiture_," cried the guard.

Sypher put out his masterful hand.

"Au revoir. Remember. We are friends. I never say what I don't mean."

The train moved out of the station. Zora took her seat opposite Septimus.

"I really believe he'll do it," she said.

"What?"

"Oh, something crazy," said Zora. "Tell me about the street row."

       *       *       *       *       *

In Paris Zora was caught in the arms of the normal and the uneventful. An
American family consisting of a father, mother, son and two daughters
touring the continent do not generate an atmosphere of adventure. Their
name was Callender, they were wealthy, and the track beaten by the golden
feet of their predecessors was good enough for them. They were generous and
kindly. There was no subtle complexity in their tastes. They liked the
best, they paid for it, and they got it. The women were charming,
cultivated and eager for new sensations. They found Zora a new sensation,
because she had that range of half tones which is the heritage of a child
of an older, grayer civilization. Father and son delighted in her. Most men
did. Besides, she relieved the family tedium. The family knew the Paris of
the rich Anglo-Saxon and other rich Anglo-Saxons in Paris. Zora accompanied
them on their rounds. They lunched and dined in the latest expensive
restaurants in the Champs Elysées and the Bois; they went to races; they
walked up and down the Rue de la Paix and the Avenue de l'Opéra and visited
many establishments where the female person is adorned. After the theater
they drove to the Cabarets of Montmartre, where they met other Americans
and English, and felt comfortably certain that they were seeing the
naughty, shocking underside of Paris. They also went to the Louvre and to
the Tomb of Napoleon. They stayed at the Grand Hotel.

Zora saw little of Septimus. He knew Paris in a queer, dim way of his own,
and lived in an obscure hotel, whose name Zora could not remember, on the
other side of the river. She introduced him to the Callenders, and they
were quite prepared to receive him into their corporation. But he shrank
from so vast a concourse as six human beings; he seemed to be overawed by
the multitude of voices, unnerved by the multiplicity of personalities. The
unfeathered owl blinked dazedly in general society as the feathered one
does in daylight. At first he tried to stand the glare for Zora's sake.

"Come out and mix with people and enjoy yourself," cried Zora, when he was
arguing against a proposal to join the party on a Versailles excursion. "I
want you to enjoy yourself for once in your life. Besides--you're always so
anxious to be human. This will make you human."

"Do you think it will?" he asked seriously. "If you do, I'll come."

But at Versailles they lost him, and the party, as a party, knew him no
more. What he did with himself in Paris Zora could not imagine. A Cambridge
acquaintance--one of the men on his staircase who had not yet terminated
his disastrous career--ran across him in the Boulevard Sévastopol.

"Why--if it isn't the Owl! What are you doing?"

"Oh--hooting," said Septimus.

Which was more information as to his activities than he vouchsafed to give
Zora. Once he murmured something about a friend whom he saw occasionally.
When she asked him where his friend lived he waved an indeterminate hand
eastwards and said, "There!" It was a friend, thought Zora, of whom he had
no reason to be proud, for he prevented further questioning by adroitly
changing the conversation to the price of hams.

"But what are you going to do with hams?"

"Nothing," said Septimus, "but when I see hams hanging up in a shop I
always want to buy them. They look so shiny."

Zora's delicate nostrils sniffed the faintest perfume of a mystery; but a
moment afterwards the Callenders carried her off to Ledoyen's and
Longchamps and other indubitable actualities in which she forgot things
less tangible. Long afterwards she discovered that the friend was an old
woman, a _marchande des quatre saisons_ who sold vegetables in the Place de
la République. He had known her many years, and as she was at the point of
death he comforted her with blood-puddings and flowers and hams and the
ministrations of an indignant physician. But at the time Septimus hid his
Good Samaritanism under a cloud of vagueness.

Then came a period during which Zora lost him altogether. Days passed. She
missed him. Life with the Callenders was a continuous shooting of rapids. A
quiet talk with Septimus was an hour in a backwater, curiously restful. She
began to worry. Had he been run over by an omnibus? Only an ever-recurring
miracle could bring him safely across the streets of a great city. When the
Callenders took her to the Morgue she dreaded to look at the corpses.

"I do wish I knew what has become of him," she said to Turner.

"Why not write to him, ma'am?" Turner suggested.

"I've forgotten the name of his hotel," said Zora, wrinkling her forehead.

The name of the Hôtel Quincamboeuf, where he lodged, eluded her memory.

"I do wish I knew," she repeated.

Then she caught an involuntary but illuminating gleam in Turner's eye, and
she bade her look for hairpins. Inwardly she gasped from the shock of
revelation; then she laughed to herself, half amused, half indignant. The
preposterous absurdity of the suggestion! But in her heart she realized
that, in some undefined human fashion, Septimus Dix counted for something
in her life. What had become of him?

At last she found him one morning sitting by a table in the courtyard of
the Grand Hotel, patiently awaiting her descent. By mere chance she was
un-Callendered.

"Why, what--?"

The intended reproval died on her lips as she saw his face. His cheeks were
hollow and white, his eyes sunken The man was ill. His hand burned through
her glove. Feelings warm and new gushed forth.

"Oh, my _dear_ friend, what is the matter?"

"I must go back to England. I came to say good-bye. I've had this from
Wiggleswick."

He handed her an open letter. She waved it away.

"That's of no consequence. Sit down. You're ill. You have a high
temperature. You should be in bed."

"I've been," said Septimus. "Four days."

"And you've got up in this state? You must go back at once. Have you seen a
doctor? No, of course you haven't. Oh, dear!" She wrung her hands. "You are
not fit to be trusted alone. I'll drive you to your hotel and see that
you're comfortable and send for a doctor."

"I've left the hotel," said Septimus. "I'm going to catch the eleven train.
My luggage is on that cab."

"But it's five minutes past eleven now. You have lost the train--thank
goodness."

"I'll be in good time for the four o'clock," said Septimus. "This is the
way I generally travel. I told you." He rose, swayed a bit, and put his
hand on the table to steady himself. "I'll go and wait at the station. Then
I'll be sure to catch it. You see I must go."

"But why?" cried Zora.

"Wiggleswick's letter. The house has been burnt down and everything in it.
The only thing he saved was a large portrait of Queen Victoria."

Then he fainted.

       *       *       *       *       *

Zora had him carried to a room in the hotel and sent for a doctor, who kept
him in bed for a fortnight. Zora and Turner nursed him, much to his
apologetic content. The Callenders in the meanwhile went to Berlin.

When Septimus got up, gaunt and staring, he appealed to the beholder as the
most helpless thing which the Creator had clothed in the semblance of a
man.

"He must take very great care of himself for the next few weeks," said the
doctor. "If he gets a relapse I won't answer for the consequences. Can't
you take him somewhere?"

"Take him somewhere?" The idea had been worrying her for some days past. If
she left him to his own initiative he would probably go and camp with
Wiggleswick amid the ruins of his house in Shepherd's Bush, where he would
fall ill again and die. She would be responsible.

"We can't leave him here, at any rate," she remarked to Turner.

Turner agreed. As well abandon a month-old baby on a doorstep and expect it
to earn its livelihood. She also had come to take a proprietary interest in
Septimus.

"He might stay with us in Nunsmere. What do you think, Turner?"

"I think, ma'am," said Turner, "that would be the least improper
arrangement."

"He can have Cousin Jane's room," mused Zora, knowing that Cousin Jane
would fly at her approach.

"And I'll see, ma'am, that he comes down to his meals regular," said
Turner.

"Then it's settled," said Zora.

She went forthwith to the invalid and acquainted him with his immediate
destiny. At first he resisted. He would be a nuisance. Since his boyhood he
had never lived in a lady's house. Even landladies in lodgings had found
him impossible. He could not think of accepting more favors from her all
too gracious hands.

"You've got to do what you're told," said Zora, conclusively. She noticed a
shade of anxiety cross his face. "Is there anything else?"

"Wiggleswick. I don't know what's to become of him."

"He can come to Nunsmere and lodge with the local policeman," said Zora.

On the evening before they started from Paris she received a letter
addressed in a curiously feminine hand. It ran:

  "DEAR MRS. MIDDLEMIST:

  "I don't let the grass grow under my feet. I have bought Penton Court. I
  have also started a campaign which will wipe the Jebusa Jones people off
  the face of the earth they blacken. I hope you are finding a vocation.
  When I am settled at Nunsmere we must talk further of this. I take a
  greater interest in you than in any other woman I have ever known, and
  that I believe you take an interest in me is the proud privilege of

  "Yours very faithfully,
  "CLEM SYPHER."

"Here are the three railway tickets, ma'am," said Turner, who had brought
up the letter. "I think we had better take charge of them."

Zora laughed, and when Turner had left the room she laughed again. Clem
Sypher's letter and Septimus's ticket lay side by side on her
dressing-table, and they appealed to her sense of humor. They represented
the net result of her misanthropic travels.

What would her mother say? What would Emmy say? What would be the superior
remark of the Literary Man from London?

She, Zora Middlemist, who had announced in the market place, with such a
flourish of trumpets, that she was starting on her glorious pilgrimage to
the Heart of Life, abjuring all conversation with the execrated male sex,
to have this ironical adventure! It was deliciously funny. Not only had she
found two men in the Heart of Life, but she was bringing them back with her
to Nunsmere. She could not hide them from the world in the secrecy of her
own memory: there they were in actual, bodily presence, the sole trophies
of her quest.

Yet she put a postscript to a letter to her mother.

"I know, in your dear romantic way, you will declare that these two men
have fallen in love with me. You'll be wrong. If they had, _I shouldn't
have anything to do with them. It would have made them quite impossible_."

The energy with which she licked and closed the envelope was remarkable but
unnecessary.



CHAPTER VI


Things happen slowly at Nunsmere--from the grasping of an idea to the pace
of the church choir over the hymns. Life there is no vulgar, tearing
two-step, as it is in Godalming, London, and other vortices of human
passions, but the stately measure of a minuet. Delights are deliberate and
have lingering ends. A hen would scorn to hatch a chicken with the indecent
haste of her sister in the next parish.

Six months passed, and Zora wondered what had become of them. Only a few
visits to London, where she had consorted somewhat gaily with Emmy's
acquaintances, had marked their flight, and the gentle fingers of Nunsmere
had graduated the reawakening of her nostalgia for the great world. She
spoke now and then of visiting Japan and America and South Africa, somewhat
to her mother's consternation; but no irresistible force drove her thither.
She found contentment in procrastination.

It had also been a mild amusement to settle Septimus Dix, after his
recovery, in a little house facing the common. He had to inhabit some
portion of this planet, and as he had no choice of spot save Hackney Downs,
which Wiggleswick suggested, Zora waved her hand to the tenantless house
and told him to take it. As there was an outhouse at the end of the garden
which he could use as a workshop, his principal desideratum in a residence,
he obeyed her readily. She then bought his furniture, plate, and linen,
and a complicated kitchen battery over whose uses Wiggleswick scratched a
bewildered head.

"A saucepan I know, and a frying-pan I know, but what you're to put in
those things with holes in them fairly licks me."

"Perhaps we might grow geraniums in them," said Septimus brightly, alter a
fit of musing.

"If you do," said Zora, "I'll put a female cook in charge of you both, and
wash my hands of you."

Whereupon she explained the uses of a cullender, and gave Wiggleswick to
understand that she was a woman of her word, and that an undrained cabbage
would be the signal for the execution of her threat. From the first she had
assumed despotic power over Wiggleswick, of whose influence with his master
she had been absurdly jealous. But Wiggleswick, bent, hoary, deaf, crabbed,
evil old ruffian that he was, like most ex-prisoners instinctively obeyed
the word of command, and meekly accepted Zora as his taskmistress.

For Septimus began happy days wherein the clock was disregarded. The vague
projects that had filled his head for the construction of a new type of
quick-firing gun took definite shape. Some queer corner of his brain had
assimilated a marvelous knowledge of field artillery, and Zora was amazed
at the extent of his technical library, which Wiggleswick had overlooked in
his statement of the salvage from the burned-down house at Shepherd's Bush.
Now and then he would creep from the shyness which enveloped the inventive
side of his nature, and would talk with her with unintelligible earnestness
of these dreadful engines; of radial and initial hoop pressures, of drift
angles, of ballistics, of longitudinal tensions, and would jot down
trigonometrical formulae illustrated by diagrams until her brain reeled;
or of his treatise on guns of large caliber just written and now in the
printers' hands, and of the revolution in warfare these astounding machines
would effect. His eyes would lose their dreamy haze and would become
luminous, his nervous fingers would become effectual, the man would become
transfigured; but as soon as the fervid fit passed off he would turn with
amiable aimlessness to his usual irrelevance. Sometimes he would work all
night, either in his room or his workshop, at his inventions. Sometimes he
would dream for days together. There was an old-fashioned pond in the
middle of the common, with rough benches placed here and there at the
brink. Septimus loved to sit on one of them and look at the ducks. He said
he was fascinated by the way they wagged their tails. It suggested an
invention: of what nature he could not yet determine. He also formed a
brotherly intimacy with a lame donkey belonging to the sexton, and used to
feed him with _pâté de foie gras_ sandwiches, specially prepared by
Wiggleswick, until he was authoritatively informed that raw carrots would
be more acceptable. To see the two of them side by side watching the ducks
in the pond wag their tails was a touching spectacle.

Another amenity in Septimus's peaceful existence was Emmy.

Being at this time out of an engagement, she paid various flying visits to
Nunsmere, bringing with her an echo of comic opera and an odor of _Peau
d'Espagne_. She dawned on Septimus's horizon like a mischievous and
impertinent planet, so different from Zora, the great fixed star of his
heaven, yet so pretty, so twinkling, so artlessly and so obviously
revolving round some twopenny-halfpenny sun of her own, that he took her,
with Wiggleswick, the ducks and the donkey, into his close comradeship. It
was she who had ordained the carrots. She had hair like golden thistledown,
and the dainty, blonde skin that betrays every motion of the blood. She
could blush like the pink tea-rose of an old-fashioned English garden. She
could blanch to the whiteness of alabaster. Her eyes were forget-me-nots
after rain. Her mouth was made for pretty slang and kisses. Neither her
features nor her most often photographed expression showed the tiniest
scrap of what the austere of her sex used to call character. When the world
smiled on her she laughed: when it frowned, she cried. When she met
Septimus Dix, she flew to him as a child does to a new toy, and spent
gorgeous hours in pulling him to pieces to see how he worked.

"Why aren't you married?" she asked him one day.

He looked up at the sky--they were on the common--an autumn stretch of
pearls and purples, with here and there a streak of wistful blue, as if
seeking the inspiration of a reason.

"Because no one has married me," he replied.

Emmy laughed. "That's just like you. You expect a woman to drag you out of
your house by the scruff of your neck and haul you to church without your
so much as asking her."

"I've heard that lots of women do," said Septimus.

Emmy looked at him sharply. Every woman resents a universal criticism of
her sex, but cannot help feeling a twinge of respect for the critic. She
took refuge in scorn.

"A real man goes out and looks for a wife."

"But suppose he doesn't want one?"

"He must want a woman to love. What can his life be without a woman in it?
What can anybody's life be without some one to care for? I really believe
you're made of sawdust. Why don't you fall in love?"

Septimus took off his hat, ran his fingers through his upstanding hair,
re-covered his head, and looked at her helplessly.

"Oh, no! I'm booked. It's no use your falling in love with me."

"I wouldn't--presume to do such a thing," he stammered, somewhat scared. "I
think love is serious. It's like an invention: sometimes it lies deep down
inside you, great and quiet--and at other times it racks you and keeps you
from sleeping."

"Oho!" cried Emmy. "So you know all about it. You _are_ in love. Now, tell
me, who is she?"

"It was many years ago," said Septimus. "She wore pigtails and I burned a
hole in her pinafore with a toy cannon and she slapped my face. Afterwards
she married a butcher."

He looked at her with his wan smile, and again raised his hat and ran his
hand through his hair. Emmy was not convinced.

"I believe," she said, "you have fallen in love with Zora."

He did not reply for a moment or two; then he touched her arm.

"Please don't say that," he said, in an altered tone.

Emmy edged up close to him, as they walked. It was her nature, even while
she teased, to be kind and caressing.

"Not even if it's true? Why not?"

"Things like that are not spoken of," he said soberly. "They're only felt."

This time it was she who put a hand on his arm, with a charming, sisterly
air.

"I hope you won't make yourself miserable over it. You see, Zora is
impossible. She'll never marry again. I do hope it's not serious. Is it?"
As he did not answer, she continued: "It would be such--such rot wasting
your life over a thing you haven't a chance of getting."

"Why?" said Septimus. "Isn't that the history of the best lives?"

This philosophic plane was too high for Emmy, who had her pleasant being in
a less rarified atmosphere. "To want, to get, to enjoy," was the guiding
motto of her existence. What was the use of wanting unless you got, and
what was the use of getting unless you enjoyed? She came to the conclusion
that Septimus was only sentimentally in love with Zora, and she regarded
his tepid passion as a matter of no importance. At the same time her easy
discovery delighted her. It invested Septimus with a fresh air of
comicality.

"You're just the sort of man to write poetry about her. Don't you?"

"Oh, no!" said Septimus.

"Then what do you do?"

"I play the bassoon," said he.

Emmy clapped her hands with joy, thereby scaring a hen that was straying on
the common.

"Another accomplishment? Why didn't you tell us? I'm sure Zora doesn't know
of it. Where did you learn?"

"Wiggleswick taught me," said he. "He was once in a band."

"You must bring it round," cried Emmy.

But when Septimus, prevailed on by her entreaties, did appear with the
instrument in Mrs. Oldrieve's drawing-room, he made such unearthly and
terrific noises that Mrs. Oldrieve grew pale and Zora politely but firmly
took it from his hands and deposited it in the umbrella-stand in the hall.

"I hope you don't mind," she said.

"Oh, dear, no," said Septimus mildly. "I could never make out why anybody
liked it."

Seeing that Septimus had a sentimental side to his character, Emmy
gradually took him into her confidence, until Septimus knew things that
Zora did not dream of. Zora, who had been married, and had seen the world
from Nunsmere Pond to the crater of Mount Vesuvius, treated her sister with
matronly indulgence, as a child to whom Great Things were unrevealed. She
did not reckon with the rough-and-tumble experiences of life which a girl
must gain from a two years' battle on the stage. In fact, she did not
reckon with any of the circumstances of Emmy's position. She herself was
too ignorant, too much centered as yet in her own young impulses and
aspirations, and far too serene in her unquestioning faith in the
impeccability of the Oldrieve family. To her Emmy was still the
fluffy-haired little sister with caressing ways whom she could send
upstairs for her work-basket or could reprimand for a flirtation. Emmy knew
that Zora loved her dearly; but she was the least bit in the world afraid
of her, and felt that in affairs of the heart she would be unsympathetic.
So Emmy withheld her confidence from Zora, and gave it to Septimus.
Besides, it always pleases a woman more to tell her secrets to a man than
to another woman. There is more excitement in it, even though the man be as
unmoved as a stock-fish.

Thus it fell out that Septimus heard of Mordaunt Prince, whose constant
appearance in Emmy's London circle of friends Zora had viewed with
plentiful lack of interest. He was a paragon of men. He acted like a
Salvini and sang like an angel. He had been far too clever to take his
degree at Oxford. He had just bought a thousand-guinea motor car,
and--Septimus was not to whisper a word of it to Zora--she had recently
been on a three-days' excursion with him. Mordaunt Prince said this and
Mordaunt Prince said that. Mordaunt paid three guineas a pair for his brown
boots. He had lately divorced his wife, an unspeakable creature only too
anxious for freedom. Mordaunt came to see her every day in London, and
every day during their absence they corresponded. Her existence was wrapped
up in Mordaunt Prince. She traveled about with a suit-case (or so it
appeared to Septimus) full of his photographs. He had been the leading man
at the theater where she had her last engagement, and had fallen madly,
devotedly, passionately in love with her. As soon as the divorce was made
absolute they would be married. She had quarreled with her best friend, who
had tried to make mischief between them with a view to securing Mordaunt
for herself. Had Septimus ever heard of such a cat? Septimus hadn't.

He was greatly interested in as much of the story as he could follow--Emmy
was somewhat discursive--and as his interjectory remarks were unprovocative
of argument, he constituted himself a good listener. Besides, romance had
never come his way. It was new to him, even Emmy's commonplace little
romance, like a field of roses to a town-bred child, and it seemed sweet
and gracious, a thing to dream about. His own distant worship of Zora did
not strike him as romantic. It was a part of himself, like the hallowed
memory of his mother and the conception of his devastating guns. Had he
been more worldly-wise he would have seen possible danger in Emmy's
romance, and insisted on Zora being taken into their confidence. But
Septimus believed that the radiant beings of the earth, such as Emmy and
Mordaunt Prince, from whom a quaint destiny kept him aloof, could only lead
radiant lives, and the thought of harm did not cross his candid mind. Even
while keeping Emmy's secret from Zora, he regarded it as a romantic and
even dainty deceit.

Zora, seeing him happy with his guns and Wiggleswick and Emmy, applauded
herself mightily as a contriver of good. Her mother also put ideas into her
head.

From the drawing-room window they once saw Emmy and Septimus part at the
little front gate. They had evidently returned from a walk. She plucked a
great white chrysanthemum bloom from a bunch she was carrying, flicked it
laughingly in his face, and stuck it in his buttonhole.

"What a good thing it would be for Emmy," said Mrs. Oldrieve, with a sigh.

"To marry Septimus? Oh, mother!"

She laughed merrily; then all at once she became serious.

"Why not?" she cried, and kissed her mother.

Mrs. Oldrieve settled her cap. She was small and Zora was large, and Zora's
embraces were often disarranging.

"He is a gentleman and can afford to keep a wife."

"And steady?" said Zora, with a smile.

"I should think quite steady," said Mrs. Oldrieve, without one.

"And he would amuse Emmy all day long."

"I don't think it is part of a husband's duty, dear, to amuse his wife,"
said Mrs. Oldrieve.

The sudden entrance of Emmy, full of fresh air, laughter, and
chrysanthemums, put an end to the conversation; but thenceforward Zora
thought seriously of romantic possibilities. Like her mother, she did not
entirely approve of Emmy's London circle. It was characterized by too much
freedom, too great a lack of reticence. People said whatever came into
their minds, and did, apparently, whatever occurred to their bodies. She
could not quite escape from her mother's Puritan strain. For herself she
felt secure. She, Zora, could wander unattended over Europe, mixing without
spot or stain with whatever company she listed; that was because she was
Zora Middlemist, a young woman of exceptional personality and experience of
life. Ordinary young persons, for their own safe conduct, ought to obey the
conventions which were made with that end in view; and Emmy was an ordinary
young person. She should marry; it would conduce to her moral welfare, and
it would be an excellent thing for Septimus. The marriage was therefore
made in the unclouded heaven of Zora's mind. She shed all her graciousness
over the young couple. Never had Emmy felt herself enwrapped in more
sisterly affection. Never had Septimus dreamed of such tender solicitude.
Yet she sang Septimus's praises to Emmy and Emmy's praises to Septimus in
so natural a manner that neither of the two was puzzled.

"It is the natural instinct that makes every woman a matchmaker. She works
blindly towards the baby. If she cannot have one directly, she will have it
vicariously. The sourest of old maids is thus doomed to have a hand in the
perpetuation of the race."

Thus spake the Literary Man from London, discoursing generally--out of
earshot of the Vicar and his wife, to whom he was paying one of his
periodical visits--in a corner of their drawing-room. Zora, conscious of
matchmaking, declared him to be horrid and physiological.

"A woman is much more refined and delicate in her motives."

"The highly civilized woman," said Rattenden, "is delightfully refined in
her table manners, and eats cucumber sandwiches in the most delicate way in
the world; but she is obeying the same instinct that makes your lady
cannibal thrust raw gobbets of missionary into her mouth with her fingers."

"Your conversation is revolting," said Zora.

"Because I speak the truth? Truth is a Mokanna."

"What on earth is that?" asked Zora.

The Literary man sighed. "The Veiled Prophet of Khorasan, Lalla Rookh, Tom
Moore. Ichabod."

"It sounds like a cypher cablegram," said Zora flippantly. "But go on."

"I will. Truth, I say, is a Mokanna. So long as it's decently covered with
a silver veil, you all prostrate yourselves before it and pretend to
worship it. When anyone lifts the veil and reveals the revolting horror of
it, you run away screaming, with your hands before your eyes. Why do you
want truth to be pretty? Why can't you look its ghastliness bravely in the
face? How can you expect to learn anything if you don't? How can you expect
to form judgments on men and things? How can you expect to get to the
meaning of life on which you were so keen a year ago?"

"I want beauty, and not disgustfulness," said Zora.

"Should it happen, for the sake of argument, that I wanted two dear
friends to marry, it is only because I know how happy they would be
together. The ulterior motive you suggest is repulsive."

"But it's true," said Rattenden. "I wish I could talk to you more. I could
teach you a great deal. At any rate I know that you'll think about what
I've said to-day."

"I won't," she declared.

"You will," said he. And then he dropped a very buttery piece of buttered
toast on the carpet and, picking it up, said "damn" under his breath; and
then they both laughed, and Zora found him human.

"Why are you so bent on educating me?" she asked.

"Because," said he, "I am one of the few men of your acquaintance who
doesn't want to marry you."

"Indeed?" said Zora sarcastically, yet hating herself for feeling a little
pang of displeasure. "May I ask why?"

"Because," said he, "I've a wife and five children already."

       *       *       *       *       *

On the top of her matchmaking and her reflections on Truth in the guise of
the Veiled Prophet of Khorasan, came Clem Sypher to take possession of his
new house. Since Zora had seen him in Monte Carlo he had been to New York,
Chicago, and San Francisco, fighting the Jebusa Jones dragon in its lair.
He had written Zora stout dispatches during the campaign. Here a victory.
There a defeat. Everywhere a Napoleonic will to conquer--but everywhere
also an implied admission of the almost invulnerable strength of his enemy.

"I'm physically tired," said he, on the first day of his arrival, spreading
his large frame luxuriously among the cushions of Mrs. Oldrieve's
chintz-covered Chesterfield. "I'm tired for the only time in my life. I
wanted you," he added, with one of his quick, piercing looks. "It's a
curious thing, but I've kept saying to myself for the last month, 'If I
could only come into Zora Middlemist's presence and drink in some of her
vitality, I should be a new man.' I've never wanted a human being before.
It's strange, isn't it?"

Zora came up to him, tea in hand, a pleasant smile on her face.

"The Nunsmere air will rest you," she said demurely.

"I don't think much of the air if you're not in it. It's like whiskey-less
soda water." He drew a long breath. "My God! It's good to see you again.
You're the one creature on this earth who believes in the Cure as I do
myself."

Zora glanced at him guiltily. Her enthusiasm for the Cure as a religion was
tepid. In her heart she did not believe in it. She had tried it a few weeks
before on the sore head of a village baby, with disastrous results; then
the mother had called in the doctor, who wrote out a simple prescription
which healed the child immediately. The only real evidence of its powers
she had seen was on Septimus's brown boots. Humanity, however, forbade her
to deny the faith with which Clem Sypher credited her; also a genuine
feeling of admiration mingled with pity for the man.

"Do you find much scepticism about?" she asked.

"It's lack of enthusiasm I complain of," he replied. "Instead of accepting
it as the one heaven-sent remedy, people will use any other puffed and
advertised stuff. Chemists are even lukewarm. A grain of mustard seed of
faith among them would save me thousands of pounds a year. Not that I want
to roll in money, Mrs. Middlemist. I'm not an avaricious man. But a great
business requires capital--and to spend money merely in flogging the
invertebrate is waste--desperate waste."

It was the first time that Zora had heard the note of depression.

"Now that you are here, you must stay for a breathing space," she said
kindly. "You must forget it, put it out of your mind, take a holiday.
Strong as you are, you are not cast iron, and if you broke down, think what
a disaster it would be for the Cure."

"Will you help me to have a holiday?"

She laughed. "To the best of my ability--and provided you don't want to
make me shock Nunsmere too much."

He waved his hand in the direction of the village and said, Napoleonically:

"I'll look after Nunsmere. I have the motor here. We can go all over the
country. Will you come?"

"On one condition."

"And that?"

"That you won't spread the Cure among our Surrey villages, and that you'll
talk of something else all the time."

He rose and put out his hand. "I accept," he cried frankly. "I'm not a
fool. I know you're right. When are you coming to see Penton Court? I will
give a housewarming You say that Dix has settled down here. I'll look him
up. I'll be glad to see the muddle-headed seraph again. I'll ask him to
come, too, so there will be you and he--and perhaps your sister will honor
me, and your mother, Mrs. Oldrieve?"

"Mother doesn't go out much nowadays," said Zora. "But Emmy will no doubt
be delighted to come."

"I have a surprise for you," said Sypher. "It's a brilliant idea--have had
it in my head for months--you must tell me what you think of it."

The entrance of Mrs. Oldrieve and Emmy put an end to further talk of an
intimate nature, and as Mrs. Oldrieve preferred the simple graces of
stereotyped conversation, the remainder of Sypher's visit was uneventful.
When he had taken his leave she remarked that he seemed to be a most
superior person.

"I'm so glad he has made a good impression on mother," said Zora
afterwards.

"Why?" asked Emmy.

"It's only natural that I should be glad."

"Oho!" said Emmy.

"What do you mean?"

"Nothing, dear."

"Look here, Emmy," said Zora, half laughing, half angry. "If you say or
think such a thing I'll--I'll slap you. Mr. Sypher and I are friends. He
hasn't the remotest idea of our being anything else. If he had, I would
never speak to him again as long as I live."

Emmy whistled a comedy air, and drummed on the window-pane.

"He's a very remarkable man," said Zora.

"A most superior person," mimicked Emmy.

"And I don't think it's very good taste in us to discuss him in this
manner."

"But, my dear," said Emmy, "it's you that are discussing him. I'm not. The
only remark I made about him was a quotation from mother."

"I'm going up to dress for dinner," said Zora.

She was just a little indignant. Only into Emmy's fluffy head could so
preposterous an idea have entered. Clem Sypher in love with her? If so, why
not Septimus Dix? The thing thus reduced itself to an absurdity. She
laughed to herself, half ashamed of having allowed Emmy to see that she
took her child's foolishness seriously, and came down to dinner serene and
indulgent.



CHAPTER VII


"Are you going to have your bath first, or your breakfast?" asked
Wiggleswick, putting his untidy gray head inside the sitting-room door.

Septimus ran his ivory rule nervously through his hair.

"I don't know. Which would you advise?"

"What?" bawled Wiggleswick.

Septimus repeated his remark in a louder voice.

"If I had to wash myself in cold water," said Wiggleswick contemptuously,
"I'd do it on an empty stomach."

"But if the water were warm?"

"Well, the water ain't warm, so it's no good speculating."

"Dear me," said Septimus. "Now that's just what I enjoy doing."

Wiggleswick grunted. "I'll turn on the tap and leave it."

The door having closed behind his body servant, Septimus laid his ivory
rule on the portion of the complicated diagram of machinery which he had
been measuring off, and soon became absorbed in his task. It was four
o'clock in the afternoon. He had but lately risen, and sat in pyjamas and
dressing-gown over his drawing. A bundle of proofs and a jam-pot containing
a dissipated looking rosebud lay on that space of the table not occupied by
the double-elephant sheet of paper. By his side was a manuscript covered
with calculations to which he referred or added from time to time. A bleak
November light came in through the window, and Septimus's chair was on the
right-hand side of the table. It was characteristic of him to sit
unnecessarily in his own light.

Presently a more than normal darkening of the room caused him to look at
the window. Clem Sypher stood outside, gazing at him with amused curiosity.
Hospitably, Septimus rose and flung the casement window open.

"Do come in."

As the aperture was two feet square, all of Clem Sypher that could respond
to the invitation was his head and shoulders.

"Is it good morning, good afternoon, or good night?" he asked, surveying
Septimus's attire.

"Morning," said Septimus. "I've just got up. Have some breakfast."

He moved to a bell-pull by the fireplace, and the tug was immediately
followed by a loud report.

"What the devil's that?" asked Sypher, startled.

"That," said Septimus mildly, "is an invention. I pull the rope and a
pistol is fired off in the kitchen. Wiggleswick says he can't hear bells.
What's for breakfast?" he asked, as Wiggleswick entered.

"Haddock. And the bath's running over."

Septimus waved him away. "Let it run." He turned to Sypher. "Have a
haddock?"

"At four o'clock in the afternoon? Do you want me to be sick?"

"Good heavens, no!" cried Septimus. "Do come in and I'll give you anything
you like."

He put his hand again on the bell-pull. A hasty exclamation from Sypher
checked his impulse.

"I say, don't do that again. If you'll open the front door for me," he
added, "I may be able to get inside."

A moment or two later Sypher was admitted, by the orthodox avenues, into
the room. He looked around him, his hands on his hips.

"I wonder what on earth this would have been like if our dear lady hadn't
had a hand in it."

As Septimus's imagination was entirely scientific he could furnish no
solution to the problem. He drew a chair to the fire and bade his guest sit
down, and handed him a box of cigars which also housed a pair of compasses,
some stamps, and a collar stud. Sypher selected and lit a cigar, but
declined the chair for the moment.

"You don't mind my looking you up? I told you yesterday I would do it, but
you're such a curious creature there's no knowing at what hour you can
receive visitors. Mrs. Middlemist told me you were generally in to lunch at
half-past four in the morning. Hello, an invention?"

"Yes," said Septimus.

Sypher pored over the diagram. "What on earth is it all about?"

"It's to prevent people getting killed in railway collisions," replied
Septimus. "You see, the idea is that every compartment should consist of an
outer shell and an inner case in which passengers sit. The roof is like a
lid. When there's a collision this series of levers is set in motion, and
at once the inner case is lifted through the roof and the people are out of
the direct concussion. I haven't quite worked it out yet," he added,
passing his hand through his hair. "You see, the same thing might happen
when they're just coupling some more carriages on to a train at rest, which
would be irritating to the passengers."

"Very," said Sypher, drily. "It would also come rather expensive, wouldn't
it?"

"How could expense be an object when there are human lives to be saved?"

"I think, my friend Dix," said Sypher, "you took the wrong turning in the
Milky Way before you were born. You were destined for a more enlightened
planet. If they won't pay thirteen pence halfpenny for Sypher's Cure, how
can you expect them to pay millions for your inventions? That Cure--but I'm
not going to talk about it. Mrs. Middlemist's orders. I'm here for a rest.
What are these? Proofs? Writing a novel?"

He held up the bundle with one of his kindly smiles and one of his swift
glances at Septimus.

"It's my book on guns."

"Can I look?"

"Certainly."

Sypher straightened out the bundle--it was in page-proof--and read the
title:

"A Theoretical Treatise on the Construction of Guns of Large Caliber. By
Septimus Dix, M.A." He looked through the pages. "This seems like sense,
but there are text-books, aren't there, giving all this information?"

"No," said Septimus modestly. "It begins where the text-books leave off.
The guns I describe have never been cast."

"Where on earth do you get your knowledge of artillery?"

Septimus dreamed through the mists of memory.

"A nurse I once had married a bombardier," said he.

Wiggleswick entered with the haddock and other breakfast appurtenances, and
while Septimus ate his morning meal Sypher smoked and talked and looked
through the pages of the Treatise. The lamps lit and the curtains drawn,
the room had a cosier appearance than by day. Sypher stretched himself
comfortably before the fire.

"I'm not in the way, am I?"

"Good heavens, no!" said Septimus. "I was just thinking how pleasant it
was. I've not had a man inside my rooms since I was up at Cambridge--and
then they didn't come often, except to rag."

"What did they do?"

Septimus narrated the burnt umbrella episode and other social experiences.

"So that when a man comes to see me who does not throw my things about, he
is doubly welcome," he explained. "Besides," he added, after a drink of
coffee, "we said something in Monte Carlo about being friends."

"We did," said Sypher, "and I'm glad you've not forgotten it. I'm so much
the Friend of Humanity in the bulk that I've somehow been careless as to
the individual."

"Have a drink," said Septimus, filling his after-breakfast pipe.

The pistol shot brought Wiggleswick, who, in his turn, brought whiskey and
soda, and the two friends finished the afternoon in great amity. Before
taking his departure Sypher asked whether he might read through the proofs
of the gun book at home.

"I think I know enough of machinery and mathematics to understand what
you're driving at, and I should like to examine these guns of yours. You
think they are going to whip creation?"

"They'll make warfare too dangerous to be carried on. At present, however,
I'm more interested in my railway carriages."

"Which will make railway traveling too dangerous to be carried on!"
laughed Sypher, extending his hand. "Good-by."

When he had gone, Septimus mused for some time in happy contentment over
his pipe. He asked very little of the world, and oddly enough the world
rewarded his modesty by giving him more than he asked for. To-day he had
seen Sypher in a new mood, sympathetic, unegotistical, non-robustious, and
he felt gratified at having won a man's friendship. It was an addition to
his few anchorages in life. Then, in a couple of hours he would sun himself
in the smiles of his adored mistress, and listen to the prattle of his
other friend, Emmy. Mrs. Oldrieve would be knitting by the lamp, and
probably he would hold her wool, drop it, and be scolded as if he were a
member of the family; all of which was a very gracious thing to the
sensitive, lonely man, warming his heart and expanding his nature. It
filled his head with dreams: of a woman dwelling by right in this house of
his, and making the air fragrant by her presence. But as the
woman--although he tried his utmost to prevent it and to conjure up the
form of a totally different type--took the shape of Zora Middlemist, he
discouraged such dreams as making more for mild unhappiness than for joy,
and bent his thoughts to his guns and railway carriages and other
world-upheaving inventions. The only thing that caused him any uneasiness
was an overdraft at his bank due to cover which he had to pay on shares
purchased for him by a circularizing bucket-shop keeper. It had seemed so
simple to write Messrs. Shark & Co., or whatever alias the philanthropic
financier assumed, a check for a couple of hundred pounds, and receive
Messrs. Shark's check for two thousand in a fortnight, that he had
wondered why other people did not follow this easy road to fortune.
Perhaps they did, he reflected: that was how they managed to keep a large
family of daughters and a motor car. But when the shark conveyed to him in
unintelligible terms the fact that unless he wrote a check for two or three
hundred pounds more his original stake would be lost, and when these also
fell through the bottomless bucket of Messrs. Shark & Co. and his bankers
called his attention to an overdrawn account, it began to dawn upon him
that these were not the methods whereby a large family of daughters and a
motor car were unprecariously maintained. The loss did not distress him to
the point of sleeplessness; his ideas as to the value of money were as
vague as his notions on the rearing of babies; but he was publishing his
book at his own expense, and was concerned at not being in a position to
pay the poor publisher immediately.

At Mrs. Oldrieve's he found his previsions nearly all fulfilled. Zora, with
a sofa-ful of railway time-tables and ocean-steamer handbooks, sought his
counsel as to a voyage round the world which she had in contemplation; Mrs.
Oldrieve impressed on his memory a recipe for an omelette which he was to
convey verbally to Wiggleswick, although he confessed that the only
omelette that Wiggleswick had tried to make they had used for months
afterwards as a kettle-holder; but Emmy did not prattle. She sat in a
corner, listlessly turning over the leaves of a novel and taking an
extraordinary lack of interest in the general conversation. The usual
headache and neuralgia supplied her excuse. She looked pale, ill, and
worried; and worry on a baby face is a lugubrious and pitiful spectacle.

After Mrs. Oldrieve had retired for the night, and while Zora happened to
be absent from the room in search of an atlas, Septimus and Emmy were left
alone for a moment.

"I'm so sorry you have a headache," said Septimus sympathetically. "Why
don't you go to bed?"

"I hate bed. I can't sleep," she replied, with an impatient shake of the
body. "You mustn't mind me. I'm sorry I'm so rotten--ah! well then--such an
uninspiring companion, if you like," she added, seeing that the word had
jarred on him. Then she rose. "I suppose I bore you. I had better go, as
you suggest, and get out of the way."

He intercepted her petulant march to the door.

"I wish you'd tell me what's the matter. It isn't only a headache."

"It's Hell and the Devil and all his angels," said Emmy, "and I'd like to
murder somebody."

"You can murder me, if it would do you any good," said Septimus.

"I believe you'd let me," she said, yielding. "You're a good sort." She
turned, with a short laugh, her novel held in both hands behind her back,
one finger holding the place. A letter dropped from it. Septimus picked it
up and handed it to her. It bore an Italian stamp and the Naples postmark.

"Yes. That's from him," she said resentfully. "I've not had a letter for a
week, and now he writes to say he has gone to Naples on account of his
health. You had better let me go, my good Septimus; if I stay here much
longer I'll be talking slush and batter. I've got things on my nerves."

"Why don't you talk to Zora?" he suggested. "She is so wonderful."

"She's the last person in the world that must know anything. Do you
understand? The very last."

"I'm afraid I don't understand," he replied ruefully.

"She doesn't know anything about Mordaunt Prince. She must never know.
Neither must mother. They don't often talk much about the family; but
they're awfully proud of it. Mother's people date from before Noah, and
they look down on the Oldrieves because they sprang up like mushrooms just
after the Flood. Prince's real name is Huzzle, and his father kept a boot
shop. I don't care a hang, because he's a gentleman, but they would."

"But yet you're going to marry him. They must know sooner or later. They
ought to know."

"Time enough when I'm married. Then nothing can be done and nothing can be
said."

"Have you ever thought whether it wouldn't be well to give him up?" said
Septimus, in his hesitating way.

"I can't, I can't!" she cried. Then she burst into tears, and, afraid lest
Zora should surprise her, left the room without another word.

On such occasions the most experienced man is helpless. He shrugs his
shoulders, says "Whew!" and lights a cigarette. Septimus, with an infant's
knowledge of the ways of young women, felt terribly distressed by the
tragedy of her tears. Something must be done to stop them. He might start
at once for Naples, and, by the help of strong gendarmes whom he might
suborn, bring back Mordaunt Prince presently to London. Then he remembered
his overdrawn banking account, and sighfully gave up the idea. If only he
were not bound to secrecy and could confide in Zora. This a sensitive honor
forbade. What could he do? As the fire was getting low he mechanically put
on a lump of coal with the pincers. When Zora returned with the atlas she
found him rubbing them through his hair, and staring at vacancy.

"If I do go round the world," said Zora, a little while later, when they
had settled on which side of South America Valparaiso was situated--and how
many nice and clever people could tell you positively, offhand?--"if I go
round the world, you and Emmy will have to come too. It would do her good.
She has not been looking well lately."

"It would be the very thing for her," said he.

"And for you too, Septimus," she remarked, with a quizzical glance and
smile.

"It's always good for me to be where you are."

"I was thinking of Emmy and not of myself," she laughed. "If you could take
care of her, it would be an excellent thing for you."

"She wouldn't even trust me with her luggage," said Septimus, miles away
from Zora's meaning. "Would you?"

She laughed again. "I'm different. I should really have to look after the
two of you. But you could pretend to be taking care of Emmy."

"I would do anything that gave you pleasure."

"Would you?" she asked.

They were sitting by the table--the atlas between them. She moved her hand
and touched his. The light of the lamp shone through her hair, turning it
to luminous gold. Her arm was bare to the elbow, and the warm fragrance of
her nearness overspread him. The touch thrilled him to the depths, and he
flushed to his upstanding Struwel Peter hair. He tried to say something--he
knew not what; but his throat was smitten with sudden dryness. It seemed to
him that he had sat there, for the best part of an hour, tongue-tied,
looking stupidly at the confluence of the blue veins on her arm, longing to
tell her that his senses swam with the temptation of her touch and the rise
and fall of her bosom, through the great love he had for her, and yet
terror-stricken lest she might discover his secret, and punish his audacity
according to the summary methods of Juno, Diana, and other offended
goddesses whom mortals dared to love. It could only have been a few
seconds, for he heard her voice in his ears, at first faint and then
gathering distinctness, continuing in almost the same breath as her
question.

"Would you? Do you know the greatest pleasure you could give me? It would
be to become my brother--my real brother."

He turned bewildered eyes upon her.

"Your brother?"

She laughed, half impatiently, half gaily, gave his hand a final tap and
rose. He stood, too, mechanically.

"I think you're the obtusest man I've ever met. Anyone else would have
guessed long ago. Don't you see, you dear, foolish thing"--she laid her
hands on his shoulders and looked with agonizing deliciousness into his
face--"don't you see that you want a wife to save you from omelettes that
you have to use as kettle-holders, and to give you a sense of
responsibility? And don't you see that Emmy, who is never happier than
when--oh!" she broke off impatiently, "don't you see?"

He had built for himself no card house of illusion, so it did not come
toppling down with dismaying clatter. But all the same he felt as if her
kind hands had turned death cold and were wringing his heart. He took them
from his shoulders, and, not unpicturesquely, kissed her finger-tips. Then
he dropped them and walked to the fire and, with his back to the room,
leaned on the mantelpiece. A little china dog fell with a crash into the
fender.

"Oh, I'm so sorry--" he began piteously.

"Never mind," said Zora, helping him to pick up the pieces. "A man who can
kiss a woman's hands like that is at liberty to clear the whole house of
gimcrackery."

"You are a very gracious lady. I said so long ago," replied Septimus.

"I think I'm a fool," said Zora.

His face assumed a look of horror. His goddess a fool? She laughed gaily.

"You look as if you were about to remark, 'If any man had said that, the
word would have been his last'! But I am, really. I thought there might be
something between you and Emmy and that a little encouragement might help
you. Forgive me. You see," she went on, a trace of dewiness in her frank
eyes, "I love Emmy dearly, and in a sort of way I love you, too. And need I
give any more explanation?"

It was an honorable amends, royally made. Zora had a magnificent style in
doing such things: an indiscreet, venturesome, meddlesome princess she
might be, if you will; somewhat unreserved, somewhat too conscious of her
own Zoraesque sufficiency to possess the true womanly intuition and
sympathy; but still a princess who had the grand manner in her scorn of
trivialities. Septimus's hand shook a little as he fitted the tail to the
hollow bit of china dog-end. It was sweet to be loved, although it was
bitter to be loved in a sort of way. Even a man like Septimus Dix has his
feelings. He had to hide them.

"You make me very happy," he said. "Your caring so much for me as to wish
me to marry your sister, I shall never forget it. You see, I've never
thought of her in that way. I suppose I don't think of women at all in that
way," he went on, with a certain splendid mendacity. "It's a case of
cog-wheels instead of corpuscles. I'm just a heathen bit of machinery, with
my head full of diagrams."

"You're a tender-hearted baby," said Zora. "Give me those bits of dog."

She took them from his hand and threw the mutilated body into the fire.

"See," she said, "let us keep tokens. I'll keep the head and you the tail.
If ever you want me badly send me the tail, and I'll come to you from any
distance--and if I want you I'll send you the head."

"I'll come to you from the ends of the earth," said Septimus.

So he went home a happy man, with his tail in his pocket.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next morning, about eight o'clock, just as he was sinking into his
first sleep, he was awakened through a sudden dream of battle by a series
of revolver shots. Wondering whether Wiggleswick had gone mad or was
attempting an elaborate and painful mode of suicide, he leaped out of bed
and rushed to the landing.

"What's the matter?"

"Hello! You're up at last!" cried Clem Sypher, appearing at the bottom of
the stairs, sprucely attired for the city, and wearing a flower in the
buttonhole of his overcoat. "I've had to break open the front door in order
to get in at all, and then I tried shooting the bell for your valet. Can I
come up?"

"Do," said Septimus, shivering. "Do you mind if I go back to bed?"

"Do anything, except go to sleep," said Sypher. "Look here. I'm sorry if I
disturbed you, but I couldn't wait. I'm off to the office and heaven knows
when I shall be back. I want to talk to you about this."

He sat on the foot of the bed and threw the proofs of the gun book on to
Septimus's body, vaguely outlined beneath the clothes. In the gray November
light--Zora's carefully chosen curtains and blinds had not been
drawn--Sypher, pink and shiny, his silk hat (which he wore) a resplendent
miracle of valetry, looked an urban yet roseate personification of Dawn. He
seemed as eager as Septimus was supine.

"I've sat up half the night over this thing," said he, "and I really
believe you've got it."

"Got what?" asked Septimus.

"_It_. The biggest thing on earth, bar Sypher's Cure."

"Wait till I've worked out my railway carriages," said Septimus.

"Your railway carriages! Good gracious! Haven't you any sense of what
you're doing? Here you've worked out a scheme that may revolutionize naval
gunnery, and you talk rot about railway carriages."

"I'm glad you like the book," said Septimus.

"Are you going to publish it?"

"Of course."

"Ask your publisher how much he'll take to let you off your bargain."

"I'm publishing it at my own expense," said Septimus, in the middle of a
yawn.

"And presenting it gratis to the governments of the world?"

"Yes. I might send them copies," said Septimus. "It's a good idea."

Clem Sypher thrust his hat to the back of his head, and paced the room
from the wash-stand past the dressing-table to the wardrobe and back again.

"Well, I'm hanged!" said he.

Septimus asked why.

"I thought I was a philanthropist," said Sypher, "but by the side of you
I'm a vulture. Has it not struck you that, if the big gun is what I think,
any government on earth would give you what you like to ask for the
specification?"

"Really? Do you think they would give me a couple of hundred pounds?" asked
Septimus, thinking vaguely of Mordaunt Prince in Naples and his overdrawn
banking account. The anxiety of his expression was not lost on Sypher.

"Are you in need of a couple of hundred pounds?" he asked.

"Until my dividends are due. I've been speculating, and I'm afraid I
haven't a head for business."

"I'm afraid you haven't," grinned Sypher, leaning over the footrail of the
bed. "Next time you speculate come to me first for advice. Let me be your
agent for these guns, will you?"

"I should be delighted," said Septimus, "and for the railway carriages too.
There's also a motor car I've invented which goes by clockwork. You've got
to wind it by means of a donkey engine. It's quite simple."

"I should think it would be," said Sypher drily. "But I'll only take on the
guns just for the present."

He drew a check book from one pocket and a fountain pen from another.

"I'll advance you two hundred pounds for the sole right to deal with the
thing on your behalf. My solicitors will send you a document full of
verbiage which you had better send off to your solicitor to look through
before you sign it. It will be all right. I'm going to take the proofs. Of
course this stops publishing," he remarked, looking round from the
dressing-table where he was writing the check.

Septimus assented and took the check wonderingly, remarking that he didn't
in the least know what it was for.

"For the privilege of making your fortune. Good-by," said he. "Don't get
up."

"Good night," said Septimus, and the door having closed behind Clem Sypher,
he thrust the check beneath the bedclothes, curled himself up and went to
sleep like a dormouse.



CHAPTER VIII


Clem Sypher stood at the front door of Penton Court a day or two
afterwards, awaiting his guests and taking the air. The leaves of the oaks
that lined the drive fell slowly under the breath of a southwest wind, and
joined their sodden brethren on the path. The morning mist still hung
around the branches. The sky threatened rain.

A servant came from within the house, bringing a telegram on a tray. Sypher
opened it, and his strong, pink face became as overcast as the sky. It was
from the London office of the Cure, and contained the information that one
of his largest buyers had reduced his usual order by half. The news was
depressing. So was the prospect before him, of dripping trees and of
evergreens on the lawn trying to make the best of it in forlorn bravery.
Heaven had ordained that the earth should be fair and Sypher's Cure
invincible. Something was curiously wrong in the execution of Heaven's
decrees. He looked again at the preposterous statement, knitting his brow.
Surely this was some base contrivance of the enemy. They had been
underselling and outadvertising him for months, and had ousted him from the
custom of several large firms already. Something had to be done. As has
been remarked before, Sypher was a man of Napoleonic methods. He called for
a telegraph form, and wrote as he stood, with the tray as a desk:

"If you can't buy advertising rights on St. Paul's Cathedral or
Westminster Abbey, secure outside pages of usual dailies for Thursday. Will
draw up 'ad' myself."

He gave it to the servant, smiled in anticipation of the battle, and felt
better. When Zora, Emmy, and Septimus appeared at the turn of the drive, he
rushed to meet them, beaming with welcome and exuberant in phrase. This was
the best housewarming that could be imagined. Just three friends to
luncheon--three live people. A gathering of pale-souled folk would have
converted the house into a chilly barn. They would warm it with the glow of
friendship. Mrs. Middlemist, looking like a rose in June, had already
irradiated the wan November garden. Miss Oldrieve he likened to a spring
crocus, and Septimus (with a slap on the back) could choose the vegetable
he would like to resemble. They must look over the house before lunch.
Afterwards, outside, the great surprise awaited them. What was it? Ah! He
turned laughing eyes on them, like a boy.

The great London firm to whom he had entrusted the furniture and decoration
had done their splendid worst. The drawing-room had the appearance of an
hotel sitting-room trying to look coy. An air of factitious geniality
pervaded the dining-room. An engraving of Frans Hals's "Laughing Cavalier"
hung with too great a semblance of jollity over the oak sideboard.
Everything was too new, too ordered, too unindividual; but Sypher loved it,
especially the high-art wall-paper and restless frieze. Zora, a woman of
instinctive taste, who, if she bought a bedroom water-bottle, managed to
identify it with her own personality, professed her admiration with a
woman's pitying mendacity, but resolved to change many things for the good
of Clem Sypher's soul. Emmy, still pale and preoccupied, said little. She
was not in a mood to appreciate Clem Sypher, whose loud voice and
Napoleonic manners jarred upon her nerves. Septimus thought it all
prodigiously fine, whereat Emmy waxed sarcastic.

"I wish I could do something for you," he said, heedless of her taunts,
during a moment when they were out of earshot of the others. He had already
offered to go to Naples and bring back Mordaunt Prince, and had received
instant orders not to be a fool. "I wish I could make you laugh again."

"I don't want to laugh," she replied impatiently. "I want to sit on the
floor and howl."

They happened to be in the hall. At the farther end Septimus caught sight
of a fluffy Persian kitten playing with a bit of paper, and guided by one
of his queer intuitions he went and picked it up and laid its baby softness
against the girl's cheek. Her mood changed magically.

"Oh, the darling!" she cried, and kissed its tiny, wet nose.

She was quite polite to Sypher during luncheon, and laughed when he told
her that he called the kitten Jebusa Jones. She asked why.

"Because," said he, showing his hand covered with scratches, "she produces
on the human epidermis the same effect as his poisonous cuticle remedy."

Whereupon Emmy decided that the man who could let a kitten scratch his hand
in that fashion had elements of good in his nature.

"Now for the surprise," said Sypher, when Septimus and he joined the ladies
after lunch. "Come."

They followed him outside, through the French windows of the drawing-room.
"Other people," said he, "want houses with lawns reaching down to the side
of the river or the Menai Straits or Windermere. I'm the only person, I
think, who has ever sought for a lawn running down to a main line of
railway."

"That's why this house was untenanted so long," said Zora.

A row of trees separated the small garden from the lawn in question. When
they passed through this screen, the lawn and the line of railway and the
dreamy, undulating Surrey country came into view. Also an enormous board.
Why hadn't he taken it down, Zora asked.

"That's the surprise!" exclaimed Sypher eagerly. "Come round to the front."

He led the way, striding some yards ahead. Presently he turned and struck a
dramatic attitude, as a man might do who had built himself a new wonder
house. And then on three astonished pairs of eyes burst the following
inscription in gigantic capitals which he who flew by in an express train
could read:

    SYPHER'S CURE!
    Clem Sypher. Friend of Humanity!
    I LIVE HERE!

"Isn't that great?" he cried. "I've had it in my mind for years. It's the
personal note that's so valuable. This brings the whole passing world into
personal contact with me. It shows that Sypher's Cure isn't a quack thing
run by a commercial company, but the possession of a man who has a house,
who lives in the very house you can see through the trees. 'What kind of a
man is he?' they ask. 'He must be a nice man to live in such a nice house.
I almost feel I know him. _I'll try his Cure_.' Don't you think it's a
colossal idea?"

He looked questioningly into three embarrassed faces. Emmy, in spite of her
own preoccupation, suppressed a giggle. There was a moment's silence, which
was broken by Septimus's mild voice:

"I think, by means of levers running down to the line and worked by the
trains as they passed, I could invent a machine for throwing little boxes
of samples from the board into the railway carriage windows."

Emmy burst out laughing. "Come and show me how you would do it."

She linked her arm in his and dragged him down to the line, where she spoke
with mirthful disrespect of Sypher's Cure. Meanwhile Zora said nothing to
Sypher.

"Don't you like it?" he asked at last, disconcerted.

"Do you want me to be the polite lady you've asked to lunch or your
friend?"

"My friend and my helper," said he.

"Then," she replied, touching his coat sleeve, "I must say that I don't
like it. I hate it. I think it's everything that is most abominable."

The board was one pride of his heart, and Zora was another. He looked at
them both alternately in a piteous, crestfallen way.

"But why?" he asked.

Zora's eyes filled with tears. She saw that her lack of appreciation had
hurt him to the heart. She was a generous woman, and did not convict him,
as she would have done another man, of blatant vulgarity. Yet she felt
preposterously pained. Why could not this great, single-minded creature,
with ideas as high as they were queer, perceive the board's rank
abomination?

"It's unworthy of you," she said bravely. "I want everyone to respect you
as I do. You see the Cure isn't everything. There's a man behind it."

"That's the object of the board," said Sypher. "To show the man."

"But it doesn't show the chivalrous gentleman that I think you are," she
replied quickly. "It gives the impression of some one quite different--a
horrid creature who would sell his self-respect for money. Oh, don't you
understand? It's as bad as walking through the streets with 'Sypher's Cure'
painted on your hat."

"What can I do about it?" he asked.

"Take it down at once," said Zora.

"But to exhibit the board was my sole reason for buying the place."

"I'm very sorry," she said gently, "but I can't change my opinion."

He cast a lingering glance at the board, and then turned. "Let us go back
to the house," he said.

They walked a little way in silence. As they passed by the shrubbery at the
side of the house, he gravely pushed aside a wet, hanging branch for her to
proceed dry. Then he joined her again.

"You are angry with me for speaking so," said Zora.

He stopped and looked at her, his eyes bright and clear. "Do you think I'm
a born fool? Do you think I can't tell loyalty when I see it, and am such
an ass as not to prize it above all things? It cost you a lot to say that
to me. You're right. I suppose I've lost sense of myself in the Cure. When
I think of it, I seem just to be the machine that is distributing it over
the earth. And that, too, I suppose, is why I want you. The board is an
abomination that cries to heaven. It shall be instantly removed. There!"

He held out his hand. She gave him hers and he pressed it warmly.

"Are you going to give up the house now that it's useless?" she asked.

"Do you wish me to?"

"What have I to do with it?"

"Zora Middlemist," said he, "I'm a superstitious man in some things. You
have everything to do with my success. Sooner than forfeit your respect I
would set fire to every stick I possessed. I would give up everything I had
in the world except my faith in the Cure."

"Wouldn't you give up that--if it were necessary so as to keep my respect?"
she asked, prompted by the insane devil that lurks in the heart of even the
most sainted of women and does not like its gracious habitat to be reckoned
lower than a quack ointment. It is the same little devil that makes a young
wife ask her devoted husband which of the two he would save if she and his
mother were drowning. It is the little devil that is responsible for
infinite mendacity on the part of men. "Have you ever said that to another
woman?" No; of course he hasn't; and the wretch is instantly, perjured.
"Would you sell your soul for me?" "My immortal soul," says the good
fellow, instantaneously converted into an atrocious liar; and the little
devil coos with satisfaction and curls himself up snugly to sleep.

But on this occasion the little devil had no success.

"I would give up my faith in the Cure for nothing in the wide world," said
Sypher gravely.

"I'm very glad to hear it," said Zora, in her frankest tone. But the
little devil asked her whether she was quite sure; whereupon she hit him
smartly over the head and bade him lie down. Her respect, however, for
Sypher increased.

They were joined by Emmy and Septimus.

"I think I could manage it," said the latter, "if I cut a hole a foot
square in the board and fixed a magazine behind it."

"There will be no necessity," returned Sypher. "Mrs. Middlemist has ordered
its immediate removal."

That was the end of the board episode. The next day he had it taken down
and chopped into fire-wood, a cart-load of which he sent with his humble
compliments to Mrs. Middlemist. Zora called it a burnt offering. She found
more satisfaction in the blaze that roared up the chimney than she could
explain to her mother; perhaps more than she could explain to herself.
Septimus had first taught her the pleasantness of power. But that was
nothing to this. Anybody, even Emmy, curly-headed baby that she was, could
turn poor Septimus into a slave. For a woman to impose her will upon Clem
Sypher, Friend of Humanity, the Colossus of Curemongers, was no such
trumpery achievement.

Emmy, when she referred to the matter, expressed the hope that Zora had
rubbed it into Clem Sypher. Zora deprecated the personal bearing of the
slang metaphor, but admitted, somewhat grandly, that she had pointed out
the error in taste.

"I can't see, though, why you take all this trouble over Mr. Sypher," said
Emmy.

"I value his friendship," replied Zora, looking up from a letter she was
reading.

This was at breakfast. When the maid had entered with the post Emmy had
gripped the table and watched with hungry eyes, but the only letter that
had come for her had been on theatrical business. Not the one she longed
for. Emmy's world was out of joint.

"You've changed your opinion, my dear, as to the value of men," she
sneered. "There was a time when you didn't want to see them or speak to
them or have anything to do with them. Now it seems you can't get on
without them."

"My dear Emmy," said Zora calmly, "men as possible lovers and men as
staunch friends are two entirely different conceptions."

Emmy broke a piece of toast viciously.

"I think they're beasts," she exclaimed.

"Good heavens! Why?"

"Oh, I don't know. They are."

Then, after the quick, frightened glance of the woman who fears she has
said too much, she broke into a careless half-laugh.

"They are such liars. Fawcett promised me a part in his new production and
writes to-day to say I can't have it."

As Emmy's professional disappointments had been many, and as Zora in her
heart of hearts did not entirely approve of her sister's musical-comedy
career, she tempered her sympathy with philosophic reflections. She had
never taken Emmy seriously. All her life long Emmy had been the kitten
sister, with a kitten's pretty but unimportant likes, dislikes, habits,
occupations, and aspirations. To regard her as being under the shadow of a
woman's tragedy had never entered her head. The kitten playing Antigone,
Ophelia, or such like distressed heroines, in awful, grim earnest is not a
conception that readily occurs even to the most affectionate and
imaginative of kitten owners. Zora accepted Emmy's explanation of her
petulance with a spirit entirely unperturbed, and resumed the perusal of
her letter. It was from the Callenders, who wrote from California. Zora
must visit them on her way round the world.

She laid down the letter and stirred her tea absently, her mind full of
snow-capped sierras, and clear blue air, and peach forests, and all the
wonders of that wonderland. And Emmy stirred her tea, too, in an absent
manner, but her mind was filled with the most terrible thoughts wherewith a
woman's mind can be haunted.



CHAPTER IX


Septimus had never seen a woman faint before. At first he thought Emmy was
dead, and rubbed agonized hands together like a fly. When he realized what
had happened, he produced a large jack-knife which he always carried in his
trousers pocket--for the purpose, he explained, of sharpening pencils--and
offered it to Zora with the vague idea that the first aid to fainting women
consisted in cutting their stay-laces. Zora rebuked him for futility, and
bade him ring the bell for the maid.

It was all very sudden. The scene had been one that of late had grown so
familiar: Zora and Septimus poring over world itineraries, the latter full
of ineffectual suggestion and irrelevant reminiscence, and Emmy reading by
the fire. On this occasion it was the _Globe_ newspaper which Septimus, who
had spent the day in London on an unexecuted errand to his publisher, had
brought back with him. Evening papers being luxuries in Nunsmere, he had
hidden it carefully from Wiggleswick, in order to present it to the ladies.
Suddenly there was a rustle and a slither by the fire-place, and Emmy, in a
dead faint, hung over the arm of the chair. In her hand she grasped the
outer sheet of the paper. The inner sheet, according to the untidy ways of
women with newspapers, lay discarded on the floor.

With Septimus's help Zora and the maid carried her to the sofa; they opened
the window and gave her smelling salts. Septimus anxiously desired to be
assured that she was not dying, and Zora thanked heaven that her mother
had gone to bed. Presently Emmy recovered consciousness.

"I must have fainted," she said in a whisper.

"Yes, dear," said Zora, kneeling by her side. "Are you better?"

Emmy stared past Zora at something unseen and terrifying.

"It was foolish. The heat, I suppose. Mr. Sypher's burning board." She
turned an appealing glance to Septimus. "Did I say anything silly?"

When he told her that she had slipped over the arm of the chair without a
word, she looked relieved and closed her eyes. As soon as she had revived
sufficiently she allowed herself to be led up-stairs; but before going she
pressed Septimus's hand with feverish significance.

Even to so inexperienced a mind as his the glance and the hand-shake
conveyed a sense of trust, suggested dimly a reason for the fainting fit.
Once more he stood alone and perplexed in the little drawing-room. Once
more he passed his long fingers through his Struwel Peter hair and looked
about the room for inspiration. Finding none, he mechanically gathered up
the two parts of the newspaper, with a man's instinct for tidiness in
printed matter, and smoothed out the crumples that Emmy's hand had made on
the outer sheet. Whilst doing so, a paragraph met his eye, causing him to
stare helplessly at the paper.

It was the announcement of the marriage of Mordaunt Prince at the British
Consulate in Naples.

The unutterable perfidy of man! For the first time in his guileless life
Septimus met it face to face. To read of human depravity in the police
reports is one thing, to see it fall like a black shadow across one's life
is another. It horrified him. Mordaunt Prince had committed the
unforgivable sin. He had stolen a girl's love, and basely, meanly, he had
slunk off, deceiving her to the last. To Septimus the lover who kissed and
rode away had ever appeared a despicable figure of romance. The fellow who
did it in real life proclaimed himself an unconscionable scoundrel. The
memory of Emmy's forget-me-not blue eyes turning into sapphires as she sang
the villain's praises smote him. He clenched his fists and put to
incoherent use his limited vocabulary of anathema. Then fearing, in his
excited state, to meet Zora, lest he should betray the miserable secret, he
stuffed the newspaper into his pocket, and crept out of the house.

Before his own fire he puzzled over the problem. Something must be done.
But what? Hale Mordaunt Prince from his bride's arms and bring him penitent
to Nunsmere? What would be the good of that, seeing that polygamy is not
openly sanctioned by Western civilization? Proceed to Naples and chastise
him? That were better. The monster deserved it. But how are men chastised?
Septimus had no experience. He reflected vaguely that people did this sort
of thing with a horsewhip. He speculated on the kind of horsewhip that
would be necessary. A hunting crop with no lash would not be more effective
than an ordinary walking stick. With a lash it would be cumbrous, unless he
kept at an undignified distance and flicked at his victim as the
ring-master in the circus flicks at the clown. Perhaps horsewhips for this
particular purpose could be obtained from the Army and Navy Stores. It
should be about three feet long, flexible and tapering to a point.
Unconsciously his inventive faculty began to work. When he had devised an
adequate instrument, made of fine steel wires ingeniously plaited, he
awoke, somewhat shame-facedly, to the commonplaces of the original problem.
What was to be done?

He pondered for some hours, then he sighed and sought consolation in his
bassoon; but after a few bars of "Annie Laurie" he put the unedifying
instrument back in its corner and went out for a walk. It was a starry
night of frost. Nunsmere lay silent as Bethlehem; and a star hung low in
the east. Far away across the common gleamed one solitary light in the
vicarage windows; the Vicar, good gentleman, finishing his unruffled sermon
while his parish slept. Otherwise darkness spread over everything save the
sky. Not a creature on the road, not a creature on the common, not even the
lame donkey. Incredibly distant the faint sound of a railway whistle
intensified the stillness. Septimus's own footsteps on the crisp grass rang
loud in his ears. Yet both stillness and darkness felt companionable, in
harmony with the starlit dimness of the man's mind. His soul was having its
adventure while mystery filled the outer air. He walked on, wrapped in the
nebulous fantasies which passed with him for thought, heedless, as he
always was, of the flight of time. Once he halted by the edge of the pond,
and, sitting on a bench, lit and smoked his pipe until the cold forced him
to rise. With an instinctive desire to hear some earthly sound, he picked
up a stone and threw it into the water. He shivered at the ghostly splash
and moved away, himself an ineffectual ghost wandering aimlessly in the
night.

The Vicar's lamp had been extinguished long ago. A faint breeze sprang up.
The star sank lower in the sky. Suddenly, as he turned back from the road
to cross the common for the hundredth time, he became aware that he was
not alone. Footsteps rather felt than heard were in front of him. He
pressed forward and peered through the darkness, and finally made out a dim
form some thirty yards away. Idly he followed and soon recognized the
figure as that of a woman hurrying fast. Why a woman should be crossing
Nunsmere Common at four o'clock in the morning passed his power of
conjecture. She was going neither to nor from the doctor, whose house lay
behind the vicarage on the right. All at once her objective became clear to
him. He thought of the splash of the stone. She was making straight for the
pond. He hastened his pace, came up within a few yards of her and then
stopped dead. It was Emmy. He recognized the zibeline toque and coat edged
with the same fur which she often wore. She carried something in her hand,
he could not tell what.

She went on, unconscious of his nearness. He followed her, horror-stricken.
Emmy, a new Ophelia, was about to seek a watery grave for herself and her
love sorrow. Again came the problem which in moments of emergency Septimus
had never learned to solve. What should he do? Across the agony of his mind
shot a feeling of horrible indelicacy in thrusting himself upon a woman at
such a moment. He was half tempted to turn back and leave her to the
sanctity of her grief. But again the splash echoed in his ears and again he
shivered. The water was so black and cold. And what could he say to Zora?
The thought lashed his pace to sudden swiftness and Emmy turned with a
little scream of fear.

"Who are you?"

"It's I, Septimus," he stammered, taking hold of his cap. "For God's sake,
don't do it."

"I shall. Go away. How dare you spy on me?"

She stood and faced him, and her features were just discernible in the dim
starlight. Anger rang in her voice. She stamped her foot.

"How dare you?"

"I haven't been spying on you," he explained. "I only recognized you a
couple of minutes ago. I was walking about--taking a stroll before
breakfast, you know."

"Oh!" she said, stonily.

"I'm dreadfully sorry to have intruded upon you," he continued, twirling
his cap nervously in his fingers while the breeze played through his
upstanding hair. "I didn't mean to--but I couldn't stand by and let you do
it. I couldn't, really."

"Do what?" she asked, still angry. Septimus did not know that beneath the
fur-lined jacket her heart was thumping madly.

"Drown yourself," said Septimus.

"In the pond?" she laughed hysterically. "In three feet of water? How do
you think I was going to manage it?"

Septimus reflected. He had not thought of the pond's inadequate depth.

"You might have lain down at the bottom until it was all over," he remarked
in perfect seriousness. "I once heard of a servant girl who drowned herself
in a basin of water."

Emmy turned impatiently and, walking on, waved him away; but he accompanied
her mechanically.

"Oh, don't follow me," she cried in a queer voice. "Leave me alone, for
God's sake. I'm not going to commit suicide. I wish to heaven I had the
pluck."

"But if you're not going to do that, why on earth are you here?"

"I'm taking a stroll before breakfast--just like yourself. Why am I here?
If you really want to know," she added defiantly, "I'm going to London--by
the early train from Hensham--the milk train. See, I'm respectable. I have
my luggage." She swung something in the dark before him and he perceived
that it was a handbag. "Now are you satisfied? Or do you think I was going
to take a handkerchief and a powder puff into the other world with me? I'm
just simply going to London--nothing more."

"But it's a seven-mile walk to Hensham."

She made no reply, but quickened her pace. Septimus, in a whirl of doubt
and puzzledom, walked by her side, still holding his cap in his hand. Even
the intelligence of the local policeman would have connected her astounding
appearance on the common with the announcement in the _Globe_. He took that
for granted. But if she were not about to destroy herself, why this
untimely flight to London? Why walk seven miles in wintry darkness when she
could have caught a train at Ripstead (a mile away) a few hours later, in
orthodox comfort? It was a mystery, a tragic and perplexing mystery.

They passed by the pond in silence, crossed the common and reached the main
road.

"I wish I knew what to do, Emmy," he said at last. "I hate forcing my
company upon you, and yet I feel I should be doing wrong to leave you
unprotected. You see, I should not be able to face Zora."

"You had better face her as late as possible," she replied quickly.
"Perhaps you had better walk to the station with me. Would you?"

"It would ease my mind."

"All right. Only, for God's sake, don't chatter. I don't want you of all
people to get on my nerves."

"Let me carry your bag," said Septimus, "and you had better have my
stick."

The process of transference brought to his consciousness the fact of his
bareheadedness. He put on his cap and they trudged along the road like
gipsy man and wife, saying not a word to each other. For two miles they
proceeded thus, sometimes in utter blackness when the road wound between
thick oak plantations, sometimes in the lesser dimness of the open when it
passed by the rolling fields; and not a sign of human life disturbed the
country stillness. Then they turned into the London road and passed through
a village. Lights were in the windows. One cottage door stood open. A shaft
of light streamed across Emmy's face, and Septimus caught a glimpse of
drawn and haggard misery. They went on for another mile. Now and then a
laborer passed them with an unsurprised greeting. A milkcart rattled by and
then all was silence again. Gradually the stars lost brilliance.

All of a sudden, at the foot of a rise crowned by a cottage looming black
against the sky, Emmy broke down and cast herself on a heap of stones by
the side of the road, a helpless bundle of sobs and incoherent
lamentations. She could bear it no longer. Why had he not spoken to her?
She could go no further. She wished she were dead. What was going to become
of her? How could he walk by her side saying nothing, like a dumb jailer?
He had better go back to Nunsmere and leave her to die by the wayside. It
was all she asked of Heaven.

"Oh, God have pity on me," she moaned, and rocked herself to and fro.

Septimus stood for a time tongue-tied in acute distress. This was his first
adventure in knight-errantry and he had served before neither as page nor
squire. He would have given his head to say the unknown words that might
comfort her. All he could do was to pat her on the shoulder in a futile way
and bid her not to cry, which, as all the world knows, is the greatest
encouragement to further shedding of tears a weeping woman can have. Emmy
sobbed more bitterly than ever. Once more on that night of agonizing
dubiety, what was to be done? He looked round desperately for guidance,
and, as he looked, a light appeared in the window of the hilltop cottage.

"Perhaps," said he, "if I knock at the door up there, they can give you a
glass of milk. Or a cup of tea," he added, brightening with the glow of
inspiration. "Or they may be able to let you lie down for a while."

But Emmy shook her head miserably. Milk, tea, recumbent luxury were as
nothing to her. Neither poppy nor mandragora (or words to that effect)
could give her ease again. And she couldn't walk four miles, and she must
catch the morning train.

"If you'll tell me what I can do," said Septimus, "I'll do it."

A creaky rumble was heard in the distance and presently they made out a
cart coming slowly down the hill. Septimus had another brilliant idea.

"Let me put you into that and take you back to Nunsmere."

She sprang to her feet and clutched his arm.

"Never. Never, do you hear? I couldn't bear it. Mother, Zora--I couldn't
see them again. Last night they nearly drove me into hysterics. What do you
suppose I came out for at this hour, if it wasn't to avoid meeting them?
Let us go on. If I die on the road, so much the better."

"Perhaps," said Septimus, "I could carry you."

She softened, linked her arm in his, and almost laughed, as they started up
the hill.

"What a good fellow you are, and I've been behaving like a beast. Anyone
but you would have worried me with questions--and small wonder. But you
haven't even asked me--"

"Hush," said Septimus. "I know. I saw the paragraph in the newspaper. Don't
let's talk of it. Let us talk of something else. Do you like honey? The
Great Bear put me in mind. Wiggleswick wants to keep bees. I tell him, if
he does, I'll keep a bear. He could eat the honey, you see. And then I
could teach him to dance by playing the bassoon to him. Perhaps he would
like the bassoon," he continued, after a pause, in his wistful way. "Nobody
else does."

"If you had it with you now, I should love it for your sake," said Emmy
with a sob.

"If you would take my advice and rest in the cottage, I could send for it,"
he replied unsmilingly.

"We must catch the train," said Emmy.

In Wirley, half a mile further, folks were stirring. A cart laden with
market produce waited by a cottage door for the driver who stood swallowing
his final cup of tea. A bare-headed child clung round his leg, an attendant
Hebe. The wanderers halted.

"If the other cart could have taken us back to Nunsmere," said Septimus,
with the air of a man who has arrived at Truth, "this one can carry us to
the station."

And so it fell out. The men made Emmy as comfortable as could be among the
cabbages, with some sacks for rugs, and there she lay drowsy with pain and
weariness until they came to the end of their journey.

A gas-light or two accentuated the murky dismalness of the little station.
Emmy sank exhausted on a bench in the booking hail, numb with cold, and too
woebegone to think of her hair, which straggled limply from beneath the
zibeline toque. Septimus went to the booking office and asked for two
first-class tickets to London. When he joined her again she was crying
softly.

"You're coming with me? It is good of you."

"I'm responsible for you to Zora."

A shaft of jealousy shot through her tears.

"You always think of Zora."

"To think of her," replied Septimus, vaguely allusive, "is a liberal
education."

Emmy shrugged her shoulders. She was not of the type that makes paragons
out of her own sex, and she had also a sisterly knowledge of Zora
unharmonious with Septimus's poetic conception. But she felt too miserable
to argue. She asked him the time.

At last the train came in. There was a great rattling of milk-cans on the
gloomy platform, and various slouching shapes entered third-class
carriages. The wanderers had the only first-class compartment to
themselves. It struck cold and noisome, like a peculiarly unaired
charnel-house. A feeble lamp, whose effect was dimmed by the swishing dirty
oil in the bottom of the globe, gave a pretense at illumination. The guard
passing by the window turned his lantern on them and paused for a wondering
moment. Were they a runaway couple? If so, thought he, they had arrived at
quick repentance. As they looked too dismal for tips, he concerned himself
with them no more. The train started. Emmy shook with cold, in spite of
her fur-lined jacket. Septimus took off his overcoat and spread it over
their two bodies as they huddled together for warmth. After a while her
head drooped on his shoulder and she slept, while Septimus sucked his empty
pipe, not daring to light it lest he should disturb her slumbers. For the
same reason he forbore to change his original awkward attitude, and in
consequence suffered agonies of pins and needles. To have a solid young
woman asleep in your arms is not the romantic pleasure the poets make out;
for comfort, she might just as well stand on your head. Also, as Emmy
unconsciously drew the overcoat away from him, one side of his body
perished with cold; and a dinner suit is not warm enough for traveling on a
frosty morning.

The thought of his dinner jacket reminded him of his puzzledom. What were
Emmy and himself doing in that galley of a railway carriage when they might
have been so much more comfortable in their own beds in Nunsmere? It was an
impenetrable mystery to which the sleeping girl who was causing him such
acute though cheerfully borne discomfort alone had the key. In vain did he
propound to himself the theory that such speculation betokened an
indelicate mind; in vain did he ask himself with unwonted severity what
business it was of his; in vain did he try to hitch his thoughts to Patent
Safety Railway Carriages, which were giving him a great deal of trouble; in
vain did he try to sleep. The question haunted him. So much so that when
Emmy awoke and rubbed her eyes, and in some confusion apologized for the
use to which she had put his shoulder, he was almost ashamed to look her in
the face.

"What are you going to do when you get to Victoria?" Emmy asked.

Septimus had not thought of it. "Go back to Nunsmere, I suppose, by the
next train--unless you want me?"

"No, I don't want you," said Emmy absently. "Why should I?"

And she gazed stonily at the suburban murk of the great city until they
reached Victoria. There, a dejected four-wheeled cab with a drooping horse
stood solitary on the rank--a depressing object. Emmy shivered at the
sight.

"I can't stand it. Drive me to my door. I know I'm a beast, Septimus dear,
but I am grateful. I am, really."

The cab received them into its musty interior and drove them through the
foggy brown of a London winter dawn. Unimaginable cheerlessness enveloped
them. The world wore an air of disgust at having to get up on such a
morning. The atmosphere for thirty yards around them was clear enough, with
the clearness of yellow consommé, but ahead it stood thick, like a purée of
bad vegetables. They passed through Belgravia, and the white-blinded houses
gave an impression of universal death, and the empty streets seemed waiting
for the doors to open and the mourners to issue forth. The cab, too, had
something of the sinister, in that it was haunted by the ghosts of a
fourpenny cigar and a sixpenny bottle of scent which continued a lugubrious
flirtation; and the windows rattled a _danse macabre_. At last it pulled up
at the door of Emmy's Mansions in Chelsea.

She looked at him very piteously, like a frightened child. Her pretty mouth
was never strong, but when the corners drooped it was babyish. She slipped
her hand in his.

"Don't leave me just yet. It's silly, I know--but this awful journey has
taken everything out of me. Every bit of it has been worse than the last.
Edith--that's my maid--will light a fire--you must get warm before you
start--and she'll make some coffee. Oh, do come. You can keep the cab."

"But what will your maid think?" asked Septimus, who for all his vagueness
had definite traditions as to the proprieties of life.

"What does it matter? What does anything in this ghastly world matter? I'm
frightened, Septimus, horribly frightened. I daren't go up by myself. Oh!
Come!"

Her voice broke on the last word. Saint Anthony would have yielded; also
his pig. Septimus handed her out of the cab, and telling the cabman to
wait, followed her through the already opened front door of the Mansions up
to her flat. She let herself in with her latchkey and showed him into the
drawing-room, turning on the electric light as he entered.

"I'll go and wake Edith," she said. "Then we can have some breakfast. The
fire's laid. Do you mind putting a match to it?"

She disappeared and Septimus knelt down before the grate and lit the paper.
In a second or two the flame caught the wood, and, the blower being down,
it blazed fiercely. He spread his ice-cold hands out before it, incurious
of the futile little room whose draperies and fripperies and inconsiderable
flimsiness of furniture proclaimed its owner, intent only on the elemental
need of warmth. He was disturbed by the tornadic entrance of Emmy.

"She's not here!" she exclaimed tragically. Her baby face was white and
there were dark shadows under the eyes which stared at him with a touch of
madness. "She's not here!"

"Perhaps she has gone out for a walk," Septimus suggested, as if London
serving-maids were in the habit of taking the air at eight o'clock on a
foggy morning.

But Emmy heard him not. The dismaying sense of utter loneliness smote her
down. It was the last straw. Edith, on whom she had staked all her hopes of
physical comfort, was not there. Overstrained in body, nerves, and mind,
she sank helplessly in the chair which Septimus set out for her before the
fire, too exhausted to cry. She began to speak in a queer, toneless voice:

"I don't know what to do. Edith could have helped me. I want to get away
and hide. I can't stay here. It's the first place Zora will come to. She
mustn't find me. Edith has been through it herself. She would have taken me
somewhere abroad or in the country where I could have stayed in hiding till
it was over. It was all so sudden--the news of his marriage. I was half
crazy, I couldn't make plans. I thought Edith would help me. Now she has
gone, goodness knows where. My God, what shall I do?"

She went on, looking at him haggardly, a creature driven beyond the
reticence of sex, telling her inmost secret to a man as if it were a
commonplace of trouble. It did not occur to her distraught mind that he was
a man. She spoke to herself, without thought, uttering the cry for help
that had been pent within her all that awful night.

The puzzledom of Septimus grew unbearable in its intensity; then suddenly
it burst like a skyrocket and a blinding rain of fire enveloped him. He
stood paralyzed with pain and horror.

The sullen morning light diffused itself through the room, mingling
ironically with the pretty glow cast by the pink-shaded electric globes,
while the two forlorn grotesques regarded each other, unconscious of each
other's grotesqueness, the girl disheveled and haggard, the man with rough
gray coat unbuttoned, showing the rumpled evening dress; her toque
miserably awry, his black tie riding above his collar, the bow somewhere
behind his ear. And the tragedy of tragedies of a young girl's life was
unfolded.

"My God, what am I to do?"

Septimus stared at her, his hands in his trousers pockets. In one of them
his fingers grasped a folded bit of paper. He drew it out unthinkingly--a
very dirty bit of paper. In his absent-minded way he threw it towards the
fire, but it fell on the tiled hearth. In moments of great strain the mind
seizes with pitiful eagerness on the trivial. Emmy looked at the paper.
Something familiar about its shape struck her. She leaned forward, picked
it up and unfolded it.

"This is a check," she said in a matter-of-fact tone. "Did you mean to
throw it away?"

He took it from her and, looking at it, realized that It was Clem Sypher's
check for two hundred pounds.

"Thanks," said he, thrusting it into his overcoat pocket.

Then his queerly working brain focused associations.

"I know what we can do," said he. "We can go to Naples."

"What good would that be?" she asked, treating the preposterous question
seriously.

He was taken aback by her directness, and passed his fingers through his
hair.

"I don't know," said he.

"The first thing we must do," said Emmy--and her voice sounded in her own
ears like someone else's--"is to get away from here. Zora will be down by
the first train after my absence is discovered. You quite see that Zora
mustn't find me, don't you?"

"Of course," said Septimus, blankly. Then he brightened. "You can go to an
hotel. A Temperance Hotel in Bloomsbury. Wiggleswick was telling me about
one the other day. A friend of his burgled it and got six years. A man
called Barkus."

"But what was the name of the hotel?"

"Ah! that I forget," said Septimus. "It had something to do with Sir Walter
Scott. Let me see. Lockhart--no, Lockhart's is a different place. It was
either the Bride of Lammermoor or--yes," he cried triumphantly, "it was the
Ravenswood, in Southampton Row."

Emmy rose. The switch off onto the trivial piece of paper had braced her
unstrung nerves for a final effort: that, and the terror of meeting Zora.

"You'll take me there. I'll just put some things together."

He opened the door for her to pass out. On the threshold she turned.

"I believe God sent you to Nunsmere Common last night."

She left him, and he went back to the fire and filled and lit his pipe. Her
words touched him. They also struck a chord of memory. His ever-wandering
mind went back to a scene in undergraduate days. It was the Corn Exchange
at Cambridge, where the most famous of all American evangelists was holding
one of a series of revivalist meetings. The great bare hall was packed with
youths, who came, some to scoff and others to pray. The coarse-figured,
bald-headed, brown-bearded man in black on the platform, with his homely
phrase and (to polite undergraduate ears) terrible Yankee twang, was
talking vehemently of the trivial instruments the Almighty used to effect
His purposes. Moses's rod, for instance. "You can imagine Pharaoh," said
he--and the echo of the great voice came to Septimus through the
years--"you can imagine Pharaoh walking down the street one day and seeing
Moses with a great big stick in his hand. 'Hallo, Moses,' says he, 'where
are you going?' 'Where am I going?' says Moses. 'I guess I'm going to
deliver the Children of Israel out of the House of Bondage and conduct them
to a land flowing with milk and honey.' 'And how are you going to do it,
Moses?' '_With this rod, sir, with this rod!_'"

Septimus remembered how this bit of unauthenticated history was greeted
with derision by the general, and with a shocked sense of propriety by the
cultivated--and young men at the university can be very cultivated indeed
on occasion. But the truth the great preacher intended to convey had
lingered at the back of his own mind and now came out into the light.
Perhaps Emmy had spoken more truly than she thought. In his simple heart he
realized himself to be the least effectual of men, apparently as unhelpful
towards a great deliverance as the walking stick used by Moses. But if God
had sent him to Nunsmere Common and destined him to be the mean instrument
of Emmy's deliverance? He rubbed the warm pipe bowl against his cheek and
excogitated the matter in deep humility. Yes, perhaps God had sent him. His
religious belief was nebulous, but up to its degree of clarity it was
sincere.

A few minutes later they were again in the cab jogging wearily across
London to Southampton Row; and the little empty drawing-room with all its
vanities looked somewhat ghostly, lit as it was by the day and by the
frivolously shaded electric light which they had forgotten to switch off.



CHAPTER X


When Septimus had seen Emmy admitted to the Ravenswood Hotel, he stood on
the gloomy pavement outside wondering what he should do. Then it occurred
to him that he belonged to a club--a grave, decorous place where the gay
pop of a champagne cork had been known to produce a scandalized silence in
the luncheon-room, and where serious-minded members congregated to scowl at
one another's unworthiness from behind newspapers. A hansom conveyed him
thither. In the hall he struggled over two telegrams which had caused him
most complicated thought during his drive. The problem was to ease Zora's
mind and to obtain a change of raiment without disclosing the whereabouts
of either Emmy or himself. This he had found no easy matter, diplomacy
being the art of speaking the truth with intent to deceive, and so finely
separated from sheer lying as to cause grave distress to Septimus's candid
soul. At last, after much wasting of telegraph forms, he decided on the
following:

To Zora: "Emmy safe in London. So am I. Don't worry. Devotedly, Septimus."

To Wiggleswick: "Bring clothes and railway carriage diagrams secretly to
Club."

Having dispatched these, he went into the coffee-room and ordered
breakfast. The waiters served him in horrified silence. A gaunt member,
breakfasting a few tables off, asked for the name of the debauchee, and
resolved to write to the Committee. Never in the club's history had a
member breakfasted in dress clothes--and in such disreputably disheveled
dress clothes! Such dissolute mohocks were a stumbling-block and an
offense, and the gaunt member, who had prided himself on going by clockwork
all his life, felt his machinery in some way dislocated by the spectacle.
But Septimus ate his food unconcernedly, and afterwards, mounting to the
library, threw himself into a chair before the fire and slept the sleep of
the depraved till Wiggleswick arrived with his clothes. Then, having
effected an outward semblance of decency, he went to the Ravenswood Hotel.
Wiggleswick he sent back to Nunsmere.

Emmy entered the prim drawing-room where he had been waiting for her, the
picture of pretty flower-like misery, her delicate cheeks white, a hunted
look in her baby eyes. A great pang of pity went through the man, hurting
him physically. She gave him a limp hand, and sat down on a saddle-bag
sofa, while he stood hesitatingly before her, balancing himself first on
one leg and then on the other.

"Have you had anything to eat?"

Emmy nodded.

"Have you slept?"

"That's a thing I shall never do again," she said querulously. "How can you
ask?"

"If you don't sleep, you'll get ill and die," said Septimus.

"So much the better," she replied.

"I wish I could help you. I do wish I could help you."

"No one can help me. Least of all you. What could a man do in any case?
And, as for you, my poor Septimus, you want as much taking care of as I
do."

The depreciatory tone did not sting him as it would have done another man,
for he knew his incapacity. He had also gone through the memory of Moses's
rod the night before.

"I wonder whether Wiggleswick could be of any use?" he said, more
brightly.

Emmy laughed dismally. Wiggleswick! To no other mind but Septimus's could
such a suggestion present itself.

"Then what's to be done?"

"I don't know," said Emmy.

They looked at each other blankly, two children face to face with one of
the most terrible of modern social problems, aghast at their powerlessness
to grapple with it. It is a situation which wrings the souls of the strong
with an agony worse than death. It crushes the weak, or drives them mad,
and often brings them, fragile wisps of human semblance, into the criminal
dock. Shame, disgrace, social pariahdom; unutterable pain to dear ones; an
ever-gaping wound in fierce family pride; a stain on two generations; an
incurable malady of a once blithe spirit; woe, disaster, and ruin--such is
the punishment awarded by men and women to her who disobeys the social law
and, perhaps with equal lack of volition, obeys the law physiological. The
latter is generally considered the greater crime.

These things passed through Septimus's mind. His ignorance of the ways of
what is, after all, an indifferent, self-centered world exaggerated them.

"You know what it means?" he said tonelessly.

"If I didn't, should I be here?"

He made one last effort to persuade her to take Zora into her confidence.
His nature abhorred deceit, to say nothing of the High Treason he was
committing; a rudiment of common sense also told him that Zora was Emmy's
natural helper and protector. But Emmy had the obstinacy of a weak nature.
She would die rather than Zora should know. Zora would never understand,
would never forgive her. The disgrace would kill her mother.

"If you love Zora, as you say you do, you would want to save her pain,"
said Emmy finally.

So Septimus was convinced. But once more, what was to be done?

"You had better go away, my poor Septimus," she said, bending forward
listlessly, her hands in her lap. "You see you're not a bit of use now. If
you had been a different sort of man--like anyone else--one who could have
helped me--I shouldn't have told you anything about it. I'll send for my
old dresser at the theater. I must have a woman, you see. So you had better
go away."

Septimus walked up and down the room deep in thought. A spinster-looking
lady in a cheap blouse and skirt, an inmate of the caravanserai, put her
head through the door and, with a disapproving sniff at the occupants,
retired. At length Septimus broke the silence:

"You said last night that you believed God sent me to you. I believe so
too. So I'm not going to leave you."

"But what can you do?" asked Emmy, ending the sentence on a hysterical note
which brought tears and a fit of sobbing. She buried her head in her arms
on the sofa-end, and her young shoulders shook convulsively. She was an odd
mixture of bravado and baby helplessness. To leave her to fight her
terrible battle with the aid only of a theater dresser was an
impossibility. Septimus looked at her with mournful eyes, hating his
futility. Of what use was he to any God-created being? Another man, strong
and capable, any vital, deep-chested fellow that was passing along
Southampton Row at that moment, would have known how to take her cares on
his broad shoulders and ordain, with kind imperiousness, a course of
action. But he--he could only clutch his fingers nervously and shuffle with
his feet, which of itself must irritate a woman with nerves on edge. He
could do nothing. He could suggest nothing save that he should follow her
about like a sympathetic spaniel. It was maddening. He walked to the window
and looked out into the unexhilarating street, all that was man in him in
revolt against his ineffectuality.

Suddenly came the flash of inspiration, swift, illuminating, such as
happened sometimes when the idea of a world-upsetting invention burst upon
him with bewildering clearness; but this time more radiant, more intense
than he had ever known before; it was almost an ecstasy. He passed both
hands feverishly through his hair till it could stand no higher.

"I have it!" he cried; and Archimedes could not have uttered his famous
word with a greater thrill.

"Emmy, I have it!"

He stood before her gibbering with inspiration. At his cry she raised a
tear-stained face and regarded him amazedly.

"You have what?"

"The solution. It is so simple, so easy. Why shouldn't we have run away
together?"

"We did," said Emmy.

"But really--to get married."

"Married?"

She started bolt upright on the sofa, the feminine ever on the defensive.

"Yes," said Septimus quickly. "Don't you see? If you will go through the
form of marriage with me--oh, just the form, you know--and we both
disappear abroad somewhere for a year--I in one place and you in another,
if you like--then we can come back to Zora, nominally married, and--and--"

"And what?" asked Emmy, stonily.

"And then you can say you can't live with me any longer. You couldn't stand
me. I don't think any woman could. Only Wiggleswick could put up with my
ways."

Emmy passed her hands across her eyes. She was somewhat dazed.

"You would give me your name--and shield me--just like that!" Her voice
quavered.

"It isn't much to give. It's so short," he remarked absently. "I've always
thought it such a silly name."

"You would tie yourself for life to a girl who has disgraced herself, just
for the sake of shielding her?"

"Why, it's done every day," said Septimus.

"Is it? Oh, God! You poor innocent!" and she broke down again.

"There, there," said Septimus kindly, patting her shoulder. "It's all
settled, isn't it? We can get married by special license--quite soon. I've
read of it in books. Perhaps the Hall Porter can tell me where to get one.
Hall Porters know everything. Then we can write to Zora and tell her it was
a runaway match. It's the easiest thing in the world. I'll go and see after
it now."

He left her prostrate on the sofa, her heart stone cold, her body lapped in
flame from feet to hair. It was not given to him to know her agony of
humiliation, her agony of temptation. He had but followed the message which
his simple faith took to be divine. The trivial name of Dix would be the
instrument wherewith the deliverance of Emmy from the House of Bondage
should be effected. He went out cheerily, stared for a moment at the Hall
Porter, vaguely associating him with the matter in hand, but forgetting
exactly why, and strode into the street, feeling greatly uplifted. The
broad-shouldered men who jostled him as he pursued his absent-minded and
therefore devious course no longer appeared potential champions to be
greatly envied. He felt that he was one of them, and blessed them as they
jostled him, taking their rough manners as a sign of kinship. The life of
Holborn swallowed him. He felt glad who once hated the dismaying bustle.
His heart sang for joy. Something had been given him to do for the sake of
the woman he loved. What more can a man do than lay down his life for a
friend? Perhaps he can do a little more for a loved woman: marry somebody
else.

Deep down in his heart he loved Zora. Deep down in his heart, too, dwelt
the idiot hope that the miracle of miracles might one day happen. He loved
the hope with a mother's passionate love for a deformed and imbecile child,
knowing it unfit to live among the other healthy hopes of his conceiving.
At any rate, he was free to bring her his daily tale of worship, to glean a
look of kindness from her clear eyes. This was his happiness. For her sake
he would sacrifice it. For Zora's sake he would marry Emmy. The heart of
Septimus was that of a Knight-Errant confident in the righteousness of his
quest. The certainty had come all at once in the flash of inspiration.
Besides, was he not carrying out Zora's wish? He remembered her words. It
would be the greatest pleasure he could give her--to become her brother,
her real brother. She would approve. And beyond all that, deep down also in
his heart he knew it was the only way, the wise, simple, Heaven-directed
way.

The practical, broad-shouldered, common-sense children of this world would
have weighed many things one against the other. They would have taken into
account sentimentally, morally, pharisaically, or cynically, according to
their various attitudes towards life, the relations between Emmy and
Mordaunt Prince which had led to this tragic situation. But for Septimus
her sin scarcely existed. When a man is touched by an angel's feather he
takes an angel's view of mortal frailties.

He danced his jostled way up Holborn till the City Temple loomed through
the brown air. It struck a chord of association. He halted on the edge of
the curb and regarded it across the road, with a forefinger held up before
his nose as if to assist memory. It was a church. People were apt to be
married in churches. Sometimes by special license. That was it! A special
license. He had come out to get one. But where were they to be obtained? In
a properly civilized country, doubtless they would be sold in shops, like
boots and hair-brushes, or even in post-offices, like dog licenses. But
Septimus, aware of the deficiencies of an incomplete social organization,
could do no better than look wistfully up and down the stream of traffic,
as it roared and flashed and lumbered past. A policeman stopped beside him.
He appeared so lost, he met the man's eyes with a gaze so questioning, that
the policeman paused.

"Want to go anywhere, sir?"

"Yes," said Septimus. "I want to go where I can get a special license to be
married."

"Don't you know?"

"No. You see," said Septimus confidentially, "marriage has been out of my
line. But perhaps you have been married, and might be able to tell me."

"Look here, sir," said the policeman, eyeing him kindly, but officially.
"Take my advice, sir; don't think of getting married. You go home to your
friends."

The policeman nodded knowingly and stalked away, leaving Septimus perplexed
by his utterance. Was he a Socrates of a constable with a Xantippe at home,
or did he regard him as a mild lunatic at large? Either solution was
discouraging. He turned and walked back down Holborn somewhat dejected.
Somewhere in London the air was thick with special licenses, but who would
direct his steps to the desired spot? On passing Gray's Inn one of his
brilliant ideas occurred to him. The Inn suggested law; the law,
solicitors, who knew even more about licenses than Hall Porters and
Policemen. A man he once knew had left him one day after lunch to consult
his solicitors in Gray's Inn. He entered the low, gloomy gateway and
accosted the porter.

"Are there any solicitors living in the Inn?"

"Not so many as there was. They're mostly architects. But still there's
heaps."

"Will you kindly direct me to one?"

The man gave him two or three addresses, and he went comforted across the
square to the east wing, whose Georgian mass merged without skyline into
the fuliginous vapor which Londoners call the sky. The lights behind the
blindless windows illuminated interiors and showed men bending over desks
and drawing-boards, some near the windows with their faces sharply cut in
profile. Septimus wondered vaguely whether any one of those visible would
be his solicitor.

A member of the first firm he sought happened to be disengaged, a
benevolent young man wearing gold spectacles, who received his request for
guidance with sympathetic interest and unfolded to him the divers methods
whereby British subjects could get married all over the world, including
the High Seas on board one of His Majesty's ships of the Mercantile Marine.
Solicitors are generally bursting with irrelevant information. When,
however, he elicited the fact that one of the parties had a flat in London
which would technically prove the fifteen days' residence, he opened his
eyes.

"But, my dear sir, unless you are bent on a religious ceremony, why not get
married at once before the registrar of the Chelsea district? There are two
ways of getting married before the registrar--one by certificate and one by
license. By license you can get married after the expiration of one whole
day next after the day of the entry of the notice of marriage. That is to
say, if you give notice to-morrow you can get married not the next day, but
the day after. In this way you save the heavy special license fee. How does
it strike you?"

It struck Septimus as a remarkable suggestion, and he admired the lawyer
exceedingly.

"I suppose it's really a good and proper marriage?" he asked.

The benevolent young man reassured him; it would take all the majesty of
the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty division of the High Court of Justice to
dissolve it. Septimus agreed that in these circumstances it must be a
capital marriage. Then the solicitor offered to see the whole matter
through and get him married in the course of a day or two. After which he
dismissed him with a professional blessing which cheered Septimus all the
way to the Ravenswood Hotel.



CHAPTER XI


"Good heavens, mother, they're married!" cried Zora, staring at a telegram
she had just received.

Mrs. Oldrieve woke with a start from her after-luncheon nap.

"Who, dear?"

"Why, Emmy and Septimus Dix. Read it."

Mrs. Oldrieve put on her glasses with faltering fingers, and read aloud the
words as if they had been in a foreign language: "Septimus and I were
married this morning at the Chelsea Registrar's. We start for Paris by the
2.30. Will let you know our plans. Love to mother from us both. Emmy."

"What does this mean, dear?"

"It means, my dear mother, that they're married," said Zora; "but why they
should have thought it necessary to run away to do it in this
hole-and-corner fashion I can't imagine."

"It's very terrible," said Mrs. Oldrieve.

"It's worse than terrible. It's idiotic," said Zora.

She was mystified, and being a woman who hated mystification, was angry.
Her mother began to cry. It was a disgraceful thing; before a registrar,
too.

"As soon as I let her go on the stage, I knew something dreadful would
happen to her," she wailed. "Of course Mr. Dix is foolish and eccentric,
but I never thought he could do anything so irregular."

"I have no patience with him!" cried Zora. "I told him only a short while
ago that both of us would be delighted if he married Emmy."

"They must come back, dear, and be married properly. Do make them," urged
Mrs. Oldrieve. "The Vicar will be so shocked and hurt--and what Cousin Jane
will say when she hears of it--"

She raised her mittened hands and let them fall into her lap. The awfulness
of Cousin Jane's indignation transcended the poor lady's powers of
description. Zora dismissed the Vicar and Cousin Jane as persons of no
account. The silly pair were legally married, and she would see that there
was a proper notice put in _The Times_. As for bringing them back--she
looked at the clock.

"They are on their way now to Folkestone."

"It wouldn't be any good telegraphing them to come back and be properly
married in church?"

"Not the slightest," said Zora; "but I'll do it if you like."

So the telegram was dispatched to "Septimus Dix, Boulogne Boat,
Folkestone," and Mrs. Oldrieve took a brighter view of the situation.

"We have done what we can, at any rate," she said by way of
self-consolation.

Now it so happened that Emmy, like many another person at their wits' end,
had given herself an amazing amount of unnecessary trouble. Her flight had
not been noticed till the maid had entered her room at half-past eight. She
had obviously packed up some things in a handbag. Obviously again she had
caught the eight-fifteen train from Ripstead, as she had done once or twice
before when rehearsals or other theatrical business had required an early
arrival in London. Septimus's telegram had not only allayed no
apprehension, but it had aroused a mild curiosity. Septimus was master of
his own actions. His going up to London was no one's concern. If he were
starting for the Equator a telegram would have been a courtesy. But why
announce his arrival in London? Why couple it with Emmy's? And why in the
name of guns and musical comedies should Zora worry? But when she reflected
that Septimus did nothing according to the orthodox ways of men, she
attributed the superfluous message to his general infirmity of character,
smiled indulgently, and dismissed the matter from her mind. Mrs. Oldrieve
had nothing to dismiss, as she had been led to believe that Emmy had gone
up to London by the morning train. She only bewailed the flighty
inconsequence of modern young women, until she reflected that Emmy's father
had gone and come with disconcerting unexpectedness from the day of their
wedding to that of his death on the horns of a buffalo; whereupon she
fatalistically attributed her daughter's ways to heredity. So while the two
incapables were sedulously covering up their tracks, the most placid
indifference as to their whereabouts reigned in Nunsmere.

The telegram, therefore, announcing their marriage found Zora entirely
unprepared for the news it contained. What a pitiful tragedy lay behind the
words she was a million miles from suspecting. She walked with her head
above such clouds, her eyes on the stars, taking little heed of the
happenings around her feet--and, if the truth is to be known, finding
mighty little instruction or entertainment in the firmament. The elopement,
for it was nothing more, brought her eyes, however, earthwards. "Why?" she
asked, not realizing it to be the most futile of questions when applied to
human actions. To every such "Why?" there are a myriad answers. When a
mysterious murder is committed, everyone seeks the motive. Unless
circumstance unquestionably provides the key of the enigma, who can tell?
It may be revenge for the foulest of wrongs. It may be that the assassin
objected to the wart on the other man's nose--and there are men to whom a
wart is a Pelion of rank offense, and who believe themselves
heaven-appointed to cut it off. It may be for worldly gain. It may be
merely for amusement. There is nothing so outrageous, so grotesque, which,
if the human brain has conceived it, the human hand has not done. Many a
man has taken a cab, on a sudden shower, merely to avoid the trouble of
unrolling his umbrella, and the sanest of women has been known to cheat a
'bus conductor of a penny, so as to wallow in the gratification of a
crossing-sweeper's blessing. When the philosopher asks the Everlasting Why,
he knows, if he be a sound philosopher--and a sound philosopher is he who
is not led into the grievous error of taking his philosophy seriously--that
the question is but the starting point of the entertaining game of
Speculation.

To this effect spake the Literary Man from London, when next he met Zora.
Nunsmere was in a swarm of excitement and the alien bee had, perforce, to
buzz with the rest.

"The interesting thing is," said he, "that the thing has happened. That
while the inhabitants of this smug village kept one dull eye on the
decalogue and another on their neighbors, Romance on its rosy pinions was
hovering over it. Two people have gone the right old way of man and maid.
They have defied the paralyzing conventions of the engagement. Oh! the
unutterable, humiliating, deadening period! When each young person has to
pass the inspection of the other's relations. When simpering friends
maddeningly leave them alone in drawing-rooms and conservatories so that
they can hold each other's hands. When they are on probation _coram
publico_. Our friends have defied all this. They have defied the orange
blossoms, the rice, the wedding presents, the unpleasant public affidavits,
the whole indecent paraphernalia of an orthodox wedding--the bridal veil--a
survival from the barbaric days when a woman was bought and paid for and a
man didn't know what he had got until he had married her and taken her
home--the senseless new clothes which brand them immodestly wherever they
go. Two people have had the courage to avoid all this, to treat marriage as
if it really concerned themselves and not Tom, Dick, and Harry. They've
done it. Why, doesn't matter. All honor to them."

He waved his stick in the air--they had met on the common--and the lame
donkey, who had strayed companionably near them, took to his heels in
fright.

"Even the donkey," said Zora, "Mr. Dix's most intimate friend, doesn't
agree with you."

"The ass will agree with the sage only in the millennium," said Rattenden.

But Zora was not satisfied with the professional philosopher's presentation
of the affair. She sought Wiggleswick, whom she found before a blazing fire
in the sitting-room, his feet on the mantelpiece, smoking a Havana cigar.
On her approach he wriggled to attention, and extinguishing the cigar by
means of saliva and a horny thumb and forefinger, put the stump into his
pocket.

"Good morning, Wiggleswick," said Zora cheerfully.

"Good morning, ma'am," said Wiggleswick.

"You seem to be having a good time."

Wiggleswick gave her to understand that, thanks to his master's angelic
disposition and his own worthiness, he always had a good time.

"Now that he's married there will have to be a few changes in household
arrangements," said Zora.

"What changes?"

"There will be a cook and parlor maid and regular hours, and a mistress to
look after things."

Wiggleswick put his cunning gray head on one side.

"I'm sure they'll make me very comfortable, ma'am. If they do the work, I
won't raise no manner of objection."

Zora, regarding the egoist with mingled admiration and vexedness, could
only say, "Oh!"

"I never raised no objection to his marriage from the first," said
Wiggleswick.

"Did he consult you about it?"

"Of course he did," he replied with an indulgent smile, while the light of
sportive fancy gleamed behind his blear eyes. "He looks on me as a father,
he does, ma'am. 'Wiggleswick,' says he, 'I'm going to be married.' 'I'm
delighted to hear it, sir,' says I. 'A man needs a woman's 'and about him,'
says I."

"When did he tell you this?"

Wiggleswick searched his inventive memory.

"About a fortnight ago. 'If I may be so bold, sir, who is the young lady?'
I asks. 'It's Miss Emily Oldrieve,' says he, and I said, 'A nicer,
brighter, prettier bit of goods'--I beg your pardon, ma'am--'young lady,
you couldn't pick up between here and Houndsditch.' I did say that, ma'am,
I tell you straight." He looked at her keenly to see whether this
expression of loyal admiration of his new mistress had taken effect, and
then continued. "And then he says to me, 'Wiggleswick, there ain't going to
be no grand wedding. You know me.'--And I does, ma'am. The outlandish
things he does, ma'am, would shock an alligator.--'I should forget the
day,' says he. 'I should lose the ring. I should marry the wrong party. I
should forget to kiss the bridesmaids. Lord knows what I shouldn't do. So
we're going up to London to be married on the Q.T., and don't you say
nothing to nobody."

"So you've been in this conspiracy for a fortnight," said Zora severely,
"and you never thought it your duty to stop him doing so foolish a thing?"

"As getting married, ma'am?"

"No. Such a silly thing as running away."

"Of course I did, ma'am," said Wiggleswick, who went on mendaciously to
explain that he had used every means in his power to prevail on his master
to submit to the orthodox ceremony for the sake of the family.

"Then you might have given me a hint as to what was going on."

Wiggleswick assumed a shocked expression. "And disobey my master? Orders is
orders, ma'am. I once wore the Queen's uniform."

Zora, sitting on the arm of a chair, half steadying herself with her
umbrella, regarded the old man standing respectfully at attention before
her with a smile whose quizzicality she could not restrain. The old villain
drew himself up in a dignified way.

"I don't mean the government uniform, ma'am. I've had my misfortunes like
anyone else. I was once in the army--in the band."

"Mr. Dix told me that you had been in the band," said Zora with all her
graciousness, so as to atone for the smile. "You played that instrument in
the corner."

"I did, ma'am," said Wiggleswick.

Zora looked down at the point of her umbrella on the floor. Having no
reason to disbelieve Wiggleswick's circumstantial though entirely
fictitious story, and having by the smile put herself at a disadvantage,
she felt uncomfortably routed.

"Your master never told you where he was going or how long he was likely to
be away?" she asked.

"My master, ma'am," replied Wiggleswick, "never knows where he is going.
That's why he wants a wife who can tell him."

Zora rose and looked around her. Then, with a sweep of her umbrella
indicating the general dustiness and untidiness of the room:

"The best thing you can do," said she, "is to have the house thoroughly
cleaned and put in order. They may be back any day. I'll send in a
charwoman to help you."

"Thank you, ma'am," said Wiggleswick, somewhat glumly. Although he had lied
volubly to her for his own ends, he stood in awe of her commanding
personality, and never dreamed of disregarding her high behests. But he had
a moral disapproval of work. He could see no nobility in it, having done so
much enforced labour in his time.

"Do you think we need begin now, ma'am?" he asked anxiously.

"At once," said Zora. "It will take you a month to clean the place. And it
will give you something to do."

She went away femininely consoled by her exercise of authority--a minor
victory covering a retreat. But she still felt very angry with Septimus.

When Clem Sypher came down to Penton Court for the week-end, he treated
the matter lightly.

"He knew that he was acceptable to your mother and yourself, so he has done
nothing dishonorable. All he wanted was your sister and the absence of
fuss. I think it sporting of him. I do, truly."

"And I think you're detestable!" cried Zora. "There's not a single man that
can understand."

"What do you want me to understand?"

"I don't know," said Zora, "but you ought to understand it."

A day or two later, meeting Rattenden again, she found that he comprehended
her too fully.

"What would have pleased you," said he, "would have been to play the _soeur
noble_, to have gathered the young couple in your embrace, and
magnanimously given them to each other, and smiled on the happiness of
which you had been the bounteous dispenser. They've cheated you. They've
cut your part clean out of the comedy, and you don't like it. If I'm not
right will you kindly order me out of the room? Well?" he asked, after a
pause, during which she hung her head.

"Oh, you can stay," she said with a half-laugh. "You're the kind of man
that always bets on a certainty."

Rattenden was right. She was jealous of Emmy for having unceremoniously
stolen her slave from her service--that Emmy had planned the whole
conspiracy she had not the slightest doubt--and she was angry with Septimus
for having been weak enough to lend himself to such duplicity. Even when he
wrote her a dutiful letter from Paris--to the telegram he had merely
replied, "Sorry; impossible"--full of everything save Emmy and their plans
for the future, she did not forgive him. How dared he consider himself fit
to travel by himself? His own servant qualified his doings as outlandish.

"They'll make a terrible mess of their honeymoon," she said to Clem Sypher.
"They'll start for Rome and find themselves in St. Petersburg."

"They'll be just as happy," said Sypher. "If I was on my honeymoon, do you
think I'd care where I went?"

"Well, I wash my hands of them," said Zora with a sigh, as if bereft of
dear responsibilities. "No doubt they're happy in their own way."

And that, for a long time, was the end of the matter. The house, cleaned
and polished, glittered like the instrument room of a man-of-war, and no
master or mistress came to bestow on Wiggleswick's toil the meed of their
approbation. The old man settled down again to well-earned repose, and the
house grew dusty and dingy again, and dustier and dingier as the weeks went
on.

It has been before stated that things happen slowly in Nunsmere, even the
reawakening of Zora's nostalgia for the Great World and Life and the
Secrets of the Earth. But things do happen there eventually, and the time
came when Zora found herself once again too big for the little house. She
missed Emmy's periodical visits. She missed the regulation of Septimus. She
missed her little motor expeditions with Sypher, who had sold his car and
was about to sell "The Kurhaus, Kilburn Priory." The Cure seemed to have
transformed itself from his heart to his nerves. He talked of it--or so it
appeared to her--with more braggadocio than enthusiasm. He could converse
of little else. It was going to smash Jebusa Jones's Cuticle Remedy to the
shreds of its ointment boxes. The deepening vertical line between the
man's brows she did not notice, nor did she interpret the wistful look in
his eyes when he claimed her help. She was tired of the Cure and the Remedy
and Sypher's fantastic need of her as ally. She wanted Life, real,
quivering human Life. It was certainly not to be found in Nunsmere, where
faded lives were laid away in lavender. For sheer sensations she began to
tolerate the cynical analysis of the Literary Man from London. She must go
forth on her journeyings again. She had already toyed with the idea when,
with Septimus's aid, she had mapped out voyages round the world. Now she
must follow it in strenuous earnest. The Callenders had cabled her an
invitation to come out at once to Los Angeles. She cabled back an
acceptance.

"So you're going away from me?" said Sypher, when she announced her
departure.

There was a hint of reproach in his voice which she resented.

"You told me in Monte Carlo that I ought to have a mission in life. I can't
find it here, so I'm going to seek one in California. What happens in this
Sleepy Hollow of a place that a live woman can concern herself with?"

"There's Sypher's Cure--"

"My dear Mr. Sypher!" she laughed protestingly.

"Oh," said he, "you are helping it on more than you imagine. I'm going
through a rough time, but with you behind me, as I told you before, I know
I shall win. If I turn my head round, when I'm sitting at my desk, I have a
kind of fleeting vision of you hovering over my chair. It puts heart and
soul into me, and gives me courage to make desperate ventures."

"As I'm only there in the spirit, it doesn't matter whether the bodily I
is in Nunsmere or Los Angeles."

"How can I tell?" said he, with one of his swift, clear glances. "I meet
you in the body every week and carry back your spirit with me. Zora
Middlemist," he added abruptly, after a pause, "I implore you not to leave
me."

He leaned his arm on the mantelpiece from which Septimus had knocked the
little china dog, and looked down earnestly at her, as she sat on the
chintz-covered sofa behind the tea-table. At her back was the long casement
window, and the last gleams of the wintry sun caught her hair. To the man's
visionary fancy they formed an aureole.

"Don't go, Zora."

She was silent for a long, long time, as if held by the spell of the man's
pleading. Her face softened adorably and a tenderness came into the eyes
which he could not see. A mysterious power seemed to be lifting her towards
him. It was a new sensation, pleasurable, like floating down a stream with
the water murmuring in her ears. Then, suddenly, as if startled to vivid
consciousness out of a dream, she awakened, furiously indignant.

"Why shouldn't I go? Tell me once and for all, why?"

She expected what any woman alive might have expected save the chosen few
who have the great gift of reading the souls of the poet and the visionary;
and Clem Sypher, in his way, was both. She braced her nerves to hear the
expected. But the poet and the visionary spoke.

It was the old story of the Cure, his divine mission to spread the healing
unguent over the suffering earth. Voices had come to him as they had come
to the girl at Domrémy, and they had told him that through Zora Middlemist,
and no other, was his life's mission to be accomplished.

To her it was anticlimax. Reaction forced a laugh against her will. She
leaned back among the sofa cushions.

"Is that all?" she said, and Sypher did not catch the significance of the
words. "You seem to forget that the rôle of Mascotte is not a particularly
active one. It's all very well for you, but I have to sit at home and twirl
my thumbs. Have you ever tried that by way of soul-satisfying occupation?
Don't you think you're just a bit--egotistical?"

He relaxed the tension of his attitude with a sigh, thrust his hands into
his pockets and sat down.

"I suppose I am. When a man wants something with all the strength of his
being and thinks of nothing else day or night, he develops a colossal
selfishness. It's a form of madness, I suppose. There was a man called
Bernard Palissy who had it, and made everybody sacrifice themselves to his
idea. I've no right to ask you to sacrifice yourself to mine."

"You have the right of friendship," said Zora, "to claim my interest in
your hopes and fears, and that I've given you and shall always give you.
But beyond that, as you say, you have no right."

He rose, with a laugh. "I know. It's as logical as a proposition of Euclid.
But all the same I feel I have a higher right, beyond any logic. There are
all kinds of phenomena in life which have nothing whatsoever to do with
reason. You have convinced my reason that I'm an egotistical dreamer. But
nothing you can do or say will ever remove the craving for you that I have
here "--and he thumped his big chest--"like hunger."

When he had gone Zora thought over the scene with more disturbance of mind
than she appreciated. She laughed to herself at Sypher's fantastic claim.
To give up the great things of the world, Life itself, for the sake of a
quack ointment! It was preposterous. Sypher was as crazy as Septimus;
perhaps crazier, for the latter did not thump his chest and inform her that
his guns or his patent convertible bed-razor-strop had need of her "here."
Decidedly, the results of her first excursion into the big world had not
turned out satisfactorily. Her delicate nose sniffed at them in disdain.
The sniff, however, was disappointingly unconvincing. The voices of
contemptible people could not sound in a woman's ears like the drowsy
murmuring of waters. The insane little devil that had visited her in Clem
Sypher's garden whispered her to stay.

But had not Zora, in the magnificence of her strong womanhood, in the
hunger of her great soul, to find somewhere in the world a Mission in Life,
a fulness of existence which would accomplish her destiny? Down with the
insane little devil and all his potential works! Zora laughed and recovered
her serenity. Cousin Jane, who had had much to write concerning the
elopement, was summoned, and Zora, with infinite baggage in the care of
Turner, set sail for California.

The New World lay before her with its chances of real, quivering, human
Life. Nunsmere, where nothing ever happened, lay behind her. She smiled
graciously at Sypher, who saw her off at Waterloo, and said nice things to
him about the Cure, but before her eyes danced a mirage in which Clem
Sypher and his Cure were not visible. The train steamed out of the station.
Sypher stood on the edge of the platform and watched the end buffers until
they were out of sight; then he turned and strode away, and his face was
that of a man stricken with great loneliness.



CHAPTER XII


It never occurred to Septimus that he had done a quixotic thing in marrying
Emmy, any more than to pat himself on the back for a monstrously clever
fellow when he had completed a new invention. At the door of the Registry
Office he took off his hat, held out his hand, and said good-by.

"But where are you going?" Emmy asked in dismay.

Septimus didn't know. He waved his hand vaguely over London, and said,
"Anywhere."

Emmy began to cry. She had passed most of the morning in tears. She felt
doubly guilty now that she had accepted the sacrifice of his life; an awful
sense of loneliness also overwhelmed her.

"I didn't know that you hated me like that," she said.

"Good heavens!" he cried in horror. "I don't hate you. I only thought you
had no further use for me."

"And I'm to be left alone in the street?"

"I'll drive you anywhere you like," said he.

"And then get rid of me as soon as possible? Oh! I know what you must be
feeling."

Septimus put his hand under her arm, and led her away, in great distress.

"I thought you wouldn't be able to bear the sight of me."

"Oh, don't be silly!" said Emmy.

Her adjuration was on a higher plane of sentiment than expression. It
comforted Septimus.

"What would you like me to do?"

"Anything except leave me to myself--at any rate for the present. Don't
you see, I've only you in the world to look to."

"God bless my soul," said he, "I suppose that's so. It's very alarming. No
one has ever looked to me in all my life. I'd wander barefoot for you all
over the earth. But couldn't you find somebody else who's more used to
looking after people? It's for your own sake entirely," he hastened to
assure her.

"I know," she said. "But you see it's impossible for me to go to any of my
friends, especially after what has happened." She held out her ungloved
left hand. "How could I explain?"

"You must never explain," he agreed, sagely. "It would undo everything. I
suppose things are easy, after all, when you've set your mind on them--or
get some chap that knows everything to tell you how to do them--and there's
lots of fellows about that know everything--solicitors and so forth.
There's the man who told me about a Registrar. See how easy it was. Where
would you like to go?"

"Anywhere out of England." She shuddered. "Take me to Paris first. We can
go on from there anywhere we like."

"Certainly," said Septimus, and he hailed a hansom.

       *       *       *       *       *

Thus it fell out that the strangely married pair kept together during the
long months that followed. Emmy's flat in London had been rented furnished.
The maid Edith had vanished, after the manner of many of her kind, into
ancillary space. The theater and all it signified to Emmy became a past
dream. Her inner world was tragical enough, poor child. Her outer world was
Septimus. In Paris, as she shrank from meeting possible acquaintances, he
found her a furnished _appartement_ in the Boulevard Raspail, while he
perched in a little hotel close by. The finding of the _appartement_ was an
illustration of his newly invented, optimistic theory of getting things
done.

He came back to the hotel where he had provisionally lodged her and
informed her of his discovery. She naturally asked him how he had found it.

"A soldier told me," he said.

"A soldier?"

"Yes. He had great baggy red trousers and a sash around his waist and a
short blue jacket braided with red and a fez with a tassel and a shaven
head. He saved me from being run over by a cab."

Emmy shivered. "Oh, don't talk of it in that calm way--suppose you had been
killed!"

"I suppose the Zouave would have buried me--he's such a helpful creature,
you know. He's been in Algiers. He says I ought to go there. His name is
Hégisippe Cruchot."

"But what about the flat?" asked Emmy.

"Oh, you see, I fell down in front of the cab and he dragged me away and
brushed me down with a waiter's napkin--there was a café within a yard or
two. And then I asked him to have a drink and gave him a cigarette. He
drank absinthe, without water, and then I began to explain to him an idea
for an invention which occurred to me to prevent people from being run over
by cabs, and he was quite interested. I'll show you--"

"You won't," said Emmy, with a laugh. She had her lighter moments. "You'll
do no such thing--not until you've told me about the flat."

"Oh! the flat," said Septimus in a disappointed tone, as if it were a
secondary matter altogether. "I gave him another absinthe and we became so
friendly that I told him that I wanted a flat and didn't in the least know
how to set about finding one. It turned out that there was an _appartement_
vacant in the house of which his mother is concierge. He took me along to
see it, and introduced me to Madame, his mother. He has also got an aunt
who can cook."

"I should like to have seen you talking to the Zouave," said Emmy. "It
would have made a pretty picture--the two of you hobnobbing over a little
marble table."

"It was iron, painted yellow," said Septimus. "It wasn't a resplendent
café."

"I wonder what he thought of you."

"Well, he introduced me to his mother," replied Septimus gravely, whereat
Emmy broke into merry laughter, for the first time for many days.

"I've taken the _appartement_ for a month and the aunt who can cook," he
remarked.

"What!" cried Emmy, who had not paid very serious regard to the narrative.
"Without knowing anything at all about it?"

She put on her hat and insisted on driving there incontinently, full of
misgivings. But she found a well-appointed house, a deep-bosomed,
broad-beamed concierge, who looked as if she might be the mother of twenty
helpful Zouaves, and an equally matronly and kindly-faced sister, a Madame
Bolivard, the aunt aforesaid who could cook.

Thus, as the ravens fed Elijah, so did Zouaves and other casual fowl aid
Septimus on his way. Madame Bolivard in particular took them both under her
ample wing, to the girl's unspeakable comfort. A _brav' femme_, Madame
Bolivard, who not only could cook, but could darn stockings and mend
linen, which Emmy's frivolous fingers had never learned to accomplish. She
could also prescribe miraculous _tisanes_ for trivial ailments, could tell
the cards, and could converse volubly on any subject under heaven; the less
she knew about it, the more she had to say, which is a great gift. It
spared the girl many desolate and despairing hours.

It was a lonely, monotonous life. Septimus she saw daily. Now and then, if
Septimus were known to be upstairs, Hégisippe Cruchot, coming to pay his
filial respects to his mother and his mother's _bouillabaisse_ (she was
from Marseilles) and her _matelote_ of eels, luxuries which his halfpenny a
day could not provide, would mount to inquire dutifully after his aunt and
incidentally after the _belle dame du troisième_. He was their only visitor
from the outside world, and as he found a welcome and an ambrosial form of
alcohol compounded of Scotch whiskey and Maraschino (whose subtlety Emmy
had learned from an eminent London actor-manager at a far-away supper
party), he came as often as his respectful ideas of propriety allowed.

They were quaint gatherings, these, in the stiffly furnished little salon:
Emmy, fluffy-haired, sea-shell-cheeked, and softly raimented, lying
indolently on the sofa amid a pile of cushions--she had sent Septimus out
to "La Samaritaine" to buy some (in French furnished rooms they stuff the
cushions with cement), and he had brought back a dozen in a cab, so that
the whole room heaved and swelled with them; Septimus, with his mild blue
eyes and upstanding hair, looking like the conventional picture of one who
sees a ghost; Hégisippe Cruchot, the outrageousness of whose piratical kit
contrasted with his suavity of manner, sitting with military precision on
a straight-backed chair; and Madame Bolivard standing in a far corner of
the room; her bare arms crossed above her blue apron, and watching the
scene with an air of kindly proprietorship. They spoke in French, for only
one word of English had Hégisippe and his aunt between them, and that being
"Howdodogoddam" was the exclusive possession of the former. Emmy gave
utterance now and then to peculiar vocables which she had learned at
school, and which Hégisippe declared to be the purest Parisian he had ever
heard an Englishwoman use, while Septimus spoke very fair French indeed.
Hégisippe would twirl his little brown mustache--he was all brown, skin and
eyes and close-cropped hair, and even the skull under the hair--and tell of
his military service and of the beautiful sunshine of Algiers and, when his
aunt was out of the room, of his Arcadian love affairs. She served in a
wine shop in the Rue des Francs-Bouchers. When was he going to get married?
At Emmy's question he laughed, with a wave of his cigarette, and a clank of
his bayonet against the leg of the chair. On a sou a day? Time enough for
that when he had made his fortune. His mother then would doubtless find him
a suitable wife with a dowry. When his military service was over he was
going to be a waiter. When he volunteered this bit of information Emmy gave
a cry of surprise. This dashing, swaggering desperado of a fellow a waiter!

"I shall never understand this country!" she cried.

"When one has good introductions and knows how to comport oneself, one
makes much"--and he rubbed his thumb and fingers together, according to the
national code of pantomime.

And then his hosts would tell him about England and the fogs, wherein he
was greatly interested; or Septimus would discourse to him of inventions,
the weak spot in which his shrewd intelligence generally managed to strike,
and then Septimus would run his fingers through this hair and say, "God
bless my soul, I never thought of that," and Emmy would laugh; or else they
talked politics. Hégisippe, being a Radical, _fiché_'d himself absolutely
of the Pope and the priests. To be kind to one's neighbors and act as a
good citizen summed up his ethical code. He was as moral as any devout
Catholic.

"What about the girl in the Rue des Francs-Bouchers?" asked Emmy.

"If I were a good Catholic, I would have two, for then I could get
absolution," he cried gaily, and laughed immoderately at his jest.

The days of his visits were marked red in Emmy's calendar.

"I wish I were a funny beggar, and had lots of conversation like our friend
Cruchot, and could make you laugh," said Septimus one day, when the _tædium
vitæ_ lay heavy on her.

"If you had a sense of humor you wouldn't be here," she replied, with some
bitterness.

Septimus rubbed his thin hands together thoughtfully.

"I don't know why you should say that," said he. "I never heard a joke I
didn't see the point of. I'm rather good at it."

"If you don't see the point of this joke, I can't explain it, my dear. It
has a point the size of a pyramid."

He nodded and looked dreamily out of the window at the opposite houses.
Sometimes her sharp sayings hurt him. But he understood all, in his dim
way, and pardoned all. He never allowed her to see him wince. He stood so
long silent that Emmy looked up anxiously at his face, dreading the effect
of her words. His hand hung by his side--he was near the sofa where she
lay. She took it gently, in a revulsion of feeling, kissed it, and, as he
turned, flung it from her.

"Go, my dear; go. I'm not fit to talk to you. Yes, go. You oughtn't to be
here; you ought to be in England in your comfortable home with Wiggleswick
and your books and inventions. You're too good for me, and I'm hateful. I
know it, and it drives me mad."

He took her hand in his turn and held it for a second or two in both of his
and patted it kindly.

"I'll go out and buy something," he said.

When he returned she was penitent and glad to see him; and although he
brought her as a present a hat--a thing of purple feathers and green velvet
and roses, in which no self-respecting woman would be seen mummified a
thousand years hence--she neither laughed at it nor upbraided him, but
tried the horror on before the glass and smiled sweetly while the cold
shivers ran down her back.

"I don't want you to say funny things, Septimus," she said, reverting to
the starting point of the scene, "so long as you bring me such presents as
this."

"It's a nice hat," he admitted modestly. "The woman in the shop said that
very few people could wear it."

"I'm so glad you think I'm an exceptional woman," she said. "It's the first
compliment you have ever paid me."

She shed tears, though, over the feathers of the hat, before she went to
bed, good tears, such as bring great comfort and cleanse the heart. She
slept happier that night; and afterwards, whenever the devils entered her
soul and the pains of hell got hold upon her, she recalled the tears, and
they became the holy water of an exorcism.

Septimus, unconscious of this landmark in their curious wedded life, passed
tranquil though muddled days in his room at the Hôtel Godet. A gleam of
sunlight on the glazed hat of an omnibus driver, the stick of the whip and
the horse's ear, as he was coming home one day on the _impériale_, put him
on the track of a new sighting apparatus for a field gun which he had half
invented some years before. The working out of this, and the
superintendence of the making of the model at some works near Vincennes,
occupied much of his time and thought. In matters appertaining to his
passion he had practical notions of procedure; he would be at a loss to
know where to buy a tooth-brush, and be dependent on the ministrations of a
postman or an old woman in a charcoal shop, but to the place where delicate
instruments could be made he went straight, as instinctively and surely as
a buffalo heads for water. Many of his books and papers had been sent him
from time to time by Wiggleswick, who began to dread the post, the labor of
searching and packing and dispatching becoming too severe a tax on the old
villain's leisure. These lay in promiscuous heaps about the floor of his
bedroom, stepping-stones amid a river of minor objects, such as collars and
bits of india rubber and the day before yesterday's _Petit Journal_. The
_femme de chambre_ and the dirty, indeterminate man in a green baize apron,
who went about raising casual dust with a great feather broom, at first
stowed the litter away daily, with jackdaw ingenuity of concealment, until
Septimus gave them five francs each to desist; whereupon they desisted with
alacrity, and the books became the stepping-stones aforesaid,
stepping-stones to higher things. His only concern was the impossibility of
repacking them when the time should come for him to leave the Hôtel Godet,
and sometimes the more academic speculation as to what Zora would say
should some miracle of levitation transport her to the untidy chamber. He
could see her, radiant and commanding, dispelling chaos with the sweep of
her parasol.

There were few moments in the day when he did not crave her presence. It
had been warmth and sunshine and color to him for so long that now the sun
seemed to have disappeared from the sky, leaving the earth a chill
monochrome. Life was very difficult without her. She had even withdrawn
from him the love "in a sort of way" to which she had confessed. The
goddess was angry at the slight cast on her by his secret marriage. And she
was in California, a myriad of miles away. She could not have been more
remote had she been in Saturn. When Emmy asked him whether he did not long
for Wiggleswick and the studious calm of Nunsmere, he said, "No." And he
spoke truly; for wherein lay the advantage of one spot on the earth's
surface over another, if Zora were not the light thereof? But he kept his
reason in his heart. They rarely spoke of Zora.

Of the things that concerned Emmy herself so deeply, they never spoke at
all. Of her hopes and fears for the future he knew nothing. For all that
was said between them, Mordaunt Prince might have been the figure of a
dream that had vanished into the impenetrable mists of dreamland. To the
girl he was a ghastly memory which she strove to hide in the depths of her
soul. Septimus saw that she suffered, and went many quaint and irrelevant
ways to alleviate her misery. Sometimes they got on her nerves; more often
they made the good tears come. Once she was reading a tattered volume of
George Eliot which she had picked up during a stroll on the quays, and
calling him over to her side pointed out a sentence: "Dogs are the best
friends, they are always ready with their sympathy and they ask no
questions."

"That's like you," she said; "but George Eliot had never met a man like
you, poor thing, so she had to stick the real thing down to dogs."

Septimus reddened. "Dogs bark and keep one from sleeping," he said. "My
next-door neighbor at the Hôtel Godet has two. An ugly man with a beard
comes and takes them out in a motor car. Do you know, I'm thinking of
growing a beard. I wonder how I should look in it?"

Emmy laughed and caught his sleeve. "Why won't you even let me tell you
what I think of you?"

"Wait till I've grown the beard, and then you can," said Septimus.

"That will be never," she retorted; "for if you grow a beard, you'll look a
horror, like a Prehistoric Man--and I sha'n't have anything to do with you.
So I'll never be able to tell you."

"It would be better so," said he.

They made many plans for settling down in some part of rural France or
Switzerland--they had the map of Europe to choose from--but Septimus's
vagueness and a disinclination for further adventure on the part of Emmy
kept them in Paris. The winter brightened into spring, and Paris, gay in
lilac and sunshine, held them in her charm. There were days when they
almost forgot, and became the light-hearted companions of the lame donkey
on Nunsmere Common.

A day on the Seine, for instance, in a steamboat, when the water was
miraculously turned to sparkling wine and the great masses of buildings
were bathed in amber and the domes of the Pantheon and the Invalides and
the cartouches and bosses of the Pont Alexandre III shone burnished gold.
There was Auteuil, with its little open-air restaurants, rustic trellis and
creepers, and its _friture_ of gudgeon and dusty salt and cutlery and great
yards of bread, which Emmy loved to break with Septimus, like Christmas
crackers. Then, afterwards, there was the winding Seine again, Robinson
Crusoe's Island in all its greenery, and St. Cloud with its terrace looking
over the valley to Paris wrapped in an amethyst haze, with here and there a
triumphant point of glory.

A day also in the woods of Bas Meudon, alone beneath the trees, when they
talked like children, and laughed over the luncheon basket which Madame
Bolivard had stuffed full of electrifying edibles; when they lay on their
backs and looked dreamily at the sky through the leaves, and listened to
the chirrup of insects awakening from winter and the strange cracklings and
tiny voices of springtide, and gave themselves up to the general vibration
of life which accompanies the working of the sap in the trees.

Days, too, in mid-Paris, in the Luxembourg Gardens, among the nursery maids
and working folk; at cafés on the remoter boulevards, where the kindly life
of Paris, still untouched by touristdom, passes up and down, and the spring
gets into the step of youth and sparkles in a girl's eyes. At the window
even of the _appartement_ in the Boulevard Raspail, when the air was
startlingly clear and scented and brought the message of spring from far
lands, from the golden shores of the Mediterranean, from the windy mountain
tops of Auvergne, from the broad, tender green fields of Central France,
from every heart and tree and flower, from Paris itself, quivering with
life. At such times they would not talk, both interpreting the message in
their own ways, yet both drawn together into a common mood in which they
vaguely felt that the earth was still a Land of Romance, that the mystery
of rebirth was repeating itself according to unchanging and perpetual law;
that inconsiderable, forlorn human atoms though they were, the law would
inevitably affect them too, and cause new hopes, new desires, and new
happiness to bud and flower in their hearts.

During these spring days there began to dawn in the girl's soul a knowledge
of the deeper meaning of things. When she first met Septimus and
delightedly regarded him as a new toy, she was the fluffy, frivolous little
animal of excellent breeding and half education, so common in English
country residential towns, with the little refinements somewhat coarsened,
the little animalism somewhat developed, the little brain somewhat
sharpened, by her career on the musical-comedy stage. Now there were signs
of change. A glimmering notion of the duty of sacrifice entered her head.
She carried it out by appearing one day, when Septimus was taking her for a
drive, in the monstrous nightmare of a hat. It is not given to breathing
male to appreciate the effort it cost her. She said nothing; neither did
he. She sat for two hours in the victoria, enduring the tortures of the
uglified, watching him out of the tail of her eye and waiting for a sign of
recognition. At last she could endure it no longer.

"I put this thing on to please you," she said.

"What thing?"

"The hat you gave me."

"Oh! Is that it?" he murmured in his absent way. "I'm so glad you like it."

He had never noticed it. He had scarcely recognized it. It had given him no
pleasure. She had made of herself a sight for gods and men to no earthly
purpose. All her sacrifice had been in vain. It was then that she really
experienced the disciplinary irony of existence. She never wore the hat
again; wherein she was blameless.

The spring deepened into summer, and they stayed on in the Boulevard
Raspail until they gave up making plans. Paris baked in the sun, and
theaters perished, and riders disappeared from the Acacias, and Cook's
brakes replaced the flashing carriages in the grand Avenue des Champs
Elysées, and the great Anglo-Saxon language resounded from the Place de la
Bastille to the Bon Marché. The cab horses drooped as if drugged by the
vapor of the melting asphalt beneath their noses. Men and women sat by
doorways, in front of little shops, on the benches in wide thoroughfares.
The Latin Quarter blazed in silence and the gates of the great schools were
shut. The merchants of lemonade wheeled their tin vessels through the
streets and the bottles crowned with lemons looked pleasant to hot eyes.
For the dust lay thick upon the leaves of trees and the lips of men, and
the air was heavy with the over-fulfilment of spring's promise.

Septimus was sitting with Hégisippe Cruchot outside the little café of the
iron tables painted yellow where first they had consorted.

"_Mon ami_," said he, "you are one of the phenomena that make me believe in
the _bon Dieu_. If you hadn't dragged me from under the wheels of the cab,
I should have been killed, and if I had been killed you wouldn't have
introduced me to your aunt who can cook, and what I should have done
without your aunt heaven only knows. I owe you much."

"_Bah, mon vieux_," said Hégisippe, "what are you talking about? You owe me
nothing."

"I owe you three lives," said Septimus.



CHAPTER XIII


Hégisippe Cruchot laughed and twirled his little brows mustache.

"If you think so much of it," said he, "you can acquit your debt in full by
offering me another absinthe to drink the health of the three."

"Why, of course," said Septimus.

Hégisippe, who was sitting next the door, twisted his head round and
shouted his order to those within. It was a very modest little café; in
fact it was not a café at all, but a _Marchand des vins_ with a zinc
counter inside, and a couple of iron tables outside on the pavement to
convey the air of a _terrasse_. Septimus, with his genius for the
inharmonious, drank tea; not as the elegant nowadays drink at Colombin's or
Rumpelmayer's, but a dirty, gray liquid served with rum, according to the
old French fashion, before _five-o'cloquer_ became a verb in the language.
When people ask for tea at a _Marchand des vins_, the teapot has to be
hunted up from goodness knows where; and as for the tea...! Septimus,
however, sipped the decoction of the dust of ages with his usual placidity.
He had poured himself out a second cup and was emptying into it the
remainder of the carafe of rum, so as to be ready for the toast as soon as
Hégisippe had prepared his absinthe, when a familiar voice behind him
caused him to start and drop the carafe itself into the teacup.

"Well, I'm blessed!" said the voice.

It was Clem Sypher, large, commanding, pink, and smiling. The sight of
Septimus hobnobbing with a Zouave outside a humble wine merchant's had
drawn from him the exclamation of surprise. Septimus jumped to his feet.

"My dear fellow, how glad I am to see you. Won't you sit down and join us?
Have a drink."

Sypher took off his gray Homburg hat for a moment, and wiped a damp
forehead.

"Whew! How anybody can stay in Paris this weather unless they are obliged
to is a mystery."

"Why do you stay?" asked Septimus.

"I'm not staying. I'm passing through on my way to Switzerland to look
after the Cure there. But I thought I'd look you up. I was on my way to
you. I was in Nunsmere last week and took Wiggleswick by the throat and
choked your address out of him. The Hôtel Godet. It's somewhere about here,
isn't it?"

"Over there," said Septimus, with a wave of the hand. He brought a chair
from the other table. "Do sit down."

Sypher obeyed. "How's the wife?"

"The--what?" asked Septimus.

"The wife--Mrs. Dix."

"Oh, very well, thank you," he said hurriedly. "Let me introduce you to my
good friend Monsieur Hégisippe Cruchot of the Zouaves--Monsieur
Cruchot--Monsieur Clem Sypher."

Hégisippe saluted and declared his enchantment according to the manners of
his country. Sypher raised his hat politely.

"Of Sypher's Cure--Friend of Humanity. Don't forget that," he said
laughingly in French.

"_Qu'est ce que c'est que ça?_" asked Hégisippe, turning to Septimus.
Septimus explained.

"Ah-h!" cried Hégisippe, open-mouthed, the light of recognition in his
eyes. "_La Cure Sypher_!" He made it rhyme with "prayer." "But I know that
well. And it is Monsieur who fabricates _ce machin-là_?"

"Yes; the Friend of Humanity. What have you used it for?"

"For my heels when they had blisters after a long day's march."

The effect of these words on Sypher was electrical. He brought both hands
down on the table, leaned back in his chair, and looked at Septimus.

"Good heavens!" he cried, changing color, "it never occurred to me."

"What?"

"Why--blistered heels--marching. Don't you see? It will cure the sore feet
of the Armies of the World. It's a revelation! It will be in the knapsack
of every soldier who goes to manoeuvers or to war! It will be a jolly sight
more useful than a marshal's baton! It will bring soothing comfort to
millions of brave men! Why did I never think of it? I must go round to all
the War Offices of the civilized globe. It's colossal. It makes your brain
reel. Friend of Humanity? I shall be the Benefactor of the Human Race."

"What will you have to drink?" asked Septimus.

"Anything. _Donnez-moi un bock_," he said impatiently, obsessed by his new
idea. "Tell me, Monsieur Cruchot, you who have used the _Cure Sypher_. It
is well known in the French army is it not? You had it served out from the
regimental medical stores?"

"Ah, no, Monsieur. It is my mother who rubbed it on my heels."

Sypher's face expressed disappointment, but he cheered up again
immediately.

"Never mind. It is the idea that you have given me. I am very grateful to
you, Monsieur Cruchot."

Hégisippe laughed. "It is to my mother you should be grateful, Monsieur."

"I should like to present her with a free order for the Cure for life--if I
knew where she lived."

"That is easy," said Hégisippe, "seeing that she is concierge in the house
where the _belle dame_ of Monsieur has her _appartement_."

"Her _appartement_?" Sypher turned sharply to Septimus. "What's that? I
thought you lived at the Hôtel Godet."

"Of course," said Septimus, feeling very uncomfortable. "I live in the
hotel, and Emmy lives in a flat. She couldn't very well stay in the Hôtel
Godet, because it isn't a nice place for ladies. There's a dog in the
courtyard that howls. I tried to throw him some cold ham the other morning
about six o'clock to stop him; but it hit a sort of dustman, who ate it and
looked up for more. It was very good ham, and I was going to have it for
supper."

"But, my dear man," said Sypher, laying his hand on his friend's shoulder,
and paying no heed to the dog, ham, and dustman story, "aren't you two
living together?"

"Oh, dear, not" said Septimus, in alarm, and then, catching at the first
explanation--"you see, our hours are different."

Sypher shook his head uncomprehendingly. The proprietor of the
establishment, in dingy shirt-sleeves, set down the beer before him.
Hégisippe, who had mixed his absinthe and was waiting politely until their
new friend should be served, raised his glass.

"Just before you came, Monsieur," said he, "I was about to drink to the
health--"

"Of _L'Armée-Française_," interrupted Septimus, reaching out his glass.

"But no," laughed Hégisippe. "It was to Monsieur, Madame, et Bébé."

"Bébé?" cried Sypher, and Septimus felt his clear, swift glance read his
soul.

They clinked glasses. Hégisippe, defying the laws governing the absorption
of alcohols, tossed off his absinthe in swashbuckler fashion, and rose.

"Now I leave you. You have many things to talk about. My respectful
compliments to Madame. Messieurs, au revoir."

He shook hands, saluted and swaggered off, his chechia at the very back of
his head, leaving half his shaven crown uncovered in front.

"A fine fellow, your friend, an intelligent fellow--" said Sypher, watching
him.

"He's going to be a waiter," said Septimus.

"Now that he has had his heels rubbed with the cure he may be more
ambitious. A valuable fellow, for having given me a stupendous idea--but a
bit indiscreet, eh? Never mind," he added, seeing the piteous look on
Septimus's face. "I'll have discretion for the two of us. I'll not breathe
a word of it to anybody."

"Thank you," said Septimus.

There was an awkward silence. Septimus traced a diagram on the table with
the spilled tea. Sypher lighted a cigar, which he smoked in the corner of
his mouth, American fashion.

"Well, I'm damned!" he muttered below his breath.

He looked hard at Septimus, intent on his tea drawing. Then he shifted his
cigar impatiently to the other side of his mouth. "No, I'm damned if I am.
I can't be."

"You can't be what?" asked Septimus, catching his last words.

"Damned."

"Why should you be?"

"Look here," said Sypher, "I've rushed in rather unceremoniously into your
private affairs. I'm sorry. But I couldn't help taking an interest in the
two of you, both for your own sake and that of Zora Middlemist."

"I suppose you would do anything for her."

"Yes."

"So would I," said Septimus, in a low voice. "There are some women one
lives for and others one dies for."

"She is one of the women for whom one would live."

Septimus shook his head. "No, she's the other kind. It's much higher. I've
had a lot of time to think the last few months," he continued after a
pause. "I've had no one but Emmy and Hégisippe Cruchot to talk to--and I've
thought a great deal about women. They usedn't to come my way, and I didn't
know anything at all about them."

"Do you now?" asked Sypher, with a smile.

"Oh, a great deal," replied Septimus seriously. "It's astonishing what a
lot of difference there is between them and between the ways men approach
different types. One woman a man wants to take by the hand and lead, and
another--he's quite content if she makes a carpet of his body and walks over
it to save her feet from sharp stones. It's odd, isn't it?"

"Not very," said Sypher, who took a more direct view of things than
Septimus. "It's merely because he has got a kindly feeling for one woman
and is desperately in love with the other."

"Perhaps that's it," said Septimus.

Sypher again looked at him sharply, as a man does who thinks he has caught
another man's soul secret. It was only under considerable stress of feeling
that such coherence of ideas could have been expressed by his irrelevant
friend. What he had learned the last few minutes had been a surprise, a
pain, and a puzzle to him. The runaway marriage held more elements than he
had imagined. He bent forward confidentially.

"You would make a carpet of your body for Zora Middlemist?"

"Why, of course," replied the other in perfect simplicity.

"Then, my friend, you're desperately in love with her."

There was kindness, help, sympathy in the big man's voice, and Septimus,
though the challenge caused him agonies of shyness, did not find it in his
heart to resent Sypher's logic.

"I suppose every man whom she befriends must feel the same towards her.
Don't you?"

"I? I'm different. I've got a great work to carry through. I couldn't lie
down for anybody to walk over me. My work would suffer--but in this mission
of mine Zora Middlemist is intimately involved. I said it when I first saw
her, and I said it just before she left for California. She is to stand by
my side and help me. How, God knows." He laughed, seeing the bewildered
face of Septimus, who had never heard of this transcendental connection of
Zora with the spread of Sypher's Cure. "You seem to think I'm crazy. I'm
not. I work everything on the most hard and fast common-sense lines. But
when a voice inside you tells you a thing day and night, you must believe
it."

Said Septimus: "If you had not met her, you wouldn't have met Hégisippe
Cruchot, and so you wouldn't have got the idea of Army blisters."

Sypher clapped him on the shoulder and extolled him as a miracle of
lucidity. He explained magniloquently. It was Zora's unseen influence
working magnetically from the other side of the world that had led his
footsteps towards the Hôtel Godet on that particular afternoon. She had
triumphantly vindicated her assertion that geographical location of her
bodily presence could make no difference.

"I asked her to stay in England, you know," he remarked more simply, seeing
that Septimus lagged behind him in his flight.

"What for?"

"Why, to help me. For what other reason?"

Septimus took off his hat and laid it on the chair vacated by Hégisippe,
and ran his fingers reflectively up his hair. Sypher lit another cigar.
Their side of the little street was deep in shade, but on half the road and
on the other side of the way the fierce afternoon sunlight blazed. The
merchant of wine, who had been lounging in his dingy shirt-sleeves against
the door-post, removed the glasses and wiped the table clear of the spilled
tea. Sypher ordered two more bocks for the good of the house, while
Septimus, still lost in thought, brought his hair to its highest pitch of
Struwel Peterdom. Passers-by turned round to look at them, for well-dressed
Englishmen do not often sit outside a _Marchand des vins_, especially one
with such hair. But passers-by are polite in France and do not salute the
unfamiliar with ribaldry.

"Well," said Sypher, at last.

"We've been speaking intimately," said Septimus. He paused, then proceeded
with his usual diffidence. "I've never spoken intimately to a man before,
and I don't quite know how to do it--it must be just like asking a woman to
marry you--but don't you think you were selfish?"

"Selfish? How?"

"In asking Zora Middlemist to give up her trip to California, just for the
sake of the Cure."

"It's worth the sacrifice," Sypher maintained.

"To you, yes; but it mayn't be so to her."

"But she believes in the thing as I do myself!" cried Sypher.

"Why should she, any more than I, or Hégisippe Cruchot? If she did, she
would have stayed. It would have been her duty. You couldn't expect a woman
like Zora Middlemist to fail in her duty, could you?"

Sypher rubbed his eyes, as if he saw things mistily. But they were quite
clear. It was really Septimus Dix who sat opposite, concentrating his
discursive mind on Sypher's Cure and implicitly denying Zora's faith. A
simple-minded man in many respects, he would not have scorned to learn
wisdom out of the mouths of babes and sucklings; but out of the mouth of
Septimus what wisdom could possibly proceed? He laughed his suggestion away
somewhat blusteringly and launched out again on his panegyric of the Cure.
But his faith felt a quiver all through its structure, just as a great
building does at the first faint shock of earthquake.

"What made you say that about Zora Middlemist?" he asked when he had
finished.

"I don't know," replied Septimus. "It seemed to be right to say it. I know
when I get things into my head there appears to be room for nothing else
in the world. One takes things for granted. When I was a child my father
took it for granted that I believed in predestination. I couldn't; but I
did not dare tell him so. So I went about with a load of somebody else's
faith on my shoulders. It became intolerable; and when my father found out
he beat me. He had a bit of rope tied up with twine at the end for the
purpose. I shouldn't like this to happen to Zora."

This ended the discussion. The landlord at his door-post drew them into
talk about the heat, the emptiness of Paris and the happy lot of those who
could go into villeggiatura in the country. The arrival of a perspiring
cabman in a red waistcoat and glazed hat caused him to retire within and
administer to the newcomer's needs.

"One of my reasons for looking you up," said Sypher, "was to make my
apologies."

"Apologies?"

"Yes. Haven't you thought about the book on guns and wondered at not
hearing from me?"

"No," said Septimus. "When I've invented a thing the interest has gone.
I've just invented a new sighting apparatus. I'll show you the model if
you'll come to the hotel."

Sypher looked at his watch and excused himself on the ground of business
engagements. Then he had to dine and start by the nine o'clock train.

"Anyhow," said he, "I'm ashamed at not having done anything with the guns.
I did show the proofs to a naval expert, but he made all sorts of
criticisms which didn't help. Experts know everything that is known and
don't want to know anything that isn't. So I laid it aside."

"It doesn't matter in the least," said Septimus eagerly, "and if you want
to break the contract you sent me, I can pay you back the two hundred
pounds." But Sypher assured him that he had never broken a contract in his
life, and they shook hands and went their respective ways, Septimus to the
_appartement_ in the Boulevard Raspail, and Sypher thoughtfully in the
direction of the Luxembourg.

He was sorry, very sorry for Septimus Dix. His kindness of heart had not
allowed him to tell the brutal truth about the guns. The naval expert had
scoffed in the free manner of those who follow the sea and declared the
great guns a mad inventor's dream. The Admiralty was overwhelmed with such
things. The proofs were so much waste paper. Sypher had come prepared to
break the news as gently as he could; but after all their talk it was not
in his heart to do so. And the two hundred pounds--he regarded it as money
given to a child to play with. He would never claim it. He was sorry, very
sorry for Septimus. He looked back along the past year and saw the man's
dog-like devotion to Zora Middlemist. But why did he marry Emmy, loving the
sister as he did? Why live apart from her, having married her? And the
child? It was all a mystery in which he did not see clear. He pitied the
ineffectuality of Septimus with the kind yet half-contemptuous pity of the
strong man with a fine nature. But as for his denial of Zora's faith, he
laughed it away. Egotistical, yes. Zora had posed the same question as
Septimus and he had answered it. But her faith in the Cure itself, his
mission to spread it far and wide over the earth, and to save the nations
from vulgar competitors who thought of nothing but sordid gain--that, he
felt sure, remained unshaken.

Yet as he walked along, in the alien though familiar city, he was smitten,
as with physical pain, by a craving for her presence, for the gleam of her
eyes, for the greatness of sympathy and comprehension that inhabited her
generous and beautiful frame. The need of her was imperious. He stopped at
a café on the Boulevard Saint-Michel, called for the wherewithal to write,
and like a poet in the fine frenzy of inspiration, poured out his soul to
her over the heels of the armies of the world.

He had walked a great deal during the day. When he stepped out of the cab
that evening at the Gare de Lyon, he felt an unfamiliar stinging in his
heel. During the process of looking after his luggage and seeking his train
he limped about the platform. When he undressed for the night in his
sleeping compartment, he found that a ruck in his sock had caused a large
blister. He regarded it with superstitious eyes, and thought of the armies
of the world. _In hoc signo vinces!_ The message had come from heaven.

He took a sample box of Sypher's Cure from his handbag, and, almost with
reverence, anointed his heel.



CHAPTER XIV


Clem Sypher slept the sleep of the warrior preparing for battle. When he
awoke at Lyons he had all the sensations of a wounded Achilles. His heel
smarted and tingled and ached, and every time he turned over determined on
a continuation of slumber, his foot seemed to occupy the whole width of the
berth. He reanointed himself and settled down again. But wakefulness had
gripped him. He pulled up the blinds of the compartment and let the dawn
stream in, and, lying on his back, gave himself up to the plans of his new
campaign. The more he thought out the scheme the simpler it became. He had
made it his business to know personages of high influence in every capital
in Europe. Much of his success had already been gained that way. The
methods of introduction had concerned him but little. For social purposes
they could have been employed only by a pushing upstart; but in the
furtherance of a divine mission the apostle does not bind his inspired feet
with the shackles of ordinary convention. Sypher rushed in, therefore,
where the pachyderms of Park Lane would have feared to tread. Just as the
fanatical evangelist has no compunction in putting to an entire stranger
embarrassing questions as to his possession of the Peace of God, so had
Sypher no scruple in approaching any foreigner of distinguished mien in an
hotel lounge and converting him to the religion of Sypher's Cure. In most
cosmopolitan resorts his burly figure and pink face were well known.
Newspapers paragraphed his arrival and departure. People pointed him out
to one another in promenades. Distinguished personages to whom he had
casually introduced himself introduced him to other distinguished
personages. When he threw off the apostle and became the man, his simple
directness and charm of manner caused him to be accepted pleasurably for
his own sake. Had he chosen to take advantage of his opportunities he might
have consorted with very grand folks indeed; at a price, be it said, which
his pride refused to pay. But he had no social ambitions. The grand folks
therefore respected him and held out a cordial hand as he passed by. That
very train was carrying to Switzerland a Russian Grand Duke who had greeted
him with a large smile and a "_Ah! ce bon Sypher!_" on the platform of the
Gare de Lyon, and had presented him as the Friend of Humanity to the Grand
Duchess.

To Sypher, lying on his back and dreaming of the days when through him the
forced marches of weary troops would become light-hearted strolls along the
road, the jealously guarded portals of the War Offices of the world
presented no terrors. He ticked off the countries in his mind until he came
to Turkey. Whom did he know in Turkey? He had once given a certain Musurus
Bey a light for his cigarette in the atrium of the Casino at Monte Carlo;
but that could scarcely be called an introduction. No matter; his star was
now in the ascendant. The Lord would surely provide a Turk for him in
Geneva. He shifted his position in the berth, and a twinge of pain passed
through his foot, hurting horribly.

When he rose to dress, he found some difficulty in putting on his boot. On
leaving the train at Geneva he could scarcely walk. In his room at the
hotel he anointed his heel again with the Cure, and, glad to rest, sat by
the window looking at the blue lake and Mont Blanc white-capped in the
quivering distance, his leg supported on a chair. Then his traveler, who
had arranged to meet him by appointment, was shown into the room. They were
to lunch together. To ease his foot Sypher put on an evening slipper and
hobbled downstairs.

The traveler told a depressing tale. Jebusa Jones had got in everywhere and
was underselling the Cure. A new German skin remedy had insidiously crept
on to the market. Wholesale houses wanted impossible discounts, and retail
chemists could not be inveigled into placing any but the most insignificant
orders. He gave dismaying details, terribly anxious all the while lest his
chief should attribute to his incompetence the growing unpopularity of the
Cure. But to his amazement Sypher listened smilingly to his story of
disaster, and ordered a bottle of champagne.

"All that is nothing!" he cried. "A flea bite in the ocean. It will right
itself as the public realize how they are being taken in by these American
and German impostors. The Cure can't fail. And let me tell you, Dennymede,
my son, the Cure is going to flourish as it has never flourished before.
I've got a scheme that will take your breath away."

The glow of inspiration in Sypher's blue eyes and the triumph written on
his resolute face brought the features of the worried traveler for the
first time into an expression of normal satisfaction with the world.

"I will stagger you to your commercial depths, my boy," Sypher continued.
"Have a drink first before I tell you."

He raised his champagne glass. "To Sypher's Cure!" They drank the toast
solemnly.

And then Sypher unfolded to his awe-stricken subordinate the scheme for
deblistering the heels of the armies of the world. Dennymede, fired by his
enthusiasm, again lifted his brimming glass.

"By God, sir, you are a conqueror, an Alexander, a Hannibal, a Napoleon!
There's a colossal fortune in it."

"And it will give me enough money," said Sypher, "to advertise Jebusa Jones
and the others off the face of the earth."

"You needn't worry about them, sir, when you've got the army contracts,"
said the traveler.

He could not follow the spirituality underlying his chief's remark. Sypher
laid down the peach he was peeling and looked pityingly at Dennymede as at
one of little faith, one born to the day of small things.

"It will be all the more my duty to do so," said he, "when the instruments
are placed in my hands. What, after all, is the healing of a few blistered
feet, compared with the scourge of leprosy, eczema, itch, psoriasis, and
what not? And, as for the money itself, what is it?"

He preached his sermon. The securing of the world's army contracts was only
a means towards the shimmering ideal. It would clear the path of obstacles
and leave the Cure free to pursue its universal way as _consolatrix
afflictorum_.

The traveler finished his peach, and accepted another which his host
hospitably selected for him.

"All the same, sir," said he, "this is the biggest thing you've struck. May
I ask how you came to strike it?"

"Like all great schemes, it had humble beginnings," said Sypher, in
comfortable postprandial mood, unconsciously flattered by the admiration of
his subordinate. "Newton saw an apple drop to the ground: hence the theory
of gravitation. The glory of Tyre and Sidon arose from the purple droppings
of a little dog's mouth who had been eating shell fish. The great
Cunarders came out of the lid of Stephenson's family kettle. A soldier
happened to tell me that his mother had applied Sypher's Cure to his
blistered heels--and that was the origin of the scheme."

He leaned back in his chair, stretched out his legs and put one foot over
the other. He immediately started back with a cry of pain.

"I was forgetting my own infernal blister," said he. "About a square inch
of skin is off and all the flesh round, it is as red as a tomato."

"You'll have to be careful," advised the traveler. "What are you using for
it?"

"Using for it? Why, good heavens, man, the Cure! What else?"

He regarded Dennymede as if he were insane,' and Dennymede in his confusion
blushed as red as the blistered heel.

They spent the afternoon over the reports and figures which had so greatly
depressed the traveler. He left his chief with hopes throbbing in his
breast. He had been promised a high position in the new Army Contract
Department. As soon as he had gone Sypher rubbed in more of the Cure.

He passed a restless night. In the morning he found the ankle considerably
swollen. He could scarcely put his foot to the ground. He got into bed
again and rang the bell for the valet de chambre. The valet entered. Sypher
explained. He had a bad foot and wanted to see a doctor. Did the valet know
of a good doctor? The valet not only knew of a good doctor, but an English
doctor resident in Geneva who was always summoned to attend English and
American visitors at the hotel; furthermore, he was in the hotel at that
very moment.

"Ask him if he would kindly step up," said Sypher.

He looked ruefully at his ankle, which was about the size of his calf,
wondering why the Cure had not effected its advertised magic. The
inflammation, however, clearly required medical advice. In the midst of his
ruefulness the doctor, a capable-looking man of five and thirty, entered
the room. He examined the heel and ankle with professional scrutiny. Then
he raised his head.

"Have you been treating it in any way?"

"Yes," said Sypher, "with the Cure."

"What Cure?"

"Why, Sypher's Cure."

The doctor brought his hand down on the edge of the footboard of the bed,
with a gesture of impatience.

"Why on earth do people treat themselves with quack remedies they know
nothing about?"

"Quack remedies!" cried Sypher.

"Of course. They're all pestilential, and if I had my way I'd have them
stacked in the market place and burned by the common hangman. But the most
pestilential of the lot is Sypher's Cure. You ought never to have used it."

Sypher had the sensation of the hotel walls crashing down upon his head,
falling across his throat and weighing upon his chest. For a few instants
he suffered a nightmare paralysis. Then he gasped for breath. At last he
said very quietly:

"Do you know who I am?"

"I have not the pleasure," said the doctor. "They only gave me your room
number."

"I am Clem Sypher, the proprietor of Sypher's Cure."

The two men stared at one another, Sypher in a blue-striped pyjama jacket,
supporting himself by one elbow on the bed, the doctor at the foot. The
doctor spread out his hands.

"It's the most horrible moment of my life. I am at your mercy. I only gave
you my honest opinion, the result of my experience. If I had known your
name--naturally--"

"You had better go," said Sypher in a queer voice, digging the nails into
the palms of his hands. "Your fee--?"

"There is no question of it. I am only grieved to the heart at having
wounded you. Good morning."

The door closed behind him, and Sypher gave himself up to his furious
indignation.

       *       *       *       *       *

This soothed the soul but further inflamed the ankle. He called up the
manager of the hotel and sent for the leading medical man in Geneva. When
he arrived he took care to acquaint him with his name and quality. Dr.
Bourdillot, professor of dermatology in the University of Geneva, made his
examination, and shook a tactful head. With all consideration for the many
admirable virtues of _la cure Sypher_, yet there were certain maladies of
the skin for which he personally would not prescribe it. For this, for
that--he rattled off half a dozen of learned diseases--it might very well
be efficacious. Its effect would probably be benign in a case of
elephantiasis. But in a case of abrasion of the cuticle, where there was a
large surface of raw flesh laid bare, perhaps a simpler treatment might be
more desirable.

His tone was exquisite, and he chose his language so that not a word could
wound. Sypher listened to him with a sinking heart.

"In your opinion then, doctor," said he, "it isn't a good thing for
blistered heels?"

"You ask for my opinion," replied the professor of dermatology at the
University of Geneva. "I give it you. No."

Sypher threw out a hand, desperately argumentative.

"But I know of a case in which it has proved efficacious. A Zouave of my
acquaintance--"

Dr. Bourdillot smiled. "A Zouave? Just as nothing is sacred to a sapper, so
is nothing hurtful to a Zouave. They have hides like hippopotamuses, those
fellows. You could dip them in vitriol and they wouldn't feel it."

"So his heels recovered in spite of the Cure?" said Sypher, grimly.

"Evidently," said Dr. Bourdillot.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sypher sat in his room for a couple of days, his leg on a chair, and looked
at Mont Blanc, exquisite in its fairy splendor against the far, pale sky.
It brought him no consolation. On the contrary it reminded him of Hannibal
and other conquerors leading their footsore armies over the Alps. When he
allowed a despondent fancy to wander uncontrolled, he saw great multitudes
of men staggering shoeless along with feet and ankles inflamed to the color
of tomatoes. Then he pulled himself together and set his teeth. Dennymede
came to visit him and heard with dismay the verdict of science, which
crushed his hope of a high position in the new Army Contract Department.
But Sypher reassured him as to his material welfare by increasing his
commission on foreign sales; whereupon he began to take a practical view of
the situation.

"We can't expect a patent medicine, sir, to do everything."

"I quite agree with you," said Sypher. "It can't make two legs grow where
one grew before, but it ought to cure blisters on the heel. Apparently it
won't. So we are where we were before I met Monsieur Hégisippe Cruchot. The
only thing is that we mustn't now lead people to suppose that it's good for
blisters."

"They must take their chance," said Dennymede. He was a sharp, black-haired
young man, with a worried brow and a bilious complexion. The soothing of
the human race with Sypher's Balm of Gilead mattered nothing to him. His
atrabiliar temperament rendered his attitude towards humanity rather
misanthropic than otherwise. "Indeed," he continued, "I don't see why you
shouldn't try for the army contracts without referring specifically to sore
feet."

"_Caveat emptor_," said Sypher.

"I beg your pardon?" said Dennymede, who had no Latinity.

"It means, let the buyer beware; it's up to the buyer to see what stuff
he's buying."

"Naturally. It's the first principle of business."

Sypher turned his swift clear glance on him and banged the window-ledge
with his hand.

"It's the first principle of damned knavery and thieving," he cried, "and
if I thought anyone ran my business on it, they'd go out of my employ at
once! It's at the root of all the corruption that exists in modern trade.
It salves the conscience of the psalm-singing grocer who puts ground beans
into his coffee. It's a damnable principle."

He thumped the window-ledge again, very angry. The traveler hedged.

"Of course it's immoral to tell lies and say a thing is what it isn't. But
on the other hand no one could run a patent medicine on the lines of
warning the public as to what it isn't good for. You say on the wrapper it
will cure gout and rheumatism. If a woman buys a bottle and gives it to her
child who has got scarlet fever, and the child dies from it, it's her
lookout and not yours. When a firm does issue a warning such as 'Won't Wash
Clothes,' it's a business proceeding for the firm's own protection."

"Well, we'll issue a warning, 'Won't Cure Blisters,'" said Sypher. "I
advertise myself as the Friend of Humanity. I am, according to my lights.
If I let poor fellows on the march reduce their feet to this condition I
should be the scourge of mankind like"--he snapped his fingers trying to
recall the name--"like Atlas--no it wasn't Atlas, but no matter. Not a box
of the Cure has been sold without the guarantee stamp of my soul's
conviction on it."

"The Jebusa Jones people aren't so conscientious," said Dennymede. "I
bought a pot of their stuff this morning. They've got a new wrapper. See."
He unfolded a piece of paper and pointed out the place to his chief. "They
have a special paragraph in large print: 'Gives instant relief to blistered
feet. Every mountaineer should carry it in his gripsack.'"

"They're the enemies of God and man," said Sypher, "and sooner than copy
their methods I would close down the factory and never sell another box as
long as I lived."

"It's a thousand pities, sir, anyhow," said Dennymede, trying to work back
diplomatically, "that the army contract scheme has to be thrown overboard."

"Yes, it's a nuisance," said Sypher.

When he had dismissed the traveler he laughed grimly. "A nuisance!"

The word was a grotesque anticlimax.

He sat for a long while with his hands blinding his eyes, trying to
realize what the abandonment of the scheme meant to him. He was a man who
faced his responsibilities squarely. For the first time in his life he had
tried the Cure seriously on himself--chance never having given him cause
before--and it had failed. He had heard the Cure which he regarded as a
divine unction termed a pestilential quackery; the words burned red-hot in
his brain. He had heard it depreciated, with charming tact and courtesy, by
a great authority on diseases of the skin. One short word, "no," had wiped
out of existence his Napoleonic scheme for the Armies of the World--for
putting them on a sound footing. He smiled bitterly as the incongruous jest
passed through his mind.

He had been fighting for months, and losing ground; but this was the first
absolute check that his faith had received. He staggered under it, half
wonderingly, like a man who has been hit by an unseen hand and looks around
to see whence the blow came. Why should it come now? He looked back along
the years. Not a breath of disparagement had touched the Cure's fair
repute. His files in London were full of testimonials honorably acquired.
Some of these, from lowly folk, were touching in their simple gratitude. It
is true that his manager suggested that the authors had sent them in the
hope of gain and of seeing their photographs in the halfpenny papers. But
his manager, Shuttleworth, was a notorious and dismal cynic who believed in
nothing save the commercial value of the Cure. Letters had come with
coroneted flaps to the envelopes. The writers certainly hoped neither for
gain nor for odd notoriety. He had never paid a fee for a testimonial
throughout his career; every one that he printed was genuine and
unsolicited. He had been hailed as the Friend of Humanity by all sorts and
conditions of men. Why suddenly should he be branded as a dealer in
pestilence?

His thought wandered back to the beginning of things. He saw himself in the
chemist's shop in Bury Saint Edmunds--a little shop in a little town, too
small, he felt, for the great unknown something within him that was craving
for expansion. The dull making up of prescriptions, the selling of tooth
powder and babies' feeding bottles--the deadly mechanical routine--he
remembered the daily revolt against it all. He remembered his discovery of
the old herbalists; his delight in their quaint language; the remedies so
extraordinary and yet so simple; his first idea of combining these with the
orthodox drugs of the British Pharmacopoeia; his experiments; his talks
with an aged man who kept a dingy little shop of herbs on the outskirts of
the town, also called a pestilential fellow by the medical faculty of the
district, but a learned ancient all the same, who knew the qualities of
every herb that grew, and with some reeking mess of pulp was said to have
cured an old woman's malignant ulcer given up as incurable by the faculty.
He remembered the night when the old man, grateful for the lad's interest
in his learning, gave him under vows of secrecy the recipe of this healing
emulsion, which was to become the basis of Sypher's Cure. In those days his
loneliness was cheered by a bulldog, an ugly, faithful beast whom he called
Barabbas--he sighed to think how many Barabbases had lived and died since
then--and who, contracting mange, became the _corpus vile_ of many
experiments--first with the old man's emulsion, then with the emulsion
mixed with other drugs, all bound together in pure animal fat, until at
last he found a mixture which to his joy made the sores heal and the skin
harden and the hair sprout and Barabbas grow sleek as a swell mobsman in
affluent circumstances. Then one day came His Grace of Suffolk into the
shop with a story of a pet of the Duchess's stricken with the same disease.
Sypher modestly narrated his own experience and gave the mighty man a box
of the new ointment. A fortnight afterwards he returned. Not only had it
cured the dog, but it must have charmed away the eczema on his ducal hands.
Full of a wild surmise he tried it next on his landlady's child, who had a
sore on its legs, and lo! the sore healed. It was then that the Divine
Revelation came to him; it was then that he passed his vigil, as he had
told Zora, and consecrated himself and his Cure to the service of humanity.

The steps, the struggles, the purchase of the chemist's business, the early
exploitation of the Cure, its gradual renown in the district, the first
whisperings of its fame abroad, thanks to His Grace of Suffolk, the early
advertising, the gradual growth, the sale of the chemist's business, the
establishment of "Sypher's Cure" as a special business in the town, the
transference to London, the burst into world-wide fame--all the memories
came back to him, as he sat by the window of the Hôtel de l'Europe and
blinded his face with his hands.

He dashed them away, at last, with a passionate gesture.

"It can't be! It can't be!" he cried aloud, as many another man has cried
in the righteous rebellion of his heart against the ironical decrees of the
high gods whom his simple nature has never suspected of their eternal and
inscrutable irony.



CHAPTER XV


If you travel on the highroad which skirts the cliff-bound coast of
Normandy you may come to a board bearing the legend "Hottetôt-sur-Mer" and
a hand pointing down a narrow gorge. If you follow the direction and
descend for half a mile you come to a couple of villas, a humble café, some
fishermen's cottages, one of which is also a general shop and a _débit de
tabac_, a view of a triangle of sea, and eventually to a patch of shingly
beach between two great bastions of cliffs. The beach itself contains a
diminutive jetty, a tiny fleet of fishing smacks, some nets, three bathing
machines joined together by ropes on which hang a few towels and bathing
costumes, a dog, a child or so with spade and bucket, two English maiden
ladies writing picture post-cards, a Frenchman in black, reading a Rouen
newspaper under a gray umbrella, his wife and daughter, and a stall of
mussels presided over by an old woman with skin like seaweed. Just above
the beach, on one side of the road leading up the gorge, is a miniature
barn with a red cupola, which is the Casino, and, on the other, a long,
narrow, blue-washed building with the words written in great black letters
across the façade, "Hôtel de la Plage."

As soon as Emmy could travel, she implored Septimus to find her a quiet
spot by the sea whither the fashionable do not resort. Septimus naturally
consulted Hégisippe Cruchot. Hégisippe asked for time to consult his
comrades. He returned with news of an ideal spot. It was a village in the
Pyrenees about six thousand feet up in the air and forty miles from a
railway station. They could shoot bears all day long. When Emmy explained
that a village on the top of the Pyrenees was not by the seaside, and that
neither she nor his aunt, Madame Bolivard, took any interest in the
destruction of bears, he retired somewhat crestfallen and went with his
difficulties to Angélique, the young lady in the wine shop in the Rue des
Francs-Bouchers. Angélique informed him that a brave sailor on leave from
his torpedo boat was in the habit of visiting the wine shop every evening.
He ought to know something of the sea. A meeting was arranged by Angélique
between Hégisippe, Septimus and the brave sailor, much to Emmy's skeptical
amusement; and the brave sailor, after absorbing prodigious quantities of
alcohol and reviewing all the places on the earth's coastline from Yokohama
to Paris-Plage, declared that the veritable Eden by the Sea was none other
than his native village of Hottetôt-sur-Mer. He made a plan of it on the
table, two square packets of tobacco representing the cliffs, a pipe stem
the road leading up the gorge, some tobacco dust the beach, and some coffee
slops applied with the finger the English Channel.

Septimus came back to Emmy. "I have found the place. It is
Hottetôt-sur-Mer. It has one hotel. You can catch shrimps, and its mussels
are famous all over the world."

After consultation of a guide to Normandy, on which Emmy's prudence
insisted, they found the brave sailor's facts mainly correct, and decided
on Hottetôt-sur-Mer.

"I will take you there, see that you are comfortably settled, and then come
back to Paris," said Septimus. "You'll be quite happy with Madame Bolivard,
won't you?"

"Of course," said Emmy, looking away from him. "What are you going to do in
Paris, all by yourself?"

"Guns," he replied. Then he added reflectively: "I also don't see how I
can get out of the Hôtel Godet. I've been there some time, and I don't know
how much to give the servants in tips. The only thing is to stay on."

Emmy sighed, just a bit wistfully, and made no attempt to prove the
futility of his last argument. The wonderfully sweet of life had come to
her of late mingled with the unutterably bitter. She was in the state of
being when a woman accepts, without question. Septimus then went to the St.
Lazare station to make arrangements and discovered an official who knew a
surprising amount about railway traveling and the means of bringing a
family from domicile to station. He entered Septimus's requirements in a
book and assured him that at the appointed hour an omnibus would be waiting
outside the house in the Boulevard Raspail. Septimus thought him a person
of marvelous intellect and gave him five francs.

So the quaint quartette started in comfort: Septimus and Emmy and Madame
Bolivard and the little lump of mortality which the Frenchwoman carried in
her great motherly arms. Madame Bolivard, who had not been out of Paris for
twenty years, needed all her maternal instincts to subdue her excitement at
the prospect of seeing the open country and the sea. In the railway
carriage she pointed out cattle to the unconscious infant with the
tremulous quiver of the traveler who espies a herd of hippogriffin.

"Is it corn that, Monsieur? _Mon Dieu_, it is beautiful. Regard then the
corn, my cherished one."

But the cherished one cared not for corn or cattle. He preferred to fix his
cold eyes on Septimus, as if wondering what he was doing in that galley.
Now and again Septimus would bend forward and, with a vague notion of the
way to convey one's polite intentions to babies, would prod him gingerly in
the cheek and utter an insane noise and then surreptitiously wipe his
finger on his trousers. When his mother took him she had little spasms of
tenderness during which she pressed him tightly to her bosom and looked
frightened. The child was precious to her. She had paid a higher price than
most women, and that perhaps enhanced its value.

At Fécamp a rusty ramshackle diligence awaited them. Their luggage,
together with hen-coops, baskets, bundles, packing-cases, were piled on top
in an amorphous heap. They took their places inside together with an old
priest and a peasant woman in a great flapping cap. The old priest absorbed
snuff in great quantities and used a red handkerchief. The closed windows
of the vehicle rattled, it was very hot, and the antiquated cushions
smelled abominably. Emmy, tired of the railway journey and suffocated by
the heat, felt inclined to cry. This was her first step into her newly
conditioned world, and her heart sank. She regretted her comfortable rooms
in Paris and the conditions of existence there of which Septimus was an
integral part. She had got used to them, to his forced association with the
intimate details of her life, to his bending over the child like a
grotesque fairy godfather and making astonishing suggestions for its
upbringing. She had regarded him less as a stranger to be treated with
feminine reserve than the doctor. Now it was different. She was about to
take up her own life again, with new responsibilities, and the dearly loved
creature whom she had bullied and laughed at and leaned on would go away to
take up his own queer way of life, and the relations between them could not
possibly be the same again. The diligence was taking her on the last stage
of her journey towards the new conditions, and it jolted and bumped and
smelled and took an interminable time.

"I'm sure," said she woefully, "there's no such place as Hottetôt-sur-Mer,
and we are going on forever to find it."

Presently Septimus pointed triumphantly through the window.

"There it is!"

"Where?" cried Emmy, for not a house was in sight. Then she saw the board.

The old diligence turned and creaked and swung and pitched down the gorge.
When they descended at the Hôtel de la Plage, the setting sun blazed on
their faces across the sea and shed its golden enchantment over the little
pebbly beach. At that hour the only living thing on it was the dog, and he
was asleep. It was a spot certainly to which the fashionable did not
resort.

"It will be good for baby."

"And for you."

She shrugged her shoulders. "What is good for one is not always--" She
paused, feeling ungrateful. Then she added, "It's the best place you could
have brought us to."

After dinner they sat on the beach and leaned against a fishing-boat. It
was full moon. The northern cliff cast its huge shadow out to sea and half
way across the beach. A knot of fisher folk sat full in the moonlight on
the jetty and sang a song with a mournful refrain. Behind them in the
square of yellow light of the salon window could be seen the figures of the
two English maiden ladies apparently still addressing picture post-cards.
The luminous picture stood out sharp against the dark mass of the hotel.
Beyond the shadow of the cliff the sea lay like a silver mirror in the
windless air. A tiny border of surf broke on the pebbles. Emmy drew a long
breath and asked Septimus if he smelled the seaweed. The dog came and
sniffed at their boots; then from the excellent leather judging them to be
persons above his social station, he turned humbly away. Septimus called
him, made friends with him--he was a smooth yellow dog of no account--and
eventually he curled himself up between them and went to sleep. Septimus
smoked his pipe. Emmy played with the ear of the dog and looked out to sea.
It was very peaceful. After a while she sighed.

"I suppose this must be our last evening together."

"I suppose it must," said Septimus.

"Are you quite sure you can afford all the money you're leaving with me?"

"Of course. It comes out of the bank."

"I know that, you stupid," she laughed. "Where else could it come from
unless you kept it in a stocking? But the bank isn't an unlimited gold-mine
from which you can draw out as many handfuls as you want."

Septimus knocked the ashes out of his pipe.

"People don't get sovereigns out of gold-mines. I wish they did. They
extract a bit of gold about the size of this pebble out of a ton of quartz.
I once bought shares in a gold-mine and there wasn't any gold in it at all.
I always used to be buying things like that. People sold them to me. I was
like Moses."

"Moses?"

"Oh, not _that_ Moses. He could get anything out of anything. He got water
out of a rock. I mean the son of the Vicar of Wakefield, who bought the
green spectacles."

"Oh," said Emmy, who after the way of her generation had never heard of
him.

"I don't do it--let people sell me things--any more, now," he said gravely.
"I seem to have got wise. Perhaps it has come through having had to look
after you. I see things much clearer."

He filled and lit another pipe and began to talk about Orion just visible
over the shoulder of the cliff. Emmy, whose interests were for the moment
terrestrial, interrupted him:

"There's one thing I want you to see clearly, my dear, and that is that I
owe you a frightful lot of money. But I'm sure to get something to do when
I'm back in London and then I can repay you by instalments. Remember, I'm
not going to rest until I pay you back."

"I sha'n't rest if you do," said Septimus, nervously. "Please don't talk of
it. It hurts me. I've done little enough in the world, God knows. Give me
this chance of--the Buddhists call it 'acquiring merit.'"

This was not a new argument between them. Emmy had a small income under her
father's will, and the prospect of earning a modest salary on the stage.
She reckoned that she would have sufficient to provide for herself and the
child. Hitherto Septimus had been her banker. Neither of them had any
notion of the value of money, and Septimus had a child's faith in the magic
of the drawn check. He would as soon have thought of measuring the portion
of whisky he poured out for a guest as of counting the money he advanced to
Emmy.

She took up his last words, and speaking in a low tone, as a woman does
when her pride has gone from her, she said:

"Haven't you acquired enough merit already, my dear? Don't you see the
impossibility of my going on accepting things from you? You seem to take it
for granted that you're to provide for me and the child for the rest of our
lives. I've been a bad, unprincipled fool of a girl, I know--yes, rotten
bad; there are thousands like me in London--"

Septimus rose to his feet.

"Oh, don't, Emmy, don't! I can't stand it."

She rose too and put her hands on his shoulders.

"You must let me speak to-night--our last night before we part. It isn't
generous of you not to listen."

The yellow dog, disturbed in his slumbers, shook himself, and regarding
them with an air of humble sympathy turned and walked away discreetly into
the shadow. The fisher folk on the jetty still sang their mournful chorus.

"Sit down again."

Septimus yielded. "But why give yourself pain?" he asked gently.

"To ease my heart. The knife does good. Yes, I know I've been worthless.
But I'm not as bad as that. Don't you see how horrible the idea is to me? I
must pay you back the money--and of course not come on you for any more.
You've done too much for me already. It sometimes stuns me to think of it.
It was only because I was in hell and mad--and grasped at the hand you held
out to me. I suppose I've done you the biggest wrong a woman can do a man.
Now I've come to my senses, I shudder at what I've done."

"Why? Why?" said Septimus, growing miserably unhappy.

"How can you ever marry, unless we go through the vulgarity of a collusive
divorce?"

"My dear girl," said he, "what woman would ever marry a preposterous
lunatic like me?"

"There's not a woman living who ought not to have gone down on her bended
knees if she had married you."

"I should never have married," said he, laying his hand for a moment
reassuringly on hers.

"Who knows?" She gave a slight laugh. "Zora is only a woman like the rest
of us."

"Why talk of Zora?" he said quickly. "What has she to do with it?"

"Everything. You don't suppose I don't know," she replied in a low voice.
"It was for her sake and not for mine."

He was about to speak when she put out her hand and covered his mouth.

"Let me talk for a little."

She took up her parable again and spoke very gently, very sensibly. The
moonlight peacefulness was in her heart. It softened the tone of her voice
and reflected itself in unfamiliar speech.

"I seem to have grown twenty years older," she said.

She desired on that night to make her gratitude clear to him, to ask his
pardon for past offenses. She had been like a hunted animal; sometimes she
had licked his hand and sometimes she had scratched it. She had not been
quite responsible. Sometimes she had tried to send him away, for his own
sake. For herself, she had been terrified at the thought of losing him.

"Another man might have done what you did, out of chivalry; but no other
man but you would not have despised the woman. I deserved it; but I knew
you didn't despise me. You have been just the same to me all through as
you were in the early days. It braced me up and helped me to keep some sort
of self-respect. That was the chief reason why I could not let you go. Now
all is over. I am quite sane and as happy as I ever shall be. After
to-night it stands to reason we must each lead our separate lives. You
can't do anything more for me, and God knows, poor dear, I can't do
anything for you. So I want to thank you."

She put her arm around his shoulder and kissed his cheek.

Septimus flushed. Her lips were soft and her breath was sweet. No woman
save his mother had ever kissed him. He turned and took her hands.

"Let me accept that in full payment for everything. You want me to go away
happy, don't you?"

"My dear," she said, with a little catch in her voice, "if there was
anything in the world I could do to make you happy, short of throwing baby
to a tiger, I would do it."

Septimus took off his cap and brought his hair to its normal
perpendicularity. Emmy laughed.

"Dear me! What are you going to say?"

Septimus reflected for a moment.

"If I dine off a bloater in a soup-plate in the drawing-room, or if my bed
isn't made at six o'clock in the evening, and my house is a cross between a
pigsty and an ironmonger's shop, nobody minds. It is only Septimus Dix's
extraordinary habits. But if the woman who is my wife in the eyes of the
world--"

"Yes, yes, I see," she said hurriedly. "I hadn't looked at it in that
light."

"The boy is going to Cambridge," he murmured. "Then I should like him to go
into Parliament. There are deuced clever fellows in Parliament. I met one
in Venice two or three years ago. He knew an awful lot of things. We spent
an evening together on the Grand Canal and he talked all the time most
interestingly on the drainage system of Barrow-in-Furness. I wonder how
fellows get to know about drains."

Emmy said: "Would it make you happy?"

From her tone he gathered that she referred to the subject of contention
between them and not to his thirst for sanitary information.

"Of course it would."

"But how shall I ever repay you?"

"Perhaps once a year," he said. "You can settle up in full, as you did just
now."

There was a long silence and then Emmy remarked that it was a heavenly
night.



CHAPTER XVI


In the course of time Sypher returned to London to fight a losing battle
against the Powers of Darkness and derive whatever inspiration he could
from Zora's letters. He also called dutifully at "The Nook" during his
week-end visits to Penton Court, where he found restfulness in the
atmosphere of lavender. Mrs. Oldrieve continued to regard him as a most
superior person. Cousin Jane, as became a gentlewoman of breeding, received
him with courtesy--but a courtesy marked by that shade of reserve which is
due from a lady of quality to the grandfatherless. If she had not striven
against the unregeneracy of mortal flesh she would have disapproved of him
offhand because she disapproved of Zora; but she was a conscientious woman,
and took great pride in overcoming prejudices. She also collected pewter,
the history of which Sypher, during his years of self-education, had once
studied, in the confused notion that it was culture. All knowledge is good;
from the theory of quaternions to the way to cut a ham-frill. It is sure to
come in useful, somehow. An authority on Central African dialects has been
known to find them invaluable in altercations with cabmen, and a converted
burglar has, before now, become an admirable house-agent. What Sypher,
therefore, had considered merely learned lumber in his head cemented his
friendship with Cousin Jane--or rather, to speak by the book, soldered it
with pewter. As for the Cure, however, she did not believe in it, and told
him so, roundly. She had been brought up to believe in doctors, the
Catechism, the House of Lords, the inequality of the sexes, and the
Oldrieve family, and in that faith she would live and die. Sypher bore her
no malice. She did not call the Cure pestilential quackery. He was
beginning not to despise the day of small things.

"It may be very good in its way," she said, "just as Liberalism and
Darwinism and eating in restaurants may be good things. But they are not
for me."

Cousin Jane's conversation provided him with much innocent entertainment.
Mrs. Oldrieve was content to talk about the weather, and what Zora and Emmy
used to like to eat when they were little girls: subjects interesting in
themselves but not conducive to discussion. Cousin Jane was nothing if not
argumentative. She held views, expounded them, and maintained them. Nothing
short of a declaration from Jehovah bursting in glory through the sky could
have convinced her of error. Even then she would have been annoyed. She
profoundly disapproved of Emmy's marriage to Septimus, whom she
characterized as a doddering idiot. Sypher defended his friend warmly. He
also defended Wiggleswick at whose ways and habits the good lady expressed
unrestrained indignation. She could not have spoken more disrespectfully of
Antichrist.

"You mark my words," she said, "he'll murder them both in their sleep."

Concerning Zora, too, she was emphatic.

"I am not one of those who think every woman ought to get married; but if
she can't conduct herself decently without a husband, she ought to have
one."

"But surely Mrs. Middlemist's conduct is irreproachable," said Sypher.

"Irreproachable? Do you think trapesing about alone all over the
earth--mixing with all sorts of people she doesn't know from Adam, and
going goodness knows where and doing goodness knows what, and idling her
life away, never putting a darn in her stockings even--is irreproachable
conduct on the part of a young woman of Zora's birth and appearance? The
way she dresses must attract attention, wherever she goes. It's supposed to
be 'stylish' nowadays. In my time it was immodest. When a young woman was
forced to journey alone she made herself as inconspicuous as possible. Zora
ought to have a husband to look after her. Then she could do as she
liked--or as he liked, which would be much the best thing for her."

"I happen to be in Mrs. Middlemist's confidence," said Sypher. "She has
told me many times that she would never marry again. Her marriage--"

"Stuff and rubbish!" cried Cousin Jane. "You wait until the man comes along
who has made up his mind to marry her. It must be a big strong man who
won't stand any nonsense and will take her by the shoulders and shake her.
She'll marry him fast enough. We'll see what happens to her in California."

"I hope she won't marry one of those dreadful creatures with lassos," said
Mrs. Oldrieve, whose hazy ideas of California were based on hazier memories
of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show which she had seen many years ago in
London.

"I hope Mrs. Middlemist won't marry at all," said Sypher, in a tone of
alarm.

"Why?" asked Cousin Jane.

She shot the question at him with almost a snarl. Sypher paused for a
moment or two before replying.

"I should lose a friend," said he.

"Humph!" said Cousin Jane.

If the late Rev. Laurence Sterne had known Cousin Jane, "Tristram Shandy"
would have been the richer by a chapter on "Humphs." He would have analyzed
this particular one with a minute delicacy beyond the powers of Clem Sypher
through whose head rang the echo of the irritating vocable for some time
afterwards. It meant something. It meant something uncomfortable. It was
directly leveled at himself and yet it seemed to sum up her previous
disparaging remarks about Zora. "What the dickens _did_ she mean by it?" he
asked himself.

He came down to Nunsmere every week now, having given up his establishment
at Kilburn Priory and sold the house--"The Kurhaus," as he had named it in
his pride. A set of bachelor's chambers in St. James's sheltered him during
his working days in London. He had also sold his motor-car; for
retrenchment in personal expenses had become necessary, and the
purchase-money of house and car were needed for the war of advertising
which he was waging against his rivals. These were days black with anxiety
and haunting doubt, illuminated now and then by Zora, who wrote gracious
letters of encouragement. He carried them about with him like talismans.

Sometimes he could not realize that the great business he had created could
be on the brink of failure. The routine went on as usual. At the works at
Bermondsey the same activity apparently prevailed as when the Cure had
reached the hey-day of its fortune some five years before. In the
sweet-smelling laboratory gleaming with white tiles and copper retorts, the
white-aproned workmen sorted and weighed and treated according to the
secret recipe the bundles of herbs that came in every day and were stacked
in pigeon-holes along the walls. In the boiling-sheds, not so
sweet-smelling, the great vats of fat bubbled and ran, giving out to the
cooling-troughs the refined white cream of which the precious ointment was
made. Beyond there was another laboratory vast and clean and busy, where
the healing ichor of the herbs was mixed with the drugs and the cream. Then
came the work-rooms where rows of girls filled the celluloid boxes, one
dabbing in the well-judged quantity, another cutting it off clean to the
level of the top with a swift stroke of the spatula, another fitting on the
lid, and so on, in endless but fascinating monotony until the last girl
placed on the trolley by her side, waiting to carry it to the packing-shed,
the finished packet of Sypher's Cure as it would be delivered to the world.
Then there were the packing-sheds full of deal cases for despatching the
Cure to the four quarters of the globe, some empty, some being filled,
others stacked in readiness for the carriers: a Babel of sounds, of
hammering clamps, of creaking barrows, of horses by the open doors rattling
their heavy harness and trampling the flagstones with their heavy hoofs; a
ceaseless rushing of brawny men in sackcloth aprons, of dusty men with
stumps of pencils and note-books and crumpled invoices, counting and
checking and reporting to other men in narrow glass offices against the
wall. Outside stood the great wagons laden with the white deal boxes bound
with iron hoops and bearing in vermilion letters the inscription of
Sypher's Cure.

Every detail of this complicated hive was as familiar to him as his kitchen
was to his cook. He had planned it all, organized it all. Every action of
every human creature in the place from the skilled pharmaceutist
responsible for the preparation of the ointment to the grimy boy who did
odd jobs about the sheds had been pre-conceived by him, had had its
mainspring in his brain. Apart from idealistic aspirations concerned with
the Cure itself, the perfecting of this machinery of human activity had
been a matter of absorbing interest, its perfection a subject of honorable
pride.

He walked through the works day after day, noting the familiar sights and
sounds, pausing here and there lovingly, as a man does in his garden to
touch some cherished plant or to fill himself with the beauty of some rare
flower. The place was inexpressibly dear to him. That those furnaces should
ever grow cold, that those vats should ever be empty, that those two magic
words should cease to blaze on the wooden boxes, should fade from the sight
of man, that those gates should ever be shut, seemed to transcend
imagination. The factory had taken its rank with eternal, unchanging
things, like the solar system and the Bank of England. Yet he knew only too
well that there had been change in the unchanging and in his soul dwelt a
sickening certainty that the eternal would be the transient. Gradually the
staff had been reduced, the output lessened. Already two of the long tables
once filled with girls stood forlornly empty.

His comfortably appointed office in Moorgate Street told the same story.
Week after week the orders slackened and gradually the number of the clerks
had shrunk. Gloom settled permanently on the manager's brow. He almost
walked on tiptoe into Sypher's room and spoke to him in a hushed whisper,
until rebuked for dismalness.

"If you look like that, Shuttleworth, I shall cry."

On another occasion Shuttleworth said:

"We are throwing money away on advertisements. The concern can't stand
it."

Sypher turned, blue pencil in hand, from the wall where draft proofs of
advertisements were pinned for his correction and master's touch. This was
a part of the business that he loved. It appealed to the flamboyant in his
nature. It particularly pleased him to see omnibuses pass by bearing the
famous "Sypher's Cure," an enlargement of his own handwriting, in streaming
letters of blood.

"We're going to double them," said he; and his air was that of the racing
Mississippi captains of old days who in response to the expostulation of
their engineers sent a little nigger boy to sit on the safety-valve.

The dismal manager turned up his eyes to heaven with the air of the family
steward in Hogarth's "Mariage à la Mode." He had not his chief's Napoleonic
mind; but he had a wife and a large family. Clem Sypher also thought of
that--not only of Shuttleworth's wife and family, but also of the wives and
families of the many men in his employ. It kept him awake at nights.

In the soothing air of Nunsmere, however, he slept, in long dead stretches,
as a tired man sleeps, in spite of trains which screeched past the bottom
of his lawn. Their furious unrest enhanced the peace of village things. He
began to love the little backwater of the earth whose stillness calmed the
fever of life. As soon as he stepped out on to the platform at Ripstead a
cool hand seemed to touch his forehead, and charm away the cares that made
his temples throb. At Nunsmere he gave himself up to the simplicities of
the place. He took to strolling, like Septimus, about the common and made
friends with the lame donkey. On Sunday mornings he went to church. He had
first found himself there out of curiosity, for, though not an irreligious
man, he was not given to pious practices; but afterwards he had gone on
account of the restfulness of the rural service. His mind essentially
reverend took it very seriously, just as it took seriously the works of a
great poet which he could not understand or any alien form of human
aspiration; even the parish notices and the publication of banns he
received with earnest attention. His intensity of interest as he listened
to the sermon sometimes flattered the mild vicar, and at other times--when
thinness of argument pricked his conscience--alarmed him considerably. But
Sypher would not have dared enter into theological disputation. He took the
sermon as he took the hymns, in which he joined lustily. Cousin Jane, whom
he invariably met with Mrs. Oldrieve after the service and escorted home,
had no such scruples. She tore the vicar's theology into fragments and
scattered them behind her as she walked, like a hare in a paper chase.

Said the Literary Man from London, who had strolled with them on one of
these occasions:

"The good lady's one of those women who speak as if they had a relation who
had married a high official in the Kingdom of Heaven and now and then gave
them confidential information."

Sypher liked Rattenden because he could often put into a phrase his own
unformulated ideas. He also belonged to a world to which he himself was a
stranger, the world of books and plays and personalities and theories of
art. Sypher thought that its denizens lived on a lofty plane.

"The atmosphere," said Rattenden, "is so rarified that the kettle refuses
to boil properly. That is why we always have cold tea at literary
gatherings. My dear fellow, it's a damned world. It talks all day and does
nothing all night. The ragged Italian in front of the fresco in his village
church or at the back of the gallery at the opera of his town knows more
essentials of painting and music than any of us. It's a hollow sham of a
world filled with empty words. I love it."

"Then why abuse it?" laughed Sypher.

"Because it's a wanton and the wanton angers you and fascinates you at the
same time. You never know how to take her. You are aware she hasn't got a
heart, but her lips are red. She is unreal. She holds views in defiance of
common sense. Which is the nobler thing to do--to dig potatoes or paint a
man digging potatoes? She swears to you that the digger is a clod of earth
and the painter a handful of heaven. She is talking rot. You know it. Yet
you believe her."

Sypher was not convinced by the airy paradoxician. He had a childish idea
that painters and novelists and actors were superior beings. Rattenden
found this Arcadian and cultivated Sypher's society. They took long walks
together on Sunday afternoons.

"After all," said Rattenden, "I can speak freely. I am a pariah among my
kind."

Sypher asked why.

"Because I don't play golf. In London it is impossible to be seriously
regarded as a literary man unless you play golf."

He found Sypher a good listener. He loved to catch a theory of life, hold
it in his hand like a struggling bird while he discoursed about it, and let
it go free into the sunshine again. Sypher admired his nimbleness of mind.

"You juggle with ideas as the fellows on the stage do with gilt balls."

"It's a game I learned," said Rattenden. "It's very useful. It takes one's
mind off the dull question of earning bread and butter for a wife and five
children."

"I wish you'd teach it to me," said Sypher. "I've many wives and many
children dependent on me for bread and butter!"

Rattenden was quick to note the tone of depression. He laughed kindly.

"Looking on is just as good. When you're worried in London why don't you
look me up? My wife and I will play the game for you. She's an amusing
body. Heaven knows how I should have got through without her. She also
swears by Sypher's Cure."

So they became friends. Sypher, since the blistered heel episode, had lost
his fearless way of trumpeting the Cure far and wide, having a nervous
dread of seeing the _p_ and _q_ of the hateful words form themselves on the
lips of a companion. He became subdued, and spoke only of travel and men
and things, of anything but the Cure. He preferred to listen and, as
Rattenden preferred to talk, he found conversation a simple matter.
Rattenden was an amusing anecdotist and had amassed a prodigious amount of
raw material for his craft. To the collector, by some unknown law of
attraction, come the objects which he collects. Everywhere he goes he finds
them to his hand, as Septimus's friend found the Toby jugs. Wherever
Rattenden turned, a bit of gossip met his ear. Very few things, therefore,
happened in literary and theatrical London which did not come inevitably to
his knowledge. He could have wrecked many homes and pricked many
reputations. As a man of the world, however, he used his knowledge with
discretion, and as an artist in anecdote he selected fastidiously. He
seldom retailed a bit of gossip for its own sake; when he did so he had a
purpose.

One evening they dined together at Sypher's club, a great semi-political
institution with many thousand members. He had secured, however, a quiet
table in a corner of the dining-room which was adorned with full-length
portraits of self-conscious statesmen. Sypher unfolded his napkin with an
air of satisfaction.

"I've had good news to-day. Mrs. Middlemist is on her way home."

"You have the privilege of her friendship," said Rattenden. "You're to be
envied. _O fortunate nimium_."

He preserved some of the Oxford tradition in tone and manner. He had brown
hair turning gray, a drooping mustache and wore pince-nez secured by a
broad black cord. Being very short-sighted his eyes seen through the thick
lenses were almost expressionless.

"Zora Middlemist," said he, squeezing lemon over his oysters, "is a grand
and splendid creature whom I admire vastly. As I never lose an opportunity
of telling her that she is doing nothing with her grand and splendid
qualities, I suffer under the ban of her displeasure."

"What do you think she ought to do with them?" asked Sypher.

"It's a difficult and delicate matter to discuss a woman with another man;
especially--" he waved a significant hand. "But I, in my little way, have
written a novel or two--studies of women. I speak therefore as an expert.
Now, just as a painter can't correctly draw the draped figure unless he has
an anatomical knowledge of the limbs beneath, so is a novelist unable to
present the character of a woman with sincerity and verisimilitude unless
he has taken into account all the hidden physiological workings of that
woman's nature. He must be familiar with the workings of the sex principle
within her, although he need not show them in his work, any more than the
painter shows the anatomy. Analyzing thus the imaginary woman, one forms a
habit of analyzing the real woman in whom one takes an interest--or rather
one does it unconsciously." He paused. "I told you it was rather delicate.
You see what I'm trying to get at? Zora Middlemist is driven round the
earth like Io by the gadfly of her temperament. She's seeking the Beauty or
Meaning or Fulfilment, or whatever she chooses to call it, of Life. What
she's really looking for is Love."

"I don't believe it," said Sypher.

Rattenden shrugged his shoulders. "It's true all the same. But in her case
it's the great love--the big thing for the big man--the gorgeous tropical
sunshine in which all the splendor of her can develop. No little man will
move her. She draws them all round her--that type has an irresistible
atmosphere--but she passes them by with her magnificent head in the air.
She is looking all the time for the big man. The pathetic comedy of it is
that she is as innocent and as unconscious of the object of her search as
the flower that opens its heart to the bee bearing the pollen on its wings.
I'm not infallible as a general rule. In this case I am."

He hastened to consume his soup which had got cold during his harangue.

"You've mixed much with women and studied them," said Sypher. "I haven't. I
was engaged to a girl once, but it was a tepid affair. She broke it off
because it was much more vital to me to work in my laboratory than to hold
her hand in her mother's parlor. No doubt she was right. This was in the
early days when I was experimenting with the Cure. Since then I've been a
man of one idea. It has absorbed all my soul and energies, so that I've had
none to spare for women. Here and there, of course--"

"I know. The trifling things. They are part of the banquet of life. One
eats and forgets."

Sypher glanced at him and nodded his appreciation of the Literary Man's
neat way of putting things. But he did not reply. He ate his fish in
silence, hardly tasting it, his mind far away following Zora Middlemist
across the seas. A horrible, jealous hatred of the big man for whom she
sought sprang up in his heart. His pink face flushed red.

"This _sole bonne femme_ is excellent," said Rattenden.

Sypher started in confusion, and praised the chef, and talked gastronomy
while his thoughts were with Zora. He remembered the confession of Septimus
Dix in Paris. Septimus had been caught in the irresistible atmosphere. He
loved her, but he was one of the little men and she had passed him by with
her magnificent head in the air. The gastronomic talk languished. Presently
Rattenden said:

"One of the feminine phenomena that has puzzled me most of late has been
the marriage of her sister to Septimus Dix."

Sypher laid down his knife and fork.

"How extraordinary that you should mention it! He was in my mind as you
spoke."

"I was thinking of the sister," said Rattenden. "She has Mrs. Middlemist's
temperament without her force of character--the sex without the splendor.
I heard a very curious thing about her only yesterday."

"What was it?"

"It was one of those things that are not told."

"Tell me," said Sypher, earnestly. "I have reasons for asking. I am
convinced there are circumstances of which neither Mrs. Dix's mother nor
sister know anything. I'm a loyal man. You may trust me."

"Very well," said Rattenden. "Have you ever heard of a man called Mordaunt
Prince? Yes--a well-known actor--about the biggest blackguard that
disgraces the stage. He was leading man at the theater where she last
played. They were doing 'The Widow of Ware.' They were about a great deal
together. It was common gossip at the time."

"Gossip is notoriously uncharitable," said Sypher.

"If charity covers a multitude of sins, uncharitableness has the advantage
of uncovering them. The _pudor britannicus_, however, is responsible for
uncovering the one I am going to tell you of. About two or three months
before the marriage, Emmy Oldrieve and Mordaunt Prince were staying
together at an hotel in Tunbridge Wells. There was no mistake about it.
There they were. They had a motor with them. A week before the Dix marriage
was announced Mordaunt Prince married a Mrs. Morris--old Sol Morris, the
money-lender's widow."

Sypher stared at him.

"It's one of the least amazing of human phenomena," said Rattenden,
cynically. "I'm only puzzled at Calypso being so soon able to console
herself for the departure of Ulysses, and taking up with such a
dreamy-headed shadow of a man as our friend Dix. The end of the Mordaunt
Prince story is that he soon grew too much for the widow, who has
pensioned him off, and now he is drinking himself to death in Naples."

"Emmy Oldrieve! Good God, is it possible?" cried Sypher, absently pushing
aside the dish the waiter handed him.

Rattenden carefully helped himself to partridge and orange salad.

"It's not only possible, but unquestionable fact. You see," he added
complacently, "nothing can happen without its coming sooner or later to me.
My informant was staying at the hotel all the time. You will allow me to
vouch absolutely for her veracity."

Sypher did not speak for some moments. The large dining-room with its
portraits of self-conscious statesmen faded away and became a little street
in Paris, one side in shade and the other baking in the sun; and at a
little iron table sat a brown and indiscreet Zouave and Septimus Dix, pale,
indecisive, with a wistful appeal in his washed-out blue eyes. Suddenly he
regained consciousness, and, more for the sake of covering his loss of
self-possession than for that of eating, he recalled the waiter and put
some partridge on his plate. Then he looked across the table at his guest
and said very sternly:

"I look to you to prevent this story going any further."

"I've already made it my duty to do so," said Rattenden.

Sypher helped his guest to wine.

"I hope you like this Roederer," said he. "It's the only exquisite wine in
the club, and unfortunately there are not more than a few bottles left. I
had seven dozen of the same _cuvée_ in my cellar at Priory Park--if
anything, in better condition. I had to sell it with the rest of the things
when I gave up the house. It went to my heart. Champagne is the only wine
I understand. There was a time when it stood as a symbol to me of the
unattainable. Now that I can drink it when I will, I know that all the laws
of philosophy forbid its having any attraction for me. Thank heaven I'm not
dyspeptic enough in soul to be a philosopher and I'm grateful for my
aspirations. I cultivated my taste for champagne out of sheer gratitude."

"Any wise man," said Rattenden, "can realize his dreams. It takes something
much higher than wisdom to enjoy the realization."

"What is that?"

"The heart of a child," said Rattenden. He smiled in his inscrutable way
behind his thick lenses, and sipped his champagne. "Truly a delicious
wine," said he.

Sypher said good-by to his guest on the steps of the club, and walked home
to his new chambers in St. James's deep in thought. For the first time
since his acquaintance with Rattenden, he was glad to part from him. He had
a great need of solitude. It came to him almost as a shock to realize that
things were happening in the world round about him quite as heroic, in the
eyes of the High Gods, as the battle between Sypher's Cure and Jebusa
Jones's Cuticle Remedy. The curtain of life had been lifted, and a flash of
its inner mysteries had been revealed. His eyes still were dazed. But he
had received the gift of vision. He had seen beyond doubt or question the
heart of Septimus Dix. He knew what he had done, why he had done it.

Zora Middlemist had passed Septimus by with her magnificent head in the
air. But he was not one of the little men.

"By God, he is not!" he cried aloud, and the cry came from his depths.

Zora Middlemist had passed him, Clem Sypher, by with her magnificent head
in the air.

He let himself into his chambers; they struck him as being chill and
lonely, the casual, uncared-for hiding-place of one of the little men. He
stirred the fire, almost afraid to disturb the cold silence by the rattle
of the poker against the bars of the grate. His slippers were set in
readiness on the hearth-rug, and the machine who valeted him had fitted
them with boot-trees. He put them on, and unlocking his desk, took out the
letter which he had received that morning from Zora.

"For you," she wrote, "I want victory all along the line--the apotheosis of
Sypher's Cure on Earth. For myself, I don't know what I want. I wish you
would tell me."

Clem Sypher sat in an arm-chair and looked into the fire until it went out.
For the first time in his life he did not know what he wanted.



CHAPTER XVII


The days that followed were darkened by overwhelming anxieties, so that he
speculated little as to the Ultimately Desired. A chartered accountant sat
in the office at Moorgate Street and shed around him the gloom of
statistics. Unless a miracle happened the Cure was doomed.

It is all very well to seat a little nigger on the safety-valve if the end
of the journey is in sight. The boiler may just last out the strain. But to
suppose that he will sit there in permanent security to himself and the
ship for an indefinite time is an optimism unwarranted by the general
experience of this low world. Sypher's Cure could not stand the strain of
the increased advertisement. Shuttleworth found a dismal pleasure in the
fulfilment of his prophecy. A reduction in price had not materially
affected the sales. The Jebusa Jones people had lowered the price of the
Cuticle Remedy and still undersold the Cure. During the year the Bermondsey
works had been heavily mortgaged. The money had all been wasted on a public
that had eyes and saw not, that had ears and heard not the simple gospel of
the Friend of Humanity--"Try Sypher's Cure." In the midst of the gloom
Shuttleworth took the opportunity of deprecating the unnecessary expense of
production, never having so greatly dared before. Only the best and purest
materials had been possible for the divine ointment. By using second
qualities, a great saving could be effected without impairing the efficacy
of the Cure. Thus Shuttleworth. Sypher blazed into holy anger, as if he
had been counseled to commit sacrilege.

Radical reforms were imperative, if the Cure was to be saved. He spent his
nights over vast schemes only to find the fatal flaw in the cold light of
the morning. This angered him. It seemed that the sureness of his vision
had gone. Something strange, uncanny had happened within him, he knew not
what. It had nothing to do with his intellectual force, his personal
energy. It had nothing to do with his determination to win through and
restore the Cure to its former position in the market. It was something
subtle, spiritual.

The memory of the blistered heel lived with him. The slight doubt cast by
Septimus on Zora's faith remained disturbingly at the back of his mind. Yet
he clung passionately to his belief. If it were not Heaven-sent, then was
he of men most miserable.

Never had he welcomed the sight of Nunsmere more than the next Saturday
afternoon when the trap turned off the highroad and the common came into
view. The pearls and faint blues of the sky, the tender mist softening the
russet of the autumn trees, the gray tower of the little church, the red
roofs of the cottages dreaming in their old-world gardens, the quiet green
of the common with the children far off at play and the lame donkey
watching them in philosophic content--all came like the gift of a very calm
and restful God to the tired man's eyes.

He thought to himself: "It only lacks one figure walking across the common
to meet me." Then the thought again: "If she were there would I see
anything else?"

At Penton Court the maid met him at the door.

"Mr. Dix is waiting to see you, sir."

"Mr. Dix! Where is he?"

"In the drawing-room. He has been waiting a couple of hours."

He threw off his hat and coat, delighted, and rushed in to welcome the
unexpected guest. He found Septimus sitting in the twilight by the French
window that opened on the lawn, and making elaborate calculations in a
note-book.

"My dear Dix!" He shook him warmly by the hand and clapped him on the
shoulder. "This is more than a pleasure. What have you been doing with
yourself?"

Septimus said, holding up the note-book:

"I was just trying to work out the problem whether a boy's expenses from
the time he begins feeding-bottles to the time he leaves the University
increases by arithmetical or geometrical progression."

Sypher laughed. "It depends, doesn't it, on his taste for luxuries?"

"This one is going to be extravagant, I'm afraid," said Septimus. "He cuts
his teeth on a fifteenth-century Italian ivory carving of St. John the
Baptist--I went into a shop to buy a purse and they gave it to me
instead--and turns up his nose at coral and bells. There isn't much of it
to turn up. I've never seen a child with so little nose. I invented a
machine for elongating it, but his mother won't let me use it."

Sypher expressed his sympathy with Mrs. Dix, and inquired after her health.
Septimus reported favorably. She had passed a few weeks at
Hottetôt-sur-Mer, which had done her good. She was now in Paris under the
mothering care of Madame Bolivard, where she would stay until she cared to
take up her residence in her flat in Chelsea, which was now free from
tenants.

"And you?" asked Sypher.

"I've just left the Hôtel Godet and come back to Nunsmere. Perhaps I'll
give up the house and take Wiggleswick to London when Emmy returns. She
promised to look for a flat for me. I believe women are rather good at
finding flats."

Sypher handed him a box of cigars. He lit one and held it awkwardly with
the tips of his long, nervous fingers. He passed the fingers of his other
hand, with the familiar gesture, up his hair.

"I thought I'd come and see you," he said hesitatingly, "before going to
'The Nook.' There are explanations to be made. My wife and I are good
friends, but we can't live together. It's all my fault. I make the house
intolerable. I--I have an ungovernable temper, you know, and I'm harsh and
unloving and disagreeable. And it's bad for the child. We quarrel
dreadfully--at least, she doesn't."

"What about?" Sypher asked gravely.

"All sorts of things. You see, if I want breakfast an hour before
dinner-time, it upsets the household. Then there was the nose machine--and
other inventions for the baby, which perhaps might kill it. You can explain
all this and tell them that the marriage has been a dreadful mistake on
poor Emmy's side, and that we've decided to live apart. You will do this
for me, won't you?"

"I can't say I'll do it with pleasure," said Sypher, "for I'm more than
sorry to hear your news. I suspected as much when I met you in Paris. But
I'll see Mrs. Oldrieve as soon as possible and explain."

"Thank you," said Septimus; "you don't know what a service you would be
rendering me."

He uttered a sigh of relief and relit his cigar which had gone out during
his appeal. Then there was a silence. Septimus looked dreamily out at the
row of trees that marked the famous lawn reaching down to the railway line.
The mist had thickened with the fall of the day and hung heavy on the
branches, and the sky was gray. Sypher watched him, greatly moved; tempted
to cry out that he knew all, that he was not taken in by the simple legend
of his ungovernable temper and unlovely disposition. His heart went out to
him, as to a man who dwelt alone on lofty heights, inaccessible to common
humanity. He was filled with pity and reverence for him. Perhaps he
exaggerated. But Sypher was an idealist. Had he not set Sypher's Cure as
the sun in his heaven and Zora as one of the fixed stars?

It grew dark. Sypher rang for the lamp and tea.

"Or would you like breakfast?" he asked laughingly.

"I've just had supper," said Septimus. "Wiggleswick found some cheese in a
cupboard. I buried it in the front garden." A vague smile passed on his
face like a pale gleam of light over water on a cloudy day. "Wiggleswick is
deaf. He couldn't hear it."

"He's a lazy scoundrel," said Sypher. "I wonder you don't sack him."

Septimus licked a hanging strip of cigar-end into position--he could never
smoke a cigar properly--and lit it for the third time.

"Wiggleswick is good for me," said he. "He keeps me human. I am apt to
become a machine. I live so much among them. I've been working hard on a
new gun--or rather an old gun. It's field artillery, quick-firing. I got on
to the idea again from a sighting apparatus I invented. I have the
specification in my pocket. The model is at home. I brought it from Paris."

He fetched a parcel of manuscript from his pocket and unrolled it into
flatness.

"I should like to show it to you. Do you mind?"

"It would interest me enormously," said Sypher.

"I invent all sorts of things. I can't help it. But I always come back to
guns--I don't know why. I hope you've done nothing further with the guns of
large caliber. I've been thinking about them seriously, and I find they're
all moonshine."

He smiled with wan cheerfulness at the waste of the labor of years. Sypher,
on whose conscience the guns had laid their two hundred ton weight, felt
greatly relieved. Their colossal scale had originally caught his
imagination which loved big conceptions. Their working had seemed plausible
to his inexpert eye. He had gone with confidence to his friend, the expert
on naval gunnery, who had reported on them in breezy, sea-going terms of
disrespect. Since then he had shrunk from destroying his poor friend's
illusions.

"Yes, they're all unmanageable. I see what's wrong with them--but I've lost
my interest in naval affairs." He paused and added dreamily: "I was
horribly seasick crossing the Channel this time.

"Let us have a look at the field-gun," said Sypher encouragingly.
Remembering the naval man's language, he had little hope that Septimus
would be more successful by land than by sea; but his love and pity for the
inventor compelled interest. Septimus's face brightened.

"This," said he, "is quite a different thing. You see I know more about
it."

"That's where the bombardier comes in," laughed Sypher.

"I shouldn't wonder," replied Septimus.

He spread the diagram on a table, and expounded the gun. Absorbed in his
explanation he lost the drowsy incertitude of his speech and the dreaminess
of his eyes. He spoke with rapidity, sureness, and a note of enthusiasm
rang oddly in his voice. On the margins he sketched illustrations of the
Gatling, the Maxim, and the Hotchkiss and other guns, and demonstrated the
superior delicate deadliness of his own. It could fire more rounds per
minute than any other piece of artillery known to man. It could feed itself
automatically from a magazine. The new sighting apparatus made it as
accurate as a match rifle. Its power of massacre was unparalleled in the
history of wholesale slaughter. A child might work it.

Septimus's explanation was too lucid for a man of Sypher's intelligence not
to grasp the essentials of his invention. To all his questions Septimus
returned satisfactory answers. He could find no flaw in the gun. Yet in his
heart he felt that the expert would put his finger on the weak spot and
consign the machine to the limbo of phantasmagoric artillery.

"If it is all you say, there's a fortune in it," said he.

"There's no shadow of doubt about it," replied Septimus. "I'll send
Wiggleswick over with the model to-morrow, and you can see for yourself."

"What are you going to do with it?"

"I don't know," said Septimus, in his usual manner. "I never know what to
do with things when I invent them. I once knew a man in the Patent Office
who patented things for me. But he's married now and gone to live in
Balham."

"But he's still at the Patent Office?"

"Perhaps he is," said Septimus. "It never occurred to me. But it has never
done me any good to have things patented. One has to get them taken up.
Some of them are drunk and disorderly enough for them to be taken up at
once," he added with his pale smile. He continued: "I thought perhaps you
would replace the big-caliber guns in our contract by this one."

Sypher agreed with pleasure to the proposal. He knew a high military
official in the Ordnance Department of the War Office who would see that
the thing was properly considered. "If he's in town I'll go and see him at
once."

"There's no hurry," said Septimus. "I shouldn't like you to put yourself
out. I know you're a very busy man. Go in any time you happen to be
passing. You are there pretty often: now, I suppose."

"Why?"

"My friend Hégisippe Cruchot gave you an idea in Paris--about soldiers'
feet. How is it developing?"

Sypher made a wry face. "I found, my dear Dix, it was like your guns of
large caliber." He rose and walked impatiently about the room. "Don't let
us talk about the Cure, there's a dear fellow. I come down here to forget
it."

"Forget it?"

Septimus stared at him in amazement.

"Yes. To clear my mind and brain of it. To get a couple of nights' sleep
after the rest of the week's nightmare. The concern is going to hell as
fast as it can, and"--he stopped in front of Septimus and brought down his
hands in a passionate gesture--"I can't believe it. I can't believe it!
What I'm going through God only knows."

"I at least had no notion," said Septimus. "And I've been worrying you
with my silly twaddle about babies and guns."

"It's a godsend for me to hear of anything save ruin and the breaking up of
all that was dear to me in life. It's not like failure in an ordinary
business. It has been infinitely more than a business to me. It has been a
religion. It is still. That's why my soul refuses to grasp facts and
figures."

He went on, feeling a relief in pouring out his heart to one who could
understand. To no one had he thus spoken. With an expansive nature he had
the strong man's pride. To the world in general he turned the conquering
face of Clem Sypher, the Friend of Humanity, of Sypher's Cure. To Septimus
alone had he shown the man in his desperate revolt against defeat. The
lines around his mouth deepened into lines of pain, and pain lay behind his
clear eyes and in the knitting of his brows.

"I believed the Almighty had put an instrument for the relief of human
suffering into my hands. I dreamed great dreams. I saw all the nations of
the earth blessing me. I know I was a damned fool. So are you. So is every
visionary. So are the apostles, the missionaries, the explorers--all who
dream great dreams--all damned fools, but a glorious company all the same.
I'm not ashamed to belong to it. But there comes a time when the apostle
finds himself preaching to the empty winds, and the explorer discovers his
El Dorado to be a barren island, and he either goes mad or breaks his
heart, and which of the two I'm going to do I don't know. Perhaps both."

"Zora Middlemist will be back soon," said Septimus. "She is coming by the
White Star line, and she ought to be in Marseilles by the end of next
week."

"She writes me that she may winter in Egypt. That is why she chose the
White Star line," said Sypher.

"Have you told her what you've told me?"

"No," said Sypher, "and I never shall while there's a hope left. She knows
it's a fight. But I tell her--as I have told my damned fool of a soul--that
I shall conquer. Would you like to go to her and say, 'I'm done--I'm
beaten'? Besides, I'm not."

He turned and poked the fire, smashing a great lump of coal with a stroke
of his muscular arm as if it had been the skull of the Jebusa Jones dragon.
Septimus twirled his small mustache and his hand inevitably went to his
hair. He had the scared look he always wore at moments when he was coming
to a decision.

"But you would like to see Zora, wouldn't you?" he asked.

Sypher wheeled round, and the expression on his face was that of a prisoner
in the Bastille who had been asked whether he would like a summer banquet
beneath the trees of Fontainebleau.

"You know that very well," said he.

He laid down the poker and crossed the room to a chair.

"I've often thought of what you said in Paris about her going away. You
were quite right. You have a genius for saying and doing the simple right
thing. We almost began our friendship by your saying it. Do you remember?
It was in Monte Carlo. You remember that you didn't like my looking on Mrs.
Middlemist as an advertisement. Oh, you needn't look uncomfortable, my dear
fellow. I loved you for it. In Paris you practically told me that I
oughtn't to regard her as a kind of fetich for the Cure, and claim her
bodily presence. You also put before me the fact that there was no more
reason for her to believe in the Cure than yourself or Hégisippe Cruchot.
If you could tell me anything more," said he earnestly, "I should value
it."

What he expected to learn from Septimus he did not know. But once having
exalted him to inaccessible heights, the indomitable idealist was convinced
that from his lips would fall words of gentle Olympian wisdom. Septimus,
blushing at his temerity in having pointed out the way to the man whom he
regarded as the incarnation of force and energy, curled himself up
awkwardly in his chair, clasping his ankles between his locked fingers. At
last the oracle spoke.

"If I were you," he said, "before going mad or breaking my heart, I should
wait until I saw Zora."

"Very well. It will be a long time. Perhaps so much the better. I shall
remain sane and heart-whole all the longer."

       *       *       *       *       *

After dinner Sypher went round to "The Nook," and executed his difficult
mission as best he could. To carry out Septimus's wishes, which involved
the vilification of the innocent and the beatification of the guilty, went
against his conscience. He omitted, therefore, reference to the demoniac
rages which turned the home into an inferno, and to the quarrels over the
machine for elongating the baby's nose. Their tempers were incompatible;
they found a common life impossible; so, according to the wise modern view
of things, they had decided to live apart while maintaining cordial
relations.

Mrs. Oldrieve was greatly distressed. Tears rolled down her cheeks on to
her knitting. The old order was changing too rapidly for her and the new
to which it was giving place seemed anarchy to her bewildered eyes. She
held up tremulous hands in protest. Husband and wife living apart so
cheerfully, for such trivial reasons! Even if one had suffered great wrong
at the hands of the other it was their duty to remain side by side. "Those
whom God had joined together--"

"He didn't," snapped Cousin Jane. "They were joined together by a scrubby
man in a registry office."

This is the wild and unjust way in which women talk. For aught Cousin Jane
knew the Chelsea Registrar might have been an Antinous for beauty.

Mrs. Oldrieve shook her head sadly. She had known how it would be. If only
they had been married in church by their good vicar, this calamity could
not have befallen them.

"All the churches and all the vicars and all the archbishops couldn't have
made that man anything else than a doddering idiot! How Emmy could have
borne with him for a day passes my understanding. She has done well to get
rid of him. She has made a mess of it, of course. People who marry in that
way generally do. It serves her right."

So spoke Cousin Jane, whom Sypher found, in a sense, an unexpected ally.
She made his task easier. Mrs. Oldrieve remained unconvinced.

"And the baby just a month or so old. Poor little thing! What's to become
of it?"

"Emmy will have to come here," said Cousin Jane firmly, "and I'll bring it
up. Emmy isn't fit to educate a rabbit. You had better write and order her
to come home at once."

"I'll write to-morrow," sighed Mrs. Oldrieve.

Sypher reflected on the impossibilities of the proposition and on the
reasons Emmy still had for remaining in exile in Paris. He also pitied the
child that was to be brought up by Cousin Jane. It had extravagant tastes.
He smiled.

"My friend Dix is already thinking of sending him to the University; so you
see they have plans for his education."

Cousin Jane sniffed. She would make plans for them! As for the
University--if it could turn out a doddering idiot like Septimus, it was
criminal to send any young man to such a seat of unlearning. She would not
allow him to have a voice in the matter. Emmy was to be summoned to
Nunsmere.

Sypher was about to deprecate the idea when he reflected again, and thought
of Hotspur and the spirits from the vasty deep. Cousin Jane could call, and
so could Mrs. Oldrieve. But would Emmy come? As the answer to the question
was in the negative he left Cousin Jane to her comfortable resolutions.

"You will no doubt discuss the matter with Dix," he said.

Cousin Jane threw up her hands. "Oh, for goodness' sake, don't let him come
here! I couldn't bear the sight of him."

Sypher looked inquiringly at Mrs. Oldrieve.

"It has been a great shock to me," said the gentle lady. "It will take time
to get over it. Perhaps he had better wait a little."

Sypher walked home in a wrathful mood. Ostracism was to be added to
Septimus's crown of martyrdom.

Perhaps, on the other hand, the closing of "The Nook" doors was
advantageous. He had dreaded the result of Cousin Jane's
cross-examination, as lying was not one of his friend's conspicuous
accomplishments. Soothed by this reflection he smoked a pipe, and took down
Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" from his shelves.

While he was deriving spiritual entertainment from the great battle between
Christian and Apollyon and consolation from the latter's discomfiture,
Septimus was walking down the road to the post-office, a letter in his
hand. The envelope was addressed to "Mrs. Middlemist, White Star Co.'s S.S.
_Cedric_, Marseilles." It contained a blank sheet of headed note-paper and
the tail of a little china dog.



CHAPTER XVIII


As soon as a woman knows what she wants she generally gets it. Some
philosophers assert that her methods are circuitous; others, on the other
hand, maintain that she rides in a bee line toward the desired object,
galloping ruthlessly over conventions, susceptibilities, hearts, and such
like obstacles. All, however, agree that she is unscrupulous, that the wish
of the woman is the politely insincere wish of the Deity, and that she
pursues her course with a serene sureness unknown to man. It is when a
woman does not know what she wants that she baffles the philosopher just as
the ant in her aimless discursiveness baffles the entomologist. Of course,
if the philosopher has guessed her unformulated desire, then things are
easy for him, and he can discourse with certitude on feminine vagaries, as
Rattenden did on the journeyings of Zora Middlemist. He has the word of the
enigma. But to the woman herself her state of mind is an exasperating
puzzle, and to her friends, philosophic or otherwise, her consequent
actions are disconcerting.

Zora went to California, where she was hospitably entertained, and shown
the sights of several vast neighborhoods. She peeped into the Chinese
quarter at San Francisco, and visited the Yosemite Valley. Attentive young
men strewed her path with flowers and candy. Young women vowed her eternal
devotion. She came into touch with the intimate problems of the most
wonderful social organism the world has ever seen, and was confronted with
stupendous works of nature and illimitable solitudes wherein the soul
stands appalled. She also ate a great quantity of peaches. When her visit
to the Callenders had come to an end she armed herself with introductions
and started off by herself to see America. She traveled across the
Continent, beheld the majesty of Niagara and the bewildering life of New
York. She went to Washington and Boston. In fact, she learned many things
about a great country which were very good for her to know, receiving
impressions with the alertness of a sympathetic intellect, and pigeonholing
them with feminine conscientiousness for future reference.

It was all very pleasant, healthful, and instructive, but it no more helped
her in her quest than gazing at the jewelers' windows in the Rue de la
Paix. Snow-capped Sierras and crowded tram-cars were equally unsuggestive
of a mission in life. In the rare moments which activity allowed her for
depression she began to wonder whether she was not chasing the phantom of a
wild goose. A damsel to whom in a moment of expansion she revealed the
object of her journeying exclaimed: "What other mission in life has a woman
than to spend money and look beautiful?"

Zora laughed incredulously.

"You've accomplished half already, for you do look beautiful," said the
damsel. "The other half is easy."

"But if you haven't much money to spend?"

"Spend somebody else's. Lord! If I had your beauty I'd just walk down Wall
Street and pick up a millionaire between my finger and thumb, and carry him
off right away."

When Zora suggested that life perhaps might have some deeper significance,
the maiden answered:

"Life is like the school child's idea of a parable--a heavenly story (if
you've lots of money) with no earthly meaning."

"Don't you ever go down beneath the surface of things?" asked Zora.

"If you dig down far enough into the earth," replied the damsel, "you come
to water. If you bore down deep enough into life you come to tears. My
dear, I'm going to dance on the surface and have a good time as long as I
can. And I guess you're doing the same."

"I suppose I am," said Zora. And she felt ashamed of herself.

At Washington fate gave her an opportunity of attaining the other half of
the damsel's idea. An elderly senator of enormous wealth proposed marriage,
and offered her half a dozen motor-cars, a few palaces and most of the two
hemispheres. She declined.

"If I were young, would you marry me?"

Zora's beautiful shoulders gave the tiniest shrug of uncertainty. Perhaps
her young friend was right, and the command of the earth was worth the
slight penalty of a husband. She was tired and disheartened at finding
herself no nearer to the heart of things than when she had left Nunsmere.
Her attitude toward the once unspeakable sex had imperceptibly changed. She
no longer blazed with indignation when a man made love to her. She even
found it more agreeable than looking at cataracts or lunching with
ambassadors. Sometimes she wondered why. The senator she treated very
tenderly.

"I don't know. How can I tell?" she said a moment or two after the shrug.

"My heart is young," said he.

Zora met his eyes for the millionth part of a second and turned her head
away, deeply sorry for him. The woman's instinctive look dealt
instantaneous death to his hopes. It was one more enactment of the tragedy
of the bald head and the gray beard. He spoke with pathetic bitterness.
Like Don Ruy Gomez da Silva in "Hernani," he gave her to understand that
now, when a young fellow passed him in the street, he would give up all his
motor-cars and all his colossal canned-salmon business for the young
fellow's raven hair and bright eyes.

"Then you would love me. I could make you."

"What is love, after all?" asked Zora.

The elderly senator looked wistfully through the years over an infinite
welter of salmon-tins, seeing nothing else.

"It's the meaning of life," said he. "I've discovered it too late."

He went away sorrowful, and Zora saw the vanity of great possessions.

On the homeward steamer she had as a traveling companion a young Englishman
whom she had met at Los Angeles, one Anthony Dasent, an engineer of some
distinction. He was bronzed and healthy and lithe-limbed. She liked him
because he had brains and looked her squarely in the face. On the first
evening of the voyage a slight lurch of the vessel caused her to slip, and
she would have fallen had he not caught her by the arms. For the first time
she realized how strong a man could be. It was a new sensation, not
unpleasurable, and in thanking him she blushed. He remained with her on
deck, and talked of their California friends and the United States. The
next day he established himself by her side, and discoursed on the sea and
the sky, human aspirations, the discomforts of his cabin, and a belief in
eternal punishment. The day after that he told her of his ambitions, and
showed her photographs of his mother and sisters. After that they exchanged
views on the discipline of loneliness. His profession, he observed, took
him to the waste places of the earth, where there was never a woman to
cheer him, and when he came back to England he returned to a hearth equally
unconsoled. Zora began to pity his forlorn condition. To build strong
bridges and lay down railroads was a glorious thing for a man to do; to do
it without sweetheart or wife was nothing less than heroic.

In the course of time he told her that she was the most beautiful woman he
had ever met. He expressed his admiration of the gold flecks in her brown
eyes and the gleams of gold in her hair when it was caught by the sun. He
also wished that his sisters could have their skirts cut like hers and
could learn the art of tying a veil over a hat. Then he took to scowling on
inoffensive young men who fetched her wraps and lent her their binoculars.
He declared one of them to be an unmitigated ass to throw whom overboard
would be to insult the Atlantic. And then Zora recognized that he was
stolidly in love with her after the manner of his stolid kind. She felt
frightened, and accused herself of coquetry. Her sympathy with his barren
existence had perhaps overstepped the boundaries of polite interest. She
had raised false hopes in a young and ingenuous bosom. She worked herself
up to a virtuous pitch of self-reprobation and flagellated herself soundly,
taking the precaution, however, of wadding the knots of the scourge with
cotton-wool. After all, was it her fault that a wholesome young Briton
should fall in love with her? She remembered Rattenden's uncomfortable
words on the eve of her first pilgrimage: "Beautiful women like yourself,
radiating feminine magnetism, worry a man exceedingly. You don't let him go
about in peace, so why should he let you?"

So Zora came face to face with the eternal battle of the sexes. She stamped
her foot in the privacy of her cabin, and declared the principle to be
horrid and primeval and everything that was most revolting to a woman who
had earnestly set forth to discover the highest things of life. For the
remainder of the voyage she avoided Anthony Dasent's company as much as
possible, and, lest he should add jealousy to the gloom in which he
enveloped himself, sought unexciting joys in the society of a one-eyed
geologist who discoursed playfully on the foraminifera of the Pacific
slope.

One day Dasent came on her alone, and burst out wrathfully:

"Why are you treating me like this?"

"Like what?"

"You are making a fool of me. I'm not going to stand it."

Then she realized that when the average man does not get what he wants
exactly when he wants it he loses his temper. She soothed him according to
the better instincts of her sex, but resolved to play no more with
elementary young Britons. One-eyed geologists were safer companions. The
former pitched their hearts into her lap; the latter, like Pawkins, the
geologist of the Pacific slope, gave her boxes of fossils. She preferred
the fossils. You could do what you liked with them: throw them overboard
when the donor was not looking, or leave them behind in a railway carriage,
or take them home and present them to the vicar who collected butterflies,
beetles, ammonites, and tobacco stoppers. But an odd assortment of hearts
to a woman who does not want them is really a confounded nuisance. Zora was
very much relieved when Dasent, after eating an enormous breakfast, bade
her a tragic farewell at Gibraltar.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a cloudless afternoon when she steamed into Marseilles. The barren
rock islands on the east rose blue-gray from a blue sea. To the west lay
the Isles of Frioul and the island of the Château d'If, with its prison
lying grim and long on the crest; in front the busy port, the white noble
city crowned by the church of Notre Dame de la Garde standing sentinel
against the clear sky.

Zora stood on the crowded deck watching the scene, touched as she always
was by natural beauty, but sad at heart. Marseilles, within four-and-twenty
hours of London, meant home. Although she intended to continue her
wanderings to Naples and Alexandria, she felt that she had come to the end
of her journey. It had been as profitless as the last. Pawkins, by her
side, pointed out the geological feature of the rocks. She listened
vaguely, and wondered whether she was to bring him home tied to her chariot
as she had brought Septimus Dix and Clem Sypher. The thought of Sypher drew
her heart to Marseilles.

"I wish I were landing here like you, and going straight home," she said,
interrupting the flow of scientific information. "I've already been to
Naples, and I shall find nothing I want at Alexandria."

"Geologically, it's not very interesting," said Pawkins. "I'm afraid
prehistoric antiquity doesn't make my pulses beat faster."

"That's the advantage of it."

"One might just as well be a fossil oneself."

"Much better," said Pawkins, who had read Schopenhauer.

"You are not exhilarating to a depressed woman," said Zora with a laugh.

"I am sorry," he replied stiffly. "I was trying to entertain you."

He regarded her severely out of his one eye and edged away, as if he
repented having wasted his time over so futile an organism as a woman. But
her feminine magnetism drew him back.

"I'm rather glad you are going on to Alexandria," he remarked in a tone of
displeasure, and before she could reply he marched off to look after his
luggage.

Zora's eyes followed him until he disappeared, then she shrugged her
shoulders. Apparently one-eyed geologists were as unsafe as elementary
young Britons and opulent senators. She felt unfairly treated by
Providence. It was maddening to realize herself as of no use in the
universe except to attract the attention of the opposite sex. She clenched
her hands in impotent anger. There was no mission on earth which she could
fulfil. She thought enviously of Cousin Jane.

The steamer entered the harbor; the passengers for Marseilles landed, and
the mail was brought aboard. There was only one letter for Mrs. Middlemist.
It bore the Nunsmere postmark. She opened it and found the tail of the
little china dog.

She looked at it for a moment wonderingly as it lay absurdly curled in the
palm of her hand, and then she burst into tears. The thing was so
grotesquely trivial. It meant so much. It was a sign and a token falling,
as it were, from the sky into the midst of her despairing mood, rebuking
her, summoning her, declaring an unknown mission which she was bound to
execute. It lay in her hand like a bit of destiny, inexorable,
unquestionable, silently compelling her forthwith to the human soul that
stood in great need of her. Fate had granted the wish she had expressed to
the one-eyed geologist. She landed at Marseilles, and sped homeward by the
night train, her heart torn with anxiety for Septimus.

All night long the rhythmic clatter of the train shaped itself into the
burden of her words to him: "If ever you want me badly, send me the tail,
and I'll come to you from any distance." She had spoken then half
jestingly, all tenderly. That evening she had loved him "in a sort of way,"
and now that he had sent for her, the love returned. The vivid experiences
of the past months which had blinded her to the quieter light of home faded
away into darkness. Septimus in urgent need, Emmy and Clem Sypher filled
her thoughts. She felt thankful that Sypher, strong and self-reliant, was
there to be her ally, should her course with Septimus be difficult. Between
them they could surely rescue the ineffectual being from whatever dangers
assailed him. But what could they be? The question racked her. Did it
concern Emmy? A child, she knew, had just been born. A chill fear crept on
her lest some tragedy had occurred through Septimus's folly. From him any
outrageous senselessness might be expected, and Emmy herself was scarcely
less irresponsible than her babe. She reproached herself for having
suggested his marriage with Emmy. Perhaps in his vacant way he had acted
entirely on her prompting. The marriage was wrong. Two helpless children
should never have taken on themselves the graver duties of life toward
each other and, future generations.

If it were a case in which a man's aid were necessary, there stood Sypher,
a great pillar of comfort. Unconsciously she compared him with the man with
whom she had come in contact during her travels--and she had met many of
great charm and strength and knowledge. For some strange reason which she
could not analyze, he towered above them all, though in each separate
quality of character others whom she could name surpassed him far. She knew
his faults, and in her lofty way smiled at them. Her character as goddess
or guardian angel or fairy patroness of the Cure she had assumed with the
graciousness of a grown-up lady playing charades at a children's party. His
occasional lapses from the traditions of her class jarred on her fine
susceptibilities. Yet there, in spite of all, he stood rooted in her life,
a fact, a puzzle, a pride and a consolation. The other men paled into
unimportant ghosts before him, and strayed shadowy through the limbo of her
mind. Till now she had not realized it. Septimus, however, had always dwelt
in her heart like a stray dog whom she had rescued from vagrancy. He did
not count as a man. Sypher did. Thus during the long, tedious hours of the
journey home the two were curiously mingled in her anxious conjectures, and
she had no doubt that Sypher and herself, the strong and masterful, would
come to the deliverance of the weak.

       *       *       *       *       *

Septimus, who had received a telegram from Marseilles, waited for her train
at Victoria. In order to insure being in time he had arrived a couple of
hours too soon, and patiently wandered about the station. Now and then he
stopped before the engines of trains at rest, fascinated, as he always
was, by perfect mechanism. A driver, dismounting from the cab, and seeing
him lost in admiration of the engine, passed him a civil word, to which
Septimus, always courteous, replied. They talked further.

"I see you're an engineer, sir," said the driver, who found himself in
conversation with an appreciative expert.

"My father was," said Septimus. "But I could never get up in time for my
examinations. Examinations seem so silly. Why should you tell a set of men
what they know already?"

The grimy driver expressed the opinion that examinations were necessary. He
who spoke had passed them.

"I suppose you can get up at any time," Septimus remarked enviously.
"Somebody ought to invent a machine for those who can't."

"You only want an alarm-clock," said the driver.

Septimus shook his head. "They're no good. I tried one once, but it made
such a dreadful noise that I threw a boot at it."

"Did that stop it?"

"No," murmured Septimus. "The boot hit another clock on the mantelpiece, a
Louis Quinze clock, and spoiled it. I did get up, but I found the method
too expensive, so I never tried it again."

The engine of an outgoing train blew off steam, and the resounding din
deafened the station. Septimus held his hands to his ears. The driver
grinned.

"I can't stand that noise," Septimus explained when it was over. "Once I
tried to work out an invention for modifying it. It was a kind of
combination between a gramaphone and an orchestrion. You stuck it inside
somewhere, and instead of the awful screech a piece of music would come
out of the funnel. In fact, it might have gone on playing all the time the
train was in motion. It would have been so cheery for the drivers, wouldn't
it?"

The unimaginative mechanic whose wits were scattered by this fantastic
proposition used his bit of cotton waste as a handkerchief, and remarked
with vague politeness that it was a pity the gentleman was not an engineer.
But Septimus deprecated the compliment. He looked wistfully up at the
girders of the glass roof and spoke in his gentle, tired voice.

"You see," he concluded, "if I had been in practice as an engineer I should
never have designed machinery in the orthodox way. I should have always put
in little things of my own--and then God knows what would have happened."

He brought his eyes to earth with a wan smile, but his companion had
vanished. A crowd had filled the suburban platform at the end of which he
stood, and in a few moments the train clattered off. Then, remembering that
he was hungry, he went to the refreshment-room, where, at the suggestion of
the barmaid, he regaled himself on two hard-boiled eggs and a glass of
sherry. The meal over, he loitered palely about the busy station, jostled
by frantic gentlemen in silk hats rushing to catch suburban trains, and
watched grimly by a policeman who suspected a pocket-picking soul beneath
his guileless exterior.

At last, by especial grace of heaven, he found himself on the platform
where the custom-house barrier and the long line of waiting porters
heralded the approach of the continental train. Now that only a few moments
separated him from Zora, his heart grew cold with suspense. He had not seen
her since the night of Emmy's fainting fit. Her letters, though kind, had
made clear to him her royal displeasure at his unceremonious marriage. For
the first time he would look into her gold-flecked eyes out of a
disingenuous soul. Would she surprise his guilty secret? It was the only
thing he feared in a bewildering world.

The train came in, and as her carriage flashed by Zora saw him on the
platform with his hat off, passing his fingers nervously through his
Struwel Peter hair. The touch of the familiar welcoming her brought
moisture to her eyes. As soon as the train stopped she alighted, and
leaving Turner (who had accompanied her on the pilgrimage, and from Dover
had breathed fervent thanks to Heaven that at last she was back in the land
of her fathers) to look after her luggage, she walked down the platform to
meet him.

He was just asking a porter at frantic grapple with the hand baggage of a
large family whether he had seen a tall and extraordinarily beautiful lady
in the train, when she came up to him with outstretched hands and beaming
eyes. He took the hands and looked long at her, unable to speak. Never had
she appeared to him more beautiful, more gracious. The royal waves of her
hair beneath a fur traveling-toque invested her with queenliness. The full
youth of her figure not hidden by a fur jacket brought to him the generous
woman. A bunch of violets at her bosom suggested the fragrant essence of
her.

"Oh, it's good to see you, Septimus. It's good!" she cried. "The sight of
you makes me feel as if nothing mattered in the world except the people one
cares for. How are you?"

"I'm very well indeed," said Septimus. "Full of inventions."

She laughed and guided him up the platform through the cross-traffic of
porters carrying luggage from train to cabs.

"Is mother all right?" she asked anxiously.

"Oh, yes," said Septimus.

"And Emmy and the baby?"

"Remarkably well. Emmy has had him christened. I wanted him to be called
after you. Zoroaster was the only man's name I could think of, but she did
not like it, and so she called it Octavius after me. Also Oldrieve after
the family, and William."

"Why William?"

"After Pitt," said Septimus in the tone of a man who gives the obvious
answer.

She halted for a moment, perplexed.

"Pitt?"

"Yes; the great statesman. He's going to be a member of Parliament, you
know."

"Oh," said Zora, moving slowly on.

"His mother says it's after the lame donkey on the common. We used to call
it William. He hasn't changed a bit since you left."

"So the baby's full name is--" said Zora, ignoring the donkey.

"William Octavius Oldrieve Dix. It's so helpful to a child to have a good
name."

"I long to see him," said Zora.

"He's in Paris just now."

"Paris?" she echoed.

"Oh, he's not by himself, you know," Septimus hastened to reassure her,
lest she might think that the babe was alone among the temptations and
dissipations of the gay city. "His mother's there, too."

She shook him by the coat-sleeve.

"What an exasperating thing you are! Why didn't you tell me? I could have
broken my journey or at least asked them to meet me at the Gare du Nord.
But why aren't they in England?"

"I didn't bring them with me."

She laughed again at his tone, suspecting nothing.

"You speak as if you had accidentally left them behind, like umbrellas. Did
you?"

Turner came up, attended by a porter with the hand baggage.

"Are you going on to Nunsmere to-night, ma'am?"

"Why should you?" asked Septimus.

"I had intended to do so. But if mother is quite well, and Emmy and the
baby are in Paris, and you yourself are here, I don't quite see the
necessity."

"It would be much nicer if you remained in London," said he.

"Very well," said Zora, "we shall. We can put up at the Grosvenor Hotel
here for the night. Where are you staying?"

Septimus murmured the name of his sedate club, where his dissolute morning
appearance was still remembered against him.

"Go and change and come back and dine with me in an hour's time."

He obeyed the command with his usual meekness, and Zora followed the porter
through the subway to the hotel.

"We haven't dined together like this," she said, unfolding her napkin an
hour afterwards, "since Monte Carlo. Then it was hopelessly unconventional.
Now we can dine in the strictest propriety. Do you understand that you're
my brother-in-law?"

She laughed, radiant, curiously happy at being with him. She realized, with
a little shock of discovery, the restfulness that was the essential quality
of his companionship. He was a quiet haven after stormy seas; he
represented something intimate and tender in her life.

They spoke for a while of common things: her train journey, the crossing,
the wonders she had seen. He murmured incoherent sketches of his life in
Paris, the new gun, and Hégisippe Cruchot. But of the reason for his
summons he said nothing. At last she leaned across the table and said
gently:

"Why am I here, Septimus? You haven't told me."

"Haven't I?"

"No. You see, the little dog's tail brought me post-haste to you, but it
gave me no inkling why you wanted me so badly."

He looked at her in his scared manner.

"Oh, I don't want you at all; at least, I do--most tremendously--but not
for myself."

"For whom, then?"

"Clem Sypher," said Septimus.

She paled slightly, and looked down at her plate and crumbled bread. For a
long time she did not speak. The announcement did not surprise her. In an
inexplicable way it seemed natural. Septimus and Sypher had shared her
thoughts so oddly during her journey. An unaccountable shyness had checked
her impulse to inquire after his welfare. Indeed, now that the name was
spoken she could scarcely believe that she had not expected to hear it.

"What is the matter?" she asked at length.

"The Cure has failed."

"Failed?"

She looked up at him half incredulously. The very last letter she had
received from Sypher had been full of the lust of battle. Septimus nodded
gloomily.

"It was only a silly patent ointment like a hundred others, but it was
Sypher's religion. Now his gods have gone, and he's lost. It's not good for
a man to have no gods. I didn't have any once, and the devils came in. They
drove me to try haschisch. But it must have been very bad haschisch, for it
made me sick, and so I was saved."

"What made you send for me so urgently? The dog's tail--you knew I had to
come."

"Sypher wanted you--to give him some new gods."

"He could have sent for me himself. Why did he ask you?"

"He didn't," cried Septimus. "He doesn't know anything about it. He hasn't
the faintest idea that you're in London to-night. Was I wrong in bringing
you back?"

To Zora the incomprehensible aspect of the situation was her own attitude.
She did not know whether Septimus was wrong or not. She told herself that
she ought to resent the summons which had caused her such needless anxiety
as to his welfare, but she could feel no resentment. Sypher had failed. The
mighty had fallen. She pictured a broken-hearted man, and her own heart
ached for him.

"You did right, Septimus," she said very gently. "But of what use can I be
to him?"

Septimus said: "He's the one to tell you that."

"But do you think he knows? He didn't before. He wanted me to stay as a
kind of Mascotte for the Cure--simply sit still while he drew influence
out of me or something. It was absurd."

It was on this occasion that Septimus made his one contribution to
pessimistic philosophy.

"When you analyze anything in life," said he, "don't you think that you
always come down to a _reductio ad absurdum?_"



CHAPTER XIX


"I'm very sorry to leave you, Mr. Sypher," said Shuttleworth, "but my first
duty is to my wife and family."

Clem Sypher leaned back in his chair behind his great office desk and
looked at his melancholy manager with the eyes of a general whose officers
refuse the madness of a forlorn hope.

"Quite so," he said tonelessly. "When do you want to go?"

"You engaged me on a three-months' notice, but--"

"But you want to go now?"

"I have a very brilliant position offered me if I can take it up in a
fortnight."

"Very well," said Sypher.

"You won't say it's a case of rats deserting a sinking ship, will you, sir?
As I say, my wife and family--"

"The ship's sinking. You're quite right to leave it. Is the position
offered you in the same line of business?"

"Yes," said Shuttleworth, unable to meet his chief's clear, unsmiling eyes.

"One of the rival firms?"

Shuttleworth nodded, then broke out into mournful asseverations of loyalty.
Tithe Cure had flourished he would have stayed with Mr. Sypher till the day
of his death. He would have refused the brilliant offer. But in the
circumstances--"

"_Sauve qui peut,_" said Sypher. "Another month or two and Sypher's Cure
becomes a thing of the past. Nothing can pull it through. I was too
sanguine. I wish I had taken your advice oftener, Shuttleworth."

Shuttleworth thanked him for the compliment.

"One learns by experience," said he modestly. "I was born and bred in the
patent-medicine business. It's very risky. You start a thing. It catches on
for a while. Then something else more attractive comes on the market.
There's a war of advertising, and the bigger capital wins. The wise man
gets out of it just before the rival comes. If you had taken my advice five
years ago, and turned it into a company, you'd have been a rich man now,
without a care in the world. Next time you will."

"There'll be no next time," said Sypher gravely.

"Why not? There's always money in patent medicines. For instance, in a new
cure for obesity if properly worked. A man like you can always get the
money together."

"And the cure for obesity?"

Shuttleworth's dismal face contracted into the grimace which passed with
him for a smile.

"Any old thing will do, so long as it doesn't poison people."

Uncomfortable under his chief's silent scrutiny, he took off his
spectacles, breathed on them, and wiped them with his handkerchief.

"The public will buy anything, if you advertise it enough."

"I suppose they will," said Sypher. "Even Jebusa Jones's Cuticle Remedy."

Shuttleworth started and put on his spectacles.

"Why shouldn't they buy the Remedy, after all?"

"You ask me that?" said Sypher. All through the interview he had not
shifted his position. He sat fixed like a florid ghost.

The manager shuffled uneasily in his chair beside the desk, and cleared
his throat nervously.

"I'm bound to," said he, "in self-defense. I know what you think of the
Cure--but that's a matter of sentiment. I've been into the thing pretty
thoroughly, and I know that there's scarcely any difference in the
composition of the Remedy and the Cure. After all, any protecting grease
that keeps the microbes in the air out of the sore place does just as
well--sometimes better. There's nothing in patent ointment that really
cures. Now is there?"

"Are you going to the Jebusa Jones people?" asked Sypher.

"I have my wife and family," the manager pleaded. "I couldn't refuse.
They've offered me the position of their London agent. I know it must pain
you," he added hurriedly, "but what could I do?"

"Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost. So you will give me
what they used to call my _coup de grâce_. You'll just stab me dead as I
lie dying. Well, in a fortnight's time you can go."

The other rose. "Thank you very much, Mr. Sypher. You have always treated
me generously, and I'm more than sorry to leave you. You bear me no ill
will?"

"For going from one quack remedy to another? Certainly not."

It was only when the door closed behind the manager that Sypher relaxed his
attitude. He put both hands up to his face, and then fell forward on to the
desk, his head on his arms.

The end had come. To that which mattered in the man, the lingering faith
yet struggling in the throes of dissolution, Shuttleworth had indeed given
the _coup de grâce_. That he had joined the arch-enemy who in a short time
would achieve his material destruction signified little. When something
spiritual is being done to death, the body and mind are torpid. Even a
month ago, had Shuttleworth uttered such blasphemy within those walls Clem
Sypher would have arisen in his wrath like a mad crusader and have cloven
the blasphemer from skull to chine. To-day, he had sat motionless,
petrified, scarcely able to feel. He knew that the man spoke truth. As well
put any noxious concoction of drugs on the market and call it a specific
against obesity or gravel or deafness as Sypher's Cure. Between the
heaven-sent panacea which was to cleanse the skin of the nations and send
his name ringing down the centuries as the Friend of Humanity and the
shiveringly vulgar Jebusa Jones's Cuticle Remedy there was not an atom of
important difference. One was as useful or as useless as the other. The
Cure was pale green; the Remedy rose pink. Women liked the latter best on
account of its color. Both were quack medicaments.

He raised a drawn and agonized face and looked around the familiar room,
where so many gigantic schemes had been laid, where so many hopes had shone
radiant, and saw for the first time its blatant self-complacency, its
piteous vulgarity. Facing him was the artist's original cartoon for the
great poster which once had been famous all over the world, and now, for
lack of money, only lingered in shreds on a forgotten hoarding in some Back
of Beyond. It represented the Friend of Humanity, in gesture, white beard,
and general appearance resembling a benevolent minor prophet, distributing
the Cure to a scrofulous universe. In those glorified days, he had striven
to have his own lineaments depicted above the robe of the central figure,
but the artist had declared them to be unpictorial, and clung to the
majesty of the gentleman in the white beard. Around the latter's feet were
gathered a motley crew--the fine lady in her ball dress, the shoeblack, the
crowned king, the red Indian in Fenimore Cooper feathers, the half-naked
negro, the wasted, ragged mother with her babe, the jockey, the Syrian
leper, and a score of other types of humans, including in the background a
hairy-faced creature, the "dog-faced man" of Barnum's show. They were well
grouped, effective, making the direct appeal to an Anglo-Saxon populace,
which in its art must have something to catch hold of, like the tannin in
its overdrawn tea. It loved to stand before this poster and pick out the
easily recognized characters and argue (as Sypher, whose genius had
suggested the inclusion of the freak had intended) what the hairy creature
could represent, and, as it stood and picked and argued, the great fact of
Sypher's Cure sank deep into their souls. He remembered the glowing pride
with which he had regarded this achievement, the triumphal progress he made
in a motor-car around the London hoardings the day after the poster had
been pasted abroad. And now he knew it in his heart to be nothing but a
tawdry, commercial lie.

Framed in oak on his walls hung kindly notes relating to the Cure from
great personages or their secretaries. At the bottom of one ran the
sprawling signature of the Grand Duke who had hailed him as "_ce bon
Sypher_" at the Gare de Lyon when he started on the disastrous adventure of
the blistered heel. There was the neatly docketed set of pigeonholes
containing the proofs of all the advertisements he had issued. Lying before
him on his desk was a copy, resplendently bound in morocco for his own
gratification, of the forty-page, thin-paper pamphlet which was wrapped, a
miracle of fine folding, about each packet of the Cure. On each page the
directions for use were given in a separate language. French, Fijian,
Syrian, Basque were there--forty languages--so that all the sons of men
could read the good tidings and amuse themselves at the same time by trying
to decipher the message in alien tongues.

Wherever he looked, some mockery of vain triumph met his eye: an
enlargement of a snapshot photograph of the arrival of the first case of
the Cure on the shores of Lake Tchad; photographs of the busy factory, now
worked by a dwindling staff; proofs of full-page advertisements in which
"Sypher's Cure" and "Friend of Humanity" figured in large capitals; the
model of Edinburgh Castle, built by a grateful inmate of a lunatic asylum
out of the red celluloid boxes of the Cure.

He shuddered at all these symbols and images of false gods, and bowed his
head again on his arms. The abyss swallowed him. The waters closed over his
head.

How long he remained like this he did not know. He had forbidden his door.
The busy life of the office stood still. The dull roar of Moorgate Street
was faintly heard, and now and then the windows vibrated faintly. The
sprawling, gilt, mid-Victorian clock on the mantelpiece had stopped.

Presently an unusual rustle in the room caused him to raise his head with a
start. Zora Middlemist stood before him. He sprang to his feet.

"You? You?"

"They wouldn't let me in. I forced my way. I said I must see you."

He stared at her, open-mouthed. A shivering thrill passed through him,
such as shakes a man on the verge of a great discovery.

"You, Zora? You have come to me at this moment?"

He looked so strange and staring, so haggard and disheveled, that she moved
quickly to him and laid both her hands on his.

"My dear friend, my dearest friend, is it as bad as that?"

A throb of pain underlay the commonplace words. The anguish on his face
stirred the best and most womanly in her. She yearned to comfort him. But
he drew a pace or two away, and held up both hands as if warding her off,
and stared at her still, but with a new light in his clear eyes that drank
in her beauty and the sorcery of her presence.

"My God!" he cried, in a strained voice. "My God! What a fool I've been!"

He swerved as if he had received a blow and sank into his office chair, and
turned his eyes from her to the ground, and sat stunned with joy and wonder
and misery. He put out a hand blindly, and she took it, standing by his
side. He knew now what he wanted. He wanted her, the woman. He wanted her
voice in his ears, her kiss on his lips, her dear self in his arms. He
wanted her welcome as he entered his house, her heart, her soul, her mind,
her body, everything that was hers. He loved her for herself, passionately,
overwhelmingly, after the simple way of men. He had raised his eyes from
the deeps of hell, and in a flash she was revealed to him--incarnate
heaven.

He felt the touch of her gloved hand on his, and it sent a thrill through
his veins which almost hurt, as the newly coursing blood hurts the man that
has been revived from torpor. The mistiness that serves a strong man for
tears clouded his sight. He had longed for her; she had come. From their
first meeting he had recognized, with the visionary's glimpse of the
spiritual, that she was the woman of women appointed unto him for help and
comfort. But then the visionary had eclipsed the man. Destiny had naught to
do with him but as the instrument for the universal spreading of the Cure.
The Cure was his life. The woman appointed unto him was appointed unto the
Cure equally with himself. He had violently credited her with his insane
faith. He had craved her presence as a mystical influence that in some way
would paralyze the Jebusa Jones Dragon and give him supernatural strength
to fight. He had striven with all his power to keep her radiant like a
star, while his own faith lay dying.

He had been a fool. All the time it was the sheer woman that had held him,
the sheer man. And yet had not destiny fulfilled itself with a splendid
irony in sending her to him then, in that moment of his utter anguish, of
the utter annihilation of the fantastic faith whereby he had lived for
years? From the first he had been right, though with a magnificent lunacy.
It was she, in very truth, who had been destined to slay his dragon. It was
dead now, a vulgar, slimy monster, incapable of hurt, slain by the
lightning flash of love, when his eyes met hers, a moment or two ago. In a
confused way he realized this. He repeated mechanically:

"What a fool I've been! What a fool I've been!"

"Why?" asked Zora, who did not understand.

"Because--" he began, and then he stopped, finding no words. "I wonder
whether God sent you?"

"I'm afraid it was only Septimus," she said with a smile.

"Septimus?"

He was startled. What could Septimus have to do with her coming? He rose
again, and focusing his whirling senses on conventional things, wheeled an
armchair to the fire, and led her to it, and took his seat near her in his
office chair.

"Forgive me," he said, "but your coming seemed supernatural. I was dazed by
the wonderful sight of you. Perhaps it's not you, after all. I may be going
mad and have hallucinations. Tell me that it's really you."

"It's me, in flesh and blood--you can touch for yourself--and my sudden
appearance is the simplest thing in the world."

"But I thought you were going to winter in Egypt?"

"So did I, until I reached Marseilles. This is how it was."

She told him of the tail of the little china dog, and of her talk with
Septimus the night before.

"So I came to you," she concluded, "as soon as I decently could, this
morning."

"And I owe you to Septimus," he said.

"Ah, I know! You ought to have owed me to yourself," she cried,
misunderstanding him. "If I had known things were so terrible with you I
would have come. I would, really. But I was misled by your letters. They
were so hopeful. Don't reproach me."

"Reproach you! You who have given this crazy fellow so much! You who come
to me all sweetness and graciousness, with heaven in your eyes, after
having been dragged across Europe and made to sacrifice your winter of
sunshine, just for my sake! Ah, no! It's myself that I reproach."

"For what?" she asked.

"For being a fool, a crazy, blatant, self-centered fool My God!" he
exclaimed, smiting the arm of his chair as a new view of things suddenly
occurred to him. "How can you sit there--how have you suffered me these two
years--without despising me? How is it that I haven't been the mock and
byword of Europe? I must have been!"

He rose and walked about the room in great agitation.

"These things have all come crowding up together. One can't realize
everything at once. 'Clem Sypher, Friend of Humanity!' How they must have
jeered behind my back if they thought me sincere! How they must have
despised me if they thought me nothing but an advertising quack! Zora
Middlemist, for heaven's sake tell me what you have thought of me. What
have you taken me for--a madman or a charlatan?"

"It is you that must tell me what has happened," said Zora earnestly. "I
don't know. Septimus gave me to understand that the Cure had failed. He's
never clear about anything in his own mind, and he's worse when he tries to
explain it to others."

"Septimus," said Sypher, "is one of the children of God."

"But he's a little bit incoherent on earth," she rejoined, with a smile.
"What has really happened?"

Sypher drew a long breath and pulled himself up.

"I'm on the verge of a collapse. The Cure hasn't paid for the last two
years. I hoped against hope. I flung thousands and thousands into the
concern. The Jebusa Jones people and others out-advertised me,
out-manoeuvered me at every turn. Now every bit of capital is gone, and I
can't raise any more. I must go under."

Zora began, "I have a fairly large fortune--"

He checked her with a gesture, and looked at her clear and full.

"God bless you," he said. "My heart didn't lie to me at Monte Carlo when it
told me that you were a great-souled woman. Tell me. Have you ever believed
in the Cure in the sense that I believed in it?"

Zora returned his gaze. Here was no rhodomontading. The man was grappling
with realities.

"No," she replied simply.

"Neither do I any longer," said Sypher. "There is no difference between it
and any quack ointment you can buy at the first chemist's shop. That is
why, even if I saw a chance of putting the concern on its legs again, I
couldn't use your money. That is why I asked you, just now, what you have
thought of me--a madman or a quack?"

"Doesn't the mere fact of my being here show you what I thought of you?"

"Forgive me," he said. "It's wrong to ask you such questions."

"It's worse than wrong. It's unnecessary."

He passed his hands over his eyes, and sat down.

"I've gone through a lot to-day. I'm not quite myself, so you must forgive
me if I say unnecessary things. God sent you to me this morning. Septimus
was His messenger. If you hadn't appeared just now I think I should have
gone into black madness."

"Tell me all about it," she said softly. "All that you care to tell. I am
your nearest friend--I think."

"And dearest."

"And you are mine. You and Septimus. I've seen hundreds of people since
I've been away, and some seem to have cared for me--but there's no one
really in my life but you two."

Sypher thought: "And we both love you with all there is in us, and you
don't know it." He also thought jealously: "Who are the people that have
cared for you?"

He said: "No one?"

A smile parted her lips as she looked him frankly in the eyes and repeated
the negative. He breathed a sigh of relief, for he had remembered
Rattenden's prophecy of the big man whom she was seeking, of the love for
the big man, the gorgeous tropical sunshine in which all the splendor in
her could develop. She had not found him. From the depths of his man's
egotism he uttered a prayer of thanksgiving.

"Tell me," she said again.

"Do you remember my letter from Paris in the summer?"

"Yes. You had a great scheme for the armies of the world."

"That was the beginning," said he, and then he told her all the grotesque
story to the end, from the episode of the blistered heel. He told her
things that he had never told himself; things that startled him when he
found them expressed in words.

"In Russia," said he, "every house has its sacred pictures, even the
poorest peasant's hut. They call them ikons. These," waving to the walls,
"were my ikons. What do you think of them?"

For the first time Zora became aware of the furniture and decoration of the
room. The cartoon, the advertisement proofs, the model of Edinburgh Castle,
produced on her the same effect as the famous board in the garden at Fenton
Court. Then, however, she could argue with him on the question of taste,
and lay down laws as the arbiter of the elegancies of conduct. Now he
viewed the sorry images with her own eyes, and he had gone through fire to
attain this clearness of vision. What could be said? Zora the magnificent
and self-reliant found not a word, though her heart was filled with pity.
She was brought face to face with a ridiculous soul-tragedy, remote from
her poor little experience of life. It was no time to act the beneficent
goddess. She became self-conscious, fearful to speak lest she might strike
a wrong note of sympathy. She wanted to give the man so much, and she could
give him so little.

"I'm dying to help you," she said, rather piteously. "But how can I?"

"Zora," he said huskily.

She glanced up at him and he held her eyes with his, and she saw how she
could help him.

"No, don't--don't. I can't bear it."

She rose and turned away. "Don't let us change things. They were so sweet
before. They were so strange--your wanting me as a sort of priestess--I
used to laugh--but I loved it all the time."

"That's why I said I've been a fool, Zora."

The bell of the telephone connected with his manager's office rang
jarringly. He seized the transmitter in anger.

"How dare you ring me up when I gave orders I was to be undisturbed? I
don't care who wants to see me. I'll see nobody."

He threw down the transmitter. "I'm very sorry," he began. Then he stopped.
The commonplace summons from the outer world brought with dismaying
suddenness to his mind the practical affairs of life. He was a ruined man.
The thought staggered him. How could he say to Zora Middlemist: "I am a
beggar. I want to marry you"?

She came to him with both hands outstretched, her instinctive gesture when
her heart went out, and used his Christian name for the first time.

"Clem, let us be friends--good friends--true, dear friends, but don't spoil
it all for me."

When a woman, infinitely desired, pleads like that with glorious eyes, and
her fragrance and her dearness are within arm's length, a man has but to
catch her to him and silence her pleadings with a man's strength, and carry
her off in triumph. It has been the way of man with woman since the world
began, and Sypher knew it by his man's instinct. It was a temptation such
as he had never dreamed was in the world. He passed through a flaming,
blazing torment of battle.

"Forget what I have said, Zora. We'll be friends, if you so wish it."

He pressed her hands and turned away. Zora felt that she had gained an
empty victory.

"I ought to be going," she said.

"Not yet. Let us sit down and talk like friends. It's many weary months
since I have seen you."

She remained a little longer and they talked quietly of many things. On
bidding her good-by he said half playfully:

"I've often wondered why you have taken up with a fellow like me."

"I suppose it's because you're a big man," said Zora.



CHAPTER XX


Septimus walked back to his club after his dinner with Zora, blessing his
stars for two reasons: first, because a gracious providence had restored
him to favor in his goddess's sight, and, secondly, because he had escaped
without telling her of the sundered lives of Emmy and himself. By the time
he went to bed, however, having pondered for some hours over the
interdependent relations between Zora, Sypher, Emmy, and himself, he had
entangled his mind into a condition of intricate complication. He longed to
continue to sun himself in the presence of his divinity. But being a
married man (no matter how nominally), too much sunning appeared
reprehensible. He had also arranged for the sunning of Clem Sypher, and was
aware of the indelicacy of two going through this delicious process at the
same time. He also dreaded the possible incredulity of Zora when he should
urge the ferociousness of his domestic demeanor as the reason for his
living apart from his wife. The consequence was that after a sleepless
night he bolted like a rabbit to his burrow at Nunsmere. At any rate, the
mission of the dog's tail was accomplished.

His bolt took place on Friday. On Saturday morning he was awakened by
Wiggleswick.

The latter's attire was not that of the perfect valet. He wore an old,
colored shirt open at the throat, a pair of trousers hitched up to his
shoulder blades by means of a pair of red braces, and a pair of dilapidated
carpet slippers.

"Here's a letter."

"Oh, post it," said Septimus sleepily.

"You haven't written it. The missus has written it. It has a French stamp
and the Paris postmark. You'd better read it."

He put it on his master's pillow, and went to the window to admire the
view. Septimus aroused, read the letter. It was from Emmy. It ran:

  "DEAREST SEPTIMUS:

  "I can't stand this loneliness in Paris any longer. I can't, I can't. If
  you were here and I could see you even once a week, I shouldn't mind. But
  to go on day after day indefinitely without a comforting word from you is
  more than I can bear. You say the flat is ready. I am coming over at once
  with baby and Madame Bolivard, who swears she will never leave me. How
  she is going to get on in London without a word of English, I don't know.
  I don't mind if I meet Zora. Perhaps it will be better for you that I
  should. And I think it will be quite safe for me now. Don't hate me and
  think me horrid and selfish, my dear Septimus, but I do want you. I do. I
  do. Thanks for the toy train. Baby enjoys the paint on the carriages so
  much; but Madame Bolivard says it isn't good for him. Dear, if I thought
  you wouldn't forgive me for being such a worry, I wouldn't worry you.

  "Your always grateful
  "EMMY."


Septimus lit the half-smoked pipe of the night before that lay on the
coverlet, and becoming aware of Wiggleswick, disturbed his contemplation of
nature by asking him if he had ever been married.

"What?" asked Wiggleswick in the unmodulated tone of the deaf.

"Have you ever been married, Wiggleswick?"

"Heaps of times," said the old man.

"Dear me," said Septimus. "Did you commit bigamy?"

"Bigamy? No. I buried 'em all honorable."

"That," said Septimus, "was very kind of you."

"It was out of gratitude."

"For their goodness?"

"No. For being delivered from 'em. I had a lot of experience before I
could learn the blessedness of a single life."

Septimus sighed. "Yet it must be very nice to have a wife, Wiggleswick."

"But ain't yer got one?" bawled the disreputable body-servant.

"Of course, of course," said Septimus hurriedly. "I was thinking of the
people who hadn't."

Wiggleswick approached his master's bedside, with a mysteriously
confidential air.

"Don't you think we're all cosy and comfortable here, sir?"

"Yes," said Septimus dubiously.

"Well, I for one have nothing to complain of. The vittles is good, and one
sleeps warm, and one has one's beer and 'baccy regular. What more does a
man want? Not women. Women's a regrettable hincident."

"Aren't you cold standing there in your shirt sleeves, Wiggleswick?" asked
Septimus, in his hesitating way.

Wiggleswick ignored the delicacy of the suggestion.

"Cold? No. If I was cold, I'd precious soon make myself warm. Which I wish
to remark, Mr. Dix, that now you've parted with the missus pro tem., don't
you think it's more cosy and comfortable? I don't say but if she came here
I'd do my best willingly. I know my duty. But, sir, a woman, what with her
dusting and cleaning, and washing of herself in hot water, and putting
flowers in mugs do upset things terrible. I've been married oftener than
you. I know 'em. Don't you think we get on better, the two of us, as we
are?"

"We get on very nicely," said Septimus politely, "but I'm afraid you'll
have to do some cleaning and dusting to-day. I'm awfully sorry to trouble
you. Mrs. Middlemist has returned to England, and may be down this
afternoon."

A look of dismay came over Wiggleswick's crafty, weather-beaten face.

"Well, I'm jiggered. I'm just jiggered," said he.

"I'm delighted to hear it," murmured Septimus. "Bring me my shaving-water."

"Are you going to get up?" asked Wiggleswick in a tone of disgusted
incredulity.

"Yes."

"Then you'll be wanting breakfast."

"Oh, no," said Septimus, with the wan smile that sometimes flickered over
his features, "afternoon tea will do--with some bacon and eggs and things."

The old man went out grumbling, and Septimus turned to his letter. It was
very kind of Emmy, he thought, to write to him so affectionately.

He spent the mild, autumn morning on the common consulting the ducks in the
pond, and seeking inspiration from the lame donkey, his state of mind being
still complicated. The more he reflected on Emmy's letter and on
Wiggleswick's views on women the less did he agree with Wiggleswick. He
missed Emmy, who had treated him very tenderly since their talk in the
moonlight at Hottetôt-sur-Mer; and he missed the boy who, in the later days
in Paris, after her return, had conceived an infantile infatuation for him,
and would cease crying or go to sleep peacefully if only he could gather a
clump of Septimus's hair in his tiny fingers. He missed a thousand gossamer
trifles--each one so imperceptible, all added together so significant. He
was not in the least cosy and comfortable with his old villain of a
serving-man.

Thus he looked forward, in his twilight way, to Emmy's coming. He would
live, perhaps, sometimes in Nunsmere and sometimes in London. Quite lately,
on visiting his bankers, in order to make arrangements for the disposal of
his income, he was surprised to find how rich he was; and the manager, an
astoundingly well-informed person, explained that a commercial concern in
which he held many shares had reached such a pitch of prosperity as to
treble his dividends. He went away with the vague notion that commercial
companies were models of altruistic generosity. The main point, however,
made clear by the exceptionally intelligent manager, being that he was
richer by several hundreds a year, he began to dream of a more resplendent
residence for Emmy and the boy than the little flat in Chelsea. He had
observed that there were very nice houses in Berkeley Square. He wondered
how much a year they were, with rates and taxes. For himself, he could
perch in any attic close by. He resolved to discuss Berkeley Square with
Emmy as soon as she arrived. William Octavius Oldrieve Dix, Member of
Parliament, ought to start life in proper surroundings.

Clem Sypher, down for the week-end at Penton Court, burst in upon him
during the afternoon. He came with exciting news. The high official in the
Ordnance Department of the War Office had written to him that morning to
the effect that he was so greatly impressed by the new quick-firing gun
that he proposed to experiment forthwith, and desired to be put into
communication with the inventor.

"That's very nice," said Septimus, "but shall I have to go and see him?"

"Of course," cried Sypher. "You'll have to interview boards and gunners
and engineers, and superintend experiments. You'll be a person of
tremendous importance."

"Oh, dear!" said Septimus, "I couldn't. I couldn't, really."

He was panic-stricken at the notion.

"You'll have to," laughed Sypher.

Septimus clutched at straws. "I'm afraid I shall be too busy. Emmy's coming
to London--and there's the boy's education. You see, he has to go to
Cambridge. Look here," he added, a brilliant idea occurring to him, "I'm
fearfully rich; I don't want any more money. I'll sell you the thing
outright for the two hundred pounds you advanced me, and then I shan't have
anything more to do with it."

"I think before you make any proposals of the kind you ought to consult
Mrs. Dix," said Sypher with a laugh.

"Or Zora."

"Or Zora," said Sypher. "She came down by the same train as I did. I told
her the good news. She was delighted."

He did not inform Septimus that, for all her delight, Zora had been
somewhat sceptical. She loved Septimus, she admitted, but his effectuality
in any sphere of human endeavor was unimaginable. Could anything good come
out of Nazareth?

About half an hour later the goddess herself arrived, shown in by
Wiggleswick, who had been snatching the pipe of the over-driven by the
front-gate. She looked flushed, resolute, indignant, and, on seeing Sypher,
she paused for a second on the threshold. Then she entered. Sypher took up
his hat and stick.

"No, no. You had better stay. You may help us. I suppose you know all
about it."

Septimus's heart sank. He knew what "it" meant.

"Yes, Sypher knows. I told him."

"But why didn't you tell me, dear Septimus, instead of letting me hear of
it from mother and Cousin Jane? I don't think it was loyal to me."

"I forgot," said Septimus in desperation. "You see, I sometimes remember it
and sometimes forget it. I'm not used to getting married. Wiggleswick has
been married several times. He was giving me a lot of advice this morning."

"Anyhow, it's true?" asked Zora, disregarding Wiggleswick.

"Oh, yes! You see, my ungovernable temper--"

"Your what?"

It was no use. On receiving the announcement she looked just as he had
expected her to look. He tried to stammer out his catalogue of infamies,
but failed. She burst out laughing, and Sypher, who knew all and was
anxiously wondering how to save the situation, laughed too.

"My poor, dear Septimus," she said kindly, "I don't believe a word of it.
The woman who couldn't get on with you must be a virago. I don't care
whether she's my own sister or not, she is treating you abominably."

"But, indeed she's not," pleaded poor Septimus. "We're the best of friends.
I really want to live like this. I do. I can't live without Wiggleswick.
See how cosy and comfortable he makes me."

Zora looked round, and the cosiness and comfort made her gasp. Cobwebs hung
from the old oak beams across the ceiling; a day or two's ashes defiled the
grate; the windows were splashed with mud and rain. There were no
curtains. Her finger drawn along the green baize table-cloth revealed the
dust. A pair of silver candlesticks on the mantelpiece were stained an
iridescent brown. The mirror was fly-blown. In the corner of the room a
tray held the remains of the last meal, and a plate containing broken food
had overflowed onto a neighboring chair. An odd, uncleaned boot lay, like a
frowsy, drunken visitor, on the floor. The springs of the armchair on which
she sat were broken.

"It's not fit for a pig to live in," she declared. "It's a crime to leave
you to that worthless old scoundrel. I'll talk to him before I go. He won't
like it. And then I'll write to Emmy. If that has no effect, I'll go over
to Paris and bring her to her senses."

She had arrived royally indignant, having had a pitched battle with Cousin
Jane, who took Emmy's side and alluded to Septimus in terms of withering
contempt. Now she was furiously angry. The two men looked at her with
wistful adoration, for when Zora was furious in a good cause she was very
beautiful. And the adoration in each man's heart was intensified by the
consciousness of the pathetic futility of her noble rage. It was for her
own sake that the situation had arisen over which she made such a pother,
and she was gloriously unconscious of it. Sypher could not speak lest he
should betray his knowledge of Septimus's secret, and Septimus could only
murmur incoherent ineffectualities concerning the perfection of Emmy, the
worthlessness of himself, and the diamond soul that lodged in Wiggleswick's
forbidding body. Zora would not listen to unreason. It was Emmy's duty to
save her husband from the dust and ashes of his present cosiness, if she
could do nothing else for him; and she, Zora, in her magnificence, was
going to see that Emmy's duty was performed. Instead of writing she would
start the next morning for Paris. It would be well if Septimus could
accompany her.

"Mrs. Dix is coming to London, I believe," said Sypher.

Zora looked inquiringly at Septimus, who explained dis cursively. Zora
renounced Paris. She would wait for Emmy. For the time being the incident
was closed. Septimus, in his hospitality, offered tea.

"I'll get it for you," said Zora. "It will be a good opportunity to speak
sweetly to Wiggleswick."

She swept out of the room; the two men lit cigarettes and smoked for a
while in silence. At last Sypher asked:

"What made you send her the tail of the little dog?"

Septimus reddened, and ran two of the fingers of the hand holding the
cigarette up his hair, and spilled half an inch of ash on his head.

"I broke the dog, you see," he explained luminously, "I knocked it off the
mantelpiece. I'm always doing it. When Emmy has a decent house I'll invent
something to keep dogs and things on mantelpieces."

Sypher said: "Do you know you've done me one of those services which one
man rarely does for another. I'll never forget it to my dying day. By
bringing her to me you've saved my reason. You've made me a different
being. I'm Clem Sypher--but, by God you're the Friend of Humanity."

Septimus looked at him with the terrified expression of a mediæval
wrongdoer, writhing under an ecclesiastical curse. He made abject apology.

"It was the only thing I could do," said he.

"Of course it was. And that's why you did it. I never dreamed when you
told me to wait until I saw her before going mad or breaking my heart that
you meant to send for her. It has set me in front of a new universe."

He rose and stretched his large limbs and smiled confidently at the world
out of his clear blue eyes. Two little words of Zora had inspired him with
the old self-reliance and sense of predestination to great things. Out of
her own mouth had come the words which, when they had come out of
Rattenden's, had made his heart sink in despair. She had called him a "big
man." Like many big men, he was superstitious. He believed Rattenden's
prophetic utterance concerning Zora. He was, indeed, set in front of a new
universe, and Septimus had done it by means of the tail of a little china
dog.

As he was stretching himself, Wiggleswick shambled in, with the fear of
Zora written on his wrinkled brow, and removed the tray and the plate of
broken victuals. What had passed between them neither he nor Zora would
afterwards relate; but Wiggleswick spent the whole of that night and the
following days in unremitting industry, so that the house became spick and
span as his own well-remembered prison cells. There also was a light of
triumph in Zora's eyes when she entered a few moments afterwards with the
tea-tray, which caused Sypher to smile and a wicked feeling of content to
enter Septimus's mild bosom.

"I think it was high time I came home," she remarked, pouring out the tea.

The two men supported the proposition. The western hemisphere, where she
had tarried so long, could get on very well by itself. In the meantime the
old eastern hemisphere had been going to pieces. They had a gay little
meal. Now that Zora had settled Wiggleswick, arranged her plan of campaign
against Emmy, and established very agreeable and subtle relations between
Sypher and herself, she could afford to shed all her charm and gaiety and
graciousness on her subjects. She was infinitely glad to be with them
again. Nunsmere had unaccountably expanded; she breathed freely and no
longer knocked her head against beams in bedroom ceilings.

She rallied Septimus on his new gun.

"He's afraid of it," said Sypher.

"What! Afraid of its going off?" she laughed.

"Oh, no," said Septimus. "I've heard lots of them go off."

"When?" asked Zora.

Septimus reddened, and for once was at a loss for one of the curiously
evasive answers in which his timidity took refuge. He fidgeted in his
chair. Zora repeated her jesting question. "Was it when they were firing
royal salutes in St. James's Park?"

"No," said Septimus.

His back being against the fading light she could not perceive the
discomfiture on his face. She longed to elicit some fantastic irrelevance.

"Well, where was it? Why this mystery?"

"I'll tell you two," said Septimus. "I've never told you before. In fact,
I've never told any one--not even Wiggleswick. I don't like to think of it.
It hurts. You may have wondered how I ever got any practical acquaintance
with gunnery. I once held a commission in the Militia Garrison Artillery.
That's how I came to love guns."

"By why should that pain you, my dear Septimus?" asked Zora.

"They said I was incompetent," he murmured, brokenly, "and took away my
commission. The colonel said I was a disgrace to the service."

Clem Sypher smote the arm of his chair and started up in his wrath.

"By heavens! I'll make the blundering idiot eat his words. I'll ram them
down his throat with the cleaner of the new gun. I'll make you the biggest
ornament the service ever possessed. I'll devote my existence to it! The
Dix gun shall wipe humanity off the face of the earth!"

"I don't want it to do that," said Septimus, meekly.

Zora begged his forgiveness very sweetly for her indiscretion, and having
comforted him with glowing prophecies of fame and domestic happiness, went
home with a full heart. She loved Sypher for his generous outburst. She was
deeply touched by Septimus's tragic story, but having a sense of humor she
could not repress a smile at the thought of Septimus in uniform, handling a
battery of artillery.



CHAPTER XXI


Cousin Jane was for packing her boxes and departing, but Zora bade her
remain until her own plans were settled. As soon as Emmy arrived she would
have to go to London and play fairy godmother, a proceeding which might
take up considerable time. Mrs. Oldrieve commended her beneficent
intention, and besought her to bring the irreligiously wedded pair to the
Vicar, and have them wedded in a respectable, Anglican way. She was firmly
convinced that if this were done, nothing more could possibly be heard of
separate lives. Zora promised to do her best, but Cousin Jane continued to
sniff. It would be far better, she declared, to shut the man up in an idiot
asylum and bring Emmy to Nunsmere, where the child could have a decent
upbringing. Zora dissented loftily, but declined to be led into a
profitless argument.

"All I ask of you, my dear Jane," said she, "is to take care of mother a
little longer while I do what I consider my duty."

She did not inform Cousin Jane that a certain freedom of movements was also
rendered desirable by what she considered her duty to Clem Sypher. Cousin
Jane lacked the finer threads of apprehension, and her comments might have
been crude. When Zora announced her intention to Sypher of leading a
migratory existence between London and Nunsmere for the sakes of Emmy and
himself, he burst into a panegyric on her angelic nature. Her presence
would irradiate these last dark days of disaster, for the time was quickly
approaching when the Bermondsey factory would be closed down, and Sypher's
Cure would fade away from the knowledge of men.

"Have you thought of the future--of what you are going to do?" she asked.

"No," said he, "but I have faith in my destiny."

Zora felt this to be magnificent, but scarcely practical.

"You'll be without resources?"

"I never realized how full empty pockets could be," he declared.

They were walking across the common, Sypher having lunched at "The Nook."
Presently they came across Septimus sitting by the pond. He rose and
greeted them. He wore an overcoat buttoned up to the throat and a cloth
cap. Zora's quick eyes noted an absence of detail in his attire.

"Why, you're not dressed! Oh, you do want a wife to look after you."

"I've only just got up," he explained, "and Wiggleswick wanted to do out my
bedroom, so I hadn't time to find my studs. I was thinking all night, you
see, and one can't think and sleep at the same time."

"A new invention?" laughed Zora.

"No. The old ones. I was trying to count them up. I've taken out about
fifty patents, and there are heaps of things half worked out which might be
valuable. Now I was thinking that if I made them all over to Sypher he
might get in some practical fellow to set them right, and start companies
and things to work them, and so make a lot of money."

He took off his cap and ran his hand up his hair. "There's also the new
gun. I do wish you'd have that, too," he added, anxiously. "In fact, it
was our talk yesterday that put the other idea into my head."

Sypher clapped him on the shoulder and called him his dear, generous
fellow. But how could he accept?

"They're not all rot," said Septimus pleadingly. "There's a patent
corkscrew which works beautifully. Wiggleswick always uses it."

Sypher laughed. "Well, I'll tell you what we can do. We can get a syndicate
together to run the Dix inventions, and pay you royalties on sales."

"That seems a very good idea," said Zora judicially.

But Septimus looked dissatisfied. "I wanted to give them to Sypher," said
he.

Zora reminded him laughingly that he would have to provide for the future
member of Parliament's election expenses. The royalties would come in
handy. She could not take Septimus's inventions seriously. But Sypher spoke
of them later in his enthusiastic way.

"Who knows? There may be things hidden among his models and specifications
of enormous commercial value. Lots of his inventions are crazy, but some
are bound to be practical. This field gun, for instance. The genius who
could have hit on that is capable of inventing anything. Why shouldn't I
devote my life to spreading the Dix inventions over the earth? It's a
colossal idea. Not one invention, but fifty--from a corkscrew to a machine
gun. It's better than Sypher's Cure, isn't it?"

She glanced swiftly at him to see whether the last words were spoken in
bitterness. They were not. His face beamed as it had beamed in the days
when he had rhapsodied over the vision of an earth, one scab, to be healed
by Sypher's Cure.

"Say you think it's better," he urged.

"Yes. It's better," she assented. "But it's chimerical."

"So are all the dreams ever dreamed by man. I shouldn't like to pass my
life without dreams, Zora. I could give up tobacco and alcohol and clean
collars and servants, and everything you could think of--but not dreams.
Without them the earth is just a sort of backyard of a place."

"And with them?" said Zora.

"An infinite garden."

"I'm afraid you'll be disillusioned over poor Septimus," she said, "but I
shouldn't like you to take up anything you didn't believe in. What would be
quite honest in another man wouldn't be honest in you."

"That means," said Sypher, "you wouldn't like to see me going on dealing in
quack medicines?"

Zora flushed red.

"It was at the back of my mind," she confessed. "But I did put my thoughts
into the form of a compliment."

"Zora," said he, "if I fell below what I want to appear in your eyes, I
should lose the dearest dream of all."

In the evening came Septimus to Penton Court to discuss the new scheme with
Sypher. Wiggleswick, with the fear of Zora heavy upon him, had laid out his
master's dinner suit, and Septimus had meekly put it on. He had also dined
in a Christian fashion, for the old villain could cook a plain dinner
creditably when he chose. Septimus proclaimed the regeneration of his body
servant as one of the innumerable debts he owed to Zora.

"Why do you repay them to me?" asked Sypher.

Then he rose, laughed into the distressed face, and put both his hands on
Septimus's shoulders.

"No, don't try to answer. I know more about you than you can possibly
conceive, and to me you're transparency itself. But you see that I can't
accept your patents, don't you?"

"I shall never do anything with them."

"Have you tried?"

"No."

"Then I will. It will be a partnership between my business knowledge and
energy and your brains. That will be right and honorable for the two of
us."

Septimus yielded. "If both you and Zora think so, it must be" he said. But
in his heart he was disappointed.

       *       *       *       *       *

A few days afterwards Shuttleworth came into Sypher's office, with an
expression of cheerfulness on his dismal countenance.

"Can I have a few moments with you, sir?"

Sypher bade him be seated. Since his defection to the enemy, Shuttleworth
had avoided his chief as much as possible, the excess of sorrow over anger
in the latter's demeanor toward him being hard to bear. He had slunk about,
not daring to meet his eyes. This morning, however, he reeked of conscious
virtue.

"I have a proposal to put before you, with which I think you'll be
pleased," said he.


"I'm glad to hear it," said Sypher.

"I'm proud to say," continued Shuttleworth, "that it was my suggestion, and
that I've carried it through. I was anxious to show you that I wasn't
ungrateful for all your past kindnesses, and my leaving you was not as
disloyal as you may have thought."

"I never accused you of disloyalty," said Sypher. "You had your wife and
children. You did the only thing possible."

"You take a load off my mind," said Shuttleworth.

He drew a long breath, as though relieved from an intolerable burden.

"What is your proposal?" asked Sypher.

"I am authorized by the Jebusa Jones Company to approach you with regard to
a most advantageous arrangement for both parties. It's your present
intention to close down the factory and shut up this office as soon as
things can be wound up."

"That's my intention," said Sypher.

"You'll come out of it solvent, with just a thousand pounds or so in your
pocket. The Cure will disappear from the face of the earth."

"Quite so," said Sypher. He leaned back in his chair, and held an ivory
paper-knife in both hands.

"But wouldn't that be an enormous pity?" said Shuttleworth. "The Cure is
known far and wide. Economically financed, and put, more or less, out of
reach of competition it can still be a most valuable property. Now, it
occurred to me that there was no reason why the Jebusa Jones Company could
not run Sypher's Cure side by side with the Cuticle Remedy. They agree with
me. They are willing to come to terms, whereby they will take over the
whole concern as it stands, with your name, of course, and advertisements
and trade-marks, and pay you a percentage of the profits."

Sypher made no reply. The ivory paper-knife snapped, and he laid the pieces
absently on his desk.

"The advantage to you is obvious," remarked Shuttleworth, who was beginning
to grow uneasy before the sphinx-like attitude of his chief.

"Quite obvious," said Sypher. Then, after a pause: "Do they propose to ask
me to manage the Sypher Cure branch?"

The irony was lost on Shuttleworth.

"No--well--not exactly--" he stammered.

Sypher laughed grimly, and checked further explanations.

"That was a joke, Shuttleworth. Haven't you noticed that my jokes are
always rather subtle? No, of course you are to manage the Cure."

"I know nothing about that, sir," said Shuttleworth hastily.

Sypher rose and walked about the room, saying nothing, and his manager
followed him anxiously with his eyes. Presently he paused before the
cartoon of the famous poster.

"This would be taken over with the rest?"

"I suppose so. It's valuable--part of the good-will."

"And the model of Edinburgh Castle--and the autograph testimonials, and the
'Clem Sypher. Friend of Humanity'?"

"The model isn't much use. Of course, you could keep that as a curiosity--"

"In the middle of my drawing-room table," said Sypher, ironically.

Shuttleworth smiled, guessing that the remark was humorous.

"Well," he said, "that's as you please. But the name and title naturally
are the essence of the matter."

"I see," said Sypher. "'Clem Sypher, Friend of Humanity,' is the essence of
the matter."

"With the secret recipe, of course."

"Of course," said Sypher, absently. He paced the room once or twice, then
halted in front of Shuttleworth, looked at him fixedly for a second or two
out of his clear eyes and resumed his walk; which was disconcerting for
Shuttleworth, who wiped his spectacles.

"Do you think we might now go into some details with regard to terms?"

"No," said Sypher, stopping short of the fireplace, "I don't. I've got to
agree to the principle first."

"But, surely, there's no difficulty about that!" cried Shuttleworth, rising
in consternation. "I can see no earthly reason--"

"I don't suppose you can," said Sypher. "When do you want an answer?"

"As soon as possible."

"Come to me in an hour's time and I'll give it you."

Shuttleworth retired. Sypher sat at his desk, his chin in his hand, and
struggled with his soul, which, as all the world knows, is the most
uncomfortable thing a man has to harbor in his bosom. After a few minutes
he rang up a number on the telephone.

"Are you the Shaftesbury Club? Is Mr. Septimus Dix in?"

He knew that Septimus was staying at the club, as he had come to town to
meet Emmy, who had arrived the evening before from Paris.

Mr. Dix was in. He was just finishing breakfast, and would come to the
telephone. Sypher waited, with his ear to the receiver.

"Is that you, Septimus? It's Clem Sypher speaking. I want you to come to
Moorgate Street at once. It's a matter of immediate urgency. Get into a
hansom and tell the man to drive like the devil. Thanks."

He resumed his position and sat motionless until, about half an hour
later, Septimus, very much scared, was shown into the room.

"I felt sure you were in. I felt sure you would come. There's a destiny
about all this business, and I seem to have a peep into it. I am going to
make myself the damnedest fool of all created beings--the very damnedest."

Septimus murmured that he was sorry to hear it.

"I hoped you might be glad," said Sypher.

"It depends upon the kind of fool you're going to make of yourself," cried
Septimus, a ray of wonderful lucidity flashing across his mind. "There's a
couplet of Tennyson's--I don't read poetry, you know," he broke off
apologetically, "except a little Persian. I'm a hard, scientific person,
all machinery. My father used to throw poetry books into the fire if he
caught me with one, but my mother used to read to me now and then--oh,
yes!--Tennyson. It goes: '_They called me in the public squares, The fool
that wears a crown of thorn_.' That's the best kind of a fool to be." He
suddenly looked round. "Dear me; I've left my umbrella in the cab. That's
the worst kind of a fool to be."

He smiled wanly, dropped his bowler hat on the floor, and eventually sat
down.

"I want to tell you something," said Sypher, standing on the hearthrug with
his hands on his hips. "I've just had an offer from the Jebusa Jones
Company."

Septimus listened intently while he told the story, wondering greatly why
he, of all unbusinesslike, unpractical people--in spite of his friendship
with Sypher--should be summoned so urgently to hear it. If he had suspected
that in reality he was playing the part of an animated conscience, he would
have shriveled up through fright and confusion.

Said Sypher: "If I accept this offer I shall have a fair income for the
rest of my days. I can go where I like, and do what I like. Not a soul can
call my commercial honesty in question. No business man, in his senses,
would refuse it. If I decline, I start the world again with empty pockets.
What shall I do? Tell me."

"I?" said Septimus, with his usual gesture of diffidence. "I'm such a silly
ass in such things."

"Never mind," said Sypher. "I'll do just what you would do."

Septimus reflected, and said, hesitatingly:

"I think I should do what Zora would like. She doesn't mind empty pockets."

Sypher dashed his hand across his forehead, and broke into a loud cry.

"I knew you would say that. I brought you here to say it! Thank God! I love
her, Septimus. I love her with every fiber in me. If I had sold my name to
these people I should have sold my honor. I should have sold my birthright
for a mess of pottage. I couldn't have looked her in the face again.
Whether she will marry me or not has nothing to do with it. It would have
had nothing to do with it in your case. You would have been the best kind
of fool and so shall I."

He swung about the room greatly excited, his ebullient nature finding in
words relief from past tension. He laughed aloud, proclaimed his love for
Zora, shook his somewhat bewildered friend by the hand, and informed him
that he, Septimus, alone of mortals, was responsible for the great
decision. And while Septimus wondered what the deuce he meant, he rang the
bell and summoned Shuttleworth.

The dismal manager entered the room. On seeing Sypher's cheery face, his
own brightened.

"I've thought the matter over, Shuttleworth."

"And you've decided--"

"To refuse the offer, absolutely."

The manager gasped. "But, Mr. Sypher, have you reflected--"

"My good Shuttleworth," said Sypher, "in all the years we've worked
together have you ever known me to say I've made up my mind when I
haven't?"

Shuttleworth marched out of the room and banged the door, and went forth to
declare to the world his opinion of Clem Sypher. He had always been half
crazy; now he had gone stick, stark, staring, raving, biting mad. And those
to whom he told the tale agreed with him.

But Sypher laughed his great laugh.

"Poor Shuttleworth! He has worked hard to bring off this deal. I'm sorry
for him. But one can't serve God and Mammon."

Septimus rose and took his hat. "I think it awfully wonderful of you," he
said. "I really do. I should like to talk to you about it--but I must go
and see Emmy. She came last night."

Sypher inquired politely after her health, also that of her baby.

"He's taking such a deuce of a time to grow up," said Septimus. "Otherwise
he's well. He's got a tooth. I've been wondering why no dentist has ever
invented a set of false teeth for babies."

"Then your turn would come," laughed Sypher, "for you would have to invent
them a cast-iron inside."

Before Septimus went, Sypher thrust a gold-headed umbrella into his hands.

"It's pouring with rain, and you'll wade about and get wet through. I make
a rule never to lend umbrellas, so I give you this from a grateful heart.
God bless you."



CHAPTER XXII


The little flat in Chelsea, cleaned, swept and garnished by the wife of the
porter of the Mansions, received Emmy, her babe, Madame Bolivard and
multitudinous luggage. All the pretty fripperies and frivolities had been
freshened and refurbished since their desecration at alien hands, and the
place looked cheery and homelike; but Emmy found it surprisingly small, and
was amazed to discover the prodigious space taken up by the baby. When she
drew Septimus's attention to this phenomenon he accounted for it by saying
that it was because he had such a very big name, which was an excellent
thing in that it would enable him to occupy a great deal of room in the
universe when he grew up.

She busied herself all the morning about the flat, happier than she had
been for a whole year. Her days of Hagardom were over. The menacing shadow
of the finger of scorn pointing at her from every airt of heaven had
disappeared. A clear sky welcomed her as she came back to take up an
acknowledged position in the world. The sense of release from an
intolerable ban outweighed the bitterness of old associations. She was at
home, in London, among dear familiar things and faces. She was almost
happy.

When Madame Bolivard appeared with bonnet and basket undismayedly prepared
to market for lunch and dinner, she laughed like a schoolgirl, and made her
repeat the list of English words she had taught her in view of this
contingency. She could say "cabbage," "sugar," "lettuce," and ask for all
sorts of things.

"But suppose you lose your way, Madame Bolivard?"

"I shall find it, madame."

"But how will you ask for directions? You know you can't say 'Ecclefechan
Mansions.'"

Madame Bolivard made a hopeless, spluttering sound as if she were blowing
teeth out of her mouth, which in no wise resembled the name of the place
wherein she dwelt. But Madame Bolivard, as has been remarked, was a _brave
femme_; and _allons donc!_ this was the least of the difficulties she had
had to encounter during her life. Emmy bade her godspeed in her perils
among the greengrocers.

She went blithely about her household tasks, and sang and cooed deliciously
to the child lying in its bassinette. Every now and then she looked at the
clock over the mantelpiece, wondering why Septimus had not come. Only in
the depths of her heart--depths which humans in their every-day life dare
not sound too frequently--did she confess how foolishly she longed for him.
He was late. With Emmy, Septimus never broke an appointment. To insure his
being at a certain place at a certain time to meet her he took the most
ingenious and complicated precautions. Before now he had dressed overnight
and gone to sleep in his clothes so as to be ready when the servant called
him in the morning. Emmy, knowing this, after the way of women began to
grow anxious. When, therefore, she opened the flat door to him she
upbraided him with considerable tenderness.

"It was Clem Sypher," he explained, taking off his overcoat. "He sent for
me. He wanted me badly. Why, I don't know. At least I do half know, but the
other half I don't. He's a magnificent fellow."

A little later, after Septimus had inspected her morning's work in the
flat, and the night's progress in the boy's tooth, and the pretty new
blouse which she had put on in his honor, and the rose in her bosom taken
from the bunch he had sent to greet her arrival in the flat the night
before, and after he had heard of the valorous adventure of Madame Bolivard
and of a message from Hégisippe Cruchot which she had forgotten to deliver
overnight, and of an announcement from Zora to the effect that she would
call at Ecclefechan Mansions soon after lunch, and of many things of
infinite importance, Emmy asked him what Clem Sypher had been doing, and
wherein lay the particular magnificence of character to which Septimus had
alluded.

"He's awfully splendid," said Septimus. "He has given up a fortune for the
sake of an idea. He also gave me an umbrella and his blessing. Emmy"--he
looked at her in sudden alarm--"did I bring an umbrella with me?"

"You did, dear, and you put it in the stand; but what you've done with the
blessing, I don't know."

"I've got it in my heart," said he. "He's a tremendous chap."

Emmy's curiosity was excited. She sat on the fender seat and bent forward,
her hands on her knees, in a pretty girlish attitude and fixed her
forget-me-not eyes on him.

"Tell me all about it."

He obeyed and expounded Sypher's quixotism in his roundabout fashion. He
concluded by showing her how it had been done for Zora's sake.

Emmy made a little gesture of impatience.

"Zora!" she exclaimed jealously. "It's always Zora. To see how you men go
on, one would think there was no other woman in the world. Every one does
crazy things for her, and she looks on calmly and never does a hand's turn
for anybody. Clem Sypher's a jolly sight too good for her."

Septimus looked pained at the disparagement of his goddess. Emmy sprang to
her feet and put her finger-tips on his shoulders.

"Forgive me, dear. Women are cats--I've often told you--and love to scratch
even those they're fond of. Sometimes the more they love them the harder
they scratch. But I won't scratch you any more. Indeed I won't."

The sound of the latch-key was heard in the front door.

"There's Madame Bolivard," she cried. "I must see what miracle of loaves
and fishes she has performed. Do mind baby till I come back."

She danced out of the room, and Septimus sat on a straight-backed chair
beside the bassinette. The baby--he was a rather delicate child
considerably undergrown for his age, but a placid, uncomplaining little
mortal--looked at Septimus out of his blue and white china eyes and
contorted his india-rubber features into a muddle indicative of pleasure,
and Septimus smiled cordially at the baby.

"William Octavius Oldrieve Dix," he murmured--an apostrophe which caused
the future statesman a paroxysm of amusement--"I am exceedingly glad to see
you. I hope you like London. We're great friends, aren't we? And when you
grow up, we're going to be greater. I don't want you to have anything to do
with machinery. It stops your heart beating and makes you cold and
unsympathetic and prevents women from loving you. You mustn't invent
things. That's why I am going to make you a Member of Parliament--a
Conservative member."

William Octavius, who had been listening attentively, suddenly chuckled,
as if he had seen a joke. Septimus's gaze conveyed sedate reproof.

"When you laugh you show such a deuce of a lot of gum--like Wiggleswick,"
said he.

The baby made no reply. The conversation languished. Septimus bent down to
examine the tooth, and the baby clutched a tiny fistful of upstanding hair
as a reaper clutches a handful of wheat. Septimus smiled and kissed the
little crinkled, bubbly lips and fell into a reverie. William Octavius went
fast asleep.

When Emmy returned she caught an appealing glance from Septimus and rescued
him, a new Absalom.

"You dear thing," she cried, "why didn't you do it yourself?"

"I was afraid of waking him. It's dangerous to wake babies suddenly. No, it
isn't babies; it's somnambulists. But he may be one, you see, and as he
can't walk we can't tell. I wonder whether I could invent an apparatus for
preventing somnambulists from doing themselves damage."

Emmy laughed. "You can invent nothing so wonderful as Madame Bolivard," she
cried gaily. "She is contemptuous of the dangers of English marketing. 'The
people understood me at once,' she said. She evidently has a poor opinion
of them."

Septimus stayed to lunch, a pleasant meal which made them bless Hégisippe
Cruchot for introducing them to the aunt who could cook. So far did their
gratitude go that Septimus remarked that it would only be decent to add
"Hégisippe" to the baby's names. But Emmy observed that he should have
thought of that before; the boy had already been christened; it was too
late. They drank the Zouave's health instead in some fearful and wonderful
red wine which Madame Bolivard had procured from heaven knows what
purveyor of dangerous chemicals. They thought it excellent.

"I wonder," said Emmy, "whether you know what this means to me."

"It's home," replied Septimus, with an approving glance around the little
dining-room. "You must get me a flat just like this."

"Close by?"

"If it's too close I might come here too often."

"Do you think that possible?" she said, with as much wistfulness as she
dare allow herself. "Besides, you have a right."

Septimus explained that as a Master of Arts of the University of Cambridge
he had a right to play marbles on the Senate House steps, a privilege
denied by statute to persons _in statu pupillari_, but that he would be
locked up as a lunatic if he insisted on exercising it.

After a pause Emmy looked at him, and said with sudden tragicality:

"I'm not a horrible, hateful worry to you, Septimus?"

"Lord, no," said Septimus.

"You don't wish you had never set eyes on me?"

"My dear girl!" said Septimus.

"And you wouldn't rather go on living quietly at Nunsmere and not bother
about me any more? Do tell me the truth."

Septimus's hand went to his hair. He was unversed in the ways of women.

"I thought all that was settled long ago," he said. "I'm such a useless
creature. You give me something to think about, and the boy, and his
education, and his teeth. And he'll have whooping cough and measles and
breeches and things, and it will be frightfully interesting."

Emmy, elbow on table and chin in hand, smiled at him with a touch of
audacity in her forget-me-not eyes.

"I believe you're more interested in the boy than you are in me."

Septimus reddened and stammered, unable, as usual, to express his feelings.
He kept to the question of interest.

"It's so different," said he. "I look on the boy as a kind of invention."

She persisted. "And what am I?"

He had one of his luminous inspirations.

"You," said he, "are a discovery."

Emmy laughed. "I do believe you like me a little bit, after all."

"You've got such beautiful finger-nails," said he.

Madame Bolivard brought in the coffee. Septimus in the act of lifting the
cup from tray to table let it fall through his nervous fingers, and the
coffee streamed over the dainty table-cloth. Madame Bolivard appealed
fervently to the Deity, but Emmy smiled proudly as if the spilling of
coffee was a rare social accomplishment.

Soon after this Septimus went to his club with orders to return for tea,
leaving Emmy to prepare for her meeting with Zora. He had offered to be
present at this first interview so as to give her his support, and
corroborate whatever statement as to his turpitudes she might care to make
in explanation of their decision to live apart. But Emmy preferred to fight
her battle single-handed. Alone he had saved the situation by his very
vagueness. In conjunction with herself there was no knowing what he might
do, for she had resolved to exonerate him from all blame and to attribute
to her own infirmities of disposition this calamitous result of their
marriage.

Now that the hour of meeting approached she grew nervous. Unlike Zora, she
had not inherited her father's fearlessness and joy of battle. The touch of
adventurous spirit which she had received from him had been her undoing, as
it had led her into temptation which the gentle, weak character derived
from her mother had been powerless to resist. All her life she had been
afraid of Zora, subdued by her splendid vitality, humbled before her more
generous accomplishment. And now she was to fight for her honor and her
child's and at the same time for the tender chivalry of the odd, beloved
creature that was her husband. She armed herself with woman's weapons, and
put on a brave face, though her heart thumped like some devilish machine,
racking her mercilessly.

The bell rang. She bent over the boy asleep in the bassinette and gave a
mother's touch or two to the tiny coverlet. She heard the flat door open
and Zora's rich voice inquire for Mrs. Dix. Then Zora, splendid, deep
bosomed, glowing with color, bringing with her a perfume of furs and
violets, sailed into the room and took her into her arms. Emmy felt fluffy
and insignificant.

"How well you're looking, dear. I declare you are prettier than ever.
You've filled out. I didn't come the first thing this morning as I wanted
to, because I knew you would find everything topsy-turvy in the flat.
Septimus is a dear, but I haven't much faith in his domestic capabilities."

"The flat was in perfect order," said Emmy. "Even that bunch of roses in a
jar."

"Did he remember to put in the water?"

Zora laughed, meaning to be kind and generous, to make it evident to Emmy
that she had not come as a violent partisan of Septimus, and to lay a
pleasant, familiar foundation for the discussion in prospect. But Emmy
resented the note of disparagement.

"Of course he did," she said shortly.

Zora flew to the bassinette and glowed womanlike over the baby. A beautiful
child, one to be proud of indeed. Why hadn't Emmy dear proclaimed his
uniqueness in the world of infants? From the references in her letters he
might have been the ordinary baby of every cradle.

"Oh, you ought to be such a happy woman!" she cried, taking off her furs
and throwing them over the back of a chair. "Such a happy woman!"

An involuntary sigh shook her. The first words had been intended to convey
a gentle reproof; nature had compelled the reiteration on her own account.

"I'm happy enough," said Emmy.

"I wish you could say that with more conviction, dear. 'Happy enough'
generally means 'pretty miserable.' Why should you be miserable?"

"I'm not. I have more happiness than I deserve. I don't deserve much."

Zora put her arm round her sister's waist.

"Never mind, dear. We'll try to make you happier."

Emmy submitted to the caress for a while and then freed herself gently. She
did not reply. Not all the trying of Zora and all the Ladies Bountiful of
Christendom could give her her heart's desire. Besides, Zora, with her
large air of smiling _dea ex machina_ was hopelessly out of tone with her
mood. She picked up the furs.

"How lovely. They're new. Where did you get them?"

The talk turned on ordinary topics. They had not met for a year, and they
spoke of trivial happenings. Emmy touched lightly on her life in Paris.
They exchanged information as to their respective journeys. Emmy had had a
good crossing the day before, but Madame Bolivard, who had faced the
hitherto unknown perils of the deep with unflinching courage, had been
dreadfully seasick. The boy had slept most of the time. Awake he had been
as good as gold.

"He's the sweetest tempered child under the sun."

"Like his father," said Zora, "who is both sweet tempered and a child."

The words were a dagger in Emmy's heart. She turned away swiftly lest Zora
should see the pain in her eyes. The intensity of the agony had been
unforeseen.

"I hope the little mite has a spice of the devil from our side of the
family," added Zora, "or it will go hard with him. That's what's wrong with
poor Septimus."

Emmy turned with a flash. "There's nothing wrong with Septimus. I wouldn't
change him for any man in the world."

Zora raised surprised eyebrows and made the obvious retort:

"Then, my dear, why on earth don't you live with him?"

Emmy shrugged her shoulders, and looked out of the window. There was a
block of flats over the way, and a young woman at a window immediately
opposite was also looking out. This irritated her. She resented being
stared at by a young woman in a flat. She left the window and sat on the
sofa.

"Don't you think, Zora, you might let Septimus and myself arrange things as
we think best? I assure you we are quite capable of looking after
ourselves. We meet in the friendliest way possible, but we have decided to
occupy separate houses. It's a matter that concerns ourselves entirely."

Zora was prepared for this attitude, which she had resolved not to
countenance. She had come, in all her bravery, to bring Emmy to her senses.
Emmy should be brought. She left the bassinette and sat down near her
sister and smiled indulgently.

"My dearest child, if you were so-called 'advanced people' and held all
sorts of outrageous views, I might understand you. But you are two very
ordinary folk with no views at all. You never had any in your life, and if
Septimus had one he would be so terribly afraid of it that he would chain
it up. I'm quite certain you married without any idea save that of sticking
together. Now, why haven't you?"

"I make Septimus miserable. I can't help it. Sooner than make him unhappy I
insist upon this arrangement. There!"

"Then I think you are very wicked and heartless and selfish," said Zora.

"I am," said Emmy defiantly.

"Your duty is to make him happy. It would take so little to do that. You
ought to give him a comfortable home and teach him to realize his
responsibilities toward the child."

Again the stab. Emmy's nerve began to give way. For the first time came the
wild notion of facing Zora with the whole disastrous story. She dismissed
it as crazy.

"I tell you things can't be altered."

"But why? I can't imagine you so monstrous. Give me your confidence,
darling."

"There's nothing to give."

"I'm sure I could put things right for you at once if I knew what was
wrong. If it's anything to do with Septimus," she added in her unwisdom and
with a charming proprietary smile, "why, I can make him do whatever I
like."

"Even if we had quarreled," cried Emmy, losing control of her prudence, "do
you suppose I would let _you_ bring him back to me?"

"But why not?"

"Have you been so blind all this time as not to see?"

Emmy knew her words were vain and dangerous, but the attitude of her
sister, calm and confident, assuming her air of gracious patronage,
irritated her beyond endurance. Zora's smile deepened into indulgent
laughter.

"My dearest Emmy, you don't mean to say that it's jealousy of me? But it's
too ridiculous. Do you suppose I've ever thought of Septimus in that way?"

"You've thought of him just as you used to think of the bob-tailed sheep
dog we had when we were children."

"Well, dear, you were never jealous of my attachment to Bobbie or Bobbie's
devotion to me," said Zora, smilingly logical. "Come, dear, I knew there
was only some silly nonsense at the bottom of this. Look. I'll resign every
right I have in poor Septimus."

Emmy rose. "If you call him 'poor Septimus' and speak of him in that tone,
you'll drive me mad. It's you that are wicked and heartless and selfish."

"I?" cried Zora, aghast.

"Yes, you. You accept the love and adoration of the noblest gentleman that
God ever put into the world, and you treat him and talk of him as if he
were a creature of no account. If you were worthy of being loved by him, I
shouldn't he jealous. But you're not. You've been so wrapped up in your own
magnificence that you've not even condescended to notice that he loved you.
And even now, when I tell you, you laugh, as if it were preposterous that
'poor Septimus' could ever dare to love you. You drive me mad."

Zora drew herself up angrily. To make allowances for a silly girl's
jealousy was one thing; it was another to be accused in this vehement
fashion. Conscious of her innocence, she said:

"Your attack on me is entirely unjustifiable, Emmy. I have done nothing."

"That's why," retorted Emmy quickly. "You've done nothing. Men are
sacrificing their lives and fortunes for you, and you do nothing."

"Lives and fortunes? What do you mean?"

"I mean what I say," cried Emmy desperately. "Septimus has done everything
short of laying down his life for you, and that he would have done if
necessary, and you haven't even taken the trouble to see the soul in the
man that was capable of it. And now that something has happened which you
can't help seeing you come in your grand way to put it all to rights in a
minute. You think I've turned him out because he's a good-natured worry
like Bobbie, the bob-tailed sheep dog, and you say, 'Poor fellow, see how
pitifully he's wagging his tail. It's cruel of you not to let him in.'
That's the way you look at Septimus, and I can't stand it and I won't. I
love him as I never dreamed a woman could love a man. I could tear myself
into little pieces for him bit by bit. And I can't get him. He's as far
removed from me as the stars in heaven. You could never understand. I pray
every night to God to forgive me, and to work a miracle and bring him to
me. But miracles don't happen. He'll never come to me. He can't come to me.
While you have been patronizing him, patting him on the head, playing Lady
Bountiful to him--as you are doing to the other man who has given up a
fortune this very morning just because he loves you--while you've been
doing this and despising him--yes, you know you do in your heart, for a
simple, good-natured, half-witted creature who amuses himself with crazy
inventions, he has done a thing to save you from pain and shame and
sorrow--you, not me--because he loved you. And now I love him. I would give
all I have in life for the miracle to happen. But it can't. Don't you
understand? It can't!"

She stood panting in front of Zora, a passionate woman obeying elemental
laws; and when passionate women obey elemental laws they are reckless in
speech and overwhelming in assertion and denunciation. Emmy was the first
whom Zora had encountered. She was bewildered by the storm of words, and
could only say, rather stupidly:

"Why can't it?"

Emmy thew two or three short breaths. The notion had come again. The
temptation was irresistible. Zora should know, having brought it on
herself. She opened the door.

"Madame Bolivard!" she cried. And when the Frenchwoman appeared she pointed
to the bassinette.

"Take baby into the bedroom. It will be better for him there."

"_Bien, madame_," said Madame Bolivard, taking up the child. And when the
door had closed behind her Emmy pointed to it and said:

"That's why."

Zora started forward, horror stricken.

"Emmy, what do you mean?"

"I'll tell you. I couldn't with him in the room. I should always fancy that
he had heard me, and I want him to respect and love his mother."

"Emmy!" cried Zora. "Emmy! What are you saying? Your son not respect
you--if he knew--do you mean...?"

"Yes," said Emmy, "I do--Septimus went through the marriage ceremony with
me and gave us his name. That's why we are living apart. Now you know."

"My God!" said Zora.

"Do you remember the last night I was at Nunsmere?"

"Yes. You fainted."

"I had seen the announcement of the man's marriage in the newspaper."

She told her story briefly and defiantly, asking for no sympathy,
proclaiming it all _ad majorem Septimi gloriam_. Zora sat looking at her
paralyzed with helplessness, like one who, having gone lightly forth to
shoot rabbits, suddenly comes upon a lion.

"Why didn't you tell me--at the time--before?"

"Did you ever encourage me to give you my confidence? You patted me on the
head, too, and never concerned yourself about my affairs. I was afraid of
you--deadly afraid of you. It sounds rather silly now, doesn't it? But I
was."

Zora made no protest against the accusation. She sat quite still, her eyes
fixed on the foot of the bassinette, adjusting her soul to new and
startling conceptions. She said in a whisper:

"My God, what a fool I've been!"

The words lingered a haunting echo in her ears. They were mockingly
familiar. Where had she heard them recently? Suddenly she remembered. She
raised her head and glanced at Emmy in anything but a proud way.

"You said something just now about Clem Sypher having sacrificed a fortune
for me. What was it? I had better hear everything."

Emmy sat on the fender stool, as she had done when Septimus had told her
the story, and repeated it for Zora's benefit.

"You say he sent for Septimus this morning?" said Zora in a low voice. "Do
you think he knows--about you two?"

"It is possible that he guesses," replied Emmy, to whom Hégisippe Cruchot's
indiscretion had been reported. "Septimus has not told him."

"I ask," said Zora, "because, since my return, he has seemed to look on
Septimus as a sort of inspired creature. I begin to see things I never saw
before."

There was silence. Emmy gripped the mantelpiece and, head on arm, looked
into the fire. Zora sat lost in her expanding vision. Presently Emmy said
without turning round:

"You mustn't turn away from me now--for Septimus's sake. He loves the boy
as if he were his own. Whatever wrong I've done I've suffered for it. Once
I was a frivolous, unbalanced, unprincipled little fool. I'm a woman
now--and a good woman, thanks to him. To live in the same atmosphere as
that exquisite delicacy of soul is enough to make one good. No other man on
earth could have done what he has done and in the way he has done it. I
can't help loving him. I can't help eating my heart out for him. That's my
punishment."

This time the succeeding silence was broken by a half-checked sob. Emmy
started round, and beheld Zora crying silently to herself among the sofa
cushions. Emmy was amazed. Zora, the magnificent, had broken down, and was
weeping like any silly fool of a girl. It was real crying; not the shedding
of the tears of sensibility which often stood in her generous eyes. Emmy
moved gently across the room--she was a soft-hearted, affectionate
woman--and knelt by the sofa.

"Zora, dear."

Zora, with an immense longing for love, caught her sister in her arms, and
the two women wept very happily together. It was thus that Septimus,
returning for tea, as he was bidden, found them some while afterwards.

Zora rose, her lashes still wet, and whipped up her furs.

"But you're not going?"

"Yes. I'll leave you two together. I'll do what I can. Septimus--" She
caught him by the arm and drew him a step or two towards the door. "Emmy
has told me everything. Oh, you needn't look frightened, dear. I'm not
going to thank you--" Her voice broke on the laugh. "I should only make a
fool of myself. Some other time. I only want to say, don't you think you
would be more--more cosy and comfortable if you let her take care of you
altogether? She's breaking her heart for love of you, Septimus, and she
would make you happy."

She rushed out of the room, and before the pair could recover from their
confusion they heard the flat door slam behind her.

Emmy looked at Septimus with a great scare in her blue eyes. She said
something about taking no notice of what Zora said.

"But is it true?" he asked.

She said with her back against the wall:

"Do you think it very amazing that I should care for you?"

Septimus ran his hands vehemently up his hair till it reached the climax of
Struwel Peterdom. The most wonderful thing in his life had happened. A
woman loved him. It upset all his preconceived notions of his place in the
universe.

"Yes, I do," he answered. "It makes my head spin round." He found himself
close to her. "Do you mean that you love me"--his voice grew tremulous--"as
if I were an ordinary man?"

"No," she cried, with a half laugh. "Of course I don't. How could I love an
ordinary man as I love you?"

Neither could tell afterwards how it happened. Emmy called the walls to
witness that she did not throw herself into his arms, and Septimus's
natural timidity precluded the possibility of his having seized her in his;
but she stood for a long, throbbing time in his embrace, while he kissed
her on the lips and gave all his heart into her keeping.

They sat down together on the fender seat.

"When a man does that," said Septimus, as if struck by a luminous idea, "I
suppose he asks the girl to marry him."

"But we are married already," she cried joyously.

"Dear me," said Septimus, "so we are. I forgot. It's very puzzling, isn't
it? I think, if you don't mind, I'll kiss you again."



CHAPTER XXIII


Zora went straight back to her hotel sitting-room. There, without taking
off her hat or furs, she wrote a swift, long letter to Clem Sypher, and
summoning the waiter, ordered him to post it at once. When he had gone she
reflected for a few moments and sent off a telegram. After a further brief
period of reflection she went down-stairs and rang up Sypher's office on
the telephone.

The mere man would have tried the telephone first, then sent the telegram,
and after that the explanatory letter. Woman has her own way of doing
things.

Sypher was in. He would have finished for the day in about twenty minutes.
Then he would come to her on the nearest approach to wings London
locomotion provided.

"Remember, it's something most particular that I want to see you about,"
said Zora. "Good-by."

She rang off, and went up-stairs again, removed the traces of tears from
her face and changed her dress. For a few moments she regarded her outward
semblance somewhat anxiously in the glass, unconscious of a new coquetry.
Then she sat down before the sitting-room fire and looked at the inner Zora
Middlemist.

There was never woman, since the world began, more cast down from her high
estate. Not a shred of magnificence remained. She saw herself as the most
useless, vaporing and purblind of mortals. She had gone forth from the
despised Nunsmere, where nothing ever happened, to travel the world over in
search of realities, and had returned to find that Nunsmere had all the
time been the center of the realities that most deeply concerned her life.
While she had been talking others had been living. The three beings whom
she had honored with her royal and somewhat condescending affection had all
done great things, passed through flames and issued thence purified with
love in their hearts. Emmy, Septimus, Sypher, all in their respective ways,
had grappled with essentials. She alone had done nothing--she the strong,
the sane, the capable, the magnificent. She had been a tinsel failure. So
far out of touch had she been with the real warm things of life which
mattered that she had not even gained her sister's confidence. Had she done
so from her girlhood up, the miserable tragedy might not have happened. She
had failed in a sister's elementary duty.

As a six weeks' wife, what had she done save shiver with a splendid
disgust? Another woman would have fought and perhaps have conquered. She
had made no attempt, and the poor wretch dead, she had trumpeted abroad her
crude opinion of the sex to which he belonged. At every turn she had seen
it refuted. For many months she had known it to be vain and false; and
Nature, who with all her faults is at least not a liar, had spoken over and
over again. She had raised a fine storm of argument, but Nature had
laughed. So had the Literary Man from London. She had a salutary vision of
herself as the common geck and gull of the queerly assorted pair. She
recognized that in order to work out any problem of life one must accept
life's postulates and axioms. Even her mother, from whose gentle lips she
rarely expected to hear wisdom, had said: "I don't see how you're going to
'live,' dear, without a man to take care of you." Her mother was right,
Nature was right, Rattenden was right. She, Zora Middlemist, had been
hopelessly wrong.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Sypher arrived she welcomed him with an unaccustomed heart-beat. The
masterful grip of his hands as they held hers gave her a new throb of
pleasure. She glanced into his eyes and saw there the steady love of a
strong, clean soul. She glanced away and hung her head, feeling unworthy.

"What's this most particular thing you have to say to me?" he asked, with a
smile.

"I can't tell it to you like this. Let us sit down. Draw up that chair to
the fire."

When they were seated, she said:

"I want first to ask you a question or two. Do you know why Septimus
married my sister? Be quite frank, for I know everything."

"Yes," he said gravely, "I knew. I found it out in one or two odd ways.
Septimus hasn't the faintest idea."

Zora picked up an illustrated weekly from the floor and used it as a
screen, ostensibly from the fire, really from Sypher.

"Why did you refuse the Jebusa Jones offer this morning?"

"What would you have thought of me if I had accepted? But Septimus
shouldn't have told you."

"He didn't. He told Emmy, who told me. You did it for my sake?"

"Everything I do is for your sake. You know that well enough."

"Why did you send for Septimus?"

"Why are you putting me through this interrogatory?" he laughed.

"You will learn soon," said Zora. "I want to get everything clear in my
mind. I've had a great shock. I feel as if I had been beaten all over. For
the first time I recognize the truth of the proverb about a woman, a dog,
and a walnut tree. Why did you send for Septimus?"

Sypher leaned back in his chair, and as the illustrated paper prevented him
from seeing Zora's face, he looked reflectively at the fire.

"I've always told you that I am superstitious. Septimus seems to be gifted
with an unconscious sense of right in an infinitely higher degree than any
man I have ever known. His dealings with Emmy showed it. His sending for
you to help me showed it. He has shown it in a thousand ways. If it hadn't
been for him and his influence on my mind I don't think I should have come
to that decision. When I had come to it, I just wanted him. Why, I can't
tell you."

"I suppose you knew that he was in love with me?" said Zora in the same
even tone.

"Yes," said Sypher. "That's why he married your sister."

"Do you know why--in the depths of his heart--he sent me the tail of the
little dog?"

"He knew somehow that it was right. I believe it was. I tell you I'm
superstitious. But in what absolute way it was right I can't imagine."

"I can," said Zora. "He knew that my place was by your side. He knew that I
cared for you more than for any man alive." She paused. Then she said
deliberately: "He knew that I loved you all the time."

Sypher plucked the illustrated paper from her hand and cast it across the
room, and, bending over the arm of his chair, seized her wrist.

"Zora, do you mean that?"

She nodded, fluttered a glance at him, and put out her free hand to claim a
few moments' grace.

"I left you to look for a mission in life. I've come back and found it at
the place I started from. It's a big mission, for it means being a mate to
a big man. But if you will let me try, I'll do my best."

Sypher thrust away the protecting hand.

"You can talk afterwards," he said.

Thus did Zora come to the knowledge of things real. When the gates were
opened, she walked in with a tread not wanting in magnificence. She made
the great surrender, which is woman's greatest victory, very proudly, very
humbly, very deliciously. She had her greatnesses.

She freed herself, flushed and trembling, throbbing with a strange
happiness that caught her breath. This time she believed Nature, and
laughed with her in her heart in close companionship. She was mere woman
after all, with no mission in life but the accomplishment of her womanhood,
and she gloried in the knowledge. This was exceedingly good for her. Sypher
regarded her with shining eyes as if she had been an immortal vesting
herself in human clay for divine love of him; and this was exceedingly good
for Sypher. After much hyperbole they descended to kindly commonplace.

"But I don't see now," he cried, "how I can ask you to marry me. I don't
even know how I'm to earn my living."

"There are Septimus's inventions. Have you lost your faith in them?"

He cried with sudden enthusiasm, as who should say, if an Immortal has
faith in them, then indeed must they be divine:

"Do you believe in them now?"

"Utterly. I've grown superstitious, too. Wherever we turn there is
Septimus. He has raised Emmy from hell to heaven. He has brought us two
together. He is our guardian angel. He'll never fail us. Oh, Clem, thank
heaven," she exclaimed fervently, "I've got something to believe in at
last."

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile the guardian angel, entirely unconscious of apotheosis, sat in
the little flat in Chelsea blissfully eating crumpets over which Emmy had
spread the preposterous amount of butter which proceeds from an overflowing
heart. She knelt on the hearth rug watching him adoringly as if he were a
hierophant eating sacramental wafer. They talked of the future. He
mentioned the nice houses he had seen in Berkeley Square.

"Berkeley Square would be very charming," said Emmy, "but it would mean
carriages and motor-cars and powdered footmen and Ascot and balls and
dinner parties and presentations at Court. You would be just in your
element, wouldn't you, dear?"

She laughed and laid her happy head on his knee.

"No, dear. If we want to have a fling together, you and I, in London, let
us keep on this flat as a _pied-à-terre_. But let us live at Nunsmere. The
house is quite big enough, and if it isn't you can always add on a bit at
the cost of a month's rent in Berkeley Square. Wouldn't you prefer to live
at Nunsmere?"

"You and the boy and my workshop are all I want in the world," said he.

"And not Wiggleswick?"

One of his rare smiles passed across his face.

"I think Wiggleswick will be upset."

Emmy laughed again. "What a funny household it will be--Wiggleswick and
Madame Bolivard! It will be lovely!"

Septimus reflected for an anxious moment. "Do you know, dear," he said
diffidently, "I've dreamed of something all my life--I mean ever since I
left home. It has always seemed somehow beyond my reach. I wonder whether
it can come true now. So many wonderful things have happened to me that
perhaps this, too--"

"What is it, dear?" she asked, very softly.

"I seem to be so marked off from other men; but I've dreamed all my life of
having in my house a neat, proper, real parlor maid in a pretty white cap
and apron. Do you think it can be managed?"

With her head on his knee she said in a queer voice:

"Yes, I think it can."

He touched her cheek and suddenly drew his hand away.

"Why, you're crying! What a selfish brute I am! Of course we won't have her
if she would be in your way."

Emmy lifted her face to him.

"Oh, you dear, beautiful, silly Septimus," she said, "don't you understand?
Isn't it just like you? You give every one else the earth, and in return
you ask for a parlor maid."

"Well, you see," he said in a tone of distressed apology, "she would come
in so handy. I could teach her to mind the guns."

"You dear!" cried Emmy.


THE END





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