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Title: Shadows of Flames - A Novel
Author: Rives, Amélie, 1863-1945
Language: English
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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.

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_Shadows of Flames_


Amélie Rives, Alfred James
Dewey, Frederick A. Stokes Company



SHADOWS OF FLAMES



[Illustration: "'And it came to me that we were all like that--like
little flames casting shadows in some greater light. And that our
passions were also like little flames that cast shadows--of sorrow ...
regret ... despair ... weariness....'"--_Page 27_]



SHADOWS OF
FLAMES


A Novel

BY
AMÉLIE RIVES
(PRINCESS TROUBETZKOY)

_Author of "The Quick or the Dead," "World's-End," etc._


_WITH FRONTISPIECE IN COLOR BY_
_ALFRED JAMES DEWEY_


NEW YORK
FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY
PUBLISHERS



_Copyright, 1914, 1915, by_
AMÉLIE TROUBETZKOY



TO
MY FRIEND
VIOLA ROSEBORO
WITH MUCH LOVE



I


Sophy smiled at her image in the mirror, and her grey eyes smiled back
at her. The shadows under them--warm, golden stains like those on a
bruised magnolia leaf--gave them a mysterious, impassioned look. She
felt that she was going to have a happy evening.

In those days, in the early '90s, electric light was not much used in
the houses in Regent's Park. Candles in brass sconces lighted her
dressing-table. They brought out flickering shimmers from her gown of
white brocade. Sleeves were full that year. The transparent masses of
azalea pink, drooping on either side of her slender body, made it look
slenderer. These sleeves were like huge orchids, and from them her arms
drooped stamenlike in the soft, gold wash from the candles.

Matilda, her little Kentish maid, could not keep her eyes away from her.
As she hooked the long, tightly wound sash of azalea pink she kept
peering at her lady's image in the glass. There, Sophy's eyes met hers.
She smiled again--at Tilda this time.

"Will you wear anything on your hair, m'm?" asked the girl, smiling
shyly in return.

Sophy considered, looking at the curve of her head from different angles
in a little hand-glass.

"No," she said, at last; "just the pearls to-night."

Her hair, dark and richly shaded like a breadth of veined mahogany, was
drawn loosely back into a big, shining knot low on her neck. Her
eyebrows were darker than her hair, long, slender, and straight. When
she laughed or smiled her eyes too grew long and slender.

She glanced at the pearls that the girl was now clasping about her
throat. They had been a wedding-gift from her brother-in-law, Lord
Wychcote. Poor Gerald! She was fond of him. He was the only one of the
family who had been really nice to her. Yes, they were fond of each
other. She touched the cold, heavy pearls and thought pityingly of his
dark eyes so often full of pain. Then she thought of how Cecil sometimes
spoke brutally to him, and she shivered.

"A goose on your grave, m'm?" said Tilda. "Let me fetch a scarf."

She brought a scarf of old lace, delicate as the skeleton of an elm-leaf
left by caterpillars, and threw it over Sophy's shoulders. Then handed
her her fan, gloves, and handkerchief, and taking the white
evening-cloak on her arm, waited for her mistress to leave the room.

Sophy gave a last look over her shoulder as she turned from the mirror.
Yes, she liked the dark curve of her head unbroken by any
ornament--besides, she did not wish to wear anything that Cecil had
given her, to-night. The pink-and-white gown was three years old--had
been part of her trousseau. She had had it remodelled in the house by a
clever little seamstress.

She went slowly down the stairway, through the square white hall. The
Georgian house was simple and cheerful. Sophy especially liked the
Sheraton furniture and white panelling, because they reminded her of her
Virginia home "Sweet-Waters." How happy she could have been in a house
like this, if only.... Her eyes darkened. She stood still for a moment
in the middle of the stairway, and Tilda halted patiently behind her.
Then, before the girl could ask if anything were needed, she went on
again with her swift, light step, and passed across the hall into the
drawing-room.

As she had expected, her husband was there already. He was seated at one
end of a deep, chintz-covered sofa holding a book close to his bent face
and the light of a lamp that stood on a little table near-by. His great
figure seemed hunched and crouched together. Sophy hated these crouching
attitudes of his. They made her feel that he was preparing to spring on
something--to worry it. And she noticed how dull his thick, fair hair
looked in the lamplight--"staring" like the coat of a horse out of
condition. She knew that he had not been well for the last two years,
but his illness puzzled her--with its violent interruptions of alternate
rage and high spirits, its long stretches of indifferent apathy.

She did not go up to him, but stood in the middle of the room as she had
stood in the middle of the stairway, watching him. Was he going to be
"nice," and let her enjoy her rare outing? Or was he going to be?...
There were several things that Cecil Chesney could be which made his
wife shiver again and draw her underlip between her teeth.

He was so absorbed in his book that he did not know she stood there
watching him, studying him. His face had a curious expression. It seemed
to her that it looked slightly swollen. His lips hung apart. Every now
and then he moistened them slowly with his tongue. It was so like a cat
licking its chops that Sophy shivered again. She was not exactly afraid
of him but she felt dread.

Then she said in her warm, clear contralto:

"I'm ready, Cecil."

He did not start, but his eyelids drew together and his lips closed. He
laid one hand flat upon the open pages of the book and sat gazing at her
between his drawn-up lids. Then his face loosened; he hunched his
shoulders still more, giving a short, harsh laugh.

"By God!" he said. "You _are_ a beauty!"

Sophy went white. She stood still, moving one slight foot nervously on
the polished floor. Chesney sat looking at her. He smiled and his upper
lip curled in the middle and at the corners.

"Come here," he said.

She dropped her chin slightly and looked steadily back at him from under
her straight brows. Her dilated pupils made her eyes seem black.

"What for?" she said, in a low voice.

"I'll show you when you come."

"We'll be late, Cecil. It takes over half an hour from here to the
Arundels'."

The smile left his lips.

"Come here to me," he said slowly. His voice had no expression in it; he
spoke as an automaton might have spoken, but Sophy took a few reluctant
steps in his direction. Then she stopped again and said:

"I do so hate to be late! Won't you start now?"

His eyes opened wide, and he threw a look at her like a missile. It was
what Sophy knew as his "red look." She went swiftly up to him.

"There," she said; "show me what you want to, and then we'll go."

But his eyelids had drawn together again, and he looked up at her with
his mocking smile. Yes; his face was slightly swollen--puffy about the
lips and eyes.

"Won't you show it to me, Cecil?" she asked.

"I've changed my mind," he drawled.

Something in Sophy's breast shrivelled.

"Very well," she said quietly; "then we can go at once."

Chesney sank his head deeper in his shoulders, settled his body deeper
in the sofa.

"That's what I've changed my mind about," he said. "I'm not going."

"But...."

"I'm not going."

"It's a dinner, Cecil.... It will be very rude."

"I'm not going."

"Shall I say you're ill?"

"You're not going, either."

He grinned it at her, gloating on the expression of her face. She went
pale again, then crimson. Her eyebrows flickered passionately.

"I am going," she said, in a still voice.

Then she felt his fingers go softly round her arm.

"Sit down by me," he said, drawing her delicately downward by the arm he
held. Her dignity kept her from resisting. She was drawn down among the
deep cushions beside him. The warmth that his great body had left on
them struck her bare arms and shoulders, giving her a feeling of
repulsion. As she sat there, armed within against him, she could not
escape from breathing his breath, his face was so close to hers. Its
odour of mingled wines, cognac, cigarette smoke, sickened her. The
strong, sooty smell of cloth from the arm against her own added a new
pang, for this smell of London cloth, which was so distinct to her
foreign sense, had been once associated with the fascination of love.

Now he leaned his face forward and looked into her eyes, and she noticed
with that inward shrivelling how strange his were--so much paler than
they used to be--curiously glassy--the pupils mere specks of black in
the centre of the greenish iris.

"What's the use of posing to me?" he said, with a sort of blandness.

"Posing to you?"

"Yes--quite so. Doing the 'chastest icicle on Dian's Temple.' You
forget--don't you? I've seen the hidden fire."

Sophy said nothing. The blood started to her cheek again as under a
whip.

He moistened his lips in that slow way, and smiled.

"Haven't I? Eh?"

She turned him a very quiet, haughty profile.

"I don't pretend to understand your moods, Cecil."

"You shall share this present one."

"I think not."

"I think--'yes.'"

He flung his arm suddenly around her, drawing her close.

"Look here," he said; and, taking his hand from the pages of the book
where it had been resting, he lifted the volume toward her. As her eyes
lowered themselves to the book, his fastened upon her face. The next
moment she had sprung up, thrusting him from her. The book lay sprawled
on the floor between them. It was a very rare volume of morbidly
licentious engravings, repulsive, abominable.

She was livid with scorn and loathing. Her breast heaved. She felt the
scalding of furious tears against her eyelids. She could not speak; and
with that bracelet of his big, soft fingers about her wrist, he held
her, laughing silently, convulsed with laughter.

But in Sophy there sprang to life something that was as dangerous as
anything in him.

She said, whispering: "You'll be sorry all your life if you don't take
your hand from me."

The light eyes wavered. Then he flung back her hand.

"Damme if you're worth the candle!" he said.

She turned and began walking quietly away from him.

This seemed quite to frenzy him.

He leaped over the fallen book and came at her like a bull, his head
lowered. He took her by both shoulders.

"Look here!" he said. "What do you mean by wearing those pearls of
Gerald's all the time?"

Sophy looked at him whitely. She smiled.

"They were given me to wear, I believe."

"He's in love with you--with his brother's wife! But I'll not have his
baubles on your neck, nor antlers on my own head. Off with them!"

She stood frozenly. Her dark eyes poured scorn upon him. He made a
snatch at the necklace--another. She stood quite motionless, while the
great, angry hands snatched at her throat. His last clutch broke the
string. The pearls rained down, some into her bosom, the greater part
upon the polished floor. He stood heavily, gazing at the little white
drops, as they rolled over the dark wood of the parquet.

While he gazed as if hypnotised, Sophy went swiftly out into the hall.
She closed the door behind her. Her voice roused him, saying: "Mr.
Chesney isn't feeling well enough to go out to-night. I shall go alone.
Is the cab there?"

He heard the butler's voice answering.

She knew that he would not make a scene before the servants. Changing
quickly to another mood, he glanced at the closed, door, grinning at her
astuteness. Then carefully he gathered up the fallen pearls and dropped
them into his pocket.

Filling a liqueur glass with cognac from the table which the butler had
already arranged for the evening, he slouched back to the sofa and
lifted the fallen volume. The brandy calmed him still further. He sat
there for two hours sipping the cognac, moistening his lips slowly every
now and then, poring over the licentious pictures.



II


In the hansom, glad to be alone, Sophy sat with her arms tight against
her breast as though she would keep something in her from bursting. She
felt singing from head to foot like a twanged bowstring. She sat gazing
at the rhythmic play of the horse's glossy quarters, and the soft blur
of the May night. There had been a slight shower. The pavements were
sleek and dark. There was a smell of soot and wet young leaves in the
air, as of town and country oddly mingled in a kiss.

As this idea occurred to her, she made a movement of irritation.
Kisses! Why should she think of kisses? They were nature's most banal
lures--nauseous. And moodily, her eyes still black from the spread
pupils, she recalled Cecil's first kiss and what it had meant to her.
Something golden, vague, wonderful, fulfilling, yet promising more--more
than fulfilment--an opening of new desires, new aspirations, future
fulfilments more splendid still. He had been a great lover. A line
flashed to her. It sparkled through her mind, searing and cynical:

  As wolves love lambs--so lovers love their loves.

He was wolf, now--she, lamb. Ah, well; no! He was mistaken--she was
jaguar, leopard, catamount (he had called her a "silky catamount" in one
of his rages), anything but lamb. She could feel her fangs growing. They
were no longer little milk-teeth at which he laughed. Some day--if he
continued to treat her in this way--some day she would strike and strike
with them--deep into some vital part of that which still lived and which
had once been love. Yes; it would be better to drag a corpse between
them than this fierce, bloated, soulless body that had once been
inhabited by love.

But what was it? What had changed him? She had not been unhappy at
first, though shocked by a certain violence in his passion for her which
had verged on the brutal. In her own impassioned ignorance she had told
herself that this must be the man in him. Later, something finer, surer,
stronger than reason, convinced her that this was not so--that the
blazing bowels of a smelting furnace have nothing in common with the
star-sown flame of love. She mused on the origin of the word desire.
"_De sidera_"--a turning from the stars. Yes; his back was toward the
stars.

A waft of perfume from the rose-geraniums in the window-boxes of a house
near which they were passing overcame her with homesickness.

She saw the lawn at "Sweet-Waters," the ring of old acacia trees, the
little round, green wooden tables in their midst, covered with pots of
mignonette and rose-geranium--herself and Charlotte swinging in the
hammocks near-by--the peep of blue mountains through the hedge of box.
Oh! to feel Charlotte's arms around her!

She pinched the back of her hand sharply, feeling the tears start.
Virginia was far away, like her childhood, like her dead mother, like
all the other simple, lovely things that had made life joyous.

How strange it seemed to think that the old, familiar life was going on
there just the same! She had given her big chestnut, Hal, to Charlotte,
when she married Cecil. Charlotte wrote that she rode him every day. Oh,
for a ride through the Virginian fields and woods! Oh, to hear the soft
jargon of the darkies--to have if only twenty-four hours of the old,
free, simple life!

The cab stopped before a house in Bruton Street. This was London.
Perhaps there was no Virginia. Perhaps she had only dreamed it.

When she found that her hostess had not yet come down, she was startled.

"Am I too early? Isn't dinner at eight?" she asked the butler.

"At half-past eight, madam."

"Never mind. I will go up to Mrs. Arundel's room."

She went upstairs and knocked at Olive's door.

"Who is it?" said a sweet, slight voice.

"Sophy. I've come too early."

"Oh, you _darling_!" called the voice. "Come in. It isn't locked." Sophy
heard her add, "Open the door for Mrs. Chesney, Marie."

She opened the door herself before the maid could reach it, and entered.
The room was charming grey and pink. The dressing-table was as elaborate
as a lady-altar. Before it sat Olive, with her beautiful powdery brown
hair over her shoulders. Only one soft puff was in place at the back of
her head. The air was full of the scent of "Chypre," a perfume then very
fashionable and which Sophy disliked. She could not understand why Olive
used it. "Violet" or "Clover" would have suited her so much better.

She went up to Olive, and they kissed each other.

"You darling!" said Mrs. Arundel again. "How stunning you look! And what
luck! Did you think it was for eight?"

"I thought your note said eight o'clock."

"Then it was my beastly handwriting. But I'm awfully glad, all the same.
Now we can have a comfy talk."

Sophy sat in a little Louis XVI chair and watched the hair-dressing. She
thought, as she so often did, how much prettier it would look dressed
simply, without being frizzled so elaborately in front and puffed so
intricately behind. Mrs. Arundel's face had taken on the serious look
that women's faces wear when their hair is being dressed. Her eyes were
large and candid, of a soft Madonna-blue. Her small, prettily shaped
mouth was pastel pink. All her features were small and prettily shaped.
She was the type of woman who still looks girlish at thirty-five. As
Sophy watched her she was also thinking of how even her friends said
that "Olive was never happy unless she had a lover." Three years in
England had taught Sophy that a woman may be an excellent mother, a good
friend, an attentive wife, and yet have "lovers." How strange it seemed
to her! She could not imagine such a thing happening without an upheaval
of the universe--her universe, at least. She could understand a woman,
made desperate by unhappiness, "running away" from her husband with
another man--but to go on living with one man as his wife and having a
lover--lovers---- She had given up trying to solve it. She knew that
Olive's present flame was a Roman nobleman--Count Varesca--an attaché of
the Italian Embassy. She seemed to bloom under it into a sort of
recrudescence of virginal charm.

"How you stare with your great eyes, you dear!" said Olive. "Don't I
look nice?"

"You look perfectly lovely."

"Wait till you see what a deevy frock Jean has sent me."

"Jean Worth?"

"Is there any other Jean?"

Sophy laughed.

Then Olive sent Marie away.

"You know, Sophy dear, I really have something to tell you."

"Is it nice?"

"No, it's nasty ... perfectly disgusting!"

"What is it about?"

"Your dear mother-in-law--Lady Wychcote."

Sophy stiffened.

"Well?" she said.

"Sophy dear! You mustn't take it too seriously. Only--I thought you
ought to know. She's saying it everywhere."

"Saying what?" asked Sophy quietly. "Please go on, Olive."

"She's saying perfectly beastly things about your influence on Cecil.
Trying to put it all on you."

"To put what on me?"

"All his--his queerness. She says you've alienated him from his family.
And...."

Even Olive's glib little tongue stuck here.

"Well?" said Sophy, as before.

"She's saying---- Oh, she's really a beast, that woman! She's saying
that you've given him drugs ... taught him how to take them."

"_Drugs?_" said Sophy. Her brows knitted together. She was very pale.
"_Drugs?_" she repeated.

"Yes--opium--morphine ... that kind of thing.... I consulted Jack before
telling you." (Jack was Mr. Arundel.) "And he said I _should_ by _all_
means. You aren't vexed with me for telling you, _are_ you?"

Olive's italics were very plaintive.

Sophy was looking down at the tip of her shoe, which she moved slightly
to and fro on the soft carpet. She said in a low voice, very gently:

"No; I thank you."

Then she turned and went to the window, pulling aside the curtains and
looking blindly out into the soft, pale night.

_Drugs!_ She had never thought of that in her inexperience. All
resentment at her mother-in-law's accusation was engulfed in that
appalling revelation.

Behind her back, Mrs. Arundel stole nervous peeps at the little ormolu
clock on the mantelpiece. That new frock had quantities of hooks and
eyes on it. She wished now that she had not sent Marie away, or that she
had waited to tell Sophy until the gown was on. It was unfortunate. One
_couldn't_ go up to a person who was overcome with righteous wrath and
say: "_Would_ you mind, dear, just hooking me up, before you give way
further to your feelings?"

But just here Sophy turned and came towards her.

"We'd better be getting on with your toilette, Olive," she said.

"What a darling you are!" cried Mrs. Arundel, quite melted. "You're so
_unselfish_.... It's perfectly touching."

Sophy couldn't help smiling.

"It isn't unselfishness," she said; "it's the instinct of
self-preservation. I can't give way to decent, moderate little angers."

She was talking to keep Olive from seeing how deep the thing had pierced
her. And she hooked deftly and lightly, with fingers that were icy cold
but nimble. After she had admired her friend and the new gown
sufficiently, she said: "Was there any more? What motive did she say I
had?"

Mrs. Arundel glanced slyly at the clock again. She had still a good
twenty minutes before her guests would arrive.

"Let's sit here cozily by the window--and I'll tell you _everything_!"

The homely yet amorous fragrance from the white carnations in the
window-box flowed gently over them. It drowned out the smell of
soot--the London smell. They might have been in a cottage-garden.

"My dear," Olive began, "the old cat hates you. That explains
evewything."

"She hates all Americans," said Sophy evenly.

"_So_ stupid of her! Yes; I believe she does. And she's wild with rage
because poor, dear Gerald is sickly--and won't marry. And Cecil has
married _you_ and flouted the family politics."

"Those liberal articles he wrote some years ago?"

"'Liberal'! You never read such radical stuff in your life! The
Wychcotes are the _Toriest_ Tories in England. Yes; he did that. That
was bad enough. Then he went exploring in Africa and got laurels from
the R. G. S. and chucked _that_. But you know it all----"

"Yes," said Sophy.

"He's really awfully able, Sophy--bwilliant----"

"Yes. I know."

Olive paused a moment.

"Can't you do _anything_ with him, Sophy?"

"No."

"Poor dear! Well, I suppose not. He was always as obstinate as--as ... a
Behemoth."

Sophy couldn't restrain a tired little laugh.

"Well, you know what I mean. But when one thinks of how...."

Sophy broke in on her firmly:

"Olive dear, this isn't telling me 'everything.' I want to know what
motives Lady Wychcote attributes to me."

"Really, dear--it's so disgusting of her!"

"What did she say?"

"You _will_ have it?"

"Yes ... please."

"She says you want to get rid of Cecil on account of Gerald."

Sophy was silent for some moments. Olive leaned forward and took her
hand, caressing it.

"Don't mind too much, dear," she coaxed. "Only--be on your guard."



III


The dinner was as pleasant and heterogeneous as Olive's dinners always
were. But Sophy could not rouse from the dark mood into which Olive's
confidences had thrown her. The hateful scene with her husband had
already destroyed all the gay anticipation which she had felt at the
idea of an evening in the brilliant, whimsical world that liked and
spoiled her. She had been kept at home by Cecil's humours and strange
illness all during the early spring. Of late, he had been in his gentler
frame of mind. Very "nice" to her. He had seemed to want her to have the
pleasure of this evening's gaiety. She was only twenty-seven. To be
known as a beauty in London society, and petted by some of its most
famous circle--this was very bewitching to seven-and-twenty--even with
Tragedy glowering in the background. But now all was spoiled for her.

As she went with Olive again to the latter's bedroom, while the other
women chattered over their wraps in the hall below, she said: "I don't
think I'll go on to this musicale with you, Olive. I'm tired. I think
I'll just have Parkson call me a cab and go home."

"_Now_ ... I _do_ feel a wretch!" Mrs. Arundel exclaimed, turning on her
a reproachful face. "It's those horrid things I repeated to you, of
course!"

She caught both Sophy's hands in hers.

"_Don't_ make me feel a pig by not going, there's a _darling_," she
pleaded. "Don't, _don't_ be _morbid_!"

"I'm not morbid-- I'm really tired," said Sophy, looking down at the tip
of her shoe and moving it softly on the carpet, in that way she had when
deeply troubled or very angry.

"And if you _will_ go home, don't talk about having a _cab_. I'll send
you in Jack's brougham. It's _beastly_ of Cecil not giving you a
carriage!"

"He says we can't afford it."

"Then Gerald ought to give you one. The Wychcotes simply _stink_ of
money!"

Sophy smiled faintly. She could never get used to hearing such words
come so simply from pretty lips. Her black "Mammy" had once washed her
little tongue with soap for saying "stink."

"I know," she said; "but Gerald gives Cecil an allowance as it is."

Olive opened her hyacinth-blue eyes frankly.

"But Cecil had quite a fortune of his own! How does that happen?"

"I don't know," said Sophy tiredly. Money did not interest her. She had
a thousand dollars a year from her father's estate. That gave her a rich
feeling of independence. She loved to feel that her clothes, even her
underlinen and shoes and stockings, were bought with her own money. She
did not know how much it was that Gerald Wychcote allowed his younger
brother. She had never asked. But she knew that the house in Regent's
Park belonged to Gerald and that he let them have it for a nominal rent.

"I think it's a shame!" said Olive. "I suppose he made ducks and drakes
of it with that exploring fad, and travelling in India and such places.
Such _nonsense_!"

Then she took Sophy's hand again.

"_Do_ come!" she coaxed. "There's a perfect _dear_ of a man I want you
so much to meet. A friend of Varesca's--a Lombard nobleman, the Marchese
Amaldi. Italians are perfectly _enchanting_. Don't you think so?-- I am
like Lord Carlisle ... '_Italianissimo_'!"

Sophy smiled vaguely, remembering when Olive had been Austrianissimo and
Irishissimo and Frenchissimo.

"Does that smile mean you're coming? Ah, _do_! Marco Amaldi is the most
heavenly man I ever knew ... except Varesca."

"A 'heavenly' man?"

Sophy was still smiling.

"Yes. Perfectly deevy; and _so_ clever!"

Suddenly Sophy's smile faded and her eyes grew dark.

"Now you've got your 'fey' look," said Mrs. Arundel, watching her
curiously. "What does it mean? Going with me?"

Sophy did not speak at once. Her eyes seemed to watch something forming
slowly, far away--something that gathered distinctness against the
confused background of life's harlequinade. Suddenly she started, closed
her eyelids an instant, then looked at Olive. Her eyes were still wide
and vague. They looked slightly out of focus, like the eyes of a baby
staring at a flame. Olive felt a little shiver go over her.

"What is it?" she asked. "What do you see?"

"Nothing. It's just a feeling. I'll go with you. Something is going to
happen to me to-night. Something important. The room will have three
windows----"

She broke off again, and looked from Olive's face, far away.

Mrs. Arundel's voice took on an awed tone. "Are you really
superstitious, Sophy?"

"About that, I am."

"About what?"

"About a room with three windows. Don't ask me. I can't explain it. It's
just a feeling."

"Olive!... Come along! We'll be late!" shouted Arundel, from the hall.

The two women went down together, Mrs. Arundel still rather awed.
Sophy's eyes were really so uncanny sometimes. Very, very beautiful, of
course, but eerie. Now if she, Olive Arundel, were a man--she would
prefer something less peculiar, more "human." Olive was very fond of
this word, "human." She felt that, like charity, it covered a multitude
of sins--pretty, pleasant little sins.

       *       *       *       *       *

When they reached the Ponceforths', the musicale was in full swing. Some
one was singing a song by Maude Valerie White. Sophy heard a little gasp
from Olive--her arm was impetuously seized.

"Sophy," she whispered, in spite of the singing, "there _are_ three
windows!"

Sophy, too, was gazing at the windows. She said nothing. An artist had
lent his flat to the Ponceforths for their musicale. The big studio made
such a capital place for singing. There were three wide windows at one
end.

Sophy moved forward as in a sort of daze, half pleasant, half fearful.
That feeling as of an imminent crisis grew on her. Some one brought her
to a chair. It was a little apart from the other chairs. She sat rather
rigidly, her hands one over the other in her lap. Her profile shone like
pearly gold against a curtain of brown velvet. Presently she felt that
some one was watching her with peculiar intentness. Little spangles of
sensation crept over the back of her head. It was as though a little
electric feather were being drawn softly along her hair. Then Jean de
Reszke began to sing. It was a wild Hungarian folk-song that he sang
with that warm, wild voice of his. The words meant nothing to her. The
voice told her that it was a song of love and the despair even of love
fulfilled.

De Reszke finished his song on a slow, melancholy note like a ray of
fading sunlight in autumn. All the melancholy of late autumn seemed to
penetrate Sophy's bosom. Then a quick revulsion of feeling seized her.
That "something"--that "something" that was going to "happen" was near
her--drawing closer.

Varesca's handsome little face bent smiling towards her.

"Mrs. Chesney, I have a friend who cannot wait for the music to be done
for being introduced to you. May I bring him?--the Marchese Amaldi--a
good friend of mine." Varesca's rather quaint English sounded pleasant
to her.

"Why, yes--do," she said, smiling at him.

"Marco----" said Varesca, half turning. Amaldi, who had stood just
behind Sophy, came forward. They looked gravely at each other while she
gave him her hand. Before they could speak, the girl who had been at
first singing began another song. For a second longer, Sophy and Amaldi
continued to look at each other in that quiet, serious way. Then she
turned her eyes on the singer. That had been a strange feeling--the
feeling which had come over her as she met Amaldi's eyes. It was as if
they were recognising each other, rather than just becoming acquainted.
As the girl went on with the rather tiresome song, Sophy turned her head
and glanced at him again. This time he smiled, very slightly. She smiled
in answer. Yes; it was really as if they were old friends meeting thus
unexpectedly again.

And how charming his face was--dark and irregular! Now, again, that she
saw him without looking at him, in that way women have, she thought he
had a reserved air. She always noticed at once the colour of people's
eyes. Amaldi's were a clear olive. His figure showed a lithe symmetry as
he leaned relaxed against the curtain of brown velvet. He was not very
tall; but, though slender, he looked strong. It was odd how everything
about him seemed familiar to her.



IV


The songs followed one another quickly. There was no time for
conversation in between. Now and then, Sophy glanced at Amaldi. "If I
were a Roman Catholic and he were a priest," she thought oddly, "I could
confess anything to him." Then she smiled, her eyes on the open mouth of
the singer. That had been such a queer thought! Amaldi looked so little
like a priest. Rather as if he might make an impetuous soldier. Yes--one
of those young, fierce soldiers of the _Risorgimento_. With her quick,
visualising fancy, she tried to place him in his proper setting--as a
child. What sort of home had he lived in as a child? What sort of
countryside held his dearest memories as "Sweet-Waters" held hers? Como?
Had he lived in a beautiful old villa on Como? Had he played with the
little peasants of Cadenabbia? She saw the lovely lake floating purplish
blue before her--the dull silver of snow-peaks. Amaldi as a brown-legged
boy wrestling with the little villagers--swimming naked with them in the
purplish water like a little brown fish.

Suddenly Olive leaned over and whispered:

"This is getting dreadfully dull and stuffy. Don't you think so? Jean
won't sing any more. Do come with me. I'm going on to Kitty Illingham's
ball."

Without waiting for Sophy to answer, she said to Varesca:

"_Do_ help me to persuade her--you and Amaldi."

Varesca obediently began to gush forth entreaties. Amaldi said nothing.
She had not yet heard the sound of his voice. But his eyes said: "Please
come."

"Very well," said Sophy to Olive.

When she entered the ballroom, she felt, rather than saw, people turning
to look after her. She had the oddest feeling of being glad that she was
tall--that there was so much of her to feel that keen flame of life that
had sprung up so suddenly within her.

A woman who admired her said to a man:

"Do look at Sophy Chesney! It does her good to be immured by her ogre.
She's simply ablaze, to-night!"

The man said:

"I know she's been called the most beautiful American in England. But I
never thought so till to-night."

Sophy herself wondered if this queer, super-vitalised sensation that she
had was happiness. She could not tell. She was only one throb of
exultation at being alive.

A voice spoke close beside her.

"Will you dance this with me?" Amaldi was asking.

And as she moved off with him, it seemed as if they had often danced
together before.

When they stopped they found themselves near the conservatory.

"Let us sit in there a while," she said.

They sat down near a bank of gardenias, and Amaldi fanned her with her
fan of white peacock feathers.

"You're not afraid to use peacock's feathers?" he asked, smiling. "In
Italy we are superstitious about them."

She answered, smiling also: "I have my full share of superstition, but
not about things like that. Are you really afraid of peacock's
feathers?"

"No; but my mother wouldn't have one near her for worlds. She says that
she has added all the Italian superstitions to the American ones."

"Is your mother an American?" said Sophy, surprised and pleased at this
idea. If Amaldi's mother was an American, that would account in a great
measure, she thought, for her feeling towards him--that odd feeling of
having known him before.

"Yes," Amaldi was saying. "I am half American through my mother. She was
a Miss Brainton."

"I am an American," said Sophy; "a Virginian. My name was Sophy
Taliaferro. And that's odd"--she broke off, realising that her maiden
name was probably of Italian origin--"because, though it's pronounced
'Tolliver,' it's spelt 'Taliaferro.' I never really thought of it
before--but the first Taliaferro must have been an Italian!"

"Why, yes," said Amaldi eagerly, "There is a Tagliaferro family in
Italy."

"So you're half American and I'm half Italian," she went on, looking at
him pleasedly out of her candid eyes. "Such coincidences _are_ strange,
aren't they?"

"They're very delightful," said Amaldi, in a voice as frank as her look.
He was thinking: "You are the woman I have imagined all my life. It
seems very wonderful that you should have Italian blood."

Sophy liked this frank voice of his and the clear look in his eyes so
much that she gave way to impulse.

"It seems to me," she said with the smile that he was beginning to watch
for, "that Fate means us to become friends."

Amaldi thought: "And there is something of the child in you that makes
me worship."

He said a little formally, but with feeling:

"I should consider that the greatest honour that could come to me." Then
he added, also under impulse: "Since you're so kind, I'd like to confess
something. May I?"

"Yes--do!" said Sophy, still smiling.

"It is this: When Varesca introduced me to you this evening, I had the
feeling of having known you before. Strange, wasn't it?"

She was looking at him, her lips parted. She hesitated an instant, then
said:

"It was even stranger than you know--because I, too, had that feeling
about you. Such things almost make one believe in the old Hindu ideas.
Perhaps in some other world and age we have been friends already. It's
really very mysterious...."

"But, after all," said Amaldi, "mystery is what makes life worth while."

"I know," she said; "yet people are always trying to solve it...."

"Yes; that's one of its chief uses, I suppose--but not its end."

Sophy looked at him, interested.

"What do you think its end is?" she asked.

"Itself," he answered. He went on in a lighter tone: "The destiny of the
Churchly God has always seemed so dreary to me. Think of it! A supremely
well-informed Supreme Man--for whom there could be no mystery. An
immortality of sound information that couldn't be added to or subtracted
from!"

"We really couldn't help being friends, you know!" said Sophy, smiling.
"You must come to see me. My husband is not very well--so I don't give
dinners or parties or go out much myself. But I like to have my friends
come to see me."

Amaldi thought:

"You have the most beautiful heart, and I don't misunderstand it. It is
full only of kindness. I shall suffer ... _ma ciao!_"

"_Ciao_" is Milanese, and it means many things.



V


It was four o'clock when Sophy and Mrs. Arundel left the ball. Olive
would not hear of her taking a cab, but sent her home in her own
carriage. As she rolled through the empty streets, above which the dawn
was beginning to quicken, Sophy had a queer feeling of driving through
the echoing halls of a vast and sinister house from which the roof had
been lifted.

Above Regent's Park a late moon hung bleak and glassy. It shone with
that wan glare as of a planet sick to death. Richard Burton's line about
the moon occurred to her: "A corpse upon the way of night." The reaction
of her extraordinary exhilaration of the early evening was upon her. All
about her seemed eldritch, sinister. Even the sparrows, the town's
familiars, the excellent, shrewd gossips of the pavement, seemed unlike
real birds.

When she entered her own hall, the sight of the pallid, heavy-eyed
footman who admitted her distressed her still further. She hated
servants to have to wait up for her. She always gave Tilda strict orders
to go to bed.

The footman lighted and gave her her bedroom candle. Chesney disliked
gas to burn all night.

"Good-night, William. I'm afraid you are very tired," said Sophy.

"Not at all, madam," said William politely. His tone suggested that he
really preferred taking his rest on a hard hall-chair with an hour's nap
in bed before rising at six o'clock.

Sophy sighed as she went upstairs. All her exultant feeling of the
evening had been only another illusion. The time was out of joint again.
As she passed Chesney's door, a thick, heavy smell of lamp-smoke made
her turn. She tried the knob softly. The door opened, and the nauseous
smell flooded her. Yes; he had gone to sleep still poring over that
odious book. The lamp, almost burnt out, was sending up a thick,
brownish smoke--the wick, barely moist with oil, was fringed with little
mushrooms of fire. Sophy extinguished the lamp and stood gazing down at
her husband. He had been a magnificent looking man, three years ago. He
was still handsome, but in the way that a fine stallion is still
handsome when its withers and back begin to sink. It was as if he were
sinking in on himself--as if the great muscles and sinews were relaxing
like elastic that has been over-used. Holding the candle closer, Sophy
gazed and gazed at him. It was as if she were gazing at a stranger.
There was a fine spangling of sweat on his broad forehead; as he
breathed his lips puffed in and out. They looked dry and cracked. He
slept heavily, as though his veins held lead, as though his limbs were
weighted. The solid heaviness of his sleep struck her as appalling. And,
suddenly, what Olive had told her rushed over her again. Standing
motionless, her eyes took frightened scurries about the room, over the
bed, the dressing-table, the little stand that supported the lamp. A
glass and bottle that had held cognac stood empty. She bent closer--then
suddenly drew back ashamed. She was not like Psyche spying on Love with
her candle; but a woman gazing at defenceless sensuality--at the
degraded body that had once housed love. An immense pity came over her.
She felt that she had been guilty towards him--guilty of staring at his
bare degradation with calm eyes while he lay unconscious. She was not
being his wife but a cold critic. And perhaps--perhaps, it was only she
who could save him, who could restore to him his real self.

Setting down her candle, she drew away the obscene book from under his
heavy hands, closed it, and laid it to one side. He did not stir or
mutter. Then she knelt down beside him, hiding her face against the bed.
She wished to pray for him and for herself. But her thoughts scattered,
whirled with the coiling sparkles against her closed eyelids.

"Mystery ... Mystery ... Mystery ..." This word kept beating through her
mind. Yes; it was all mysterious--pain, joy, illness, health, goodness,
vice--even love. But love was the greatest mystery of all. Whence did it
come, and whither go? Where was her love for Cecil?

"Mystery ... Mystery ... Mystery."

When she reached her own bedroom, and found herself once more alone,
that overkeyed, excited feeling came back upon her. She glanced at the
bed with distaste. It was impossible to think of stretching her limbs
out calmly and resting her head on a pillow. She went from one window to
the other, drawing back the curtains. Her room was a corner one and
looked south and east. The sun was now rising. The whole lower heaven
was covered by a dull-red down of cloudlets. It looked softly convex
above the quiet tops of the trees, like the breast of a vast bird.
Somewhere, far above, out of sight in the pale-grey vault of air, she
fancied its golden crest and beak, darting among the stars, that were as
little, shining gnats to it. She went and glanced at her watch which
Tilda had placed on the table beside her bed. A quarter to five. She
would wait until a quarter past, then she would ring up the butler (he,
at least, had had a night's rest) and order her horse.

As the sun rose higher, a thin white mist began to coil softly like
steam among the trees of Regent's Park. At five minutes to six she was
mounted. The brown gelding seemed as glad to be abroad as she was. He
_quhirred_ with pleasure and good spirits at every step. She loved the
creaking of the saddle, and the massive satin of his shoulders as each
step sent the great joint in rotary motion, making a shining ripple
along the sleek hide. She felt all lifted up high above the normal
griefs and trials of life. As she galloped to and fro, she thought of
Amaldi, and recalled her presentiment of something important about to
happen to her last evening. Had it happened? Was her meeting with Amaldi
an important thing? Perhaps his friendship was to prove vital. He, too,
had known unhappiness--of that she was certain. She thought of her
fancying how, if he were a priest, she could confess anything to him. It
came to her suddenly that it was because he would be sure to
understand--even things alien to his own nature.

       *       *       *       *       *

She did not see her husband that day. He sent word that he had waked
feeling badly and would "sleep it off." Towards evening, when she wished
to go to him, his man told her that he was still sleeping. She went to
bed herself without seeing him. The next morning again he sent word that
he felt better, but would not be up till after luncheon and wished to be
left quiet. This made her uneasy; she would have liked to go to him in
spite of his wish, but she dared not. Such intrusions only made him
furious.

As she had some shopping to do for the baby, she spent the early
afternoon in this manner. When she returned and went to her
writing-room, a gay little apartment looking out on the small garden,
she found Cecil lounging there in one of the easy-chairs. As soon as she
glanced at him she saw that he had what she called his "good" look--that
is, his face was quiet and rather pale, and his mouth and eyes gentle.
He gave a rather embarrassed smile as she entered, lifting one shoulder
slightly in a way he had when nervously self-conscious. She knew that he
was repentant for the way that he had behaved to her on Thursday
evening, and would tell her so.

She went up to him, laid one hand on his hair and kissed his forehead.
He put up his hand and patted hers softly.

"So you're all right again? I'm so glad," she said, taking a chair in
front of him. "I was worried about you yesterday."

"Yes. I had a devilish time," he said. As he spoke, he blew a cloud of
cigarette smoke that half veiled his face from her, and again he smiled
in that half-sheepish way. This smile always roused in Sophy a feeling
mingled of tenderness and irritation. She sat watching him smoke for a
few moments without saying anything more. He always seemed to her to
smoke feverishly, avidly, as if the cigarette were a sort of food and he
very hungry. His cigarettes were enormous, made to order for him. He
smoked without a holder, down to the very end. She thought that it must
be bad for him to smoke so fast, and such quantities of these huge
cigarettes. But she dared not say anything. A word only was sufficient
to throw him from a "good" mood into a "bad" one.

He broke the silence himself.

"I say, Daphne," he blurted suddenly. "I was a beast to you the other
night. Beg pardon."

Sophy looked at him consideringly without replying. Somehow this casual
apology roused anew all the feeling of outraged anger that she had then
felt. She hated, too, for him to call her "Daphne" on these occasions.
It seemed such a cheap sentimentality. He had given her the name of
"Daphne" in their sweetheart days, because of that book of verse which
she had written at twenty-one, and which had brought her a momentary
fame.

"Going to sulk a bit--eh?" he now asked, with that self-conscious,
conciliatory little grin of his.

"No; it isn't sulkiness," said Sophy. "I'm only wondering how much you
really care?"

"I care a deuce of a lot, Daphne. 'Pon my soul I do."

"And you think such things as you said and--and did to me, the other
night, can be made all right by a 'beg pardon'?"

Chesney moved uneasily. His eyes slipped from under hers. He lit another
cigarette with elaborate care.

"Look here, Daphne," he said in a would-be bluff, frank tone. "What
_did_ I say ... and do? You know I get confoundedly blurry sometimes,
when one of these beastly attacks is coming on."

"You really don't remember?" Sophy asked, looking at him keenly. She saw
a slow red cloud his pale face.

"Well ... I've a hazy notion that I went for Gerald ... about those
pearls. Nasty things!" he broke off viciously. "Mere pretty
diseases--tumours--you know I loathe 'em."

Sophy had wondered many times what had become of her pearls after he had
strewn the floor with them. She said now:

"What have you done with them, Cecil?"

His shoulder went up crossly.

"Oh, they're safe enough," he said grudgingly. "I'll have 'em strung
over for you. Counted 'em this morning. They're all there. So you
haven't got _that_ against me."

Sophy sat looking down at her hands, and turning her wedding ring slowly
round and round. She had never thought that she could come to hate an
inanimate object as fiercely as she sometimes hated her wedding ring.
But to-day she did not hate it. It seemed a dreary little symbol of a
dreary fact that must be borne somehow, that was all. Suddenly she
lifted her eyes to his.

"I don't harbour things 'against you,' Cecil," she said. "The pearls
were the least of it all. It was the way you spoke of Gerald and that
... that loathsome book." Her look grew suddenly impassioned with
resentment. "Why should you wish to show me such a thing?" she asked
very low, and her voice trembled.

Chesney was deeply embarrassed again. He looked away from her, and that
slow red rose in his face.

"Oh--men are hell!" he said thickly. "You'd never really understand a
man, Sophy. There are abysms ... cess-pools in us."

He got up suddenly and flung himself on his knees beside her, hiding his
face in her lap like a child.

"Don't try to understand," she heard him muttering. "Just try to ... to
forgive."

There was something at once piteous and repulsive, in that huge figure
crouching so humbly at her knee.

Sophy felt a choking sensation.

"Get up ... get up, dear," she pleaded. "I do forgive you! Please,
please get up!"

"Will you kiss me then?" came the muttering voice, muffled by her
skirts.

"Yes. Yes, I will. Only get up--do, dear, do!"

He knelt up, and, flinging his arms around her, reached his mouth
thirstily to hers. That kiss was a deathly draught to Sophy, but pity
made her accept it without shrinking visibly. In her mind the thought
went round and round: "Mystery--mystery. What was once like life to me
is now like death--worse." Then: "I must be kind to him. If I am kind
perhaps I can save him."

Chesney was fingering the folds of her gown shyly.

"I say--what a darling you look in this frock, Daphne," he said. "It
clings so--shows your lovely Greek body so beautifully. What's it made
of?"

"They call it Chudder Cloth," she said, smiling.

Chesney gasped, as if she had sprinkled water in his face, then, sinking
back upon the floor at her feet, he went into fits of the most
immoderate mirth. "Oh! Ah!" He could scarcely get his breath. "Forgive
me, Sophy! But 'Chudder Cloth'--'Chudder'--I never heard anything so
ludicrous in my life----"

And he rolled over on the floor, shaken from head to foot with
preposterous laughter, beating the carpet with his hands.

Sophy was used to these outbursts caused by some especial, yet
apparently trivial, word. Sometimes they took the form of mirth, as
to-day, sometimes that of rage. She remembered what Olive had told her.
Her heart felt very heavy.

There came a knock at the door. Chesney sprang to his feet, scowling at
the closed door.

"Come in!" said Sophy.

It was William, with a card on a tray.

"The Marquis Amaldi to see you, madam."

"Very well," said Sophy.

Cecil lighted another of his huge cigarettes.

"Who's this----foreigner?" he asked, amiably enough.

Inwardly Sophy contracted at the brutal adjective that she detested.
Outwardly she was unmoved.

"A friend of Count Varesca's. I met him at the Illinghams'--no, at the
Ponceforths' the other night."

"Mh!---- Well, so long. I'll make myself scarce for a bit. Can't stand
foreigners."

He started towards a side door, turned, came back, and lifting her hand
kissed it tenderly.

"You're a splendid thing!" he said very low. "I'm often a beast to
you--but I love you--always."

He was gone. Sophy stood looking after him for some seconds, then she
lowered her eyes to Amaldi's card, which she still held. She left the
room thinking ... thinking....



VI


When Sophy entered the drawing-room, Amaldi was standing with his hands
behind him, looking down at a drawing of herself that stood on a table
near the fireplace. The drawing had been made when she was eighteen by a
young Polish artist. It was done in yellow-and-brown chalks and had a
curious glow--a look of golden light about it. Chesney disliked it. He
pronounced it too "mystical." The truth was that it revealed a side of
Sophy's nature which was forever inaccessible to him.

As she gave Amaldi her hand, she said: "You were looking at that old
drawing. It's a strange thing, isn't it?"

"Yes. Like 'the shadow of a flame,'" he answered. Then as Sophy started
and looked at him inquiringly, he added, smiling: "Varesca told me of
your poems. I read them yesterday. I won't bore you by telling you how
beautiful I thought them. And the title-- I wondered so much how you
came to think of that lovely title. That, in itself, is a poem."

Sophy blushed like a girl. She was very sensitive about that book of
verse. Since she had known more of life, she had often wondered at her
own naïveté which had allowed her to pour out from her heart, as from a
cup, those inmost feelings, for any chance buyer to possess in common
with her. The voice in that little volume was the voice of one crying in
the wilderness of youth; now she was a woman, and she blushed for the
passionate ignorance of the girl she had been.

Amaldi said quickly:

"Have I been indiscreet? Perhaps you don't like to talk of your writing.
Please forgive me if I've been indiscreet."

"No, no; indeed you haven't been," she answered. "I'm very glad you like
my verses. Only--well-- I wrote them so long ago. One changes-- I was
very young...."

"And now," said Amaldi, smiling, "you feel very old, I suppose?"

She smiled in answer.

"I certainly feel older," she said lightly.

Amaldi was thinking how much like a young girl she looked, sitting there
in her plain white gown, with her hands clasped about one knee. Having
read those impassioned early poems, he marvelled at a spirit that could
be at once so fiery and so virginal. He felt sure that there could be no
other like her in the world--so deeply was he in love with her already.
But this love was quite different from anything that he had ever felt
before. It had in it both mysticism and fatality. It was a desire of the
soul as well as of the body. He had had "loves" before--this was Love.

And in Sophy's mind was the consciousness of what Olive Arundel had
told her, only the day before, about the tragedy of Amaldi's life. It
seemed that when he was only twenty-three he had made a _mariage de
convenance_ to please his father. He had married his cousin, Clelia
Castelli. Two years afterwards she had been unfaithful to him. Amaldi
had fought with her lover. Then husband and wife had separated. There is
no divorce in Italy.

Sophy was thinking now: "When he was twenty-five--two years younger than
I am--he was fighting his wife's lover with a bare sword. He was living
out those real, dreadful things when he was a mere boy."

And she could not help glancing curiously at his hand, to which a seal
ring of sapphire engraved with his arms gave such a foreign look....
Only thirty-one, and cut off forever by the laws of his country and its
religion from family, from children.... Yes--that was tragic. That was
real tragedy.

Amaldi said suddenly in his grave voice:

"May I know how you came to call your book _The Shadow of a Flame_?"

"Yes; it's very simple," she answered. "I was rather unhappy. I had
stayed awake all night--reading by candle-light. My window looked to the
east. When the sun rose, my candle was still burning. And as I started
to blow it out, I noticed that in the sunlight, its flame cast a shadow
on the page of my book. And it came to me that we were all like
that--like little flames casting shadows in some greater light. And that
our passions were also like little flames that cast shadows--of sorrow
... regret ... despair ... weariness...."

"Yes," said Amaldi, "yes--it is like that...."

Something in the timbre of her voice as she said the words, "sorrow ...
regret ... despair ... weariness," moved him deeply. He did not dare to
say more. He was not at any time a man of fluent speech, now his earnest
desire not to be "indiscreet" in the least degree made him feel oddly
dumb.

Sophy herself changed the note of their conversation to a lighter key.

"Tell me," she said suddenly, "is the home that you care for most in the
town or in the country? I can't help thinking that your real home is in
some beautiful country part of Italy."

"Yes," he said, his face lighting. "On Lago Maggiore."

"Ah! I was sure of it! I'd thought of Como. Is your lake as beautiful as
Como?"

"I think it more beautiful. I believe you would think so, too. How I
should like to show it to you--the Lake and our old _Tenuta_. We have a
dear old place. I live there most of the time with my mother. We are
great friends, my mother and I."

"Ah! that is beautiful!" she said warmly. "That is what I want my son to
feel for me when he grows up."

Amaldi winced. He had not thought of her as having a child. It seemed to
set her still farther from him. He had for an instant an almost
overpowering sense of the bleakness of his lot. Like all Italians, he
adored children. He would never have a son. And now he learned suddenly
that she had a son--the child of another man.

"Ah," he said mechanically. "You have a son? Is he like you?"

"No; like himself. But some people think that his eyes are like mine.
You shall judge for yourself. Only, please don't be vexed if he doesn't
go to you at once. He's a funny mouse. He's rather stiff with
strangers."

The butler here brought in tea, and as Sophy finished pouring it, she
turned suddenly, exclaiming:

"I think that's my boy coming in now!"

She sprang up and, crossing the room with her light, joyous step, opened
the door before Amaldi could overtake her. When she turned again, her
little son was in her arms.

"You needn't wait, Miller," she said, over her shoulder, to the nurse.
"I'll send him up to you later."

The boy leaned with one arm about his mother's neck, his slim, polished
legs, emerging from white socks, hanging down against the soft curve of
her breast. His little face, grave and concentrated, regarded the
stranger with impartial attention.

Sophy seated herself, slipped off his quaint hat, and ran her hand over
the short dark red curls. It seemed to Amaldi that the white hand
quivered with ecstasy over the child's head like a white moth over a
flower. The boy was not beautiful, but he had his mother's eyes, though
he did not look like his mother.

"This is my little man ... this is Bobby," said Sophy, smiling from the
boy to Amaldi, and sliding the child from her knee upon his feet.

"You really mustn't mind if he isn't friendly--he doesn't seem to like
many people--and none, just at first."

Amaldi and the boy were looking gravely at each other. Suddenly Amaldi
smiled. His face seemed to put off a certain delicate mask when he
smiled like that. He held out his hand.

"Will you come and try my stick, Bobby?" he said. "It makes a splendid
horse."

The boy pressed back hard against his mother's knee for an instant, his
eyes still on Amaldi's. They continued to look at each other steadily
for some seconds. Then Bobby twisted around as he leaned against Sophy,
looked up inquiringly into her face, smiled suddenly, showing his little
crimped teeth, and, drawing himself erect, walked straight up to Amaldi.

"Oh!" said Sophy on a hushed breath, as when a bird alights near one.
Never before had Bobby gone to a stranger. A feeling of delight came
over her. The child was ratifying her own instinct about Amaldi. She
looked on with lips parted and eyes softly shining, while Bobby, leaning
now against Amaldi's knee, fingered the dark, smooth stick that made "a
splendid horse." But while his small hands wandered over the curved
handle, he was gazing not at the stick but into Amaldi's face.

Suddenly he pushed the stick aside.

"Take Bobby," he said.

Amaldi lifted him upon his knee, and the child, putting one hand against
the young man's breast, continued gazing up into his eyes. Then he said:

"Stan' up.... Bobby! stan' up."

Amaldi put his hands about the firm little body, and raised it, so that
Bobby stood like a tiny Rhodian Apollo, with a foot on either knee of
his new friend. For some moments he stayed so, looking down into
Amaldi's face with deep consideration. Then, as if having thought
everything out to his entire satisfaction, he bent forward, and set the
soft, damp ring of his small mouth against the young man's cheek.

"Bobby man!" he announced. And at once burst into the wildest chuckles,
hugging Amaldi's head to him with both arms, springing in his grasp
like a bewitched india-rubber ball--repeating over and over, "Bobby
man!--Bobby man!"

Amaldi clasped him close. His dark face glowed with pleasure. All at
once it came back to Sophy afresh that his tragic marriage had been
childless. Her heart felt very pitiful towards him.

Here the door opened, and Chesney entered.

Amaldi rose with Bobby still in his arms.

"My husband--Marchese Amaldi," said Sophy.

"How d'ye do?" said Chesney. He was looking at Bobby. Then he turned to
Sophy.

"Isn't it rather late for the little chap to be downstairs?" he asked.

"I was going to send him away in a few moments. But he's made such
friends with the Marchese. Isn't it odd? Just look at him."

Chesney sank into an armchair, and Amaldi also sat down, keeping the boy
in his arms. Bobby had suddenly grown quite still. He remained with his
head against Amaldi's breast, his thumb in his mouth, looking fixedly at
his father. His blurs of reddish eyebrow were drawn together.

"Little monkey! He's scowling at me----" observed Chesney, with his
short laugh. "He's not a filial character--young Robert," he flung out
carelessly, as though he might be addressing Amaldi, but he did not look
at him; his eyes were fixed on the boy, and he himself was scowling
slightly.

Sophy spoke in a low aside, meant only for his ear.

"Now, Cecil; don't excite him, please. He doesn't sleep well when you
worry him."

Chesney acted as though he had not heard her. He sat erect, then leaned
forward, and with his great hands hanging loose between his knees, said
in a firm tone: "Come here, Bobby."

The child did not stir. Then he took his thumb from his mouth.

"No," he said in a clear, distinct little voice. He put back his thumb
and began sucking it vigorously, swinging one foot to and fro in a sort
of accompaniment.

Sophy knew well this sign in Bobby. It meant flat rebellion and rising
temper.

"Cecil...." she murmured. "Cecil...."

He took not the slightest notice of her.

"Charmingly you're brought up, ain't you ... you cheeky little brat,"
said he to his son, in a lazy sort of drawl. Then he barked it at him:
"Come here to me when I tell you!"

Again Bobby removed his thumb, and again he said, "No," clearly and
firmly.

Chesney got up.

When the child saw this, he relinquished his small arms of mutiny, and
flattening himself against Amaldi's breast, clung to him, crying: "No!
No! Teep Bobby--teep Bobby."

Amaldi was very pale. Sophy stepped in front of Chesney. She tried to
take Bobby in her arms, but nervous dread made him refuse, and he clung
like a burr to Amaldi, hiding his face in his neck, clutching with his
little hands.

"_Cecil_----" said Sophy again, for he had actually laid his hand on her
arm as though to put her from his way.

Amaldi felt in an impossible nightmare. An icy rage congealed him. And
suddenly, over the boy's head, the eyes of the two men met. Strange to
say, Amaldi's were absolutely expressionless. Something in their still,
blank look checked Chesney. He stood a second undetermined, then gave
that self-conscious, embarrassed laugh that Sophy knew so well. It was
over, then. That especial laugh always meant yielding on Cecil's part.
She turned again to Bobby, her lip quivering in spite of her will.

"Come, darling.... Come to mother...." she whispered.

Suddenly the boy let her take him. He was trembling all over, but
scorned to cry.

Amaldi murmured a few formalities and left. With Bobby close in her
arms, Sophy went quickly past her husband out of the room. He made no
effort to detain her.



VII


It was very hard to get Bobby to sleep that night. At last, however, he
wearily subsided against Sophy's breast and, thumb in mouth, demanded
"All a gees." This meant the old nursery song of "All the pretty little
horses." Obediently she began to sing in her rich contralto that was
like the flutes and viols of love, tempered to the inanity of the
nursery rhyme. But though she sang and sang, it was after seven o'clock
before the boy fell fast asleep. She dressed hurriedly for dinner,
slipping into a tea-gown of dull orange that Cecil particularly liked.
She had made up her mind to talk to him about his attitude towards
Bobby. She wished it to be as quiet a talk as possible, so she put on
the orange tea-gown to please him, and set in her hair some tiny, orange
lilies that had been sent down from Dynehurst that morning. He liked her
to wear flowers in her hair. But though she made these preparations, she
was quite determined to face anything in the matter of having "her say
out" about his relations with the boy. She had long realised, in
silence, that there was a strong antagonism between father and son. It
seemed terrible, but she knew that such things were. It had been the
same between Cecil and his own father. But she would not have the child
terrorised and herself treated with indignity because of Cecil's moods.
No; not even his illness could make her put up with that. And she
thought, with a hot wave of pain and shame, of the scene that Amaldi had
just witnessed.

Chesney came in to dinner, rather late and very much excited. He began
rattling politics to her. The damned government was going under. He'd
give it two more years. Then, by Jove! he was going to cut in and give
his Radicalism a fling! The Conservatives were pretty well played out;
they'd been in just four years too long, confound 'em! 'Twas Kitty
O'Shea had saved the Union for 'em, and none of those rotters in office.
As a clever Irish Unionist had said, they ought to raise statues to
Kitty O'Shea all over Ulster--and so on and so on.

Sophy listened pleasantly, putting in a word every now and then to show
that she was really attentive. She was thinking all the time how pale
his face was, and how dark and excited his eyes. This last was all the
more noticeable, as of late his eyes had been so dull and faded looking.
Now the pupils almost covered the iris. And she noticed, too, that,
though he helped himself freely from every dish, he ate scarcely
anything. This made her apprehensive. He was so much more apt to be
irritable when he did not eat. Then he suddenly ordered a pint of
champagne.

"Will you have some, too?" he asked her. "But you don't like it, do
you?"

"Sometimes--when I'm thirsty. Not to-night."

"And just send another pint up to my room, Parkson. I shall read late
to-night," he added, as an explanation to Sophy.

In the drawing-room after dinner he was very restless, roaming to and
fro, smoking those great cigarettes, one after the other. He kept
glancing at the clock. Sophy had drawn on a pair of long
gardening-gloves and was peeling the stems of some roses. The butler had
placed a great trayful of them on a low table before her, and as she
peeled the long, thorn-armed stems, she arranged the roses in a crystal
vase. They kept for days longer when stripped of their outer rind in
this way. The tranquil monotony of her movements seemed to get on
Chesney's nerves.

"For God's sake," he said finally, halting near her, "get through with
that business and sing me something."

She sat down at once to the piano and sang some of Schumann's _Lieder_
and soft, melancholy Russian folk-songs--the songs of a people bowed
immemorially by oppression--almost in love with sorrow, as a prisoner
comes to love his prison. She was glad that he had asked her to sing.
Many a time had she played David to his Saul. Music, her singing
especially, always softened him. Now it would be easier to talk with him
of Bobby.

When she paused, he looked up at her from the chair in which he had
stretched himself, his head sunk moodily forward. "By God! You're a
sweet woman," he said.

Sophy rose, and, going over to him, sat on the arm of the big chair.

"I want to talk to you about something, Cecil. Something very important.
Will you be nice to me?"

She had yielded him her hand, and he was looking at it earnestly,
turning it this way and that in his great fingers, which were covered
between the knuckles with a light furze of reddish hair--playing with
the rings that he had given her. Sophy hated these rings, but he
insisted on her wearing them; he was proud of their beauty on the beauty
of her white hand. There were three, a pink pearl, an emerald, a ruby.

As she spoke, he clutched the hand with which he had been toying and
looked up at her.

"Eh?" he said. "What's up?"

"It's about you and Bobby, Cecil."

He put her hand back upon her knee.

"Oh, the tigress and her cub. I see."

"No, Cecil, you don't see. I don't want to be disagreeable. I only want
to try to explain things to you."

"Your son's high priestess interpreter?"

"No, dear; just a woman who understands babies better than a man could."

"Well?"

"I think the boy gets on your nerves, Cecil, and----"

"He does. Cross-grained little beggar."

"Yes, he is cross-grained. But harshness only makes him worse. He's one
of those natures that can only be controlled by love."

"Like yours, eh?"

"Exactly."

Chesney thrust his hands deep into his pockets and smiled. It was an
ugly, secretive smile.

"What the little monkey needs is a good thrashing," said he.

Sophy struggled desperately to keep her voice natural. Her heart was
beginning to beat so fast that she felt her voice must surely tremble.

"Ah, Cecil, do be nice to me," she murmured. "You were so gentle and
kind this afternoon."

"'Gentle and kind!' Oh, Lord!" he went off into a sort of frenzy of
smothered laughter. "'Gentle and kind'--that's your ideal of
manhood--husbandhood---- Eh? What?"

Sophy retreated from him. She remained standing, very quiet, very pale,
her lips pressed together.

"As for being nice to you," he continued between his chuckles, "I
thought it was your offspring you wanted me to be nice to."

Sophy said nothing. She was so angry, and so mortified at her own lack
of self-command in allowing him to make her angry, that she was
literally afraid to speak.

Chesney got up and lounged towards her.

"Look here," he said, putting his face close to hers. "I'd like you to
realise, once for all, that that boy is mine as well as yours--at least
I hope he is----" he interpolated brutally. "And what's more, if I
choose to, I'll go upstairs this moment and thrash him in his crib!"

There is no doubt of it. At that moment Sophy felt the full force of the
expression to have murder in one's heart. In her heart there was
certainly murder. She felt herself saying over and over in thought, as
to some Dark Power: "Let him fall dead. Let him fall dead. Before he can
touch my son--let him fall dead, _dead_."

"Pfew! What eyes!" said Chesney, somewhat sobered. "You look a regular
Jael--glowering at me like that...."

Sophy's eyes blazed on. She felt them burning in her head. She said
nothing.

Suddenly his mood took another turn. He gave her a glance of would-be
shrewdness, very hateful.

"Ill tell you what's at the bottom of all this," he said sullenly. "It's
that dirty little foreigner who was coddling the brat when I came in
this afternoon. You've been discussing me with him behind my back. A
pretty----"

"_How dare you!_" It came in a slow, fierce whisper. "_How dare you!_"
she repeated.

"All the better--if I'm mistaken," he retorted, again rather sobered for
the moment.

"Oh...." Sophy drew a long breath, another. She shuddered convulsively,
then grew rigid. "Oh...." she said finally. "To think I ever thought
myself ... _in love_ with you!" Her emphasis on the words "in love" was
sick with self-contempt.

A ghastly look came over Chesney's face. It turned grey, and moisture
sprang out on his forehead. He collapsed all at once into a chair,
leaning his forehead on his hands.

"By God--I'm an ill man----" he stammered. Sophy stood an instant in
doubt. He was a great actor in his way. But that livid face was not one
that could be assumed at will. She rang for help--went over to him.

"What is it? Do you feel faint?" she asked, in a constrained voice. He
seemed unable to answer. Parkson appeared in the doorway. "Send Gaynor
at once. Mr. Chesney is very ill."

She thrust her handkerchief into the vase of roses, and drawing his
heavy head against her shoulder, moistened his brow and temples. She
felt somewhat as if she had risen from the block, to minister to the
headsman, who had inadvertently wounded himself with his own axe.

Gaynor came within ten minutes. He was a small, quiet man, a little
older than his master. He had been in his service ever since Chesney
left Cambridge, had travelled with him, knew his every idiosyncrasy.
Chesney would have no one but Gaynor with him during his mysterious
attacks. Parkson was waiting at the door to know if he could be of
assistance. "It's nothing serious, madam," the valet assured Sophy.
"I'll just get the butler to help me to assist Mr. Chesney upstairs.
He'll come round in half an hour. Pray don't worry, madam." Gaynor spoke
very prim and correct English, when he did speak. He was singularly
taciturn. Chesney used to boast that he had trained Gaynor to be silent
in season and out of season, as some people train a pet dog to "speak."

Three-quarters of an hour later, as Sophy was sitting before her
dressing-table while Tilda brushed out her long hair for the night,
there came a knock at the door. Tilda went to answer it, and returned
with an envelope in her hand. It was a note from Chesney, written by
himself. It said that he felt much better--implored Sophy to come to his
room before going to bed. She gazed down at the handwriting, feeling
mystified. It was strong, flowing, and abounded in eager flourishes
where the pen had glided from word to word without lifting from the
paper. Yet she had seen Cecil only a short while ago in a state of
collapse that really alarmed her.

"Who gave you this?" she said to Tilda.

"Mr. Gaynor, m'm."

"Very well. Tell Gaynor to say to Mr. Chesney that I will come in a few
moments."



VIII


When she entered her husband's bedroom, he was already in bed, lying
propped up against a heap of pillows. A shaded lamp burnt on a table
close by--the same lamp that Sophy had extinguished at five o'clock the
other morning. Gaynor was folding some garments and laying them away in
a cupboard. As soon as Sophy came in, he slipped out in the mousey way
that she so disliked. She had never been able to overcome her antipathy
towards Gaynor. Then she looked earnestly at Chesney and was startled by
the change in him. His face was slightly flushed, but looked gay and
good-humoured. He had on pyjamas of a light, grey-blue that threw out
the gold in his fair hair. There were books all about him--on the bed,
and on the table. Writing materials were laid close at hand on a leather
blotting-pad. He smiled, with an almost childlike, ingenuous expression,
and held out both hands to her.

Sophy felt bewildered. She did not know how to return this look. Her
heart felt sore and outraged, yet something in this eager, humble look
of his melted her against her will. She went up to the bed and let him
take her hands.

"You'll forgive a chap, won't you, eh, Daphne?" (Oh, if only he wouldn't
call her "Daphne" on these occasions!) "A rum, seedy duffer, who's
devilish crusty at times, but who worships your shoe-soles!" (So he
called it being "crusty"--those ways and words that seared her most
intimate womanhood like a hot iron!)

"Are you really better? What was it?" she said, evading a direct answer,
and trying to infuse extra kindness into her voice to make up for the
evasion.

"Oh, it's just the fag end of that beastly jungle fever I got in India.
Gaynor understands it like a native. Gave me some drops. Indian specific
for the thing, you know. So I'm forgiven--eh? It's _pax_ between us?"

"Yes--_pax_," said Sophy. She felt very tired, and turned as if to draw
up a chair, but the big hands held her fast.

"No--no--not an inch away from me, even for a second. Sit here--on the
bed--close to me."

She let him draw her down. She could not keep her eyes from his face.
There was something in it--a strangeness. It was Cecil's face and yet it
was not quite his face. Or was it his voice that was strange? Yes; there
was something in his voice. It was almost as though he were imitating
himself. She felt that her own thoughts were becoming mixed. But the
impression of strangeness--of something queer--grew upon her. And all at
once, as she became accustomed to the shaded lamp, she noticed, with an
odd little start of the spirit, that his eyes were pale, and dull
again--like bits of glass that have been rubbed together--like those
pale, greenish glass marbles that boys call "taws." It was doubly
striking--this change in his eyes--because of the way that they had been
over-dark and dilated only a little while ago. His lips, too, she
noticed, were very dry. As he talked eagerly, volubly, he kept sipping
champagne from the glass that Gaynor had filled just before leaving the
room. Sometimes his lips stuck to his teeth, they were so dry. And his
upper lip caught up for an instant in this way, gave him a peculiar,
unnatural look.

"Isn't the medicine that Gaynor gives you very strong?" she asked
anxiously. "Isn't it dangerous to take such strong medicine--without a
doctor's advice?"

She was so utterly ignorant of the effects of opium or morphia, that she
put aside the things that Olive Arundel had told her, as she listened to
his excited, garrulous talk. Opium gave wonderful dreams--deep sleep.
Morphine was used to quiet delirium. This could not be the effect of
either of those drugs. It seemed much more probable to her that what he
had said was the simple truth, and that Gaynor had given him some strong
Oriental medicine to check the effects of fever.

"No--no--nonsense," he cried, in answer to her suggestion, a fretful
look crossing his forehead. Then a sort of slow ecstatic expression
crept over his face. He caught her hands in his again.

"Oh, the bliss--the sheer bliss of relief from pain!" he murmured. "Half
an hour ago I was in hell--quite so. Now...." He drew away one of his
hands, and spread it out slowly at arm's length, smiling at it. It was
odd and painful to see the huge man thus reproduce exactly the gesture
of a baby who gazes with wonder at its own hand.

"Now," he went on, "my very hands are happy. It's a pleasure--a
thrilling joy just to move my fingers--quietly, like that...."

"You aren't feverish now, are you?" asked Sophy. She put her hand on his
forehead. It was dry and warm, but not feverish.

"No--no. Not in the least," he said, and again that fretful look crossed
his face. But the next instant he was rambling on.

"Yes--bliss just to be--just to breathe. To stretch out--so." He
elongated his limbs under the bedclothes, stretching luxuriously like a
great cat. "If I were a Titan, by Jove!--I could fill up space just by
stretching myself like that. Bum fancy, eh?" He laughed softly, and took
several sips of champagne--then lighted a cigarette.

"Ought you to smoke?" faltered Sophy. Somehow, the more gay and
garrulous he grew, the more depressed and anxious she felt. She did not
trust Gaynor. What was this sinisterly benevolent medicine that could
change a man from an angry, brutal invalid, into a huge, merry child as
it were, chirping at the toys of fancy?

"Do you know anything about epilepsy, Sophy? Bless you, you darling!
don't look so frightened. _I_ haven't got epilepsy--but there was that
Russian chap--Dostoievsky--who had it. He speaks of a wonderful
moment--a luminous moment that comes just before an attack--before the
fit, you know. He says you seem to understand everything, and know
everything, and be in harmony with everything--as if there were no more
time. Well--I have not only one moment like that but hundreds,
thousands--when I'm as I am now--after a collapse like that. By God!
It's worth the suffering. That's what Dostoievsky said. He said that
moment was worth all the rest of his life. He was right.... Yes, he was
right."

Sophy took one of his excited hands and held it in both her own.

"Cecil--dear Cecil," she said. "Please, for my sake--consult a doctor
about that medicine Gaynor gives you."

For a second--the merest flash, a look of fury narrowed his eyes. Then
he laughed, gaily, good-naturedly, patted her hand.

"My good child, haven't you ever heard the expression 'crazy with joy'?
Well, I'm crazy with the joy of relief from pain, that's all. Can't a
chap babble a bit to his own wife without being threatened with a
doctor? Come-- I suppose I _am_ talking a bit too much. Tell me a story,
as the children say--and I'll keep quiet. By the way--talking of
children--I sent for you chiefly to tell you that you were right about
the boy. He's a devil of a little individual, that's all. I'm rather an
individual myself. Naturally we clash. Relationship doesn't alter such
things. Relationship is a big farce. There aren't any true relationships
except those of the spirit. You're Queen of Bobs from this time forward.
There-- I _am_ forgiven now, ain't I!"

"Yes; truly--from my heart," said Sophy, quite melted. She put her face
down against his hand. "If only...."

"If only what?"

"If only you could always be your true self--_this_ self."

Chesney said nothing. He was lighting another cigarette--leaning over
and holding it to the lamp clumsily.

"Oh, poor dear! You can't do it that way; here's your other hand," she
said, smiling and releasing the hand she held. Chesney closed his eyes
for a moment. Dreamily he said:

"Won't you tell me that story? You tell such lovely stories when you're
in the mood."

"I can't think of one somehow. _You_ tell _me_ one."

In that thick dreamy voice, his dry lips cleaving together now and then,
he began to speak.

"Once there was a man who was shut by his arch enemy into a dark
dungeon. This enemy's name was Bios." (Sophy knew no Greek, and somehow
it pleased him to fling out to her this clue to the parable that he was
inventing, knowing that she could not use it.) "Bios shut the man up in
his foul dungeon. But worse than the darkness and the stone walls was
the legend of the place. It was told that out of the crevices there came
a horrid Thing like a winged scorpion, with steely horns and a sting of
living fire. And in the darkness this Thing would dart upon the prisoner
in that dungeon, and drive him round and round. By the light of its
fiery sting he could see just enough to run from it but not to escape.
This man thought: 'I will not run from this Thing until I die from
exhaustion. I will bare my breast to it and die at once, from its
sting.' Pour me out a bit more champagne, there's a dear girl."

"Did--did Gaynor say that champagne was good to take with that
medicine?"

"Yes--yes"--impatiently. "Don't you want to hear the end of my story?"

"Of course--but--yes, go on."

He drank half a glass of the wine at a draught, and dropping the lighted
cigarette on the bedclothes seemed not to notice it. Sophy hastily
brushed it upon the floor, then lifted it and put it in the ash-tray. He
went on in that sing-song way:

"So the man bared his breast. And he felt the little sting go
in--delicately--deliberately----" His slowly modulated voice seemed to
make her see this fiery sting going into the man's flesh in the dark.
She shivered.

"Oh, finish!" she said. "I don't like this story, Cecil."

"Wait," he murmured. "And as the sting went into his living flesh--there
flowed through him, not death--but rapture--rapture--rapture----" His
voice trailed off.

He seemed to have fallen suddenly asleep. Sophy hoped that he had. It
seemed to her as if he were a little delirious. She started to rise
softly--at once his hand gripped her, holding her down. "I'm not
asleep," he said. "I'm only thinking. I'm thinking how badly I told that
story, when it is really beautiful--quite beautiful. But I don't want to
talk any more."

She waited some moments--then said in a soft, even whisper:

"Asleep, dear?"

Only his heavy breathing answered her. She lifted her hand from his
breast, little by little, turned down the lamp, and stole from the room.
Neutral tinted in face and figure, quietly alert, Gaynor sat on a chair
outside the door. He rose for Sophy to pass. For some reason, that even
she herself could not quite make out, she broke down and wept when she
reached her own room. Kneeling beside her bed, her face buried in her
pillow, her arms clasping it, she kept sobbing: "Oh, poor Cecil! poor
Cecil!"



IX


For a week after this Chesney was much better, if rather languid. He
seemed in a peaceable, rather indifferent frame of mind--that is, he was
apparently detached from immediate matters, such as the life of his
little household, which usually "got on his nerves." He kept his room a
good deal, or lay on the big, leather lounge in the smoking-room,
reading incessantly. His interest in politics, however, seemed suddenly
to have revived, and he continually assured Sophy that the party which
had been in power since 1886 was on its last legs, and that the G. O. M.
would be reinstated as Prime Minister within two years. "If I wasn't so
handicapped with this rotten fever, I'd throw off my coat and jump into
the ring," he kept telling her.

"With the Liberals?" Sophy ventured.

He scowled, then grinned.

"Do I strike you as Conservative?" he asked.

"No--but your family----"

"Confound the family," he said cheerfully.

He took up his book again--a heavy volume on German politics, and Sophy
sat watching him quietly as she embroidered a collar for Bobby. She
wished with all her heart that he would "go in" actively for politics.
She felt that what he needed, perhaps most of all, was some steady,
vital interest and occupation. He was only thirty-three, and she had
heard from many people that much had been expected from him by men whose
opinion in such things mattered. Of course, his mother was furious at
his Radical tendencies and called him "turncoat" to his face, among
other terms as frank and equally harsh. He always met this with the
secretive smile that so enraged her. At twenty-seven his brilliant
series of articles, "The Liberalism of a Tory-Born," had been much
talked of. In them he showed originality, a singular grasp of matters
for so young a man, and, in addition, that perhaps most valuable gift
for the man who wishes to "arrive"--a tremendous power of conviction
that there is but one side to a question--the side on which he stands.
He saw the other side, of course, but he saw it as the side of the wave
which breaks--as froth.

There were people, however, who said that Cecil Chesney was "agin' the
Government" as he was against most facts that happened to be
established, that they had prophesied from the first that his "staying
power" was _nil_, and his brilliancy of the unstable, sky-rockety sort
that peters out in talk and scribbling. Certainly he had made an odd
_volte-face_, when he whipped about at twenty-eight and went off on that
exploring expedition to Africa.

Sophy was very ignorant about politics. She imagined that if Cecil only
chose, he could easily become a member of the House of Commons and make
a stir in that august and portly body. This innocent belief shows how
really and sincerely and extremely ignorant she was. But then she had
had few opportunities of information. The first year of her marriage had
been spent chiefly in learning how to adapt herself in some sort to her
eccentric, passionate husband, to the new characters and customs with
which she found herself surrounded, to the amazing difficulties of her
intercourse with Chesney's family. Lady Wychcote had been hostile to her
from the first. But Sophy had a gift of natural, fiery dignity, which
constrained even her imperious mother-in-law to treat her, if not with
kindness, at least with a certain measure of outward respect. Gerald was
a kindly, quiet, scholarly man of thirty-six, who cared nothing whatever
for politics. His books and the welfare of the miners whose labour was
one of the chief sources of the Wychcote riches, amply filled his time.
It may be imagined what a severe thorn her eldest son proved in the
proud flesh of his mother. And as her disappointment in Cecil waxed, her
love for Gerald waned. When she realised that there had sprung up a
quiet affection between him and his young sister-in-law--"the daughter
of Heth" as Lady Wychcote called her to her own circle--she came near to
hating him. That he had not married and showed no inclination to enter
that respectable state so incumbent on the heirs of old titles and large
fortunes, was like a continual draught on the smouldering embers of her
grievance against him for having been born sickly. He had suffered from
childhood with an obscure form of heart-trouble.

Sophy's second year of marriage had brought Bobby and the first serious
symptoms of her husband's malady. She had certainly had scant time for
the study of politics. What little she did know was gleaned from the
glib, rattling talk of Olive Arundel, who, as the wife of an M. P., had
the political patter at her tongue's tip.

So Sophy worked on the little collar for Bobby, and dreamed that she was
sitting behind the grating of the Ladies' Gallery, in the House of
Commons, to hear Cecil's maiden speech. She had just arrived at the
pleasant moment when Mr. Gladstone, reinstated as premier, was
listening, hand at ear, with unmistakable signs of surprised approval to
the eloquence of his new supporter, when Cecil himself destroyed the
vision. He let the heavy German book fall to the floor with a bang and
said:

"What's on for this week in the way of society? Anything promising?"

"We've had lots of invitations, Cecil, but I've refused them, because
you weren't feeling well."

He looked peevish.

"Hang it all! Why didn't you consult me before making such a holocaust
as that? I'm feeling much more fit. Think I'd like to mix with pleasant
fools for a time."

Sophy looked doubtful.

"Don't you think it's too soon, Cecil? You were awfully ill that night."

"Well, I didn't stay ill, did I?"

"N-no. You recovered wonderfully quickly. But it was that strong
medicine that Gaynor gave you." She stopped stitching on the little
collar, and looked at him earnestly. "Somehow, I _am_ so afraid of your
taking that medicine, Cecil."

"Rubbish!" he said curtly.

"You can't think how it affects you----"

"How that fever affects me, you mean, don't you?"

Sophy did not like to say too much. He was frowning, and he had been so
amiable for several days. She began to sew again, saying only:

"Of course, I don't really know. Only--it worries me."

Chesney got up.

"I think I'll go out for a bit," he said. "Just a turn in the Park. It's
beastly stuffy indoors."

"Would you like me to come with you?"

"You forget--don't you? You told me Olive Arundel was coming for tea."

"Oh, so I did. Well then--but don't overtire yourself."

He scowled frankly this time.

"Confound it, Sophy--I told you I felt quite fit." He reached the door,
then turned. "Mind you hold on to the next invitation that seems
promising. I need bucking up a bit. Mixing with my fellows, confound
'em! It will give me something to vent my spleen on, if nothing else. So
long."

As it happened, Mrs. Arundel came with an invitation. It was for a
dinner at the House of Commons. She had coaxed her Jack to give this
dinner. Varesca had never been to a dinner at the House of Commons.

"You _must_ come, Sophy," she said urgently. "It's going to be
_bwilliant_." (Whenever Olive grew very intense she missed her "r's" and
this suited her Greuze type charmingly.)

Sophy needed no urging. It seemed to her that this was the very thing
for which Cecil had been wishing. She accepted for them both.

Olive leaned over and kissed her.

"Oh, I _am_ so pleased. And that duck of an Amaldi will be in the
seventh heaven."

Sophy could not help smiling at the idea of the quiet, reserved Amaldi
being called a "duck."

"Why do you smile, Sophy? Don't you like him? Varesca says he is madly
in love with you."

Sophy was annoyed to feel herself blushing, for this blush came wholly
from vexation and she knew that Olive would interpret it otherwise.

"It's very stupid of Count Varesca to say such things," she said a
little haughtily.

"Oh, _no_, darling!--Attilio may be impulsive--but he _isn't_ stupid."

Sophy's grey eyes grew long with laughter. Olive, puzzled, demanded to
know what she _could_ be laughing at.

"I think Attilio is such a funny name, Olive. Do you really call him
Attilio?"

"Of course I do. But I don't think it is a _funny_ name exactly--only
sweetly quaint. Besides--there's positively _no_ shortening it. Tilio is
_too_ silly, and one _couldn't_ call a _man_ 'Tilly' ... an Italian of
all things. Now _could_ one?"

Sophy laughed and laughed, and Olive, after pouting for a second, joined
in.

       *       *       *       *       *

As Sophy thought, Chesney was much pleased with the idea of this dinner
at the House of Commons.

"It will be mostly made up of the Conservative gang, I suppose," he
commented. "All the more fun baiting them. I know a thing or two that
will wring the withers of the Hon. John--stodgy duffer! Thank God, his
career will end in the _cul-de-sac_ of the House of Lords!"

He began walking up and down the room, grinning over the "thing or two"
with which he would "wring the withers" of his host. Sophy felt suddenly
anxious. Suppose he had one of his outbursts of rage at that dinner? She
had forgotten his violent antipathy to the Powers that Were, when she
accepted the invitation.

"I suppose there'll be Liberals, too, at the dinner," she ventured
rather timidly.

"There'll be _one_ Liberal there, by Jove!" said Chesney, and he added a
few chuckles to his grin.

As the evening of the dinner drew near, Sophy grew more and more
apprehensive. Chesney was no longer in the amiably apathetic mood that
had followed the first days of his recovery from his last attack. His
face had taken on again that waxen pallor, and his pupils seemed to her
unnaturally dilated.

At tea-time an unfortunate incident occurred. Chesney sometimes had tea
with Sophy. He would wait until the tea was frightfully strong, then
drink two or three cups of it, without milk or sugar. This afternoon
they were sitting together while he drank what she called his "tea
stew," when William brought in a parcel.

"Fallals for to-night?" asked Chesney.

"No. I haven't bought anything. I can't think what it is," said Sophy,
puzzled. She fetched the little scissors from her writing-table and cut
the cord on the parcel. It contained an odd little boat, like the
fishermen's boats on Lago Maggiore. When it was wound up the little men
in it worked their oars. Amaldi's card lay on top. He had written on it:

"For my friend Bobby, from his 'man.'"

Chesney put down his cup, and came over.

"What the devil is that?" he said, scowling at the toy. Then he picked
up Amaldi's card. The blood rushed to his face. "I call that a
confounded liberty!"

Sophy paled. Amaldi had promised Bobby this toy the afternoon of his
call. Then she said, in as commonplace a tone as she could manage:

"I see no liberty in it--only a natural piece of kindness. Bobby took a
great fancy to him. He promised to send this toy."

Chesney turned on her.

"Throwing a nubbin to the calf to catch the cow, as you say in Virginia,
eh?" he said brutally. She flushed with such crimson intensity that the
tears sprang to her eyes. In a ringing voice she cried out, as she saw
him eyeing the flush jeeringly:

"It's for you ... for _you_ that I am blushing!"

Without another look at him, she took up the toy and went out of the
room.

She was so pale in her gown of white crêpe when she came downstairs,
dressed for dinner, that he said, after eyeing her discontentedly:

"Good Lord! You look like the family ghost. Can't you stick on a bit of
rouge?"

"No. I don't like rouge."

His eyes fixed on the chaplet of ivy leaves in her shaded hair.

"I suppose that garland is to complete the impression of an Iphigenia
about to be sacrificed, eh?"

"Cecil...." she said it earnestly, impressively. "Don't let's quarrel
to-night."

"Why not to-night especially?"

"Because...." her lip quivered. "I've so looked forward to being proud
of you to-night."

He struggled against it, but she had touched him. His face softened. He
just brushed her shoulder with his great hand.

"You're a fine thing, by God!" he said, in a husky voice.

They drove to Westminster in silence.

       *       *       *       *       *

At half-past eight the twilight was still clear and soft. The women's
bare shoulders and jewelled heads gleamed charmingly against the dark
sheen of the light-scattered river. Such of them as were made up for
artificial light looked as though they had strayed from another century
and forgotten to have their hair powdered also. Those that were prettily
painted reminded Sophy of strange orchids that would show best by
candle-light. She herself felt still and listless. Glancing at these men
and women gathered together for the evening, she saw as she realised
their personalities that the occasion would be "bwilliant" as Olive had
said. And she felt so dull--as though the flame of her spirit had died
down into pale smoke.

Olive found the chance to whisper a few words. Sophy had told her
frankly how ill Cecil had been only two weeks before, and of his renewed
interest in present political questions. She had begged Olive to
"arrange" things a little. She was so afraid that he would get excited
if he found himself surrounded entirely by men who were of the
Government or on its side.

"Poor dear," Olive now whispered. "You're so pale. I'm sure it's
anxiety. Don't be anxious. I've put Cecil at the uttermost end from
Jack. Poor, darling Jack _does_ so irritate him with his honest
platitudes. _I_ know! Then he'll have that rabid Radical, Cunnynham
Smythe, near by. He'd have to out-Herod Herod you know, to fall foul of
Cunny Smythe. And there's the Russian Ambassador, Suberov, opposite. You
told me that Cecil read the Russians, didn't you? Well--that ought to be
soothing. I've gathered all the ultra-Tories at _my_ end. Amaldi's to
take you in, and I've put Oswald Tyne on your right--two poets together,
you know. There's that provoking Sybil Chassilis--at least half an hour
late----"

She went forward to greet Lady Chassilis, and Amaldi came up to Sophy.
She saw her husband glance their way, then deliberately turn his back
and begin talking to the man next him. Something in that great, stolid,
well-shaped back struck Sophy as ominous. She felt herself grow even
paler. Her very lips felt cold as they rested on each other. She was
filled with a presentiment of coming disaster. But, somehow, as she
looked into Amaldi's eyes and listened to his quiet voice, a feeling of
reassurance stole over her. This feeling was wholly without reason. It
was only that his mere presence seemed to give her a feeling of safety,
as on that first occasion of their meeting.

"Did Bobby approve of my offering?" he asked, noticing her extreme
pallor. He thought that she looked even more lovely pale like this.

"Yes. It was good of you. He went to sleep with the little boat in his
arms."

Here Oswald Tyne approached. He was one of the most remarkable
characters of his day. Years ago, when she was a schoolgirl, Sophy had
heard him lecture in her own country. He himself had then been a youth
but just graduated from Oxford. She remembered him, a slender, poetic
figure. Now he was a heavy, middle-aged man. The long face had become
jowled; the light irises of his eyes showed too broad a crescent of
white below them. The sensual, heavy-lipped, good-natured mouth seemed
to weigh upon the chin, creasing it downward. He was always delightful
to Sophy, but she always felt ill-at-ease with him. This feeling was
obscure to her herself. She had never tried to analyse it. With the
oddest contradiction, at one and the same time she admired his gifts,
and felt a great compassion for him--the man. And this compassion could
not have been called forth by anything in the circumstances of his life.

"Thank you for being so pale to-night, dear lady," he said in his
abrupt, whimsical way. "One gets so weary of colour. How Iris must have
hated her rainbow at times. Our Englishwomen are too beautifully tinted.
One longs sometimes for the sight of an albino. Think of an assembly of
negroes and albinos. How austere and weird at the same time. Would you
have such an assembly garmented all in black or white or dull orange?"

"But orange is a colour," ventured Sophy, smiling.

Tyne grew extremely serious and impressive. "No; no! Pardon me. Orange
is only the earthly body of light. I think we should dress our assembly
in orange--the albinos in a clear tulip tint--the negroes in a fierce
saffron."

"Oswald! what _fwightful_ nonsense you talk at times!" cried Mrs.
Arundel, overhearing this. "Please go and take in Countess Hohenfels.
She's dying to hear you talk."

Tyne looked at her out of his heavy, swimming eyes.

"A German? You have given me a German for dinner? I see. You divined
that my mood would be musical. But Germans have mathematical
imaginations. Their music is the integral calculus of the spheres. It
is----"

Olive firmly drew him away, still pouring forth this flood of easy
nonsense.

At table, Sophy noticed that her husband glanced from her to Amaldi once
or twice. His look was hard and hostile. She determined to try to talk
as much as possible with both Tyne and Amaldi. This would be easier--as
it became at once evident that the dinner would be one of those
delightful occasions on which little groups talk together, even across
the table.

"When are you going to make me see another beautiful dawn?" asked Tyne
abruptly.

Sophy gazed at him. She wondered what was coming, and as he smiled at
her in his slow way, she thought how much worse it seemed for a poet to
have black teeth than for a mere, ordinary mortal like John Arundel.

"How did I make you see a beautiful dawn?" she asked, knowing that he
wanted her to put the question.

"By writing your 'Shadow of a Flame' and letting me read it. Yes--all
night I played with those lovely, flickering verses."

"You are too kind to me," she said shyly. "Tell me when I am to read
another of _your_ books--that are not shadows of flames, but flames
themselves."

"Lovely--lovely!" he murmured. "That is quite lovely of you. But as for
a new book---- It is so prosaic to publish a book in London. Nothing
really happens. Now in Paris--why--one day all the boulevards blossom
like beds of daffodils. You are amazed. You ask, 'Why this delicious
flowering?' You are answered--'Paul Bourget has published a new novel.'"

He went airily on for some moments in this strain. From across the
table, a clever critic and man of letters was listening with pleased
amusement. Suddenly he said:

"Tell me, Oswald, have you ever read the works of an American called
Edgar Saltus?"

"Why Edgar Saltus, like a stiletto from the blue? Yes; I have read some
of his productions. But why?"

"Because the American boulevards seem to blossom with his flowers of
rhetoric in the way that you describe. I have often wanted to parody
him. But parody crouches at his feet."

Tyne held up one of his suave, heavy hands.

"Softly, please," he murmured. "Tread softly there. I have a certain
tenderness for Mr. Edgar Saltus. I know nothing in literature more
touching than the way that passion and grammar struggle for mastery on
every one of his wonderful pages!"

Amaldi listened with his quiet smile. He himself was not in a talkative
mood that night. Besides, he was one of those men who, while seeming
outwardly unconscious of what is not directly in contact with them,
notice everything that takes place, and he had caught those dark looks
cast by Cecil Chesney at Sophy and himself. Now he was glad to see that
she was becoming diverted and roused from her listlessness by the talk
of Oswald Tyne and his friend. He also observed that Chesney, too, had
apparently changed his humour and was engaged in an animated
conversation with the men and women nearest him. After a while, he saw
that Chesney was holding forth alone. But it was evidently a perfectly
amiable harangue, for the others were listening with animated faces.
Still Sophy, who could not catch the gist of her husband's talk, looked
suddenly anxious, and Amaldi was relieved when the critic, who had been
talking with Tyne, and whose name was Ferrars, said to Sophy:

"Your husband's having a brilliant go at Russian literature, Mrs.
Chesney. Are you as keen on that subject as he is?"

"Yes, quite, I think."

"Tolstoy and Dostoievsky are our living Pillars of Hercules," said
Ferrars, a little didactically. "They guard the portals of modern
literature. They are our colossi--we others fuss and potter about under
their huge limbs like pygmies."

"Speak for yourself, Charles," said Tyne coolly. "I may not be a
colossus, but I have wings. Gauzy, iridescent, little vans maybe, but
sufficient to lift me. I am not what sportsmen call a 'heavyweight' of
literature--but I can coruscate, which your colossi cannot. And I am not
sure that I don't prefer fireflies to eagles."

"Which do you think greater--Tolstoy or Dostoievsky?" Sophy slipped in,
before Ferrars could launch a sarcasm.

"Oh, Tolstoy, Tolstoy ... by all means," murmured Tyne.

"Which do _you_ think greater?" said Sophy to Amaldi.

"Well...." Amaldi reflected an instant. "When Tolstoy regards the human
race, one feels that he sees it made up of little Tolstoys. When
Dostoievsky looks inward--it is as if he saw all humanity in himself--in
Dostoievsky."

"Capital!" cried Ferrars. Sophy looked at Amaldi, pleased at hearing her
own conviction so well put into words. Tyne regarded the young man
dreamily.

"How charming is the multiplicity of opinion," he then said. "If I ever
sacrificed it would be to the goddess of Variety. Now to me, Tolstoy is
by far the greater figure of the two."

Ferrars had begun to talk to the woman on his right and was not
listening any longer. The women on the left and right of Tyne and Amaldi
were eagerly attentive.

"Why?" asked several voices at once.

"Because Tolstoy is the greatest Immoralist of his time," said Tyne
serenely.

"Oh! Oh!" came several voices.

"He is immoral in spirit where others are only immoral in fact,"
continued the poet, quite unmoved. "Never was there so irreligious, so
immoral a spectacle as that Titan in the throes of religion. For this
religion of his violates and thwarts every natural instinct and desire
of his pagan nature. To deny one's true nature is irreligion. To be
egotistically selfless is the paradox of the inferno. Besides, is there
a greater sin against genius than to worship the commonplace? Now virtue
is the norm--the level convention invented by civilised man. The crime
of virtuous genius is that it becomes null. The cult of virtue is the
eighth deadly sin--in a creative mind. Fancy a virtuous Creator!"

He laughed suddenly into the faces which seemed not to have decided
whether to look shocked or to smile.

Sophy turned to Amaldi. But try as she might, she could not overcome the
_gêne_ cast upon her by those hostile looks of her husband. She felt
that she was not being natural with Amaldi, and the more this feeling
overcame her, the more she felt it impossible to recover her free,
delightful intercourse with him. They talked conventionally, gliding
over the surface of things. Once, in spite of herself, her eyes strayed
towards Cecil. But he was not looking at her. He was leaning close to
Lady Chassilis. A flush had come into his face. His eyes glittered. He
seemed to be saying something delightful but rather shocking, for Sybil
Chassilis gave him a sidelong flash out of her black eyes--then flushed
and cast them down, smiling in a peculiar way. Sophy noticed with a
sinking heart that he drank glass after glass of champagne. It must
indeed be good wine for Cecil to drink so freely of it. He usually
cursed the champagne of his friends.

Suddenly Tyne turned again to Sophy.

"I have a grievance--a sorrow--a real sorrow," he said. "I wonder if you
can console me?"

"What is it?" asked Sophy in a low voice. He seemed never to be in
earnest, yet, at that moment, the queer feeling of compassion that he
always excited in her, rose in her heart.

He drew a deep sigh. Now she was sure that there was a mocking light,
far back in his pale eyes.

"It is that no one will believe in my real wickedness--my beautiful
vileness. I have no disciple who really believes in me. Yet I am
wonderfully vile. Virtue seems like a pale, pock marked wench to me. I
feel like crying out on her like old Capulet: 'Out, you tallow-face! You
baggage!' But Sin, with the clear black flames curled about her naked
feet like the petals of a lotus--Sin, with her delicate, acrid lips that
never satiate and are never satiated--her I worship! her I serve!--Do
you believe me?"

Sophy sat gazing at him. Something strange and wild, and unbelievable
took place in her. She saw--no, she _knew_--not by ratiocination, but as
one knows when one falls into the sea that one is wet--she _knew_ that
this man was truly vile, that he was speaking the truth to her. But even
more wonderful, she knew that horror and tragedy unspeakable waited for
him. It was as if the poisonous shadow fell over him as she looked--as
if its outer hem touched her like a thing of palpable texture.

He was looking at her strangely, too--half as if afraid, but curious.
Like a man who knows that the oracle can divine truly--that it may
answer to his undoing, and that, if it answers thus, that answer will
surely come to pass.

"Do you believe me?" he said again, keeping up the bravado of his light
tone, but some chord in his voice stirred oddly.

Sophy drew a long breath. She felt herself shivering, then, "Yes," she
said almost inaudibly. He continued to look at her--a strange, musing
look.

"Thank you," he said blandly. "So I have a disciple at last."

Then that passion of horror and pity broke down all conventional
restraint in Sophy.

"But _why_?" she said, in a passionate whisper. "Why? _Why?_"

He was silent just for an instant's pressure, then he answered by the
most extraordinary and appalling piece of blasphemy.

"Because," he said, "'_before Abraham was I am_.'"



XI


Sophy sat white and still, her profile towards Amaldi, playing with the
spray of orchids at her plate. Then, all at once, she realised that
Cecil was speaking louder than he had been. His words reached her
distinctly. She glanced towards him in terror. What a horrible evening!
What, what was going to happen?

What Chesney said was this:

"Russia is an epileptic, like so many of her people. She has the
inspired moment, the convulsion, the apathy. Again inspiration--again
convulsions--apathy--_e da capo_--_e da capo_."

As he uttered these words, his eyes were fixed insolently on Prince
Suberov.

Sophy saw several heads turn hastily in her husband's direction. The
faces of those near him wore a scared expression.

Suberov was a tall, impassive man of sixty-five, with a singularly
gentle face, and small, deep-set, sad grey eyes.

While every one waited, scarcely daring to glance at him, he replied,
tranquilly courteous:

"Yes ... my country is called 'Holy Russia' by us who love her. Her
sickness to us is certainly 'the sacred sickness.'"

One felt relief stir like a draught around the table. But Chesney would
not let it go at that. His eyes gleamed malevolently. He thrust out his
jaw in a way that Sophy knew well.

"_Oui_," he said, in French, which his execrable English accent rendered
more brutal. "_Oui--'cette sacrée maladie'!_" His accent on the word
"_sacrée_" made it sheer insult.

Suberov looked at him intently.

"I fear _monsieur_ is not feeling well this evening," he said gravely.
"I have heard that _monsieur_ has been ill. Of course an invalid's
opinions on sickness are always interesting, though not conclusive."

For a second it was as though every one at the table held his breath. A
look of fury crossed Chesney's face; then he thrust out his chin with
that self-conscious, slightly embarrassed smile so familiar to his
wife, and cried: "_Touché, monsieur, touché!_"

It seemed to Sophy that, at the same moment, a very pandemonium of
voices broke out on every side. People seemed saying anything that came
uppermost in their minds. Sophy herself found that she was talking
feverishly to Amaldi of the little boat that he had just sent Bobby, of
how she had wound it up herself and set it going in his bathtub, of how
naturally the little men worked their oars. She talked and
talked--telling him anecdotes of Bobby's funny ways and speeches. Her
deep, sweet laughter rang out clearly. Every one was laughing a little
exaggeratedly over just such trivialities.

And Amaldi took the cue from her. He began to talk lightly, in a vein of
real humour that she had not divined in him. He told her of the dry
drollery of the Milanese. One little story made her laugh out like a
child--quite naturally this time. And so grateful was she to Amaldi for
helping her to a rational screen for her terrible nervousness, that she
began to chatter gaily to him, and kept on and on, not realising that
she was giving him an undue amount of her attention, and that, twice at
least, Tyne had tried in vain to get her to talk with him.

The bell rang for a division in the House. Several men got up and left
the table to vote. Sophy glanced up vaguely a moment as they went out,
then returned to her light chatter with Amaldi.

No one seemed to notice this particularly, or, if they did notice it, it
was probable that they understood only too well the nervous excitement
which led her to keep up this gay rattle as if not daring to pause.

Tyne understood perfectly. If he had twice attempted to break in on her
talk with Amaldi it was only because he saw something very dangerous in
the glances which her husband was beginning to cast at her.

Suddenly Chesney leaned his arms on the table, pushing the glasses to
one side. He thrust forward his face in his wife's direction. It was
livid. Moisture stood on his forehead. His eyes burned black. The people
near him gazed appalled. It was not so much like a face as like a mask
of hatred.

Several times Amaldi, who also had caught glimpses of this face, had
tried to let the conversation drop naturally. Sophy had been talking
steadily with him for at least fifteen minutes. But it was as if she
were afraid to stop for a moment--like a nervous skater who knows that
if she pauses she will fall.

And all at once it happened--the monstrous--the incredible thing.

What he had thought that she was saying, Sophy could never divine. Even
long afterwards when she could think of it with comparative calmness,
she could not imagine what he could have thought--or could she ever
remember what it was that she had really been saying. But whatever it
was, as the words came from her smiling lips, suddenly, barking it out
at her, before that brilliant company, before some of the most famous
men and women of the day--her husband called down the long table to her:

"You lie!"

She was so startled--the thing was so incredible--that, thinking she had
not heard aright, she turned towards him and said:

"What, Cecil?"

He called again, distinctly:

"I say you lied. What you said just now was a lie."

Then, his arms still on the table, his shoulders hunched, he began
sipping a fresh glass of wine, staring moodily before him, with a sort
of vacant, bovine ferocity in his fixed eyes.

Every one has noticed how some trivial fact always imprints itself
indelibly on one's mind in such ghastly moments. Opposite Sophy sat the
beautiful Duchess of Maidsdowne. As Chesney shouted his insult at his
wife, the blood rushed in a scarlet wave to the roots of the Duchess's
chestnut hair, and the lovely, violent crimson glowed, painfully
over-brilliant, on her cheeks for the rest of the evening. This agonised
blush was the one thing that Sophy could ever clearly recall of the
moments that followed. All went black about her the next instant; then
her will conquered, and she sat still, and conscious, but all that she
was conscious of was that the Duchess of Maidsdowne had blushed crimson,
and that this crimson still dyed her lovely face. Sophy had heard that
she was consumptive and that she rouged to conceal her illness. Now she
kept thinking, "No. She does not rouge. I must remember to tell Olive.
She does not rouge at all. What a wonderful colour. And how it rushed
up to the very edge of her hair."

Next there came over her another strange feeling which also every one is
familiar with. She felt that she was in one of those dreams, wherein one
finds oneself on the street or in a crowded assembly, insufficiently
clad, for every one to stare and wonder at.

Beside her sat Amaldi, no paler than some others at that table, yet
realising how much worse than death it is to love a woman whose husband
insults her, and yet, for the sake of that very woman, to be unable to
avenge the insult.

Before the company could assume more than a strained semblance of
naturalness, those guests who had gone out to vote in the division,
returned. One of them, a sporting member, a good-natured but typically
John Bullish type of M. P. and a country neighbour of John Arundel's,
called out as he took his seat:

"Hullo, John! What's gone wrong with your feast? Somebody's been
throwing wet blankets over the tablecloth."

He was quickly suppressed. The other men looked curious, but having more
"gumption," began talking commonplaces with a commendable show of having
noticed nothing unusual. Later on, Oswald Tyne murmured to the Countess
Hohenfels:

"I have often thought that the exquisite virtue of Nero's vice is much
underestimated. Suppose him as presiding in the present case, for
instance. I presume that the brute over there is regarded by many as 'a
Christian gentleman.' Think how many 'Christian gentlemen' Nero disposed
of by the simple device of wrapping them in pitch and applying fire. Do
you not think that this festival would have been much more festive had
it been lighted by the Hon. Cecil, as a living torch?"

But the Countess Hohenfels, although she was not noted for sensibility,
could not rally, even to the persiflage of Oswald Tyne.

When Arundel was apologising to Prince Suberov after dinner, the
impassive Russian said quietly:

"I beg you not to give the matter another thought. The young man is
evidently demented. Our sympathy should all be for his wife. What a
beautiful, distinguished creature! When all is said, living is a sad
_métier_!"

As soon as the guests rose from table, Chesney left. Sophy's pride would
not allow her to go before the usual hour for such things. Every one was
charming to her--almost too charming. At moments she felt that she could
not bear it--that she must scream frantically, childishly, like Bobby
when he had had a bad dream--or throw herself over the parapet into the
Thames. But her face, though it had a pinched look, was very quiet.

Olive managed to whisper to her, once as they stood close together:

"He's a cwuel _bwute_ ... we must get you out of his power somehow."

"Don't, Olive ... don't speak of it," Sophy had gasped out.

"Very well. But I'll be with you first thing to-morrow."

"No ... please. I must be alone. I must think."

Olive, whose heart was sound though so elastic, understood perfectly.

"Very well," she said again. "But mind you send for me the first moment
you feel you need me."

"Thanks," murmured Sophy. "Thanks--dear Olive."

Amaldi did not try to talk to her. She was very grateful to him for
this. He understood too well. These others pitied but did not
understand. To have felt the close contact of a compassion that
comprehended was more than she could have endured. It would have broken
her down utterly. But he watched her from afar with a quiet yet absorbed
look, that was not without meaning to Suberov, on whom, also, Sophy had
made a deep and poignant impression.

He came near the young man, and said in Italian in his sweet, melancholy
voice, after himself regarding Sophy in silence for a moment:

"A strong soul--heroic!"

Amaldi answered dreamily, as though it were quite natural for the old
statesman to address him in his native tongue.

"Yes, Excellency, but souls like that are made for sorrow."

"And sorrow for such souls," said Suberov, with his mournful, delicate
smile.



XII


Sophy found herself in the grey, rainy dawn, still walking to and fro in
her bedroom. She had always thought that it was only in books and plays
that people wrung their hands, but now she was twisting her fingers so
hard together that the rings bit cruelly. She stripped them off--then
stood gazing curiously at the finger where her wedding ring had been.
She felt that there should be a little, blistered band where the
poisoned ring had rested.

Yes--it was all over. There could be no compromise--no atonement this
time. It was over--over. She would take her son and go back to her own
country, to her own people. Nothing, no one could move her. And she
heard again in imagination that brutal voice, shouting: "You lie!"

She went to a little cupboard and poured out a dose of _sal volatile_.
This she drank, then leaned back for a few moments on the couch at the
foot of her bed.

A knock at the door roused her. She sat up, gazing about her, at a loss
for a few seconds. Then she realised. She must have slept.

"Who is it?" she asked.

"It's me, m'm. Tilda," came the voice of her little maid.

"Wait a moment, Tilda."

She sprang to the glass, smoothed her hair--flung a dressing-gown about
her shoulders.

Tilda stared when she saw that white face, with the great dusky circles
round the eyes.

"O dear, m'm, how you do look!" she faltered. "Are you ill?"

"No. I felt rather nervous. It's nothing," Sophy said hurriedly. "What
o'clock is it?"

"Just seven, m'm. Mr. Gaynor sent me to you. I was against it, knowing
that you'd been out last night--but now I'm sure I'm thankful I did
come. It's about the Master, m'm. He's very bad, Mr. Gaynor says. He'd
like to speak with you, m'm, Mr. Gaynor would. But let me bring you a
cup of tea first, m'm--please."

"Yes, bring me some tea. Tell Gaynor I will see him after I have had
some tea."

Sophy lay back on the couch. Could it be that Cecil was going to die?
She thought: "I am quite honest with myself. I don't try to deceive
myself. I hope that he will die. Yes--quickly. But what is curious is
that this wish doesn't shock me--that other part of me, that doesn't
exactly wish it. I can see that it would be right not to wish it, but I
_do_ wish it."

Tilda came back with the tea in a few moments. The strong stimulant
brought some colour to Sophy's lips--steadied her. When she had drunk
it, she said:

"Now send Gaynor to me."

Gaynor was at the door within two moments. Tilda held it open for him
rather grudgingly. She thought that her lady's indisposition was of far
graver import than that of Gaynor's master.

"Shut the door, Tilda--and don't come back until I ring," said Sophy. "I
wish to speak to Gaynor alone."

The man stood near the door, waiting.

"Is Mr. Chesney ill again?" asked Sophy.

"Very ill, indeed, madam--in my opinion."

"Dangerously?"

"I can't say, madam. I think it will be dangerous if it's allowed to go
on."

"How do you mean 'allowed to go on'?"

"If a doctor isn't consulted, madam."

"But you know Mr. Chesney's dislike of doctors."

"Yes, madam; but in this instance it seemed to me that it would be
better not to regard it."

"Does Mr. Chesney himself wish it?"

"Mr. Chesney is unconscious, madam."

Sophy sat up, supporting herself by one arm along the back of the couch.
Her great, dark, passionately tired eyes, and the small, composed,
neutral-tinted eyes of the valet met in a look of questioning on her
part, of quiet but noncommittal decision on his.

"Unconscious? How? A heavy sleep?"

"No, madam; more a state of syncope, I should say."

"Since when?"

"He sank into it about six o'clock this morning. He was very bad last
night, madam--delirious. I had some difficulty in quieting him."

Sophy looked at him steadily, in silence. Then she said:

"Did you give him some of that strong medicine you use--that Indian
medicine?"

"Yes, madam."

"Don't you think that might have thrown him into this state?"

"I think not, madam."

Sophy was silent for another moment, looking down at her ringless hands
which she had clasped tightly together again. Then she looked up at
Gaynor. His face was as noncommittal as that of a diplomatist
negotiating a difficult matter. Yet she saw knowledge in that face, a
possession of facts that was hidden from her.

"What sort of doctor do you think should be called in? A specialist?"

"That would seem best, madam."

"What kind of specialist?"

"A nerve-specialist, I should think, madam."

Sophy continued to look at him curiously. At last she said:

"You know, Gaynor, if Mr. Chesney were to find out that you had proposed
this it would probably cost you your place!"

"That must be as it may be, madam."

"You are greatly attached to Mr. Chesney, are you not?"

"I have served Mr. Chesney for ten years, madam."

Gaynor's face was as impassive as ever. He was evidently not an
emotional character. Sophy looked down again at her knitted fingers;
then she said:

"Have you thought of any especial doctor?"

"Doctor Algernon Carfew is considered an excellent nerve-specialist,
madam. I believe he studied in the States with Doctor Weir Mitchell."

So Gaynor had thought very carefully and seriously on this subject, long
before the present moment!

Sophy gazed at him keenly again. What important knowledge lay locked in
that narrow chest, of which the key would not be given her, she felt
sure! And an unwilling conviction seized her: there must be something
fundamentally fine in Cecil to make a servant so loyal to him.

She leaned back wearily again on the cushions.

"I must think this over very carefully, Gaynor. It will be a very
serious matter to violate Mr. Chesney's wishes in this way."

"Yes, madam."

"How long do you think that we can safely wait before calling in a
physician?"

She coupled herself and Gaynor together unconsciously in this "we,"
because there was no one else in all England that she felt she could
consult with on this subject.

"There is no immediate danger, madam. I have given Mr. Chesney a
hypodermic of nitro-glycerine. Within the next two or three hours will
be time enough, I should say."

Somehow this word "hypodermic" frightened Sophy. She started erect
again, her hand grasping the back of the couch as before.

"Is that the strong medicine that you always give him? Why did you give
it to him that way? Can't he swallow?"

"He is quite unconscious, madam. Nitro-glycerine is a powerful
heart-tonic. The heart action was very bad. But it is better now,
madam."

These "madams" of the valet were beginning to fret Sophy cruelly. They
were like the _toc-toc_ of a sort of irregular metronome, beating out of
time to the jangled clamour of her thoughts. They seemed almost like a
respectful mockery of her hesitation. But she only hesitated because of
the violent hatred with which Chesney always mentioned physicians of any
kind. He had said not once, but on many different occasions, words of
this description:

"By God! The unpardonable sin against _me_ would be the foisting on me
one of those damned fakirs when I was helpless and couldn't throttle
him. The mother that bore me couldn't hand me over to a medical ghoul
with impunity. So remember--no doctors! I die or I live--but no
doctors!"

Then all at once her mind seemed to open like a book that has been
closed, and opens of itself at a certain page. On this page of her
suddenly opened mind Sophy read as in a neat, short sentence: "This man
thinks it very peculiar that you do not ask to see your husband."

She got to her feet, drawing the folds of her dressing-gown about her.

"I wish to see Mr. Chesney," she said, in measured, stilted tones.

"Very good, madam."

He held the door open for her to pass through, then closed it
noiselessly, and followed her with soundless footsteps along the
corridor.

The shutters of Chesney's room were closed, but the curtains were not
drawn. A night-light burnt behind a screen. Sophy went to the foot of
the bed and stood looking down on her husband. In the moderate light she
saw his face, bluish and dusky against the white pillow. He was
breathing harshly but regularly. His lips--those lips which she had last
seen framing a deadly insult--were parted, and seemed as though pasted
against his teeth.

She commanded herself, and moving round to the side of the bed, leaned
over and put her hand on his forehead. It was dry, like rough paper, and
very hot.

What she felt as she bent over him she could not tell. Perhaps more than
anything that though he was so huge and fierce a man, he had now only
herself and a valet to help him in his helplessness.

She stood thus a moment, then left the room, beckoning Gaynor to follow
her. When they were outside, she said:

"What is this Doctor Carfew's address?"

He gave it to her.

She pondered a moment.

"Very well," she then said. "I shall dress and go to see him. Would you
like me to get a nurse to assist you?"

"If I might venture, madam," said the man discreetly, "it would be
better perhaps to hear first what Doctor Carfew says. He may wish a
nurse of his own."

"Yes. That is true. Tell Parkson to call me a cab in half an hour."

She put on a dark-blue linen frock and a little toque of black straw.

"Give me my long grey veil, Tilda," she said. As the girl was winding it
about her hat, she asked:

"Haven't you a friend who's a Catholic, Tilda?"

"Yes, m'm--Maria Tonks. A very good girl, though a Papist, m'm."

"And what did you say was the name of the priest who converted her?"

"Father Raphael of the Poor, m'm. But he didn't convert her exactly,
m'm, if I may say so. She just took such a fancy to 'im, his bein' so
kind to her w'en in distress, m'm--as she went and became a Catholic."

"I see. He is very good to the poor, isn't he?"

"So they say, m'm. He gets his name from that. Anybody 'as only to be
unfortunate to find welcome with him--so Maria says."

"Yes.... Yes...." said Sophy absently. Then added: "Where does he live?"

Tilda mentioned the address.

Sophy thanked her mechanically and went out.



XIII


Dr. Carfew lived in Hanover Square. It seemed a cruelly short way there
to Sophy, for the motion of the cab, the rolling forward into the fine,
calm rain soothed her. The cabby wanted to lower the glass, but she
would not have it. The rain was only a thick drizzle. She put up her
veil, and let the beaded moisture beat in upon her face. How lovely were
the London plane trees against the varied grey ... and how she hated
them, and all that was England--England from whence had come her
unspeakable humiliation and misery!

But the next moment, with the soft homeliness of the air upon her cheek,
came the realisation that she could not hate the land over which it
breathed. It was in her blood as a Virginian to love England. It was
only disfigured for her as a friend may be disfigured by a cruel
accident, yet remain dear as ever. But though she loved England--she was
homesick--homesick. She yearned for the foothills of the Blue Ridge as
Pilgrim yearned for the Delectable Mountains. During the short drive to
Hanover Square, she was conscious only of this gnawing nostalgia and the
undercurrent of determination to return to her own land as soon as
possible. The old place, Sweet-Waters, had been left equally to her and
Charlotte. Now, Charlotte and her husband, Judge Macon, lived there, at
her request, but the house was large and rambling--there would be room
for her and Bobby--her thousand dollars a year would keep her from being
an expense to them. Joe was fond of her--he would not mind having her
live with them....

The cab stopped. She got out and stood face to face with the house of
the great specialist. It seemed to regard her superciliously, with a
look of hard, callous reticence. Architecture has its misanthropes as
well as humanity. This was a forbidding house; it seemed built to hold
impartial dooms and the gloomy prosperity that gains by the pain of
others. She could not think of healing as going forth of that house. Yet
Dr. Carfew had saved many. It was only Sophy's dark mood that thus
interpreted to her the expression of the great physician's house.

She went quietly up the steps, after her short pause, and rang the bell.

Dr. Carfew was out of town--would not be back until noon. Sophy thought
a moment.

"I will come in and write a note," she said.

The man led her into a gloomy room, and set writing materials to her
hand.

"Give this to Doctor Carfew the instant that he returns," she said to
the man, handing him the sealed envelope. "It is a matter of life and
death."

The sound of her own voice saying this struck her strangely. The "life
and death" that she had spoken of meant the life and death of Cecil. She
still hoped that he would die. She did not exactly hate him--but she
hoped that he would die.

She gave the cabman the address of Father Raphael of the Poor. As they
trotted on, she began to wonder what Father Raphael of the Poor would be
like. Was he old--young? She stiffened suddenly, as she sat there all
alone in the musty cab. No--she could not talk of such matters with a
young man. She could not risk so much as that--the ordeal of finding
that the priest was young. But then--she must speak out to some
one--some one who did not know her--some one quite removed from such a
life as hers. Yes--now she understood the power of the Confessional in
the Romish church. To kneel before a little grating and, unseen, whisper
out one's agonies and perplexities to another, also invisible.... To
speak without identity to one also without identity--that must be a
marvellous solace. To believers it must be almost like having God answer
them, thus to receive advice and consolation, as it were, out of the
void.

They crossed the river, and after twenty minutes entered the street
where was the Chapel of Mary of Compassion. Sophy felt herself advancing
into the perspective of this hideous street with a shudder. It was as
if she were being willingly driven into a wedge of gloomy brick from
which somehow she would not be able to withdraw. On each side squatted
the low houses, odiously alike. The toy-bricks of a gaoler's child must
be fashioned like these houses. A smell of hot tallow and refuse was in
the air, mingled with that omnipresent scent of malt that was here
stronger and more sweetish acrid than ever.

The chapel itself was not very different from the other houses. It
seemed like one of a large family that has been better nourished and
dedicated to religion. The shape of its roof and doorway was the
equivalent of a priestly habit.

Sophy's heart failed within her. Somehow this street, this chapel,
seemed reality--all else illusion.

Then she entered. The little chapel was empty and very still. There was
a smell of stale incense in the air. She could see the high altar, very
simple. A man was kneeling before it. He rose as Sophy entered, and came
towards her. He was a tall man, clad in a plain black soutane. He came
and stood near, looking at her gravely.

"What can I do for you?" he asked.

"I would like...." faltered Sophy. "... If I might speak with Father
Raphael of the Poor...?" she ended.

"I am Father Raphael," he said. He had a beautiful, deep, tranquil
voice. Sophy's mind was beginning to be confused. All sorts of fantasies
whirled through it. She imagined that this voice indicated a tragedy far
back in the priest's life. That he had suffered in some deeply human
way. The church was dim. She could not see his face clearly, but his
hair shone out almost white from the shadows. His eyebrows were thick
and black.

"I am Father Raphael," he said again. "Will you come this way with me,
my daughter?"

He thought her a Catholic, of course; but at the words, "my daughter,"
spoken in that lovely voice, it seemed to Sophy that a band snapped
about her heart, releasing it. It was as if some benign, paternal angel
had troubled the pool of tears, far down among the very roots of her
being.

She followed him silently, and from her eyes there welled great, slow
drops--hot and heavy, like drops of blood from the inmost core of her
heart.



XIV


The room into which Father Raphael led her was very bare. There was a
clock on the deal mantelpiece, some plain rush-seated deal chairs
stained brown, a deal table covered with a cheap cloth stamped in red
and black. On a little shrine in one corner stood a plaster statue of
the Virgin as the Mater Misericordiæ, with her hands extended in
compassion. A nosegay of white geraniums in a thick glass was placed
before it.

The priest sat down on one side of the table, and motioned Sophy to a
chair opposite. He waited, looking away from her out of the small window
that framed a hideous "back yard," until she had somewhat mastered
herself. Then he said in his tranquil, tender voice:

"Do not be afraid to speak, my daughter. This place is sacred to The
Mother who suffered most. Where there has been most suffering, there is
most understanding."

Sophy lifted her eyes to his.

"I ought to tell you, Father, that I am not a Roman Catholic," she said,
under her breath. The grave cordiality of his look did not abate.

"All who are in trouble are welcome here," he said gently. But she
noticed that after that he said "My child," when speaking to her,
instead of "My daughter."

Then, little by little, she told him everything. When she had ended, he
sat for some moments, musing. He had a plain, rugged face, but the eyes,
clear and brown, held an expression of the most exquisite comprehension
and love--that love which is so wholly of the spirit yet so warm towards
the sorrows and needs of humanity that, feeling its power, one can
realise how, after looking into eyes like these yet far more wonderful,
the great golden Harlot of Magdala cast away her lovers and her jewels,
and spread her beautiful hair as a serving-cloth about the sacred feet
her tears had washed.

"It is true, my child," said Father Raphael at last, and he smiled
tenderly upon her, "that the human heart is deceitful above all things
and desperately wicked--and sometimes it deceives even in regard to its
own wickedness. Your heart has deceived you, my child."

"How?" asked Sophy, in a low voice. An inward tremor had seized her. Her
voice shook.

"It has deceived you into thinking that you wish your husband's death.
You do not wish that. Look deeper into this deceitful heart of yours,
and you will see that you do not. Why did you go to that doctor? Why
have you come here to me?"

"I ... I needed ... help, Father."

"Just so, my child. You needed help to see the true inwardness of your
spirit. You mistook natural indignation and the recoil of pain for the
sin of actual desire. You wished to escape--to be free--and so you
thought that you wished your husband's death. But you do not wish it."

"I ... I think ... I am afraid I do, Father."

Her voice was touchingly humble, like a child's voice confessing what it
deems a terrible crime with courageous obstinacy.

"No, my child. Think. Could you now--here--by sending forth a sharp
thought like a dagger--kill your husband--would you send forth that
thought?"

Her brow knitted painfully. She went white as death. Then the blood
surged over her face.

"No, Father," she whispered.

"You see, my child? What you craved when you sought me was for another
voice, the voice of a human being like yourself, to echo the small,
still voice down in the centre of your own spirit. The voice that says
we must have the courage to live life as we have made it for
ourselves--honestly, righteously, unflinchingly. You must not be too
severe with yourself, my child. To deny the hidden good in ourselves is
the subtlest form of spiritual pride. It gives death, not life. There
was a great Pagan who once uttered a profoundly Christian truth.
Wolfgang von Goethe said: 'Life teaches us to be less hard with others
and--ourselves.' Do you see what I mean, my child?"

"Yes," said Sophy, in that smothered voice.

"Then what you must do is very simple. First, you must forgive your
husband--then you must forgive yourself. After what you have told me, I
can see no salvation for him from this sad vice but in your affection
and your strong will to help him. Consult with this wise doctor--follow
his instructions as best you may. Take your life, your heart, in both
hands and lift them up unto the Lord."

"You don't know, Father ... you can't know...." She shuddered violently.
Her grey eyes were fixed on his in desperate appeal.

"Yes, my child-- I do know," he said tenderly. "I led the life of an
ordinary man before I became a priest. I know well what you are
suffering--what lies before you--for you have courage--you will
not--desert." He said it firmly, but his kind eyes held her, full of the
comprehending compassion that does not wound.

Then Sophy gave a cry--the cry of a child who says: "I wish I were
dead!" She put up her hands to her face and sobbed out:

"Oh, I wish I could be a nun ... a nun!"

Very tenderly Father Raphael sat smiling down at her bowed head. Often
had he listened to this cry--the cry of those who in a moment of
extremity long for a cool refuge from the hot brawls of life. Then he
said softly:

"You would make a most unhappy nun, my child."

In a small, ashamed voice she asked:

"Why do you say so, Father?"

"For many reasons. You have heard the expression, 'vocation,' have you
not?"

"Yes, Father."

"You have been given brilliant gifts, great beauty, a little child----
There lies your 'vocation.' To live in the world yet not of it, that is
the life to which God has called you."

"Oh, Father! You do not know me. Christ said: 'Blessed are the poor in
spirit.' I am very proud, Father--horribly, wrongly proud."

The priest did not answer her directly. He said in a musing tone:

"I have often thought how that saying of Our Lord's has been
misinterpreted. By 'poor in spirit' surely He did not mean poverty of
spirit, but that to be truly poor--that is, detached from the things of
this world--a man must not only give up those things themselves, but
give up even the desire for them. That is how I understand the saying,
'Blessed are the poor in spirit.'"

"But, Father--to go back--to be his wife--after---- Oh, it is not only
that--but in one of his furies he might kill me--he might kill my little
son! You don't know--you can't imagine what he is like then----"

"God does not ask impossibilities from His children," said Father
Raphael firmly. "'He is faithful that promised. With the temptation He
will also make a way of escape.' Should you fail to save your husband
from this fatal habit--should your life, or your son's life, be in
danger, then your duty would be to save yourself. The commandment is not
'Thou shalt love thy neighbor better than thyself'--but 'as thyself.'"

"And are people ever really saved from opium or morphine, Father?"

"Yes, my child. One of the best men that I know--a fellow worker with me
here--was a morphinomaniac."

"How was he saved, Father?"

"By God's mercy and his own desire to be saved."

"Ah, Father--that is just it! Will he--will my husband desire to be
saved? Will he let me help him?"

"The effort must be yours--the result is with God. If, after you have
honestly tried by every means in your power--and failed--then--I, a
Roman Catholic priest, to whom marriage is a sacrament, say to you: 'Go
home to your own land and your own kinsfolk.'"

He spoke solemnly. His face looked stern for the first time.

Sophy rose. Her spirit was stilled, but her body felt as though it had
been beaten with staves. Every bone and nerve ached dully. The priest
rose too. She looked at him timidly:

"Can you give me your blessing, Father?"

His lovely smile melted the stern look. Instinctively she knelt, and he
stretched out his hands, making the sign of the cross in the air above
her bent head.

"_Benedicat te omnipotens Deus, Pater et Filius et Spiritus Sanctus._
Amen."

The grave Latin words of benediction rolled solemnly over her. Her
spirit felt folded in a soothing peace. She rose, trembling a little.

"I wish I could thank you ... as I want to, Father," she whispered.

"Thank God, my child. He sent you to me."

"Yes. I believe that."

"Would it help you to come here sometimes, to this simple house
dedicated to the Mother of Compassion?"

"Yes, Father; but...."

"Would your husband be displeased if he knew that you came?"

"Yes, Father. He hates the Catholic religion."

"Then do not come, my child. But remember that I am here if you need me.
My prayers will follow you. I will have a _Novena_ for you. Be of good
courage."

Sophy gazed at him. The tears gathered again. She could not speak. Going
out silently, she got into the musty cab.

She remembered nothing of the drive home. Her eyes were turned inward.



XV


Dr. Carfew came at one o'clock. He was a tall, sinewy man, with light
blue, prominent eyes very piercing, and thick yellow-grey curls that
stuck out below the brim of his hat as though supporting it. He put a
few brief yet searching questions to Sophy, then asked to see the
patient. He did not wish Sophy to be present at the examination. Gaynor
remained with him at his request. After half an hour he came downstairs.
Sophy sat waiting for him, her hands wrung together again. She had put
back her rings.

She paled when she saw him enter, and her eyes darkened. He drew up a
chair without ceremony, and sat down facing her.

"This is a grave case, Mrs. Chesney," he said, in his abrupt
"no-nonsense-now" voice. "I gathered from your husband's valet that you
have not a clear idea of how matters stand."

"No. I have not," she said.

"There is no doubt about it. Your husband is the victim of a most fatal
habit."

She continued looking at him in silence.

"Have you never even suspected the cause of his ailment?" he asked
brusquely.

"Yes--but I did not know enough to be certain."

"It is a clear case--a very clear case, and an aggravated one," said
Carfew. "Mr. Chesney is a morphinomaniac. He is so addicted to the drug
that he varies the effect with cocaine--takes them alternately--both
drugs hypodermically."

Sophy sat as before, gazing at him without a word. It was as if it
paralysed her to hear these long-surmised horrors put into plain words.

Carfew glanced at her with some irritation.

"I hope you are not going to allow yourself to give way to an attack of
nerves because I speak frankly," he said.

She gave a little start, as if waking. "I do not have attacks of
nerves," she then said quietly.

The great man looked mollified.

"Pardon my blunt speech," he said; "but I am so used to ladies
collapsing into hysterics under such circumstances. That--or not
believing a word I say," he added grimly.

"I believe all that you say. What must I do?"

"Ah--there is the difficulty! I must tell you at once that it is out of
the question to think of trying to deal with such a case in the
patient's own home. He should be sent at once to a sanatorium--where he
can be properly treated and restrained."

"He would never consent," said Sophy, in a dull voice.

"Good heavens! my dear lady--are you dreaming of consulting the wishes
of a maniac?"

"He is not always like this, Doctor Carfew. At times he is perfectly
rational."

"Quite so. When he has had neither too much nor too little of either
drug. To be in an apparently normal condition, now that he is saturated
with the poison, his system must daily absorb a certain amount of either
cocaine or morphia. Too little racks his nerves. Too much turns him into
a madman."

Sophy paled even more; then she said apathetically:

"I know positively that he would refuse to go to such a place as that
you mentioned."

Carfew rose, and took a few turns about the room. Then he came and stood
near, looking down at her keenly.

"Mrs. Chesney," he said, "your husband was within an ace of death, last
night. I will not enter into medical detail. Only the prompt
intelligence of his servant saved him. Do you propose allowing him to
destroy himself rather than face his anger?"

"It isn't the question of his anger alone, Doctor Carfew. It is the
question of his family--of his mother. I would not be justified in
acting alone. Lady Wychcote must be consulted."

Carfew looked at her intently. His eyebrows were yellow-grey like his
hair, and curled also. His eyes seemed buried in them as in hairy
nests--like pale, blue eggs, Sophy thought drearily, as she gazed at
their hard convex.

"What is Lady Wychcote like? Is she a reasonable woman?" asked Carfew.

Exhausted and wretched as she was, almost Sophy could have smiled. The
contrast between the actual Lady Wychcote and the "reasonable woman"
surmised by Carfew struck her as so painfully droll.

"Not always, I fear," she said gently.

"Quite so. Just as I thought. A blind alley. Will you tell this ... er
... not always reasonable lady, from me--from Algernon Carfew--that her
son is the same as lost to her if she cannot find sufficient
reasonableness to have him committed to a sanatorium for his own good?"

"Yes--I will tell her."

"But you think it won't have much effect--eh!"

"I'm afraid she won't believe me."

Carfew glared.

"Then send her to _me_!" he said. It was the voice of an Imperator of
Medicine.

"She might not be willing to see you."

"Mh!... This complicates matters. For the present moment, Mr. Chesney is
out of danger. I have given his man--Naylor...!"

"Gaynor."

"I have given Gaynor full instructions. The attack will be over in
twenty-four hours. He has taken a most amazing amount of cocaine within
the last three days--winding up with a huge dose of morphia. Cocaine
excites--morphia soothes--in the end. When was he last violent?"

Sophy felt as though choking.

"Last evening," she managed to articulate.

"Quite so. Very violent, indeed, I presume. Was he abusive?"

"Yes."

"Mh. Well, it rests with you, and--er--Lady Wychfield--Wychcote. Quite
so. I will not undertake the case under the present conditions. By the
way--make no mistake about this man Naylor. He has been very faithful.
If he had not succeeded in persuading his master to moderate the drug at
times--well----" He paused; then said abruptly: "Mr. Chesney would
probably be dead or a hopeless lunatic."

"Yes," said Sophy.

Carfew looked at her earnestly a few moments. Then his hard, acute
visage softened.

"I see you're trying hard to be brave," he said. "You've had a severe
shock. Allow me to prescribe for you at least."

"Thank you," she said faintly.

"Then go to bed, and let your maid rub you with alcohol--a soothing
friction. Then darken your room and try to sleep."

"Thank you very much," said Sophy again, and this time she smiled
faintly.

"Ha!--I know what that smile means. That it's easy for a medical
ignoramus to prescribe sleep when there's no dose of that best of
physics available. But believe me, my dear lady"--here his voice
softened again--"exhaustion is double first-cousin to sleep--you are in
a very exhausted condition. Only lie down as I advise you--even without
the massage, if you shrink from that--and you will be asleep before you
know it."

"I will try," said Sophy patiently.

"Good!" he exclaimed. He went towards the door, then turned again.

"Tell Lady Wych--yes, Wychcote; thanks--tell her if she does not believe
what I say, to ask her son to show her his bare arms. Good afternoon."

He was gone.

Before Sophy followed his advice and went to lie down, she sent a
telegram to Lady Wychcote, who was on a visit to some friends in Paris.
The telegram said:

     "_Cecil seriously but not dangerously ill. Must consult you. When
     may I expect to see you?_

  "SOPHY CHESNEY."

When this was done, she went to her room and let Tilda fuss over her and
make her comfortable on the bed. Carfew was right; scarcely had she lain
down than she dropped into a profound sleep which lasted for several
hours.

As soon as she woke, she sent for Gaynor. She had made up her mind to
speak plainly to him. She felt that her antipathy towards him had come
from her instinct that he was hiding something. Now that she understood
his reasons for secrecy and the difficulty of his position, she no
longer disliked but respected the quiet, dry little man who was so loyal
to his master.

"Gaynor," she began. Her lip trembled in spite of her. She turned her
head and looked out of the window for a second; then she went on firmly:
"I've sent for you to thank you--for what you've tried to do for Mr.
Chesney, Gaynor. And for coming to me--about a--about Doctor Carfew this
morning."

"I am grateful to you, madam. I only did my duty," said Gaynor; but the
impassive expression of his face stirred slightly. "Allow me to thank
you for mentioning it, madam," he added, in a low voice.

"And, Gaynor--I have been thinking deeply over this. I shall not mention
either to Mr. Chesney or her ladyship that you suggested my sending for
a doctor."

A look of faint surprise stole into the man's face; but he kept a
respectful silence.

"The reason I do this," continued Sophy, "is because I want you to
remain with Mr. Chesney--I want you to...." She paused; then she lifted
her eyes to his deferentially expressionless ones, and said with
feeling: "I want you to help me to help him, Gaynor."

For one instant the neutral look which was the livery of his face, as it
were, fell from it, and Sophy saw a deeply moved fellow being gazing at
her.

"I will consider it an honour as well as a duty to be of service to you,
madam," he replied.

"Very well, Gaynor. Then we must keep nothing that concerns Mr. Chesney
from each other. I will be quite frank with you--you must be equally
frank with me. You must keep nothing back."

"It shall be as you wish, madam, in every respect."

"That is all for the moment. Later I shall get you to give me a clear
account of ... of everything. So that I shall ... know how to ... to act
in emergencies if you should not be there."

"Very good, madam."

"Is Mr. Chesney still--asleep?"

"He will sleep probably until to-morrow afternoon, madam."

"Let me know when he recovers--I shall trust to you to tell me when it
is best for me to see him."

"I will, madam."

"Then--good-night, Gaynor."

"Good-night, madam. I hope that you will rest well."

Lady Wychcote arrived next morning and drove straight from the train to
the house in Regent's Park. She was still a beautiful woman; but as
Cecil had told Sophy during their engagement, with that peculiar British
frankness in speaking of the closest relations, she was "as hard as
nails," and her beauty was also adamantine. Though sixty, she did not
look more than forty-five, but her "make-up" was judicious and
wonderfully well done. There were people who said that Cecily Wychcote
had gone to Paris for six months or so, and there, in a mysterious
seclusion, had had the skin peeled from her face by some adept in the
art of flaying, and that this explained the absence of wrinkles "at her
age." True, wrinkles in the ordinary sense of the word she had not; her
well-chiselled face was as smooth and empty of expression in repose as a
Wedgewood plaque, and its patine was as rare a work of art; but her icy
eyes, still as blue as cobalt, could express many things very admirably,
as could her delicate thin lips and nostrils. Lady Wychcote's wig was as
conservative as the politics of her house. It was a fair brown, and here
and there the artist had woven in grey hairs. She dressed well. She was
the modern type of young-old woman in its highest perfection. Only her
language, like her mind, had a taint of early Victorian; but of this she
was totally unaware.



XVI


Lady Wychcote entered the drawing-room abruptly, very smart and
untravel-stained in her blue serge gown with little _gilet_ and toque of
purple velvet. She never suffered from seasickness, and through her veil
of black-dotted tulle she certainly did not look more than
five-and-forty. She barely gave herself time to brush her
daughter-in-law's cheek with the chenille dots of her veil and mutter
"How d'ye do?" In the same breath, in her brittle, imperious voice, she
rapped out:

"What's the matter with Cecil? What does Craig Hopkins say?"

Before she could be answered, and in spite of a real anxiety, she seated
herself. Though she was a tall woman, Sophy was at least two inches
taller; and this always exasperated her. She liked to look down on
people literally as well as metaphorically.

"Doctor Hopkins has not seen Cecil," said Sophy. The storm must break
sometime; why not at once?

"Eh?" cried Lady Wychcote sharply. "What's that? What d'you say?"

Her voice had the bark in it that Cecil's always had when he was angry,
and that he had inherited from her. She reared her head suddenly and
looked at Sophy along her delicate nose.

"D'you mean to tell me that you haven't consulted a doctor about your
husband?"

"Yes; I have seen a doctor, but not Doctor Hopkins."

"_You have--seen--a--doctor--but not the family doctor?_ Your reasons,
pray?"

The tone was scathing, even insolent. Sophy felt her blood rise, but her
calmness did not forsake her.

"I have some very painful things to tell you, Lady Wychcote. Please try
to listen patiently."

"'Patiently'?" She put up her _face-à-main_. The dotted veil prevented
her from seeing clearly through it, but the _gêste_ was all that she
desired. This habit of sarcastic echoing was one of her most trying and
effective methods. "Pray explain yourself!" she added, in a tart voice.

Sophy explained very thoroughly. When she had finished, her
mother-in-law drew her eyelids together and said through narrowed lips:
"How did you come to think of this Doctor Carfew?"

"I asked for a nerve-specialist's address. Gaynor knew of this one."

"You sent for a doctor for my son at a servant's instigation?"

Sophy frowned a little.

"I went to Doctor Carfew myself--of my own accord. Please take another
tone with me, Lady Wychcote," she added. "I think we can arrive at more
useful conclusions in that way."

They looked at each other in silence for a moment; then Lady Wychcote
said:

"Is Cecil awake?"

"I do not think so. Gaynor was to send me word in that case."

"You evidently rely on this man Gaynor for everything."

"I consider him reliable. I have no one else to rely on."

Lady Wychcote rose.

"I must tell you," she said, "that I intend sending for Craig Hopkins at
once."

"I wired for you, to consult you," said Sophy evenly.

"Quite so. And I presume that you are not surprised that I refuse to
take the opinion of a quack on a matter so near to me as the health of
my son."

"I do not think that Doctor Carfew can be justly called a 'quack.' He is
celebrated."

"Pardon me, but that's nonsense. All so-called specialists are quacks,
more or less. And I believe that Cagliostro was a very celebrated
person."

Sophy shrugged her shoulders.

"I only beg that whatever you decide to do will be done quickly," she
said.

"You shall be gratified. Craig Hopkins shall be here within the hour. I
will go for him myself--and return with him."

"Thanks," said Sophy gravely.

This "thanks" seemed to irritate Lady Wychcote beyond endurance. She
turned pale under her rouge, and bit the shreds of what had once been a
lovely, though heartless, mouth.

"I don't doubt," she said at last, "that Hopkins's opinion will coincide
with mine. I am convinced that the whole matter has been grossly
exaggerated."

"Of course, only a doctor can be the judge of that," said Sophy, still
quietly.

Lady Wychcote had reached the age when in mothers of her type the
affections wane as the ambitions wax. She desired to have her pride
satisfied rather than her heart filled. And of her two sons, one was an
easy-going invalid, and the other a brilliant failure. She was bitterly
thinking, as she bruised Sophy's spirit with her hard, implacable eyes,
"If Cecil had married a clever woman of his own class and country--she
could have made him. How many Englishmen have been made politically by
their wives! Even Chatham--one never hears much of his wife, to be
sure--but there's the fact. His first really active, successful part in
politics was taken shortly after he married her."

When Dr. Hopkins came and had seen Cecil (he also requested to see him
alone, and would have neither Sophy nor Lady Wychcote go in with him) he
looked very grave, and stated that, in his opinion also, Mr. Chesney was
suffering from the overuse of opiates.

"'Opiates'? That is an elastic term," said Lady Wychcote impatiently.
"Say plainly what you mean, please."

Hopkins looked pained, but answered straightforwardly that, in his
opinion also, Mr. Chesney was in the habit of taking morphine
hypodermically.

"Why hypodermically?" asked Lady Wychcote.

"It is self-evident, your ladyship. His arms are in a terrible condition
from the use of the syringe."

Lady Wychcote grew pale. And Sophy, looking at her, thought how strange
it was that her random slander of herself (Sophy) had so come home to
her. She had accused her daughter-in-law of giving her son drugs--idly,
as she said such bitter, untrue things of people when displeased with
them, not counting the cost to others involved. She had noticed Cecil's
growing eccentricity, and in order to attribute it more directly to what
she termed his "disastrous" marriage, had accused Sophy of this dark
thing. And now--lo! the dark thing was no lie, but the truth--only it
was her son himself who was his own destroyer, not the woman whom she
hated.

She rallied suddenly, rearing her head back with the gesture habitual to
her.

"I wish to see for myself," she said haughtily, moving towards the door.
"He will not know. Show me these marks on his arms."

"No!" said Sophy, in a low voice, stepping in front of her.

"What! You try to prevent me from seeing my son?"

"I shall keep you from going to him while he is helpless--for such a
purpose."

She laid her hand on a bell near by.

"Let me pass," said Lady Wychcote, in a suffocated voice. Dr. Hopkins
looked the image of respectability in distress. The heavens would not
have been enough to cover him. He would have preferred something more
solid--the whole earth between him and these incensed ladies.

"No!" said Sophy again. "If you insist, I shall be forced to ring and
give orders that no one is to be admitted to my husband's room."

"You would dare do that?"

"I would do it. You are in my house, Lady Wychcote."

"My son's house...."

"I am his wife. I must do what I know that he would wish."

Just here Gaynor knocked at the door.

"Mr. Chesney is asking for you, madam," he said to Sophy.

"Does he know that I am here?" put in Lady Wychcote quickly.

"No, your ladyship. He is hardly himself yet. I have told him nothing."

"Are you going to see him?" asked she, in a hard, angry voice, turning
to Sophy.

"Yes."

"I suppose at least that you will have the--the...." She choked on the
word. She longed to say "decency," but the servant's presence forbade.
"... The civility to tell him that his mother is here and wishes to see
him," she wound up sullenly.

"Yes, I will tell him," said Sophy.

She went up to Cecil's room and approached the bed. He recognised her
step instantly, and said in a weak voice:

"Sophy?"

"Yes, Cecil--it's Sophy."

"Nearer...." he murmured. "Come nearer...."

She bent down to him. The close, stale after-smell of fever reeked up to
her from his unshaven face. She felt very pitiful towards him. All the
hatred had ebbed from her heart. Yet she shrank from him; he was
repellent to her. The conflict between repulsion and pity sent an inward
tremor like sickness through her.

"Sophy ... what ... what did I do ... that night?" came the dragging
voice.

Her hand clenched in the folds of her gown. He had taken the other and
was fumbling it in his nerveless fingers.

"You were very excited. We'll talk of that later--when you're stronger."

"No ... now ... now. It hurts my head ... trying to work the damned
thing out! Was I ... did I...?"

"You were angry. You said unkind things to me. But that's over. Don't
torment yourself."

He was silent. He seemed dozing. Then he roused again.

"It's a hellish ... shame!..." he murmured, in that spent voice. The
violent words contrasted painfully with the weak tones.

"What is?" she said, humouring him.

"Your having ... a chap like me ... for a husband."

"You're ill, Cecil. Don't worry. Try to sleep again. But wait a
minute--your mother is here. Would you like to see her?"

"Damnation--no!" he said. Then he seemed to think better of it.
"Well--since the old lady's lowered her crest enough to come--send her
up," he muttered. "Don't let her talk, though--will you?"

"I'll tell her that you can't bear any talking."

She moved towards the door.

"Sophy...."

"Yes?"

"Could you kiss a chap?"

She went back and kissed his forehead.

"Sophy...." he said again weakly. Then he turned his face into the
pillow. She heard smothered sobs. This was dreadful. She knelt down by
him and put her arm across his heaving shoulders.

"Don't ... don't...!" she pleaded. "Oh, Cecil ... don't! It will all
come right. I'm here. I'll stand by you."

His weak fingers fumbled again and found her own.

"I'm all right," he muttered. "Just a bit weak. Go send the mater up....
Don't let her jaw, though."

Lady Wychcote came down from her son's room looking encouraged and
triumphant.

"He seems perfectly rational," she said, speaking pointedly to Hopkins.
"I really think you must have exaggerated the seriousness of the case."

"Let us hope so," he said cautiously. "But I fear not."

"Will you undertake the case?" she then asked.

Hopkins glanced uncomfortably in Sophy's direction. He faltered out:

"I--er--have not much experience in these--er--cases."

Sophy did not interfere. As soon as Cecil was well enough, she intended
to tell him everything and see if she could not engage his higher self
to fight with her against his lower. She listened in calm silence,
therefore, to the dialogue between Lady Wychcote and the man who had for
years been the family doctor.

"Nonsense!" Lady Wychcote exclaimed sharply, in reply to Hopkins's
faltering objection. "It is simply a matter of nurses and régime. You
have nurses that you can rely on, I suppose!"

"I can certainly procure suitable nurses, your ladyship. But I believe
that in these--er--cases the patient's co-operation is most important.
And the--er--conditions should be favourable."

"Good heavens! _You_ don't mean to suggest a sanatorium, I hope?"

"No. Not a sanatorium exactly; but--er--in town--in a town like
London--there are--the drug is too easily obtained."

"My good man," she cried impatiently, "all this is beside the mark. What
better place can you want than Dynehurst? We will take him to
Dynehurst!"

"Perhaps that would be a good idea," said Hopkins, looking greatly
relieved. "I could attend him here until his system had somewhat
recovered tone, and then with--er--a proper nurse, or nurses, in
attendance, he could be removed to your country seat. I believe you have
an excellent physician there, have you not?"

"Yes. A very able man, indeed."

Hopkins turned nervously to Sophy.

"How does the idea of such an arrangement strike you, Mrs. Chesney?"

"I think that everything will depend on what my husband himself wishes,
when he is stronger, Doctor Hopkins."

"Quite so. Quite so. The patient's co-operation is most important."

Lady Wychcote again addressed him abruptly:

"What is your opinion of this man Gaynor--my son's valet!"

"Why, he seems a very intelligent, worthy person, indeed!"

"You think he may be safely left in his present position?"

"Oh, certainly, certainly, your ladyship!"

The little doctor, whom Lady Wychcote had elected years ago to his
present position as her medical adviser, chiefly because he was like wax
in her firm hands, then made his escape. He left instructions and
prescriptions galore. Sophy suffered this with perfect tranquillity,
because she knew that Gaynor had already had other instructions and
would follow only those of the physician in whose authority he believed.

When her mother-in-law also took her departure, Sophy turned to Gaynor,
who had been summoned again to convey Lady Wychcote's parting messages
to her son.

She smiled a very weary, kind smile at the little grey servitor, and
said:

"I'm afraid we shall have to fight it out pretty much alone together,
Gaynor."

Then Gaynor emerged from his shell of reserve for an instant, and
startled himself.

"The Almighty is very powerful, madam," is what he said.



XVII


Sophy's chief object now was to have a clear, plain talk with her
husband. She knew how painful and trying to them both this interview
would be, and longed to have it over. Later in the day, when Chesney was
again asleep, she sent for Gaynor and asked him for the explanation that
she had mentioned that morning. He told her that the habit had really
begun with an attack of jungle fever, or rather had been taken up as an
alleviation of the nervousness, dull aching, and violent headaches that
had followed the fever. On the voyage back to England, the ship's doctor
had given Chesney a hypodermic of morphia to quiet one of these brain
headaches that had lasted for twenty-four hours. He gave it with the
usual warnings that such drugs were never to be tampered with, never
taken unless at the express command of a physician. But somehow Gaynor
had felt uneasy, even then--had had a presentiment, as he might say, in
fact. Mr. Chesney had looked so quiet and mocking at the doctor. He had
said afterwards to Gaynor:

"Those doctor chaps are a class of fools all to themselves, Gaynor. They
prescribe a bit of heaven--then order you to stay snug in hell." Mrs.
Chesney would please kindly pardon his (Gaynor's) plain speaking. Those
were the exact words that Mr. Chesney had used. When they reached
London, Mr. Chesney had at once bought a fitted hypodermic-syringe--that
is, a little case containing a syringe, needles, and tiny bottles of
morphia, apo-morphia, strychnine, and cocaine. The cocaine he had used
only during the past few months. At first he had put this case in
Gaynor's charge--only demanding it when one of those violent headaches
came on. This stage had lasted for about a year (the year of her
marriage with him Sophy calculated rapidly). Then he began to ask for it
more frequently. Several times Gaynor had respectfully withheld the
drug, and these refusals Mr. Chesney had taken in good part--just at
first. Then--Mrs. Chesney would please kindly pardon him for such plain
speaking, Mrs. Chesney had asked him to keep nothing back--then he
found, by accident, that Mr. Chesney had bought another
hypodermic-syringe--which he concealed. He would get doses from Gaynor,
and in between take others, the valet could only guess how often.
Then---- Gaynor hesitated, glancing anxiously at Sophy.

"Don't be afraid to speak out," she said gently. "I must know everything
if I am to be of help to him. Was it at that time that Mr. Chesney began
to--to take so much wine and--spirits?"

"Yes, madam."

There was a dull, brownish red in the man's face. He suffered at having
to put his unfortunate master's weakness into words--at hearing his
master's wife speak with such sad plainness.

"Why was that, Gaynor? Do all--all people who use such drugs--do
that--too?"

"I do not know, madam. But there always comes a time of great weakness
with Mr. Chesney after the morphine. It is then it happens. And
afterwards there is great nervousness. Another dose of morphia is the
only thing that will quiet it. So it goes, madam. First one--then the
other. It is very terrible to watch. One feels helpless. I have tried
hard to prevent it--with all my might, I should say, madam."

"I am sure you have, Gaynor," she said warmly. She sat for some moments
thinking, her eyes on her wedding ring which she turned round and round.
Then she asked what instructions Dr. Carfew had given.

"He ordered small doses, madam. I am to give them at longer intervals
each time--lessening the dose each time also. Sometimes I must
substitute strychnine. He also ordered malted milk, and a nourishing
diet--things easy to digest and fattening. He said that Mr. Chesney
weighed less than he should by at least two stone. And there must be no
spirit of any land given."

He stopped abruptly, flushing again.

"And the other--Doctor Hopkins--what did he say?"

Something that was almost a smile quivered under Gaynor's light
eyelashes. His voice was very demure.

"He gave me several prescriptions for different occasions, madam."

"Did he leave any instructions about the quantity of--morphine?" She
paled as she uttered the word, but she felt that she must use it. It
would have to be used very often between this man and herself if they
were to save Cecil. "About the amount that you were to give Mr.
Chesney!"

Gaynor looked down as though ashamed for the little doctor.

"He said that nothing could be done just at present, madam. That I must
keep the master comfortable. That he must be reasoned with when he was
better, and spoken to very plain for his own good."

"I see," said Sophy wearily.

She thought again; then asked:

"When do you think that Mr. Chesney will be strong enough for me to talk
with him? I mean to talk really with him--to--to let him know that--I
know!"

"By this evening--about nine, I should say, madam."

Sophy gazed at him in astonishment.

"By this evening? But he is still so ill, Gaynor!"

"This isn't like other illnesses, madam. I have only to give him a large
dose, and it will put him normal."

"But Doctor Carfew's orders?"

The man looked sadly and wisely at her.

"He would not object, I'm sure, madam, seeing the object that is in
view."

"And it will not injure him?"

"Oh, no, madam! At the worst, it will only delay things a bit."

Sophy leaned her head on her hand. She felt mortally tired--soul, mind,
and body.

"Very well, then, Gaynor," she said, in a low voice, "at nine o'clock I
will come to Mr. Chesney's room."

       *       *       *       *       *

When she entered her husband's room that evening, she saw that he was
expecting her. His face lighted up as she came in, and he held out one
hand towards her. His eyes showed the dulled surface and contracted
pupils that she now knew meant a recent dose of morphia. Otherwise, his
appearance was normal. But when he began to speak she noted the dryness
of the mouth which she felt must also be produced by the drug. He was
propped upon several large pillows, as on that evening some two weeks
ago, and there were books and writing materials around him. She was
surprised to see a glass of champagne on the little table, remembering
what Gaynor had said about Dr. Carfew's commands in that respect. Then
she realised that the man was merely violating instructions on this
occasion in order to put her husband in a fitting condition for their
talk.

Chesney saw her look at the glass of wine, and said with good-humoured
peevishness:

"I see you're wondering at my scant allowance. But that old screw Gaynor
is a terrible bully at these times. He knows he has me in his
power--confound him! So he keeps me on short rations of everything
that's the least pleasant. Besides, the stuff's flat by now, being
poured out in a glass like that, instead of served properly in a
bottle."

Then the fretful expression left his face, and a look of admiration
replaced it.

"By Jove--you look like a lovely gold statue of Diana in that gown!
There's something so ineradicably virginal about you--keeps a chap
falling in love with you over and over."

Sophy hated the especial voice in which he spoke just then. It was the
voice of an amiably inclined Pasha, congratulating himself on his taste
in favourites. She had again put on the orange tea-gown that he liked,
feeling that she must soften him in every way possible before telling
him the painful truth, on his reception of which so much depended. From
the full petal-like collar, her throat rose like a white stamen from a
gold corolla. Chesney's eyes gloated over her--his chief possession.

"George, but you're a beauty!" he said, with his silent laugh. "And shy!
You're wincing this very minute under my praise--my conjugal praise. You
know you are--you incorrigible Artemis."

Sophy looked at him thoughtfully, marvelling. Was it possible that he
had no clear memory of that dreadful dinner at the House of Commons?
Yes. It must be so. With all his latent brutality, he could not have
been cognisant of what he had done there, and yet speak and seem like
this. And it was very hard to know how to begin. It seemed so terrible a
thing to have to bring a look of confusion, of shame even, to that
confident, almost condescendingly assured face. She could not divine the
wild sense of triumph that filled him, because of the accustomed poison
in his veins after his twenty-four hours of enforced fast from it. He
felt that his "strength was as the strength of ten," because he felt
also the bite of the admirable and abominable drug at his midriff. The
sting of the spot where the needle had thrust into his flesh was sweet
as the sting left by a kiss to the normal lover. He knew that he risked
the danger of an abscess every time that he thrust the needle into his
arms or legs, already so thickly punctured. He did not care. Morphia
gives this carelessness--this calm recklessness of all that may follow.

"Cecil ..." said Sophy suddenly. She leaned forward and took his hand in
both hers. His lids contracted. He recognised the tone in her voice, and
it made him uneasy. There was always something disturbing to follow,
when Sophy spoke in that tone.

"Well?" he said; and his voice told her, on her side, that he was on the
defensive.

"Cecil--your feeling is right. I mean I hear in your voice that you
feel I am going to say something that will be painful. But it's ... it's
my love for you that makes me say it. You'll believe that, won't you?"

He kept his eyes narrowed and fixed on her. The look was so like his
mother's in certain moods that she felt her heart sink.

"Well," he said again, "get it over whatever it is."

She held his hand tight. It was as if she, not he, were drowning, and
she clung to his hand for succour--not to give it. He felt that she held
her breath for an instant. Then she said, very low, her eyes imploring
him:

"My dear, when you were ill yesterday, I had to send for a doctor."

He jerked his hand away so violently that he dragged her forward on to
her knees beside the bed. She stayed herself against it, never taking
her eyes from his face.

"You--did _what_?" he said in a fierce whisper.

"Oh, Cecil!... Don't look at me like that. Don't look at me with such
cruel eyes. You seemed dying--you were unconscious for hours. What else
could I do? Be just--tell me that. What else could I have done?"

He was thinking like lightning. Thoughts zigzagged against the black
cloud of anger in his mind in fiery flashes--clear as they were swift.
How much had this doctor guessed--or known? What had he said? How much
did Sophy know? What rôle would it be best for him to play? He had long
dreaded this contingency. He knew that sometimes he overdosed himself
with the drug. There were blank spaces in his life--gaps which he could
not fill in with any sequence of events, try as he might. What had
happened? What had he himself said or done? Had he left the hypodermic
syringe where she could see it? Had Gaynor turned disloyal? One bit of
clear reason rose dominant above the chaos of surmise. He must appear
calm, no matter how violent the tumult of his secret self. He must
remain passive until some cue was given him, then act out consistently
the part that seemed best suited to the occasion. He closed his eyes for
a moment. When he opened them their expression was no longer furious.

"You must excuse me, Sophy," he said rather formally. "I think you must
be able to imagine the shock it was to me to hear that you had called in
one of those dirty fakirs, knowing as you do my opinion of the
fraternity."

He heard the breath that she had again held in escape softly, little by
little from her bosom which was pressed against the bedclothes. She was
still kneeling where he had dragged her forward. It was an attitude of
prayer. Her whole body seemed to beseech him. Yet, though he saw this,
he was not moved by it, except to extra caution. She could not speak at
once, so he spoke again himself. Each word that he uttered calmed him.
The naturalness of his assumed tone reassured him as it fell upon his
own ear. As he would have said of another, he was "doing it damned
well."

"I hope, since you adopted such radical measures," he remarked coldly,
"that you at least chose a decent specimen. Was it by any chance my
mother's little medical poodle!"

"No--Cecil. Doctor Hopkins came afterwards, but----"

"What? you had two of those vermin in my house yesterday?"

There was rage in his eyes again. Quickly he veiled them.

"This is a bit overwhelming, you must admit," he said in a tired voice.
Then he asked: "Who was the other luminary of hypocrisy?"

"It was Doctor Carfew, Cecil--Algernon Carfew."

Chesney's worst fears were realised. If this man had seen him, he
_knew_. A dark, smothering fear rushed over him--he was a brave man, but
this vague, shadowy yet poignant terror seemed to turn his very vitals
to water. He was as afraid of the fancied image of this accursedly
knowing physician as a condemned lout of the headsman. It seemed to him,
lying there, a strong man, master of his own house, the free-born
citizen of a great Empire, that he was yet but a little doll of pith in
the clutches of this grim, devilishly well-informed scientist. The
medical profession took suddenly a symbolic form in his mind--it bulked
before him like a huge, black Octopus heaving up from that shadowy sea
of dread in which he was sinking. One of the vast tentacles had gripped
him--was dragging him down--down. It was with amazement that he heard
his own voice demanding in icy composure:

"And the verdict of this learned gentleman?"

He had closed his eyes again as though bored and wearied by the subject.
He felt one of Sophy's soft, bare arms go round his neck. Her hair
brushed his lips as she laid her head upon his breast. Her face was
hidden from him. He heard her impassioned whisper:

"Cecil--don't, don't shut me out! Let me share it, I know-- I _know_!"



XVIII


The moods of a morphinomaniac are very inconsistent. There were times
when Cecil Chesney agonised over this degrading vice which was slowly
sapping his manhood and self-respect, which was turning him into a
bowelless egoist. Yes, at times, so great was his suffering over his own
abasement that he had frequently thought of self-destruction as a means
of escape from the dark coil. These were during the luridly lucid
moments which come to fine natures in such thrall--the moments when they
see themselves as they are--when they say, with appalled realisation: "I
am a morphinomaniac. I would sacrifice the happiness of my nearest and
dearest for a dose of the terrible stuff when the horror of lacking it
is upon me." But these moods are varied by others, singularly callous,
when all humanity seems to have ebbed from the nature, and the formula
of the victim's faith might be a paraphrase of that of the Moslem:
"There is no God but Morphia and I am its prophet." This was Chesney's
mood to-night. So far from being touched by Sophy's sudden, almost
childlike appeal, he felt intensely irritated by it. It was all that he
could do not to push away her head roughly from his breast. The tender,
pleading tone of her voice was insufferably annoying to him.

He controlled himself rigidly, however, merely saying in a hard voice,
without touching her, "I could understand you better if you didn't bury
your mouth in my chest. I shall be interested to hear what it is that
you '_know_.'"

Sophy drew back without any anger. She knew his hard voice, his "metal
voice" she was used to call it. She realised sadly that she had made a
mistake in appealing to him. But she would not let him hurt her or make
her angry now. She turned and sat quietly in the chair again--looking
down at her wedding ring--it seemed to fascinate her eyes in those days.
It was so long before she spoke that he said impatiently:

"Well--am I not to share this evidently interesting knowledge of yours?"

She looked at him honestly, trying to keep anything like sentiment from
her eyes and voice.

"You make it so hard--for us both, Cecil," she said.

"Pray what do I make hard?"

"The truth."

"'What is truth?' said doubting Pilate. Can it be that you have found
out? You interest me."

Sophy hesitated. How was she to take him? Was he trying to make her put
it into brutally plain words? Would he prefer that? Or was he only
waiting to launch abuse at her in case she did? As she sat anxiously
pondering, one of those sudden changes of mood took place in Chesney,
that startle even the slaves of morphia themselves. In a flash--in the
twinkling of an eye, he seemed to see a new course open before him--a
course that would save him from the powers of darkness as represented in
his distorted mind by the medical profession. Holding out his hand, he
said in quite a different voice, a very gentle one indeed:

"Come here, Sophy."

A wondering look stole over her face. She went to him almost timidly,
seated herself on the edge of the bed, and put her hand in his.

"See here, my child," said he, still in that kind, moderate voice.
"Whatever else you have in mind, don't forget that I'm a rather ill
man."

"I don't ... I don't ... not for a moment."

"And you must bear with me if I say things a bit lamely."

"Say anything...." she began eagerly, then restrained herself. "Say
anything," she repeated more soberly.

"Very well, then. But please don't exclaim or get emotional, will you?
My head's beastly tired. I've had rather a tight squeak of it, Gaynor
tells me."

"Yes--you were very, very ill."

Her lip quivered. She pressed his hand nervously, then loosened her
fingers as though afraid of irritating him. But he returned the pressure
kindly. He was so absorbed in the part he had finally chosen that he
almost deceived himself with his fine acting--as some actors shed real
tears in moving roles--almost believed that he really felt kindly to
her, and was going to treat her with a noble candour.

"Well, then, Daphne, dear, I can guess what you mean when you say you
'_know_.' I guessed all the time, only one is not always rational when
one is ill, and this doctor business enraged me. I confess it frankly.
What you '_know_'--what you have found out, is that I take morphine, is
it not?"

He was looking at her keenly. The blood seemed to beat hotly back on her
heart, then fly in a jet to her startled face. Tears came into her eyes.
She bit her lip fiercely in her effort not to show her emotion. It was
so splendid of him--so deeply, pathetically moving, to hear him thus
calmly and honestly name the dreadful thing. She could not help it. She
lifted the great hand and pressed her lips to it. This soft touch almost
broke Chesney's strong self-control. Indirectly she was making him lie,
and he hated her for it--he really hated her at that moment. He could
have struck her with pleasure. "Sweet character I am," he thought
savagely; "among other things I've got a bit of Bill Sykes in me, too,
it seems." He closed his eyes again to veil this violent impulse. Sophy
noticed for the first time that evening this trick of closing his eyes,
which grew on him so rapidly from that time. It took him four or five
minutes to regain the atmosphere of the part which he had chosen. When
he spoke again, it was in that same mild, rather melancholy voice that
had so touched her.

"My dear Daphne," he said, "I suppose there's a pinch of cowardice in us
all--tucked away in some chink of our charming human nature. Morphine
has brought out this in me. I----"

"Oh, no, Cecil! No--_no_!"

Her voice was beautifully fervent. He hurried on. She must not shatter
his present mood again.

"Often I've thought: 'Shall I tell her? Shall I ask her help? She's a
brave, loyal thing. She'll stand by me--even through this.'"

"Oh, I would have! I will!"

"But then again I thought: 'No--how can I risk her contempt--her
misunderstanding? How can I deliberately strike such a blow to her
ignorant happiness?' So I determined to struggle along as best I could.
I've fought the damnable thing, Sophy--believe me or not as you will."

The cunning mixture of truth and falsehood in what he had been saying
lent it somehow an impression of extraordinary sincerity. The bald, dark
truth would not have carried such conviction to Sophy's heart. She cried
to him piteously, struggling to keep back the tears of anguished
compassion and renewed affection:

"Oh, don't say such things to me! I do believe you! I do! with all my
heart, with all my soul!"

Ferociously sarcastic, Chesney completed to himself her unconscious
quotation: "With all my mind, and with all my body." Why did she not
gush it _all_ over him? he demanded angrily to himself. What fools women
were after all! One had only to lie cleverly to them and forthwith they
fell flat in fits of hero-worship. Had he honoured her with the truth,
she would have turned on him in contempt. So little did he know her.

"Then, Daphne, perhaps Chance is a kindly god after all. This chance
collapse of mine has broken down barriers that I might never have
climbed by myself."

He had been sipping water off and on while he talked. It was nauseously
bitter to him, but with that fine instinct for thoroughness in his
acting, he had instinctively denied himself the flat champagne, which
would have been far more palatable to his tongue so rough with morphia.
It occurred to him also that gain might be made of this small sacrifice.
He could ask later for a fresh glass of wine without seeming unduly
eager. And it was impossible for him to talk at any length without some
liquid to moisten the dry mucous membranes of his mouth.

"You see," he went on, "one needs strong assistance in shaking off a
thing like this. I've come to that, Daphne. Gaynor has been a devilish
good sort through it all, but one ally isn't enough. A Triple
Alliance"--he smiled at her--"is what is needed for this war."

Sophy felt dazed with gladness. Then shame seized her as she thought
that she might have "deserted"--might have missed this wonderful moment,
so far greater than mere happiness.

"Do you mean that you will let me help you, Cecil? That you will let me
fight--it--with you?"

"What else could I mean?"

She was speechless. She hardly dared to breathe. She might wake up.

"And--and you will--follow out the--instructions?"

Chesney's eyebrows flicked together for an instant, then smoothed again.

"Whose instructions?" he asked calmly.

She just paused, then said timidly:

"Dr. Carfew's, Cecil."

He felt the subdued billow of his rage heave again. It calmed under his
fierce resolve.

"What were they?" he asked.

She explained, almost whispering in her shyness and anxiety at having to
name such things to him.

The wave rose again. He rode it with a short laugh.

"So I'm to be fattened like a holiday ox!" he said. "Incarcerated and
made plump for Virtue's altar!"

He laughed again, closing his eyes. When he opened them he looked grave
and very serious.

"Sophy," he said, "with the dilemma comes generally a way of escape for
the imaginative." (How strange! he was paraphrasing the very quotation
that Father Raphael had made to her that morning. She listened
breathlessly.) "I confess frankly that I would not submit for a moment
to this sanatorium idea. I know myself too well. I should enter it a
temporary invalid and leave it a confirmed lunatic." (This phrase
pleased him very much, especially when he saw by her expression that it
had impressed her.) "I am not of the stuff from which 'good patients'
are made. I should probably strangle my attendants and take French leave
through a window. But"--he looked at her consideringly--"I am perfectly
willing to put myself in your hands, and Gaynor's--you have talked with
Gaynor, I suppose?"

He put this last question casually but with shrewd intent. Sophy's
caution was at once alert. She had determined that he should have no
least cause of anger against Gaynor.

"It was hard to get Gaynor to say anything, Cecil. He is so loyal. Only
when the doctor had told me everything, did he so much as admit, even by
a look, that there was--was anything of this kind. I had to press him
hard, Cecil, for the barest facts. It was evidently real suffering for
him to answer me. He had to answer me, you know. His very affection for
you made him do that, when--when he saw how much I wanted to help you,
too--that I was not--judging."

Chesney smiled rather drily, closing his eyes. "I see that your feeling
towards Gaynor has suffered a 'sea change,'" he said. "There's something
'rare and strange' about it now."

"No, Cecil," she said warmly. "How could it be strange that I feel
grateful and appreciative towards a man who has been so faithful to
you?"

"'_Il y a des fagots et des fagots_,'" he murmured languidly. "There is
one glory of the moon of faithfulness and another of the sun."

"How do you mean, Cecil?" She felt suddenly very anxious.

"Oh, nothing. Merely that you and Gaynor are the sun and moon in the
heavens of loyalty."

"I'm glad that you're not vexed with the poor fellow because--because he
didn't lie," she ventured gently.

"Oh, no ... no ..." he moved his hand, dismissing the subject.
"'Faithful are the wounds of a friend.'"

Something in his tone still made her anxious, but his face was so placid
that she took comfort from it. She waited a moment, then said:

"Do you mean, dear, that you will let us make a ... a régime for you, on
the lines that ... that were suggested?"

"Why--what else?" said Chesney, with a sort of indulgent loftiness. "My
admission could hardly have been worth while otherwise--could it?"

"No--that's true," she said joyfully. "Oh, Cecil!" She sat looking at
him through tears of gratitude. She could not keep these tears from
starting, but she managed to hold them within her eyelids.

"There, there!" he said nervously. "You're a dear thing--but don't make
a fuss."

"Oh, no-- I won't indeed. I feel so quiet--so happy."

She paused, gathering composure.

"And ... in case the ... the constant care will be more than Gaynor and
I can do properly ... you'll let me engage a nurse--won't you!"

That dark wave rose again. Again he surmounted it, thinking in those
lightning bright and quick flashes. If he objected it would look odd.
Besides he had not accomplished all that he desired. He wished it firmly
fixed that Carfew should not be put in charge. By concessions on his
part he could demand concessions on hers.

"See here, Sophy," he said, in a reasonable, practical voice. "I am
willing, as I said, to put myself in your and Gaynor's hands. Having
agreed to this, I think I have a right to make certain conditions, have
I not?"

"Yes, Cecil--of course." But her high mood sank.

"Then here are my conditions--very mild ones I think you will admit. I
dislike the idea of this swaggering, Bully-boy of a medical Bashaw--this
Carfew chap. I'll none of him. You may follow out his ideas if you
like--but come in contact with him personally or indirectly I will not.
From what I have heard of him I consider him more or less of a
Charlatan--but whether he is or not--I flatly refuse to have him attend
me. On the other hand, I will put up with a nurse, provided it's not a
man-nurse. I should throttle him within two seconds of his arrival.
Women nurses are rather soothing as a rule. Then, I'm perfectly willing
to go to Dynehurst-- I'd like to, in fact. I'm sick of this b---- town.
Also I'm quite willing to endure the ministrations of the Mater's
trained poodles--the town poodle and the country poodle both. They're
clever enough chaps, though a bit under hack to the old lady." A sudden
inspiration came to him as he was speaking. "To prove that I am
sincere," he concluded, "I will take you and Gaynor wholly into my
confidence."

He pressed the button of the electric bell at his bedside. Gaynor
appeared almost instantly. The man was very pale and his eyes had a
strained, apprehensive look.

"Gaynor," said Cecil directly, "you've proved yourself an excellent
servant. You have done quite right. Mrs. Chesney and I have talked my
case over thoroughly. I realise that this drug has gained an undue hold
on me--that it is an insidious enemy--and causes one to deceive
oneself-- I therefore place myself in Mrs. Chesney's charge. You will
assist her in every way in your power. I now wish to give to Mrs.
Chesney, in your presence, my own private hypodermic syringe. You will
find it in my locked letter-case. Here is the key."

He took it from under the pillow, and held it out to Gaynor. The man's
face was livid. He experienced acute pain, in thus being forced to
listen to his master's calm confession of duplicity in the presence of
another. He unlocked the letter-case obediently and took out the little
aluminum case. His hands were shaking.

"Give it to Mrs. Chesney, please."

Sophy also was trembling and very pale.

Chesney lay back upon his pillows watching them with the sketch of a
queer smile about his mouth. He himself broke the strained silence.

"And now, Gaynor," said he, "be so kind as to take away this stuff and
bring me a fresh glass of wine."

Gaynor moved to the bedside as in a daze. Then his face worked suddenly.

"Oh ... sir!" he said in a husky whisper.

"There, that will do! I'd like to be alone for a bit. I'm sure you'll
excuse me, Sophy."

She went and kissed him in silence. Gaynor had left the room at once,
his head hung low on his breast. Sophy followed quickly.

When the door was shut, a convulsed look broke the assumed calm on
Chesney's face.

"Damn it!" he choked, clenching his fist at the wall before him.
"Damnation! I've lied to a man--and he believes me!"

Somehow, what had been almost an amusing game when played for Sophy's
benefit, turned to stark humiliation when practised on another man.

He slipped from the bed and, striding to the door in his bare feet,
snapped the lock. Then reaching his bed again, thrust his arm far in
between the mattresses. He drew out a brand-new syringe--opened it
deftly, fitted on the needle--took a spoon from a little drawer in the
table. Heated water in it over the lamp, dissolved in it a half-grain
tablet of morphia (he was afraid to take a larger dose lest it should
prove noticeable)--stripped up the sleeve from his powerful forearm all
covered with purplish knots, and drove the little needle home in his
flesh, holding the syringe firmly in place by its curved, steel horns,
so like the antennæ of some poisonous insect. Then he hid all away
again--unlocked the door, and slipped quickly into bed.

When Gaynor arrived a moment later, his master seemed to be dozing.

The valet stood looking down on him with a shy expression of affection
and relief.

"Thank God," the servant's heart was saying; "thank God--he's acted like
a man!"



XIX


Lady Wychcote came again next morning about ten o'clock. She seemed much
mollified by Sophy's account of the arrangement that had been entered
into--showed a marked inclination to assume more amicable relations with
her daughter-in-law.

"I _knew_ that he would act reasonably when things were put clearly
before him. He is erratic--but a most able creature. As soon as he
realised the gravity of the situation I was convinced that he would act
with me--with us--for his own benefit."

"Yes--you were right--you knew him better than I did," said Sophy with
generous humility. She, too, felt softened towards her mother-in-law
because her maternal intuition had been right, when she, Sophy, as a
wife, had doubted.

"Very nice of you to admit it, I'm sure," said Lady Wychcote affably.
She was so highly pleased that all her ideas were by way of being
carried out, that she actually asked to see Bobby. This was a wonderful
condescension, for from the day of his birth she seemed scarcely to have
been aware of his existence.

"I will go to the nursery if you like," she said, as it were a Queen
saying with royal affectation of equality: "See, I am even prepared to
descend from my dais and walk on a level with you."

"Thanks--but there's no need," said Sophy. "I will have him brought
here."

Lady Wychcote had not seen the child, except at a distance, since he
could walk and talk. As his nurse set him upon his feet, and his sturdy
little figure came towards her, strutting mannishly, serious but
unafraid, something stirred in her chilly breast--something not exactly
warm but pungent. The child had the look of her own family. It had been
a family noted for its statesmen. What possibilities might not lie hid
in that small, firm breast under its ruffled collar! It came over her
in a sudden tingling wave of resuscitated hope and fact abruptly
realised, that in case of Gerald's dying childless--_this_ child would
be heir to the title. He was a Chesney after all. He had the name, and
her own blood in his veins. The mother was only the "incalculable
quantity" in the sum of this higher spiritual mathematics.
Inconsistently, as with all tyrants, her mind whirled about, accepting
as a pleasing possibility what had until then only occurred to her as an
insufferable one--a weapon with which to goad Gerald, when his
disinclination to marry put her beyond all patience. Now as she looked
at Bobby, who had gone straight to his mother's knee, and stood biting
his small fist, and regarding her solemnly out of grey, noncommittal
eyes, she thought, "Why not! He is my grandchild after all." She even
spoke her thought aloud.

"Has it ever occurred to you that that child may be Lord Wychcote some
day, in case Gerald dies unmarried!" she asked.

It had occurred to Sophy, for Cecil had spoken once or twice of such a
possibility--but he had spoken of it grumblingly.

"If that duffer Gerald dies without begetting a proper little
Conservative," he had said, "our little chap's chances may be knocked
out, by a seat in the Lords. Nice country this--where a political career
can be smashed to smithereens by having to wear a bally title whether
you will or no."

It never seemed to cross his mind that Bobby might desire a career other
than political--or granting that he should not, that by a sort of
figurative reversion of species, he might become a Unionist instead of a
Liberal.

But Sophy did not have political ambitions for her son. She would rather
have seen him a great artist of some sort--the great poet of his day. In
her marriage seemed to have quenched the spark of mental creation. It
was a deep grief to her that she had felt no real desire to write since
becoming Chesney's wife. Only that saddest of all emotions--the desire
to desire. It was as if mocking, satyr-hoofs had trampled her mind's
garden. The fine poetry of her imaginative mood had not been able to
withstand the shocks of such a marriage as hers. Sometimes she had felt
bitterly, as though there were the print of a goat's hoof on her heart
and that it had filled slowly with blood. It was this scar that burnt
when she was unhappy.

"Oh, Gerald is sure to marry," she now said hastily. "He was so much
better when I saw him in April."

"Pf! He goes up and down. There's no counting on him," said his mother
bitterly. "Is your boy strong? He looks very healthy."

"He's splendidly strong," said Sophy proudly. "He's never had an ill day
in his life."

She gathered the boy close to her jealously. There was such a greedy,
appraising look in Lady Wychcote's eyes. She might have been a civilised
ogress, estimating from long habit the tender flesh of a child.

"Is he clever? Quick?"

"Very," said Sophy briefly.

"I hope you won't let Cecil instil his wretched Radical principles into
the boy's mind before he's able to think for himself."

"He thinks for himself already," said Sophy, with a slight smile.

"Well--who knows? We may yet give another famous man to the Conservative
cause," said Lady Wychcote, still gazing at Bobby. Then she said to him:

"Come to your grandmother, child."

Sophy impelled him forward, and he went slowly but steadily, and stood
before the young-old lady, his hands behind him, his little stomach
thrust forward. It was the true statesman's attitude. But Bobby was only
wondering why the lady had black specks all over her face, and whether
the bird on her brown velvet hat could cry "cuckoo" like the one in the
nursery clock.

And to Sophy there came the words of Constance:

  "Do, child, go to it' grandam, child:
  Give grandam kingdom, and it' grandam will
  Give it a plum, a cherry, and a fig."

For it galled her that Lady Wychcote should never have shown the least
interest in the boy, until it had occurred to her that some day he might
serve her ambition.

Chesney saw his mother for a few minutes before she went. He was languid
but apparently quite normal. He exaggerated this languor, as later on he
exaggerated a certain nervousness consequent on the fact that he dared
not take as much morphia as he really wanted, fearing that Gaynor, at
least, might suspect something, and well aware that a man under reduced
doses of the drug shows symptoms of extreme weakness and restlessness.
When she asked if he would see Craig Hopkins that afternoon, he replied
good-humouredly:

"Bring in the performing poodles as soon as you like. Since I'm in for
it, the show might as well begin promptly."

"Cecil is _most_ reasonable--I did not hope as much as this," she told
Sophy. Then she took her departure, adding:

"And now I must set the Town talking the way we wish."

It had been agreed between her and Sophy that she should spread reports
to the effect that Cecil was suffering from an attack of inflammation of
the brain. She had submitted this idea to Dr. Hopkins yesterday, and he
had agreed that it was wise and permissible under the circumstances.

Lady Wychcote was a clever woman. She set this report going with such
skill and so apt a measure of detail that even the sceptical Olive
Arundel was quite taken in by it. The people who chiefly mattered, and
those who had been present at the painful dinner, were only too glad to
accept such a solution of the disgraceful scene. Only Oswald Tyne smiled
behind Lady Wychcote's well-preserved and still girlish back, his
mocking, unctuous smile, and said: "I would rather dream of the
degrading spectacle of a British plum-pudding served in flames at an
Athenian banquet than see again at a London feast the brain of an
Englishman thus ignited. Both are too massive to burn gracefully. But
the plum-pudding has a lightness--a delicacy--a wholesomeness--which the
British cerebrum even in flames can never accomplish."

Olive, to whom Tyne made these remarks, exclaimed, much vexed:

"Oswald! You are _bwutal_. You are never funny when you are bwutal."

"On the contrary," he assured her gravely, "I am a Celt. I am always
funny when I am brutal. Your Englishman, now, is always brutal when he
is funny."

"Oh, don't try to be witty with every breath!" she cried crossly. "I
think it heartless of you, and that poor man was in danger of his life
at the very moment he said that awful thing!"

"Indeed he was," said Tyne earnestly. "I know that I had clutched my
knife with red slaughter hissing at my ear. Several men who were present
have confessed the same thing to me. The vice of self-control was all
that restrained us."

"At any rate," she said earnestly, seeing that it was hopeless to get at
his serious side through sympathy for Cecil, "at any rate, you like poor
dear Sophy, _don't_ you?"

"Yes, I burn discreetly 'with a hard, gem-like flame' for her."

"You wouldn't want to hurt her?"

"Not even for my own pleasure."

"Then _don't_ go about saying things about 'plum-puddings' and Grecian
feasts and all that when her husband is mentioned, _will_ you? Even if
you don't believe he's ill--be a good sort for Sophy's sake, and pretend
to."

"Pretence is always lovely," said Tyne dreamily. "Zeus pretended to be a
swan, and lo!--Artemis and Apollo!"

"I'm sure _you_ don't have to pretend to be a _goose_," said Olive, out
of patience, and she walked away from him, proudly carrying off the last
word.

But Tyne's native kindliness outweighed his love of drollery this time.
The memory of Sophy's beautiful, frozen profile as he had last seen it,
and which had reminded him of the drooping, white profile of the
Neapolitan Antinous, held him from further expressing his doubts of the
genuineness of Chesney's attack. As for the others, they behaved with
discreet and kindly sympathy, and carriages drew up often before the
house in Regent's Park to leave cards and inquiries.

Thus the bitterness of humiliation was lifted from Sophy's heart, and
thus, too, it came to pass that Amaldi could think of her again without
that overwhelming surge of helpless pity, and fierce, thwarted
indignation. He left cards on her and Chesney a few days later, and
meeting Bobby as he turned from the door, had the rather bitter pleasure
of holding him in his arms for a moment.

The child had not forgotten him. He gazed soberly into his eyes for a
moment, then broke into the delicious chuckle that meant delighted
affection with him, and pressing the firm little fruit of his fresh
cheek to Amaldi's, said:

"Bobby man!... Bobby _nith_ man--tome back!"

Amaldi's heart glowed and ached. He kissed the boy with passion, then
set him gently down and went away. He had found that which was lost to
him even as he found it, and the world seemed to him like a vast house
full of vacant, echoing rooms.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was decided that Chesney should be taken to Dynehurst during the next
week. He affected a listless apathy, and seemed not to care whether he
went or stayed. Dr. Hopkins expressed himself satisfied with his
condition. He thought, however, that the sooner he could be moved to the
country the better it would be for him in every way. He had written
fully to Dr. Bellamy, the Wychcotes' physician at Dynehurst. For Sophy
these intervening days were peaceful but heavy. She could not recapture,
somehow, her high mood of the evening of her talk with Cecil. Things
went along evenly, monotonously. He was never either cheerful or
depressed--talked little, sometimes locked his bedroom door for hours
together. This made her curiously apprehensive. What was he doing behind
that locked door? She felt that Gaynor also was vaguely uneasy over this
new phase, but they did not mention it to each other. Apart from this
one thing, Cecil was very reasonable--submitted to having all wine
withdrawn from his diet; even put up with having his cigarettes cut down
to eight a day. Neither Sophy nor Gaynor suspected for a moment that he
had a third hypodermic syringe in his possession. With the startling and
crafty acumen of the morphinomaniac, he had secreted it in the last
place that they would have thought of--namely, in the same letter-case,
of which now he left the key carelessly on his dressing-table or the
little stand by his bed. Nor did they, in their inexperience of such
things, realise that one who had for three years been addicted to the
habit, and who, during two years of that time, had been accustomed to
large and constant doses of the drug, could not possibly have supported
its withdrawal, even gradually, with the composure shown by Chesney.

Dr. Hopkins always made his visits about ten in the morning; and, deeply
cunning, determined that no mistake on his part should prevent his
escape from the town where Algernon Carfew lived, an ever present
menace, Chesney refrained from taking his usual dose until after the
physician had seen him. These occasions of waiting for Hopkins to come
and go were very painful. Sometimes the little doctor would be half an
hour late, and each minute of this half hour seemed endless to the man,
fretting with crawling skin and muscles spasmodically twitching, for the
calming poison. So when Hopkins felt his forehead and his pulse on these
occasions, he would find the one moist and the other feeble. These
symptoms were in accord with the therapeutics of the case, hence the
inexperienced doctor's satisfaction.

But though Sophy felt saddened by the way that Cecil seemed to keep her
civilly aloof, as though what he was enduring were impossible of
comprehension to her, on the other hand she was very happy in her
surprise that this dreadful and mysterious habit should prove so easy to
cure. She recalled De Quincy's _Confessions of an Opium Eater_, and the
agonies that he described as accompanying his efforts to abstain.
Morphia, then, must differ in its effects from opium. She thanked God,
in her ignorance, that Cecil's enemy was morphia and not opium.



XX


It was on a lovely afternoon that they left London for Durham. A
Wednesday had been chosen, so that the usual week-end parties going to
the country or returning from it might be avoided. A compartment had
been reserved. Lady Wychcote went with them, and Gaynor travelled in the
same carriage to be at hand in case his master needed him. Chesney, pale
as always now, but quite composed, settled down with a copy of _Le
Mannequin d'Osier_. France's brilliant cynicism suited his present mood
admirably. Now and then he glanced out toward London as the train drew
swiftly away. There was that subtle, just sketched smile about his lips
that rested there so often during these days. He seemed to be savouring
a pleasant, ironical secret which he alone knew. Lady Wychcote was
absorbed in a novel by Mrs. Humphry Ward. She liked the political
atmosphere in these books, though she sniffed at the politicians
described in them. "Clockworks" she called them. She was very
intolerant of the achievements of other women.

Bobby was very good, playing in grave silence with his red and white
bricks on the shawl that Miller had spread for ham. But presently he
began to shove one up and down along the seat near his father, saying,
"Choo! Choo!" Sophy lifted him upon her lap and began to tell him
stories in a low voice. She was very glad to be thus mechanically
occupied. Dynehurst always depressed her. She felt a vague, grey gloom
rising about her at the thought of spending several months there, with
Cecil in this strange, cold, forbidding mood. She looked out of the
window as she told the oft-repeated story of "The Three Bears," her
subconscious mind attending to the tale, her fancy selecting bits in
flying hedge and fence that she would jump were she riding to hounds
across that country. Purposely she put serious matters from her. The
rough music of the train lulled her mind. She seemed caught up by the
swift motion, whirled from the ordinary course of life. The fixed events
in it seemed like the stations that they passed--existent only in a
world already wheeling backward.

By the time that Darlington was reached, Bobby had begun to grow fretful
from the journey. He demanded to be given the small engine on its stone
pedestal in the station there. "Baby Puff-Puff!" he announced. "Bobby
want--Bobby _want_!" Sophy sent Miller into the next carriage with him.
She had seen Chesney's eyes contract and fix upon the boy. The change of
train annoyed him. Besides, he was beginning to crave another dose of
morphia. The time for the dose to be given by Gaynor had not yet come.
When it did it would be so small that it would barely temper the fierce
lust of his accustomed nerves. He closed his eyes, frowning, his lip
between his teeth. There was a bluish shade about his mouth. His eyes
looked sunken thus closed, in the sidelight from the carriage-window.

Sophy watched him anxiously. She saw that Gaynor also glanced towards
him from time to time. Lady Wychcote had dozed off, with her little
travelling-cushion of green morocco behind her head. She slept tightly,
as one might say, her eyelids and lips shut fast. She looked old asleep.
Her mouth settled and drew down at the corners. Old and hard and
disappointed her face looked under its spotted veil, which from a hardy
vanity she had not raised when reading.

Chesney crossed and uncrossed his legs several times. The hand on his
knee clenched, until the great knuckles shone yellow with little reddish
streaks outlining the bones. The eyes of Sophy and Gaynor met. In answer
to her look the valet approached, treading softly.

"Do you not think--considering the long journey--we might give an--an
extra dose, Gaynor?" she whispered.

"Yes, madam. I was thinking that," he whispered back.

Chesney's lids flew open at these whisperings, which seemed to have
reached him even through the dull roar of the great wheels underneath.
His eyes looked hostile and mocking. There was a sort of cold hatred in
them. Sophy shivered.

"Quick, Gaynor," she said; "prepare it quickly."

She went over to her husband.

"Are you suffering, Cecil?" she asked pityingly.

"Like hell," he said.

"I was afraid so. I'm so sorry, dear. Gaynor is going to give you some
medicine at once."

Incredulity, then an almost foolish softness flowed over his face.

"By God, you're an angel!" he stammered. He seized her hand and covered
it with kisses, regardless of the valet's presence. This struck Sophy as
very painful. She flushed, drawing her hand away, and saying again:

"I'm so sorry-- I should have thought of it before. Dr. Hopkins warned
me that the journey might exhaust you."

"And-- I say, Sophy--make it double this time, will you? It will be no
good else. I'm suffering actual pain, as well as from the lack of the
damned stuff. The usual thing won't help me--not the least."

Sophy hesitated. She glanced towards Gaynor. He was holding a spoon
filled with water from a little flask over the flame of a spirit lamp.
He was absorbed in the delicate task and did not see her look. She
glanced back, still doubtful, to her husband. The expression of hatred
had again gathered in his eyes. He closed them, trying to smile. This
smile was like a grimace of pain and anger. Sophy went quickly over to
Gaynor.

"He seems very ill," she murmured. "Might not a little larger dose than
usual be better?"

Gaynor glanced, also, at his master. Then he said:

"Yes, I think in this instance it will be better, madam."

He dissolved a half-grain of morphia, drew it up into the little glass
syringe, and took it over to his master. Chesney had confessed to taking
six grains a day. They had cut this down to half in the past fortnight.
Every four hours now for three days Gaynor had been mixing a quarter of
a grain at each dose. During the coming week this was to be reduced to
an eighth.

Sophy turned aside her head as she saw the man approach Cecil with the
little instrument. She could not shake off the horror with which it
filled her.

She sat and gazed out, unseeing, at the reeling landscape as the train
rushed north--blind to all but the picture that memory painted on the
dim curtain of the present. The train rushed north with the ardour of a
Titan to a tryst. The great engine panted as with passion. Through the
deepening twilight the rolling pasture lands of Durham glowed with a
green that was more a feeling than an actual tint. The guard lighted the
little lamp in the roof of the carriage. At once the twilight hollowed
to a purple gulf through which they sped recklessly.

Now Sophy glanced again at her husband. His head was thrown back against
the cushions, his hands relaxed. There was an expression of supreme
peace on his quiet face. "The peace that passeth all understanding"
flashed through Sophy's mind. She shivered. This peace of Cecil's and
that other divine peace were so cruelly removed one from the other. Yet
this, too, was "past understanding" for all outside the black magic of
its influence. The lamp turned the window-pane near which he sat into a
dusky mirror. In its surface she saw repeated the sinister quiet of his
profile, and through this reflection of his face dimly she saw the
further landscape. Yes, thus it was that she saw the whole world
now--through the medium of her husband's image.

When they got out at Dynehurst Station they found the night chilly with
a promise of rain in the air. Gaynor hastened forward with his master's
overcoat-- Bobby was bundled up in Miller's shawl over his little
pea-jacket.

Sophy looked regretfully up at the sky, strewn thickly with little
shells of cloud. She dreaded a long rainy spell at Dynehurst--the
weeping trees, and flowers, and walls. It was like being enclosed in a
vast, grey-glass globe streaming with water, to be immured in Dynehurst
during a season of rain.

Gerald had sent a waggonette and a brougham to meet them.

"Come with me, Sophy," Cecil said, taking her hand and going toward the
brougham.

Side by side they went rolling swiftly between the darkling hedges,
across broad pasture lands that gave forth a dank, sweet country perfume
of earth and grass. There was a smell of cattle and the breath of cattle
in the moist air. These scents and the being so close beside him in the
brougham made her feel as though she were repeating her first drive to
Dynehurst, taken during her honeymoon. That also had been on a night in
May. But then all had been a wonder and a dream. Now she was horribly
wide awake. There was no wonder--only a sad surmise, half answered by
her own reason already. A long, dim corridor of locked doors seemed
stretching before her. She must force each lock, drag him through the
opened door with her, and lock it fast again behind them. They might
emerge into that "wide place" of which the Psalmist spoke--she could not
know. She could only hope; but hope seemed to have dwindled during that
painful journey.

They entered the Park. The trees rose dark and blurred about them,
deeper shadows on the pale grey shadow of the night. They gave forth a
soft, seething sound in the gentle wind. It was as if they sighed in
their sleep. A scent of dead leaves blew from the coverts--fresh and
bitter. A wholesome autumn smell, mingling oddly with the sound of
summer leafage. They passed the chapel, in which service was held every
Sunday for the family and servants of Dynehurst. There all the Chesneys
were buried. There Cecil would lie some day, and die, and little
Bobby--Bobby grown to be a man, an old man maybe, with children and
grandchildren of his own to follow. She imagined the dank crypt, and the
coffins ranged there. It seemed a horrid way to be buried. She pressed
closer to Cecil. She remembered how she had once wished that he would
die....

Now the severe, dark mass of the house came into sight, pierced by
squares of dusky orange. Against the skyey beach of cloud-shells it
reared like a grim cliff. The front door stood wide. Gerald was waiting
for them. He came forward to assist Cecil.

"Sorry, old man," he said shyly, holding out his hand. "Have a
shoulder?"

"Thanks," said his brother, "but I'm not a cripple, you know."

His tone was good-humoured. He got out first, being nearest the door,
then turned to help Sophy.

"How d'ye do, Sophy?" said Gerald. His face lighted up as he saw her.
"Glad Cecil seems so fit. Thought the journey might knock him up a bit."

They went into the huge, oppressive hall. The skylight that ran from end
to end of its hundred feet looked curiously blind in the glow from lamps
and candles. There was a fire burning in the big fireplace at one end.

"Thought you might get chilly driving up," explained Gerald. He was a
slight, dark man, rather Celtic in appearance. He was like the
great-grandfather, for whom he was named, and who also had been a
scholar and a dreamer.

"Good old chap!" said Chesney, expanding in the bright blaze. "Deuced
thoughtful of you!" He was as fond of artificial warmth as a cat.

"And I had tea served--though it's only an hour to dinner," continued
Gerald. He was much pleased at finding his brother so amiable. He had
thought that illness might make him quite unbearable. It was for Sophy's
sake that he was so glad. He himself merely kept out of the way when
Cecil was outrageous.

The others arrived. Lady Wychcote joined them. Bobby, who was fast
asleep, was taken straight to the nursery. Gaynor waited at the door for
orders.

"Will you go to your room at once, Cecil, or stay with us a little
while?" asked Sophy.

"Think I'll just have a nip of tea first," said Chesney. "Mind you make
it strong--no slops, please."

He turned to Gerald.

"They simply brim me with slops now, old boy."

Why he felt so amicably towards Gerald he could not have said. His elder
brother usually "got on his nerves." He had never been fond of him, even
when they were lads. To-night, though, somehow "good old Gerald" seemed
to appeal to him. He found his lank, dark face and shy eyes rather
touching. Noticing this, Gerald, on his part, had a nervous feeling that
his brother might be going to die, in spite of his apparent strength at
the moment. It was so highly unnatural, this excessive cordiality of
tone and manner.

Sophy, too, was unpleasantly struck by Cecil's manner to Gerald. She
felt sure now that the morphine was accountable for it--that she and
Gaynor had given him too much. She felt scared--and very tired. The
stillness of the country after London and the train was like a louder
roar of occult menace. When she handed him his cup, Chesney gulped the
hot, black tea eagerly. He was at the exact point in the effect of that
half-grain dose when he craved stimulant. He drank this cup, then
another. The heat was grateful to that _fade_ feeling of his stomach,
but what he really thirsted for was the more biting burn of raw spirit.
Suddenly the floor beneath his feet seemed to become transparent and he
could see as though they were actually visible to him the well-stocked
wine-cellars of Dynehurst. There was a special brand of cognac stored
there--an 1820 vintage, smooth, mellow, powerful--a liquid that was like
flame tempered in magic vats. He could taste it, as though a round
mouthful actually stung his palate with its smooth, fiery globule. He
determined to have a draught of it. How? The morphia cunning pointed out
the way. All at once he slipped sideways in his chair, letting the cup
drop from his hand. His head fell back. His lip lifted, showing the dry
teeth. He looked unspeakably ghastly in the huge limpness of his
slackened figure. Sophy and Gaynor ran to him. Gerald also started
forward, but his mother caught his arm.

"Wait!" she said sharply. "They know what to do for him."

"Poor old Cecil! It's awful!" muttered his brother, very pale.

Gaynor put his arms about Cecil, as though trying to lift him. When
Gerald saw this he broke from his mother and ran to help. Between them
they laid Cecil on the floor. He half opened his eyes and moaned. Again
his acting was so good that it deceived himself. He felt as he lay there
that he was really on the verge of swooning--that only brandy would save
him.

"Brandy!" he muttered.

Sophy looked wildly at Gaynor. She was shaking from head to foot.

"I'll get a dose of strychnine ready, madam," he said, turning towards
the tea-table. Chesney's lids fell again.

"Brandy!" It was just a whisper.

"Whatever you're going to do, for God's sake do it quickly!" cried
Gerald to Gaynor. He spoke in a high, shrill voice. He was terribly
excited and alarmed.

"Brandy!" came the faint whisper, almost inaudible.

Gerald sprang up, rushed from the room. As Gaynor was heating water in a
teaspoon to prepare the strychnine, he rushed back again, a bottle of
brandy and a liqueur glass in his hand.

"Here!" he cried. "At least try this while the other's being got ready."

Gaynor's hand shook so that he slopped the water he had already
prepared, and had to begin all over.

"Oh, hurry, Gaynor--hurry!" cried Sophy, in despair. Cecil seemed to
have fainted again.

"Let's try this--do let's try this," urged Gerald, kneeling down by her.

"I'm afraid," she murmured. She was white to the lips. "They say it's so
bad for him."

Gaynor came forward with the hypodermic needle. Sophy held it, shivering
with repulsion, while the valet unfastened his master's sleeve-links and
pushed back his sleeve.

"Good God! What's the matter with his arm?" whispered Gerald hoarsely.
Sophy felt sick to death. Life seemed to her like a sickness--a disease.
She, too, had caught a glimpse of the disfigured flesh.

"Result of the fever, your lordship," said Gaynor in a low voice. He
thrust the needle skilfully home between two less recent punctures.
Gerald drew back as though it had entered his own arm.

"He'll revive now, your lordship," said the valet in the same even
voice. They waited. Cecil lay there motionless, his lip still curled
back over his teeth. After a few moments:

"Brandy!" he breathed again.

"For God's sake, give it to him ... give it to him, Sophy!" Gerald
urged.

Gaynor had his master's wrist in his fingers. "His pulse is slow, madam,
but not bad," he said. Yet there was something of alarm, too, in his
quiet face. They waited a few seconds. Then Chesney's lips again just
formed the word that he seemed no longer able to utter.

"Oh, _try_ the brandy--just try it!" Gerald said again.

Sophy looked at Gaynor. His eyes were on his master's face.

"Gaynor--do you think? Might we?"

"I hardly know what to say, madam."

"Here! I'll give it him-- I'll risk it," said Gerald. He thrust his arm
under his brother's neck, and held the little glass of spirit to his
lips. Chesney drank feebly. Some of the brandy ran from the corner of
his mouth.

"Here! fill it again!" said Gerald imperiously to Gaynor. Like all
superficially timid people, he was overbold once his timidity was
conquered.

The valet looked at Sophy before obeying. She did not see this look. She
was staring at Cecil's face. The thought had come to her: "Is it all
_real_? Is he _really_ as ill as he seems?"

Gaynor had no course but to obey Lord Wychcote. He merely said very low
as he poured out the brandy:

"The doctor says it's very bad for him, your lordship."

But Gerald was past heeding such warnings. His usually rough, almost
brutal, brother had spoken to him with peculiar kindness only a few
moments ago. Now he lay there looking as though death had seized him.
Gerald had felt that presentiment of his death. He could not stand
inertly by, while others trifled with the red-tape of doctors' orders.
He gave Cecil the second glass of brandy. Every drop was swallowed this
time. The delicious fire burned its pleasant path to the very pit of the
craving stomach. Cecil felt that he really loved his brother. He lifted
his languid lids and gave him a look of grateful affection.

Lady Wychcote still stood by the tea-table, her handkerchief against her
lips. She had not moved a muscle during this scene.

Of all those present, she was the only one who, from first to last, had
felt sure that the attack was simulated. She was torn between
humiliation that a son of hers should condescend to such mummery, and an
odd, unwilling admiration for the skill with which it was done.

"He always had the will of demons," she told herself now. "I must put
Bellamy on his guard." It was perhaps natural that, with her ignorance
in regard to the habit of morphia, she should find this deadly
determination to procure spirits far more alarming. Her youngest
brother, a brilliant man, had drunk himself to death at forty-one.

Yes, she must speak to Bellamy. They must have a professional nurse for
Cecil.

She went to bed, feeling full her age that night.



XXI


The next day the rain was coming down in swirls. A strong wind drove it.
It beat against the window-pane like little fingers drumming with sharp
nails. Down the chimneys it beat, spattering into the fires which were
kindled everywhere. The Park was a grey-green clustered shadow. The
lawns looked soggy like moss. The huge house was gloomy as a decorated
cave. The furniture and stair-rail sweated with moisture.

Chesney kept his bed, as always in the morning. He had waked with a dull
headache from the unaccustomed dose of brandy on an empty stomach.
Waking too early, in the iron-grey, streaming dawn, he had lain there
between the sheets that felt so clammy to his nervous skin which again
craved morphia--unable to get it until Gaynor should have left the
room--racked mentally, also, by a nauseating shame for the part that he
had played last evening. In this interval between dose and dose, worse
than the physical _malaise_ which amounted to torment, was the sense of
his own vileness. Now he hated Gerald for running to fetch the brandy.
For the same thing which he had loved him for last night, he hated him
this morning. Fool! If he hadn't been so damnably officious, perhaps
they might not have given him the brandy. Yes, he wished heartily now
that his will had been denied him by force. Besides, he would have to
see Bellamy sometime this morning, and he was all to bits--he could
_feel_ that his face looked unnatural, deathly. And at the same time the
craving for stimulant came over him again. He asked for a cup of black
coffee. "Make it yourself," he said to Gaynor. "In that French machine
of mine. I don't want the filth an English cook calls coffee."

While Gaynor was thus engaged he managed to crawl from bed and take a
quarter grain of morphia in addition to the other quarter that Gaynor
had just given him. He found a place for the needle on his thigh far up
near the hip-bone. It was too near the head of the sciatic nerve, and
hurt him unusually. He almost broke the needle in his flesh, from
irritation and the awkwardness of using the syringe so high up on his
leg. He had no time to put the wire through the needle or to clean it
properly before the man came back with the coffee.

"Damned nuisance," he thought. "Some day I shall be giving myself an
abscess." But the extra dose and the coffee together braced and calmed
him. He looked tolerably normal after he had had a tub and Gaynor had
shaved him.

"I'll put on a dressing-gown and sit in that armchair with a rug over
me," he said. One felt such a helpless carcass in bed when those brutes
of quacks came peering and asking their impudent questions.

Sophy felt encouraged when she saw him thus established in the big
chair. She had passed a wretched night. Her doubt of him--of the
genuineness of his attack--had seemed so shameful to her--yet she could
not help doubting. And if her doubt were justified--what abysms opened
before her--before them both! What salvation could there be for one so
deliberately, cunningly false?

"You look so much better," she said. "Perhaps this is the best thing for
you, really--the country--the perfect quiet of it."

"The brandy is what did this bit of improvement," he replied calmly. He
must brave it out. Besides, there was that only half-stilled craving
deep underneath the caution of his present mood. He added reasonably:
"You can't cut a chap off from a thing that he's as used to as I am to
spirit of some sort without making him suffer rather severely."

"It's only that the doctor said it was so bad for you, Cecil."

"Pf! That ass Hopkins! Now Bellamy has to bray his little bray. We'll
see what _he_ says."

Giles Bellamy came at ten o'clock He was a good-looking man of about
forty, with short-sighted, intelligent brown eyes that were rather too
large for a man, and a pale, clever face set in a Vandyke beard. This
beard and his large eyes, that looked almost womanishly soft at times,
had gained him the nickname of O. P. from Cecil (the initials of the
term "Old Portrait"). Sometimes he called him thus; sometimes, when in
an especially ironical mood, by the full title. He had known the
physician from boyhood.

"_Wie gehts_, Old Portrait?" he greeted him this morning from the
vantage of the easy chair. "The tender passion still unroused? When are
we to have some little new portraits for your family picture gallery?"

Bellamy took these pleasantries urbanely, though he was aware of a
certain savagery underneath them. He understood Chesney's character
fairly well, and felt rather sorry for him in his present predicament.
It was rather like seeing a trapped lion. Even though the lion had been
indulging in man-eating, he still felt compassion for the great, baffled
brute-force. His confirmed bachelorhood had always been the subject of
more or less caustic jesting on Chesney's part. In an evil mood, he
seemed to enjoy nothing better than baiting his brother and Bellamy,
turn and turn about.

Bellamy was a Baliol man and so was Gerald. Cecil used to say that
Baliol bred what Byron called "excellent persons of the third-sex." He
used to harangue the two celibates rather brilliantly on the subject of
sex in mind--quoting Mommson and other authorities to prove that "genius
is in proportion to passion."

But Bellamy was an able man in his way. He had studied medicine in
Edinburgh and Vienna. He was far better posted than his London confrère,
Hopkins, on the vagaries of the morphia habit. Besides, Lady Wychcote
had had a talk with him in her private sitting-room before sending him
upstairs. Now as he sat, parrying Cecil's rather ill-tempered thrusts
with imperturbable good-humour, he was watching him narrowly out of his
large, vague looking eyes, though he seemed casual enough. He saw
clearly that Cecil was getting more morphia than Gaynor's record showed.
He had decided, before talking to him for twenty minutes, that a trained
nurse was indispensable--one, moreover, who had been on such cases
before, and had nerve and character. Hopkins had not engaged a nurse
because the only one of whom he knew, perfectly suited for the purpose,
had still ten days on a similar case before she would be free. In his
pocket Bellamy had the address of this nurse--Anne Harding--Hopkins had
sent it to him the day before. She would be free to accept another
engagement on the twelfth--that was to-morrow.

He determined, with Mrs. Chesney's and Lady Wychcote's approval, to wire
her that afternoon.

However, Bellamy made a serious mistake in not speaking openly to
Chesney about his intention of sending for the nurse. Sophy had to break
this news to him, and he received it with a burst of appalling fury
against the doctor.

"Damned little sneak!" he cried, his face convulsed. "Why the devil
didn't he say so to _me_?" His language became so outrageous that Sophy
rose, saying:

"I must leave you, if you talk like this."

Something in her white face--a sort of smothered loathing--checked him.

"See here," he said, mastering himself by a violent effort--a vein in
the middle of his forehead stood out dark and purplish; "now just try to
take this in, all of you--my well-wishers. To do anything with me
whatever, you've got to be straight with me, by God! I'll not have
sneaking, and confabulations in dark corners. And make that little
eunuch Bellamy understand it, or I'll pitch him out of window, neck and
crop, the next time he sets foot in this house!"

Sophy felt that he was to a certain extent justified in his anger. She
promised for Bellamy that he would say things directly to Cecil himself
in future.

Then she went away to the nursery for solace, sick at heart, sick at
brain, sick in spirit.

To her amazement she found Lady Wychcote there, seated in a chair before
the fire with Bobby on her knee. He was babbling excitedly, and his
grandmother was smiling at him with that appraising look in her eyes
which Sophy so resented. The boy tried to snap his soft, curled fingers
at his mother as soon as he caught sight of her, in his eagerness to
have her come near.

"Muvvah!" he cried. "Oh, _Muvvah_! Ganny div Bobby gee-gee!"

"Yes. I'm going to give him a Shelty," said Lady Wychcote. "It's high
time the boy learned how to ride."

"It's very good of you," said Sophy, pleased for the child's delight.
"But he's only two, you know."

"Quite old enough," Lady Wychcote said firmly. "I wonder you never
thought of it yourself."

"We couldn't have afforded it in town," Sophy said with some stiffness.
Her mother-in-law's tone was supercilious.

"Pf!" said Lady Wychcote. "You know Gerald has a _faible_ for you. You'd
only to hint it."

Sophy reddened.

"I don't hint for things," she said still more stiffly.

"Well, well! Don't let's tiff over it," Lady Wychcote retorted loftily.
"We're not congenial, but I've taken a fancy to my grandson. Let that
mollify you."

Sophy gazed out at the bleared landscape, that looked wavy like a bad
print thus seen through the streaming window-pane. She realised in that
moment that unhappiness filled her to the least crevice of her being.
She needed kindness so bitterly, and here as her only companion was this
frigid, acrid woman who disliked her for having married Cecil, and
grudged her Gerald's friendship. Then she glanced back at the familiar
group before the fire. Bobby was leaning forward against the beautifully
corseted figure of his grandparent, eagerly demanding to know more about
his "gee-gee."

A terror seized Sophy--a sort of blind fear. Was this the beginning of a
new misery? Would Lady Wychcote try to get her son from her? Was she
laying plans behind that smooth, narrow brow? Insidiously, little by
little, as the dreary years crept by, would she try to wean Bobby from
her, influence him against her? Did she lust for him to make of him what
she had failed to make of Cecil and Gerald? She felt as if she must
snatch Bobby from that well-preserved breast, and run to hide with him
in the nethermost parts of the earth. It was a feeling stronger than
reason, one of those presentiments which seized her sometimes--which so
often came true. A powerful, eerie feeling of _knowing_ without being
able to say why--like the knowledge that had come to her when she told
Olive Arundel that she would meet Amaldi in a room with three windows.
Then she shook the feeling off. The very instance that she had recalled
calmed her. There had been three windows, true. But evidently Amaldi
was to play no important part in her life. She might not see him for
years, if ever. Olive had told her that he was returning to Italy in
July.

Miller came to give Bobby his luncheon and the two ladies left the
nursery together. As they passed through the baize door that shut the
corridor leading to the nursery from the rest of the house, Lady
Wychcote said, "Come to my room a moment, please. I've something to show
you that may interest you."

She unlocked a little ivory box on her dressing-table and took out a
miniature, framed as a locket. "My father, when he was a child," she
said briefly. "Do you see the likeness?"

Sophy gazed down at the miniature, and the dark fear stole over her
again. It was certainly strangely like her Bobby. The same dark-red
curls, and imperious little cleft chin. The eyes in the miniature were
brown, Bobby's were grey--that was the most noticeable difference.

"Yes--it's very like Bobby," she said with an effort.

"My father was Chancellor of the Exchequer at seven-and-thirty," said
Lady Wychcote. "You see now the chief reason of my interest in my
grandson."

Sophy saw indeed. Then she gathered up her courage.

"But it's a pity, I think, to count on the tendencies of such a mite,"
she said. "He may not show the least inclination for politics."

"That," said Lady Wychcote rather grimly, "is a matter of education."

Sophy looked into the hard eyes.

"I think not," she said, but her tone was gentle.

"Allow me--as one having more experience--to disagree with you," replied
her mother-in-law.

Sophy still looked at her.

"You forget one thing," she said finally, "the fact that he probably
inherits something of my nature. I have to a hopeless degree what is
called the artistic temperament."

Locking away the miniature again, Lady Wychcote permitted herself a
_sourire fin_. "It would not have annoyed you had you been _my_
daughter," was what she said.

It was useless to bicker with her. Sophy merely changed the subject by
giving her an account of Cecil's indignation over Bellamy's lack of
directness with him. Lady Wychcote, who could be reasonable enough when
she wished, agreed to speak with Bellamy herself on the subject.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next day, by the first morning train, Anne Harding arrived at
Dynehurst. She was a small, slight but wiry woman of about thirty-five,
and her curly black hair was still short, having been cropped some
months previous during an attack of typhoid. This short, curling hair
and a smile of singular ingenuousness, gave her an almost childlike air
at times. Sophy, as she took in the nurse's appearance, wondered where
in that small body lurked the courage and determination necessary for
such a profession. She wondered how Nurse Harding would strike Cecil.
Would he take one of his rough-and-ready fancies to her, or detest her
from the first. She talked plainly and quietly to her. When she had
finished, she said:

"How do you think it will be best for you to meet Mr. Chesney, Nurse?
Shall I tell him that you are here first? Shall I go in with you?"

Anne Harding consulted the little watch in its leather bracelet on her
thin, sinewy dark wrist. She had black eyes full of fire and subdued
laughter. Sophy realised suddenly that she looked something like the
pictures of Hall Caine as a young man--and incidentally that she also
resembled a very alert, large-eyed insect of some sort. This made her
smile. Anne Harding, catching the glimmer of this smile as she looked up
from her watch, thought:

"What a perfectly lovely woman! Of course a woman like this had to go
and marry a morphinomaniac."

Then she asked practically, before herself answering Sophy's question:

"How does Mr. Chesney take his nourishment? Every two hours?"

"Oh, no," said Sophy, astonished. "He has meals when we do--all except
breakfast. Why? Should he eat every two hours?"

"It depends, of course, on the doctor's orders," said Anne cautiously.
"But has he an appetite? The drug kills the appetite as a rule."

"Well--I don't think he does eat much."

"You see," explained the nurse, "I was thinking that I might take his
tray in--as soon as I'd changed to my uniform and cap. A simple way like
that would be the best."

Sophy rose.

"Oh, I forgot----" she said.

"It won't take me fifteen minutes," said Anne cheerfully. "That's my box
now, I fancy."

The small black box was brought in, and Sophy left her to change her
dress.

Bellamy was due in half an hour now. She went to report her impression
of the nurse to Lady Wychcote, who had asked her to do so. She was still
in her bedroom being made up for the day by her French maid. Louise was
dismissed and Sophy sketched a little picture of the nurse for her
mother-in-law. Lady Wychcote was dissatisfied that Anne Harding was so
small.

"However," she said on second thoughts, "those eft-like creatures have
the sharpest brains sometimes. Perhaps it's just as well."

Sophy, looking at her "morning face," realised that she was using less
rouge than usual, though she always used it with discretion. To-day she
was almost pale. This harmonising of her complexion with the
circumstance struck Sophy as drearily droll.

A servant knocked at the door to say that Dr. Bellamy had come. They
sent word to Nurse Harding, and went down together.

It was still raining.



XXII


After Anne Harding had been twenty-four hours on the case, she came to
Sophy, who was writing letters in the library. Just to address the
envelope to Charlotte, which she did beforehand, comforted her. How real
and home-like looked the familiar names! There was her house of refuge
when--if ever--she could escape. But she told nothing of her husband's
condition to Charlotte.

"Can we go where it's quite private, Mrs. Chesney?" said Anne Harding.
"I've some things I must talk to you about."

Sophy took the nurse up to her bedroom and locked the door.

"What is it?" she asked, fixing her dilated eyes on the shrewd black
ones.

"Please don't look so frightened," said Anne kindly. "It's just the
usual worries in a case like this. I've talked with Dr. Bellamy already;
but I must have your help."

"Go on, please," said Sophy.

Anne took up the poker, and began breaking the big lump of coal in the
grate as she said this. Little spirals of greenish-yellow smoke escaped
from the cracks made by the poker, then jetted into flame. She was so
sorry for this beautiful, scared woman, that she looked doggedly at the
lump of coal all the time that she was speaking.

"It's just that Mr. Chesney is getting extra morphia--I mean taking it
himself--lots of it----" she began bluntly.

"Oh!" cried Sophy. It was a sort of gasp. Then she said hurriedly: "But
it's impossible, nurse. How can he get it? Gaynor, his valet, and I had
all there is. Now we've turned it over to you--with both the syringes."

"He's getting it, ma'am," said Anne firmly. "And he's taking it
hypodermically, too."

"Oh, don't you think you are mistaken?"

"No, Mrs. Chesney. I couldn't be."

"But--but---- Have you----"

She could not bring it out. She could not ask this little stranger woman
whether she had searched Cecil's things for the stuff--for another
syringe.

"Yes, I've hunted--thoroughly--through everything," Anne said quite as a
matter of course, guessing what she had meant to ask. "He sleeps so
heavily, when he does sleep--from the accumulated effects, you
know--that I've even been able to feel between the mattresses. I've
searched the edges for a rip where he might have stuffed it inside. I've
looked through everything--but his letter-box."

She shattered the lump of coal quite as she said this.

"That's why I've come to you. He's in one of those heavy sleeps. I've
got the letter-box and the key in my room. I want you to open it and
look for me. I didn't quite like to do that."

Sophy gulped shame. Its tang was bitterer than wormwood. Then she felt a
sudden anger against this cool, white-capped little creature who
summoned her suddenly to violate her husband's private property.

"No. I can't do that, Nurse," she said coldly. "Not on an uncertainty."

"But it's quite certain," said Anne Harding patiently. "Wait-- I'll
prove it to you."

She turned at last and looked at Sophy.

"In order to be quite sure," she said--"you know, ma'am, Dr. Bellamy had
told me _he_ felt pretty sure that Mr. Chesney was getting more than the
chart showed. Well, to be _quite_ sure, I substituted salt and water for
_four_ out of the six doses I've given in twenty-four hours. Now you
see, ma'am, to cut a patient down suddenly in the doses like that would
make him suffer something awful if he was really not getting more
himself."

Sophy sat gazing at her.

"How would it make him suffer?" she said at last. Her voice was almost a
whisper.

"Oh, nerves--terrible--we've no way of imagining what they go through
when the drug's taken away sudden. I nursed a case once where the doctor
had that method. But I'd never do it again, ma'am. The patient twisted
the bars at the foot of the bed in his agony like they had been paper.
It was a brass bed. No, ma'am. I'd never be party to a thing like that
again."

Sophy felt as if she were ill herself.

"Don't!" she said. She put up her hand over her face, as she leaned sick
and weak in her chair. "Don't tell me things like that--please."

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Chesney," said the nurse in her kind, blunt way. "But
you see I had to prove my point to you. It's a most important one. That
box _must_ be searched, ma'am. And you see I don't like to go into Mr.
Chesney's private papers. Now you, as his wife, can do it without its
being any harm. Wait a minute, though--are you sure of this man,
Gaynor?"

"Absolutely."

"It's very hard to be sure of people in a morphia case, Mrs. Chesney.
Sometimes just pity makes 'em give the drug to the patient."

"I am quite sure of Gaynor. I'll tell you why," Sophy added, feeling
that it was due the nurse to do so. And she told her of the part that
Gaynor had played in the tragic story.

"Well, I should say _he's_ safe then," admitted Anne, when Sophy had
finished. "And now that I feel sure of that, won't you let me bring you
that box, Mrs. Chesney? You want to save Mr. Chesney, and that's the
only way to do it--to help me and the doctor," she added shrewdly.

Sophy could scarcely have grown paler than she was.

"Go ... bring it...." she said in a faint voice.

Anne brought the red morocco box, with C. G. C. stamped on it in worn
gold letters, and handed it with the key to Sophy.

As the nurse set the box upon her knees, Sophy looked so ghastly that
Anne exclaimed:

"Oh, pray, _pray_, Mrs. Chesney, don't take it so hard! It's for his
good we're doing it--to save him."

"Yes," said Sophy.

With a firm gesture she thrust the key suddenly into the small
spring-lock and turned it. As she felt the lid rise beneath her
hand, it seemed to her as though she had by this act shared his
degradation--drawn part of it into her own blood. With her slender,
nobly shaped hands she began to search among the letters and
documents.--Nothing. The colour began to rise again into her white face.
Eagerly she turned the contents out upon her lap. Nothing. Nothing.

"You see!" she cried, her tone was almost joyous. "There's nothing of
the kind--you were mistaken! There's nothing--nothing!"

Anne frowned. Then she said soberly:

"Well, I've _got_ to find it--somehow. It's wonderful their cleverness
at hiding the stuff."

"But, Nurse Harding," said Sophy reproachfully, that vivid colour still
in her face, "a hypodermic syringe-case isn't a thing that can be hidden
away easily. You've told me that you've looked everywhere. Isn't it
rather cruel to be suspicious to this extent?"

"Mrs. Chesney," said Anne Harding, her black eyes like little gems with
hard, cruelly-kind astuteness. "If the angel Gabriel was given me for a
morphia patient, _I'd pluck his wings_--for fear he'd hide the nasty
stuff among the feathers!"

She was a character, was Anne Harding, so utterly unlike any English
nurse that Sophy had ever seen before, that she wondered whether indeed
she could really be English. Anne was very quick at following the
probabilities of thought-sequence, for she smiled suddenly her childish
smile, that contrasted so oddly with the almost elf-like shrewdness of
her eyes, and said:

"Pray forgive my speaking that way. I come from the Bush, you know. I'm
an Australian. We've a blunt sort of way of speaking out there."

Chesney was quite amiable with the little nurse. He knew of course that
she suspected him, but the very fact that he had so entirely outwitted
her made him feel a sort of grim pleasure in her presence.

"She's a good little rat," he said to Sophy. "Not over-burdened with
brains, though."

And he smiled his secretive smile.

"Give me just one week longer, Doctor Bellamy, and I'll find it-- I'll
find it or give up nursing!" Anne Harding pleaded. But Bellamy
determined to speak with frankness to Chesney himself. He went to his
room that day and said without preliminary ado:

"Chesney, for your own sake I'm going to take the liberty of being
brutally frank. What I think you're doing is only a regular symptom of
your ailment. Here goes, then: Haven't you another hypodermic and
morphia in your possession?"

Chesney eyed him cruelly.

"It's a queer profession--yours," he said. "It gives a little chap like
you courage to insult a big man--just because he happens to be ill and
therefore weak, for the moment."

Bellamy looked at him without changing countenance.

"I was afraid you'd take it this way-- I wish you wouldn't. The very way
you're acting now is a symptom."

"You don't seem able to remove these symptoms," said Chesney, with his
slight, mocking grin.

"I can't--unless you help me. It's in your own hands, you know. You've
always reminded me of a lion, Chesney. Now you make me think of a lion
that gnaws off its own paw to get out of a trap."

"On the contrary," said Cecil, laughing that silent laugh of his, "I'm
in fine fighting trim, I assure you. Wait--here's a bit of verse on the
subject:

  "'The lion and the eunuch were fighting for a prize,
  The lion beat the eunuch, for all he was so wise.'"

Bellamy looked at him with undiminished composure.

"Ah, Chesney--you're in a bad way," he said regretfully.

"What the hell do you mean by that?" demanded Cecil, flaring up.

"You try to insult the man who's trying to help you," replied Bellamy.
"But an ill man can't insult a physician. Good-morning."

And he went away.

Three days passed. Chesney was very reasonable for him. Drank the
"slops" that were served him without demur--went for drives when the
weather permitted. The days were murky with ravelled cloud held up in a
network of pale sunshine. Nearly every afternoon and in the night fine
showers came hissing on the leaves and over the roof of Dynehurst. He
read a great deal. He had given up his heavy political reading, and
begun a course of Wilkie Collins.

"It's odd how illness makes a chap take to trash in literature," he said
to Sophy, whose eyes he saw wondering over the title of the book he had
put down when she came in. "It's as if the mind got weak, too, and
needed slops like the body."

But this odd deterioration in taste was due to the morphia, which at
times gave such a deliciously false sense of interest in the most
trivial things. Deep, serious thinking was impossible under its
disintegrating glamour. It gave rather gay, fleeting fantasies--a sense
of delicate mental power as though thought were a sort of glittering
toy, to amuse oneself with. After Wilkie Collins he took up the French
detective novels--then shifted to "Ouida." These works filled him with
glee. "Crewel-work Ruskin," he called them. "But damned amusing for all
that. She dips her coat-of-many-colours in her brother's blood every now
and then. She might have been great," he declared, "if she hadn't had
hæmorrhages of the imagination. That made her mind anæmic--but she could
spin darned good yarns, by Jove!"

He was much amused by his mother's sudden interest in Bobby.

"The Mater's vaulting ambition has gone clean over my head and landed on
Bobkins," he told Sophy, chuckling. "I bet she'll live to
ninety-and-nine, just for the pleasure of speaking of 'my grandson, the
Prime Minister.'"

He took to calling Bobby "Little William Pitt."

"Come here, little William Pitt; you're going to be It, as they say in
the States," he would say when the child was brought in to see him. "I
hope you'll approve of me for a father when you're in office."

This strange name by which his father called him confused the child and
displeased him. He felt that he was being made fun of. Children and dogs
dislike the people who laugh at them. He hated to go into his father's
room, and resisted so strenuously that Sophy took him there less and
less.

As the days went by, and still Anne Harding had not found any morphia or
hypodermic syringe in Cecil's possession, Sophy began to grow more
hopeful. Cecil was certainly far quieter than he had been for some time.
She began again to think that Bellamy and the nurse must surely be
mistaken.

On the afternoon of the fourth day she called Anne into her room, and
spoke to her about it.

"Don't you think you must be mistaken, this time, Nurse?" she asked
eagerly.

Anne Harding shook her stubborn, wise little head.

"No, Mrs. Chesney," she said.

"But where _could_ it be? Mr. Chesney is never long enough anywhere but
in his own room to have it hidden about the house."

"It isn't hidden about the house," said Anne. "It's hidden in his own
room. _I know it_--as if I'd seen it through the wall, or floor, or
wherever it is," she added firmly, seeing Sophy's look of doubt. But
this doubt could not withstand such authoritative conviction. Sophy
sighed wearily.

"I suppose you must be right," she said; "but it seems impossible."

She sat looking out of window at the waving mantle of rain which was
again blown grey and wild over the swelling breasts of pasture land.
Then she turned vehemently.

"Think of it!" she exclaimed. "The beauty of a field of poppies! The
passionate loveliness of all those scarlet cups full of sunlight. And
all the while their hearts are bitter with this evil--this horrible
poison! Oh, why don't men wipe them from the earth!"

Anne looked at her with that wise kindliness. "You forget all the good
that opium does," she said brusquely tender, after her fashion. "It's
like so many other things--this fire on your hearth for instance. A
good servant but a bad master."

Just after this conversation Sophy went to read aloud to Cecil at his
request. This also was a new phase. He could never endure reading aloud
in former days. Now he would lie, dozing off now and then, evidently
soothed agreeably by the sound of her low, rich voice.

The weather had turned raw and chilly again with the renewed rain. Sophy
shivered suddenly as she sat reading. Anne Harding, who was tidying a
little medicine chest on a table near by, noticed this.

"Can't I fetch you a shawl, Mrs. Chesney?" she asked, looking up with
her alert black eyes.

"Thanks; but wouldn't you like a fire lit, Cecil?" Sophy asked. "You're
so fond of a fire in your bedroom. I can't think why Gaynor hasn't seen
to it."

"I don't care for a fire," said Chesney curtly. "Being in bed is stuffy
work as it is."

He lay nearly always in bed now.

"But, Cecil, you're so used to it. I'm afraid being in a damp room like
this may give you cold. It isn't as if you were accustomed to doing
without fire. Please let Nurse----"

"Don't nag!" he said, quite roughly this time. "I can look after my own
wants. I'm not quite incompetent yet."

Sophy glanced at the nurse, still anxious. She thought Anne Harding's
eyes had a rather queer expression--startled.

"Don't you agree with me, Nurse?" she asked.

Anne lowered her eyes and busied herself again with the little chest.

"I don't think it matters," she said, "if Mr. Chesney really prefers it
this way."

"Do get on with your reading, Sophy," broke in Cecil impatiently.

Sophy took up the book again, and Anne Harding went to Tilda for a
scarf, which she returned with and put over Sophy's shoulders.

As she left the room, finally this time, she glanced keenly at the empty
fireplace. She thought she had a clue.



XXIII


That night, about one o'clock, as Chesney lay heavily asleep under the
influence of two grains of morphia (he only dared to take these large
doses when night was coming on), the little nurse, Brownie-like and
cat-foot in her grey flannel wrapper and felt shoes, stole into the
room. Gaynor slept in his master's dressing-room on a cot. Anne had been
given a room just opposite. The night-light burned behind a screen as in
London, and over the ceiling spread huge, grotesque shadows from chairs
and tables--shadows that were a horror to Chesney, in the gruesome
intervals between dose and dose. They seemed solid then, those
shadows--informed with a weird life. They hung bat-like from his
ceiling, waiting to drop down on him. Morphia gives the sick,
unreasoning fear that comes only in dreams--the kind of fear that will
seize one in such dreams--at the sight of a grey, spotted leaf shaken by
a wind--or the slow opening of a door upon a void.

The little figure stood motionless a moment, listening towards the bed.
Then it stole over, bending close to the sleeping man. With skilful
light fingers Anne lifted one of the sleeper's heavy hands, then let it
drop again upon the bedclothes. Chesney did not stir--his breathing did
not change.

With a brisk movement of satisfaction, the nurse now drew a black,
oblong object from the pocket of her dressing-gown, and going swiftly
over to the fireplace, put the fender noiselessly aside, and knelt down
on the hearth. She was sure, quite sure now, as sure as one could be of
anything theoretically divined, that the hypodermic syringe and morphia
were concealed somewhere in that chimney-place. She had looked there
before, but not in the exhaustive way that she meant to look now. She
had even felt along the shelf of the chimney-throat with her hands, but
there had been nothing. Now, inch by inch, like a little Miss Sherlock
Holmes, she meant to examine that cold, sooty cavity. The black tube in
her hand was a small electric pocket-light, such as had just come in
about that time. When she had looked before, she had used her bedroom
candle. Now she meant to turn that bright, electric gleam on every inch
of the brickwork and metal. Slowly she drew the pencil of light from
side to side, lying flat, and beginning her search under the bars of the
grate; then, crouching, she directed the ray higher, towards the bend of
the chimney-throat, feeling, tapping, with her free hand as she did so.
A fire had evidently been made there recently, probably on the day of
Chesney's arrival; for, though the grate had been freshly polished only
that morning and the housemaid's broom had swept the back of the
chimney, yet a slight fluff of soot clung to it higher up. Anne touched
this soot, pressing down her fingers firmly, delicately, feeling for
some crevice, some loose bit of brick or iron. All was firm and cold.
She sat back on her heels, disappointed. She looked--crouching there in
her grey wrapper, with the short, black curls framing her thin, baffled
little face--like some determined child who had decided to watch and
surprise Santa Claus in his descent from the roof--and who had watched
in vain. Then suddenly she knelt up again. Something had caught her
clever eyes. She noticed--and at this, the well-regulated little
timepiece of her heart began to tick hurriedly--yes, she had noticed
that in one corner of the chimney-throat there was a broad, smooth place
where the soot was quite worn away. The dark-red fire-brick showed
plainly through. Anne passed the bright glow of light across this smooth
patch very slowly. No; the bricks were not loose here. She held the
light closer, gazing with eyes narrowed to the utmost intensity of
vision. There was a little spot, or excrescence, on the brick near the
seam of the corner. She had felt it with her finger-tips as she drew
them lightly back and forth. She had thought this roughness merely a
defect in one of the bricks. Now she touched it again--scraped it with
her nail. Her nail made no sound against it. Then she pressed upon it.
The nail sank in. It was perhaps a bit of putty left by the work-men.
But then putty isn't used for building fireplaces; besides, the fire
would have melted it long ago----

She began to feel all around it. Suddenly something in the angle, in the
seam where the chimney-throat squared, caught her eye. It looked like a
bit of black wire. She picked at it with her nail, and it yielded--like
the string of a tightly strung guitar. All at once it flashed over the
little detective. That rough lump was wax; it fixed the end of this
black string in place. The string was taut, because it was held
so--held by a weight at the other end probably. Anne did not know
anything about the construction of chimney-throats--had she done so, the
solution would have come to her sooner. But she guessed now that there
must be a hollow behind the brickwork that faced her. She slid her hand
up and forward. Yes, there was an empty space behind--the usual
air-chamber in all well-built chimneys of which she had not known. Ah,
now she had it! Carefully, very daintily, little by little, she began to
pull up the fine black silk cord which, as she had guessed, passed from
where its end was fixed in place by that lump of wax or putty down the
back of the chimney-throat. It answered readily. She felt the weight on
its other end scraping against the wall as she drew it up. In another
moment she had it in her hand--a little parcel, wrapped in oiled paper.
As she broke open the paper and looked down at the object in her hand,
her face was a study of elfish triumph and unwilling admiration.

"What couldn't they do to the world, if they were as hideously clever at
everything else as they are at hiding this stuff!" thought Anne Harding,
referring to the tribe of morphinomaniacs as known to her experience.

She set the fender back, and getting stiffly to her feet, cramped by
nearly an hour's crouching, returned to her own room and locked the
just-found hypodermic case safely away in the bottom of her
travelling-box.

       *       *       *       *       *

By five o'clock next morning Anne was fully dressed, capped, and
aproned. She made herself a cup of strong black tea over her little
spirit lamp, nibbled two biscuits, and, glancing at her bracelet-watch,
went out with her light, quick step. She passed Chesney's door and
entered the dressing-room. Gaynor, who slept as lightly as a cat,
started wide awake when the nurse entered. He drew the bedclothes to his
chin, feeling with his other hand for his dressing-gown which lay on a
chair near by. He could never get used to the unceremonious entrances of
this little stranger woman into his bedroom. She came to him, her finger
against her lips, bent down, and whispered:

"I've found the morphia and the syringe Mr. Chesney has been hiding,
Gaynor. I'm going to tell him of it myself. He'll be rousing about now.
No matter what you hear, don't get frightened. I'm going to lock his
door inside and put the key in my pocket. Don't try to interfere--will
you? Don't come to the door or answer, even if he calls you?"

Gaynor had flushed deeply on hearing of his master's detected falsehood.
Now he turned pale. "Ain't you afraid, Miss?" he asked. He was always
punctiliously civil to the nurse. He felt that it would not be
respectful for one in his position to call her "Nurse"--the little woman
who was trying to save his master. He had a sense of gratitude and of
fitness rare, not only in a servant.

"No!" Anne whispered vigorously. "No; I'm not a bit afraid. I've had
much worse cases than this. I'll manage him."

"He's a gentleman with a very high spirit, Miss."

"I'm not afraid of his high spirit. Maybe it won't be so high when I'm
through with him. I'm an Australian, you know, Gaynor. I don't think
Australians are as afraid of their menfolk as Englishwomen. You must
keep quiet till I'm through. That's all."

She turned and went out, passing through the connecting door into
Chesney's bedroom. She locked the door as she had said, pocketing the
key. Shrewdly she glanced at the still sleeping man. He had been asleep
for ten hours now. She knew that at the stage of morphinomania that he
had reached the effect of a dose lasted only about four hours when the
victim of the habit was awake, though the heavy, drugged sleep resulting
from it might drag on for some hours after. The least sound or touch was
sufficient to rouse him now. After lighting the coffee machine, she
decided to open the shutters. The cold, raw daylight would have a
wholesomely chilling effect, should he show a tendency to become
violent. Braver than many soldiers, the little nurse went from one
window to the other of the large bedroom, throwing wide the shutters and
fastening them back. A gale was whipping the great boughs of the trees,
the rain blew in upon her, spotting the bosom of her dress and her fresh
apron-bib and cap. It was like a bleak September day, and it seemed
strange to see green leaves instead of yellow ones flying through the
air.

"And this is June. What a beastly climate!" thought the little
Australian.

Then she turned, drying her face and hands with her handkerchief. As she
expected, Chesney was watching her from his pillow. His face, grey with
morphia and glistening like wet clay with the odious sweat that follows
on an exhausted dose, looked more deathly than a corpse's clear, waxen
mask.

"What o'clock is it?" he asked, speaking thickly with his pasty tongue
and dried lips.

"Ten after five," said Anne Harding briskly. "You'll be wanting a cup of
coffee, I fancy, sir."

"Isn't it time for ... for the ... er ... usual ... thing, yet?" He
could never bring himself, in these moments of weakness and horrible,
faint desire, to name the drug plainly.

"Your allowance of morphia?"

Anne did not mean to spare him. She glanced down at her bracelet. How
Chesney hated that tyrannical watch on the nurse's thin wrist! It seemed
like some horrible wen, or tumour, to him. Until she had fussed over him
and gone he could not get the stuff out of the chimney-place--the stuff
which was now simply and literally life to him.

"Not due for twenty minutes yet, sir," she said cheerfully, glancing up
again. "But I'll just bathe your face and hands and bring you the
coffee. It'll be ready by then. I'll tidy you a bit, sir, then fetch
it."

There was nothing for it but submission. Sometimes, on these occasions,
Chesney ran over in his mind horrid ways in which he would "pay back"
this little woman for the misery she made him endure in such moments,
should he ever get her wholly in his power.

She "tidied" him deftly, plumped up his pillows as he liked them, and
fetched the coffee. When he had drunk it (black and strong Anne made it,
and let him have it without insisting on cream or sugar--she had her
compassions for these poor, mad-willed beings), she lifted the tray from
the bed, and, glancing at her watch again, drew up a chair and sat down
facing him.

"Ten minutes yet, sir, to wait," she said. "And I've something I want to
say to you."

"Well, say it, then," said Chesney drily. He was too weak just then to
feel fury, but what he felt resembled it as furious action in a
nightmare sometimes resembles real action--as when, for instance, one
tries to swim after an enemy and finds that one is cleaving one's way
through thick, clogging waves of treacle.

Anne looked straight at him.

"It's this," she said: "I want to tell you myself that I've found your
extra hypodermic and supply of morphia."

She rose as she said this and stood on her guard. Chesney stared blankly
for a second; then he gave a sort of animal outcry, and half sprang from
the bed.

"Steady, Mr. Chesney!" called the nurse, sharp and clear. "_I'm not
afraid of you!_"

Chesney sat, with half-suffocated, soblike sounds breaking from his
great, naked, hairy chest. His hands clenched and unclenched. The
bedclothes half torn from the bed by his sliding bound were tangled
about his feet.

He gasped out the words--spat them at her:

"You little civet-cat. You damned little skunk! You----"

He could not articulate. His teeth ground together. He half rose, as
though to leap on her.

"Keep _still_!" said she, in a fierce, low little voice. "You're not
ready for murder--yet--I hope. Nor you've not sunk low enough to strike
a woman----"

"Strike you! You little b----h, I could break you in bits with my bare
hands!"

They stayed glaring at each other. It was the glare that a huge dog and
a dauntless little cat exchange when death is in the air. Then Anne
spoke:

"Be a man ... for Gawd's sake ... _pretend_ to be a man!" she said.

Chesney blinked and gasped with fury and weakness, as though she had
spat in his face.

Anne followed it up.

"Look here," said she; "I'm trying with all my might to save you from
hell ... yes, _hell_, sir!" She pounded her little brown fist against
her other palm. "And you want to kill me for it. But I'm stronger than
you are. Yes, I am! For why? For why my nerves ain't rotten with that
filthy poison you love like mother's milk. And I'm going to save you
whether you will or no! God or the devil helping me--I don't much care
which--I'm going to save you! You hear that?"

She went closer to him--a little, furious figure, quivering with
righteous rage.

"D'you think I'm afraid of you? Not much I ain't! Just look at me and
tell me what you think about it."

Chesney sat hypnotised. Here was the Mongoose to his Serpent with a
vengeance. Something began to rise slowly up in him--something clear and
clean rising from the dregs of his stupefied better nature. It was that
unwilling meed of admiration that the conquered pay to a courageous foe.
Suddenly he laughed. It was a shocking sight and sound, this hoarse,
weak laughter issuing from that grey, sweating face.

"By God! You little Bush-Ranger, you've got guts!" he gasped.

Anne was changed, as St. Paul says the redeemed will be changed, in the
twinkling of an eye. It was the psychological moment. It came
differently to different patients, and she arrived at it by varying
methods, but it always came when Nurse Harding was on a case.

Her rigid figure relaxed, her little face softened with her childlike
smile.

"See here. I'm your _friend_," she said. "Your _friend_, man; not your
enemy. Now you just 'fess up, as the children say. Tell me _really_ how
much of the stuff you're in the habit of taking, and I'll make you comfy
with a dose in proportion, right away--this very minute. I won't wait
for doctor's orders or anything. Will you tell me? Eh?"

Her voice was too pretty for words, thus wheedling and coaxing the huge
man. So might Jenny Wren chuck and chirp to some big Cuckoo-bastard, to
venture from the nest that her kind step-motherhood had provided.

Chesney was at that point in the fight when even a great lad will sob
sometimes from sheer rage and exhaustion. He sank back, pulling up the
sheet about his face so as to hide it from her.

Anne slipped the hypodermic case from her pocket, opened it, and went
over beside him.

"Now, then ... now, then," she coaxed, like some one gentling a
fractious horse. "See--here's the blessed, devilish old stuff. _I_ know
how you're craving it--damn it for a nasty half-breed of saint and
fiend! It's here--right here in my hand. Only tell me--_the
truth_--about how much you've been giving yourself, and I swear to you
as I'm an honest human, I'll give you enough to ease you."

There was a silence. Then from under the lifted sheet came the words:

"Twelve grains a day."

"In the twenty-four hours?"

"Yes."

"That's really all?... I'm asking for your own sake, mind you. The dose
will be in proportion, you know."

"As near as I can tell--it's all. Maybe now and then it's more----"

Suddenly he started up, flinging off the sheet.

"Damn you! You little hell-cat! Damn you!" he cried. "You're worming it
out of me for your own ends. You're lying!"

"_You're_ lying, and you know it!" said Anne Harding sternly.
"Here--keep still while I prepare this. You'll soon know whether I'm
lying or not when I've given it to you. _It_ doesn't lie."

He closed his eyes, feeling that he lay in the very bilge-water of
existence. A woman--a scrawny little hireling--had him, Cecil Chesney,
in her power. Had made him confess. Was about to deal mercy out to him
with a drug. He could have howled with the Chaldean: "Cursed be the day
that I was born and the hour wherein I was conceived!"

Then into his loathed flesh slipped suddenly the little sting of
steel--sweeter than the kiss of first love to the innocent.



XXIV


Sophy was amazed when she learned what had happened. So was Bellamy,
though he had more knowledge than she of the singular powers exerted by
the highest type of trained nurse. They both agreed that there was
something weird, almost legendary, about the conquest of the huge,
domineering, self-willed man by the wee nurse--a feminine echo, as it
were, of the fable of Jack the Giant Killer. But this little Jill had
climbed the bean-stalk of her wits with no axe to help her--only that
keen blade of her sane, fearless will and knowledge.

Things went on smoothly for two weeks after that. Chesney, hating the
nurse with a bitter, feverish hatred, yet submitting to her control,
clung to her with that distorted passion of the man who knows that his
well-being depends on what he hates. Temporarily he was in their
power--the power of those whom he called his "well-wishers" with that
ferocious sneer of helpless anger. He was too weak from the lack of the
accustomed doses which he had been taking surreptitiously to "fight a
good fight!" for his freedom just then. But let them wait! Just let them
wait till he got back his strength. He was afraid now that if he
rebelled against Anne Harding they would get another nurse for him, one
less independent and intelligent, who would not take things in her hands
as Anne did, who would follow the directions of that soft fool Bellamy
blindly, and keep him agonising on doses too rapidly diminished. Anne
had promised that she would not let him suffer overmuch.

"I'm not a doctor-run machine," she had said, in her brisk, blunt way.
"I'll give you _what_ I think best, _when_ I think best. If Doctor
Bellamy don't like it, he can chuck me. But he won't. He knows I've had
experience and he hasn't. 'Tisn't likely _he'll_ fuss with me, when men
like Doctor Carfew and Doctor Playfair have trusted me and been
satisfied with my work. Just you be a good sport, and keep straight with
me. And I'll not let you reach the hell point. Just a peep of purgatory,
maybe--for the salvation of your soul. But you're plucky. You'll stand a
bit of purgatory to get to paradise--health is really paradise, you
know. Eh?" She had wound up, with that engaging, little-girl smile of
hers.

Chesney grinned rather feebly, and said:

"All right, Bush-Ranger. '_En voiture, pour le purgatoire, messieurs,
mesdames._'"

"That's good!" Anne said heartily. "I always know they're mending when
they crack jokes."

"You've a hard nut to crack in _me_, colonial snippet!" retorted
Chesney, with another grin.

Anne grinned a cheerful little grin back at him.

"No, _you're_ soft enough, old sport," said she; "it's your husk of
morphia that's hard."

They exchanged this rough, free speech when alone. In the presence of
others, Anne was most respectful, almost demure.

"What a hypocritical little demi-semi-savage you are, Bush-lass," he
said to her one day. "You give me the rough of your tongue like a slangy
lad when we're '_enfin seul_'--and before the Chief Eunuch and the
rest, butter would congeal upon it, by Gad!"

"There's a time for everything," replied Anne Harding sedately. "If you
_prefer_ it, sir, I'll be buttery with _you_ from this moment."

Chesney laughed outright. He was feeling quite happy just then, under
the effects of a sixth of morphia.

"Just you try it on," he said, with feigned grimness. When she had just
given him the drug he really liked her. Her funny, brisk little ways and
speech amused him. He longed sometimes to romp with her, as if she had
been the child that she looked when her elfish smile stirred her face.
Once when she had bent over him as she withdrew the needle from his arm,
he had tweaked one of the black curls that hung near. He had not
believed that her little lean hand could give such a stinging smack as
she bestowed upon his.

"You little spitfire!" he had exclaimed angrily. "Don't dare to take
liberties with me because I'm ill."

"Don't _you_ dare to take liberties with _me_, ill or well," Anne
Harding had replied, red with anger. "You treat me with proper respect,
or I'll go back to London by the next train. Suit yourself."

She wouldn't talk or jest with him for the rest of that day, but by the
next morning she seemed to have regained her usual cool poise, and
remarked, as she served his early cup of cocoa:

"I surmise from your pretty behaviour that you've decided to keep me and
your self-respect."

"Thou hast said, O Bush-Bully," replied he gravely. "I'll even address
your Bullyship in the third person if it be required."

"Oh, no! There's no need of _that_ much distance between us, my
pretty-spoken gentleman!" came the tart rejoinder. "'Hands off!' is my
motto. Just so you remember that I live up to it, and your part is to
live up to it, too, while I'm with you--I'm hunky-dory."

"Does that mean 'cheeky' in your native lingo?" grinned Chesney. She was
giving him his morning dose (one-seventh to-day) as he spoke; so for the
time being he liked her again.

"No, Mr. Smart," said Anne. "It's United States for 'all right.'"

Thus they chaffed amicably when she had just given him his allowance of
morphia, or during the first hour after; but as the effects gradually
wore off--which they did rapidly, the doses being so reduced by now--his
mood changed. As he felt that stark, indescribable _malaise_ stealing
over him--that horrid unearthly suffering which is not nausea, or acute
pain, or the hot ache of fever, or the shivered ice of chills, but
something more subtle, more deathly, as it were an illness drifted down
from another darker, crueller, more demoniacal planet than the earth--as
there crept through him this nameless, terrible, hideously fatiguing
feeling that seemed to rack the finer substance of a body within his
body--to strain and fray these more delicate fibres of being, until the
torture was far more horrible than if it had been the brutal work-a-day
anguish of a fractured bone, or the frank throes of cholera--when these
hours were upon him, then he hated the little nurse. He hated her quiet,
practical composure as she sat crocheting near the window, or reading
aloud to him words that had no meaning--hated her for sitting there calm
and healthy--while the discomfort arising from the lack of the usual
poison surged into billows of physical distress that flowed over him,
one upon another, as he lay sweating, tossing on what seemed the oozy
bed of an ocean of _malaise_. He hated her so that he imagined breaking
her to bits with his bare hands, as he had once threatened her. He could
feel her little hard, pointed chin denting the hollow of his gripped
hand, as he held her thin body between his knees, and pressed her head
backwards till the spine snapped. He imagined her naked in his grasp--a
little dark, lean, pitifully ugly body--and he was beating her with a
stout wand of ash; whipping the flesh in ribbons from her writhing
bones. He startled even himself with these savageries--felt afraid
sometimes. Was his brain going? Had the stuff attacked his brain?

Once, meeting his smouldering eyes fixed avidly upon her during one of
these silent rages, Anne had put down the book and come over to him.

"I know how you're hating me," she said, crisp and practical as usual.
"But don't get scared over it. It's natural. This drug breeds murder.
Just you remember it's not _you_, but the morphine that hates me. Keep
that well in mind. _I_ do. Don't you worry about going crazy, and
suchlike. It takes years and years for morphine really to injure the
brain. It's your nerves that are yapping and yowling 'murder!'--your
brain's all right."

"I do hate you!" Chesney had said, with weak but dreadful intensity. "I
could give Cain points on murder. But there's a part of me that says
you're a damned good sort, all the same."

"Hate away," Anne replied serenely. "You're getting on
first-rate--that's all _I_ care about."

       *       *       *       *       *

So it went, and Chesney slowly improved; now weaker, now stronger, as
the capricious drug sheathed its claws or gripped him tight again.

"Damnation! I'm like the frog in the well!" he would groan. "I crawl up
one foot and slip back two."

"No, you don't--not really," Anne assured him. "Up you're coming; slow,
maybe, but sure. A nice nurse I'd be to let you slip back two feet for
one!"

And she sniffed with her little blunt nose that reminded him of an
intelligent pug's.

The worst of it, the thing that aggravated him almost to frenzy at these
times, was that he still had morphia in his possession--a large supply
of that and cocaine, utterly unsuspected by Anne, for all her
shrewdness. He almost chuckled aloud sometimes as he lay watching her
during one of his black fits. His spirit did chuckle, as he thought how
he had outwitted even her, the little "Bush-Sleuth," in this matter. But
he did not dare to take an extra dose, even by mouth. She would have
seen instantly--and nosed out the precious stuff that was his dearest
earthly possession. He was quite sure of that. It cowed him from taking
the morphia that he had secreted, even during those times of anguish,
when sometimes she stepped into the next room for a moment to fetch
something and he could have swallowed a tablet easily--it was within
reach always. No; he did not dare for the sake of one moment's
self-indulgence, to run the risk of still greater sufferings. So he lay
there, enduring, cursing silently, waiting, ever waiting, for the time
to come when he should be his own man again. Then hey! for some distant
country--a long journey _en garçon_--with a glittering, brand-new
needle, and package on package of the little flat, white,
innocent-looking tablets that dissolved so easily in a teaspoonful of
warm water.

There were no more drives now: he was too weak. Anne said that in about
six weeks he would begin to feel more normal, though he would still be
weak. He would feel depressed and weak for a long time after his system
was rid of the poison, she warned him with her admirable frankness. Six
weeks more of it! Good God! He wondered that he could keep his hands
from her when she said such things to him in that matter-of-fact, casual
way. But he waited. Chance was a good deity for such as he to pray to.
One never knew what might happen. So he lay there and said curt, impious
prayers to Chance that the God of Whimsy would help him to his own
undoing.

Chance himself serves sometimes one Overlord, sometimes another.
Sometimes he plays henchman to Ormuzd, sometimes to Ahriman. This time
he elected to do the bidding of Ahriman.

On the fifteenth day after Chesney's enforced confession to the little
nurse, there came a wire from London for Anne Harding. It said:

  "_Your mother ill--pneumonia. Come at once._"

There was nothing else for it. She had to go, and by the next train. She
loved her mother, whom she supported by her cleverness, very dearly; yet
there was almost an equal grief in her strongly professional little
heart at leaving a case so difficult, which she had managed with such
skill.

She tried to get Chesney to promise her on his word of honour to "act
straight" with the nurse who would supplant her, promising that if he
did so she would return as soon as her mother was well enough, and take
up his case again. But he would only smile at her that faintly jeering
smile, which she felt in the marrow of her small bones meant mischief.

"Your word of honour--your word of honour as a gentleman that you'll
play fair," she urged vehemently, "or I swear I'll not come back!"

"You forget, my little Bush-Queen," Chesney said, still smiling,
"there's no such thing as honour among morphinomaniacs. You've told me
that yourself, often enough, my Poppet, have you not?"

"Shame! Shame!" she cried, with passion. "Here you are, through the
worst--and you won't even promise that you'll keep on! My word! I don't
believe I'll come back, no matter _how_ you act!"

"'Suit yourself,' Bush-lass," Chesney returned coolly, quoting one of
her favourite expressions.

       *       *       *       *       *

Anne went to Sophy before leaving--went to her bedroom and under the
unusual excitement of her double anxiety over parent and patient, seized
the slender white hands in her little skinny brown ones, wringing them
eagerly to accentuate her passionate words of warning.

"Watch him yourself--_yourself_!" she begged. "Don't trust him a
moment--not though he swore on the head of his own son. He means
mischief. I know him by now. I know him as only a nurse who's tussled
through the worst of the morphia craze with a man _can_ know him. Don't
leave him to Gaynor, or his mother, or even Doctor Bellamy. I don't know
what sort of nurse they'll send you. She may be good, or she may be a
chump. But"--the little spurt of very human vanity became her eager,
cocky face--"but there's not many Anne Hardings," she wound up. "I give
you that for what it's worth, Mrs. Chesney. Forgive my tooting my own
trumpet."

Sophy promised, feeling scared and forlorn again, now that this strong
little being was going. She had come to depend on her as the one means
of Cecil's salvation. Now she was going. Menace, dark and formless,
seemed to waver like an evil shadow on the dreary walls of Dynehurst.
How could one grapple with a shadow? Only Anne Harding knew the magic
tune to which evil shadows danced obedience.

The little nurse left within an hour after receiving the telegram, and
Sophy went to her husband as soon as the carriage drove from the door.
Anne had turned over her charts to her, with the hypodermic syringes and
morphia. As the nurse had instructed, she locked everything away before
leaving her room. Between every dose they must be locked away again. No
slightest risk must be run, in the interval between Anne's departure and
the arrival of the new nurse.

When Sophy had faltered that she did not know how to give a hypodermic
injection, Anne had exclaimed almost impatiently: "Oh, he can do that,
himself--only too well! All you've got to do is to clean it thoroughly
the way I've showed you, each time afterwards. I don't want Gaynor to
begin it, because one at a time is enough in such things, and _you_ are
the one to leave in charge. You've got character--grit." She looked at
Sophy impartially out of her shrewd, black eyes. "I don't believe you
know, yourself, _how_ much character you _have_ got," she said. "You're
too young and beautiful to have had much chance yet--but this is forming
you. Forgive my Bush-girl bluntness--but there's no better
character-maker than a husband one's trying to save from morphia. You'll
come out of it a sort of soldier-saint. Mark my words: _Happiness_ is
_mush_," said the little nurse, running her words together in her
excitement. "One can't get strong on mush. Now life's feeding you
meat--a bit raw and bloody, maybe--but it'll build up brawn--soul-brawn.
I'm mixing things; but you understand, I know. And, my word! Just think,
Mrs. Chesney: if a woman forgets her travail for joy that a man is born
into the world, what must she feel when a man--_her_ man--is reborn
through her pangs! Forgive me--I'm being too free. But you're so
rare--oh, I've watched you, same as I've watched him! And I want you to
win out--I _lust_ for it--for you to win out with him. You'll feel
you've got the world in a sling then--I give you my word you will, Mrs.
Chesney. Only keep a stiff upper lip. Don't give in to him. Don't let
him fool you. The watchword is 'Suspicion.' Don't trust him--not if he
seems dying. _Let_ him die before you trust him for one second! Bless
you, dear lady! I do _hate_ to leave you all alone with it....
Good-bye."

And she was gone before Sophy could even utter some kind wishes about
Mrs. Harding's recovery.



XXV


When Sophy went to Cecil's room, he was lying back quietly reading. He
put down his book as she entered, and smiled at her. It was his own,
good smile--the smile that she remembered far back in their lover-days.
Tears rushed to her eyes. She was not a woman who wept easily; but now,
to see his face so purified of poison, to meet the smile that also shone
in the eyes--that glimpse of a resurrected soul in the face that had so
long been but a blurred mask of exotic passions--this brought her tears.

She went over, kneeled down beside him, and laid her face to his.

"I've got you back!" she whispered. "You've come back to me!"

He lay still, stroking her hair, kissing it, looking out over her head
at the flicker of leaves beyond his window, at the dim green of
air-veiled pastures, and the far-away blur of brownish haze that hung
over the mining town, chief source of the Wychcote riches. A bird
streaked like a black arrow against the faint blue sky. The weather had
cleared within the last few days. There was sunshine, pale but
plenteous--filtering through a veil of moony clouds. A sort of
eclipse-light, it seemed to Sophy; but she welcomed it for Bobby's
sake--the child had been fretting at the prolonged rain. He had lost his
sturdy, lady-apple cheeks. Now he could be out all day pottering at the
out-of-door things that children love.

She knelt there with her cheek against her husband's, just resting, soul
and body. She was too tired with the long strain to vibrate to a keener
joy. Her thankfulness was deep rather than exultant. And Chesney, gazing
out at the summer landscape, thought:

"After all--what if I go on with it? I'm lower than brutes if I deceive
her."

Weariness and a distaste of life crept over him at the mere thought of
keeping up the dreadful, nerve-wearing effort.

"I must. There's no way out of it--with decency," said part of him.
"Fate's against me," said another part. "Why was the little Bush-Ranger
whipped away like that, if there are gods that care? It's too much to
ask a man to keep up alone. I'm sickening for the stuff this moment.
Between the lips of this woman--beautiful as she is--and one grain of
morphia--would I hesitate?" "No," answered the first self, grimly
honest. "You wouldn't. Try to tell her you have the stuff at hand. Give
it up to her. You won't. You can't."

"I _will_!" he thought, setting his teeth.

She felt the swell of his cheek-muscles as he did so, and looked up.

"Sophy...." he said; then stopped short.

"What is it, dear?" she asked. "Can I do something for you?"

He continued looking at her an instant, then closed his eyes.

"No," he said.

She thought his expression had been strange. It hurt her. It was as if
he _had_ wanted something, but did not dare ask her for it. She flushed
suddenly--it was for him she flushed. She thought that he had been about
to coax her for the morphia before the time for giving it. Was he going
to "try it on with her," as little Anne had feared? Her limbs seemed to
turn to water at the mere thought of that possible struggle.

But he said quietly the next moment:

"Sophy, the little Harding says that she'll come back here, when her
mother is well enough. That being so, I want to ask you a favour."

"Yes--do!" she said eagerly.

"I want to ask you to take me in hand yourself. You have all the--the
stuff." The lie choked him somehow. He hastened to correct its
literalness though not its import. "I mean nurse said that she was going
to turn it over to you."

"Yes--I have it," said Sophy. Why should her heart beat so? He was only
asking her to do what Anne had asked her.

"Well, then, there _is_ something you can do for me--you can spare me
the humiliation of having some strange wench pottering about, and
bulldozing me with her dirty little professional airs and graces. If
you'll take me in hand yourself, and spare me that, you'll find me
amenable. Will you? Wait a moment," he added, before she could answer.
"It's only fair to give you warning that I will _not_ submit in any case
to having another of these hussies round me. The Harding was bad enough,
but I've got used to her--I rather like her--tough little specimen! She
amuses me. But another--I'll wring her neck before I'll submit to it!
That's my last word on the subject."

       *       *       *       *       *

Bellamy was much perturbed at this fiat of Chesney. Yet, when he had
thought over it a while, realising the stubborn fixedness of the man's
will and fearing to irritate him unnecessarily, he came to the
conclusion that it was not so dangerous a situation as he had at first
thought. He could trust Sophy, he felt sure, not to be moved by any
pleading on the part of her husband. All the morphia was now in her
possession. There was no other possible means by which Chesney could
obtain the drug. All parcels were opened by Mrs. Chesney or his mother.
Besides, Chesney wrote no letters. He seemed perfectly indifferent about
the post. Such letters as did come for him only bored him. They were all
answered by his wife and Gaynor. Then, too, it was a great concession on
Chesney's part to be willing for Anne Harding's return.

When after two days she wrote that her mother had passed the crisis and
was rapidly improving, that she (Anne) hoped to be able to return to
Dynehurst within three weeks, he felt quite reconciled to the present
arrangement. Sophy reported that Chesney never asked for a dose before
the regular hours, or for an increase of the amount. She, too, was
cheered and hopeful.

For a week this happy state of things lasted. Then one morning, after
his daily visit to Chesney's room, Bellamy came to her with an harassed
face.

"Mrs. Chesney," he said, "don't take it too hard--but your husband has
got hold of morphia in some way. The symptoms are marked this morning.
It's inconceivable, I know; but there's the fact."

Sophy's air-castle broke in upon her in smothering vapours. She sank
down on the nearest chair, and gazed out before her with blank eyes.

"Are you sure?" she asked mechanically, after a moment.

"Quite sure."

"Since when?"

"Only recently--during the night, probably. But the eyes show it
unmistakably--and the dryness of the mucous membrane."

"I know," said Sophy. So well she knew that she felt as if her own mouth
were like an ash, merely from her vivid realisation of the doctor's
words.

"Have you taxed him with it?" she then asked.

"Yes. He only jeers. Asks me how he could have got it--says that he's
not a wizard. It's terrible, Mrs. Chesney, terrible! If Nurse Harding
were only here!"

"Yes. It seems as if Fate were against him."

"Fate!" cried Bellamy. "Himself, you mean! How he could descend to this
when----"

He broke off abruptly, shocked by the white hopelessness of the young
face.

"Forgive me," he said. "Besides, one should never judge too harshly in
these cases. I've heard of men, anxious to be cured, getting well over
the cursed thing, getting quite free of it for as much as a year, then,
in some sudden moment of weakness, returning to it."

Suddenly a vigorous, alert look replaced Sophy's passive expression. She
stood up, facing the perturbed physician.

"What must we do?" she asked. "I am ready to do anything to save him.
Anything that I may do with self-respect--anything that will not put my
boy in danger. Explain to me. Whatever it is, I will do it--if it is in
my power."

She shone white and vivid against the grey, rain-strung frame of the
hall window. She dazzled there in the dark, grim hall, flashing
something free and Amazonian into the staid discreetness of the sober,
conventional house. Bellamy watched her, without being quite able to
translate into clear thought the impression that she produced on him at
that moment.

She put it into words for him herself: "I mean that I will fight for him
like a comrade--not like a submissive wife--a slave," she said.

She stood for a moment looking down at her shoe-tip which she moved
slightly to and fro. Then she said abruptly:

"How is my boy? Does his paleness mean that he is not well really--or is
it only a passing thing?"

"No, no," he hastened to reassure her. "The boy feels the confinement of
the house, of course, but a week of sunny weather would have him right
as a trivet."

"And if it keeps on raining?"

"I hardly think it will. We are nearly in July now. Rainy Junes are
frequent in England, you know; but July is apt to show some fine
weather."

"But in case it does not?" she persisted.

"Then I think a little outing to the Isle of Wight or the south of
France might be the thing."

She pondered this.

"I see," she said at last. "And will you promise to tell me, the moment
that you think Bobby needs such a change?"

"I do, indeed," he replied earnestly.

"Thank you. Now I feel free to give all my attention to my husband--for
the present. I shall go to him myself now. It seems to me the last hope
that we have."

"You mean that you will try to persuade him to--to--er--be frank with
you?"

"Yes."

Bellamy looked at her in genuine distress.

"I'm afraid you must prepare yourself for disappointment, Mrs. Chesney."

"I am prepared for it," she said. Her voice was grave, but under the
gravity there was depth on depth of bitterness.

"Well--God be with you!" said Bellamy, with much feeling.

"Thank you," she said gently.

She passed out of his sight, going upstairs towards her husband's room.



XXVI


To do Chesney justice, he had not taken that first dose of the extra
morphia in his possession with any calm determination of deceit. The
craving for it, the constant temptation so close at hand, had led him
into that subtle, false reasoning so common to all people in like case.
He had deceived himself as well as others. It happened in this way:
Sophy, burning with all the over-ardour of a novice, with all the
exaggerated zeal of the amateur nurse, put on her mettle, as it were, by
the warnings and conjurations of Anne Harding, acted with the precision
of clockwork. Showed, in fact, to its nth power the very quality which
Anne prided herself on lacking--the precision of a "doctor-run machine."
It could not have been otherwise. She had neither the knowledge nor the
experience which allowed Anne to vary the regularity of the hours of
assuagement, those hours when the fractional doses of the drug were to
be given him, and to which he looked forward as to bits of life in the
slow, grey deathliness that enfolded him. At times his nervousness, the
anguish of morbid desire, was far more acute than at others. On these
occasions Anne had been used, after observing him narrowly, to give him
the prescribed amount, sometimes even an hour before the due time.
Again, she would say with rough kindliness:

"Well, will you brace up and go without for, say two extra hours next
time, if I give you a crumb more than you really ought to have?"

These concessions of his little tyrant so wrought on both the gratitude
and the pride of the man, whom morphia had reduced to a certain
childlike weakness, that he, on his part, would sometimes stretch the
interval of abstinence even longer than she had required. When,
therefore, he found himself, all at once, in the unyielding straitjacket
of Sophy's conscientious care, rebellion began to glow in him like a
fever. Once he had tried to explain to her Anne's more elastic methods;
but though Sophy met him very sweetly, he saw the little shock that had
flitted through her eyes. She suspected him of trying to coax her with
plausible lies. Had not Anne warned her not to trust him? The little
nurse had chiefly meant that she must not trust him by leaving the drug
in the remotest way accessible to him; but then Anne could not have
instructed Sophy to practise her own leniency. It was one of those
situations to which the word "fatal" can be well applied.

A second time, when suffering from one of his severe headaches, in
addition to the horrid, chill, damp nervousness, Chesney had again
ventured (sullenly angry at the enforced humility of his attitude) to
suggest that she give him a slightly larger dose, skipping the next dose
entirely, if she wished.

Sophy's look had been full of frank reproach and grief this time. "Ah,
Cecil! How can you ask me such a thing?" she had exclaimed. She had come
and knelt beside him, taking his clammy hand, which resisted the clasp
of the smooth, warm fingers so full of health and love. "Don't you know
it's because I love you that I must refuse? Why do you look at me so
angrily? You asked me to do this for you, dear. I'm only doing what you
_asked_ me to...."

But he had jerked his hand roughly away. He hated her at that moment.
"She'll drive me to it, with her smug self-righteousness ... ignorant,
sentimental fool!" He feigned to drop asleep after a few minutes,
watching her all the time from under his lowered lids--detesting
her--wondering why he had ever married her. How damned prim her mouth
had looked when she refused him! Fancy kissing a mouth like that with
passion! What an ass he had been! And he had thought her such a marvel
of intelligence and sympathy! The little Bush-Ranger had more real
brains in her skinny finger-tip--her rough slang held more human
sympathy than all that other's gush of frilled, silky words! Very well.
He'd take things in his own hands. He'd "'fess up" to the little Harding
when she returned; but in the meantime he was going to do for himself
what she had so often done for him--take a slightly larger dose to ease
this damned pain that was prizing his skull asunder. Yes, by God! He was
a bally simpleton not to have done it before!

It amused him to reach stealthily for the little tablet (he had it to
his hand) and take it "under Sophy's nose," as it were--watching her all
the time from between his lashes. She was sitting near a window, chin on
hand, gazing out at the sky which seemed to her so like a vast
ground-glass cover set above the green bowl of the earth. He grew
impatient, waiting for the slow effect of the morphia, thus taken into
his stomach. He missed that pringle of the stuff when hypodermically
administered, quick through his veins. Then it occurred to him that
these were hypodermic tablets--they would naturally be weaker than those
to be taken by mouth. He took another quarter-grain tablet. Its vile
bitterness seemed delicious to him. All at once he felt that grip at his
midriff, as of a tiny claw clutching and teasing. Triumph seized him. He
looked at her mockingly, his eyes wide open now. He did not hate her any
longer. She amused him now. It was even very pleasant to watch her
sitting there in her dejected attitude of unwilling Tyrant. She was not
the stuff of which real tyrants are made. It took gritty little devils
like the Bush-Bully to tyrannise with _éclat_....

So it had begun.

But unfortunately the self-administration of morphia is not a thing that
can be moderately done. Soon Chesney began to confuse the number of
doses; could not remember exactly when he had last taken the stuff;
would swallow a tablet at the least symptom of physical _malaise_. He
seemed stronger; wished to get up. Then came the morning when the
larger dose revealed its presence clearly to Bellamy.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sophy went to Cecil, all her soul in arms for him, not against him; but
he met her with easy mockery. Would not admit it. Played with her. She
had tried to tyrannise--well, let her tyrannise, then.

"If you're so damned sure I've got the stuff, why don't you find it?" he
jeered. "Why didn't the little Bush-Sleuth unearth it? She's got the
nose of a Pytchley bitch--the baggage!"

The poison was at its ugly work again. In its deadening clasp,
kindliness and fellow-feeling lay numb; the sheer brute ramped free--the
strong, coarse, primal animal which morphia rouses, at first merely to a
savage irritation but later informs with more than ape-like cunning,
with a callous cruelty lower than the brute's because moved by more than
the brute's intelligence.

And within a week from his first lapse the change in Chesney had become
alarming. Something was here that Bellamy could not understand. Dilated
pupils and violent rages, as in London. A sort of false vigour that sent
him roaming about the house at times--haranguing in his brilliant,
bitter way--insolent, vituperative, insupportable. Sick with
humiliation, Sophy told the physician of what Dr. Carfew had said: that
Chesney alternated the morphia with cocaine.

So strange and wild were his brother's moods that Gerald had to be taken
into confidence. Even Lady Wychcote agreed that Bellamy should wire to
London for a man-nurse; but she held out implacably against all idea of
committing Cecil against his will to a sanatorium.

"It's a phase," she kept saying. "It's a phase. When Nurse Harding comes
back, she will know what to do."

And all the while it rained, ever rained--now lightly, now whelmingly.
The climate was like a vast Melancholia wrapping England as in sickness.

Search was made everywhere for the concealed drugs. Sophy lay awake at
night, racking her brain for possible solutions, until it haunted her
dreams like a dark rebus, cluttering her only half-unconscious brain
with the refuse of rejected theories.

The man-nurse came. When he entered Chesney's room, he was flung out so
violently by the enraged giant (Chesney stood six-foot-four in his
socks) that he barely missed having his arm broken against the opposite
wall.

The man, white with wrath and pain, went straight to the library where
the family had gathered about Bellamy, apprehensive and anxious as to
the nurse's reception. He had chosen himself to go alone. He told them
that for no consideration would he attempt the case, unless he were
given "a free hand." When coldly required by Lady Wychcote to state what
he meant precisely by "a free hand," he had replied sullenly that he
must be given permission to use violence in return--that is, to defend
himself by a blow, if attacked, and to resort to binding the patient, if
necessary.

"In other words, you wish to introduce the methods of a lunatic asylum
into my house," said Lady Wychcote haughtily. "That will do. We shall
not need your services."

The man turned away, muttering that "madhouse methods were made for
madmen."

Bellamy tried to persuade Lady Wychcote to send for Dr. Carfew and have
Cecil placed in a sanatorium by force.

"Never shall that be done--never while I live," she said resolutely. "I
will not have such a stigma put upon a son of mine. Let him die, if he
must. Better dead than with the shame of madness put upon him."

In vain Bellamy argued with her, pointing out the difference between a
sanatorium and a madhouse. She was adamant.

"Never! Never!" she kept repeating.

In despair, Sophy herself telegraphed to Anne Harding. The answer
somewhat consoled her:

  "_Mother doing well. Will come Thursday._"

This was Sunday. In three days, then, the little nurse would be in
charge again.

When Chesney heard this, that awful, blind rage shook him from within.
He felt the horror of "possession." It seemed to him that to kill was
the only thing that would relieve him. His rash excess of the last week
had ended by confining him to his bed again. He lay there after Sophy
had left him, dozing fitfully, waking with dreadful starts from the
unspeakable dreams that had begun to visit him of late, by night and
day. He, too, had read De Quincey. He remembered how the wandering Malay
had haunted "The Opium-Eater's" sweating dreams. Did the dark drug
always send such visions? For now he, Cecil, was hunted down through the
dark alleys of sleep by horrible deformed Chinamen, who squatted on
their hams, mocking him, bedizened in cruel, violent colours that filled
him with unreasoning fear; mopping and mowing at him with chattered
words that iced his blood. And one dream that came again and again
racked him with the extremity of loathing: a violin would begin playing
somewhere--harsh, Chinese music; behind a stiff, embroidered curtain it
would begin to play. Then, from under the curtain would peep a foot, the
deformed "lily foot" of a Chinese woman; then there would crawl out from
under the curtain the violin itself, like the brown carapace of some
misshapen turtle, and its head was a woman's--a little Chinese harlot's,
with gilded underlip--and in place of the turtle's flippers, the
"lily-feet" and long-nailed, tiny hands would come scratching towards
him. Then, like a luxurious cat, the little turtle-violin would begin
rubbing itself against his feet, that were glued fast with terror, till
the strings underneath its belly would give forth again that sinister
Chinese music.

Or, in another dream even worse--conscious that he was dreaming--he
would begin to sink with his bed, slowly, very slowly, through the floor
of his room; down through the library which was underneath; down, down,
into the dark cellars where were stored the liquors that he craved;
down, ever down, into the wormy earth, among dead men's bones and all
uncleanness he would sink slowly, so slowly. And his hair oozy with
terror, his flesh glazed as with a coating of thin ice, he would think:
"This is what is called 'sinking to the lowest depth'--I am sinking to
hell ... to the sewers of hell...."

Then began a reckless orgy of self-indulgence. These horrors must come
because he was not getting enough of the drug--could not take it
hypodermically. He must alter this. He must take larger, ever larger
doses. And he must have stimulant. Damn them! They locked his own
father's wine-cellar against him, did they? Well, he would outwit them.
Where there was a will there was a way. Good old adage! Made for
morphinomaniacs!

He came to these conclusions on the Sunday that Sophy received Anne
Harding's telegram.



XXVII


On Wednesday evening, about eleven o'clock, Gaynor knocked at the door
of Sophy's bedroom. She was sitting before the fire, her dressing-gown
over her night-gown, ready for any emergency. She sent Tilda to bed
early these terrible days--living, as she did, in constant terror lest
the servants should witness some odious scandal.

She opened the door herself, not knowing who it might be. The little man
was very pale, he had the appearance attributed to those who have "just
seen a ghost." In his hand he held a white glass quart bottle. He looked
at Sophy without speaking.

"What is it? What _is_ it?" she urged. Her eyes were fixed on that big,
empty bottle. Why should Gaynor bring an empty bottle to her room at
eleven o'clock at night? Why was he so frightened?

"Mrs. Chesney ..." said the valet. "Pardon me, but you must know. I've
thought different. Now it's plain. This bottle was more than half full
at five this afternoon. Now, you see, madam; you see for yourself...."

Sophy stared bewildered.

"I don't understand," she said, full of vague terror herself now. "What
was in the bottle? Why is it empty?"

"Spirit, madam; ninety-five-proof spirit--for the little spirit lamp I
use for Mr. Chesney, madam. It was two-thirds full six hours ago. Oh,
don't you see, madam? And now the master's door is locked. He won't
answer--I've knocked and knocked. He laughed once--so he's not
unconscious, madam."

Sophy stood staring.

"Do you mean...?" she whispered finally. "You don't mean that he ...
he...?"

"Oh, madam! What else can I think? It began yesterday. I thought one of
the maids had upset it and didn't like to say--they never do, madam.
Full a pint went yesterday. But as there was enough left in the bottle
for the making of his morning coffee, I didn't trouble to fill it till
this afternoon. But now.... And he was so strange an hour ago. So
wild-like ... different...."

"I didn't know...." murmured Sophy, her eyes fixed in horror on the
empty bottle. "I didn't know that ... that.... I thought it was
poisonous...."

"Oh, no, madam! It's methylated spirits you're thinking of. This is
ninety-five-proof--pure alcohol. It's done, madam. I've heard of it's
being done. But I never thought...."

He too stopped, overcome.

Sophy looked at the little servant helplessly.

"I don't know what to do, Gaynor," she said, in the voice of a child.
"What can I do?"

"Would you come speak to him, madam, through the door? He might answer
you."

"Yes, I'll come," she said. She looked at him out of appalled eyes. "But
don't leave me, Gaynor, will you? Come, too."

"No, no, madam. I'll not leave you. Never fear."

Together the little grey figure and the tall white one stole down the
corridor to Chesney's door.

Sophy put her mouth close to the crevice of the door. Her heart was
beating so that it shook her lips against the wood.

"Cecil--Cecil!" she called softly. "It's I--Sophy. I'm so afraid you're
ill. Won't you speak to me, Cecil?"

There was no answer. She tried again and again. Presently she heard that
low, ominous laugh.

"It's no use," she whispered, drawing away in terror. "Have you told
Doctor Bellamy?"

"No, madam. No one but you. I didn't like to."

"I know, Gaynor," she said, still whispering. "It's hard to have to
tell--but I'm afraid we ought."

"Mightn't we wait? Just a bit longer, madam? I'll keep watch...."

Sophy hesitated.

"Well, then," she said reluctantly, "I shall not sleep, either."

She thought a moment; then she said:

"Bring me a few of Mr. Chesney's cigarettes, Gaynor. Mine have given
out. Bring me some of his cigarette-papers, too. I'll roll them smaller,
as he's been doing lately."

"Very well, madam. But there's very few in the last-opened box. Mr.
Chesney won't have me open a new box, madam. He's very particular. He
don't like me to meddle with his cigarettes. If you'll just be so kind,
madam, as to tell him it was your orders. I fear to anger him as he is
now."

"Certainly I will, Gaynor. Gladly. Bring a fresh box here--I will open
it myself and tell him to-morrow that it was I who did it."

But when the valet brought her the box of cigarettes, and she had taken
out a handful, all desire to smoke left her. She had not the habit--only
did so now and then, when she felt very nervous and restless, as
to-night. Now as she looked at these huge cigarettes so intimately
associated with her husband, she felt averse from touching them. She
shut them away in a drawer of her writing-table, and began to walk to
and fro, her arms pressed tightly against her heart which was so full of
fear and apprehension, which beat so heavily as though tired with its
ceaseless task of life.

She went to a window and, drawing the curtains aside, looked out. The
night was soft and black, with hurrying clouds. Two greenish stars
gleamed at her from a rent in the ragged drapery of vapour. They looked
like the phosphorescent eyes of some wild creature glaring from the
jungle of the night. She shrank, letting the curtain fall into place
again.

Again some one knocked. She went quickly, her heart pounding. It was
only Gaynor. His face wore a relieved look.

"Mr. Chesney has opened his door. He's reading. He seems quiet. I hope
that you'll try to sleep now, madam."

"But you will call me if you need me, Gaynor."

"Yes, madam--surely."

"Very well. I will lie down, then. I am very tired. But I doubt if I can
sleep. Don't hesitate to call me."

"No. I will not, madam."

Sophy got into bed, and turned out her lamp. But she thought that she
would never go to sleep. She thought of herself as a girl. How
confident of life--her life--she had been then! The world was very
surely her oyster. Within lay that pearl of great price--her happiness.
How simple it had seemed! Where was that confident girl now--the girl
who had been so sweetly "spoiled" by father and mother and sister, and
adoring friends? That girl had gone the way of all the other Sophies.
The baby-Sophy, and Sophy the four-year-old imp, and the grave,
independently religious Sophy of nine. Was she religious now? Why
couldn't she pray, then--really pray? Was that constant, dull cry of her
heart, "God help ... help ... help!"--was that a prayer? Yes, that must
be prayer.

A dulness came over her. Her mind refused to reason.

"At least I am really living," she thought. "This pain is living---- Oh,
mould me!" her heart called suddenly into the Void. "Mould me into
something higher!"

She seemed aware, in the pause of thought that followed, of an immense
Presence. Personal, yet Impersonal--one with her--with some part of her.
She seemed cherished and approved. A little after, she fell asleep.

She knew that she had been asleep, for she waked to that sense of
interval, of break in one's continuous life that follows on profound
sleep. At the same time there crept over her a chill sense of
uneasiness--the sense of a presence. It was not like that vast, lulling
sense that had come to her just before she fell asleep. No--this was
different, sinister. Something--some one--was in that dark room--with
her--near her--very near her. She held her breath. A wild leap of fear,
like a pang of bodily anguish, blazed suddenly through her. She was
sure--oh, horribly, dissolvingly sure!--that in the thick darkness a
face--a face that could not see her--was looking down on her. For a
second she lost consciousness. Then again came the blaze of fear, like a
bolt through her paralysed body. She must move--she must _know_--or die
of terror. She put up her hand. It touched a face--the dry teeth in an
open mouth--a grinning mouth. She felt sure afterwards that, had she
screamed then, she would have lost her reason with her self-control. She
fought with herself as with giants. One part of her said: "Shriek and
die." The other part said: "Don't give way--don't give way!"

"Cecil...?" she managed to utter.

"Ha!" said a voice that laughed low. "Plucky lass! Just thought I'd
give you a taste of what it is to be spied on. So-long. Sweet dreams."

She heard him fumbling his way out. The door clicked. For another minute
the terror held her. Then she struck a match--two, three--she could not
hold them steady enough to aid the flame. The floor was strewn with
matches. At last--her candle shone out. She leaped from bed. Her knees
gave way. She fell to them where she stood. A second--then up again. She
reached the door--ran, ran--ran....

She was clinging to Gaynor--holding him fast in both
arms--sobbing--biting off laughter between her teeth--sobbing again.

"Oh, Gaynor, hold me! Don't let him get me! Run to Master Bobby! Run!
Take me with you--I can't move of myself---- Then leave me! Go alone! Go
to Master Bobby!"

But when, blindly obedient, he turned and ran towards the nursery, she
was after him, fleet and strong as Atalanta. The golden apple was her
son--her son!...



XXVIII


But all was quiet in the nursery. The night-light burned near Miller's
bed. The embers made a soft jewelry of the iron grate. Under the pink
blanket could be seen the little mound of Bobby's curled body, and the
glow of his red locks on the pillow. Sophy went and sank down beside his
crib, stretching out her arms above him, her face hidden against the
blanket.

"What's a-matter? What's a-matter?" asked the nurse, a blue-eyed
Nottinghamshire woman, struggling to her elbow and staring, frightened,
at the valet. "What be _you_ doin' here?"

Fright had startled her into her childhood's tongue. She was as correct
in her ordinary speech as Gaynor himself.

"Keep quiet," he whispered. "The mistress thought she heard the child
scream. It gave her a turn. Be quiet. I'll fetch some brandy."

"I s'll be quiet enow. You need na' fret for that," said the woman
huffily. She resented being hectored in the middle of the night by that
"wizzening little stick of a man." She got up grumpily and shuffled on
her brown woolen wrapper. Looking like a sulky but dutiful she-bear in
the clumsy garment, she went over beside her mistress. She had recovered
her power of "proper" speech.

"I'm sorry you got a fright, madam. Won't you sit in a chair?"

Sophy did not move or answer. She could not. She felt as though some
violent natural force had flung her against the little crib. She clung
to it dizzily. A great void seemed waiting for her, should she loose her
hold on it an instant.

Gaynor came back with the brandy. She turned her head when he urged her,
respectfully insistent, and supped the liquor from the glass that Miller
held to her lips, like a child. It revived her. She gave a long sigh,
putting up her hand before her eyes, her elbow on the bed. She found
strength to rise in a few moments. There were things that she and Gaynor
must see to at once. She looked about the room. Thank God, the nursery
windows were barred! She had a dread feeling that Cecil might be able to
crawl over the sheer face of a building, like "Dracula." She turned to
Miller, whose little blue eyes still stared inquisitively. There was
something "beyond" in all this, the nurse was telling herself shrewdly.

"I wish you to lock the nursery doors on the inside to-night, Miller,"
Sophy said, looking frankly at her. "Mr. Chesney is delirious. I'm
afraid he might startle you. He is very restless."

Miller paled. Privately, she had decided, long ago, that the master was
"a bit off his head"; but she had orders never to lock the nursery
doors, for fear of fire.

"I will do, madam," she said with energy.

Sophy went to her own room again, bidding Gaynor come with her. She shut
the door and told him what had happened.

"Go and see if he is in his room now, Gaynor. I will wait here."

Gaynor returned saying that his master had again locked his door.

"Is he in the room, Gaynor?"

The man looked startled.

"I suppose so, madam. He would not answer when I knocked; but why else
would he lock the door?"

"I don't know," said Sophy. "But I feel very uneasy. Is there any way
that he could get out except by the door?"

"There's a ledge of the East Wing roof that passes under one of his
windows, madam. But why should he want to get out on the roof?"

"I don't know," said Sophy again. "Perhaps it is only that I'm nervous.
But we must tell Doctor Bellamy, Gaynor. You must go to his room and
wake him."

Bellamy hurried on his clothes when the valet had explained to him. He
went to Sophy's room, where Gaynor said that she was awaiting him. She,
too, had dressed herself fully, in serge skirt and jacket. Somehow she
felt that she must be dressed to meet emergencies--to go out into the
night, if necessary. She looked oddly girlish in the plain, dark-blue
costume. She had wound her long braid round and round her head to avoid
its weight at the nape of her neck. This added to the girlish, scared
look of her pale face.

"This is terrible, Mrs. Chesney," said Bellamy. "I feel that your life
has been in danger. He must be a madman for the time being, with that
crude spirit in him--nearly a quart within six hours, Gaynor tells me. I
think Lady Wychcote and his brother should be put on their guard."

"Yes. I wanted to ask you about that."

And Sophy told him about the access from Chesney's window to the roof.

"Come--they had better be roused at once!" said Bellamy, turning pale.
Pale faces were the custom at Dynehurst in those days.

Sophy went with the doctor along the corridor leading to Lady Wychcote's
room. Gerald slept on the other side of the house. They went cautiously,
being careful not to speak or make any sound that might rouse the
servants on the floor above. Gaynor was left on guard by his master's
door.

But as they trod, noiseless and silent, with cautious apprehension, the
sleeping house was roused by a long-drawn, fearful shriek--then another.
The silence that followed seemed to echo with it like the air with a
clap of thunder.

Transfixed for an instant, the next both Sophy and Bellamy were running
wildly towards Lady Wychcote's room. The scream had come from it.

They tore open the door without ceremony. Lady Wychcote was sitting up
in bed, staring at the open window as though Death had appeared to her
in its embrasure. Her eyes seemed to have set in her head.

Bellamy applied restoratives. She gasped, came to herself. She grew
rigid with self-control under his hands, as though made of fine steel.
Her thin lips snapped to--then parted.

"A nightmare," she said curtly. "I thought I saw Cecil's face." Shudders
took her in spite of her grim will. She put her hand over her eyes.
"Horrible!" she muttered. "'Twas horrible! I saw him as I see you--at
the window ... his face, yet not his face ... a murderer's ...
swollen...." Then she added, curt again: "You can leave me now. I have
these disgusting dreams occasionally. I am quite over it."

Then Bellamy explained matters to her. There was no doubt that she had
really seen Cecil's face at her window. She always slept with curtains
drawn back, and shutters wide. The light from the shaded lamp which she
kept burning all night on her writing-table would have just caught his
face, had he stood on the stone ledge beneath her window and looked in.
This is what he must have done.

When she had taken in the import of Bellamy's words, Lady Wychcote said
that she, too, would rise and dress. They left her and went out to find
the stairs and upper corridors rustling with frightened servants.
Jepson, the butler, was talking in low tones with Gaynor. He came
forward as he saw Sophy and the doctor.

"I tried to make them keep their rooms, madam," he said to Sophy. "But
there's no doing with them when they're frightened."

Bellamy explained that Lady Wychcote had screamed from nightmare, but,
as Mr. Chesney had been taken seriously ill and was delirious, she had
thought it better to get up.

"Just send the maids to bed, and come back, Jepson--we may need you," he
concluded.

He was nonplussed as to the next move to make. Should he have the door
of Chesney's bedroom forced, the man, frenzied with alcohol and drugs,
might commit some hideous act of folly--either against himself or
against others. He might just be climbing in again at his window as the
door was burst open, and throw himself backwards in his rage onto the
flagged court below.

Lady Wychcote and Gerald finally joined them as they stood perplexed,
looking at that locked door, listening for some sound from behind it
that would tell them that Cecil had come back safe from his perilous
clambering over the dark roof. It was agreed that all should await
events, together, in Sophy's bedroom. It was the nearest room to
Cecil's, and by leaving the door open they could still see his door, and
Gaynor sitting before it.

The night dragged on interminably--one of those grisly nights, when not
only illness but peril and fear and madness squat on the hearthstone.

About five o'clock, they saw Gaynor start and rise, listening. They all
rose. Bellamy went towards the door. Gaynor turned and came to meet him.

"He's back, sir," the man whispered. "He's moving round heavy-like. Do
you think it may have worn off, sir?"

"I don't know," said Bellamy.

He, too, went and listened. Suddenly harsh, snoring breaths--slow,
regular--fell on his ear. He straightened, giving a long sigh of relief.

"What is it, sir?" whispered the valet eagerly.

"He's asleep, Gaynor. He'll sleep for hours now. You'd better get some
rest."

He went back to the others.

"It's over for the present," he explained. "You need have no more
anxiety for the next seven or eight hours--maybe more. By what train do
you expect Nurse Harding, Mrs. Chesney?"

"I had a letter. She will come early to-morrow morning--I mean this
morning," Sophy corrected herself, looking at the bone-white dawn that
showed in streaks through the heavy somnolence of the wrapt trees.
Gerald had opened the shutters fully an hour ago, looking for the
daybreak.

"Good!" said Bellamy. He glanced at the worn faces about him. "Now I am
going to take a doctor's privilege and prescribe," he added, trying to
assume a lighter tone. "I advise your ladyship, and every one, to come
down to the dining-room and have coffee and something more solid. A
night like this is terribly exhausting. We shall need all our strength
to meet the next twenty-four hours."



XXIX


Anne Harding arrived at ten o'clock. Bellamy asked Sophy to explain the
situation to the nurse while she changed into her uniform. There was no
time to lose. He would see her himself as soon as she had dressed.

Bellamy had wanted a locksmith sent for to pick the lock of Chesney's
door while he slept, but Lady Wychcote would not have this. She was
determined that things should wait as they were for Nurse Harding's
arrival.

"She may want to make him open the door himself--for the moral effect of
it," she said, with real acumen.

"Awfully keen old lady she is, my word!" Anne had exclaimed, when Sophy
told her this. "Just what I do want!"

"But, Nurse, do you think he will open that door for any one?" Sophy had
asked, wondering.

"I know how to make him--never you fear," Anne had replied crisply.
"We'll have to wait a bit--for him to sober up, you know," she added,
with her usual bluntness.

She then went for her interview with Bellamy. It astounded and chagrined
her to find that Chesney had procured morphine and cocaine, for she was
convinced that he had been in possession of it all the while. She felt
humiliated, in her capacity of little Know-All, that she had been
ignorant of this fact. For the present, however, she contented herself
with seeing that all the alcohol in the house was locked safely away.
Her little brown mouth looked very grim as she sat near the bedroom
door, waiting for Chesney to wake from his stupefied slumber.

He did not rouse till nearly four o'clock. Then she heard short,
impatient moans, given under his breath, as it were. The bed creaked now
and again with his feverish tossings. Anne lifted an alert head. She
half smiled, queerly; then turned to Gaynor. The two had sat side by
side for hours now--Anne crocheting, the valet looking down at his hands
or straight at the wall opposite.

"Go get a small glass of brandy, please," she said, putting her
crochet-work into her pocket.

The valet looked so startled that she nodded to him reassuringly.

"That's all right," she said. "Doctor Bellamy knows. You trust to me."

"I do, miss," he said meekly, and went to fetch the brandy.

When he brought it, Anne took the glass in her hand, and, rising, rapped
sharply on Chesney's door.

"It's me, sir--Nurse Harding," she said, in her most matter-of-fact
voice. "You'll let _me_ in, won't you?"

Perfect silence. Even the restless tossing stopped. Gaynor looked at her
in deep discouragement. She only smiled again, bobbing her black curls
at him with the energy of her consoling nod. "That's all right, my good
man," the nod said. "I'm just taking my own time about it."

His puckered face smoothed out somewhat.

"See here, sir," called Anne, rapping on the door again. "You know I've
always played fair and square with you. I just want to tell you that I
know you'll be needing brandy to-day, and I have it here for you--a
glass of it--in my hand. If you'll only open the door for me, I'll give
it you right away."

She heard the bed creak. She called again:

"It's the physic that you need, Mr. Chesney, and you know it as well as
I do. You won't get it any other way. Come--be a good sport and let me
in!"

There was another silence; then she heard his slow, heavy, dragging
tread along the floor. The door shook suddenly. He had evidently half
fallen against it for support. Then the key turned. Anne pushed the door
open and went in, closing it behind her in Gaynor's dumfounded face. The
valet felt a faint revival of his childhood's belief in witches as the
little black-maned figure disappeared behind that dread door and closed
and locked it. Lion-tamers were but feeble folk compared with her. He
sat down on the hall-chair nearest, and wiped his forehead.

Anne told Dr. Bellamy afterwards that Chesney that day was the
"grisliest sight she had ever looked on in twelve years of mighty varied
nursing."

When she entered he was returning laboriously to his bed. He swayed as
he went, and the little nurse gave him her thin arm and shoulder for
support. The two went reeling slowly across the room, Anne with the
glass of brandy held at arm's length to keep from slopping it.

The great hulk fell helplessly upon the bed, and she dragged the
bedclothes over him with her free hand. As she looked at him, she
thought that this might be the end of him--his unshaven face was so
congested with alcohol and morphia. There was a yellow-white ring around
his nostrils and the edge of his moustache.

She supported his head and fed him the raw spirit as a woman feeds milk
to a baby out of a feeding-mug. He drank languidly at first; then
greedily.

She left him lying, and set about to tidy the room. Thrusting her curly
head from the door, she sent Gaynor for warm water, fresh bed-linen, and
pyjamas. When she dressed him and made up the bed, she sat down beside
him with businesslike fingers on his pulse, and her eyes on the
bracelet-watch.

She then fed him half a glass of hot milk as she had fed him the brandy,
and waited patiently. In ten minutes he was asleep again.

When Lady Wychcote heard that her son had admitted Nurse Harding to his
room and was sleeping again after taking some nourishment, she felt
immensely encouraged and relieved. Anne left her this happy illusion,
but with Sophy she was perfectly frank.

"He's got what we nurses sometimes call a 'wet brain,' Mrs. Chesney.
That means _delirium tremens_ to a greater or less degree. He must have
been sopping up that spirit like a sponge, long before Gaynor suspected
him. I fancy we'll have lively times for the next week or so."

This diagnosis proved correct. For three nights and days Nurse Harding
scarcely slept, though another nurse was wired for, to be under her
orders.

On the afternoon of the fourth day, when Chesney was sleeping under the
influence of a moderate dose of morphia, Anne left Nurse Hawkins in
charge, and went to Sophy's room. Her little face looked bleached rather
than pale. Her skin was so swarthy that it could never reach actual
pallor. It looked to-day like an autumn leaf that has been bleached by
the following season's rains and suns. In answer to Sophy's exclamation
of sympathy, she sank down upon a chair, saying:

"Yes, I _am_ rather done, Mrs. Chesney--just for the moment, you know.
I'm going to turn in for a four hours' sleep now. That will set me up
again. But somehow I can't rest well, for thinking of where that extra
morphia can be hidden. I feel such a fool about it, Mrs. Chesney. It's
my _duty_ to find it. I feel a regular amateur--a duffer----"

"Oh, dear Nurse Harding! How can you feel so?" asked Sophy warmly. "It
would baffle any one--any one!"

Anne took her peaked little face between her brown fists, resting her
elbows on her knees, and shaking her head disconsolately.

"I've been called 'Miss Sherlock Holmes' in my day," she admitted
ruefully. "But I rather think my day's gone by. May I sit with you and
puzzle over it a bit, before going for my sleep?"

Sophy made her warmly welcome. She even urged the little thing to lie
down on her sofa and rest, at least while she cogitated. But Anne
refused with resolution.

"No," she said. "No; thank you so much, Mrs. Chesney. Just let me sit
here in this armchair. I can think better sitting."

She sat for a minute or two, frowning down at the carpet; then suddenly
she turned to Sophy, with the oddest little guilty smile, half
embarrassed, half determined.

"I'll tell you what you can do for me, Mrs. Chesney," she said. "I've
got a little vice of my own, though I make it a rule never to indulge it
when I'm on a case. But now--I do so need to think hard--it's so
important for my patient that I should. Could you, would you be so kind
as to give me a cigarette and let me smoke it here? You see, I haven't
any with me--and I daren't smoke in my room, for fear of the housemaids.
Do you think me _very_ impertinent and cheeky for asking you this
favour, Mrs. Chesney?"

"Oh, my dear girl!" cried Sophy. "Of course you shall have a cigarette.
I have some very nice ones of my own...." She turned to get them; then
remembered.

"What a pity!" she said. "Mine are all out. They gave out some days ago,
and I forgot to order more."

Then she brightened.

"But I remember, now-- I have some of my husband's here. They are very
good, only rather too large, I think. But I have cigarette-papers. You
can pull one to pieces, and roll it smaller--as he does, you know."

Anne laughed when Sophy opened the table drawer and handed her one of
the huge cigarettes.

"It _is_ a corker, isn't it?" she said, but her black eyes gleamed. She
added whimsically: "I don't think I'll thin it down, though. Since I'm
to have a smoke (and it's awfully unprofessional of me to do it while
I'm on a case) I might as well have a good one while I'm about it."

She put the big white roll of thin paper and gold-hued tobacco between
her lips, and held a match to it, drawing her thin cheeks in with
luxurious anticipation of the first whiff. But the cigarette drew badly;
wouldn't draw at all, in fact. She took it from her mouth, looking at it
disappointedly.

"Here--take another," urged Sophy, holding it to her. "That must have
got damp in some way. Try this one."

But the second cigarette refused to draw also. Sophy forced a third on
her. That, too, was a failure.

"I see now why he's taken to rolling them over," said Anne: "This lot
must be badly rolled. It's a pity to have wasted so many; but if I may
have a cigarette-paper I'll just unroll one of these and do it over."

Sophy handed her the little packet of rice-paper, and gave her a lacquer
pen-tray in which to put the loose tobacco. Anne's deft fingers made
quick work of one of the big rolls. She whipped off its white sheath,
and began shredding the packed tobacco neatly. All at once she gave a
cry. She sat staring down at the tray as though it had turned into a
Gorgon's head.

"What is it?" asked Sophy, startled.

The girl made a clutch at her, dragging her nearer, without taking her
eyes from the loose tobacco in the tray.

"Look, Mrs. Chesney! _Look!_" she cried, her voice a low tremolo of
excitement. She touched something in the tray with the tip of her
finger-nail. It was a little white object, round, flat ... indeed, there
were several of them--some tangled among the tobacco, some having
dropped clear on the dark surface of the lacquer.

Sophy stared. The truth didn't dawn on her.

"Were they in the _cigarette_?" she asked. "_What_ are they?"

Then Anne, overwrought with sleeplessness and excitement, so far forgot
herself that, setting the tray on the table, she seized the tall lady in
her arms and hugged her wildly.

"What are they? Morphia!... Morphia!... Morphia!" she chanted, as she
hugged Sophy to her in little jerks that accompanied each cry of
"Morphia!"

"Morphia ... and cocaine, probably, Mrs. Chesney! Oh, the clever devil!
The clever, clever devil!"

       *       *       *       *       *

This secreting of tablets of morphia and cocaine in the big cigarettes
had been the employment of Chesney during those hours behind locked
doors before leaving London. With a pair of very long, slender forceps,
he had pulled out part of the tobacco, dropped the tablets into the
hollow thus made, and repacked the tobacco cunningly upon them. Hours
and hours he had spent thus, making tiny marks on the cigarettes which
contained the different drugs, that he might know them apart. Certain
cigarettes he left intact. He mixed these and the doctored ones in the
boxes, large tin cases made for importation, which he sealed up again
cleverly, with a tiny strip of paper on the same tone as the wrapper.

The morphinomaniac's imagination works in spurts. First come jets of
cerebral luminosity; then gaps of a grey vagueness. Cecil's constructive
fancy had not worked beyond the point of laying in a large supply of the
drug. He had not considered how he would procure more when it should
have given out. He had provided for several months ahead. After that he
trusted to chance and cunning.

When Sophy understood--and understanding had come in a flash, even as
she questioned, even before Anne Harding's triumphant cry--she felt that
this was the last straw. Something seemed to go _click!_ within her, as
though the fine mechanism of her reasoning mind had set itself to
another gauge--would not, forever any more, work to the old standard.
She must forgive--but she could never forget. And what is forgiveness
without forgetfulness? The cold body of duty, mummied by
conscientiousness, void of soul or life. She was done. He had seen her
misery, her anguish of anxiety, her heart-racking efforts to help him,
and day after day he had said to her, with that faint, mocking smile
that her blood burned in remembering:

"Just hand me a cigarette, will you, Sophy?"

And she had handed them to him, had fetched and carried the poison
for him like a well-trained retriever. And he had found
pleasure--amusement--in thus making her the unconscious instrument of
her own frustration--the innocent minister of his vile vice!

That was the most tragic moment of all to her--the moment when she gazed
down at those little dots of white on the lacquer tray, and realised
what they were.



XXX


That evening Anne Harding had what she called "a downright talk" with
Lady Wychcote. The two "hit it off" very well, considering all things.
There was a certain hardness in the little trained nurse, as in the
haughty old aristocrat, which commanded their mutual respect; though
Anne's hardness was always kind, and Lady Wychcote's nearly always
unkind. Still the two able creatures set a certain value on each other,
and this wrought for understanding.

Anne told her ladyship outright that she would give up the case unless
Dr. Carfew or Sir Lionel Playfair were put in charge. Dr. Bellamy had
told her that he would not assume further responsibility. Sophy had
ranged herself firmly on the side of Bellamy and Anne. Gerald was with
her in this decision.

Lady Wychcote looked rather grimly at the Lilliputian envoy.

"Very well," she said. "But I will not countenance an enforced removal
to one of their asylums."

"Could not your ladyship leave that to Doctor Carfew?"

"No," was her ladyship's reply.

"Perhaps I can bring _him_ to reason," Anne had said to Sophy after this
interview. "At any rate, I want him to hear plainly, from a _man_, what
his fate will be if he goes on with his poisons."

Sophy said nothing.

"Poor soul! She's given up!" thought Anne. "Well, _I_ must tussle to the
bitter end--that's what nurses are here for."

As soon as Chesney was rational, she "had it out" with him.

"Well, for God's sake, bring on your damned quack and let him have his
quack-quackery out!" was his surly response. "I suppose I'm of too tough
a fibre to be slain by an ass's jawbone. But I warn you--no sanatorium
hocus-pocus!"

"Oh, you needn't worry!" Anne had said crossly. "Your mother's on your
side. She'll help you destroy yourself. Mothers have a sort of gift that
way, you know. But if you were _my_ man--I'd clap you in a safe place,
no matter _what_ you said or did!"

Chesney gave her one of his ugliest looks.

"Leave me in peace!" he growled. "I've said I'd see your precious
Carfew. Now you're working me up just because of your own nasty little
temper. A fine nurse, _you_ are!"

"Well, I can't beat you for a patient," retorted Anne, with her puggy
sniff.

That same night Bobby had a bad attack of croup. Sophy and Bellamy and
Anne--who had left Chesney unceremoniously to the strange nurse's
care--fought until daybreak for his life.

After it was all over, and Bobby safe, Bellamy told Sophy that the time
to keep his promise had come. She gazed at him, startled--not
recollecting.

"My promise to tell you frankly when I thought the boy needed a change
of climate," he reminded her. "He needs it now, Mrs. Chesney. You both
need it."

Sophy whitened.

"You don't mean...?"

"No, no! Nothing in the least serious. But, though we've had some fine
days lately, the boy needs a drier climate--hotter sunshine. The Italian
Lakes are not at all bad in summer, Mrs. Chesney, though people stare at
the idea of going to Italy in the summer. I spent a delightful July and
August once at Cadenabbia. Why not try Como? Or, if you want to be
perfectly quiet, the other lake--Maggiore. There's a capital hotel at
Baveno. I've been there, too. Nice gardens for the boy to play in.
Pleasant jaunts to the Barromean Islands--if you care for that sort of
thing."

Sophy seemed to be only half listening to him. She had a far-away look
in her eyes. He thought that she was brooding over the sad plight in
which she would have to leave her husband if she took her boy to Italy.
But Sophy was only thinking how strange it was that an English physician
was ordering to go to the place where Amaldi had been born. She had
thought she might never see him again. Now she might see him very soon.
It gave her a frank pleasure to think of seeing Amaldi again. She liked
him warmly.

Bellamy was speaking to her with great earnestness:

"Mrs. Chesney, pray don't worry over having to leave your husband.
Carfew comes to-morrow, you know, and he will tell you what I tell you
now, I feel convinced--that it will be the best thing possible for
Chesney to have the brace of feeling that he must do without you, for a
time."

Sophy looked at him with her candid eyes.

"I wasn't worrying," she said. "I've thought that out for myself. I
know"--she spoke with quiet emphasis--"whether Doctor Carfew says so or
not, that it will be best for me to leave Cecil now. Not only for
him.... I'm thinking of myself, too, Doctor Bellamy. I've come to the
end ... for the present. I haven't anything more to give him." Her voice
became suddenly bitter. "Not hope, or patience, or belief ... or ...
anything that could really help him," she ended, flushing a little,
feeling that she had said too much.

"You are simply worn out, dear lady," he replied gently. "Your own
natural feeling has worn you out as much as anything. What Chesney needs
now is the cruel kindness of skilled professionals. I hope that we can
succeed in getting his consent to go to Carfew's sanatorium."

Sophy looked at him rather inscrutably.

"I shall speak to him about that myself--I made up my mind to do so last
night."

Bellamy had never noticed how determined her beautiful mouth could look.
He thought how sad it was that character needed to be hammered out on
such rough anvils. It was strange to see it being thus shaped under
one's eyes, as it were.

From this talk with Bellamy Sophy went straight to Lady Wychcote.

"Doctor Bellamy says that Bobby must have a complete change of climate.
I am going to take him to Italy, as soon as I can get packed," she said,
without preliminaries.

Lady Wychcote's brow lowered.

"What! You will leave your husband to hirelings?" she asked, in her
coldest, most metallic tones.

"'Hirelings' are the best people to leave Cecil with at present. You
must see that yourself," Sophy answered, unmoved, and quite as coldly.

"You actually mean it?"

"Yes."

Lady Wychcote's mouth thinned to a hair. The width of this hair-line
indicated an ironic smile.

"You have heard the saying, I presume, that a wife should forsake all
lesser ties in order to cleave to her husband?"

"I have," replied Sophy. "And that other saying, too: 'Wives, submit
yourselves unto your husbands as unto the Lord.' I haven't the least
intention of submitting myself to Cecil as 'unto the Lord.' And I don't
mean to sacrifice my son to him, either."

Lady Wychcote said nothing at once, only sat and looked at her
daughter-in-law. As she saw the hardness to which Sophy's face was
congealing under this look, she broke her silence by observing:

"I was trying to realise that you actually propose to leave the man,
whom you promised to cherish in sickness and in health--to leave him in
the clutch of a hideous illness--merely because your son, _his_ son, has
had an attack of croup."

Sophy said quietly:

"Why do you call it an 'illness,' Lady Wychcote?"

Her mother-in-law reddened; but replied doggedly:

"Because it is an illness. He came near dying the other night."

"People who persistently take poison must come near dying sometimes,"
said Sophy.

Lady Wychcote rose.

"I pity my son!" she exclaimed. "I pity him from the depths of my soul!"

"Yes.... I pity him, too," said Sophy.

"But not for the same reason. I pity him because he has married a
heartless woman!"

Sophy shook her head gently. She had not risen. She sat looking up at
her irate mother-in-law out of tired grey eyes.

"You don't think that," she said. "You don't like me--and you are very
angry with me because I won't play 'patient Griselda' any longer--but
you don't think me heartless."

"Upon my word!" exclaimed her ladyship, with a sort of gasp. "Upon my
word!" she repeated. Words failed her.

Now Sophy rose too. She looked earnestly into the angry, pinched face.
She was sorry for the mother whose ambition had outweighed her love--and
was now but a grey ash of disappointment on her burnt-out, irascible
heart.

"Lady Wychcote," she said, "I must tell you, whether you believe me or
not, I must tell you that even now, after I had seen Bobby safe and well
in proper hands, I would come back to Cecil--if it would do him any real
good. No--please let me finish. I shan't speak like this again. I would
come back--horrible, hideous as it all is--I would stay near him. But I
cannot help him. I am sure that it only does him harm to have
me--us--always overlooking--forgiving--weakly, miserably forgiving. I do
_not_ forgive any longer--I will never forgive again--unless he will
submit himself to those who can cure him. I won't risk my life and
Bobby's--for his selfishness--his brutal self-indulgence. I wanted you
to understand why I go--just how I feel. It is only fair. I am going to
Italy with Bobby. Nothing can change me--nothing that you, or any one
else, can say. Nothing--nothing!"

Lady Wychcote received this with bitter silence; then she said in a low
voice of the most concentrated resentment:

"So you propose to leave the burden of your wifely duty on _my_
shoulders?"

"No!" cried Sophy passionately. "As things are now, I have no wifely
duty! The only duty left me is my duty to my son and to myself! I have
no husband! And while this vile habit lasts, you have no son! He loves
only morphia. Morphia is wife and mother and child and God to him. Oh,
Lady Wychcote, do you, too, leave him! Leave him to those who can save
him. Forsake him so that, from sheer loneliness, he will be forced to
find himself again. It is the only way--the only, only way!"

One cannot speak out of the fulness of the heart with genuine, human
passion, and not move something--even if it be only the outmost,
thinnest veil of the atmosphere of another spirit. Lady Wychcote was
stirred unwillingly by this ardent appeal, but she would not yield her
pride.

"Pardon me," she said frigidly, "but your desertion of your post only
gives me double reason for remaining at mine."

She turned and went regally away towards her own apartments. But in
truth her inward spirit was not nearly as determined as her
well-corseted back. That Sophy should actually have resolved to leave
her alone with Cecil filled her with dismay. She had not realised, until
about to lose it, the admirable "buffer" between her and the full
consequences of Cecil's "illness," that Sophy's presence had provided.
Lady Wychcote had, to a marked degree, your healthy egoist's detestation
of sick-rooms. Not only did the mere word "morphinomaniac" fill her with
dread, but it roused in her the born Conservative's resentment against
anything in the least _outré_ or eccentric. It was Sophy who had
watched, pleaded, interviewed doctors, read aloud, endured abuse, lain
awake at night. The body of Sophy's vigorous young health had stood
between her and that great, drug-poisoned body of her son.

What if...? Yes, to this point had Lady Wychcote been brought by the
realisation of her daughter-in-law's imminent departure. What if, after
all, the doctors were right? If, for his own sake, it would be better to
have Cecil sent to a sanatorium?



XXXI


Sophy gave Tilda and Miller orders to pack, then she sent and asked to
speak with Nurse Harding for a moment. She wished to know whether her
husband could see her, if he were in a sufficiently rational state for
her to talk with him. Anne replied that he had just had his fraction of
morphia, and that it was his best hour in the day.

"Well, Daphne?" he said, rather guiltily, when she entered. She
marvelled that he could call her "Daphne." It was like throwing the
flowers from a sacred grave into the mire. She sat down near him, and
said:

"I've come to tell you that I'm going with Bobby to Italy to-morrow."

He looked blank, not taking it in at first; then he scowled.

"I see. Shuffling off this marital coil with a vengeance, ain't you?"

"I'm going with Bobby because he needs me. But even if he didn't need
me, I should go. I will not sit by and see you destroy yourself."

"Yes. I can imagine that to hear of the process from a distance would be
more agreeable."

"I've tried with all my might to help you. You've only laughed at me. It
amused you to deceive me. I was no help to you. If I did help you in any
way, it was to ruin yourself."

"Strong words, my love. So you consider me a ruin?"

"Almost."

Her lips quivered. She closed them firmly. For his own good she was not
going to let that haggard face move her unduly.

"Mh. I see. Well, though I do not seem to appeal to your compassion, I
trust that I do to your sense of the picturesque. Ruins are supposed to
be romantic. However, a human ruin hasn't the same value in the
landscape as an architectural one. Human ruins are generally put under
ground, not on top of it. I dare say the Cecil Chesney ruin will be thus
disposed of. Shall you return for the ceremony, or have you decided to
live permanently in Italy?"

Sophy looked at him with a sort of impassioned hardness.

"I will come back when you are cured--when you have gone of your own
accord to a place where they can cure you. Until then--I will never come
back."

He looked at her, hiding his real shock under a harsh sarcasm.

"'These be news!'" he exclaimed dryly. "Unlike the leopard, you seem to
have been changing your spots--the spots on the sun of my happiness--the
little freckles on the fair lily of your character."

"I have changed," she said. "You have changed me."

"That's very interesting. Our strongest influence seems really to be our
unconscious influence. Fancy my having changed the dear partner of my
joys and sorrows to this semblance, and all the while being myself in
total ignorance of the change! Well, well! The world wags and we wag
with it. So you're determined to put off the old Adam--in other words,
Cecil Chesney?"

Sophy looked at him for a moment without answering, then she said
simply:

"Why should I want to be with you when you treat me like this? Why
should I risk my life for a man who doesn't love me?"

"So I don't love you, eh?"

"No."

"You really think that?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Because you put a poisonous drug before me."

He flushed, biting his lip hard. Then he said in a cold, rough voice:

"Look here--am I to take this announcement seriously?"

"Yes."

"You mean you're really going to cut off to Italy and leave me in the
lurch--like a sick dog in a ditch?"

"I'm going to Italy to-morrow."

"God! you're a fine helpmate!" he cried savagely. "'Eyes take your fill
... lips take your last embrace.' Come here!" he barked suddenly,
tapping the side of the bed with his gaunt hand. "Come to your husband,
wifie, dear!"

Sophy stood up. "No," she said.

"What! You refuse me a chaste embrace?--even at parting? You're really a
sublime wife, ain't you?"

"I'm not a wife. I am myself. You are not my husband. You are not even
yourself. Until you are yourself I will not come near you. I will not
pretend to be your wife."

His face was livid--dreadful. He reared himself in the bed. All his huge
frame, so noticeably thinner, trembled. He flung out an arm towards the
door.

"Damn you! go, then!" he said behind his teeth. "If you're going, go!"

She was gone while he was yet speaking.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. Carfew arrived at Dynehurst the next morning. Sophy was to leave for
the Continent that afternoon. He had a long conference with Lady
Wychcote, Gerald, Bellamy and Nurse Harding. Sophy was present but said
very little. When Lady Wychcote so far put aside her usual attitude of
haughty reserve as to urge the great specialist to take charge of her
son's case, he met her courteously but bluntly.

"Unless Mr. Chesney is put in one of the places that I provide for such
patients, I cannot do so, your ladyship," he said. "It would be quite
useless."

Then the question of committing Cecil to such a place, even without his
consent, was discussed. Lady Wychcote listened to the arguments for this
course with a moderation which she had not hitherto shown. When Carfew
had ended, by explaining at some length, for him, the sound reasons for
adopting such a measure in the present case, she sat very thoughtful.
All looked at her intently. At last she said:

"You really think that his mind may go, unless he is controlled in
time?"

"I do."

"And he is dangerous--to others--to himself?"

"Surely your ladyship has had proof of that."

"Do you mean that he might go to the length of--of self-destruction?"

"Neither his own life nor the lives of others can be safe with an
uncontrolled madman--whether his madness is temporary or permanent."

Lady Wychcote turned her lips inward. She was very pale. She had on no
rouge whatever to-day. At last she said in a thin voice:

"My own wishes can hardly stand against such a statement from such an
authority, Dr. Carfew. But there is my daughter-in-law to consult. Let
us hear her opinion."

Sophy turned quietly. She had been looking out of the window at the
great, yew-walled garden that swept back from the library windows. She
had been thinking how like graves the flower-beds looked. It was a
beautiful but sad garden. But she had also been listening attentively to
every word. The sudden yielding of her mother-in-law stirred a dark pool
of humour lying at the roots of her tragedy. She realised that Lady
Wychcote had decided to shift the self-assumed burden of her (Sophy's)
"wifely duty" on to the burly shoulders of the specialist.

"I am sure you will agree with us, Mrs. Chesney," Bellamy said eagerly.

"Yes--in one way," she answered. "I am sure that to be in a sanatorium
under Dr. Carfew's care is the only thing that can cure Cecil. But----"
She hesitated. They all continued to look at her intently. She flushed,
then said in a low, firm voice, "But I think it would be useless to put
him there by force. He would never forgive it. He would be
cured--yes--for the time being. But I know him. The moment that he was
free he would begin all over again--unless he went of his own will."

Even Carfew became rather excited.

"But my dear lady! Allow me----" And he began to overwhelm her with
scientific refutations of her theory. Bellamy looked aghast and
chagrined. Gerald began to fidget with the fixtures on the library
table, pressing his moustache between his lips and biting it as was his
habit when distressed. Anne Harding gazed at Sophy in blank amazement.
Then her brown little mouth pressed together. She was thinking hard.

"Do you mean to say," Lady Wychcote put in when Carfew had finished and
Sophy still sat silent, "that, after urging me to send for Dr. Carfew,
you will refuse to follow his advice? Refuse to join with me in
this--this--evidently necessary course?"

"I can't advise using force on Cecil, Lady Wychcote. It would only make
him hate us. It would do no lasting good. Only if he goes of his own
accord will it do good."

Lady Wychcote looked expressively at Carfew, whom she had suddenly
accepted as an ally. "You see what I have to contend with!" said this
look.

They argued with her quite uselessly. She left the room presently, still
resolved not to become a party to the removal of Cecil by force from
Dynehurst.

The great man shrugged his shoulders, as who should say, "The ways of
God and woman are past finding out." Then he looked at his watch. He had
still to see the "patient" who had so unexpectedly consented to an
interview. In accordance with Bellamy's urgent appeal he had consented
to put certain facts before Chesney with unvarnished plainness.

Chesney received him with his sketchy smile.

"Salaam," said he. "It is a relief to receive the Caliph himself, after
having had to put up for so long with the Chief Eunuch. At least you're
a proper male," he concluded, looking with approval at the lean, massive
form of the physician.

Carfew met this imperturbably. He put a few questions, which Chesney
fended with his usual half-droll, half-savage ironies, then he said:

"Has it ever occurred to you to think what the _end_ of your 'pleasant
vice' will be, Mr. Chesney?"

Cecil frowned. But the next instant he resumed his callous, mocking
expression.

"The 'ends' of things, O Guardian of the Faithful," said he, "are with
Allah. _He_ ties them into what bow-knots seemeth best to him."

"Shaitan can tie knots as well as Allah," replied Carfew, who was one of
the best read men in England, as well as one of her foremost scientists.
"He dips them in blood sometimes to warp them tighter," he added grimly.

"Speak more plainly to thy slave, O Chosen of Allah."

"I will," said Carfew. "From what you have said, so far--your allusion
to my confrère Bellamy in particular--I gather that you look upon lack
of virility as a thing to be scoffed at."

"Naturally. Does not Mahomet report Houris in paradise? There will be no
guardians of the Harem there I fancy, O great Caliph!"

"The Paradise of Morphia may begin with houris," said Carfew dryly, "but
it ends with horrors--sexless horrors. I would not jeer at sexlessness,
if I were you. A fellow-feeling should make you kind."

Fury made Cecil natural if not kind.

"What the hell are you after, you damned charlatan?" he demanded
savagely.

"I? I am after making myself clear, as an Irishman would say. I only
mean to warn you that the little instrument you prize so much--the
hypodermic syringe when used in connection with morphia--produces, in
the end, the unfortunate condition which you so deride. Manhood, in
every sense of the word, goes down before morphia, Mr. Chesney. I have
promised your mother and Dr. Bellamy to put things plainly to you.
Perhaps a natural curiosity as to the scientific aspect of your habit
may induce you to listen."

This was in fact the case. Carfew's words, while enraging Cecil, had
given him pause. He thrust out a sullen lip, glowering at the great man,
like Minotaur at one who has just given the yearly boat-load of virgins
a shove seaward.

"Well, damn it-- I admit a 'low curiosity.' Get on, can't you?"

Carfew "got on." Coolly and methodically, as though unrolling a neatly
illustrated script before the other's eyes, he presented to him a clear,
detailed picture of the morphinomaniac's descent of Avernus.

"Little by little, all will go but that one, ever-increasing desire," he
concluded; "honour first, then sex, then all human sympathy--then, a
small matter perhaps, after these others, but to a well-bred man
sufficiently unpleasant to contemplate--personal cleanliness. You will
become filthy--you will not care. One thing alone of heaven and earth
will be left you--the lust for morphia and its parasite--alcohol. So
these two were available, you might stink in the nostrils of God and
man--you would be quite indifferent. I remember," he broke off on
another tone, seeming not to see the dull, unwilling look of arrestment,
as it were, on Chesney's face, "I remember, years ago, reading a clever
book by Knatchbull-Hugessen, a little volume of fairy-tales. Among these
tales was one called 'Skitzland.' I rather suspect that he was having a
fling at us specialists in that sketch; but then there are those who
specialise on other things than science--morphia, for instance. To
Skitzland were supposed to go those who had sacrificed all senses to
one. A man in Skitzland would find himself only a huge ear, or an eye,
or a stomach, and so on. Well, Mr. Chesney"--he turned sideways in his
chair and fixed his cold, super-intelligent eyes on the sick
man's--"your fate in the Skitzland of morphia will be to exist only as
one huge, avid, diseased nerve-cell rank with the lust of morphia. Just
that. Nothing more. And this diseased nerve-cell which will be you would
slay Christ if He appeared again, and you thought the last dose of
morphia were secreted in the Seamless Garment. Good-morning."

And he was gone before Cecil could moisten his dry lips to reply.

Anne found him sullenly resentful of the doctor's visit.

"I hope you've packed that old prime faker back to the courts of
science," he grumbled, as she busied herself tidying his bed which he
had rumpled with his ill-humoured tossings. "I'll none of him nor his
damned mountebanking, that's flat."

"He'll none of _you_, unless you do as he wishes, and that's flatter,"
rejoined Anne tartly.

Chesney gave a whiff of utter contempt.

"Stick myself in one of his man-traps, I suppose you mean. I'll sign to
Mephisto with my blood first!--Just let 'em try it on!" he added
ominously.

"Oh you make me tired!--tired and sick," flashed Anne Harding. "You talk
and act as if we were all trying to lure you to destruction, instead of
wearing ourselves to the bone to save you from worse than death! Look
here----" She drew up a chair and sat down squarely on it, her little
black eyes like coals in which a red spark lingers. "_I'm_ not going to
stay on with you as things are, so I might just as well have my say
out-- I don't give a hang whether it's 'unprofessional' or not. So I'll
just tell you this: Your mother went back on you this morning. I mean
she went over to our side--we, who'd put you in a sanatorium ay or no.
'Twas your wife held out against it. And the more I think of it, the
more I believe she's right. Says she, 'No, I won't lend myself to using
force on him. Unless he goes of his own will it won't do any good.' I
didn't think so then. But I do now. If your own will is bent on
perdition, not all the other wills in the world are going to save you.
That's why I'm going to give you up. I'm too useful, thank God! to waste
my time on a man who's hell-bent on his own destruction."

She pushed the chair sharply back, and got up.

"Hold on!" cried Chesney as she turned away. He had listened to her
without interruption, a most peculiar expression on his face. "Did I
understand you to say that Sophy--that Mrs. Chesney, held out against
the lot of 'em?"

"You did. I was one of the 'lot of 'em,' so I ought to know," replied
Anne.

"She stood by me--in the face of all that pressure?"

"She stood up for what she believed in-- I don't think that's _you_,
just at present," said Anne viciously.

"Hold your tongue, spitfire, and let me think," returned Chesney, but
without anger. He lay brooding deeply for some moments. Then he said:
"Just go and ask Mrs. Chesney to come here a moment, will you?"

Anne consulted the bracelet watch.

"It's almost time for her to leave. Don't make her miss her train if I
fetch her."

"I'll thank you to do what I ask!" said Chesney, looking dangerous.
"It's not for you to make conditions when I wish to see my wife."

Anne glanced at him, then went meekly on the errand. She knew exactly
when to insert bandelleros and when to apply balm.

Sophy came at once. She looked pale but quiet in her dark brown
travelling gown and hat.

"You sent for me, but I was coming anyway to say good-by, Cecil," she
said, in her low voice.

He looked at her very strangely, she thought. She never remembered
having seen quite this expression on his face.

"It was not exactly to say good-by that I sent for you," he said after a
pause. His voice, too, was low. There was some restrained emotion in it,
whether anger or regret she could not tell. He continued:

"I sent for you in fact--to--to thank you, among other things."

"To thank me?"

She flushed cruelly. She thought he wished to bait her with his bitter
mockery for this last time. He saw her slight figure brace itself, and
her hands close nervously. He flushed himself.

"You needn't fear any brutishness on my part, not just now," he said,
still in that low voice. "I'm not sneering. I want to thank you for
holding out against the others this morning. Nurse Harding told me of
it."

"Ah," said Sophy. She drew a deep breath. "I told them it would be no
use," she added sadly.

"You were right. Thank you again."

His eyes ran over her travelling costume.

"So you're really going?" he said.

"Yes."

He was silent again. Then he said slowly:

"Well-- I'm going, too."

"What!" said Sophy. She did not understand. She looked frightened. Did
he mean that he would try to come with her--follow her?

"You misunderstand me--naturally," he said, with some bitterness. "I do
not mean that I am going with you--agreeable as that might be." He could
not suppress this mild sneer: his heart was very sore and angry under
his cooler mood. "I mean that your confounded magnanimousness has got
under my armour-- I'm going to man-handle myself just because you
wouldn't let me be man-handled by others."

Sophy held her breath. He knew that trick of hers. It meant that she was
moved to the quick and afraid to believe her own senses. His set look
broke a little.

"Yes, I mean it," he said rather gruffly. He sneered again, at himself
this time. "I don't blame you for looking sceptical-- I believe there's
a good authority that says, 'A liar shall not be believed though he
speak the truth.'"

White and red flame seemed to flicker over Sophy's face. She put up both
hands against her breast.

"_Cecil_...?" she said.

"Yes, my girl," he answered flippantly; "this wary old rat is going to
nip into the trap after the excellent bit of cheese you baited it with
this morning. Now don't--don't--for God's sake, don't make a fuss!" he
ended irritably.

But Sophy had flung herself on her knees beside the bed, hiding her
face--regardless of veil and hat. Her voice, smothered in the
bedclothes, reached him faintly:

"I'm not going to--don't be afraid-- I'm not going to-- I only wanted to
thank--to thank----"

"Me?" asked Chesney sardonically, yet with a hungrily tender look back
of his eyes that were bent on the crushed brown-velvet hat.

"No-- God!" said Sophy softly.

Then she rose to her feet again.

"I won't try to say anything," she murmured. "I think you know what I am
feeling----"

"Mh-- I couldn't go that far. Women are sealed volumes to an average
chap like me. Or, if they aren't sealed, they're written in some
hierophantic script that's beyond the poor layman."

He took suddenly a more natural tone.

"But if I've given you a whit of the satisfaction that your plucky stand
gave me--why, then, we're quits," he ended.

Sophy held out her hand.

"I shall be thinking of you all the time, Cecil."

"Thanks. You'll send a line now and then?"

"Indeed I will. Every day, if you like."

"No. That's too much to expect. I don't believe in setting kindness
tasks. Tell the little chap good-by for me. Hope Italy will make him
quite fit."

"I will. Good-by. Some day I'll-- I can't say things now."

"Don't try. I don't want it."

He hesitated, still holding her hand. Then flushed again darkly.

"Would it--er--go too much against the grain for you to give
the--er--condemned--a kiss?"

She stooped and kissed him warmly, lifting her veil, and pressing her
cheek to his. The great arms held her tight an instant, then pushed her
somewhat roughly away.

"Go--there's a good girl--please go----" he said.

This going of Sophy was very different from the last time that he had
bidden her from him.

She went; and ten minutes later Nurse Harding came in again.

Her patient had turned his face to the wall and flung an arm over it.
She glanced at him curiously from time to time, busying herself here and
there about the room in her mouse-like way. Then she drew up the
prescribed dose of poison into the little glass and metal instrument,
and went over to the bed.

"I say, sir," she began, almost shyly for Nurse Harding. "I wouldn't
bother you, but it's time for your hypo----"

He did not stir. Anne blinked.

"Want to play 'good boy' and lengthen the time, sir?"

No answer and no movement. Anne went softly and laid the syringe on the
table. Then she came back. She stood for a moment, biting her sharp
little knuckles and staring down at the broad back. Then she burst out:

"Mrs. Chesney's told me, sir."

Again she broke off, and again burst forth.

"I--I always said you were an Old Sport.... Now I'll--I'll be hanged--if
you ain't the sportiest Old Sport as ever was!"

She spun on her heel, and went out, clacking the door most
unprofessionally. She went to have two minutes of what she called a
"good blub." It was Sophy's joy, together with Chesney's sudden
capitulation, that had upset Nurse Harding. She had become excessively
attached to Sophy, and, in spite of all his fundamental brutality, she
had a "soft spot" for her patient.



XXXII


The most extraordinary exhilaration came over Sophy from the moment that
the little Channel steamer cast off, and she heard the surge of the sea
about her and felt the keen tang of its breath upon her face: a sort of
light-hearted sense of adventure, of the romance of a lonely setting
forth for strange countries. Oddly enough she had never been either to
France or to Italy. Now she was going to both those famous lands, and
alone--her own courier--her own mistress. She felt what she had once
heard an excited child call "journey-proud." And the sense that Cecil
was in safe hands, was going of his own accord to a place where cure was
certain, left her conscience-free to revel in this sense of delicious
detachment. It was as if she had been reborn into some lighter, more
tenuous body. She felt as one does in those dreams when, by only holding
one's breath and springing upward, one floats delicately free of the law
of gravitation--casting off all heaviness of mind and body.

She stayed on deck. Bobby and the two maids were below in a cabin. It
was very calm. The sea spread flat and silken under a high moon. She did
not feel lonely. This solitude of the sufficient self was ecstasy, after
the long, feverish contact with others.

When they landed at Calais, the gay _pizzicato_ of the French tongue
gave her such pleasure that she wanted to laugh out like a child
suddenly tickled by light fingers. It was so fitting--so deliciously
appropriate. Here was she reborn to a new heaven and a new earth. Of
course there must be also a new language. How glad she was that her old
governess had been French! It seemed that a kindly Fate had been long
ago preparing her for this gay moment, as well as this moment for her.
She spoke pretty, clear French--had spoken it since babyhood. It was a
fresh magic to find herself so well understood. That the day was
overcast, as they went rushing on to Paris, through the wide, fenceless,
hedgeless fields, did not damp her joyous mood. This greyness was so
different from that of England--as different as moonstones from onyx----
She looked at the frail pallor of the sky, and thought of the moonstones
of Ceylon, in whose watery silver there is a gleam of blue. She did not
care if the sun of France veiled itself; so that Italy burst on her in
floods of golden light she was content. She could not bear the thought
of seeing Italy, for the first time, demure and grey. On the bright
horizon of her fancy it floated like a magic island wrought of golden
glass and lapis-lazuli--colonnaded with pale marble--hung round about
with gardens like ancient Babylon--crowned with lilies like its own
Florence--and with violets like Athens. The "blunt-nosed" bees of
Theocritus hummed about it. Song-birds like living jewels flew above it.
Alas! She did not know that the inhabitants of her fairyland devour
their song-birds.

But though she dreamed of the Italy of poets and painters, she had to go
direct to practical Milan. Bellamy thought it important that a certain
Dr. Johnson who lived there should see Bobby before she took him to Lago
Maggiore for the remainder of the summer.

She found the town so hot and dusty that she decided not to go out until
evening. The doctor was to see Bobby next day. She had a light dinner in
her own room, then went downstairs to order an open cab. The night was
lovely after the scorching day. She thought a drive about the streets
would be amusing. Her gay, care-free mood was still upon her. This was
Italy--Italy--and day after to-morrow she would be on one of its
beautiful lakes. With this thought came the thought of Amaldi. She ought
really to let him know that she was in Italy, was going to his own
beloved lake. How pleasant it would be to see him again. How surprised
he would be. Then, too, to meet his mother--that would be a new
pleasure.

She stepped from the marble stairway into the hall of the hotel,
remembering all at once that she did not have Amaldi's address. But then
"Marchese Amaldi, Lago Maggiore" ought to be enough. Still, yes, it
would be better to ask at the office of the hotel. They would doubtless
be able to give it to her.

The head-clerk smiled affably as she asked, and made a sweeping gesture
with his left arm.

"But, Madame, there is the Marchese himself," said he.

Sophy turned quickly.

Amaldi, who had just entered, was lighting a cigarette, his back turned
towards her. Then he turned suddenly just as she had done, and saw her.
The next moment she had given him her hand and was explaining how she
happened to be in Milan in the dead of summer. Her explanations were a
vague murmur to Amaldi. He was thinking that nothing less than Fate had
ordered it. It was "meant" that she should come to Italy and that he
should be holding her hand in his--after so many bitter dreams. Fate had
brought her back into his life--the one woman he had ever desired with
his whole being.

He had only a few moments with her, however, before the friend for whom
he had called came downstairs. His mother was waiting outside in her
carriage. Might she call on Mrs. Chesney next day? Sophy said that she
had just been thinking what a pleasure it would be to meet the Marchesa.
She smiled at him as she said this and gave him her hand again. Amaldi,
who was rather pale, bent and kissed it. Then he joined his mother's
guest and they went out together.

Sophy wished that he could have driven with her that evening. He was
even nicer than she remembered him.

"I wonder if he is like his mother?" she thought as she got into the
little _carozza_ for her lonely outing. "I'm sure to like her if she is
anything like him." And all during the drive she kept wishing that
Amaldi could have come with her.

Next afternoon the Marchesa called. She was a tall, finely made woman of
the Juno type, with beautiful, light brown, sparkling eyes under jet
black eyebrows, and a fluff of silken, fox-grey hair that must have been
gold-red when she was young. But then, as it was, youth unquenchable
laughed from those shrewd, brilliant eyes, though she was sixty. Her
little bonnet of white camellias with its big, black bow, that so became
her, was all Paris in a hat-frame. She evidently had a "sweet-tooth" for
confections in dress, just as some people have for actual bonbons.

She had not talked in her natural, easy, laughing way for ten minutes
before Sophy thought her the most delightful woman she had ever known.
She asked almost at once to see Bobby--won his heart immediately. Told
Sophy that she needn't worry in the least about doctors on the
Lake--that there was an excellent one, an old friend of hers, at
Stresa--Cesare Camenis.

"Eh!--the _tousin_ (little fellow) has adopted me for his Nonna!" she
added, laughing again the next instant, as Bobby hauled himself up by
her fan-chain and tried to pull off her bonnet, saying:

"Take off! Tay wiv Bobby!"

As for Sophy, if she had not fallen in love with Amaldi, she had
certainly fallen in love with his mother. The feeling was mutual. The
Marchesa had had two sons but no daughter. She had always longed for a
little girl. Now she thought that she would like to have had a daughter
as much like Sophy as possible. And, as this thought came to her, it
brought another less agreeable.

The sad destiny of her Marco made the Marchesa very lenient in facing
certain problems, though she was essentially a woman of broad, indulgent
views. Since twenty-six (he was now thirty-one) he had lived like a
widower whom some mistaken vow has cut off from re-marrying. Not that
the Marchesa deceived herself with the credulity of the average
Anglo-Saxon mother in such cases. She did not for one moment think that
her son had led the life of an ascetic during this enforced widowhood.
Light _liaisons_ she knew well there had been; but Marco was not a
sensualist. Such flitting fires could never really warm or console him.
And as she looked now at Sophy, thinking how pleasant it would be to
have such a daughter, she also realised that this lovely, tall girl,
with her spellbound looking grey eyes, and sensitive, romantic mouth,
was the very type of woman to appeal to Marco with the threefold lure of
spirit, mind, and flesh. Though he had spoken much of Sophy to his
mother, since his return from England, with frank admiration and
compassion for her sad fate in being married to such a man as Chesney,
he had not given the slightest impression of being _amoureux d'elle_.
But there came over the Marchesa a strong prescience of danger--of
something to be guarded against. Should Marco see too much of Mrs.
Chesney, should he become "in love" with her, why, then there was here
no passing _liaison_ to be considered, but something of the nature of
tragedy. Not only was Marco bound by his disastrous marriage, but here
was a woman doubly bound--not only by marriage, but by motherhood. A bad
mother may make an enchanting mistress, but a bad mother will never make
a true wife. The Marchesa knew her Marco well. She knew that, should he
love a woman of Sophy's type, he would not want her for a mistress, but
for a wife. That was what love--the one big, crowning love--would mean
to Marco. Now if in future he should love this woman and she him, and
should give up her son for him--she would not be what his love had
imagined. If she should not give up her son--his love must burn out in
bitterness.

Yes, she must watch; she must be wise as many serpents and harmless as a
flock of doves; but she must also be prepared, at the first sign of real
danger, to give Marco a word of serious warning. This action on her part
would have all the more weight with him as she rarely, almost never,
interfered in his personal affairs.

And all the time that she was thus reflecting, she smoked Sophy's
gold-tipped cigarettes and chatted pleasantly.

Sophy heard with delight that the Marchesa was returning to the Lake the
next afternoon by the same train on which she also was going.

       *       *       *       *       *

She was early at the station. It thrilled her to read the placards with
such lovely, well-known names on them. _Como!_--They passed that sign on
their way to the carriages bound for Lago Maggiore. It seemed very odd
to see that name of romance written upon a railway carriage.

Amaldi and his mother joined her shortly. As they settled down
comfortably in the queer little carriage, Amaldi bought copies of the
leading Milan papers and handed them in through the window. To Sophy's
surprise, when he entered the carriage a few minutes later, he laid a
fresh copy of _Harper's_ on the seat beside her, smiling at her
astonished look.

"We're very 'up to date,' as you say, in Milan," he laughed.

But Sophy could not read. She was too excited. She sat in a lazy, happy
trance gazing from the window.

The Marchesa dozed frankly. Bobby was sound as a top. Sophy had never
felt more keenly, vividly awake in her life. She began to day-dream.
And as she sat there, now glancing out of window, now watching the
pleasant smile which sleep had drawn on the Marchesa's face, now the
soles of Bobby's sturdy shoes protruding from under the arm of the seat
as he lay with his red curls on Miller's lap, now noticing how sharp-cut
was Amaldi's dark, irregular profile against the flashing green outside,
she found herself suddenly thinking:

"Suppose this dear, charming woman were my mother-in-law instead of Lady
Wychcote--suppose _he_ were my husband--suppose I were Sophy Amaldi
instead of Sophy Chesney--going for a happy summer to the Villa
Amaldi--sure of kindness, sure of sympathy, sure of love----"

This fancy did not form itself into regular phrases such as these, but
came in a flashing, involuntary impression. She started with dismay and
glanced around nervously. Amaldi was looking at her. She bent forward,
lifting up one of the papers that had fallen to the floor. Her hand
touched the Marchesa's foot. That lady started wide awake.

"Oh, _Dio_!" she exclaimed, glancing out. "We're nearly there! Marco, my
umbrella, please--and Mrs. Chesney's. You'd better tell the maids to get
ready."

She looked tenderly at Bobby. "What a shame to wake the _tousin_!" she
said.

Now they were rattling round a great haunch of mountain--the southern
flank of the Sasso di Ferro. They had reached Laveno. Lago Maggiore lay
before them. The lake spread milkily iridescent. The sky was the colour
of periwinkle, with towards the zenith a flight of silver cloud wings.
The glimpse of Alps beyond Baveno was a hush of violet. It was one of
those delicately veiled afternoons when the Lake is at its best. It
looked mysterious, promising, like the tempered beauty of a woman
beneath a gauzy _yashmak_.

Amaldi saw the maids and luggage safely on the little steamer that was
waiting at the _imbarcadero_. Sophy and Bobby were to go with the
Marchesa in the steam-launch.

As into a mirage the little launch shot forth across the Lake. Sophy sat
with Bobby in her arms.

But there was something wistful, faintly sorrowful in this aerial
beauty. There was a soul in it, a yearning as in all souls. She put down
her cheek on Bobby's head, and, thus unseen, the tears came stealing.

"Poor child," thought the Marchesa, who divined those tears she could
not see, "poor child ... but I must speak to-night--I must--I really
must."

When they reached Baveno, the Marchesa insisted on getting out and going
up to the hotel with Sophy to see that she was given nice rooms.
Something about the young woman, all alone with her little son, went to
her heart. The Marchesa herself had not been very happy in her marriage.
Her fullest life had been lived as the mother of her two boys. Thus
Sophy and Bobby touched her very nearly.

"She seems quite worn out all of a sudden, poor child," said she, as she
rejoined Amaldi. Without apparently looking at her son, she saw the
quick change that came over his face when she said that Sophy seemed
worn out. He made the _Meccanico_ sit in the bow, and himself steered
the little _Fretta_ all the way to "Le Vigne." He talked very little on
the way home, chiefly about the farm and the weather. He was afraid it
might be going to rain to-morrow. There were clouds slowly rising behind
the Sasso.

"Then you'll have to put off your villa-hunt with Mrs. Chesney," he
said. He said this very naturally, pronouncing the name without the
least self-consciousness. The Marchesa felt that her task was going to
be very difficult indeed. She, too, lapsed into silence, now watching
the lovely sky, now glancing at her son's dark, nervous hands as they
turned the little wheel slightly from time to time. Passionate hands
they were. The Marchesa had been a passionate nature herself. She could
feel with Marco as well as for him.

Le Vigne, or the Castello Amaldi, as it was sometimes called, lay on the
Lombard shore of the Lake not far from Angera. It had been one of the
old hunting lodges of the Amaldi, in more sumptuous days. It was really
no more a castle than the Castello di Frino, on the hills above the
village of Ghiffa; though it had, what Frino had not, a massive
reconnoitring tower at one corner of the quadrangle of buildings that
formed a court behind the house itself. It made a delightful summer
home, standing close to the lake shore and surrounded by a farm of some
two thousand acres. It was of white stucco with thick, ancient walls. A
terrace along the front led by long, shallow steps to the lawns and
gardens, which reached to the water. Behind, in the buildings enclosing
the court, were kitchens, laundry, carpenter shop, stables, _et
cetera_. Big arched ways led from the cortile into the kitchen garden
and the open country beyond.

When the Marchesa had come to Le Vigne as a bride forty years ago, she
had regretted that it did not lie in the mountainous portion of the
Lake. Now she had grown to love this wistful, reedy shore more than any
other part of Lago Maggiore.

She stepped out in the big _darsena_ with a sigh of pleasure, and walked
across the lawn, stopping to put a spray of white oleander in her belt.

Marco and his mother dined on the terrace, at a little table set with
old Lodi ware. There was a bowl of white oleander--the Marchesa's
favourite flower--in the centre. Its fragile blossoms gave off a perfume
strangely heady and spiritual at the same time--a faint, sweet perfume
as of blossomed peach-kernels.

The dusk came on gradually, spangled with stars and fireflies. All the
clouds had melted from the sky. It spread above them like an endless
expanse of violet smoke, glittering with vari-coloured sparks.

"No rain for to-morrow, _caro mio_," said the Marchesa, as she and
Amaldi sat smoking companionably after dinner, each in a long willow
chair. "I can go villa-hunting with your charming friend to-morrow,
beyond a doubt."

"Yes. That's good," said Amaldi.

The Marchesa glanced at him. He was smoking contentedly, with a very
tranquil expression on his face. It was still light enough to see even
the colours of flowers quite plainly. The Marchesa put her own cigarette
back between her lips. Then she took it out and looked at it, smiling.

"You haven't noticed my new _splendore_, Marco," she said, waving the
gold-tipped cigarette towards him.

"Eh?" he said, as though rousing suddenly.

"These 'gilded luxuries,'" said his mother, indicating the cigarette
between her big, handsome fingers.

"Why, Baldi! What swagger!" he laughed, taking in the cigarette. This
name of "Baldi," by which both her sons sometimes addressed her, had
arisen from the fact that as a bride she had arrived in Italy with a
severe cold in her head, and had pronounced her new name "Abaldi." Her
husband had begun to call her "Baldi" for fun, in the honeymoon days.
Later on the children had taken it up. She associated it more with her
boys than with her husband, and liked them to call her so. Only when
very serious did they say "Maman."

"Yes. Don't you wonder how I came by such gorgeousness?" she now asked.

"I do indeed. I thought you scorned such vanities."

"I do, as a rule, but that dear thing pressed them on me so prettily
that I hadn't the heart to refuse. Mrs. Chesney I mean. She _is_ a dear
thing, Marco."

Her son's voice at once became on guard.

"Yes. I thought you would like her," he said. "You know I told you so."

"You didn't tell me half, my dear. She is a very unusual woman
indeed--girl, I feel like saying. Really she seems amazingly girlish to
have been through such bitter experiences. That terrible dinner you told
me of----"

"Yes. That does strike one."

The Marchesa smoked for a few moments.

"Does she seem very _éprise_ with her husband?" she asked at last.

"I haven't seen them together more than twice--I couldn't say. I haven't
seen much of Mrs. Chesney herself, you know."

"I didn't know," reflected the Marchesa; but matters seemed to her all
the more serious because of that statement. If she, his mother, could
see in a few hours the strong influence that Sophy had upon him, and if
this influence had resulted from such a slight acquaintance, then it was
more necessary than ever that she should speak.

She threw away her cigarette, and leaned back.

"_Caro Marco_," she said, "I'm going to do a thing that I've rarely
done. I'm going to do it because I think I ought to, though I dislike
doing it very much. And I want you to be indulgent to Baldi--eh? Will
you?"

Now Amaldi was more than ever on guard. Something seemed actually to
click in his breast. It was the lock of his heart snapping home. It is a
way that some heart-locks have of doing at the least touch.

His voice was very gentle and courteous as he said:

"Dear Baldi, you know very well that you can speak to me in any way
whatever that you wish."

"_Aie!_" thought the Marchesa. "He's gone under the boat like a sulking
_lusc_ (pike). What a dear, fine, provoking boy to be sure!

"Well, then, Marco, I'll come to the point at once," she said in a
frank, practical voice. "But first I must ask you if you don't really
think that I've trespassed very little on private ground with you, since
you've been grown? Even when your marriage was in question, I said
nothing after giving you my honest opinion, when you asked for it. Isn't
this so?"

"Yes, Maman; it is perfectly true," said Amaldi.

This "Maman" fixed the Marchesa in her opinion that Marco was going to
make things as difficult as possible for her. She was no longer his
intimate "Baldi," she was the revered "Maman."

"_Ebbene, Caro_, I'm glad you admit that so frankly," she continued,
taking her courage in both hands; "because it makes me feel that you
will be lenient if what I'm about to say jars on you very much. It's
this, _figlio mio_-- I want you to be very, very careful about your
attitude towards this lovely, unhappy woman. I see real danger for you
there, Marco--unless you are on your guard every moment of the time you
are with her. A woman feels such things intuitively--and intuition is a
very sure force, no matter what sceptics may say of it. I want you to
open your 'mind's eye' wide, my dear boy, and look this possibility
squarely in the face. Will you?"

Amaldi sat perfectly still. The only sign that he was moved in any way
was the cigarette which went out between his fingers, and which he put
to his lips now and then as if unaware that it was out. His mother
waited, rather nervous. Then he said quietly:

"I was just trying to see exactly what you meant, Maman. Do you mean
that you fear I may compromise Mrs. Chesney by undue attentions?"

The Marchesa felt discouraged, but her will upheld her.

"Not that alone, Marco," she said firmly, "though that might be one of
the consequences of what I fear for you. What I meant, in plain
language, since you force me to it, is that you may come to care too
much for her. There would be no issue to such a thing, Marco. You must
see that for yourself. I do you the honour," she added quickly, "of
supposing that your feeling for such a woman would be a serious one."

"_Grazie_," said Amaldi. His tone was perfectly respectful, but there
was a crisp note in it that hurt his mother. He was in truth deeply
indignant, not with her, but with himself, at the idea that his love for
Sophy was so transparently evident to observing eyes, when he had
thought it hidden in the utmost depths of his being. It was
excruciatingly painful and mortifying to him that even his mother should
touch on such a subject.

The Marchesa, in the meanwhile, was thinking very hard indeed. She was
years in advance of her day in many respects. For instance, she believed
that a serious union between a man and woman devotedly loving each
other, and determined to be true to that love, is as sacred and worthy a
thing, as really and wholly a "marriage," as any union made by priest or
law. The law of one's highest being she considered the highest law of
all. To the marriage of true hearts and bodies, as well as that of true
minds, she would not admit impediment. But--she realised that for the
man and woman of her day to enter upon such a marriage was also to enter
upon a _Via Crucis_. The massive, sometimes crushing, weight of such a
yoke was not to be accepted in any light, joyous spirit of newly kindled
passion. Over the gateway of that stern temple of love was written the
implacable, well-nigh impossible mandate of the Delphian Oracle, "Know
thyself."

Moreover, in her view of the question, the man and woman who would
enter on such an engagement must be quite free from certain
ties--pre-eminently the tie binding a mother to her children. The
Marchesa admitted the forsaking of all in the world for a great
love--except the child that a woman had borne into the world.

Marco, despite his luckless marriage, from which as an Italian he could
not with dignity escape--(both he and she scorned the idea of his
becoming naturalised in another country in order to obtain a divorce
there)--Marco she considered free to form a new and serious relationship
if he so desired. Therefore, it was not the question of the possible
irregularity of his future relations with Sophy that dismayed her; it
was that she did not consider Sophy free. She had her son. Never would
she receive as Marco's wife the woman who had deserted her child for
him. But then, merely glimpsing Sophy as she had done, she felt
instinctively that she was incapable of such an act.

Remained then only the possibility of a dark tragedy of unavailing love,
and the odious quagmire of scandal.

And thinking as she did, and knowing that her son was well aware of her
opinions, this "_Grazie_" ("Thanks") of Marco's hurt her deeply. It
seemed to say: "I am glad that at least you do me that much justice."

It was she, however, who broke the silence that followed.

"I shall not allude to this subject again," she said, rising. "This once
I felt that I had to speak--no matter how much I hurt or offended
you--only this once----"

"_Prego, prego, Maman!_" he murmured in a colourless voice.

"Yes, that I had to do," continued his mother firmly; "for, as I said,
there is no issue. Mrs. Chesney has her son. Should you ever care for
her--should she ever care for you--her son stands between you. If she
were to desert her boy for you--she would not deserve your love. If you
wanted her to desert him--you would not deserve hers----"

"_Maman! Te ne scongiuro!_" cried Amaldi, springing to his feet. She
could see his face white as silver in the heavy dusk. His brows made a
straight line across it.

"I have finished, my son," she said, with dignity. "You will never hear
me allude to this again."

And she left him.



XXXIII


The finding of a suitable villa for Sophy proved to be quite an
undertaking. Three days did the kindly Marchesa devote to helping her in
this quest. And as they chugged about the Lake in the little _Fretta_,
Sophy grew more and more impressed with the hideousness of the houses
that man had thrust upon this lovely nature. She had dreamed of
columns--white columns rising from groves of lemon and orange, reflected
in pale blue water. The reality was a noticeable lack of these trees and
a collection of ugly boxes, now bristling with ginger-bread towers,
gilded, pricked out, machicolated, decorated in red and blue, now roofed
and verandahed in clumsy imitation of Swiss chalets, the stucco walls
painted to represent yellow wood. Sometimes these houses would be
ornamented with gaudy flowers like a frieze of chintz; sometimes they
would wriggle all over with the results of modern _graffito_ work. Only
a few villas, here and there, were simple and attractive in
architecture--and these were always old buildings, not to be rented.

Sophy was in despair. She thought she had better remain at the Hotel
Bellevue or slip over to the Eden Hotel in Pallanza. But the Marchesa
never gave up an idea once she had determined to accomplish it. So,
finally, they found in the "Villa Bianca," near Ghiffa, what even Sophy
admitted was the very thing.

It took her two weeks to get settled--to have the walls whitewashed,
and to cover the frightful furniture with slips of chintz. She was so
busy over this that she had no time to feel lonely, though Amaldi and
his mother came to see her only once during that period. The letters
from Anne Harding were very encouraging. Bobby looked like a bit of
brown bisque and had already gained in weight. It was wonderful after
the day's bustle to sit on the broad, flagged terrace that overlooked
the Lake. Two huge cypresses towered on either side. At the foot of
the priestly trees two oleanders in full bloom spread their pinky
skirts, like court ladies kneeling in perfumed humility before stern
spiritual directors. Their heady fragrance streamed through the night,
stirring vague desires and regrets. The stars swung low, plaques of
quick-gold. The grim Stone of Iron across the lake had changed to
tourmaline--reddish at one end, dusky violet at the other, as the glow
from the lime-kiln at Chaldee lit it to the east and the soft starlight
to the west. Yes, this, too, was Italy. And there came to her a strange,
elusive sense as of heart-break for sorrows long forgotten when a
nightingale began its desperate, sweet cry of passion forever
unassuaged. She had thought that in England she had first heard the
nightingale. It was not so. This was the true flame of song; that had
been but the flame's shadow. In ecstatic staves the tiny soul flung out
its supernal melody, as though weaving a poem in music--sapphics of
sound--stanzas ending each time with a new melodic phrase--the cry of a
celestial Improvisatrice, singing against the morning stars. It brought
the sense of infinity--as though from everlasting to everlasting that
marvellous _ritornello_ might go pealing on....

One morning Luigi, the little Milanese butler, brought her Amaldi's
card.

She ran down to greet him, in her white linen skirt and blouse,
forgetting to take out the oleander flower that Bobby had stuck over her
ear as they played together that morning on the terrace. The pink flower
with its dark, spiky leaves, thus nestled against her shaded hair, gave
her a careless, festival look that was delightfully new to Amaldi. It
was hard to keep his eyes steady under the look of frank pleasure with
which she met him. He told her that his mother had sent the _Fretta_ to
fetch her to Le Vigne for luncheon if she cared to come.

"I should love to!" she cried. "I'll just get a hat and a sunshade. I
won't keep you a minute."

"My mother begged that you would bring Bobby if you wished to," said
Amaldi as she was rushing off. But she called back over her shoulder:

"Thanks! No.... I'm afraid he might get tired and fret."

The morning was wonderful--too bright and unveiled for an artist's
pleasure, but not for that of mere human beings with youth and joy in
their blood. The Tramontana was still blowing. The whole lake was
a-flutter with it. The _Fretta_ sped onward between jets of foam. Peder,
the young _meccanico_, grinned with the wavelets, as an occasional
spray-shower flew past him and sprinkled the _sciori_ further aft.

The Marchesa was waiting for them on the terrace of Le Vigne. She gave
Sophy a little nosegay of white oleander and stephanotis, and kissed her
cheek in greeting. She looked very imposing in her straight robe of
embroidered white muslin.

Sophy was charmed with the outer view of Le Vigne. Its mellow, white
walls, so severely simple, and the fluted edge of its red-tiled roof
gave her a relieved pleasure after her own orange-brown "chalet." The
entrance hall was big and plain, with mosaic under foot, and great beams
overhead, painted in between like the wings of night-moths.

They lunched on the western terrace under a pergola of star-jessamine.
Sophy felt strangely and rather unquietly happy--as if something were
going to happen. And she was very hungry. It was such fun to eat from a
plate dappled with little sun-flecks. Every one had silvery reflections
from the white tablecloth playing over their faces. It made Amaldi look
pale and strange somehow.

Sophy thought that after luncheon she would be taken to see the farm and
gardens, but the Marchesa said that she must not go out into the sun
directly after eating. Instead, they went into the big, cool Salotto,
and the Marchesa taught her a game of double patience. While they were
doing this, Amaldi strolled in with his pipe. It seemed odd to Sophy to
see him with a pipe. It didn't suit him somehow.

The Marchesa sent Amaldi off to order the pony-carriage. She was going
to drive Sophy over the Tenuta herself. As he went, she called after
him:

"Is your study _in ordine_? I want to show Mrs. Chesney the view from
the Tower before we start."

"I'll send Peder up to report," said Amaldi.

His "study" was in the top of the square tower. It was lined with books
and maps, and pierced by four windows. A heavy _quattro cento_ table
covered with papers ran across one side, and on the other was a grand
piano. Sophy's eyes went from this to the papers on the table, many of
which were manuscript music.

"I didn't know that the Marchese composed music," she said, "though I've
heard of course what a wonderful musician he is."

"Marco is even greater as a composer than as a musician," replied his
mother, pride in her voice. "The world will hear of him some day. But
he's such a student of other things also, that it rather hampers him, I
think. Young as he is, he's already one of the authorities on the
history of the Risorgimento--and no one in Italy knows more than he
about our architecture and art. He has predicted a rising of Iconoclasts
within a few years--haters of beauty--so he's preparing for them, in his
own way. He has very original ideas."

Then she broke off suddenly, extremely vexed at her own garrulity on
this subject. It was certainly far from her wish to interest this
eager-eyed girl in the attainments of Marco.

"_Che imbecille!_" she said within herself, as she led the way from the
big table, where Sophy was gazing with respectful admiration at some
beautiful architectural designs in aquarelle.

"Did the Marchese make those lovely drawings?" she asked, as she
followed his mother to one of the great windows.

"Yes--he draws quite nicely, I believe," replied the Marchesa with some
primness.

Sophy felt the change in her manner, but only thought that she had
withdrawn her interest from Amaldi's work to the marvellous view that
spread below them--all the Lombard plain out-rolled like the fecund
floor of a vast temple to Ceres, whose roof was the blue dome above. And
in the apex of this immense _Rotonda_ the sun's disk seemed the opening
into further heavens of gold.

As they re-crossed the room on their way back, Sophy's attention was
caught by the photograph of a blond youth, strikingly like the Marchesa.

"Oh--is that your other son, Marchesa?" she asked. "What a handsome boy
and so like you!"

"_Grazie mille_," said the Marchesa, laughing. "Yes, that is Nano--my
younger son Giovanni. He is a good-looking _baloss_ (scamp) as you so
kindly observed, my dear. Much better looking than Marco--but Marco is
our strong one. He has more character in his little finger than that
lovable imp."

Again she broke off, biting her lip severely this time. What ailed her?
It was like some perverse obsession--this constant harping of hers on
Marco's fine qualities.

"Come, my dear," she said. "If we dawdle, the teams will be stabled--I
want you to see our white oxen in the late sunlight."

Sophy never forgot her first sight of the big white oxen, four to a
plough, sturdily plodding against the westering sun. Their white hides
in shadow were pearly blue; where the sunlight glanced along their backs
they seemed outlined with silver fire. Their great horns gleamed like
agate. Their ears, suffused with the sun, showed a lining of dusk-rose.
Semi-divine creatures they looked as they moved with calm, majestic
patience against the background of earth and sky--gleaming offspring of
Europa's Olympian Bull, by Hathor, goddess-cow of Egypt....

It was nearly six o'clock when Carletto reported that the _Fretta_ was
awaiting them.

The Marchesa had persuaded Sophy to stop for tea and now she made her
accept the loan of a warm cloak. It could be very chilly on the Lake at
this hour, she said, even in midsummer. Carletto had put in the launch a
basket of delicate golden plums called "_nespole del Giappone_" which
cannot be exported. The Marchesa came with them to the darsena. The
_Fretta_ lay quaint as an orchid in the shadow, all red cushions and
glowing fruit, with the Italian flag at her stern, and the pennon of the
Amaldi at her prow.

"Where is Peder?" asked the Marchesa rather sharply, as Amaldi got in
and held out his hand to assist Sophy. He looked up at his mother.

"I promised Peder last week that he should go to see his people at
Belgirate this afternoon," he said composedly. "I lent him the dinghey
after luncheon. But I am an excellent _meccanico_. Mrs. Chesney need not
feel nervous."

What was there to say? The Marchesa at least could think of nothing.

She stood in silence, while Marco pushed off with one of the oars kept
in the launch in case of the engine's failing.

Sophy looked up, smiling. She waved her hand, kissed it to the Marchesa
as the _Fretta_ slowly glided out of the darsena into the open lake.

"Thanks! A thousand thanks!" she called back, her voice sounding
strangely clear and sweet over the water. "I shall never forget my first
day at Le Vigne."

"What absurdly innocent eyes she has," thought the Marchesa irritably.
"A married woman has no business having such innocent eyes as all that!"

But she waved her hand in reply, and called, "_Buon Viaggio!_"

Then she went back to the terrace, and sat watching the _Fretta_ as long
as it was in sight. The soft afterglow engulfed it at last. They were
there, in the lovely twilight alone together--those two--who of all the
world should be farthest apart. The Marchesa felt very angry with Marco,
with herself, with poor Sophy, with Fate. She did not know which she was
most angry with---- Yes, perhaps with Marco....



XXXIV


The _Fretta_ rushed straight towards the sunset, like some little
water-creature magnetised by light. On either side of the wheel,
opposite each other, Sophy and Amaldi sat gazing at the gorgeous,
cloud-suffused sky. They had both thrown aside their hats. His face had
a new, boyish look with his hair blown back by the wind. It was still so
warm in the mellow glow from the sunset, that he had also taken off his
coat. Sophy liked his slight figure freed of the dark-blue coat. It,
too, looked boyish somehow. This pleased her. Sometimes his grave
stillness almost made her nervous. There seemed to be so much at work
under the smooth surface. She thought that he was rather like a still,
dark, mountain pool. One saw reflections so clearly--but never what was
really in the depths of the pool.

But now some quickening change had come over him and his face looked
eager, joyous--the face of one who could be a delightful companion. His
eyes seemed to have dismissed more serious thoughts.

The sun, with disk hidden behind a mass of purple cloud, sent forth vast
spokes of light on every side; and this immense, fiery wheel, whose axle
was the hidden sun, whose tyre the extreme round of pale blue air, made
Sophy cry out:

"There 'tarry the wheels of his chariot'! Apollo's revealing himself to
me because I'm a good Pagan!"

"_Are_ you a 'good Pagan'?" said Amaldi, smiling. "Then you shouldn't
have dealings with the priesthood that have stolen his rays to set round
the vessel sacred to another god."

She shook her head at him, smiling, too.

"No, no. I won't let you quarrel with me to-day. It has all been too
beautiful."

"I couldn't quarrel with you," he said, "even if you let me--even if you
insisted on keeping a pet priest. Or, yes--then I might be tempted to
'quarrel'--though I'd have no right to."

"Friendship gives rights. We agreed to be friends long ago--in England,"
answered Sophy happily.

Then she looked again at the golden wheel that filled the west.

"The clouds are beautiful--but do you think they mean rain?" she asked
rather anxiously.

"So our peasants say," replied Amaldi. "They have a rhyme that goes:
'_Sol che varda in dree, Acqua ai pe_'-'A sun that peeps backward, water
over the feet.'"

"Oh, I love this dialect. Would it be _very_ hard to learn?"

"But you should learn Italian, not dialect," he said, smiling.

"I should like to know both. I'd love to talk to the people in their own
language. Is that very hard to do? Steering, I mean. May I try?"

He showed her how the wheel worked, indicating a white house far away as
a point for her to steer by.

"Oh, how nice! How well she answers--like a little water-horse to a
bridle!"

She was charmed to feel how the _Fretta_ glided this way or that at the
lightest touch. They had now reached a part of the Lake, near Santa
Catterina, where at this hour there is no faintest stir of air. The
water spread beneath them so still, so clear, that it was almost as if
they were rushing through a golden vacuum. Only the arrowy silver of the
_Fretta_'s bow-waves showed that the element through which they fled was
water and not air.

Suddenly the Intragnola--the land breeze that blows from shore near
Intra--met them full. The sky was fast fading.

"Hadn't you better let me get you that cloak?" said Amaldi. As she
turned to let him put his mother's cloak about her shoulders, his heart
flashed hot on a sudden. Just so might he be folding a wrap of his
mother's about her--if she were his wife. It seemed subtly, wildly sweet
to him to see her nestling there in that cloak so intimately associated
with his mother--with his daily, familiar life.

"She is so sweet--your mother," said Sophy, looking down at the warm
folds. "It was dear of her to think of lending me this cloak. I almost
envy you your mother."

"And--yours?" asked Amaldi softly.

"She died when I was a young girl."

"That is very sad," said Amaldi, but the tone of his voice was better
than the most florid words of sympathy.

All at once Sophy started. She had given him back the steering-wheel
some time ago. She clasped her hands under the folds of the grey cloak.

"Marchese! Your dinner! How will you get your dinner!" she cried
regretfully. "I am so selfish--I had forgotten all about your dinner!
There will be nothing--nothing at all for you to eat at--at my villa. I
told Luigi not to order dinner--just to have some milk and bread and
fruit for me."

Amaldi reassured her, smiling.

"There are dozens of places where I can dine capitally," he said. "The
'Isola Pescatori'--just ahead of us to the left there--that is a
delightful place to dine. You must go there with us--Baldi and me--some
time---- That is, if you'd care to----"

"Oh, I should--of course. But I can't think of anything now but that
you'll be hours late for your dinner. It's so far yet to Ghiffa."

"We shall be there in half an hour--easily," he consoled her. He glanced
at his watch. "It's not yet half-past seven."

But Sophy felt very worried. She was essentially the old-fashioned woman
where the regularity of masculine meals was concerned. In regard to
food, men impressed her as machines that would run down or collapse
altogether unless stoked, so to speak, at exact intervals. Women were
flightier, more happy-go-lucky creatures, when the solemnities of eating
were in question. She had been thoroughly grounded in this conception of
the matter by her husband. Amaldi guessed as much.

"My dear lady, if only you could know how often I make a meal off of rye
bread and cheese; when I'm out for a day's sailing," he said. "Really my
dinner hasn't the gigantic importance for me that your kindness
imagines."

He spoke rather stilted English sometimes when he was serious as now,
but Sophy loved it, because he was trying to make her feel less
self-reproachful.

"It's very, very good of you, Marchese, to want to make me feel less
dreadfully selfish," she now said. "But"--her tone was mournful--"these
hours on the water have made _me_ dreadfully hungry--so I can imagine
what _you_ are feeling!"

Amaldi laughed. At the same instant he had a veritable inspiration. Her
remark in reference to the servants showed him how far she was from any
conventional pruderies.

"I'll tell you what we can do--if you approve," he said. "The Isola
Pescatori is just over there to our left. Do you see? Where the lights
cluster in a little bunch there? We could land there and have an
excellent dinner."

"Oh, what fun! I should love it!" she cried, without an instant's
hesitation.

"_Benone! Benissimo!_" he said, lapsing into Italian as he always did
when excited or deeply moved.

It was now after eight. The purplish dusk was velvet overhead, and
silken smooth below. Stresa to the left, and Pallanza far away to the
northeast, fretted the twilight with points of orange. Between the
scudding clouds stars flitted in and out like fireflies. There was the
soft, orange glow from a rising moon behind the Sasso di Perro. Its huge
crouching bulk seemed steaming with phosphorus.

Now they were under the lee of the little island. Sophy saw the
clustered houses jutting above her, and a wide terrace, brightly
lighted, under its pergola of grape-vines. People were eating there at
little tables. She could see their heads above the wall. They had dined
already, for it was fruit and nuts that they were lifting to their
mouths. It seemed droll to see these greedy heads peeping above the
terrace.

They got out on the rough, stone quay, and climbing a stairway found
themselves on the terrace. It was very gay, with electric lights hung
from the lattice of the pergola. Half the terrace was uncovered. Sophy
hoped that they would sit at one of the tables out there under the
violet-blue, star-freckled sky. The Padrone came forward, followed by
one of his daughters. He was a much travelled man--had been a head
waiter in Vienna, London, New York. The daughter had a sweet, long,
pensive face under a big black pompadour.

He greeted Amaldi with respectful effusion. How well the Marchese
looked! He had not seen the Marchese for some years, but truly the
Marchese seemed to grow younger. And was this the Marchese's Signora
Marchesa? He had the honour to felicitate----

"Babbo! _Babbo!_" whispered the daughter. She had caught hold of her
parent's coat. She gave it two agitated but peremptory jerks as she
spoke. Her "Babbo" had been so long away from home that he did not
realise that the young Marchese's "Signora" was most unlikely to be with
him. The Padrone retreated backwards, saying, "Prego! Prego!"
confusedly.

They chose a table close to the edge of the terrace, near a big
terra-cotta vase filled with scarlet geraniums. The blood-red blossoms,
gleaming with electric light, stood out against the violet dusk. All
Italy was in these flowers burning against the night sky.

The meal that followed was veiled with poetry for them both. For Amaldi
because he loved her; for Sophy because she loved Italy. They were also
very hungry, and it is odd how it increases sympathy for two young and
hungry people to eat together. Sophy felt that she had known Amaldi a
long time when they rose from the little iron table on the terrace of
Isola Pescatori.

They went for a stroll through the crooked streets. As they passed the
Village Church--Sophy hesitated, then entered. He followed and they
stood side by side, glancing about them. Three peasant women and a man
were kneeling on the dark benches. The women glanced up at the
_forestieri_, frankly curious; only the man kept his anxious, faded blue
eyes on the image of the Virgin, that, life-sized and brightly tinted,
held out compassionate hands towards the suppliant. His lips moved
rapidly, without ceasing. Sophy imagined that he was pleading for the
life of some one dear to him--a little child maybe. She just touched
Amaldi's arm, and they went out again.

"I'm afraid it jarred on you--my going in there," she said softly,
looking up into his face in the gloom of the narrow street. "But the
places where the poor worship always draw me--they seem so real--I can't
explain--but they move me--deeply."

"I understand," said Amaldi. "It is so with me, too."

"But I thought----"

She broke off.

"The faith of the simple-hearted is always moving," he said. "It isn't
the faith of the people I question. It is the good faith of the Roman
Catholic Church towards the people."

"I see," Sophy said thoughtfully. Then she turned to him again.

"You are so much more serious about it than the other Italians I've
known, who were anti-clerical. They seemed just to shrug their shoulders
over it--took it half laughingly."

"A man shouldn't take it with a shrug or half laughingly that the women
of his country are under the thumb of a hierarchy," said Amaldi with
some vehemence. "There is a great hour coming for women, all over the
world--yet a true Italian can't wish this for his country-women, as long
as their fuller power would be just another weapon in the hands of
priests."

"You look far ahead, Marchese. Your mother told me to-day of another
movement that you foresaw. Something about 'Iconoclasts.'"

"Yes," he said, "lands that have been saturated with beauty as Italy has
must precipitate some reactionary movement sooner or later. First we
have the mere inertia of saturation--the numbness to beauty--the
incapacity to produce or even appreciate it. Next will come the positive
reaction--the rise of the Image-Breakers. What queer name they will call
themselves by I can't divine--but I can forefeel their rising."

Sophy walked on in silence for a moment, then she said:

"It must be wonderful to have such a country as Italy for your
birthright, and to love it as much as you do."

He glanced at her with a changed look.

"Yes--I love it," he said. But he was thinking how much more than any
country he loved her.

When they left, Signorina Rosalia accompanied them down to the little
landing. The engine of the _Fretta_ took up its busy hum again. Swiftly
they backed away from Isola Pescatori, and spun round towards Pallanza.

"_Buona sera, Signora! Buona sera, Signor Marchese!_" called the
Padrone's daughter in her high, fluting voice. She stood on the little
quay in the moonlight till they were some distance out upon the lake.
"_Gli amanti--gli amanti_," she was thinking sentimentally. She stood
there thrilled with the romance that she felt rushing away from her into
the ecstatic moonlight....

And out there in the soft magnificence of the summer night Sophy and
Amaldi sat silent, with only the little steering wheel between them.
They felt the sense of exhilaration that comes from being close to the
prow of a boat speeding low on the water: they were so intimately breast
to breast with the vastness of air and lake. Stresa lay behind them, a
tangle of yellow sparks. The Barromean Islands brooded sleeping on their
shadows. Pallanza was a faint spangle to the left. Far away in front,
towards Switzerland, what seemed a silvery mist shaped like mountains,
floated against the pearl dust of the sky.

Sophy leaned towards him suddenly. Her eyes looked dark and mysterious
under her white, moonlit brow.

"Need we go quite so fast?" she said. "It seems a pity to hurry through
such beauty."

Her obvious faith in him gave him joy and pain at the same time. If she
had felt one hundredth part for him what he felt for her, she could not
have suggested so simply a thing that meant their being longer together.
He set the engine to a slower speed. They had passed Pallanza, and were
running near enough the shore to see the ghostly loveliness of white
roses and oleanders pouring above the walls of villa gardens. Where the
shore was wild and overgrown, tangles of honeysuckle showered them with
voluptuous fragrance. Above, on the hills, the little villages shone in
the moonlight, like handfuls of scattered mica.

Now they had passed Intra. The dark foliage of the Villa Bianca came
into view. They could see the colonnade of its old eucalyptus trees,
above the retaining-wall of granite.

"Oh, why should such lovely hours have to end--when they need not,"
sighed Sophy. "I hate convention when it lops off such hours as these
like a grudging old Procrustes. Don't you hate the sheer tyranny of
convention, Marchese?"

"Indeed--yes," said Amaldi.

Glancing back at their evening together, as he spoke, Sophy thought that
he had been unusually taciturn. He was not a talkative man, but it
really seemed to her, now that she thought of it, that he had been
almost oddly silent most of the time. She wondered if he were worried
about something.

High up above the thirty-foot retaining-wall, behind its palms and
pollard acacias, the chalet was pouring forth a stream of light from its
open door. The faithful Luigi was evidently sitting up for her.

Amaldi stepped out and held out his hand to her. Sophy was close to
Amaldi on the narrow plank of the _banchetta_. That look in his face
hurt her. Then his eyes turned suddenly away.

"Thank your mother for me, please, Marchese," she said, "for the lovely
day she gave me, and for lending me her cloak."

She slipped it from her shoulders as she spoke and put it, all warm
with herself, into Amaldi's arms. He shivered as he felt the warmth of
the folds under his hands. Murmuring some civil commonplace, he stood
aside to let her pass. She went up the little pathway followed by Luigi.

As she entered the doorway in the terrace-wall, the clock in the
Campanile of San Maurizio, on the hill above, began slowly striking
midnight. Amaldi stood until it had finished, then started the
_Fretta_'s engine. He sat with one hand upon the wheel, the other
grasping the folds of the grey cloak. Suddenly he bent and pressed his
face upon it. It was still warm, and this warmth gave forth a fresh,
faint scent of citron....



XXXV


That day at Le Vigne was the beginning of a very happy period for Sophy.
Not only was she infatuated with Italy, but her pleasure in it was
doubled by the fact that she had two such charming friends to share it
with her, to reveal it to her from within as it were. The Marchesa had
perforce to accept Sophy's invitation to lunch with her at Villa
Bianca--Amaldi was of course asked, too. His mother was much reassured
by the perfect composure of his manner on this occasion and on others
that followed in natural sequence. But what gave her the greatest
feeling of security was Sophy herself. No woman in the least _éprise_
with a man could show such perfect, cordial liking for him in his
mother's presence. Such was the Marchesa's opinion.

And she began to think that she might have been mistaken also about
Marco. His manner, the evening that she had spoken to him on this
subject, might very well have resulted from his intense dislike of
personal discussions. He had always been astringently reserved, even in
childhood. Altogether the Marchesa felt immensely relieved, though she
did not relax a whit of her precaution. She was always one of the party
on the pleasant trips they took to different points of interest on the
lake, that Samuel Butler justly calls "so far the most beautiful of all
even the Italian lakes."

Sophy could scarcely realise now those ghastly days at Dynehurst when
the never ceasing rain had made misery more miserable. Only when Anne
Harding's letters came, as they did about once a week, and when she
wrote herself to Cecil, was she plucked for a moment from her joyous
illusion of a new existence that might go sparkling on indefinitely. And
she began to take a quiet delight in her growing knowledge of Amaldi's
character. They spoke to each other without words sometimes, for they
had grown to know strangely well how certain things would impress them
both. Indeed Sophy did not at all realise how she had come to count on
Amaldi's companionship, until one afternoon, when going down to the
_banchetta_ to join the Marchesa for one of their jaunts, she saw that
he was not with her.

"Yes, my dear," said that lady, answering the question in her eyes, "we
shall be two 'lone, lorn women' this evening. Marco has been called to
Rome on business. He was much disappointed, as you may imagine. I bring
you '_tanti saluti e rincrescimenti_' from him. He went at eight o'clock
this morning."

The fact was, Amaldi had come to a point in his passion for Sophy when
he found it suddenly insupportable to be thus near her day after day,
exposed to the kind cruelty of her friendship. He had decided, over
night, that he must escape, if only for a breathing spell as it were,
and he had invented this excuse of _affari_ at Rome.

Then the Marchesa herself had to go to Milan again for a few days. Sophy
was left quite alone, save for Bobby and the maids. And somehow, the
whole lakeside seemed different suddenly--beautiful but empty. September
was drawing on. Soon she would have to be leaving. She feared the
October winds and rains for Bobby. It was apt to be rainy in October,
the Marchesa said. Only one month more. Perhaps she would not see Amaldi
again before she left. She would not admit the sinking of her heart at
this idea. No, her sadness was chiefly that she would have to leave this
lovely spot. She thought of going to Florence--or Venice---- She felt
unsettled.

One afternoon, when the warm hours dragged rather heavily and she was
tired of reading, she ordered a little _carozza_ and went off to hunt
antiques at Intra. She spent two dusty, pleasant hours of rummaging, and
returned with many parcels.

"Wait," she said to the _cocchiere_; "I will send some one to fetch
these things."

It was already dark, the violet dusk that is called "dark" in Italy. She
ran quickly up the two flights of stone steps leading to the terrace.
Some one was standing there, and came towards her as she appeared. She
thought it was Luigi at first.

"Luigi, please go----" she began. Then broke off short.

"Is it--you?" she asked in a low voice.

Something in this "you"--the way she said it--made Amaldi's heart go hot
for an instant. Then he answered quietly:

"Yes---- It's I."

"Ah ..." she breathed. "You--you startled me," she added as if in
explanation.

They were standing close together. The light wind blew her long veil
against his cheek. From it there came that faint fragrance of citron. He
was glad that it was so dark here on the terrace. He said, with an
effort:

"Luigi told me that you would be back shortly, so I waited."

"I ... I am glad," she said. Her heart was beating fast. It was because
he had startled her, she told herself. She had thought him in Rome. Now
he was suddenly here--close to her. She could think of nothing to say.
She felt awkward--shy.

"Won't you ... won't you stop to dinner?" she asked lamely, but her
voice sounded lukewarm. She was a little frightened again, because she
wanted him to stay so much. The Anglo-Saxon in her put this chill note
in her voice just because she so much wanted it.

"Thanks--no," he said. "It is very kind of you, but Baldi is waiting
dinner for me."

She said again, murmuring the words, slurring them together:

"I'm sorry."

"But I will stay a few moments if you will let me," said Amaldi,
hesitating a little.

"Yes--do," she answered, somewhat recovering herself. "I will just send
Luigi down for my parcels, and come back--it is cooler here." She did
not want to go into the lighted house with him just then. She still felt
that queer shyness.

"Let me call him," said Amaldi.

When he came back, she was sitting on one of the little stone seats
near the railing of the terrace. He longed to see her face more clearly,
yet he, too, did not want to go into the light just then.

"It was very hot in Rome," he said conventionally. "I'm glad to be back
again."

"Yes," said Sophy. "It is nice to have you back."

She felt the flatness of this "nice."

"We ... missed you," she added quickly.

"Thank you," said Amaldi. His voice shook a little.

"I ... I thought perhaps you mightn't come till I had gone."

He was silent a second, then he said in a queer voice:

"Could you really have thought that?"

"Well ... I ... I was afraid you might be kept," she stumbled. There had
been a hurt in his voice.

"Nothing could have kept me from saying good-by to you," he said
quietly.

Her head turned towards him, quick and startled.

"Oh! Are you going away again?" she said--then caught her lip between
her teeth in the soft gloom.

"No," said Amaldi very low.

Sophy felt the strange tension of this halting talk. She rose suddenly.

"Perhaps we had better go in after all," she said, and her tone was full
of the embarrassment against which she struggled. "We seem like two
disembodied spirits talking out of the dusk like this."

"I wish we were," came the answer, tense and abrupt as though in spite
of his will.

"Oh, no," she faltered, attempting a little laugh which died out
helplessly. "We are both too fond of life for that, Marchese."

"I could be fond of it."

"No, no. You are fond of it now."

"Yes ... now."

"Come--Luigi has taken up my parcels. Such lovely things. I want to show
them to you."

"_Prego_ ... but I must be going--Baldi will begin to fret."

He had recovered a more ordinary tone. He had himself gripped hard. What
was there in her shy voice which had almost made him lose command of
himself for a moment? There had been something. No; he was a fond fool.
He held out his hand for good-night. She put hers in it. The man's
blood and spirit was one cry within him. It called to her so wildly that
he thought she must hear that voice of silence. Her hand seemed to
quiver as it lay in his, then she withdrew it quickly.

"Good-night," she said. He murmured "good-night," turned and was gone.
Sophy stood gazing out to where the _Fretta_ lay a whitish blur along
the _banchetta_. Then she saw the little jewel of its lamp shine
suddenly--Peder's face glowed yellow-red in the flare of the match, then
went out as it were. Now Amaldi had got in. She heard the engine begin
to hum. In a second the dusk had swallowed them.

She stood gripping the iron rail, till the chill struck along her arms.
She was very honest with herself. "I care too much ... not _that_ way
... but oh! ... I care too much!" she was saying. "And he cares ... he
cares ... I must go away ... I must go even sooner than I thought...."
Then she sank down on the little stone seat, and pressed her forehead to
the rail.

"Life is hard ... it is hard ... hard," she thought, a great wave of
bitterness going over her.

But the next day she was so worried about Bobby, who had caught cold in
some way, that she had no time to give, even in thought, to other
anxieties. The child looked pale, the glands in his little neck were
swollen, he seemed to have pain, clasping his fat little stomach with
pathetic hands and saying: "Naughty tummy. Bobby tummy bad--naughty." He
was a manly little chap and wouldn't howl outright, but he curled into a
ball on his cot, murmuring, "Oo ... oo ... o--o" plaintively.

Sophy would not have felt so anxious had Miller been with her, but that
personage had found Italy with its "gibberish" and lack of most domestic
conveniences insupportable after the first two weeks, and so she had
respectfully given warning. Bobby, to Sophy's great relief, took her
departure calmly. Miller had been a dutiful but not endearing nurse.

Then the Marchesa had come to the fore with her usual kindliness, and
provided Bobby with the nurse who was to prove the love of his young
life. This woman was Rosa Ramoni, a Lombard peasant. Her dark,
square-lidded eyes reminded Sophy of the Duse's, but their expression
was very different--almost bovinely guileless, yet sparkling with
merriment, that gushed over at the least trifle, into her free,
delicious Contadina's laugh. Rosa had one of the wisest hearts in the
world, but her knowledge of nursery physic was primitive to say the
least. Even after seeing Dottore Camenis from Stresa, and hearing to her
great relief that Bobby's "naughty tummy" was only the result of
indigestion brought on by cold, Sophy was afraid to leave him quite to
Rosa's care for a day or two, so she had to refuse the invitation which
came from the Marchesa, the morning after Amaldi's return, and which
said that now they must have the _gita_ which Marco's visit to Rome had
broken up.

When Sophy wrote to explain, the Marchesa answered by saying, "Then the
first day your dear _tousin_ is well enough." Sophy could not refuse
without seeming ungracious. "This time, then," she thought, "but I must
make definite plans to-morrow for leaving. Bobby's cold gives me just
the right excuse...." But her heart felt very heavy and very lonely at
this decision of her reason.

The afternoon was all blue and gold--one of those perfect days in late
August, when the summer warmth sparkles with the zest of autumn. An old
school-friend of the Marchesa was arriving by the evening train from
Milan. So they were to use the _Fretta_, starting at five o'clock from
Villa Bianca and stopping at Isola Bella for tea. Afterwards Sophy would
be left at home, and the _Fretta_ would go on to Laveno to meet the
Marchesa's friend.

It seemed strange, startling somehow, to see Amaldi's face in this blaze
of sunshine, after last seeing it in the dim starlight. He was as
quietly composed as usual, however. The only difference that she noticed
about him was that he managed always when looking at her not to look
directly into her eyes. This relieved and saddened her at the same time.
But when they got to Isola Bella, and he grasped her hand, assisting her
to step in and out of the row-boats that lay between the _Fretta_ and
the shore, she caught her foot on a seat, nearly falling into the water:
then his eyes went into hers. He had to catch her to him, rather roughly
in the exigency of the moment, close against his side. As he glanced
down at her, she glanced up involuntarily:--his eyes went deep into
hers--a keen, quick ray, making her feel as if her spirit had been
stabbed. It winced from that suddenly unsheathed stabbing look, as her
flesh would have winced from a blade. He loosed her instantly, but she
felt the contact of that look through and through her.

During tea she talked rather fast and rather more than usual. She made
the Marchesa laugh her gay arpeggio of "Ha-ha's"; Amaldi smiled
politely. He was smoking after his tea. He seemed to enjoy his cigarette
especially--inhaling deeply and letting the smoke escape through his
nostrils very slowly, his eyes watching it.

"I am still worried about Bobby, Marchesa," said Sophy suddenly. "He has
a little cough. I think I shall take him south. I thought of Sorrento."

"But, my dear, September is a warm, lovely month with us--like summer.
Only the nights and mornings are crisp. Aren't you over-anxious?"

The Marchesa had not been a fussy mother herself. She thought Sophy
inclined to coddle Bobby.

"Yes--I know," Sophy replied hurriedly. "But the change will be best for
him I'm sure. Besides--my husband will be well enough to travel
shortly--I heard from the nurse to-day. He loves the sea--sailing and
fishing. I'm afraid he'd feel the lake too shut in----"

"Oh, in that case...." said the Marchesa. She was pleased to hear Sophy
mention her husband in this way. It had struck her how rarely she
mentioned him. Never before had she done so when the three were
together, that the Marchesa could remember. She had wondered sometimes
what could ail Mr. Chesney, that his wife seemed so reticent about his
illness. Now she felt that things were settling down into just the right
form. It was very good that Marco should hear Sophy planning thus for
the pleasure of her husband. She glanced at him _à la dérobée_. He was
smoking as imperturbably as ever. He seemed to be interested in the
movements of some fishermen who were putting out for the evening cast.

"I've heard that there's splendid sailing and fishing around Naples,"
Sophy went on, nervously garrulous. "Cecil won't be coming for another
month, I suppose; but I could go and look up a villa and--and get things
ready."

"And what will you do with _this_ villa, my dear? You've four months yet
to run. You should sublet it."

And the Marchesa, always practical, began to discuss with Sophy the
possibilities of subletting Villa Bianca.

It was six o'clock when they left Isola Bella. The train from Milan did
not reach Laveno until half-past seven. Amaldi spoke of this as they
went toward the landing.

"What shall we do with our extra hour?" asked the Marchesa. "What would
you like to do, my dear?" she said, turning to Sophy, who was gazing at
the Palazzo on the Isola Madre.

Sophy started, as she often did these days when some one spoke suddenly
to her. She had been immersed in a sad, prescient feeling, as though
this afternoon were one of long farewells. Now as the Marchesa spoke,
she yielded to a wish that she had often had, and that came to her in
this moment very strongly. They had never visited the Isola Madre. There
had been so many other things of more obvious interest to see; but Sophy
had always felt drawn to that tranquil, tree-clad spot, with its rosy
Palace in which no one lived.

"Do you think--would there be time, for us to go to Isola Madre?" she
asked hesitatingly.

The Marchesa said briskly that it was the very thing--and on their way,
too.

The evening came stealing on as with a gracious modesty. There was no
flare of gorgeous colour--not a cloud. Very delicately, very slowly, sky
and water became suffused with soft, dim saffron. The Isola Madre lay
against it like an island of dark-green smoke, sent up to the lake's
clear surface by some submerged volcano.

They found another boat at the landing. No sooner had they reached the
upper terrace than the Marchesa was approached by a lively French lady
who had brought some friends to see the island. There was a flutter of
introductions all round. Sophy was much disappointed. This vivacious
lady seemed so jarringly out of key with the lovely hour, and the
wistful beauty of the island. Amaldi was standing near her.

"Shall we walk on?" he said, in a low voice. "I know the island
well...."

She turned away with him, feeling that perhaps she should not, feeling
also that whether it were wrong or right she would have this last,
beautiful hour with him.

They went in silence across the lawns to the flagged walk behind the
Palazzo, which leads, broad and stately, set with shallow steps, beneath
an avenue of ilex trees. The dark, pointed leaves made a gothic
fret-work against the saffron of the sky.

"Ladies in Genoa velvets and silk gowns embroidered with golden castles,
like the gown of poor Isabella," murmured Sophy. "I see them moving on
before me--with white peacocks mincing after.... There.... Don't you see
them, too? This walk is haunted...."

"It will be haunted ... when I return to it ... alone...." said Amaldi.

She tried to think of some answer. She could not. Yet the silence must
be broken. Silence had such a terrible eloquence of its own.

"I ... I shall come back some day," she said at last. It was as if the
words sprang of their own volition. Yet as she uttered them a feeling
leaped also within her. She felt sure, sure that she would come back
some day--that he and she would be walking here together--that all would
be different--that they would say to each other: "Do you remember that
other evening when we walked here?"

"So you feel that, too?" he said, in that same low voice. And now he was
looking into her eyes steadily, and there was exultation in this look.

Here the Marchesa called them. She was walking briskly towards them,
holding up her little watch on its jewelled chain, stopping where she
was.

"Time to go!" she called. As they joined her, she said vexedly: "That
_oca_ of a woman kept me standing there till a moment since--I'm glad
Marco thought of taking you on, my dear. You wouldn't have had time for
even a peep, otherwise."

It was quite dusk when they reached the Villa Bianca. Amaldi helped
Sophy out and went up to the villa with her. As they mounted the last
step, and came out upon the terrace, they saw that some one was standing
there--the figure of a man, looking almost gigantic in the thick
twilight. He walked towards them with a long, swinging step that brought
him near in a few paces.

"_Cecil_...?" Amaldi heard her whisper.

"Is that you, Sophy?" came Chesney's voice. "This is the most
confoundedly tricky light." He was close now.

"Ah, yes!... I see it's you," he ended, with a note of vibrant
satisfaction in his voice. "How d'ye do?" he added, peering at Amaldi.

"The Marchese Amaldi----" murmured Sophy, as once before.

"How d'ye do?" said Chesney again.

"How d'ye do?" said Amaldi. The men bowed without shaking hands. The
three stood a little awkwardly for a second in the dusk. Luigi came
pattering down the third flight of steps that led to the upper terrace
on which the house stood. Amaldi yielded Sophy's cloak to him.

"Excuse my haste," he then said, "but my mother's waiting for me below.
We've a train to meet. Good evening, Mrs. Chesney. Good evening...."

He was gone.

Chesney stood immovable till he heard the descending footsteps die away.
Then he said:

"Sophy!" His voice was thick with feeling. Sophy felt giddy--the
twilight seemed closing in on her in waves. She breathed it like a
stifling vapour.

"Sophy!" said Chesney again. He caught her to him--felt for her mouth
with his in the blinding dusk--crushed kisses down upon it until she
winced with physical pain. That London smell of his coat was strong in
her nostrils. The past two months shrivelled like a wisp of paper in a
flame. There was no Italy ... no dream ... only this great man holding
her, bruising her with his lips and body. In the utter quiet of the
evening, she could hear distinctly the throbbing of the _Fretta_'s
engine as it sped away towards Laveno.



XXXVI


Sophy felt very anxious when she learned that Cecil had not brought
either Gaynor or Anne Harding with him. The letter that she received
next morning from Anne did not reassure her: "Mr. Chesney has certainly
done wonderfully for such a short time," it said; "but _he's not out of
the woods yet_, by any _manner_ of means! I don't mean that he hasn't
stopped taking all drugs, but that he hasn't _stopped long enough to go
it alone_." (Anne was a great underscorer--her letters reminded Sophy of
her vehement, italicised speech.) "He should have me with him this
minute. He won't be _entirely_ safe for _two years_. But we could do
nothing. His constitution is _amazing_. He really _is_ well--in _a
way_--but he isn't near as strong yet a while as he _thinks_ he
is--either mentally or physically. Dr. Carfew was _much_ displeased by
his leaving so abruptly; but, as I said--we could do _nothing_. This is
a free country--worse luck for it in some ways!"

And yet Cecil certainly seemed normal in all respects. His good temper
over inconveniences was astonishing in so fastidious and pampered a man.
Never since he was twenty had he been without a skilled valet. Now he
put up with Luigi's amateurish ministrations, as though it were a sort
of lark to have his boots treed rights on lefts, and his ties, socks,
and handkerchiefs mingled confusedly. Luigi himself was fully aware of
his shortcomings. He was a finished butler, but had never valeted any
one. Still he was intelligent. "Direct me ... direct me, milor'," he
would plead. "I shall improve with time, like wine."

So, far from being irritated by the lake, Chesney seemed to feel its
charm strongly. He questioned Sophy about her life of the past two
months; expressed himself much touched by the kindness shown her by the
Marchesa.

"You must take me there," he said. "We'll hire a steam-launch of our own
for the rest of the time we're here--from what's-his-name--the man at
Stresa.... What did you call him?"

"Taroni," said Sophy.

It was the day after his arrival. She still felt rather stunned, as
though a bolt had struck the quiet house of her content. She felt
blasted by his renewed, torrential passion and the quintessential
strength of his personality. Fortunately for her, she could be merely
the leaf in the storm--had only to let it sweep her along without effort
on her part. The storm does not take account of the leaves it whirls in
its imperious grasp. Chesney, in his present volcanic gusto of renewed
health, would as soon have thought of pausing to ask whether the partner
in his feast of love shared his transports as an eagle would think of
inquiring of a lamb whether it enjoys being devoured. He was fond of
calling her "Diana." He was sure that even with Endymion, the goddess
had been veiled and reticent. And Sophy had been "in love" with him
once. He took it for granted, in his lordly way--that, after all, had
something grandiose in it--that she was still in love with him. He had
been an "ill man" when he offended her--(sometimes it made him wince
that he must have offended even more terribly than he could recall). It
was, as Heine had said of _le Bon Dieu_, a woman's _métier_ to forgive.

And he rushed exuberantly to and fro, ordering a fast steam-launch from
Taroni; sweeping Sophy off in it to Intra to choose a piano--it vexed
him that she had no piano, had not been singing at all during her stay
in Italy; spending hours in trying to find a small sailing yacht to his
liking.

"That's a ripper your friend Amaldi's got," he said to Sophy. "_The
Wind-Flower_. Jolly name, by the way. Perhaps he'd help me find a good
'un. Let's go over to their place this afternoon. I want to thank the
old lady for being so decent to you and the little chap."

So they went tearing through the autumn-coloured water to Le Vigne, at a
rate that would have made the little _Fretta_ look like a water-snail.
And this new, powerful, highly-polished mahogany launch, glittering with
a sort of defiant grin of shining metal, hissing through the quiet lake
like an Express, seemed symbolical to Sophy of the ruthless power which
had suddenly seized her life and was hurling it blindly to some unknown
goal. As she sat quiet in the new launch, so she sat quiet in the grasp
of Chesney's will. So, she told herself, it was her duty to sit quiet.
Where she was now, her own act had placed her--besides, she still felt
affection for her husband, though love in its highest, divinest form was
gone forever. If only he would not stun her with those fiery crashes of
unshared passion! She felt like some sentient lyre, on which a giant
without sense of music strums with a mighty plectrum. The fine chords of
her nature snapped with the clashing shocks. She felt as though she had
been through some wild fever of which the delirium left her brain dazed
and numb.

What she now dreaded most was to see Amaldi. Not because of any feeling
that she had or might have had for him, but because he was so vividly a
part of something that was gone forever, and that had been so beautiful.
Yes, that tranquil dream of which he had been a part was as utterly
dispelled as the reflection in a quiet pool shattered by the crash of a
boulder. She felt that numbness, that lack of acute pain which it is
said a soldier experiences when in the heat of battle a limb is
suddenly shot away. She was maimed for life, she felt, and she regretted
it--but it was as if her mind rather than her heart suffered from this
regret.

They found the Marchesa alone at Le Vigne. She was sorry, she said, that
her son should miss the pleasure of seeing them. He had gone to Milan
for a few days. The relief of hearing this was so great that Sophy paled
with it. The elder woman thought she looked exhausted and oddly
listless. She firmly believed in the "Vampirising" qualities of some
people; taking in Chesney with her shrewd, lustrous eyes, she decided
that he was probably a most "Vampirising" person. By this, the Marchesa
did not mean that one actively plays the part of Vampire towards
another, but that, whether or no, some natures suck the vitality from
those with whom they are in contact. Yet Chesney attracted her in a way,
while at the same time he repelled her. She was too completely the woman
not to feel the force of his extraordinary vitality and superb physique,
but she was herself of too imperious and dominating a temperament not to
resist tacitly the stress of his somewhat overpowering personality. She
made herself perfectly charming, however.

"What a gorgeous old lady!" exclaimed Chesney, as they rushed home
again. "Amaldi must be a decent sort with a mater like that. Wish he'd
come back from his damned Milan. I want that yacht."

Amaldi returned in three days, and came for a formal call to Villa
Bianca. He had conquered the first well-nigh unbearable recoil from the
idea of Chesney's presence, and realised that certain civil forms were
obligatory, after the rather close relations that had grown up between
his mother and Sophy.

Chesney took one of his violent fancies to the young Lombard, on this
occasion. He had utterly forgotten the jealousy with which Amaldi had
once inspired him, when morphia ruled his moods.

He and Amaldi began talking boats and boating. Amaldi was afraid that
just then there was no such yacht as Chesney wished to hire on Lago
Maggiore. He might find one, however, he thought, at Costaguta's, in
Genoa. But Chesney didn't want to go such a long trip by rail. He looked
disgruntled and his big shoulders hunched with a boyish petulance,
rather engaging--had not his every gesture been salt on Amaldi's open
wound.

"I should be very glad if you would come with me in _The Wind-Flower_
whenever you like," said the latter. He had not once glanced towards
Sophy since he and her husband began their talk; but he saw, without
looking at her, the tall figure in its white serge gown, bending over
the masses of Michaelmas daisies that she had brought in from a walk,
and was arranging in one of the old apothecary jars from Intra.

It hurt Amaldi to look at Chesney as it hurts some people to look on
blood--gave him just that faint, gone feeling. The very fact that he was
so magnificent a man to look at hurt him that much more.

Chesney accepted this proposal about _The Wind-Flower_ with frank
alacrity.

"What d'you say to an all-day sail to-morrow?" he asked. "You're as keen
on sailing as I am, my wife tells me. If it's convenient...." he added;
then said quickly, laughing: "I must say, I've landed rather plump on
your offer, Marquis."

Amaldi murmured banal assurances of the pleasure that it would afford
him to sail all day with Mr. Chesney.

"Good!" Cecil exclaimed, much pleased. "And I say, suppose we drop the
'Mister' and the 'Marquis'--such rot, really--thanks. Well, Sophy--what
d'you think? Will you come along, too--eh?"

"No.... I don't think I can to-morrow, Cecil."

"Why not?"

"I ... I don't think I care to sail all day. The glare gives me a
headache if I'm out too long in it."

"Just as you like, of course. But I rather fancy 'twould do you good. A
bit of sunburn wouldn't hurt--you're looking a bit pale, I find. What do
you think, Amaldi? Don't you find Mrs. Chesney paler than she was in
England?"

"I don't think so," said Amaldi. His throat seemed to close.

He and Chesney went for that sail and several others. With a sort of
grim satisfaction Amaldi would tell himself on these occasions that the
more Chesney was with him the less his wife would see of him. He felt in
every fibre the relief it was to Sophy when her husband's towering
figure stepped over the side of _The Wind-Flower_ and was gone for long
hours together.

For the week following Chesney's arrival the weather had a crisp tang
quite autumnal; then suddenly it changed, becoming summer-like and even
sultry again. On the first day of this change Amaldi and Chesney were
out in _The Wind-Flower_ together. It was noon. The Tramontana had died
out. The Inverna had not yet risen. They had been running before the
wind, and now, when it suddenly ceased, the heat was intense.

Though Amaldi's sailor, Peppin, was always aboard, Chesney loved
handling the ropes himself when not at the tiller, which Amaldi insisted
on his taking most of the time. He had been springing about at a great
rate that morning, shifting the spinnaker. Now, all overheated and
sweltering in the breathless pause between the breezes of morning and
afternoon, he announced his intention of "going overboard for a swim."

Amaldi cautioned him that the September air played tricks on one, and
that the Inverna would probably blow rather strong that day.

"I don't think I'd do it," he said. "We've no extra coats aboard. You
might get badly chilled."

"'Chilled'?" echoed Chesney, with his most good-natured grin. "My dear
chap, that's what I'm hoping...."

He was getting out of his flannels as he spoke.

"I really wouldn't, you know," repeated Amaldi.

But Chesney only whipped his shirt over his head for reply; his feet
were already bare. And against the blazing mainsail, in the full glare
of sunshine, he stood there naked--a magnificent, glistering shape of
manhood that caused Peppin's eyes to shine.

And Amaldi, too, could not withhold his admiration. So superb was this
huge, stripped man--so perfectly proportioned--so admirably free from
the least ounce of unnecessary fat.

"_Accidenti! Che Marc Antoni!_" (Lord! What a Mark Antony of a man!)
breathed Peppin, as the sunlit body flashed off into the water.

But its very splendour as of the supremacy of flesh sickened Amaldi.
Were they primitive men--men of the Stone Age--and should they grapple,
man to man, what chance would he, Amaldi, have against those mighty
thews and sinews?

Chesney swam a few strokes, his white body greenish under the clear
water, like the silver belly of a fish; then dived beneath the yacht,
came up the other side, swam on his side, his back, dived again; then
swung himself aboard, gleaming with wet like a great mother-o'-pearl
image. He took the towel that Peppin handed him with a "Ha!" of gusto.

"I feel like Jupiter!" he called, rubbing his sides, and back, standing
on one foot to dry the other, his glossy skin all rosed in patches from
his vigorous rubbing.

Getting quickly into his shirt and trousers, he announced that he was
"hungry as ten hunters."

Peppin opened the luncheon hamper. There were sandwiches of salami and
anchovies, purple and white figs, a fiasco of red wine from Solcio.

"By God! this is living! Eh? What?" asked Chesney, his lips fresh and
ruddy with wine. He grinned with the sheer lust of life, splitting a
fig, and laying its seedy pulp against his tongue as Peppin had shown
him how to eat them without getting the rough bite of the skin. "When
you find rye-bread and fish and raw fruit better than pressed ducklings
at Voisin's--you're jolly thoroughly alive, I take it. What are you
peering at? Wind coming?"

"Yes," said Amaldi.

Chesney leaped up, still munching the other half of his fig. All about
them the water lay in long, smooth fluctuations as of molten glass; but
here and there a dark-blue patch spread widening like a stain on some
shining fabric. The sails filled, though near by the water still shone
clear and smooth as glass. Far out, beyond the point of the Fortino,
there was a band of indigo, stretched right across the lake.

"The Inverna," said Amaldi, pointing. "Won't you take the tiller?" he
added.

Chesney grasped it willingly. All his blood was beating in little
pleasant hammer-strokes of exultant health and strength. Yet as the
first chill breaths of the coming breeze played over him, he felt a
shivery sensation not altogether agreeable.

"Going to be a bit of a blow--eh?" he asked, screwing up his eyes
against the sun to watch the iron-blue band that was widening every
second. "Think I'll just get my coat on in that case," he added.

Amaldi took the tiller while Chesney got into his coat. Now there came
white flashes from the band of blue.

"_Un Invernung, Scior Marchese_," grinned Peppin.

"What's he say?" asked Chesney.

"That we're going to have an '_Invernung_'--'a big Inverna'--'a stiff
breeze,'" translated Amaldi patiently.

And indeed the South Wind pounced on them in a few moments, blowing more
than a capful. As the full gust struck her, the little _Wind-Flower_
heeled till her shrouds were under water. The spray came from her
dipping bows in a silver sluice, drenching them even where they sat.
Against the wind they ran, and the sails bulged full and hard as though
carved from marble--only a slight flutter near the mast showed how close
to the wind Chesney was holding her. He shouted like a Viking with the
fierce fun of it, as the spume slapped his face now and then with the
topping of a bigger wave--exultant with that exultation in sheer health
known only to the lately redeemed morphinomaniac. Amaldi thought him
strangely effusive in his pleasure, for an Englishman. The more he saw
of him the more distasteful he found Chesney. He sat balanced on the
upper side of the cock-pit, gazing steadily forward. Peppin lay flat on
deck to windward. The whole lake was now one welter of white and indigo.

But though for a while his delight in this wild game with wind and water
shut out lesser things, by the time that the Inverna had romped with him
for half an hour, Chesney felt chilled to the bone. Pride kept him from
admitting it. He was vexed to think that Amaldi's warning had been
justified. Also, it annoyed him that he should not have sufficient vital
force to resist getting chilled by a whiff of wind on a day so mild as
this. Anne Harding had told him that he was not yet so "almighty strong
as he thought himself, by a long shot."

He reached Villa Bianca two hours later, feeling rather moody, and with
a nasty, teasing pain in his legs and the small of his back.



XXXVII


The pains in his back and legs persisted all that night, and in the
morning he confessed to Sophy that he thought he'd "caught a damned cold
somehow," that his legs felt like a pair of red-hot compasses, and could
she suggest a remedy? Sophy brought him ten grains of phenacetine from
her little travelling medicine-chest, and in an hour he was much
relieved. These pains were all the more annoying, as he had heard lately
of the yearly boat-races on Lago Maggiore, and was keen on having Amaldi
enter _The Wind-Flower_ for these races.

"And if I get shelved with an attack of sciatica, there's the end of
it!" he growled. "It nipped me once before, in Canada, so I know the
strength of its cursed fangs."

Amaldi, finding that he would have to endure more than a good deal of
Chesney's company, unless he devised some mitigation, had introduced him
to several friends of his--keen yachtsmen, members of the R. V. Y. C.
(Royal Verbano Yacht Club), an offshoot of the R. I. Y. C. This club has
no seat, and its funds are devoted to prizes. It meets at Stresa, in a
room, always gratuitously provided by the _Hotel des Isles Barromées_.
There Amaldi took Chesney. The latter was much pleased with these
Italian devotees of _le sport_, though he was also vastly tickled by
some things about them. For instance, he could not get over the fact
that, while they were one and all very well dressed in London clothes,
three at least of them wore evening pumps with their yachting flannels,
and one kept gloves on all the time, and even shook hands in them. That
they spoke such excellent English struck him as astonishing. He had
thought Amaldi an exception.

So Chesney was invited to sail also in other yachts, and Amaldi was
relieved from such incessant contact with him. However, he found it
impossible, with civility, to decline all his invitations to lunch and
dine at Villa Bianca. In this way he saw even more of Sophy than he had
hitherto done. But seeing her in this way was more painful to him than
not seeing her at all. He longed for the time to come when they would
leave Lago Maggiore. And Sophy talked very little when the two men were
present.

"I thought you liked Amaldi?" Chesney said one day, looking at her
rather keenly.

"I do," said Sophy. "Very much," she added, feeling that the coldness of
her tone might seem singular.

"Well, upon my soul, no one would guess it," he retorted, rather
crossly. Those pains were beginning to irritate him again. "Sometimes I
wonder that he comes here at all--you're so confoundedly glacial and
snubby in your manner to him."

"I?... 'Snubby' to Marchese Amaldi?" asked Sophy, really surprised.

"Yes, by Gad! Just that," said Chesney. "You never open your lips to him
if you can help it. You sail out of the room for the least excuse--and
stay out. The other night, at dinner, he asked you a question and you
didn't even answer him."

"I didn't hear him ... really I didn't, Cecil." Sophy felt much
distressed. Could Amaldi think that she meant to be "glacial" and
"snubby" to him?

"I'm very sorry. I do like him sincerely," she added.

Cecil was in a really bad humour. That right leg of his, from the hip
down, hurt like the devil!

"And the way you refused to sing when I asked you after dinner, that
same evening, was downright rude!" he fumed on. "You'd been singing for
me every evening that week--I'd told the poor devil so. Fancy how he
must have felt, when you minced out: 'Not _this_ evening, please,
Cecil.'"

To her intense dismay, Sophy felt herself flushing. She had excused
herself from singing because Amaldi had never heard her sing and she had
felt that it would be sad and painful to sing before him for the first
time under these circumstances. She knew how much he liked music. He had
said once in her presence that he thought a contralto voice the most
beautiful of all. She did not want to sing for Amaldi at her husband's
bidding, and a slightly relaxed throat had made her feel that she could
refuse reasonably. Now this flush added to her distress.

"You know, Cecil, I explained that I had a sore throat," she murmured.
"I am sure the Marchese didn't think I meant to be rude."

"Well, I hope you'll have recovered from your sore throat by the next
time I ask him here," said Chesney drily. "It's annoying to have one's
wife even seem discourteous to one's friends. Have you any more of that
stuff you gave me yesterday?" he wound up. "I took the last tablet two
hours ago, and my leg's cutting up hell again."

"Won't you see Doctor Camenis, Cecil? Do. Let him come here, or see him
some time when you're in Stresa, I don't like giving you so much
phenacetine. It's so depressing--so bad on one's heart."

"Oh, damn doctors!" he said impatiently. "Get me the stuff, can't you?"

But when she came back with it, he looked ashamed of himself.

"Sorry if I was rude, Sophy," he said; "but I've had just about as much
doctoring as I can stand for the present."

This was the only allusion that he had made to his experience with
Carfew since his arrival in Italy. Sophy thought it most natural. She
could imagine the horror and loathing with which he looked back on those
two months in the sanatorium.

Next day, however, he came to her quite meekly.

"Just give me that doctor chap's address in Stresa, will you?" he said.
"This damnable leg is getting too much for me."

Dr. Camenis wanted Chesney to go to bed for forty-eight hours and take
large doses of salicylate of soda. Chesney said that he would take the
stuff, but refused to go to bed.

"In that case, Signore," said Camenis firmly, "I cannot prescribe
salicylate of sodium. It produces heavy perspiration. You would probably
increase this attack of sciatica."

Chesney said very well, to give him the prescription and he'd promise
not to take it unless he went to bed for two days.

He had gone to Stresa that day by one of the Lake Steamers. By the time
he returned to Intra, he was in severe pain. Camenis had said that he
could suggest no palliative but opium in some form, and he was averse
from prescribing anodynes except in extreme cases. As he came up the
slant of the embarcadero, Chesney had actual difficulty in walking. His
face was flushed with that drilling anguish in his sciatic nerve. He
limped across to the Piazza. At once the _vetturini_ waiting there on
the boxes of their rusty little traps began to hail him. One red-faced,
grey-eyed fellow shouted out:

"_Hé!_ Meester! I drive you Villa Bianca--_né_?"

But Chesney, leaning heavily on his stick, had his eyes fixed on a sign
that ran along the front of a shop just across the way. "_Farmacia
Lavatelli_," it read. His heart was thumping hard with a bolt-like
thought that had just struck him. He had set his teeth. The vetturino,
his scampish grey eyes looking white like glass in his dark-red face,
drove nearer.

"I drive you at Villa Bianca quveek, sir," he said. "I spik Engleesh.
Liva Noo York two year. I name John. You wanta me drive you, _né_?"

Chesney glanced around with a start; then clambered painfully into the
_carrozzella_.

The man gave his old screw a flick, it started forward in a gallant
shamble.

"Hold on!" cried Chesney.

The vetturino nearly drew the poor nag onto its haunches.

"_Hé?_ What's it?" he asked.

Chesney pointed with his stick at Lavatelli's sign.

"Is that a good chemist's?" he asked.

"_Hé?_" said the vetturino, glancing where the stick pointed. "You say
Lavatelli--is he good?"

"Yes," said Chesney.

"Veree good," said John cheerfully. "Lavatelli he all right. Caccia he
good, too. You want go there?"

Chesney hesitated an instant; the blood rushed to his face, then ebbed.

"Yes. Drive there," he said, throwing himself back against the greasy
seat and clenching his teeth. A pang like the throb of a red-hot piston
had shot from the joint of his ankle to his hip. His muscles drew with
the anguish of it.

"Where I must go--Lavatelli or Caccia?" asked the vetturino.

"There," said Chesney, indicating the shop opposite. Somewhere behind
those gilt-lettered windows was relief ready to his hand. He had
determined very seriously to tamper no more with morphia, but agony such
as he was enduring at this moment certainly justified him in making an
exception to his self-imposed rule. Besides, he was no sottish weakling,
who could not trust himself to take one moderate dose of morphia without
risking the danger of a renewal of the habit. Of course, old Carfew
would howl blue ruin at the mere idea. Sophy would be horrified. Anne
Harding would lash him with her prickly tongue.... Well, thank the Lord,
there was no need of taking them into his confidence! One, or perhaps
two, moderate doses--that was all. He could take it by mouth. He would
go to bed--sleep it off. No one would be the wiser. But he would be
relieved of this maddening "tooth-ache" in his leg. He might even try
that old Italian prig's remedy, afterwards--do the thing up thoroughly
while he was about it.

As the vetturino drove across the street, Chesney got out his
pocketbook. His fingers slid as from habit to a little flap on the
inside of the case. As he felt the paper that he was in search of under
his fingers, a queer thrill ran through him. He started, flushing. This
thrill had been one of exultation; at the same time he had a sense of
guilt. What rot! He was a responsible being--independent--he had a
brain. What was it for if not to guide him in just such cases as this?
He had endured this grinding pain for a week now--had only slept in
wretched snatches for seven whole nights. Why should he feel that
absurd, little-boy sense of guilt because he was going to provide
himself with a good night's rest?

When the man drew up before the chemist's shop, Chesney sat for a
moment reading over the prescription in his hand. Yes, it was
perfectly preserved--quite legible. It was a prescription for soluble
tablets of morphia for hypodermic use--one grain of morphia, one
one-hundred-and-fiftieth of a grain of atropine. The atropine was to
prevent nausea. How cursedly dry it made one's mouth! That was the
drawback to atropine. But it was better than nausea. And still he sat
there fingering the prescription--something holding him back--something
more imperious than reason. His reasons appeared all excellent and
logical to himself; yet this something refused them--said: "Not so....
Not so"--with the iteration of steady clockwork. Also, as often happens
when one is sure of relief, that hot drilling in his leg had ceased
completely. Without the excuse of that anguish, it seemed in a flash
monstrous, even to him, that he should be sitting there in the lovely
Italian sunshine before Lavatelli's, after all the horrors of the past
months and years, deliberately contemplating purchasing and taking a
dose of morphia. He slipped the prescription suddenly back into his
pocketbook and put it away.

"Villa Bianca!" he called sharply to the vetturino.

The man caught up the reins again, again smacked the old bay's quarters
with his whip. They started at a splaying trot towards Ghiffa. But
before they reached the Intra post-office, the fierce pain had again
gripped him. He was ashamed to tell the man to go back to Lavatelli's.
With his stick he tapped John's shoulder.

"What did you say was the name of the other chemist's shop....
Pharmacy.... Whatever-you-call-it...?" he asked.

"_Pharmacia? Hé?_"

"Yes; the other one."

"Caccia? All right, I go at Caccia."

He turned round and drove to another chemist's, this time in a farther
Piazza. It took about four minutes. Chesney got out and entered the
shop. The keen, medicinal smell of the place brought the past in a gust
upon him. He took the old prescription again from his pocketbook. It was
stamped with the names of various chemists where it had been filled
before.

"I am suffering severely with sciatica," he said, in a casual tone, to
the clerk who took the prescription from him. "I need sleep very badly.
I only want enough morphia for two doses--well, perhaps three would be
better, as the pain might not yield easily."

The clerk said: "_Si, Signore_," and went to consult a senior member of
the firm. He returned and said respectfully:

"I am sorry, Signore. We do not keep _Sulfato di Morphia_ in this form."

Chesney flushed and paled rapidly as he had done in the cab outside.

"Do you mean you refuse to sell me even one or two doses?" he asked
haughtily.

The clerk looked admiringly and a little timidly at his immense, angry
customer.

"_Prego, Signore_--but not at all," he said. "We will sell it to you.
This is a good prescription--good firms have filled it before. It is
only that we have not the morphia in tablets--but in solution. And we
have it not with the atropia."

"Ah!" said Chesney. His face relaxed. "Well, show me the kind you have,"
he said curtly, but not uncivilly.

The clerk brought a little cardboard box divided into cells. These
cells, which were lined with cotton-wool, each held a small glass
globule filled with a solution of morphia and sealed at one end with
wax.

"It is safer so, Signore. One escapes to infect oneself. One breaks the
seal and fills the hypodermic _siringa_ direct from these little
globules."

Chesney was silent for a second, gazing at the little transparent
amphoræ that held Nepenthe. Then he said:

"Do you keep hypodermic syringes? I have broken mine."

He winced as the unnecessary lie escaped him. It made things more
plausible, but need not have been uttered. Untruth seemed somehow the
inevitable attendant of morphia, even when innocently indulged in as he
was now about to do. Yet all this time his pulse was racing. The clang
of the little bell attached to the door of the pharmacy, that rang when
customers went in or out, made him start and glance round each time that
it sounded....

He went out and got again into the _carrozzella_. In his pocket were
three of the little globules and a shining new hypodermic syringe in a
black Morocco case.

"Villa Bianca!" he said.

The vetturino glanced up, struck by the new, firm ring in his voice.

"They must have given him some devil of a good medicine in there," he
thought. "He's another man, _per Bacco_!"

This time the patient screw shambled on to the gates of Villa Bianca
without check.



XXXVIII


He was very cautious about this dose of morphia. He felt that he must
guard in every possible way against the nausea that might follow it,
thus taken without atropine. Sophy was pleased and surprised to hear
that he had seen Camenis, and still more surprised when he said that he
was going to bed at once, and would she be a dear girl and read aloud to
him. He was looking forward with a half-shamed excitement to the luxury
of relief and stimulation which he knew the morphia, so long refrained
from, would give him to a superlative degree. But he knew also that it
would be apt to make him garrulous. He did not want to talk. He was
afraid of "giving himself away" somehow. So he asked Sophy to read aloud
because he did not want to be alone either. It would intensify that
sensation of blissful _bien être_ which lay just ahead of him to have
some one near. This feeling was akin to that with which a child, cosily
in bed, regards its nurse sewing beside a shaded lamp.

Yes; he would go to bed, take the morphia, and then, later, the
salicylate of soda. Two days of it would knock out the sciatica, that
old doctor had said. Well--the morphia would keep him from being bored,
in addition to easing his pain. One was never bored while under the
effects of morphia. He would take one dose now, sleep off the bad
effects. Then, next day, take the other in the same way. The
third--well, it depended on how he would be feeling whether he took the
third dose or not.

Sophy sent Luigi to kindle a fire in his bedroom before she would let
him undress there. The _Mareng_, as the Scirocco is called on Lago
Maggiore, had been blowing all day. Now a fine drizzle had begun to
fall. As she went to find the book that Cecil had asked her to read
aloud, she thought of how odd it was that his illnesses should always be
associated in her mind with rainy weather. And the weather had been so
glorious nearly all the time, until now. Some splendid _Temporali_--the
crashing thunderstorms of that region--had come in July and August. But
there had been no steady, sullen rain such as was now falling.

As for Chesney, he congratulated himself on having this acute attack
just at this time. The _Mareng_, Luigi told him, would not last more
than two or three days. _The Wind-Flower_ was at Taroni's having her
bottom scraped for the races.

As soon as he was rid of this deuced pain, he would go and look up a
rowboat. He needed exercise. There were good boats, cheaper than
elsewhere, Amaldi had said, at a little village called Cerro, on the
other side of the Lake.

When Luigi had kindled the fire, he went up to his bedroom and closed
and locked the door. The blaze from dried roots and scraps of wood
looked very jolly tucked away in the corner like that. He glanced at the
fine strands of rain outside his window, and the soggy brown of the
balcony beyond, and thought the contrast only made the fire seem
jollier.

Then he took off his coat, spread a fresh towel on the bed, and laid out
the hypodermic syringe and one of the glass globules upon it. There was
one instant when, as he stood with the syringe poised above the opened
capsule, a strange impulse came over him. He thought: "What if I throw
all this stuff into the fire? Just go to bed, take the salicylate--'grin
and bear it'?" His heart beat violently. Then, with a sudden gesture, he
thrust the nose of the syringe into the capsule, and drew the piston up
till the cylinder was filled with the colourless liquid. Each dose of
the solution held half a grain of morphia. He screwed the needle into
place--pushed up his shirt-sleeve.... Another instant and the needle was
home in his flesh. He pressed the piston gently down--withdrew the
needle, and rubbed the puncture with a bit of cotton soaked in spirit.
Then he cleaned the syringe, put a wire through the needle, locked all
away into his travelling-bag, and, after setting the door slightly ajar,
undressed and got into bed. In two minutes the little clutch at his
midriff told him that the morphia was at its work.... Then he called to
Sophy. And as he lay there with slow bliss stealing over him, and heard
her light step coming up the stair, he justified his action to himself
with persistent and plausible reiteration. The pain was already
lessening--he felt tender and affectionate towards Sophy--longed to talk
to her. But he kept saying to himself: "No, no--I must not. I must not,
on any account." So he only smiled at her and moved his head against the
pillow in assent, when she asked if he felt easier, warm in bed like
this. When she sat down in a low chair beside the bed and began to read,
he reached out and took her free hand, holding it, playing with her
rings--that vague smile still on his face.

The rain fell faster and faster--it became a heavy downpour, rattling on
the magnolia leaves outside and veiling the more distant trees. Sophy
read until he seemed dozing--then went down to her lonely dinner in the
ugly little dining-room. Somehow she felt strangely depressed. The
_Mareng_ seemed to have soaked into her very soul.

Chesney stayed in bed three days. He took all the morphia, but he also
took the salicylate prescribed by Camenis. He suffered a good deal from
nausea; but when he got up again, on the morning of the fourth day, his
attack of sciatica was entirely over. He felt abominably weak, though.
On the second day, he had sent Luigi to Pallanza to buy some good
Cognac--a small glass of this revived him. He scrupulously avoided
taking more than a small quantity at a time. He did not for a moment
intend to lapse into his old habits.

But after he had been about for two days, back came the sciatic pains.
He grumbled savagely. The _Mareng_ had ceased. The Maggiore seemed
kindling the heavens with its clear, fierce blast. The sun would have
been hot as in August but for the wind. There seemed no earthly reason
for the return of the sciatica. He must get rid of this nuisance before
the races, by hook or by crook. He shrank from the idea of taking more
morphia in its Italian form. The nausea had been too wearing. Besides,
he did not wish to go to Caccia's a second time for it. It occurred to
him to take the motor-boat and run over to Stresa. The first chemist
there would probably have English or American preparations of the drug.
He succeeded in finding a little case of an American preparation of
morphia and atropine. But he was still extremely cautious, not only in
regard to others, but about himself. Such doses as he took were very
small (he would cut the tablets in half with his penknife--carefully
burning the blade first in a candle-flame). And he always took them at
bedtime, so that by the next morning the extreme dryness of his mouth
would have passed. The pain kept nagging him. And in the intervals
between the doses of morphia that hateful weakness came over him. He
began to drink Cognac regularly with his meals. This worried Sophy--she
could not think so much brandy good for him. At her suggestion he bought
some Scotch whiskey in Pallanza. But the smooth, oily liquor, tempered
by soda, was not what he wanted. It was even distasteful to him. What he
craved was the keen bite of the raw brandy in his stomach and blood.

He grew very irritable at times, under the double stress of the
intermittent pain, and the desire for larger doses of morphia than he
dared take. His extreme caution would not let him continue drinking the
Cognac at meals, since Sophy had objected to it. It might make her
suspect something. So he fell into the way of taking a glass here and
there, wherever he chanced to be, at some _café_ in Intra or Pallanza,
or even in Ghiffa.

He did not find Amaldi so companionable, either, since he had been
suffering in this way.

"Rather a wooden chap, that Amaldi, when one comes to see more of him,"
he said to Sophy.

One evening, when Amaldi chanced to be at Villa Bianca, Chesney again
asked his wife to sing. She went at once to the piano. Amaldi sat
leaning forward, looking down at his hands, which were clasped loosely
between his knees. Chesney kept glancing towards him vexedly all the
time that Sophy was singing. Amaldi's expression _was_ rather "wooden."

"Sing that Grieg thing," Chesney had said. She sang Solweg's song from
the Peer Gynt series. It seemed to Amaldi that he could not bear it,
when the voice of the woman he loved poured over him in that soft wave
of heart-break. His face looked ever more and more "wooden" as she sang
on. When she stopped and Chesney fixed his eyes on the other man with
that sort of irritated challenge in them, Amaldi said in a cut-and-dried
tone: "Thanks. It was most beautiful."

Chesney couldn't get over it for the rest of the evening. He mimicked
Amaldi's tone and manner to Sophy again and again.

"Damned constipated mind the fellow's got, by God!" he said. "He hears
for the first time a great imperial-purple voice like yours, and all he
says is: 'Thanks; most beautiful.' Why didn't he say: 'Very nice,' and
have done with it!"

Sophy shivered at his ever-increasing irritability. Sometimes she
thought the gentle Luigi would surely burst into flame under Cecil's
fierce cursings and depart forthwith; but the little man merely looked
stolid, as if slightly deaf, on these occasions. She thought that
Lombards, whether noble or peasant, had singular self-control, for
something in the little Milanese's manner under provocation reminded
her vaguely of Amaldi. Then one day she heard him remark to Maria, the
cook, who also seemed astonished at his patience:

"_Cosa te voeuret? L'è matt quel diavol d'un milord. E quella bella
sciora l'è tanto bona._" (What'll you have? He's mad, this devil of a
milord, and his lovely lady is so good!)

One afternoon Amaldi called to tell Chesney that _The Wind-Flower_ was
in the water again. He found Sophy alone on the terrace. She was sewing
on a little blouse for Bobby, who had worn out most of his wardrobe. She
loved making his little fineries herself. Amaldi was more natural in his
manner that afternoon. It was long since he had seen her alone. Sophy
had recovered from the first shock of her husband's return; she also
felt more natural. Before long she was talking to Amaldi almost eagerly.
She had been thinking of her far-away home in Virginia when he arrived.
She ran to fetch some photographs of it to show him. Chesney was away in
the motor-boat--at Stresa, she believed.... But at that moment Chesney
was driving back from Pallanza, having left the motor there to be
mended. It had broken down just before he reached the embarcadero, and
he had been obliged to row ashore. He was in an evil temper. His leg was
"drilling" again, and he had had two glasses of Cognac within an hour.

When he reached the lower terrace he looked up and saw Sophy and Amaldi
bending together over the photographs like two children over a
picture-book. She was talking eagerly, looking often at Amaldi. There
was a pretty flush on her face. Her grey eyes sparkled.... Chesney was
so gruff in manner that Amaldi went almost immediately. Sophy sat gazing
at her husband with a puzzled expression. She had not yet realised that
Chesney had taken a dislike to Amaldi as sudden as his first liking.

"Well, I must say you're making up for lost time!" he threw out roughly.

"How?" she asked, astonished, not getting his meaning.

"Why, a week ago you hadn't a word to throw that chap; now you palaver
with him like an old crony."

Sophy reddened with anger.

"Please don't speak to me in this way," she said coldly.

He reddened, too.

"You speak to Amaldi as you damn please--I'll speak to you as I damn
please," he said.

"No," said Sophy, "for I shan't stay to listen to you."

And she gathered up the photographs and went into the house with her
head high.

"Women are the devil!" said Chesney, scowling after her. "Women are the
devil!" he repeated, flinging himself morosely into a chair, and gazing
down at the outstretched leg which ached so infernally. Then he rose,
went upstairs and injected a fourth of a grain of morphia into it. He
sent word that he would not be down to dinner. At twelve o'clock that
night, he took another fourth.



XXXIX


Chesney was very much on his guard for two days after that. The pain in
his leg was better. He took no more morphia, until just before day on
the third morning. The sciatica had again roused him with its fierce
stabs. But he took a very moderate dose--only the eighth of a grain. A
cup of black coffee before going down to breakfast steadied him. He lay
on a wicker chair in the sunshine all the morning--reading between
dozes. He looked very pale. Sophy felt sorry for him, although she was
still indignant at the way he had spoken to her about Amaldi.

He ate a light lunch and drank two more cups of lye-like coffee after
it. He felt so much better that he asked her to come with him to Cerro.

"I'm going to hire a rowboat," he explained. "We'll go trolling
together--I'll row and you can fish. Come along. It's a jolly day--not
too hot."

But Sophy said that she had ordered a _carrozzella_ to go shopping in
Intra for Bobby. "I _must_ get some autumn things ready for him," she
said. "I brought so few clothes. And this warm weather won't last much
longer."

Chesney felt a spurt of anger, as she made this excuse for not going
with him. He had taken a glass of Cognac, after Sophy had left the
dining-room. The wearing out of the morphia left him irritable, and the
brandy whipped this irritation. He tried hard to keep himself in hand.
He really wanted her to come with him very much.

"Do come," he said. "Let the Italian woman--let Rosa go for the boy's
things. She must know exactly what to buy for children. Do--there's a
good girl----"

"No--really, Cecil--I couldn't explain to her. She's very stupid about
such things. And Bobby simply must have warmer clothes ready."

"By George! I don't believe you want to come! I believe you're just
putting me off with a lot of bally excuses, because you don't want to be
with me," he said, glowering at her.

Sophy coloured a little. It was true that she did not want to go with
him. She saw too plainly the ugly mood that was gathering in him, and
would probably break into a storm of hectoring before night. But, on the
other hand, she really felt it necessary to see at once about those warm
things for Bobby. He caught cold so easily. The Marchesa had warned her
that the weather was apt to change suddenly in October.

"Do you come or do you not?" asked Chesney sharply, watching her.

"I can't to-day, Cecil," she said earnestly. "If you'll wait till
to-morrow, I'll go with pleasure. It isn't kind of you to take it like
this--as if I wanted to vex you."

"Oh, well; do as you like!" he said, with his ugliest smile. "I've
married a '_femme mère_,' it seems. Just as well, perhaps, that it
wasn't a '_femme courtisane_.' There might have been ructions sooner or
later."

He turned and ran down the steps of the terrace. He was very light on
his feet for so big a man. Sophy stood watching, while Luigi handed him
his overcoat and steadied the launch at the _banchetta_ while he got in.
Then she saw him dart off at racing speed for Cerro. She drew a breath
of relief to think she was not with him. It was then one o'clock. At
three she went upstairs to change her tea-gown for the drive to Intra.
As she was putting on her hat, Luigi knocked at the door to say that the
Marchese was in the drawing-room. She went down at once, and found that
Amaldi had come to bring a note from his mother asking Cecil and herself
to lunch at Le Vigne the next day. She said that they would be glad to
come--if her husband were well enough. He had been suffering a good deal
of late. While they were talking, Luigi came again to say that the
_carrozzella_ was waiting. Amaldi rose at once, but she said:

"No--don't hurry away. I'm only going shopping. I can go just as well a
little later."

But though Amaldi sat down again, they could not find the pleasant,
natural ease of their other talk over the photographs of "Sweet-Waters."
There was a constraint on them both. Sophy asked about the Marchesa and
the autumn crops at Le Vigne. They were talking in this rather forced,
desultory fashion, when she heard Cecil's step coming fast up the
terrace stairs.

He, in the meantime, had looked in vain at Cerro for the rowboat that he
wanted. This, of course, put him in a still worse humour. He had also
miscalculated the duration of that eighth of morphia taken in the early
morning. Its effects had entirely worn off by two o'clock. This left him
stranded at Cerro, with that gone feeling of intense weakness. He went
from the boat-yard to the little _osteria_, and asked for Cognac. Of
course there was none; but the Padrone, who spoke a sort of bastard
French, explained that they had the most excellent _Grappa_. In his
opinion, _Grappa_ was superior to all the Cognac in the world.

"_Q'est ce que c'est que ce sacré 'Grappa'?_" Chesney had growled. Then
the Padrone explained, and further illuminated his explanation by
bringing a bottle of the clear white, fiery liquor--one of the fieriest
and most heady of all liquors--the native spirits of Italy distilled
from the must of grapes. Chesney, not aware of its strength, drank
several glasses. This made him feel so much more "fit" that he drank yet
another before leaving. By the time he was halfway across the lake on
his way back, his brain was in flames from the ardent spirit. He found
himself clenching his teeth till his jaw ached, in a spasm of vague rage
against everything--every one! Then he recalled Sophy's refusal to go
with him--and his anger concentrated on her.

When he ran up the terrace steps at Villa Bianca, fifteen minutes later,
he was half-blind with unreasoning fury. Hearing voices in the
drawing-room, he tore open the door and burst in on Sophy and Amaldi.
The _Grappa_ had made his face dead-white and his blue eyes black. He
looked terrible, towering there, glaring at them speechless for the
first second. Then he strode forward and took Sophy by the arm.

"So you lied to me!" he said. "You lied to me! You wanted to stay here
alone for your----"

Amaldi also took a step forward. His face, too, was ghastly. Chesney
whirled on him, releasing Sophy's arm. She fell back against the wall,
grasping at the window curtain for support. She seemed to press against
the hard stone of the wall, as though trying to melt into it.

Chesney, his head lowered between his shoulders, roared at Amaldi like
the bull he resembled.

"You damned little sneak, get out of here! Out of this house!" he
shouted.

Amaldi looked him in the eyes.

"'_Charbonnier est maître chez lui_,'" (A coal-heaver is master in his
own house), he said icily. "I will go. But I will give you a gentleman's
chance--I will send you my seconds."

Chesney vented a great "Ha!" of utter, insolent derision.

"Why, you little emasculated Don Juan---- You----" he spat an
unmentionable name--"d'you think I'd fight one of your tin-soldier
farces with you? Clear out!"

"Coward!" said Amaldi, in that same low, icy voice.

Then Chesney, inarticulate with rage, lifted his walking-stick and
rushed on him. Amaldi was a master swords-man. With his own stick he
parried the other's blows. Once, twice, thrice he parried; then,
suddenly, by a quick, sharp stroke across the wrist, disarmed him.

Chesney stood dazed for an instant by the unexpectedness of the thing.
As he stood thus, Amaldi left the room. But even as he did so Chesney
broke from his trance and leaped after him. At once Sophy had her arms
about him. She clung desperately, swinging round in front of him,
hanging upon him with all her weight and strength.

"You shall not! You shall not!" she kept saying through her set teeth.

It was impossible for him to move quickly with the tall, frantic woman
clinging to him, adapting herself to all his movements with supple
instinct. He could not tear himself loose from her without hurting her
brutally. He was not so lost as to do that. At last he caught the folds
of Sophy's blouse over her breast in a fierce grip, dragged her to her
feet, shook her to and fro as he held her. His whole face was a
distorted snarl.

"Be quiet!" he ground out. "Keep still! Your lover's safe ... for this
time...."

She panted, wordless, her frenzied eyes pouring loathing on him.

"Ay ... look at me as if I were a toad ... a horned toad." He grinned
convulsively. "You've made me one ... you with your dirty little lover!"

Sophy got her breath. She was beside herself. She tore from his grasp,
leaving some of the light trimming of her blouse in his clenched hand.

"I wish he _were_ my lover!" she panted. "I wish _any_ one were my
lover. Oh, if I could only tell you that I had a lover! If I only could!
Brute!... Coward!..."

She faced him quivering with detestation.

The dementia of hatred in her wild eyes sobered Chesney for an instant.

"Cut that!" he said sullenly. "What you've got to do is to swear to me,
by all you hold sacred, that you'll never see that little skunk again.
Come--out with it!"

She laughed.

"Swear!" he cried furiously, "or I'll ... I'll...." He half-lifted his
balled fist.

She went on laughing.

"Oh, you brute...." she whispered between the spasms of laughter. "You
great, helpless brute!..."

He gazed at her villainously, out of sideward, blood-shot eyes.

"Swear!" he said. "Swear ... or it'll be worse for you!"

Her laughter renewed itself. Tears of laughter ran down her wild,
working face.

"I laugh"--she stammered--"I laugh--because you think it could be--worse
for me----"

He stood balked, humiliated before this fierce paroxysmal laughter. Then
cunning flashed into his look of thwarted beast.

"_I'll_ tame you!" he said; and, laughing himself now, turned and rushed
from the room. A throe of intuition gripped her. Bobby! He was going to
wreak his spite against her on her boy. She was after him like the wind.
But not fast enough ... not fast enough.... Just before her ... just out
of reach ... as in a nightmare ... he was leaping up the steps three at
a time. She had a horrible illusion of not moving--of standing
stock-still--of being fastened to the spot by heavy weights.

The nursery was on the third floor. She had put the child there because
it was the sunniest room in the house. It had two large windows, each
with a little balcony before it. Yes--it was the nursery he was making
for. She was just in time to see him plunge in. The light door, swung to
close of itself, as in most Italian houses, clapped to behind him
without latching. She fell against it. As she did so she heard Rosa
scream. The wild "dirling" sound of this scream checked her blood. At
the same instant she saw. He was out on the light wooden balcony before
the west window--with the child, grasped by its middle, in both hands.
Then the great arms straightened. He was holding the boy out in the
blinding sunshine--out in the empty air, above a drop of thirty feet
sheer to the gravel drive below. She saw this red as though bathed with
blood. The Italian woman had cast herself prone on the ground--she tore
at her hair in a sort of fit. Sophy stood congealed. Even her eyes
seemed stiffening. Her breath stopped ... her heart.... She saw the boy
begin to writhe--then her heart writhed in her; but she stood fast. Was
the boy screaming? Deafness seemed to have smitten her. She could see
the piteous round of the little mouth--wide open--but no sound reached
her.

Over his shoulder the madman flung with a laugh:

"Perhaps _now_ you'll do as I tell you."

She heard a "Yes" go from her. It seemed like some faint, winged thing
fluttering from her mouth towards him. She was afraid it would not reach
him. She sent another--another. "Yes.... Yes...."

"You swear it?"

"Yes...."

"Never to see that little cur again?"

"Yes----"

"Then here's 'the pledge of love,'" he chuckled. He strode back and
dropped the boy into her arms.

But the next instant his face sobered into a scared look. The child was
in spasms. Like a little fish upon a bank, he jerked and twitched on his
mother's breast.

"I say," muttered the frightened man; "I've gone it a bit too thick ...
eh?"

She was gazing with blind eyes at her boy. All her face looked blind.
She had sunk down on the floor with him. There was a dreadful, dulled,
yet crazed, look in the very way she held the jerking body. She kept
whispering: "A doctor!... A doctor!... A doctor!..." It was as if she
were choking and this hoarse word "doctor" were what she coughed up to
keep from strangling. Neither she nor Chesney noticed the appalled group
that had gathered at the nursery door, drawn there by Rosa's
scream--Luigi, Maria, Tilda, the gardener's boy, Tibaldo. Rosa, now
sitting up on the tiled floor, muttered and sobbed senselessly.

But when Sophy began her monotonous croak of, "Doctor!... Doctor!..."
this group vanished as by magic--all save Tilda, who came and crouched
down by her mistress, helping her hold the struggling child. And all at
once, Chesney, too, dashed from the room.

When he reached the terrace, he saw Luigi, like a little black hare,
scudding towards the _banchetta_. At his heels ran Tibaldo and the two
women. The huge man, in his day the fastest runner in England, overtook
them in a few bounds. Now his head was clear. Now he knew what was
needed and exactly how to get it. He leaped into the racer, Luigi after
him. Within eight minutes they were at Intra. Claudio Mora, a young
doctor from Turin, returned with them.



XL


Mora succeeded in checking the boy's spasms, but was much relieved when
Sophy asked to have Cesare Camenis in consultation--there were things
about the case that he could not understand. He said so frankly. That
such a robust, sunburnt little fellow, past the age for teething, should
have convulsions baffled him. Camenis arrived at five o'clock. To him
Sophy told the whole truth. He was a quiet, grey man of about sixty,
whose own life had been tragic. The comprehension of dominated sorrow
was in his face. Sophy felt that she could trust him, and that he should
know all if he was to save Bobby for her. She could not have spoken to
Mora. He was too young--and he was still encased in the hard shell of
happiness. She could not have laid the wound of her life bare to him, as
she did to this quiet, sad-eyed man whose only son was a cripple born,
and whose wife had left him for a singer.

After hearing her, Camenis released his young _confrère_ from further
responsibility. He would stay himself that night, he said, at Villa
Bianca.

Bobby was very ill for some days. He had fever and was delirious. Sophy
never left the nursery. Camenis stayed with her till the crisis was
past--being taken to and fro between Stresa and the Villa during the day
in the launch.

Chesney avoided being alone with the doctor. He had his meals served at
different hours, also in his room, for the most part. When he could not
avoid meeting Camenis, he would halt awkwardly for a moment, and say:
"Little chap going on well?" or, "Don't let Mrs. Chesney break down,
will you?" or some such commonplace. He did not like to feel those
shrewd, sad eyes of the Genoese physician on his face. He had slipped
into the way of taking morphia pretty regularly, ever since that fatal
afternoon. To face the prospect of Bobby's possible death, with clear,
undrugged mind, was too much for him. And Sophy would not see him--had
sent him a sealed line as soon as she could command herself enough to
write, saying that she would not.

"Do not try to see me," she had written. "It is all I ask of you."

It was the fourth day of Bobby's illness. The late September evening was
still as warm as August. Chesney lay on his bed in the darkness, his
hands under his head, staring out at the onyx wall of the Sasso di
Ferro, that rose against a sky pricked with stars. The fronds of a big
mimosa tree just outside his window, furled sensitively from the heavy
dew, made a delicate pattern against the sombre stolidity of the
mountain. Through them, as though winking with sardonic humour, the red
eye of the Chaldee lime-kiln glowed intermittently. Chesney was not
undressed, though he lay upon his bed. He lay there because he felt dead
tired, soul and mind and body, and because he had just taken his evening
dose of morphia. He was so tired that he was not even thinking his own
thoughts. Emile Verhaeren was thinking for him--Verhaeren, the one poet
that he had ever really cared for. The great Belgian's volcanic and
almost demoniacally virile imagination had appealed to him from the
first, as no other had ever done. His own tempestuous, rebellious,
intolerant nature echoed to these trumpets of anguish and defiance and
exultation. Spirit writhing in the blast-furnace of untempered and
primordial sensuality, the distorted religious instinct easing its
throes with supernal blasphemies, a dark Prometheus thrusting with his
defiant torch at the eye-sockets of the God from whom he had filched
it--these things stirred him to the very depths. And, to-night, it was
as if Verhaeren had written for him and him alone. Who but he and
Verhaeren had ever felt what these words expressed?--these words that
thundered and howled through his mind translating himself to himself,
with such appalling fitness:

  "_Dites suis-je seul avec mon âme,
  Mon âme hélas maison d'ébène
  Ou s'est fendu sans bruit un soir
  Le grand miroir de mon espoir._"

And again:

  "_Aurai-j'enfin l'atroce joie
  De voir nuit aprés nuit comme une proie
  La démence attaquer mon cerveau,
  Et detraqué, malade, sorti de la prison
  Et des travaux forcés de sa raison
  D'appareiller vers un lointain nouveau?_"

       *       *       *       *       *

He lay there thinking through the terrible, implacable mind of Verhaeren
until midnight. Then a foot on the stair roused him. It was light and
swift--a running step--Sophy's. Was the boy worse? Was he dying,
perhaps? He leaped to the door, jerked it open. His haggard,
drug-ravaged face stared out between the cheap yellow wood of the
newel-post and the door. Sophy was coming down the stair opposite. She
looked like a somnambule in her long white dressing-gown, with eyes
fixed before her. He came out and stood facing her. She looked straight
at him, but her face was blank of recognition.

"Sophy!" he muttered--there was anguish in his hoarse voice: "Sophy!"

For all response, she leaned over the banister.

"_Dottore! Dottore!_" she called.

"_Vengo--vengo, signora!_" came at once the reply of Camenis. As soon as
he answered, she turned and ran fleetly up the stairs again. She had
not even glanced towards Chesney. Then Camenis went by, also very
quickly. Chesney wanted to ask what it was ... he could not speak.
Later, he waylaid the doctor coming back. Yes--the boy was conscious
again. He would live. The crisis was past.

Chesney hung so heavily on the door that it swung back a little with
him.

"Can I do anything for you, signore?" said Camenis, hesitating. "You
look ill yourself."

"No--thanks--the--shock----" Chesney mumbled. He retreated, closing the
door. Camenis stood a second looking at the closed door. Then he passed
on to his own room.

The next day he said to Sophy:

"Signora, now that the little one is out of danger, I feel that I must
speak to you about your husband."

He saw her grow rigid.

"Signora," he pursued very gently, "one forgives much to illness. Your
husband is an ill man, signora." He saw her eyes waver, but her nostrils
were still set.

"You have been kind enough to trust me with your confidence, signora,"
Camenis went on in his flat, gentle voice. "And so I feel it my duty to
speak quite plainly to you."

"Yes," said Sophy mechanically.

Camenis looked at her with that tender pity, which from the wise eyes of
a kindly priest or physician does not hurt. His look reminded Sophy of
Father Raphael of the Poor. She braced herself to meet what was coming.

"Then, signora," said Camenis, "I will remind you that your husband came
to me two weeks ago, to consult me about a severe attack of sciatica. He
asked for a palliative. I told him that I knew of none save
opium--morphia ... that I did not give it except in extreme cases. Now,
signora, from what you have told me--about the unfortunate habit that
your husband has only lately escaped from.... You will pardon my perfect
frankness, signora?"

"Yes.... Yes...."

"Then.... You must not be too shocked--too horrified. We, who have not
endured it, cannot imagine this terrible temptation of morphia. But to
one, only so lately cured ... to whom severe pain comes...."

He hesitated again, and Sophy said in a hard, clear voice:

"Do you mean that my husband is taking morphia again?"

"I fear so, signora," said Camenis very gently.

Sophy sat looking down at her hand which she clenched and unclenched as
it lay on her knee.

"Yes--I think it's very likely," she said at last, still in that hard,
resonant voice.

Camenis was silent for a time; then he said:

"I think your husband has suffered much for what he did the other day,
signora."

Sophy's face flamed. Her eyes glittered.

"Don't speak of it ... don't speak of it...!" she cried, as though
suffocating.

Again Camenis waited.

"Forgive me, signora," he then said, "but I must tell you that I think
this is a crisis for your husband as well as for your son."

Sophy turned suddenly and hid her face against the back of her chair.

The tired, kind eyes of Camenis looked at the bent head compassionately.
After another pause, he said:

"I think--as a physician--if you could go to him--gently--he would
confess and try once more to--to be what you would have him be,
signora."

Then Sophy broke down and wept like a desperate child.

"I can't! Oh, I can't!" she sobbed. "You don't know.... I can't bear
even the memory of his face--his voice! How am I to go to him? I can't!
I can't!"

The little doctor's face looked very worn as he sat watching her, while
she clung to the big, ugly chair as to a rock of refuge, clutching it
with her white hands that had grown thin in this one week of Bobby's
illness--staining its gay chintz cover with her tears. Suddenly he rose,
and went over to her.

"_Bambina_ ... _bambina_ ..." he said tenderly, "when you have saved
him, you will love him. We always love what we have saved."

He just touched her hair softly, once, as a father would have done.

"_Coraggio_ ..." he murmured, in his kind, faded voice. Then he left
her.

Chesney was filling his hypodermic syringe that evening, about seven,
when there came a low knock at his door. He started, nearly dropping the
little instrument.

"Who's there?" he called sharply. In every nerve he felt the need of
this dose that he was preparing--so soon does the tyrant morphia assert
its sway. He was transfixed to hear Sophy's voice reply:

"It's I, Cecil."

Hurriedly, his hands shaking as with ague, he bundled everything into a
drawer, and closed it. Then he went to the door. He stood with it in his
hand, staring at her as though just waked.

"May I come in?" she said very low. "I--I want to talk with you."

He was still too overcome to speak. Silently he stepped aside, drawing
the door with him. She entered quickly, her head a little bent, her
hands clasped nervously in front of her. The weather was still very
warm; she had come from the nursery, and wore a long peignoir of white
muslin. The soft, straight folds made her seem taller than ever. Her
bent head contradicted the haughtiness of her body. It was as if she
wanted to command a mood of gentleness by forcing its physical
semblance.

"Will you sit here?" asked Chesney. His voice shook.

"Thanks...." she murmured, and took the chair that he pushed forward.

She didn't seem able to say what she had come for. She sat silent so
long that he felt forced to speak.

"Is ... is Bobby all right?" he faltered.

The colour streamed across her cheek at these words, as though he had
struck her.

"Forgive me," he said humbly. "I.... I really care, you know."

"He is better," she managed to reply. Her lips moved stiffly. Then she
lifted her head with a sort of desperation of resolve. Her eyes fixed on
his.

"Cecil...." she said, "I've come ... one, last time...." She broke off;
then went on: "This one, last time," she repeated, "to see if you ... if
we ... if together...." Again words failed her. Looking firmly at him,
she ended more quietly: "I've come to beg you to tell me the truth," she
said, and her dark eyes rested on him full of doubt and pain.

He could scarcely have grown paler, but his head drooped; he sat looking
down at his great hands which he clasped and unclasped nervously.

"Well...." she whispered finally. "Will you?.... It's our last ... last
chance."

With difficulty he articulated, "Try me."

"Then ..." she went on, after a slight pause, still whispering, "are you
... taking morphine again?"

There was no pause before his answer.

"Yes," he said, his face still drooped away from her.

She caught one hand to her breast. She could not believe her own ears.
Had he said "Yes" at once--simply--outright like that, to such a
question? Something fine and brave in her throbbed response to that
unequivocal "Yes."

"Cecil...." she said.

All at once he tossed up his hands to his bent face. His great figure,
huddled on the little chair, began shaking from head to foot.

"Oh, my God!" he said. "My God! Don't be kind to me ... don't be kind!"

And dreadful sobs began heaving through him.

"Oh ... _poor Cecil_...!" came from her in a gasp.

And then he fell forward on his knees before her, his face in her lap,
his hands grasping the soft folds of her gown. His tumultuous, painful
sobbing shook them both--as if torn up by bloody roots came the great
sobs.

"Sophy.... God.... Sophy.... I've suffered.... I've suffered.... If he'd
died.... Yes ... one shot ... yes ... one...."

And his passion of grief, torrential as his passion of love, flooded
her, shook her with its cyclonic abandonment, until she seemed one flesh
with him in this unmeasured tragedy of wild remorse.

Through her thin gown she felt his tears soak to her very skin--a hot
chrism baptising her once more his in this terrific rite of sorrow.

She bent over him, her hands upon his head, her own tears falling.

"No ... no!" she pleaded. "No ... no, Cecil! Don't ... don't despair
like this ... we will begin again.... The truth.... You have told the
truth...."

She began to sob herself now.

"And the truth shall make you free ... the truth shall make you free,
dear...." she kept sobbing.

Now she had his head against her breast--her cheek pressed down on it.
As she held Bobby to comfort him, when he was frightened, so she held
the great man. He was afraid now--afraid of himself--like a child. Close
she held him to comfort him ... close ... close....



XLI


That night they talked things over quietly. Sophy was very gentle with
him--almost incredibly generous, he thought. With his permission, she
consulted Camenis about the amount of morphia that he ought to have, to
"tail off," as he said humbly--in order to get him back to England
without too much discomfort from the sciatic pains and the sudden
snapping of the habit that he had formed again--albeit to such a
moderate extent. Camenis gave his opinion, and Sophy undertook to give
her husband the properly diminished doses. Chesney was almost
pathetically humble. It hurt her in some subtle nerve to see the big,
domineering man, so subdued, so timidly anxious to conciliate her, to
redeem himself in her opinion. It was beyond doubt that he had suffered
excruciatingly over the boy's illness and his part in it.

"The little chap won't be able to bear the sight of me, I suppose," he
had ventured once, and she saw his lips quiver as he said it.

She felt a submerging pity for him.

"Leave that to me," she answered gently. "I've thought of a way.... I
think I can manage ... but it will take time, of course."

Another thing that proved to her the depth of his self-humiliation and
genuine regret was the fact that he wished to apologise to Amaldi.

"I shall tell him the brute fact," he said, "that I was drunk with that
_Grappa_ stuff. He can accept my apology or not, as he chooses."

He wrote the note of apology the morning after their talk.

"Shall I post it or send it by Luigi?" he asked, looking not at her but
the letter which he was holding. Sophy thought a moment, then she said:

"We are leaving Wednesday, and I ought to see the Marchesa before I go.
Suppose you let me take it! I can leave it with her."

"Do," he said, giving her the letter; then he took her hand in both his.
"Thanks, Sophy," he added, under his breath.

Sophy started for Le Vigne about ten o'clock. She took Luigi with her to
run the launch--he was fortunately cleverer as a _meccanico_ than as a
valet. The sky was coloured like blue morning-glories, and the lake like
gentian. Clouds and foam dissolved on the great sheets of blue like snow
melting upon flame. But the beauty of the day seemed cruel to Sophy. It
was like the laughter of water in sunlight above the place where a ship
has foundered. Camenis had happened to mention the fact that Amaldi was
in Milan, else she could not have gone for that farewell visit, onerous
as she felt it to be.

And even as it was, she shrank from seeing the Marchesa. Had Amaldi told
her? Her cheek tingled shame at the thought. But the next instant she
felt that she knew him better than that. No; he would not have told any
one of that scene which had been so degrading for her.

But when she reached Le Vigne, she found that the Marchesa had gone to
Belgirate for the day. Old Carletto seemed deeply sorry for her
disappointment.

"_Che peccato, signora! Che peccato!_" he kept saying, shaking his white
head slowly and clicking his tongue. The Signora Marchesa would be so
sad, so very sad to miss the signora. Then he brightened up.

"But the Marchesino is here, signora!" he exclaimed. "The Marchesino is
very busy in his study ... but he would wish me to disturb him on such
an occasion. He will know how to find the Signora Marchesa."

Sophy had started for the darsena again in real panic. She even forgot
to leave Cecil's letter with the old butler.

"No--no! Don't disturb the Marchese," she called back. "I desire you not
to do it."

As she was speaking, Carletto, who was following her as fast as his bent
legs would amble, called out:

"_Ma, eccolo! Ecco il Marchesino, signora!_"

She hurried on, her head bent, the letter in the pocket of her gown
seeming to scorch her fingers. Amaldi overtook her, just before she
reached the darsena. They murmured vague greetings. Both were very pale.
A trembling had seized Sophy. Everything grew dim before her in that
moment. Amaldi, seeing how it was with her, offered her his arm. She
took it from the sheer instinct of self-preservation. The ground seemed
falling from beneath her feet in slanting jerks.

"You are tired...." he said, speaking with an effort. "There is a seat
here ... among these ilex shrubs.... You must rest a moment."

Walking giddily along the unstable, sliding earth, she allowed him to
guide her to the old stone seat on the south terrace. The dark foliage
screened them from the house. Between them and the blue dazzle of the
lake was a low balustrade of stone. Amaldi helped her to the seat, and
then went and leaned upon this balustrade.

The faintness passed, and Sophy sat thinking feverishly how she must
act. The directness of her nature guided her. She drew the letter from
her pocket, and, rising, went towards Amaldi. He turned when he heard
her footstep. As he turned, she stopped where she was, holding out the
letter to him.

"Marchese," she said, "I had meant to leave this letter with your
mother. I was told you were in Milan. It--it is from--my husband....
Wait!" she cried almost imperiously, as she saw the recoil of his whole
figure. "You must listen--you must understand. He ... my husband ... has
been very ill. This ... this letter is an apology, Marchese--an apology
to you."

Amaldi bowed formally, and took the letter. His face was inscrutable. He
started to put the envelope unopened into his pocket.

Sophy, flushing deeply, murmured:

"Won't you even read it?"

Amaldi bowed again.

"There is no need," he said. "An apology offered in this manner"--his
tone was rather bitter--"I accept without reading."

Sophy stood silent; then her head went down a little.

"I ... I thank you," she whispered.

A quick change came over Amaldi's face; but she was looking down on the
flagged walk and did not see it.

"Do you go soon now?" he asked, his voice almost as low as hers.

"Yes ... on Wednesday."

"It will doubtless be long before you come again to Lago Maggiore?"

"Yes."

"Do not forget us ... entirely."

"No."

"You will not be forgotten...."

There was in his voice such an intensity of pain with difficulty subdued
that the trembling seized her again despite all her will. He continued:

"This is farewell ... is it not?" he said.

She could not control her voice to answer. She moved her head in assent,
her eyes still downcast.

"Then ..." said Amaldi, "will you not look at me--to say farewell?"

She lifted her eyes to his--it cost her much to lift them. But she
looked up as he had desired, and it was into his bared soul that she
looked. There was an instant's silence; then he spoke.

"It is my whole life that goes with you," he said.

She stood gazing at him as though spellbound. Then she half-lifted her
hands like a suppliant. She was as white as her gown. But the
flood-gates were open now. Neither of them could stay the flood.

"Yes," he went on, "I love you. I've loved you from the first ... with
all my soul, with all my life.... I love you with my soul.... Do you
understand?... with my soul...."

He took a step towards her. They were both trembling now.

"If you would trust me ... if you would let me shield you ... with my
whole life ... with my love ... with love that is worship ...
worship...."

She found her voice at last, and cried out to him as if for mercy:

"No, Amaldi; no! Oh, I implore you!... Stop! It can't be ... it can't
be!"

He wheeled where he stood so that his face was hidden from her. It was
the instinctive movement of the body that seeks to hide the bared soul.
A moment passed. Then she said brokenly:

"I must go now.... I must go back...."

Now he turned to her again. His face was livid. His lips drew when he
spoke.

"You will _go back_...?" he stammered. "You will go back to that ...
that _Minotaur_?" His teeth ground on the word. It was terrible to see
the man, usually so still, so self-controlled, stripped of all reserve.

"I must.... I must ... for my boy's sake. Ah, don't look at me with such
eyes!... I can't bear your face ... so different!"

She trembled still more violently, put up her hand to shut out the
ghastly, devastated look of his face.

"You go back? You go back to him?" he kept muttering. "_Che orrore_ ...
_che orrore_...." All at once he gripped himself. He said in a strange,
level tone: "There is nothing I can do, then. I would give my life ...
yet there is nothing ... no way that I can serve you...."

"Amaldi ... Amaldi ..." she murmured. She caught his hand in both her
own. "Oh, forgive me...." she said; "dear, dear Amaldi, forgive me!"

He bent and kissed the hands that clasped his.

"There is nothing to forgive," he answered.

It seemed to Sophy afterwards, when she came more to her usual self out
there on the glee of blue waters, far from Le Vigne, that they two had
been like actors moving through some pantomime, during those last
moments. In silence they had walked together to the darsena; in silence
he had assisted her into the launch; in silence she had sat watching
Luigi start the engine. No other farewell had passed between them. In
the moments following that disastrous, tragic crisis, all convention had
withered. They had not even a subconscious sense of the mimic civilities
due to Luigi's presence. And over Sophy stole that numbness which comes
as anodyne to deep natures which have been called on to endure too many
and too violent shocks within a short period. For a few moments, there
face to face with Amaldi, she had suffered intensely. Now that was past.
She felt quiet, and oddly cramped, as though crouching in a little
capsule of stillness at the cyclone's heart....

       *       *       *       *       *

They could not leave on Wednesday as they had expected. Bobby's fever
had culminated in a sharp attack of jaundice--the result of fright,
Camenis told her. But the little fellow recovered rapidly. Only his
nerves seemed still taut from the shock. He would shriek out wildly in
his sleep, and no one but his mother could soothe these paroxysms of
terror. As he grew stronger, she began to pursue with him the course of
which she had hinted to Chesney.

"My darling," she would coax, "dada was only showing you how strong he
was ... how safe he could hold you. Why, dada wouldn't hurt his little
boy for all the world! He's so strong, so strong! He _couldn't_ let
Bobby fall. Don't you see, sweetheart?"

Thus she would coax him by the hour. At last it seemed to "seep" into
his little brain. "Dada so st'ong," he would repeat. "Dada show Bobby
'ow st'ong! Good dada ... not dwop Bobby!"

At last Sophy ventured to ask one day:

"Don't you want to see poor dada? He's so afraid his little boy doesn't
love him any more?"

But Bobby began to tremble.

"Dada _so_ st'ong...." he pleaded, clinging hard to Sophy's breast. At
last, however, he consented to let his father come.

Chesney entered, hesitating--stood near the door. Sophy, who had her arm
about Bobby as he lay against the pillows in his crib, beckoned him to
come forward.

"Now, now, my little man ... my _brave_ little man...." she murmured in
the child's ear, her cheek to his--encouraging, soothing him. Chesney
came and got awkwardly on his knees beside the crib. He felt thankful to
make himself smaller in the boy's eyes. Timidly he ventured to steal one
of his great hands towards the little fist, clutched in Sophy's laces.

"How are you, little man?" he said, "gentling" his voice as to some shy
animal. "Won't you say 'how d'ye do' to dada?"

The boy, trying so hard to "be a man," regarded him with wide eyes, and
the most touching, wavering smile of courage on the verge of tears. Then
he looked with desperate appeal up at his mother. The set, wavering
smile grew pale.

"Dada _too_ st'ong...." he said. "Bobby _so_ little...."

Chesney put down his face upon the crib and wept. Sophy knew that he
was weeping, though no sound came from him. Then she told Bobby that
"poor dada had been very, very ill"--he wasn't "too st'ong" any more.
And taking the little unwilling hand in hers, she "poored" his father's
bent head with it. Chesney turned his face presently, kissed the little
hand, then got up silently and left the room. Sophy went to him, five
minutes later, and found him face down on his bed, sobbing like a child.
His own nerves had gone completely under the dreadful shocks of the past
ten days.



XLII


Bobby's attack of jaundice was soon over. After that glimpse of his
father, so gentle and so very kind--kinder than Bobby had ever known
him--the boy began to recover with the quick resilience of childhood. By
the following Monday he was quite fit to travel, Camenis said.

Physically, Chesney was much better also. Camenis had succeeded in
routing the sciatica. A strong tonic had somewhat restored his appetite.
Altogether, he felt more fit than he had believed possible under the
circumstances. At first, Camenis had wanted him to take hot hip-baths
mixed with sea-salt. But here Chesney rebelled. He loathed hot baths. He
demanded either a quick, cold tub in the morning, or else his usual swim
in the lake. Camenis and he tussled for some hours over this question.
Finally, it was agreed by the physician that as this September was such
an unusually warm one, Chesney might have a very short swim during the
hottest hours of the morning; then, after drying himself, lie and bake
in the sun on the scorching pebbles of the shore. Late in the season as
it was, he acquired the most beautifully toned mahogany-brown back and
chest by this method. He was boyishly proud of this splendid tanning.

"The old boy'll think he's got a nigger-chief to monkey with, this time.
Eh--what?" he asked Sophy, turning about before her in his short
bathing-trunks that she might see the full glory of his sunburnt torso.
She smiled approval, saying that to her he looked more like a
well-roasted turkey than a "nigger." And she thought what a boy the big
man was, at heart. It seemed pathetic and strange and very nice to her,
all at the same time, that he could take such pleasure in such a thing,
after all that had passed and was to come.

Sunday evening she spent in having the last things packed away. The
dismantled villa looked the picture of sordid cheerlessness, when
stripped of all the little touches she had given it. They dined by one,
virulent jet of acetylene gas, blazing in an iron loop from the middle
of the ceiling.

"By George, this _is_ funereal!" Chesney could not refrain from
exclaiming. "Two more meals like this--is it? Well, they'll give me
melancholia."

"We needn't have two more," Sophy consoled him. "I've thought it out
already. To-morrow morning we can breakfast on the terrace. Then we can
go to the Hotel Ghiffa for luncheon. Our boat doesn't leave until
three."

He looked at her with cordial appreciation.

"Clever girl--so we can!" he said. "But, I say"--his face fell--"what
about my swim and sun-bath? That would cut me short--lunching at Ghiffa,
I mean."

"But there's a capital bathing-shore at the hotel," she reminded him.
"You can have your swim there while they prepare luncheon."

About eleven o'clock next morning they sauntered together along the
white high-road to Ghiffa.

"You will have a glorious swim...." Sophy said, looking at the lake that
drowsed under the faint breath of a listless Tramontana.

"Those sleek, snaky trails on the water mean rain, they tell me,"
answered Chesney. "I'm in luck to have a sunny day for my last swim."

"Yes," she assented dreamily. "Rain isn't becoming to Italy. She's like
a beautiful woman who doesn't know how to cry."

"Sophy! How feminine! Do _you_ know 'how to cry,' pray?"

"No. I haven't the knack at all." She laughed a little. "I make horrid
faces.... I can feel myself making them."

"Poor lass!" he said in his abrupt way, suddenly gripped by this idea of
her grimacing under sorrow. He had given her such a lot of it--by
George! He grasped her hand with a quick gesture, and frown of pain,
drawing it through his arm.

"It's to be a clean slate, my girl," he said, looking down at her.

He felt the slight fingers pinch into his arm.

"_Yes_," she said. "Yes, Cecil." But she looked in front of her face
gave him another pang. He was glad that gether, as though the dazzle of
the white road and clouds and walls along the way, hurt her eyes.

Chesney fought off a great fog of depression that seemed suddenly to
settle down on him.

"'Cheerly! Cheerly!'" he cried, putting a bluff note into his voice that
he was far from feeling. "What's it the old chap in _The Tempest_
says?--'Heigh, my hearts! Cheerly, cheerly, my hearts!' That's the
'barbaric yawp' for us, Sophy--eh? Don't you feel it so?"

"Yes.... I do.... I do, Cecil," she responded eagerly. Her grey eyes
looked up at him now. The bright bravery of her face gave him another
pang. He was glad that their next step brought them to the little Hotel
Ghiffa. Sophy ran up to see how Bobby was faring, in the rooms that she
had taken till the hour for leaving. She found him clamouring to go down
and "p'ay ball wiv mens" in the garden. A game of _Boccie_ was going on
there. She sent him down with Rosa to look on. Then she went out again
to find Cecil. He met her at the door of the second bedroom. When he saw
her, he stepped back into the room and signed her to come. He reached
out and shut the door behind her. His face looked strange, all pale
under its heavy coat of tan.

"Sophy," he said, "don't think me a sentimental ass--but you've never
told me ... in so many words that ... well ... that you forgive me?"

He was gazing at her hungrily, with a look half ashamed, half
determined. She went straight to him, and put her arms around him. It
was queer how much he appealed to her as Bobby did.

"Oh, I'm so sorry that I've let you feel the need of words!" she said.
"But if you want them I'll say them over and over----"

"No...." he stopped her; "I don't want them ... now. Will you...?" His
arms held her painfully close. She turned her face to him and he kissed
her--almost shyly. Her eyes stung. She put up her hand and pressed his
cheek to hers....

"Now I'll go order our luncheon," she said gaily. But he knew well that
there was no gaiety in her heart. And as he got out his bathing trunks,
and took his bath-sheet on his arm, lines from Verhaeren began again to
haunt him:

  "_Je m'habille des logues de mes jours
  Et le bâton de mon orgeuil il plie,
  Mes pieds dites commie ils sont lourds
  De me porter, de me trainer toujours
  Au long le siècle de ma vie_...."

Down to the sparkling hem of the lake the sombre voice accompanied him.
He stood in a sort of muse, his bare feet wincing from the hot pebbles;
then, letting the ripples lave them, he went on musing. And in a sort of
dark flare the joyous scene vanished, and he saw smoke-blurred, autumnal
London gape before him. Here, too, Verhaeren whispered with gloomy
sympathy:

  "_Gares de suie et de fumée ou du gaz pleure
  Ses spleens d'argent lointain vers des chemins d'éclair,
  Ou des bêtes d'ennui bâillent à l'heure
  Dolente immensément qui tente Westminster._"

He had a flash of grim amusement at the idea of "Westminster" used by
the Belgian poet to rhyme with "éclair" ... then he flung himself
forward into the glittering blue, and began to swim.... After all it was
good to be alive no matter what the odds.... Perhaps the knowledge that
this was his last swim for many months whetted his appreciation, but he
had never felt more jocund a delight in the elastic clasp and purl of
living water upon his naked flesh....

       *       *       *       *       *

Sophy went out on the little terrace before the hotel to wait for his
return. She had ordered luncheon served there, and a _cameriere_ was
already throwing a fresh tablecloth over one of the iron tables. A late
tea-rose nodded from the terrace railing in the languid wind. She went
and leaned near it, watching her husband's splendid figure against the
flickering, sunlit blue, as he stood those few moments musing, before he
plunged forward for his swim. The late, wistful rose, its petals
slightly shrivelled at the edges, kept tapping softly against her hand.
She stroked it lightly with her finger tips. The Padrone bustled up.

"_Con permesso--con permesso, signora_," he smiled, unctuously affable.
And with a table-knife he detached the rose and presented it, bowing
low.

"_Grazie_," murmured Sophy. She was sorry that the poor, passée rose had
been beheaded for her, but very kindly she fastened it in her belt.
Then, leaning on the low railing, she watched the fine rhythm of Cecil's
arm, as it rose and fell, shearing the blue water. He was only a few
yards from shore. He swam in a big semi-circle. Now he was returning.
She was glad he was coming back. It seemed to her that he had been long
enough in the autumn-chilled water.... But now he seemed to have stopped
swimming. Ah, he was treading water. She felt a little vexed with him
for lingering--but then, she realised that this was to be his last free,
vigorous pleasure for so long. Still, he really should be coming back.
She stood up and called him:

"Cecil!... Do come out!"

She could see his face plainly. All at once she gave a startled
movement. He was answering her with grimaces ... frightful grimaces. She
knew his sardonic ideas of "fun," but this struck her as unnatural ...
cruel.

"Don't ... don't...." she cried to him. "You frighten me.... Come back!"

The Padrone had approached again.

"_Il signore ama scherzare_" (The gentleman likes fun), he observed,
smiling. Sophy did not hear him. Half frightened, half indignant, she
was staring at the grimacing face. All this had passed within a few
seconds. Suddenly Cecil went under---- She held her breath.

"_Che Ercole!_" (What a Hercules!), observed the Padrone admiringly.

But she was holding her breath with the man under water. It seemed to
her as though he would never come up again. Then she saw him. And still
he made those odious grimaces. But now he called something. What was it?
Her heart checked. It seemed to her that he cried "Help!" and as he
cried it, he went under the second time.

All at once the Padrone gave a howl of terror.

"_Ma! s'annega! s'annega!_" (He's drowning! He's drowning!), screamed
the man.

In an instant the terrace swarmed with shouting people. Sophy rushed
blindly for the shore. The crowd, still shouting, pressed after her. The
water for yards out was horribly smooth. No object broke its surface.

"Help! Help!" Sophy cried, strangling. She looked for men to plunge at
once into the Lake. Not one did so. A voice called: "A chair! Throw him
a chair!" She dashed knee-deep into the water. Some one dragged her
back. She was struggling with two cowards who dragged her back from that
smooth, tranquil expanse under which Cecil was suffocating. A woman
threw her arms around her, sobbing, "_Poverina! Poverina! E matta_...."
She fought wildly against the heaving, enveloping breast of this woman.

"Cowards!" she cried. The Italian word came to her, "_Vigliacchi!
Vigliacchi!_" she raged at them, beating the woman's heavy breast with
her hands. The woman let her go, but a man caught her arms from behind.
In her struggles her long hair came loose and blew back into the man's
face, blinding him. Still he grasped her stoutly, though his face was
covered with her thick hair, and her frantic movements dragged him inch
by inch towards the water that he dreaded. Now there was a chair
floating on it ... a little yellow chair that bobbed drolly with the
motion of the bright wavelets. And still people shouted, and ran to and
fro along the edge of the water, like terriers wildly excited over a
flung stick which they are afraid to plunge in and fetch. One or two had
rushed off towards Ghiffa, still shouting and gesticulating. Boats had
put out from the village. The men in the boats shouted and gesticulated
also. When they reached the spot where Chesney had gone down, they
leaned over, gazing into the water. They rowed back and forth, stopping
every now and then to gaze into the water. Suddenly there rose a cry:
"_L'è li! L'è li! Vardel!_" (There he is! See!) But no one went
overboard. It seemed to Sophy that her heart would burst her bosom. She
tried to find some terrible word that would rouse them to manhood. But
even her voice failed her. It was like trying to cry out in a nightmare.
Only a hoarse sound escaped her. Her eyes felt full of blood.

Then suddenly a figure came running, bounding. "_Dove? Dove?_" (Where?
Where?) it called as it pelted down the terrace steps.

It was Peppin, Amaldi's sailor, bare-armed and bare-legged, in blue
singlet and canvas trousers rolled to the knee.

Sophy's haggard blood-shot eyes fixed on the half-naked sailor as though
he had been God.

The little crowd on shore bristled with pointing arms. "Out there! Just
there!" they called in unison.

Sophy tried to cry "Save him!" to Peppin, but her voice only croaked
harshly in her throat.

He did not even hear her. He had thrown his whole seaman's consciousness
ahead into that clear yet impenetrable water. Even as she tried to call
to him, his body, flashing obedience to his thought, shot into the lake
with the curved bound of a dolphin. The water leaped up about him as in
applause. Here at last was a _man_.

"_Bravo, Marinaio! Bravo! Bravo!_" shrieked the craven throng.

Sophy stood still enough now. There was no need to hold her. She stood
as though her soul had gone from her and entered the body of the sailor
who was swimming strong and straight for the point where Cecil had gone
down.

The Padrone, who had seemed paralysed until now, came as suddenly to
life as Sophy had turned to stone.

"_Il dottore!_" he shouted imperiously. "_Vaa cercare il dottore!_"

Now Peppin had reached the spot about which the boats were gathered. He
trod water with head bent low, peering intently into the blue depths.
The boats hung near. The boatmen shouted more than ever. They pointed
downwards. "_L'è lit! L'è lit!_" they cried eagerly. All at once the
sailor dived. It was as if he turned a somersault in the water. His
bare, wet legs flashed up into the sunshine as he plunged.

Long seconds went by ... an eternity of minute-long seconds. Yet through
this horror of blank pause, wherein time seemed suspended ... which
might have been a day or an æon ... Sophy stood waiting for Peppin to
bring her husband back to her. She was sure that Peppin would not come
back without him. The primordial woman in her had recognised primordial
man in the stout sailor. The feminine at its limit waited on the
completion of virility. What she could not do, Peppin was doing. So she
waited while cycles seemed to pass. She had lost her sense of time.

A sudden roar went up--from the shore, from the waiting boats. The dark
blob of Peppin's head had appeared above water. Then it was submerged
again for an instant. But now the boats were closer--arms reached out.
He was caught--sustained by those eager arms--he and his burden.
Ah!--they were trying to lift what Peppin grasped into a boat--but that
huge, flaccid body dragged the boatedge over--down--down to the very
water. A mass of clutching hands grasped here, there. Now it was half
over the edge--but the boat lay on her side. The great, naked body
glistened white like a monstrous fish in the sunlight. Now ... now ...
all together!

There was another roar. Then the sailor also was hauled aboard.... The
boat pulled for shore....



XLIII


They lifted him out and laid him on the warm beach. The crowd stood
aside, respectful and expectant. All eyes turned to Sophy. They were
waiting for the thrilling moment when the stone image would spring to
life, shriek and cast itself upon her husband's body. There was a hush
as in a theatre, just before the eagerly expected catastrophe breaks
into a scream or dagger-stroke. But the moment failed of its zest.
Slowly, as though moving in its sleep, the tall figure went over to the
drowned man, knelt down beside him, laid a white hand on the drenched,
sunburnt chest. Then she looked dully up at Peppin, who stood by, honest
pity on his rough face, the water that streamed from his clothes making
a little patter on the hot pebbles.

"It doesn't beat," she said in English, not heeding that the man could
not understand her. "What will you do now...?" she asked. And her eyes
still gazed up at the sailor as though he had been God.

The woman with the heavy breast, that Sophy had struck in her frantic
efforts to escape, began to sob. The little, yellow wooden chair still
bobbed up and down in the sunlight as some current bore it away towards
Ghiffa.

Peppin kneeled down, too. He put his square, dark hand, with its broken
nails and tattooed wrist, beside the white one.

Then he sprang up and began fiercely talking and gesticulating to the
others. He was telling them that they must help him try to revive the
_Scior_. They shrank. It is not considered wise on Lago Maggiore to
meddle with a drowned man before the civil authorities come on the
scene. One may get involved in all sorts of unpleasantness. Peppin
berated them roundly, with good work-a-day oaths. He, too, called them
"_Vigliacchi_." But though most of his angry dialect was but gibberish
to Sophy, certain words she understood. And these words acted on her
like an elixir of life. The blood flashed into her white face. She
sprang to her feet.

"I will help you! Show me!" she cried. "_Io_.... _Io_...." (I--I) she
kept repeating, striking her breast sharply to show him what she meant.
She caught the sailor's hand in hers and drew him towards Chesney. She
pointed to the drowned man, and then to herself and Peppin. In her
broken Italian--stammering with eagerness--she urged the sailor to let
her help revive her husband.

He understood, but he was at a loss. He knew that she could not assist
in the violent measures that were necessary. The drowned man must first
of all be made to disgorge the water that he had swallowed. This poor
_Sciora_ could not help him. He stood bewildered while Sophy held his
hand, pouring out her eager, broken words.... And as he stood there, at
his wit's end, a new cry went up:

"_Il dottore! Il dottore!_"

The doctor, whose name was Morelli, had a way with him that Peppin
thoroughly approved. He ordered the curious throng to keep back, in so
sharp a tone of authority that he was actually obeyed. Then he spoke to
Sophy, very gently, but in the same authoritative manner. He told her
that she must leave him to take at once the necessary measures for
reviving her husband.

"I implore you to return to the hotel, signora," he said earnestly. "It
will not be well for you to remain here."

Sophy rose at once, but her eyes fastened on Peppin's face.

"Will _you_ stay with him, too?" she asked.

"_Si! Si! Sciora!_" he answered eagerly. "_Starò_" (I will stay).

The Padrone came up and offered her his arm. The fat, kind-hearted woman
also came up, though her great bust still ached from Sophy's frenzied
blows.

"_Cara signora_," she pleaded humbly, "allow me to accompany you."

Between the Padrone and this kindly soul Sophy went obediently back to
the hotel.

Tilda and Rosa had both gone for a walk with Bobby along the high-road.
Tilda had missed one of the smaller bags, and wished to see if it had
been left by mistake with Luigi. So the two women had gone back to Villa
Bianca, and were there when the accident happened. Not until Morelli and
Peppin had been at work together over Chesney for twenty minutes did
they return with Luigi, who, on hearing the terrible news, ran straight
to help resuscitate his master. All the women in the hotel gathered
round Rosa. She yielded Bobby to one of them, and began to sob and
strike her breast and forehead in despair.

Tilda, her round face blotched with pallor, went straight to her lady.
She found Sophy standing by a window that overlooked the shore.

"Oh, Mrs. Chesney!" faltered the girl, beginning to tremble. "May I stay
with you?"

"No ... please...." said her mistress without turning. The girl went out
obediently, and sat crouched in a chair near the door. Some women stole
up and began whispering gruesome details to her. She listened
half-unwilling, half-fascinated. The insatiable craving of the lower
classes for "_le frisson_" made her listen, but she hated herself for
doing it, and them for telling her so eagerly. The fat woman, whom Sophy
had not permitted to remain with her, and to whose care Rosa had given
Bobby, took the boy to her room and fed him bonbons, eating some herself
to encourage him, and turning aside every now and then to cry again over
the poor _tousin_ whose Babbo had just been drowned, and who was so
innocently gay over this unexpected feast of sweetmeats.

And Sophy, all alone at her window in the bleak hotel bedroom, stood and
gazed at the little group on the beach, where Morelli, Peppin, and Luigi
were striving to restore her husband to life. The first rigorous methods
having been used, they had moved him to the shadow of some trees and
spread blankets under and over him--only his head and the upper part of
his chest were now exposed. And on either side knelt the sailor and the
doctor. They had each grasped one of the massive arms, and regularly,
with a machine-like motion, they lifted these arms up above the prone
head, then down again--up--then down again. So powerful did the huge man
look, even thus outstretched upon the ground, that it seemed to Sophy as
though with his naked, herculean arms, he were bending the two men back
and forth--back and forth. She would not believe that he was dead. It
was as if, should she allow herself for a moment to believe it, he would
really die. It was as if his life depended on her will to believe in it.
It was impossible--that thus, in the sunlight, within a few yards of
shore, within the sound of her voice, with his midday-meal preparing for
him, his clothes awaiting him on the warm beach--that thus in a
moment--in the twinkling of an eye--he should be dead....

Up and down--up and down waved the massive arms, white and gleaming in
the glare from sky and water. Another figure joined the group. Sophy
recognised Tibaldo, the gardener's boy from Villa Bianca. The doctor
said something, turning his head sharply. Then she saw Luigi turn back
the blankets, and Tibaldo take up a bottle that had been standing near.
He poured stuff from this bottle into Luigi's hands, then into his own.
They began rubbing the naked man vigorously. The doctor and Peppin
paused a moment. She saw Morelli mop his face with his handkerchief, and
Peppin sling the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. A change
was made. Now it was Luigi and Tibaldo who were moving the great arms up
and down, while Peppin and Morelli rubbed the outstretched body
vigorously....

All at once, without any warning, she could not see them any longer. All
that she could see was an endless reach of gleeful, bright blue water,
and floating on it, bobbing drolly, a small, yellow chair. Then she saw
nothing--then dark clouds that coiled and swam. She did not regain
consciousness for five hours. When she came to herself again, she was
lying on the bed with Tilda kneeling at her feet, rubbing them. A man's
face was bending over her--the face of Doctor Morelli. The Venetian
blinds were closed, making a strange green light in the room ... it
seemed to be under water. She struggled to rise, feeling
suffocated--feeling as though she, too, were drowning. She heard Morelli
take a breath as of relief. Tilda had put down her face upon the
bedclothes.

"How is he?... How is my husband?" she managed to stammer.

She felt the girl sobbing against her feet.

"_Coraggio, signora_.... _Coraggio_...." murmured the doctor. Then she
knew. He was dead. She sank again into merciful depths of
unconsciousness.

       *       *       *       *       *

This time, when she recovered, it was into the tender, lustrous eyes of
the Marchesa Amaldi that she looked up. As soon as Peppin had brought
the news to Le Vigne, the Marchesa had set out for Ghiffa. Amaldi was
away on a walking tour in the Carpathians. He had left very suddenly.
The Marchesa divined that it was his feeling for Sophy that had caused
him to leave so abruptly. She applauded him in her heart while she
ached, mother-like, for his unhappiness. Now came this horrible
disaster. She was glad that Marco was away. Sheer pity might have
stripped him too bare before her, in spite of his powerful reserve. And
with the sense of his hopeless, unfortunate love adding to her own
passion of pity for this young creature widowed in so horrible a way,
the Marchesa gathered Sophy as it were into the very shrine of
mother-tenderness. Never again after that were things quite the same
between them. Never again could the Marchesa look on Sophy only as a
charming woman whom her son unfortunately loved; never again could Sophy
forget, that on the heart of Marco's mother she had lain in that tragic
hour.

"Can't you cry, my poor darling?... Can't you cry?" the Marchesa kept
murmuring, her beautiful large hand folding Sophy's head to her breast,
as it had been the head of a child that she was suckling. But no tears
would come. It was as though she were bleeding tears inwardly.

When she was strong enough to rise, she said, whispering:

"I want to go to him."

The Marchesa assisted her to her feet without a word. In silence she led
her to the communicating door behind which her husband lay, then
stepped aside for her to enter.

Sophy closed the door softly as she went in. It was late at night.
Candles burned by the bed, on either side. He lay there immensely,
majestically long under the white sheet. Sophy went forward
unfalteringly, and kneeling down beside him, lifted back the sheet. Awe
filled her at the icy splendour of that face. She had not known how
beautiful he was, until thus translated into cream-hued marble. His brow
seemed to triumph; on his lips was that austere, secretive smile as of
Initiation, that only death can give. It seemed to her that it was not
her husband who lay there before her, but a majestic High-priest, dead
with the words of some mysterious and awful ritual still on his lips,
now sealed with that smile of ultimate initiation.

She bent closer, very reverently, and kissed the thick fair hair, then
the wonderful, triumphant brow. She had never before touched the dead.
This coldness of what had been so warm made her realise in one sick
throe that the imagination of Divinity may be abominable....

Then all at once in the stark silence of the room she became conscious
of the ticking of his watch, made resonant by the bare wood of the table
on which it had been placed. Like a little metal heart it seemed,
continuing the unavailing minutes of the life that had stopped, while it
went on. And next to the coldness of the familiar brow, that ticking of
the dead man's watch seemed to her the most fearful thing that she had
ever known or dreamed of. She sank back on her knees, her hands folded
upon the bed, gazing at that loftily indifferent face, listening to the
steady pulse of the watch.... She could not bring it all near her. A
tragedy had taken place in some far planet, and this was the mysterious
painting of it on which she looked. That was not Cecil who lay there in
that frozen dignity, Cecil who had been like a flame from the hottest
core of life's great furnace ... he could never have lapsed into such
seemingly voluntary passionlessness, even in death. Had there been a
frown of revolt on his forehead, he would have seemed nearer, more real.
Thus, he was not Cecil, but a stranger.... She felt confused, impassive
and appalled. She was appalled at what she thought her own
heartlessness. But then why should she weep for him, when he lay there
with such plenitude of satisfaction and agreement on his forbiddingly
beautiful, stranger's face?

She went back after an hour into the next room. Her face looked dull and
wild at the same time. The Marchesa, who had lain down on the bed, rose
and drew her down beside her, keeping gentle but firm hold of her hand.
Sophy submitted obediently. She lay until day without moving, her eyes
wide open, fixed on the opposite wall. Now and then the Marchesa would
turn her head cautiously to see if by chance she had fallen asleep. But
the dark eyes were always wide open, fixed on the bright green
wallpaper.

"Poor girl," thought the Marchesa. "Poor Marco ... she loved her husband
deeply, in spite of all. There may be brain fever unless I can make her
cry in some way."

At dawn Sophy was still stretched there moveless, her eyes on the green
wall behind which Cecil lay in cold, aloof content.

Robins began their sweet autumnal piping in the hotel garden. A thought
came to the Marchesa. Babies waked with birds. She rose softly, and
slipped out into the hall. Rosa and Bobby had been given a room just
opposite. The Marchesa entered without knocking. The wisdom of the old
nurse in the song was in her heart. As she had thought, the boy was
awake. He was sitting up in bed, his short red curls tousled, the
sleeves of his blue flannel dressing-gown that came far down over his
hands, evidently annoying him, for he tugged at them impatiently. He was
trying to make two fiercely moustachioed tin soldiers do battle on the
pillow that Rosa had laid before him. Every time that one soldier would
almost clash swords with the other, down would come the sleeves like a
curtain, extinguishing the warriors.

"Bad teeves!" he was scolding them as the Marchesa entered. "_Pias minga
a mi_" (You don't please me). He had picked up much dialect since coming
to the Lake. Rosa, who also waked with the birds, and who, attired in a
red flannel petticoat and cotton under-body, was washing her face in a
corner of the room, kept murmuring, "_Pazienza, tousin, pazienza._"

She looked up as the Marchesa entered, horrified to be found by a
_Sciora_ in such attire. But the Marchesa did not glance at her. She
went straight to Bobby.

He greeted her joyously.

"My 'ady! Take off!" he cried, holding up his muffled hands.

The Marchesa talked with him for about twenty minutes, then she lifted
him, all subdued and piteous, into her arms, and carried him to his
mother. The sun had now risen and that green light as of watery depths
again filled the room.

The Marchesa put the boy down beside Sophy without a word. She did not
look at him, but her arm went round him. Bobby snuggled close, then
lifted his head and gazed into her white face. He began "pooring" it
with his little hand. The Marchesa had turned back the bothersome
sleeves. Then he knelt up to see her better.

"Poor dada ... dwownded...." he murmured, caressing her cheek. "Poor
muvvah ... all lone...." His lips began to quiver with the sad sound of
his own broken words.... "Don't c'y...." he pleaded, big tears bursting
from his own eyes.... "Bobby 'tay wiv you.... Bobby tate tare of you....
Don't c'y...."

And with this he began to sob himself as though his little heart would
break.

Sophy started from her trance of numbness. She caught the boy to her....
Then her tears came.... Then she remembered Cecil as her young lover ...
her husband.... Then he became real to her again, as she clasped his son
in her arms and they wept together.

The Marchesa had stolen out.

"_Ringrazio Dio!_" she said in her heart. She, too, was weeping.



PART II



I


Sophy spent the winter that followed her husband's death in the little
cottage at Bonchurch. Her one desire, after Cecil's body had been laid
in the Chapel-crypt at Dynehurst, was to return "to her own land and her
own people." But Bellamy had warned her against an autumn crossing for
Bobby, and the sudden change to a severer climate. At first she could
not bring herself to walk or ride--the sight of blue water sparkling in
the sun was so dreadful to her. And it grew to be almost an
hallucination that, whenever she looked on it, she saw also a yellow
chair, bobbing drolly to the motion of the waves. Little by little she
dominated this aversion from the sea. Had it been a lake near which
Bonchurch lay, she could not have borne it. But here, after two months,
she began to ride daily, and gradually grew strong again.

It was on a lovely day in June when she reached the little country
station of Sweet-Waters. The chuckle of Sweet-Water creek, that just
here made a special music among crowding stones, rose dearly familiar.
And there--there were her Mountains! Tears shut them out for a moment.
Before she could see them clearly again, Charlotte's arms were round
her. They clung together speechless.

"Oh!" murmured Sophy at last, her face buried in Charlotte's neck. "Oh,
Chartie ... how you smell of _home_!"

This made them both laugh. But they were crying, too. The sisters loved
each other as twins sometimes do, though they were not twins. Charlotte
was eight years older than Sophy. And there, in the broad afternoon
sunlight, Sophy again buried her face in her sister's neck to savour the
sweet "home" fragrance.

Then she put Bobby in Charlotte's arms. Now Charlotte was afraid to
speak. She pressed the boy to her in silence. At last she said:

"He has your eyes, darling," adding: "_I've_ a new boy to show you, too,
you know."

The long, grave shadows of late afternoon, in which there was no
sadness, only the serene beauty of sleep, lay over the rolling fields
through which the sisters drove homeward, hand in hand. Each native tree
and wild-flower went to Sophy's heart. She so loved this friendly,
smiling country, that almost she believed it "loved her back again," as
children say. The silver-poplars along the road glittered whitely in a
soft breeze. The sky changed to sheeted gold above the bluish mountains.
As they turned in at the lawn of Sweet-Waters, the old box-shrubs
scraped against the carriage in a way that meant home, and only home.
Nowhere else in the world were box-trees set so close together on a
driveway, that carriages could not pass without being brushed by the
stiff leaves.

Sophy smiled, catching at a sprig as they passed, and Charlotte, also
smiling, said:

"Yes. Joe is still promising me to clip them properly."

The old red-brick of the house now glowed on them between the boughs of
tulip-trees and horse-chestnuts. They passed the clump of great acacia
trees, where stood the round, green tables, covered with pots of pink
and white geraniums. Sophy recalled that day when the London
window-boxes had brought this memory of home. Now she was here. Home was
reality--London the memory.

Judge Macon came down the front steps and took her in his arms as though
she had been in truth his sister. He was much moved. Somehow to see her
in the dull black of widow's weeds struck him as unnatural. Like most
men, he hated "mourning." It hurt him to see her brightness thus
quenched with crêpe.

"Doggone it, Chartie," he said to his wife that night when they were
alone, "get that black off of our Sophy as soon as you can. For the
Lord's sake, get _some_ of it off right away. A human being can't go
through a Virginia summer draped like a hearse!"

Charlotte said:

"Oh, Joe, _don't_ talk so gruesomely. She'll wear white I'm sure--poor
darling."

Then she went to his shoulder and cried frankly.

"I hate it as much as you do," she said. "It almost makes me 'lose my
religion' to think of Sophy's being a widow. Don't you know how we--how
_every one_--always thought of Sophy as being brilliant and happy?"

"Yes, yes; so we did, so we did," he soothed her. Then he added soberly:

"But those are just the people who seem to attract misfortune ... like
lightning-rods," he concluded quaintly.

       *       *       *       *       *

As soon as they had reached the house, Charlotte took Sophy upstairs to
show her the nursery she had arranged for Bobby, and the old nursery
just across the hall, that she and Sophy used to share together, and
which was now to be her sister's bedroom. Even then Charlotte had
ventured to suggest timidly:

"Won't you change to something cooler, dear?"

She longed to see Sophy in white blouse and duck skirt as in old days.
She opened a closet door, suggestively. "There are some of your summer
things hanging here just as they used to. Mammy Nan did them up for you
herself."

Sophy stood with her arm about Charlotte's waist, looking at the freshly
laundered, white skirts that she had worn as a girl. They seemed like
ghosts to her, gleaming there in the dim closet--phantoms of her dead
self--of that joyous, exultant, "cock-sure" girl that had been herself
and could never come to life again. A new sadness came over her like the
sadness with which we look on the garments of the dead.

"No--I don't think I'll change, Chartie," she said gently. "This gown I
have on is really cool."

And she picked up a fold of her thin, crêpe skirt that Charlotte might
see for herself. She did not realise that it was the blackness of her
dress that Charlotte wanted changed. She was so used to wearing black
now that she felt more at ease in it. It had become a sort of uniform.
She was one of the army of sorrow. To wear its prescribed black made her
feel less conspicuous. The repellent custom of "mourning" has this
illogical consolation for its adherents.

But her sadness faded as she looked round the familiar room. The very
smell of it was the same. A scent of India matting and beeswax, and the
Russia leather of her sets of Shakespeare and Chaucer. She went from
object to object, touching them lovingly. Colour had come to her face.
Her grey eyes shone dark. She stood at the foot of the green bed with
its painted birds-of-Paradise, now but faint blurs of gold and crimson,
looking lovingly at its fluted pillow-slips and coverlet of old, white
"honey-comb."

"What happy dreams we've dreamed there, Chartie!" she murmured. "We were
such happy things."

Charlotte called from the window for Mammy Nan to bring the youngest of
her three sons to see "Miss Sophy." This was William Taliaferro, usually
called "Winks," Bobby's senior by three months. Jack and Joey were still
out somewhere on the farm. Winks had his mother's yellow-hazel eyes,
dark curls, and decision of character. He accepted Sophy for an aunt,
after some solemn pondering, and allowed her to take him in her arms.
She bore him across the hall to "make friends" with his new cousin. It
was delightful to see the two youngsters "taking stock" of each other.
Like two young cockerels they stood, fronting each other, heads down,
thumbs home to the hilt in red mouths, hackles ready to rise at the
least sign--round eyes fixed on round eyes. Bobby was the first to
remove a glistening thumb. His delicious little grin shone forth.

"Bobby boy!" he announced. "P'ay sogers!"

Winks considered a second longer. Then he, too, removed his thumb.

"Mh-mh," he assented, and allowed Bobby to take him by the hand. They
trotted off like brothers born, to play with the tin soldiers that Rosa
had already unpacked.

"_Che amorini!_" sighed she, looking after them with clasped hands. She
did not ask more of life than two such _bambini_ to adore. Rosa's was
the true mother-heart. Whether born of her own flesh or of another's,
children were all in all to her.

Though Sophy felt so dusty from her journey, she would not take the time
for a tub, from these first, wondrous hours of homecoming. She longed to
be out in the old grounds. Charlotte left her at last, to "see about
supper." How the familiar phrase warmed Sophy's heart! She peeped again
into the nursery before going down. She had worried a little as to how
Rosa would "get on" with the darkies. She need not have done so. She
found the dear old negress and the Lombard peasant woman sitting side
by side. Rosa looked up as she entered, and patted Mammy Nan's rather
embarrassed, satiny-brown face.

"Ees goo-ood," she cooed. "_La Mora e molto buona ... molto simpatica._"

To hear Mammy Nan called "the Moor" made Sophy smile. She stood there
smiling at them.

"Rosa's a mighty nice woman, Mammy," she said, slipping easily into the
vernacular.

"She sho' do 'pear so," agreed Mammy Nan, amiable but nervous. It seemed
so very peculiar to her to have a strange "white 'ooman" patting her
cheek and calling her "Cara," when her name was Ann.



II


Sophy went out, while Charlotte "saw about supper," and wandered alone
but not lonely through the grounds. It was "sundown," as they say in
Virginia. All the west was gold above the darkling violet of the
mountains. She went along one of the old brick walks towards the garden.
From the stable the scent of horses and fresh straw blew towards her,
mingling with the perfume of the June roses. This, too, meant home. The
stable was at the foot of the garden. Ever since she could remember,
when the wind was due west, the scent of "horse" had mingled with the
scent of flowers.

The garden lay in terraces connected by flights of wooden steps. She sat
down on the first flight, between two damask-rose trees, and watched the
swallows wheeling to nest against the dim gold of the sky. A great bush
of calacanthus spread at her feet. She gathered some of the little,
hard, maroon-coloured blossoms, and put them inside the breast of her
gown. They would only give out their full sweetness thus warmed. Their
perfume of strawberries-in-the-sun and fresh vanilla was the very
essence of "home." The _tank-tonk_ of cowbells sounded along the meadow
field. The cows, just milked, were grazing leisurely again. Frogs
crooned softly from the mill-pond. A screech-owl trilled.

The soft, fluctuant ebb and flow of blowing foliage--like an aerial
surge playing along skyey strands--came to her from the lawn above. She
turned and lay at full length in the warm grass--breast to breast with
the earth of home. Her heart beat strong and warm against it--her lips
pressed it. And a strange, tender, universal thrill such as she had
never known, ran through her as she thus clasped and kissed the soil
from which she had sprung, and to which she would one day return....

And suddenly it seemed to her that the greatest gift the gods could send
her would be the wish to write again. Ah, if she, the poet that was her
truest self, could only rise again! It was not a "resurrection" but a
"_risorgimento_" that she longed for. The word came to her with its
memory of Amaldi. But he seemed now only like one of the sad phantoms in
her phantasmal past. Nothing, not even the lost spirit of poetry, seemed
to her so unreal as her past, leaning secure as she now did on the warm
earth of home.

"_Risorgo_.... I rise again...." she murmured, pulling the purple-headed
meadow-grass from its close sheath, and nibbling the yellow-white waxen
stalks absently. That was a home-taste! She stopped thinking more
serious thoughts, to smile down at the nibbled stalk in her hand. "You
taste of childhood...." she said to the blade of grass. Then she rose to
her feet. Charlotte was calling her. As she went towards the house she
mused:

"If I ever write another book of verse, I shall call it
'_Risorgimento_.'"

For the next two years, winter and summer, Sophy remained at
Sweet-Waters. She felt herself a rich woman in these days, for Gerald
had insisted on continuing the allowance that he had made Cecil, to her
and Cecil's son. This allowance she found to be two thousand pounds a
year. Now that she had become a widow with a son to care for, she grew
thrifty. During these two years at Sweet-Waters, Judge Macon invested
for her every penny of her allowance, with the exception of four hundred
pounds a year. This sum, together with her own income of one thousand
dollars, enabled her to share the expenses of the household and provide
comfortably for herself and Bobby in all other respects. She remembered
that at any moment Gerald might marry, and the allowance cease. She
knew, of course, that in case Gerald died without issue, Bobby would
succeed to the title. About the property, whether it were all entailed
or only a part of it, she did not know. She had been quite happy to find
that under the English Guardianship of Infants Act, 1886, she, the
mother, was sole guardian of her son, as Cecil had appointed no other.
One of her greatest trials, after the first shock of her husband's
death, had been the dread that Lady Wychcote might have some control
over Bobby. It was with bitter reluctance that his grandmother parted
with him. She had exacted a promise from Sophy that she would not allow
too long a time to elapse before bringing him back to England. "Five
years ... I must have five years all to myself," Sophy had answered. It
seemed to her that, even in five years' time, she would not be able to
come to Dynehurst without horror.

"Do you propose to make an American of Cecil's son?" Lady Wychcote had
asked bitterly.

"No. I realise that Bobby must be educated in England. But he will only
be seven years old in five years from now. I am not so unreasonable as
you think me. If I am to live to take care of him I must go home for a
time," Sophy had answered.

The quiet magic of that first homecoming held through the years that
followed. If a rose could "shut and be a bud again" it would feel much
as Sophy felt during those tranquil years at Sweet-Waters.

Her nephews adored her. She had "a way" with boys. When she went to
ride, they usually scuttled along on their ponies, one at either rein.
Her "guard of honour" she called them. Joey, the eldest, went to school
in winter, but Charlotte taught Jack herself--he was only eight. And he
used to make Joey glum with envy during the holidays by telling him of
how, in the autumn evenings, Aunt Sophy and he (Jack) would roast
chestnuts together before tea--while she told him "Jim hummers of fairy
stories."

Sophy read a good deal, but nothing that could touch her too nearly. She
was afraid of stirring the deeper self that seemed so sound asleep.

It was odd how bits of her own girlish verse had kept haunting her ever
since her return. One she often thought of at this time:

  "Frailly partitioned is the Inn of Life:
  I will go very softly, lest perchance
  I rouse the traveller Sorrow...."

During the autumn of her first year at Sweet-Waters a strange quickening
came to her spirit. It came swift and sudden, without warning, as such
things always come. "Whereas I was blind, now I see," said the man
restored to sight by miracle. Whereas Sophy's creative will had been
dead within her, now it lived. It was like the immemorially old and ever
new mystery of conception. Her mind was with child--in a supreme, sweet
pang it revealed itself. The triumphant blue of an October sky glowed
through her window. It was ablaze with silver cloud-sails. Sophy knelt
gazing up at this splendour, and within her all was splendour--a glory
of thanksgiving--a glory of conscious fertility. The majestic blue of
the sky seemed to her like God manifest.



III


It was again June in Virginia--the third summer since Sophy's return.
Her new volume of poems, _Risorgimento_, had come out that April. It was
being widely reviewed. The "people who mattered" had given it praise.
This made her very happy. She had a fortunate nature. Things did not
grow stale for her. The powers of wonder and of joy were very strong in
her. The lines of George Herbert sang in her heart:

      "And now in age I bud again,
  After so many deaths I live and write;
      I once more smell the dew and rain,
  And relish versing: O my only light,
              It cannot be,
              That I am he,
  On whom thy tempests fell all night."

But apart from the resurgence of her poetic gift, her whole life seemed
also quickening. As the spring burgeoned and flowered into summer, she
herself seemed burgeoning and flowering. A great restlessness came over
her. She felt impelled to rush out with the tide of spring into the
glittering, newly wakened world.

One afternoon there was a big storm brewing at Sweet-Waters. The
sunlight was dulled--the leaves hung listless. Over the mountain just
behind the house a huge cloud of thunderous blue-black was swelling
slowly. Now and then came a flitter of lightning--a muffled detonation
far away. Bobby was very much afraid of thunderstorms. But he was now
five years old. Sophy could not bear it that her boy should be afraid of
anything. She took him in her arms and went out to watch the coming
tempest.

"See, Bobby man," she said. "The world's asleep. Now the Storm is coming
to wake her up."

"I 'spec she'd wavver sleep," said Bobby doubtfully.

He gazed in awe at the great cedars, so black and sullen blocked out
against the tremendous cloud. The intense stillness scared him almost as
much as the approaching hurly-burly.

Suddenly there came a violet flash, followed by a bellowing blare of
thunder. At the same time a sibilation of leaves ran through the sultry
air.

"Le's we _go_, muvvah! Le's we _go_!" urged Bobby in a small voice.

"Not yet, sweetheart. It's so splendid out here. See that big cloud come
flying! It's like Sinbad's roc in the fairy tale. Don't you remember?"

"I don't like wocs," said Bobby falteringly.

Now the wind fell on them with a shout. The trees tossed. They bowed
wildly, almost to the sunburnt earth. Twigs and leaves spun through the
air. White fringes streamed from the inky cloud; then lightning--the sky
blazed with a gigantic frond of fire. A pulse stroke--then a shattering,
re-echoing roar.

Bobby pressed hard against his mother's breast. He was too much a man to
howl, but his heart was as water within him.

"Le's go _now_, muvvah," he whispered.

"Just a minute more, darling. Don't you want to see the rain come over
the mountain? Hark! You can hear it--hundreds of little glass-slippered
feet, like Cinderella's--running--running----"

This idea fascinated Bobby for a second, but another blast of thunder
was too much for him. He began to tremble.

"Darling," coaxed Sophy, "surely you aren't afraid of God's own
thunder?"

"Don't like Dod," said Bobby.

"You mustn't say that, sweetheart. God made the thunder, but he made you
and mother, too. He loves you."

"_El pias minga a mi_" (He doesn't please me), said Bobby firmly.

Now the rain swirled over the mountain. In grey-white, hissing clouds it
came, as though the earth were red-hot, and the cold drops burst into
steam as they smote it. Sophy ran into the house with Bobby. She took
him to the upper hall, and knelt down before a door that opened upon the
railed roof of the front portico.

"Ah, be a man, Bobby," she pleaded. "You're the only man mother's got in
all the world."

He stood with both arms about her neck. The bright, buff freckles showed
up clearly on his pale little face. But with underlip thrust out and
brows drawn down, his eyelids winking with every flash of lightning, he
looked the storm firmly in the face, because "Muvvah" had begged him to
be a man.

Charlotte, coming upstairs to see that all window-shutters were properly
closed, found them kneeling there together. She had hardly appeared
before there came a flash and crash in one, so appalling that Bobby
could resist no longer. He flattened himself against his mother's breast
and shouted clamorously to be removed.

Then Sophy turned and slipped his hand into Charlotte's. An inspiration
had come to her.

"There!" she said. "Stay safe with Aunt Chartie and watch mother!
Mother's not afraid!"

The next moment she was out in the scented downpour. To and fro she ran,
laughing. Her sleeveless wrapper of white muslin was soon soaked
through. The wind beat it close to her in fine, rippled lines. She
looked like a living figure from Tanagra. And she had never felt
anything more exquisite than this cool, pelting of summer rain against
her whole body.

Now and then flares of lightning would illumine her, throwing her light,
drenched figure into relief against the wind-blown leaves. She seemed
dancing to great tambourines of thunder. Bobby, quite made over by his
mother's bravery, gazed on enraptured. She called to him as she whirled:

"Look, Bobby! See how mother loves God's splendid storm!"

Suddenly the boy broke from Charlotte's grasp. He sprang out into the
tempest towards his mother.

"Me, too!" he shouted. "_Viva Dio!_" (Long live God!)

       *       *       *       *       *

Sophy was still smiling to herself over this "_Viva Dio!_" as she
braided her damp hair into a loose plait before going down to supper.
The placid life at Sweet-Waters was very old-fashioned. During the hot
weather there was no dinner served, only this light, simple meal at
seven o'clock.

"How like me Bobby is," she thought. "I'm always rebelling against the
Deity, and then crying '_Viva Dio!_' in the end."

The storm had passed. She went and stood at her window, drawing in deep
breaths of rain-freshened air, dense with sweet-shrub and honeysuckle. A
serene level light lay upon the glistening grass--the "clear shining
after rain." Now and then a shower of heavy drops loosened by the breeze
pattered through the magnolia tree near by. The great tree, splendid
with creamy blossoms, looked as though covered by a flight of doves. The
birds were at their evening gossip as though no storm had ever been. One
alighted on a branch close to her window, beside one of the white,
chalice-like flowers, and fluffing up its feathers in a sort of musical
frenzy, began its joyous song.

Sophy's heart swelled. It seemed to her that she and the bird and the
white, impassioned flower, and the spent storm, and repentant Bobby
crying "_Viva Dio!_" were all one. The whole, glad, drenched, shining
earth and all that clung to it seemed shouting "_Viva Dio!_"

And she stretched out her arms as though to embrace this thrilling
wonder called life, so that the bird broke off its song, and flew away
with a loud _frrrrt!_ of startled wings, leaving the great white flower
trembling as with ecstasy....

       *       *       *       *       *

She put on an old, corn-coloured muslin frock for supper, made
cottage-fashion with a soft kerchief. It was one of her girlhood's
dresses. She was proud to find how easily it hooked about her slim
waist. She was still as slender as she had been at twenty. As she ran
lightly downstairs she sang to a tune of her own improvisation: "For the
rain is over and gone ... the time of the singing of birds has come...."

Her song stopped suddenly. The last turn of the staircase had brought
her face to face with a little group in the lower hall--Judge Macon,
Charlotte, and two men. One was her cousin Aleck Macfarlane, one was a
stranger--a young fellow of about twenty-six. Sophy was struck by the
pure Greek type of his head, silhouetted against the outer green of the
wet lawn. It looked like some classic bas-relief, seen so in shadow
against the light, gleaming grass--bronze on a background of verdigris.
He was introduced by Macfarlane.

"My friend, Morris Loring----"

Sophy learned that they had been caught by the storm when they were
about a mile from Sweet-Waters. They had taken refuge in a farm-house,
and then ridden on.

"We got horribly muddy," said Loring, glancing down at his riding
breeches and puttees which were plastered with red clay. He had a fresh,
clear voice. Sophy guessed that he was a New Yorker. Now that she saw
his face in the light, she thought it manly in spite of being beautiful.
She had never before seen a man's face that she thought beautiful. It
struck her as very singular. But even in England, where the Anglo-Saxon
race so often produces perfect Greek types, she had never seen anything
so Hellenic as young Loring. In figure he was tall but slight; the
regular horseman's figure--flat-thighed and slim of leg. His
riding-clothes were almost _too_ well cut, Sophy thought. Loring
appeared to her a little too much like the smart tailor's advertisements
of sportsmen attired for riding. But she enjoyed looking at him. She
wondered, amused, if he didn't enjoy looking at himself. He, on his
side, was thinking: "Lord! What a dazzler! She wins, hands down, over
anything I've ever seen!"

Sophy suddenly remembered the loose plait that hung below her waist. She
laughed, colouring a little. Loring couldn't get his eyes away from her.

"You must excuse my appearing as Gretchen...." she said. "I got caught
in the rain, too. I left my hair down because it wasn't quite dry."

"You really needn't excuse yourself for the way you look, Sophy," said
Macfarlane dryly.

Sophy slipped her arm through his.

"Old humbug!" she said affectionately. She was very fond of Aleck. He
was about ten years older than she was and had taught her how to ride.

Judge Macon took the two men off to tidy up a bit before supper. As soon
as they had disappeared, Charlotte darted to Sophy. She began speaking
rapidly in a nervous whisper.

"Sophy!... I'm dreadfully worried--Machunk Creek is 'up' and those two
boys (all men under fifty had been 'boys' to Charlotte ever since the
birth of her first-born), they'll have to stay all night with us. And
they haven't a _thing_ to sleep in...."

"Well, but Joe will lend them things of course," said Sophy.

Charlotte's anxiety did not abate.

"That's just it!" she whispered hoarsely. "This Mr. Loring looks so
_very_ fashionable. And Joe never _will_ wear anything but those long,
old-fashioned night-shirts! I don't see how I _can_ put one of Joe's
night-shirts on the Blue-room bed for Mr. Loring, Sophy! Aleck's
different-- I don't mind Aleck."

Sophy stared at her for a second, then she sat down on the lowest step
of the stairs and rocked to and fro, hiding her face.

"Sophy! _Sophy!_" said Charlotte, still in that raucous whisper, and
shaking her vexedly by the shoulder. "Stop! Get up and help me! You're
_too_ trying sometimes!"

Sophy tried earnestly to speak, but laughter kept stopping her.

Charlotte shook her again.

"How selfish of you, Sophy! I can't see where the fun comes in. I tell
you I don't _want_ to lay out one of poor, dear Joe's night-shirts for
that young man to snigger over."

"I ... I don't believe he's the ... the 'sniggering' sort...." murmured
Sophy, wiping her eyes.

"Well, to sneer at, then. You've _got_ to help me. Can't you think of
anything?"

Sophy considered. Suddenly her face became convulsed again.

"I ... I might lend him ... a pair of B-Bobby's pyjamas...." she
faltered.

Charlotte turned on her heel.

"Very well," she said haughtily. But Sophy ran after her, repentant. She
hooked a cajoling arm in Charlotte's stiffened elbow.

"Don't get huffy, dear," she coaxed. "I'm sure one of Joe's night-shirts
will do _perfectly_ ... really I do...."

They finally went to the Blue-room together--Charlotte with a white
object folded very small over one arm. She laid it on the foot of the
bed, outside the old brocade quilt. Then she stood looking
discontentedly down on it.

"I'm sure it looks _very_ nice," said Sophy.

But Charlotte stood absorbed. Presently she said:

"I really think I'd better unfold it. He might think it was an extra
pillow-case."

And she displayed the quaint garment at greater length.

"Thank heaven I marked these myself with white embroidery cotton," she
then murmured. "Joe _will_ mark them with that horrid, indelible ink if
I don't watch him like a hawk. Do you think it looks better so?"

"I think it looks perfectly charming," said Sophy gravely. Then she went
off again into uncontrollable fits of laughter. "I ... I even think...."
she stammered, "that it will be becoming...."

Charlotte turned her back and left the room, perfectly outdone with her.
But all during supper Sophy kept smiling now and then, as she pictured
Morris Loring's classic head emerging from the Judge's ample night-robe.



IV


October had come. Sophy and Morris Loring were walking together towards
the woods that lay along the hills behind Sweet-Waters. He had ridden
over from the Macfarlanes' and was to stay to dinner. Bobby trotted
soberly by his mother, his mittened hand in hers. He was a reticent
child about his deepest feelings. One of these feelings was that he did
not like Loring. As he had said of the Deity in His form of _Jupiter
tonans_ so he said in his heart of Loring: "_El pias minga a mi._" Bobby
thought in the Lake dialect. It was his medium of intercourse with Rosa.
He did not know why he did not like Loring. The young man was
particularly nice to him--or tried to be. Children are peculiar. What
seems "being nice" to grown-ups, does not always appeal to them by any
means. For one thing, Loring always addressed him as "General." This
soldierly epithet would have pleased some little boys. It did not please
Bobby. He preferred to be called by his own name. Doubtless jealousy had
something to do with his dislike of Loring. Until the young man had
appeared in the neighbourhood, Bobby had had his mother almost entirely
to himself. Now "Mr. Lorwing," like the world in the great sonnet, was
too much with them. He even intruded on the hours heretofore sacred to
Bobby--firelight hours just before bedtime, when "Muvvah" used to tell
such lovely fairy tales: hours like this one, in which Bobby had looked
forward to gathering the first chestnuts of the season--just he and
"Muvvah," with Rosa to throw sticks into the big trees for them. So
Bobby trotted along in sober silence, wishing that something would
happen to make Mr. Lorwing go away forever.

Rosa walked happily in the rear, gathering a great posy of autumn
flowers.

The afternoon was lovely--mild yet sparkling. The blue autumnal haze
veiled everything. The sky was almost purple. Against it melted clouds
of silverish azure. Just over the yellowing wood hung a frail day-moon.

"What a blue day!" said Sophy, looking up at the fragile disk. "Even the
moon is blue--it looks as if it were made of thin blue crystal...."

Loring was looking at her.

"That's a good omen--a 'blue moon,'" he said. "All sorts of wonders
happen in a 'blue moon.'"

"Well, we might find a blue rose," said Sophy, smiling.

"I've found one."

"Ah! Shall you press it or preserve it in spirits?"

"Blue roses don't fade."

Sophy answered flippantly that in that case he would always be provided
with a unique and inexpensive "button-hole"--much more unique and
economical than Mr. Chamberlain's orchid.

Loring was still looking at her. She did not look at him, but kept
glancing about her at the October landscape that she loved best of all.

"It seems queer that you're so contented in this quiet old place after
having led such a brilliant life abroad," he said. This strain of
thought had been roused in him by the mention of Mr. Chamberlain's
orchid. "I should think you'd long for it again."

"Not yet," said Sophy.

His face lighted.

"'Not yet'? Then you do feel sometimes that this buried-alive-life won't
satisfy you forever?"

"Oh, no! I shall fly far and wide again some day."

Loring was silent. His heart gave a hot twist. This was just what he
most feared, that she would "fly far and wide" away from him. He had
never in all his exceedingly wilful life desired anything with the
frantic vehemence that he desired Sophy. And he was not accustomed to
having his desires denied him. At home the household word was: "Morry
has such a strong will." This had been the slogan of his childhood: "My
will--or nothing. My will--or a burst blood-vessel. Death or punishment
in any form--rather than yield my will." He had been rather delicate as
a child. So his parents had preferred concession to the convulsions with
which he threatened them whenever he was crossed in any way. It was a
wonder that he grew up to likable manhood. Yet people thought him
"perfectly charming"--a bit spoiled, but delightful. Girls called him
"fascinating." His own pals said: "Morry Loring's a good sort. A bit
ugly if you cross him--you've got to know how to handle him; but he's
all right." By "handling" Loring they meant that one must seem to give
him his way while skilfully getting one's own. This was not always
practicable. Then coolnesses sprang up. Only two out of the old Harvard
set stuck to him. But he was, in fact, not at all a bad sort--provided
that you were willing not to announce too positively and publicly that
your soul was your own. And his will was certainly strong. It was a
brand-new sensation for him to will so ardently the possession of a
thing which he was in sick doubt of securing. It had a poignant yet
terrible charm of sheer novelty. And at the same time he experienced an
inner revelation which shook him even more. It was the undreamed of
capacity for adoration. There was no denying it--his spirit was on its
knees to Sophy. She seemed to him as beautifully overwhelming as the
suddenly revealed goddess to the shepherd of Mount Ida. There was about
her, in addition to the aura of beauty and talent, the glamour of a
woman who has moved brilliantly in a brilliant world. Had he been told
that this naïf snobbishness had much to do with his novel emotion of
adoration, he would have received the information with a tempest of
incredulous and outraged wrath. Yet, though undoubtedly due to it in
part, there was also genuine humility in his love for Sophy--that
romantic abasement of self which makes a man find a subtle pleasure in
the realisation of his own unworthiness.

Loring had come down to Aleck Macfarlane's country place to buy hunters.
When he saw Sophy, he believed suddenly in Fate. No mere chance wish to
buy hunters had sent him to Virginia. Here was the Lady of Legend--the
Princess out of the fairy-tale books of his boyhood. He had always heard
of Virginia as romantic. Now he found that it was inhabited by Romance
herself in the person of Sophy Chesney. He had heard often of the Hon.
Mrs. Cecil Chesney. He knew that she "had written something." Poems were
not much "in his line." Yet he sent to Brentano's for Sophy's poems the
day after he met her. He was frankly disappointed in them. He had
expected something more fiery. And he tried to get a volume of her first
book, _The Shadow of a Flame_. But it was out of print. He had given
Brentano an order to find it for him. Only that morning the book had
arrived from England. He was still tingling with the fearless, young
passion of her printed words, as he walked now beside her. Her own words
seemed to put him from her--far back with that past self which she no
longer was, and which he craved to have her be again. And how young she
looked ... what a girl! It was absurd, vexatious, incredible, impossible
that so keen a flame should have died down into the white ash of
philosophy ... as expressed in her latest poems.

"A penny...." said Sophy.

His long silence disturbed her. He gazed down at her, his bold eyes
softening.

"I was thinking that you looked about nineteen, with that black bow on
your hair," he said.

"And you say that as if you were about ten," she retorted, laughing.

"I don't feel ten."

"And I don't feel nineteen."

"Yet you're really not quite old enough to be so devilish motherly with
me." His tone was quite pettish.

She was teasing him on purpose. She had found out at once that he was
badly spoilt. It pleased her to see him wince, and flush, helpless
under her amiable elderliness. She liked him very much, but she didn't
want any love-making, though she didn't mind his being so evidently in
love with her. She thought that a "disappointment in love" might do him
no end of good--teach him that he couldn't "swing the earth a trinket at
his wrist"--avenge some of the many young women with whom she felt sure
that he had flirted outrageously. One wasn't given a Greek head, many
millions, and an exaggerated sense of one's Ego, in order that one might
practise the homelier virtues, such as unselfishness.

At his "devilish motherly" she laughed out--her ringing, contralto
laugh, that was so delicious and that made him want to shake her and to
kiss her violently, at one and the same time.

"'Devilish motherly'...." she repeated. "I'm sorry I remind you of
Medea--she's the only person I can think of who was 'devilish motherly'
..."

Before Loring could reply, Bobby's voice broke in, austere and haughty.

"My muvvah is _not_ deviliss," he said.

Loring went round beside him.

"Bully for you, General!" he exclaimed. "You'd fight a duel with me this
minute, if you could--wouldn't you?"

Bobby pressed close to Sophy. He refused to yield Loring his other hand.

"Please go away," he said coldly. "I don't want you."

"Well ... your 'muvvah' don't want me either."

"No. She wants me," said Bobby.

He looked up at Sophy, his chin quivering. He resented Loring's
imitation of the way that he pronounced "mother."

"Don't you?" he appealed to her.

She stooped to him.

"More than anything in the whole, round world or the blue sky," she
reassured him. He smiled to feel her lips on his cheek. Close in her ear
he whispered:

"We don't want _him_, do we? Make him go away."

"No. We must always be polite," she whispered back.

He sighed deeply.

"It's awful hard being p'lite," he mourned. "Mos' as hard as being
good."

They all walked on in silence for a few moments.

Then Bobby said, with what Sophy called his "inspirational look":

"God ain't p'lite, Muvvah."

"Hello!" laughed Loring.

"Sssh!" said Sophy, flashing him a vexed look.

"Why, darling?" she asked her son.

"'Cause ev'y night I talks and talks to God, an' He never even says,
'Mh-Mh, Bobby.' Vat ain't p'lite--are it?"

Loring strode on ahead to have his laugh out. He thought Bobby the
"funniest little beggar" in the world. She was always scolding him for
laughing at the boy out of season.

"Children and dogs hate being laughed at," she now told him. "Didn't
_you_ hate being laughed at when you were little?"

"Can't remember," said Loring. "I suppose so. But as for that, men don't
like being laughed at either."

"_You_ don't, I know. But it's very good for you."

"Why isn't it good for the General?"

"My name's Bobby," came the small but haughty voice. At times her son
reminded Sophy strikingly of Cecil. This was just Cecil's tone with
presuming strangers.

"Very well, Bobby--do _you_ know why it's good for me to be laughed at,
but not for you?"

"I don't fink it matters," said Chesney's son, again in exactly the tone
that Chesney would have used. Sophy felt too awed to feel amused. She
felt that with the law of continuance thus powerful, death, in one
sense, ceased to exist.

"You don't like me, do you, Bobby?" asked Loring, looking queerly at the
child.

"Not much--p'ease to 'scuse me," replied Bobby.

"Funny little tot you are," said Loring, rather hurt. Then, to his
surprise, he suddenly realised that he on his side, didn't really like
Bobby. It seemed as if the child came wilfully between him and Sophy. He
walked on moodily, cutting with his riding-crop at the pyred flames of
golden-rod, his handsome, short-lipped mouth very sullen.

"What's the matter?" asked Sophy, to break another too long silence.
"You look like a tinted marble of Endymion in the sulks."

Loring turned on her passionately.

"Mrs. Chesney," said he, "would you mind letting up on my rotten
appearance! It isn't my fault that I've got a nose like a damned
statue's!"

His face was scarlet. Sophy put her hands up to her own face to temper
the brutality of her wild mirth.



V


But this laughter of Sophy was so winsome, as she glanced at him through
her shielding fingers, that Loring gave way and began to laugh himself.
This was another new sensation for him--the joining in a laugh against
himself.

"I'm a frightful ass, I know, to mind so much when you tease me," he
said as they walked on. "But you make me feel such a fool--such a
'pretty fellow'...."

"You _are_ a pretty fellow," murmured Sophy. "When you get red with
anger like that you're quite dazzling."

"Oh, I say! Don't you think you're a bit _too_ hard on me?" Loring
protested.

He still writhed inwardly. It is acute agony to six and twenty to be
made fun of by the object of its adoration.

Bobby's voice piped in again.

"_I_ don't fink you're pretty," he remarked.

"Thanks, old chap," said Loring, this time without laughter.

They had reached the woods, on whose edge stood the big chestnuts, all
one-sided from the reaching of their branches towards the free sunlight
of the open. Behind them stretched the forest, a glitter of trembling
yellow, shot with the velvet black of twigs and stems. Here and there a
bough of maple fluttered as with swarms of scarlet butterflies. Above
the leathern carpet of last year's leaves shone the lilac disks of
autumn asters, and the brown, bee-like heads of self-heal, set with
tiny, purple trumpets. The chestnuts were thick with greenish-brown
burs.

"I see 'em! I see 'em!" Bobby cried, dancing gleefully, and making a
noiseless clapping with mittened hands. For a moment the sight of the
clustered burs among the pointed, russet leaves had made him forget his
Kill-joy, Loring.

"_Oh! Che splendore!_" cried Rosa, running up.

She and Loring threw sticks among the laden branches. The nuts came down
with pleasant _swups_ upon the smooth, thick mat of dead leaves.

It was charming to kneel there in the warm October sunlight, at the edge
of the rustling wood, pounding away the prickly hulls from the brown,
smooth chestnuts. A fresh, pleasant scent rose from the bruised hulls.
The breath of the autumn wood was keenly sweet. It smelt of wild grapes
and mushrooms. From a field close by stole the odour of pumpkins that
had been lying in the sun all day. And this mingled fragrance, so
deliciously of the earth earthy, seemed just the perfume that would be
shaken from October's russet smock as he strode across the land.

Sophy stood up at last. She lifted her arms in a boyish stretch, and
stamped her feet which had "pins and needles" in them from crouching so
long. Her big, clubbed plait had been somewhat loosened by her vigorous
pounding. Leaves and withered grasses clung to her short, cord skirt. As
she stood there stretching her cramped limbs, and laughing nervously as
her feet "woke up" again, with the light wind frowzing the loose strands
of hair about her face, and her short skirt disclosing her ankles in
their tight-laced, brown shooting-boots, she certainly looked quite
young enough, and girlish enough, to be Loring's sweetheart rather than
Bobby's mother.

And Loring was thinking vehemently, his hands clenched on the chestnuts
in his pockets:

"She's _got_ to love me.... I'll _make_ her love me.... I'll _make_ her
marry me.... I will.... I will!"

"Ouf!" said Sophy, letting her arms drop. "That was delicious! And what
are you so fiercely determined over? You look ... but I won't say what
you look like----"

"No ... don't, please," replied Loring shortly.

He turned away to help Rosa adjust the top of her hamper, which would
not fit into place over the hard, round chestnuts.

It was beautifully still. The western sky was beginning to redden. A
crisp rustling came from the shocks of Indian corn in a near field.

"It must be after five ... time for my Bobbikins to be trotting home,"
said Sophy, taking his sober face between her hands and crumpling it
together like a soft flower. Then she laughed and kissed the crumpled
flower of the little face.

"_Ho-o-o-g! Ho-o-o-g!_" came the long-drawn, minor wail of a negro-voice
calling the swine from the mountain for their evening feed.

Rosa went off down the hill, with Bobby trotting at her side. Once the
little fellow looked back--only once. His dignity forbade that he should
be thought regretful. And "Muvvah" had promised to come and roast
chestnuts for him before his bedtime.

"Now for a brisk walk!" said Sophy. "Let's strike into the woods at
random and go a little way up the mountain--not far--I must be back to
roast those chestnuts before Bobby's bedtime."

"You never break your word to him, do you?" said Loring, as they plunged
into the golden depths that seemed aglow with stored sunlight.

"No. Never. I'd rather break my word to ten grown-ups than to one
child."

They went on in silence for some yards, the dried leaves ruffling almost
to their knees in places. Then Loring said:

"If you once gave your word you wouldn't break it to child or grown-up."

"I don't know.... I've never been tested."

"I know."

"Thanks. But you shouldn't get into the habit of idealising people.
You'll end as a cynic if you do."

Her tone was pleasantly mocking.

Loring said quietly:

"I've never idealised but one person in my life."

"Well ... perhaps that's being a little _too_ cautious."

"Caution has nothing to do with it. Such things come or they don't
come."

"Yes ... perhaps they do. Ah! Wild grapes! What beauties!"

She stood gazing up at the little clusters of purple-black fox-grapes
that hung against the arch of yellow leaves overhead. The vine had swung
itself in great loops about a dogwood tree. The grapes were like a
delicate design of wrought iron work against the gilded background of
autumn leaves. But they hung high--out of reach. Loring caught at them
with the handle of his riding-crop. Some of the ripe, purplish beads
pattered about them.

"No--no! You can't get them that way," said Sophy. "They're too ripe."

"Wait.... I'll have a go for them this way," said Loring.

He grasped a bough of the tree in either hand, shook it to assure
himself that it was equal to his weight, then swung himself up into its
crotch. By standing with an arm about the main stem, he could reach the
bunches easily on either side. Sophy held out the lap of her skirt.

"You _are_ a nice playmate!" she called up to him, smiling.

He tossed down bunch after bunch from where he stood. Then, seating
himself sideways on one of the larger boughs, gathered all that were
within reach. His bare head, with its clustered, red-brown hair, looked
quite wonderful in the setting of golden leaves and iron-blue grapes.

"Forgive me...." said Sophy. "But I _must_ tell you.... You look like
the young Dionysus--with those bunches of grapes hanging all about you."

"Well, that's odd," said Loring; "but from here you look to me like
Ariadne." He thanked the gods that he had not forgotten all his
mythology. "I ask nothing better than to give you a crown of stars. I
believe that's what Dionysus gave Ariadne ... when she became his wife."

Sophy laughed.

"You dear boy," said she. "That was very quick of you. And I like you
for conquering your evil temper so nicely. You never had a sister, had
you?"

"Why! Are you thinking of offering to be a sister to me?"

"Not at all. I was only thinking that you wouldn't be so 'techess,' as
the darkies say, if you'd had a nice, blunt sister to tease you when you
were young--that is, younger than you are now," she ended cruelly.

Loring swung himself down beside her.

"The atrocious crime of being a young man!" he said, looking into her
eyes boldly and somewhat mockingly, in his turn. "It seems hard for you
to forgive me that."

Sophy was a trifle disconcerted.

"You are so easy to tease ... it's a temptation," she said rather
lamely.

Loring replied with apparent irrelevance.

"I believe the Brownings are the accepted standard of married bliss,
aren't they?"

"Why--yes--I believe they are," admitted Sophy.

"Very well. And do you happen to remember that Elizabeth Barrett was
some years older than Robert Browning!"

Sophy was annoyed to feel herself colouring.

"Yes, I know that," she said coldly.

Loring kept his eyes on her. She was eating the little fox flavoured
grapes as she walked beside him--very deliberately, one at a time.

"What I find so peculiarly interesting about it," continued Loring, his
voice shaken, his heart racing, "is that the difference in their ages
was even more than the difference in ours."

Sophy threw aside the bunch of grapes with an impetuous movement. She
turned, looking him full in the face. She was very pale now and her eyes
shone black. She had not foreseen any such sudden climax as all this.

"Don't ... don't spoil it...." she said vehemently, "don't spoil our
pleasant friendship.... I beg of you not to do it."

They stood facing each other, shut alone into the great gold temple of
the woods. Loring's beautiful bold eyes were black also. He, too, was
white. The pent up passion of his worshipping love for her, that had all
the unreasoning fire of a convert's fanaticism, burnt his lips with
words. He had not meant to speak. Five minutes ago nothing had been
further from his thoughts than the outburst, which now shook him with
its violent suddenness.

"You can't stem the high tide with a straw...." he said low and
breathless. "Do what you will with me.... I love you.... I more than
love you.... I worship you.... I adore you.... Break me if you like....
Snap my life in two.... Throw away the broken bits.... But I worship
you.... I worship you!"

He dropped suddenly to his knee on the brown leaves; caught the hem of
her clay-stained skirt to his lips. He was past all self-consciousness.
He had no dread of seeming ridiculous. Indeed it did not occur to him
that he could be ridiculous. Young love has no sense of humour. His
white, intense face looked up at her amazingly beautiful--the face of a
wood-god kindled with awed passion for some skyey deity. And this sheer
beauty of his kept Sophy also from seeing anything absurd in his
kneeling there to kiss the soiled hem of her skirt. Supreme beauty, like
supreme love, is never ridiculous. The gods wept over Icarus tumbling
from his sire's chariot in mid-heaven. They would have tittered had it
been lame Vulcan sprawling after his whirling hammer through the gulfs
of ether. In the few seconds that Sophy stood transfixed, gazing down
into that exalted young face, she understood how the legend of the
moon's white stoop to Endymion had been invented. Not imagination so
much as material beauty had been the source of the Greek myths. The
artist and the poet in her ranged themselves on Loring's side. Her first
impulse of anger was replaced by a sad tenderness. She forgot the Morris
Loring of everyday in this Endymion of a moment. She forgot even that
she had called him like Endymion "in the sulks" only a short while ago.
This youth, with the white flame of worship quivering up from his
heart's altar and lighting the antique mask of his ardent face--with his
awed, yet eager eyes burning upon hers--this was a different thing--one
quite new to her. She was startled by the throe of pitiful regret that
seized her. If only she had been different herself ... a young virgin
ready to receive this outpouring of virginal love.... What miracles
would have enfolded them ... what wonders of dawn-time ecstasy. She had
been mistaken. A face so beautiful could be only the symbol of a lovely
soul. And this soul was gazing at her from the timid passion of the dark
eyes, no longer bold, but infinitely, touchingly imploring. In
continuous, swift flashes, like the luminous particles from radium,
these thoughts showered from her mind, as she stood gazing down at him.

"I've heard of it.... I never believed.... Now I believe..." he was
stammering. "My soul's in your body.... Your beautiful body is more than
any soul to me.... I pray to you.... My soul in you prays to you...." He
caught up a bit of leafy clay that had adhered to her foot, and pressed
that also to his lips. "See...." he stammered on, "the dirt from your
shoe.... That's how I love you...."

And even this act did not make him seem ridiculous. But Sophy caught his
wrist, holding back his hand from his lips that trembled into a white,
half-smile.

"My dear...." she said, her own voice shaken. "My dear boy....
Please...."

She felt her words very stupid--inane.

"Come...." she said, pulling at the strong wrist to make him regain his
feet. He yielded to her touch and rose, standing tall and quivering
before her.

"Won't you even let me worship you?" he asked in a smothered voice.

"My dear, no ... be reasonable...."

It seemed to Sophy that she had never been at the mercy of such
banalities as her mind now offered.

He stared, his lip curling.

"Reasonable!"

"I mean...." Fitting words would _not_ come to her. "You forget...." she
said confusedly.

"What ... what do I forget?"

"My life ... what is past.... My life is over ... that part of life...."

"_Your_ life?... _Over?_..." He gazed at her so that her eyes wavered
from his. She could not help this. It distressed her to be standing
there before him in her short skirt, bare-headed, with eyes that would
not keep steady. She felt that he had the advantage of her out there in
those wide, still aisles of gold with their groining of dark branches.
It was as if he had her far from home, in his own haunts. The glowing
forest sustained him, gave him his natural setting. He stood there
facing her, the young wood-god in his own domain. She felt a droll
almost hysteric yearning for trailing skirts, and the dignified refuge
of an armchair. That absurdly girlish bow of black ribbon seemed to burn
her neck. She knew that she looked incongruously young for the soul that
inhabited her. She made a desperate grasp at dignity of voice. Her cold
tone should be her trailing garment--make him realise the distance that
was spiritually between them. When she spoke it was in a steady voice.

"My life--as regards love--is over, because I have come to a place in it
where I do not even wish love," she said icily. A banal quotation
slipped from her before she could stop it. "'_Ich habe geliebt und
geleben_,'" she said, vexed at the crass ordinariness of the words as
they struck her ear.

There was silence. A squirrel dropped a nut through the still, flaky
gold of lapping leaves--then chittered angrily at its own awkwardness.

Loring said at last in a strangled voice:

"I am jealous of that dead man."

Sophy whitened.

"Don't say such things to me," burst from her in a sharp whisper.

"Have I hurt you?" he whispered back. "I'd die for you ... have I hurt
you? Did you love him so much as that? Are you really dead ... with
him?"

"Yes."

Another silence. Then the wilful, passionate young voice broke out
again:

"No! you are not dead ... you are not dead! You are only sleeping...."

Sophy started as though from a sort of sleep.

"We must go," she said. "I'd forgotten...."

She turned and began walking rapidly away from him.

He caught her up in a stride.

"You break my life like a rotten twig," he said. "And go to roast
chestnuts for your son."

The anguish of bitterness in his voice kept his words from absurdity.

"Don't say such things ... don't say such things," Sophy murmured,
walking faster and faster. He kept beside her, implacable in the
smarting novelty of defeated love and will.

"Your face is so beautiful and gentle.... Who would have thought you
could be so hard ... like flint?"

"I am not hard.... I only tell you the bare truth to save you pain."

"You can't save me pain. Why do you throw me these mouldy crusts of old
sayings? I offer you the best of me.... Don't you even think me worth a
word out of your heart?"

Sophy paused. Her heart gushed pity--and regret.

"Oh, my dear...." she said lamentably, looking up at him with frank
pain. "Why do you want to make it so hard for us both?"

"Then ... it is hard ... a little ... for you, too? I mean ... it hurts
you to hurt me so?"

"Yes, yes, it hurts me! Do you think I am made of stone? Do you think I
like seeing you suffer?"

"Then...." his throat closed on the words he wanted to say. He was
ignominiously near to tears. Chokily he got it out:

"Then ... don't send me away ... just because ... I love you. Let me
stay near you.... It can't hurt you ... and it's life to me."

"No, no. That would be horribly wrong of me--utterly, hatefully
selfish."

He caught at this.

"You'd like to have me? You've called me a good 'playmate,' you know. I
won't bore you with--with"--he gulped--"this craziness of mine.... If
I'm 'good' ... you'll let me stay on?"

"Oh, it's all wrong! It's all wrong, my dear!" said Sophy, quite
desperately. "You should go away at once. This is all just a phase ...
just a passing...."

"Please," said Loring, with real dignity.

Sophy felt very unhappy. She knew that she was doing wrong to temporise.
Yet that cruel kindness of the tender-hearted made her hesitate. She
could not bear to banish him all at once in this harsh way.

"Well ... for a little while...." she murmured weakly. "But it would be
much better for you to...."

"Please," said Loring again. "Allow me to judge of what will be best for
me."

"I ought not to," she said miserably. The whole scene had unnerved
her--jarred the fine, secure monotony of the life that she had thought
so firmly established. One cannot stand face to face with genuine love
without feeling a stir in chords long dumb. Loring's young, idealising
passion had set certain strings in Sophy's nature vibrating. It gave her
that sensation of aching melancholy with which we listen to the faint
notes of an old piano that was rich and mellow in our youth. It made her
feel very lonely. She had not once felt lonely since coming home--not
once in these calmly joyous years of mental renewal. Restlessness she
had known of late, but never loneliness. Now she felt all drooping with
the solitude of her own spirit as she walked homeward beside Loring. The
soft, dun red of the autumn sky seemed to her like the quiet, sombre
glow of her own life that had no more flame to give forth, that had sunk
into steady embers, that would presently resolve itself into the white
ash of old age. Yet it was wonderful to be loved again--even though she
had no love to give in return. It was movingly wonderful--though awful
in a way--to feel this tonic answering of slack chords to the full,
resonant notes struck from the blazing lyre of youth....



VI


Loring had said that he would be "good" if Sophy did not banish him
altogether, and he was, very "good." It was the goodness of a spoilt
child that swallows physic for the spoonful of jam to follow. The jam in
Loring's case was represented by the hours that he was allowed in
Sophy's presence. He had not known himself capable of such self-control.
Altogether, his love for Sophy had revealed to him as it were another
man cased within the man that he had heretofore thought was himself.
This new man was of more sensitive stuff, finer and yet much stronger
than the other man had been. It was something like having a sixth sense
bestowed on him--this new appetency for all manner of things towards
which until now he had only felt a vague indifference. His life, since
college days, had been made up of sport, occasional spurts of travel in
wild places, girls--to a moderate degree--the usual convivial, surface
intercourse with other young bloods--some ennui, generally dispelled by
drink (the average young American's ordinary indulgence in "high-balls"
as a panacea for tedium).

Loring had an excellent, but lazy, mind. At Harvard he had read law.
Once out of college, he had dropped it promptly. He had inherited
fifteen millions at his father's death, when he was only twenty-one.
What was the use of moiling away at law? The property was looked after
already by a firm of the most distinguished lawyers in New York. He
could see no "sense" in racking his brain with work that bored him when
this work was absolutely without necessity. So he had spun in gay
peripheral circles with the wheel of life--until meeting Sophy. Now she
had drawn him to its centre. It was strange how his consciousness, thus
centrifugally established, seemed another consciousness. Only the
present was real--this radiant and somewhat awful present in which he
loved Sophy as he had not believed that human beings could love. His
past seemed like a dull, cheap volume of gaudy colour-prints. He could
not realise that he had moved through those vulgar pictures of the past.
_This_ Morris Loring, he felt, had not been part of them. He flared hot
with shame, merely in glancing back at them. Yet his life had not been
really shameful--in the grossest meaning of the word. Some sensual
pleasure he had taken, not much. In the odiously smug phrase with which
his native literature was given to describing virtuous youth, he was
rather by way of being a "clean-limbed, clean-minded young American."
But the pig of St. Anthony has a trick of running between the limbs of
youth, no matter how cleanly--indeed, he seems to take an evil joy in
tripping the cleanliest, if only once. It was these chance tumbles into
the mire that scalded Loring's heart with shame, as he knelt now at the
white shrine of his lady. He would have liked to have a new body as well
as a new soul to love her with. For the will in him had not really
submitted to her will. It was only bent to this momentary obedience,
like a strong spring ready to act at the least touch. Love made him as
wary and as cunning as a fox in springtime. Not for one moment did he
relinquish his determination to win her ultimately. In the meantime, he
was "good." That is, he did not vex her by hinting at his love.

All his energies were concentrated on becoming such "a playmate" as she
would miss if taken from her. He was like Jacob serving for Rachel. This
new life that had sprung up in him seemed to have the indomitable
patience of spiders. And without tiring, ceaselessly, exhaustlessly, he
spun about her the fine web of pleasant habit--a mesh of delicate,
trivial customs, fine as the silken band that bound Fenris, and that
would be as hard to break should the time come when she wished to break
it.

His family and friends thought, of course, that he was merely staying on
for the Virginia hunting season. It seemed reasonable enough. The "Eldon
Hounds"--Macfarlane's pack--were well known in the North; but the Hunt
was not fashionable. Most Northern sportsmen went to Loudoun county.
There was too much wire in this part of Albemarle. Even Macfarlane
threatened to leave if something could not be done about the wire. So
Loring set to work in the matter. He became very popular in the county.
This rather bored him, but he must seem to remain for the hunting. He
did not choose that there should be gossip. He was very careful about
his visits to Sweet-Waters. Even the Macfarlanes did not know how often
he went there.

As for Sophy, after the first qualms of conscience had passed, and she
saw how easily Loring slipped back again into the old, pleasant
intercourse, she was delighted to have him stay on. He had a great charm
for her, the charm of sheer beauty and a certain winsomeness that even
Charlotte was beginning to yield to.

For this strange baptism of white fire changed Loring in all respects.
His egotism shrivelled under it. He glowed with fellow kindliness
towards every one. The homely, simple life of the Macons became full of
enchantment to him. He did all sorts of little odd jobs for Charlotte,
such as riding three miles out of his way to post a forgotten letter, or
nailing hinges on the pigeon-house door, when there was no carpenter to
be had for days.

Winks thought him a delightful person. He had the most glorious rides
around the lawn, on Loring's hunters, every time that he came to
Sweet-Waters. Even Bobby grew a little more tolerant. He, too, enjoyed
these ambles on the big, shining beasts, that rattled their nostrils
with high spirits, and stepped mincing sideways, as Loring walked at the
bridle-rein. The boys straddled proudly, their small legs jutting wide
apart, on the huge slanting shoulders of "Omicron" or "Proud Aleck."

Loring begged Sophy to try the splendid red hunter that he had bought
from Macfarlane.

So she followed the hounds on Proud Aleck, and if Loring had adored her
before, he could scarcely keep his love in hand when he saw her riding
so gallantly at the tricky snake-fences, mounted on the glittering
blood-red horse.

And, when the run was over, came the homeward ride with her, across
twilit pasture lands and fallow. They would select low gaps in the
fences--then over, side by side, like birds. There would be the reek of
ploughed earth and wood smoke in their nostrils. Sometimes a rabbit
would leap up under the horses' feet, making them swerve, snorting. They
would see the little white, fluffy scut go zigzagging through the yellow
broom-sedge.

As winter drew on, and they became more intimate, she read him some
bits of her childish scribblings that she had discovered, put away by
her mother in an old chest. They made deliciously funny reading in the
firelit hours of tea-time. One line from a long, sprawling tragedy in
blank verse came to be a saying with Loring:

  "'Ah well to rob a comet of its tail
    To make the moon a wig!'"

he used to quote dramatically, when anything seemed impracticable. He
_was_ a dear playmate! Sophy became very fond of him indeed. And Loring,
for his part, loved every member of the household, especially Judge
Macon. There was such a taking contrast between the genial humour of the
man and his gaunt, lean figure with its dark, rather tragic-looking
face, that reminded him of the photographs of Edwin Booth as "Hamlet."
Yes, he certainly looked like a world-worn, weary Hamlet who had
recovered with only a slight lameness from Laertes's sword-thrust. The
Judge limped a little from a bullet in his knee. He had fought in the
Southern army when a lad of sixteen. Loring, as he watched the Judge
limping about the house, mused sometimes on what life must have been
like in Virginia when boys of sixteen had gone to war.

The Judge, on his side, returned Loring's liking in full. He quite
exasperated Charlotte by what she called his "real weakness" for the
young man.

"Yes, I've got a mighty soft spot for this Yankee boy," he would admit.
Then he would chuckle wickedly. "But it's nothing to Sophy's," he would
add; "only she don't know it."

Charlotte's more kindly feeling towards Loring did not keep her from
being quite miserable over such possibilities. She thought them only too
likely. She could foresee nothing but unhappiness for Sophy in such a
marriage. Yet she was helpless. Sophy was not the sort of person that
one could "guide." There was nothing for it but to leave her in God's
hands, as the Judge had once suggested. Charlotte was truly religious.
Yet it is strange how hard it is for the truly religious to "leave
things in God's hands." "Putting parcels in the Heavenly post-office,
and jerking at them by the string of prayer," the Judge called it.

Towards the end of November Loring's mother fell ill. He was telegraphed
for. He was very fond of his mother, but the old egotism surged up in
him when he read that she was not in danger, only suffering. He could
not ease her suffering. That was the affair of doctors and trained
nurses. However, he left for New York at once.



VII


Loring was not able to return to Virginia until the middle of January.
He arrived at the Macfarlanes' late in the afternoon, and as soon as
supper was over had Proud Aleck saddled and rode to Sweet-Waters.

The night was wild with wind, but very clear. A newly risen moon tilted
above the eastern woodlands. The wind played madcap games--now leaping
high into the heavens, now rushing low along the earth. The great
half-moon just skimming the dark reach of forest was like a silver sail
bellying in the flaw.

Loring exulted to feel the bay's withers once more between his knees,
and the free countryside about him. He rode at a clipping trot, then
galloped; then gave the horse his head up a long hill. Proud Aleck,
excited by the gusty wind, sped like a racer over the bone-white winter
grasses. They faced the blast gloriously. The warm reek of the flying
horse blew back in Loring's face. He felt the great body plying nobly
against his legs. Now they swept downward, jumped a brook, leaped into
fallow. The huge horse seemed bounding over a floor of dark-red cloud,
so easily he took the ploughland of spongy clay, so noiselessly his
hoofs went over it. Now they breasted another hill. This was living! To
ride with the winter wind through the cold flame of moonlight to the
glowing hearth of his Lady!...

Would she be alone, he wondered--in her own study?... Or would she be
sitting with her sister and the Judge in the general living room?... He
cantered across the lawn. Ah--there was a flicker of firelight from her
study window!... Perhaps she was there. Perhaps he would have the joy of
seeing her alone, this first moment after those interminable six
weeks....

Mammy Nan told him that she opened "de do'" for him, "'caze Miss Chalt
an' dee Jedge done step over tuh dee Univussity, an' I'se sleepin' in
dee house tuh keep keer uv Miss Sophy."

Miss Sophy was "in her steddy," Mammy Nan further informed him. She
"sut'ny wuz glad he done come tuh cheer Miss Sophy up some. 'Peared
like, to Mammy Nan, that she'd ben a-mopin' ever sence Miss Chalt an'
dee Jedge tuck an' lef' her behine."

Loring found Sophy sitting in the firelight, gazing at the big logs of
hickory, and smoothing her collie's head as it rested against her knee.
The room was large but cosy. It had old-fashioned curtains of dark-red
worsted grosgrain at the windows. Little green "steps" set between them
held pots of flowers. There was all through the room a sweet scent of
rose-geranium, lemon verbena, and the clean, fresh fragrance of new-cut
logs. It was the perfume that he associated with her. He stood near the
door after entering, breathing deep of this pleasant, candid scent, and
drinking her with his eyes.

She looked up, startled. And he shook inwardly with the soft firelit
beauty of her face. She was wearing a gown that he loved--an old gown of
olive velveteen trimmed with narrow bands of fur. It was made like the
gown in a picture, quite straight from throat to shoe-tip. The long,
wide sleeves opened from the shoulder. They hid her arms usually; but
when she reached for something, her lovely, slender arms gleamed between
the soft bands of fur. Behind her, on her writing-table, was an old
Algerian water-bottle of dull copper, and in it a branch of magnolia.
The scarlet seed-cones gleamed like gems or coals of fire among the
glossy black-green foliage. Her face as it turned to him against this
background of leaves and jewelled seed-cones was something for a lover
to remember in old age.... He got a desperate grip of himself and went
forward. As she lifted her hand to his, the wide sleeve parted, as he
had known that it would do, and the amber-white arm shone bare for his
worship.... Without speaking, she smiled a welcome, but the firelight
showed him tears caught on her under-lids. Mammy Nan's surmise was
correct. Sophy had been "moping" a little of late. When Charlotte and
the Judge had left for some festivity at the University two days ago,
her mood had been quite tranquil. But she had been rather overworking,
and these two days, all alone in the empty house, had set her brooding.
It was nearly nine o'clock. The wind thrummed in deep, minor chords
between the double doors that shut her study from the greenhouse in the
wing. A hound, hunting alone by moonlight, bayed from the distance. Dhu
cocked his ears--the supple tips hung flickering an instant, then
drooped again. The collie resumed his wide, gold-eyed, tranced stare
into the fire. He, too, seemed overwhelmed by melancholy. Sophy drew him
to her at last, and leaned her cheek against his silky black shoulder
which smelt like warm, clean straw. His sire was not a kennel dog, but
tended sheep in the Highlands. Now when Sophy put her head against his
shoulder, he leaned down his head on hers much as a person might have
done.

With her arms around him and her eyes on the fire, she listened to the
beating of his heart. The warm, red mystery of hearts--even a dog's
heart--awed her. What was this love that even dogs could feel, and why
was it so immeasurably sad? The feeling of desolation grew and grew....
She was so horribly lonely. Even the close, simple contact with her
collie did not comfort her. This love without comprehension, that he
gave her, was only another sadness. Nothing lasted. No one remained the
same. There was Morris Loring.... At least he had seemed to have a real
fondness for her, after he had conquered his first boyish, fantastic
frenzy. Yet already he, too, had changed, forgotten. Just a nice,
beautiful boy ... but she had been fond of him also.... Now he had
forgotten. She was growing old. Youth draws youth. Naturally he would
forget her.

The collie, hearing her sigh, got down from his chair and leaned his
head against her knee with a low whine. She sat gazing at the burning
logs and gently stroking the sleek, black head. It was so that Loring
found her when he entered.



VIII


He had put all his will into that grip upon himself when he went
forward. But now as he stood looking down at her, and saw the tears on
her lashes, his heart seemed a white-hot weight that dropped him to his
knees beside her. He did not dare touch her, but he grasped the arms of
her chair with both hands, his vivid young face close to hers.

"Oh, my Beautiful...." he stammered. "What are you crying for? Who has
hurt you?"

It was amazingly startling to have this impassioned young Greek rush
like a faun out of the winter night and hurl himself at her knees, just
when she had been thinking of him as forgetful of her and hundreds of
miles distant. She managed another smile, keeping her hand on Dhu's
head. The collie sat stolidly between them, pressing, jealously, closer
to his mistress.

"No one has hurt me.... It's nothing.... Nothing but foolishness ...
contemptible foolishness...."

"You were lonely?"

"I was just silly.... Get up, dear child."

"I'm not a 'child'.... I'm a man who loves you.... And I shall not get
up ... not until you tell me what is troubling you...."

"Dear Morris ... do you call this being 'good'?"

"No. I call it being what I can't help being.... Do you think I can see
tears in your eyes and play good little Harry?... I can't stand your
tears.... They make me wild ... quite wild. Don't play with me.... Don't
laugh...."

He caught her hand suddenly, pressing it against his breast.

"Feel that...." he stammered. "Can you laugh at that?"

The violent young heart drummed against her hand pressed down upon it by
both his.

"It's an Idolater...." he went stammering on, his voice low and thick
with the swift heart-beats. "Each throb worships you.... And you tell me
to be 'good'.... You tell me that!"

The dog growled suddenly. It was a low, menacing rumble deep in his
chest. His eyes were fixed on Sophy.

"Be quiet ... lie down, Dhu," she said, glad for an excuse of speaking
normally. "Lie down!" she repeated sharply, as the dog remained
motionless. He withdrew his head unwillingly from her knee, and subsided
on the rug near her feet. Now his gold eyes were fixed on Loring. A rim
of milky jade showed beneath them. There was suspicion and cold anger in
their gaze.

Sophy was hemmed in by those quivering arms that did not touch her, but
whose vibration she felt through the wood of the old chair. Loring's
face was rapt and wild. He was "out of himself"--terribly close to her
in his fanatic mystery of adoration.

"Why should you mind?" his words came racing breathlessly. "What I offer
you isn't common or unclean.... I think of you as Catholics think of
Mary...."

"My dear...." whispered Sophy. He hypnotised her with the tremendous
intensity of his emotion. It poured on her from his dark, bold eyes that
had a wild timidity even in their boldness.

The same inanity of mind that had assailed her that day in the October
woods, under his first outburst, again made her feel at a loss. She
could _not_ think of the right words to say. She drew back as far as she
could from him in the deep chair. Her bosom rose and fell uncertainly.
He moved her ... he confused her. She did not quite know what it was
that he made her feel. The scent of horse and leather and winter fields
was still fresh upon him. This scent confused her more. It was the sharp
scent of vigorous manhood in her quiet room, with its warm fragrance of
green wood and rose-geranium. It made her nervously aware of herself and
of him.

"Dear Morris ... please get up...." she urged, making a great effort to
be natural. "I can't think with you kneeling there like that.... You
confuse me...."

"I don't want you to think.... I want you to _feel_.... I _want_ to
confuse you.... I want you to feel something of what I'm feeling....
Yes, something of it ... something at least...."

"Don't...!" she murmured.

Her brow contracted, as if with pain. Yet she tried to smile. She was
quite pale. So was Loring. But he did not move. His thirsty eyes drank
and drank of her face.

"Oh, you wonder...!" he whispered hurryingly. "You wonder of the
world.... Rose of the World!..."

Suddenly he dropped his head, and began kissing the velvet of her gown.
She felt these kisses through the velvet--swift, wild, hurried--like the
alight and flight of birds. His passion seemed winged like birds. And
these wings beat about her, softly reckless and confusing. All Venus's
doves seemed loosed in the firelit room. The air was thick with the
throb of their pinions. Outside thrummed the deep, harsh chords of the
winter wind. Outside was cold, clear space--a frost of stars--the free,
unloving wind....

She bent forward, quite desperate to feel herself thus stirred. With her
slender, strong hands she lifted his head by force from her knee ...
tried to put him from her.... She wanted to be stern. She knew well that
her greatest weakness was in dealing with love. She had always
temporised. She could never quite get her own consent to be harsh with
love of any kind. Even now she could not be as stern as she wished to
be.

"Morris ... really ... you must not.... I can't have this...." she said
brokenly.

He did not yield to her restraining touch, but leaned against her
hands--seized them in his own, pressing down his face into them. She
felt his lips quivering on them. Her palms quickened with those
trembling lips.

Again the collie growled.

"There! You see...." she exclaimed nervously; "even Dhu is vexed with
you.... Do you want me to be really angry with you?... Yes--I shall be
really angry if you keep this up any longer.... I shall be angry ...
Morris!"

But he crouched before her, grasping the folds of her gown in both
hands. He even laughed a little, tossing back his short locks, that had
been rumpled against her knee.

"_Be_ angry, then...." he murmured. "_Be_ angry.... What do the
famishing care for anger?... Yes.... I thirst for you.... I don't hunger
for you.... There's nothing so gross as hunger in my longing.... But I
thirst.... I thirst.... Oh, Beautiful!... Be kind.... What is it to you
if I worship you?... Can the wind kindle the moon? You should have seen
the poor, mad wind trying to kindle her, as I did, when I rode here to
you this night!... He raved at her as I rave at you.... And she was just
like you--oh, so like you!... Cold, white, still, superior ... far off
there in a heaven of her own ... like you.... He couldn't reach her....
Couldn't warm her.... Like me with you...."

He broke off, a spasm marring the excited beauty of his face.

"Oh, don't I know I can't warm you...!" he cried. "Not if I bathed you
in my heart's blood--it would slip from you like a red sunset from the
moon. White Wonder ... cold Moon-Woman!... Now I know what Endymion
felt.... I know--I know...."

Sophy sat gazing at him, fascinated. She was lapped in a sort of wonder.
Here was Love at his miracles again. Could this be "Morry" Loring--keen
sportsman, crack polo player--this frantic young Rhapsodist at her knee,
talking poetry as though it were his native tongue? He seemed unreal to
her. She, herself, seemed unreal. He rushed on:

"Yes, yes!... You've called me Endymion in mockery. But I _am_
Endymion.... Did you know that when you mocked me?... Did you know that
I am really the man that drew down the Lady Moon?..."

He laughed again. He was so amazingly beautiful as he crouched there,
laughing with love in the firelight, that Sophy quivered with it. She
felt dazed. She felt some one other than herself. She began to feel that
there was a stranger within her--a woman she had never known. Some one
wild and shy and spun of moonbeams--a sort of fairy-Sophy that this
ecstatic youth was moulding out of dream-stuff--that was coming into
ensorceled life under his touch as Galatea softened from marble into
flesh under the caresses of Pygmalion....

She felt as if she must break away from him--escape from the sound of
his feverish, flooding words--and that bold-timidity of his eyes that so
fascinated her. She tried to rise, but he hemmed her in, with his arms
upon her chair, encircling yet not touching her.

He laughed very low now--it was like a sort of sobbing.

"Oh, Selene.... Selene.... Selene...." he murmured. "Let yourself be
loved ... with worship ... always with worship. I will never forget that
you are a goddess, too.... But you shall never be lonely again ... if
you will only bend to me.... There'll never be tears in your beautiful
eyes again.... And you _were_ lonely--you know you were.... It's lonely
work, Selene, shining alone in the roof of heaven...."

Sophy put up her hands to her temples, pressing the hair back from her
face. Her dilated eyes looked dazed.

"I ... I think you're not quite yourself to-night...." she stammered.
There was certainly some spell upon her. She strove against it--but
weakly, like one striving to wake from an overpowering dream.

He gave that low laugh that so confused her.

"I'm _not_ myself...." he said. "Haven't I told you that I am
Endymion?..."

He leaned towards her. His face grew soft and timorous. She felt his
hand go stealing to her hair. One heavy lock had fallen loose. He drew
it to him, buried his face in it and shivered from head to foot. Sophy
sat gazing down at him. Her heart began beating strangely. The curve of
the brown head bending near her breast struck her suddenly with a sharp
tenderness. She touched it softly with her finger tips. At the touch of
her fingers he trembled again--then looked up--that wild shyness still
in his subdued eyes.... His hand slipped from her hair upon her neck. He
knelt up and his quivering hand drew her gently towards him....

"This once ... only this once...." he pleaded, whispering ... "to
remember all my life.... I will shut my eyes.... Selene.... You can
think that I am sleeping ... as on Latmos...."

That thrall held Sophy--that and some wild, half-lawless romance in her
own nature. It was as though reason forsook her. A veil woven of wind
and firelight and the soft dreaminess of youthful passion floated
between her and reality--shut her in from past and future--filmed about
her like the pale smoke from an enchanter's fire.... She let herself be
drawn towards that eager flower of the young, thirsty mouth. Nearer ...
nearer.... Far, far away, a fine, chill voice said: "No. This you must
not do...."

She heard it as the fainting hear their names called. An instant--then
the young lips touched hers--delicately--clung trembling.... A thrill as
in dreams--unreal, etherealised--ran through her.... This kiss was
divine. Like nectar this kiss was to them both--long, miraculous, and
mystically impassioned, as a kiss on the wild moors of elf-land....

When they came to themselves, they were leaning cheek to cheek, hand in
hand, gazing into the fire which had glowed down to molten jewels. The
wind harped round the quiet house, now low, now loud. A mouse, darting
like a wee, grey fish, along the wainscoting, grew ever bolder.
Presently he scampered across the train of Sophy's gown--then played
upon the hearth-rug. The collie twitched his ruffled legs nervously as
he lay sleeping. But those two did not move. For long, long minutes they
sat there motionless, cheek to cheek, hand in hand, gazing into the
fire....



IX


Before Loring went away, an hour later, he put a fresh log on the fire,
smiling up at her shyly, as he knelt to do so.

"I'll mend the altar fire in your temple before I go, Selene," he had
murmured.

He felt strangely subdued and awed after the wonder of that kiss. The
enchantment that was over them held awe for them both. There was in it
something mystic--an influence blowing, as it were, from home-lands of
the soul dimly remembered. Sophy felt this consciously--Loring
unconsciously. But he felt things through her, since that kiss. There
had been between them during that long-blossoming kiss a transfusion of
spirit. She was through and through him like music--like sunlight
through the fibrils of a plant, from flower to root. And this subtle
fusion made him know just what to say and do to satisfy her. It was this
new-lent instinct that had made him so still after the wild magic of
that kiss had set his blood and spirit singing. When she had whispered
at last: "Go now ... dear...." he had risen without a protest. It was
then he had knelt to put the fresh log on her fire. Afterwards he had
bent and touched his lips to her hands as they lay together in her
lap--then to the shining, fire-warmed tress that flowed over her
shoulder. He had gone out, closing the door noiselessly as though she
were in some mysterious trance, and he feared to waken her.

As in a trance himself, he had fetched Proud Aleck from the old stable.
The horse had nickered when he heard him coming. In the fragrant
darkness of the stable, Loring had thrown an arm over the bay's neck.
"You brought me to her this night...." he whispered. He drew the
horse's muzzle towards him, and pressed his lips to the broad front. He
continued for some moments leaning against the great horse that quivered
with impatience to be gone. He felt faint and languid. It was as if he
had really been only mortal and she a goddess. His mortality seemed to
fail under the bliss of this contact with immortality. It was as though
sudden godhead had been bestowed on him and his flesh were consuming
under it into a finer essence.

There was no pride as yet in his wonder. That beautiful humility of real
love still held him. He was not even exultant that his "will" had won at
last. He did not feel as though he had conquered but as though some
great Winged Victory had caught him up and set him on this height, with
its veil of golden mist. It was not the kingdoms of the earth that were
offered him--but the kingdoms of the air ... starry places ... Diana's
cloud-land ... hanging-gardens of the gods....

Loring was rapt into the ecstatic state of "conversion."... He was
experiencing all the giddily rapturous throes and exquisite frenzies of
what is known as "revelation"--only its cause was not divine but human
love. He moved in a vision of clear light. Like Sophy, he was a stranger
to himself, yet he felt that this new self was not really the stranger,
but that old self which lay dark and shrivelled at the roots of being,
like the husk of a seed, from which has sprung the triumphing
blossom.... He rode home as on a wind of dreams. The splendid moon, now
soaring in mid-heaven, seemed set there as a symbol for him, and him
alone. "Selene.... Selene.... Selene...." went the hoofs of the great,
red horse, like the strokes of a Rhapsodist, beating time to the music
in his heart....

       *       *       *       *       *

And Sophy, too, was all be-glamoured. She had heard the fairy-harp, she
had listened to music blown from the land of Heart's Desire. Ior, the
fairy chief, had kissed her eyes and lips. She was amazed, bemused--deep
down in her heart there was a great fear. Yet there was joy also. Not
the sane joy of everyday ... but a fragile, iridescent trembling as of a
dewy gossamer spun between the lintels of the door of Dreams. She was
afraid to move lest she should destroy this delicate, fine-spun joy.
Beyond its veil glimmered the wings of golden dreams. She knew well how
Diana must have felt after she had kissed the sleeping shepherd.

She was like one in some old-time fable, who gives a wanderer a cup of
water, and, lo! after drinking, the wanderer shakes back his cloak of
hodden-grey, and it is Eros himself glowing against the twilight--she
had entertained, unawares, the mightiest angel of them all. The soft,
electric plumes of Love had folded down upon her. She was smothered in
his sparkling wings, yet this lovely death only released her to new
life. It was only her self of later years that was dying softly. She
felt herself gleaming, slipping from the hard shell of years--a pearl
released, a pearl bathed in seas of wonder.

Back to her earliest girlhood she was washed ... back, back to that
shore where all is dream and miracle.... When she had loved Cecil, she
had not been so young; she was younger now than when she had wept over
her first lover's death. She was not only young--she was youth itself.
She was not standing outside the door of dreams as she had fancied, but
within it. That trembling, iridescent gossamer of joy shut out
reality--the past, the future--shut her in with the lovely
serving-maidens, dreams fulfilled.... It seemed to her that all the
poetry of the world was flowering in her heart. Her breast felt full of
roses ... red and white roses of love for every mood....

Her little travelling clock struck twelve. It seemed like the voice of a
malicious fairy rousing her from her too lovely trance. She started up.
The collie sprang up with her, and stood alert, ears cocked, eyes upon
her face. She looked about her dazedly. The room was not the same. It
gazed back at her with a new expression. She felt as if bodily she, too,
had grown different--were looking at the old, familiar objects from a
child's stature. The plants in the windows seemed larger. They were like
a fairy forest. As the firelight caught the crimson and purple bells of
the fuchsias, they seemed to sway--to ring forth a faint, wild music....

She put her hands to her face. This racing of her fancy was like a light
fever. And now when she glanced up again, she saw the fuchsias like
strange insects flying among their leaves. Their scarlet stamens were
like the frail legs of wasps drooped for flight.... She went up and
touched one softly, to assure herself that it was a flower. Fuchsias
were never like other flowers to her after that night.

She broke one off and took it with her upstairs. Her bedroom also
greeted her with a new look. The fire was almost out. She kneeled down
to mend it. As the flame sprang to life again beneath her fingers, she
thought of "The Witch of Atlas": ".... Men scarcely know how beautiful
fire is...." She knew. She knelt there, adoring the delicate flame,
purest and fiercest of elements. Yes--fire was purity itself. This
lovely fire in her own heart purified her. She was a Phoenix ... the
ashes of her life were only a soft, pale nest from which she had risen
thus glorious. Or no--the Dark Goddess had lain her on the coals of pain
... now she was immortal. This white flame within her was
immortality....

She slept fitfully but deliciously that night. Every little while she
would start awake. It was as if he spoke to her, saying: "Wake,
beloved--I, too, am wakeful...." It was delicious to wake thus and drift
delicately backward on the tide of dreams into that haven of light,
rapturous sleep. Love hummed about her like a fairy bee and stung reason
to numbness. All night long, sleeping or waking, phantasy rocked her
softly. The warm, firelit air seemed abeat with the wings of the white
doves of Venus....

       *       *       *       *       *

When she woke fully next morning, Sophy thought at first that she had
been dreaming. Then all came back to her. She started up in bed. Fright
seized her--sheer, panic-terror. What had she done and felt? What had
come to her?...

Mammy Nan had kindled a roaring fire, and thrown wide the shutters. The
brilliant January sun streamed over the carpet. The sky was blue and
bitter, without a cloud. Naked and unashamed, the bold winter morning
glared in upon her. She shrank from it, feeling small and frightened
like a child stripped for a bath in the ocean which it sees for the
first time.

What had come to her?... Then she recalled the delicate clinging of that
young, ardent mouth, and her own blood submerged her, pulsing in one
shamed wave from head to feet.... She would not think. She sprang from
bed and plunged into the icy water of her morning bath that was all
netted with sunbeams. She dressed without knowing that she dressed. All
the time she kept saying within herself, "What has come to me?... What
has come to me?"

She went to the window--stared up at the cloudless blue that seemed to
swim with crystal beads as she gazed.

"My God, what has happened to me?... What is this that has happened to
me?" she asked. Lacing her fingers hard together, she kept murmuring:
"What is it?... My God!... what is it?"

She felt ridiculous and abased in her own sight; but the glamour was
stealing over her again. "It is impossible ... utterly impossible!" she
kept telling herself. Yet at the bottom of it all, shining up through
darkling depths, was that fairy-gold of joy, like the gold crown on the
head of the frog in the folk tale. Recalling this old fable of her
childhood, she laughed unwillingly. It was a wry laugh, indeed. "Yes,"
she told herself, "a frog with a gold crown--that is what this craziness
amounts to.... I am ridiculous ... ridiculous...!" She looked harshly at
her reflection in the mirror. "You are ridiculous," she said to it.

But there was more than her own absurdity to think of--there was Loring.
She had to consider him. And at the mere thought of him, again came that
frantic blush submerging her. What so ravaged her was the thought that
this wild, unreal feeling could not be love. Then she had kissed him,
had let him kiss her unworthily. She felt as though falling headlong
down abysses in her own nature of which she had never dreamed. Had she,
then, a wanton streak in her? Was she of that most contemptible breed of
mature women who like to scorch themselves delicately at the fires of
youth?

This so horrified her that she dropped into a chair, feeling physically
faint. She sat there so long that Mammy Nan put her head in at the door
and said severely: "Miss Sophy, yo' coffee's gettin' corpse-cold. Dee
bell done rang twict...."

Sophy obeyed the stern voice of Mammy Nan, from the instinct of a
hectored childhood. She rose at once and went meekly to drink the coffee
that she did not want. She actually ate a waffle under the tyrannical
gaze of her old nurse. It was like trying to swallow a bit of flannel.
She rebelled suddenly, and, laying down her knife and fork, said: "I'm
not hungry this morning, Mammy--I can't eat."

With this she went to her study--and found Loring standing before the
fire. How it happened, Sophy could not tell; but like a homing-pigeon
she went to him, and her head was on his breast, and his arms around her
without a word spoken. And as his arms went round her, she knew suddenly
that she was deathly tired. She also knew quite simply that, ridiculous,
impossible, fantastic as it might be, she loved him. This knowledge was
so soothing after the terrible idea that had come to her a little while
ago--the sick fear that her kiss had been only of the senses, no matter
how superfined--that she leaned against him in a sort of rapture of
repose. For the moment she was safe--afterwards the deluge. This
reassurance of her finer nature made all else seem trivial for the time
being. She loved him. She, the mature, bitterly experienced woman, loved
this youth! Well--it was ridiculous, but it was not unworthy. The higher
gods might laugh, but they could not turn from her in disgust.

"My Beautiful ... _my_ Beautiful!..." Loring was murmuring, his lips
against her hair.

That keen, fresh, wholesome scent of horse and leather and outer air
brought the past night back to her in one blinding flare. She stood so
silent that he began to laugh, low and nervously.

"I didn't sleep a wink all night, Selene.... I was with you in some
queer way. Did you feel me?... Or ... did you sleep?"

"No, dear...."

His arms tightened.

"Did love keep you awake too, my Beautiful--love ... for me?"

It was a whisper.

Sophy withdrew herself from his arms. She sank into the deep chair where
she had been sitting last evening, and, as then, he came and knelt
beside her. His eyes went thirstily to hers, and as she met those bold,
soft eyes, the scarlet leaped to her face.

"Oh! ... like a little girl...." he cried, enchanted. "You blush for me
like any little girl...."

Sophy blushed deeper still. Her voice faltered with shame for her own
foolishness of belated love. She really thought herself middle-aged at
thirty. The four years' difference in her age and Loring's seemed to her
an absurd, impassable gulf. This sense of shame braced her to reason
with him.

"Morris...." she began.

He broke into that low, exultant laughter which so confused her.

"Oh, little girl!" he cried again. "She is so young this morning that
she lisps.... She calls me 'Morrith.'" And indeed Sophy had lisped over
his name as she sometimes lisped in moments of excitement. She was
overwhelmed to feel another blush suffuse her. She bit her lip--tried to
frown, looking away from him into the fire. He continued laughing. His
laughter stirred the hair on her bent neck. Unwillingly she, too, began
to laugh. But this laughter was very near to tears. That subtle essence
of herself which she had imparted to him made him suddenly grave.

"What is it, my Wonder?" he asked softly. "I am listening...."

"Then ... dear...." she said very low, "this ... that has happened is
... beautiful ... but ... but it is only a dream.... We ... we must wake
now...."

"Bend down and see...." he whispered. "I am not dream-stuff, Beautiful.
Bend down to me again ... as last evening...."

"No, my dear ... no and no...."

"Then I must reach to you...."

She felt the flutter of his lips at her mouth's edge. She drew aside,
holding him from her. The words came quick and short.

"It is absurd. I am too old ... you are too young.... Heaven and earth
would laugh at us.... I am a woman who has lived through horrors ...
yes, horrors.... You are just at the beginning...."

"Yes ... just at the beginning--with you, my Wonderful!"

"My dear, dear boy...."

"'Boy' for your whim.... 'Man' to love you...."

"Oh, be reasonable!..."

"I wouldn't be reasonable for the throne of Cæsar----"

"You _must_ be serious.... You _must_ let me talk seriously with you.
I.... I shall be offended if you do not. I shall think your love is only
froth."

This brought him upright, a queer gleam in his eyes.

"Well, then...." he said. It was his Marmion tone. It implied, "Come
one, come all; this rock shall fly from its firm base as soon as I."

"Go on, please...." he added, as she did not at once speak.

"Then," said Sophy, looking away from him, "you must think of last night
as ... as a 'Twelfth Night's' madness. Very sweet.... Yes, beautiful in
its way ... but just a moment's dream.... When you ... really love some
one ... you will know that it was only a dream...."

"'When I really love some one'?"

"Yes."

"You think that?"

"Yes."

"Would you mind looking at me?"

"No...."

But her eyes wavered, and the soft red ran up again into her face, as
she met that young, keen look, all fierce with wounded love.

"How _dare_ you say that I do not love you really?" he demanded, his
voice shaking with passion. "Even Selene didn't _trample_ on
Endymion----"

She went pale.

"My dear...."

"How can you call me 'your dear,' and yet set your foot down like
that--hard--right on my bare heart! How can you suggest that my love for
you is not real?"

He flung his arm about her suddenly--caught both her hands in his.

"Listen...." he said. "Perhaps because I bring you worship, too, you
think that I don't love you with man's love.... But it's because I love
you so madly that I bring you worship. I wouldn't soil the soles of your
shoes with what most men call love. I never believed in this kind ...
this that I feel for you. But, by God! I've found it _is_ real! It only
kneels because it's so strong. Because it's so strong, it has reverence.
Do you understand? Now give me your lips to worship. Don't waste them in
words. You needn't fear my kisses ... white Moon. I wouldn't sully you
with base fire."

He had drawn her to her feet. He held her crushed against him. His face
was white and fine with purifying fire.

Sophy felt awe steal over her. This was no boy that held her. His love
made him her equal. And he offered her what she had craved without
knowing it--the fire of love tempered with adoration.

"Give me your lips, my Wonder ... my white Wonder!" he was commanding,
yet there was also pleading in his voice. "Give me your lips, that I may
show you _how_ I love you ... not with gross hunger, but with thirst ...
divine thirst...."

That golden trance crept over her, as on the night before. Her head lay
drowned in its thick hair against his breast. He stooped slowly,
marvelling at the rapt beauty of her white, upturned face. Like a face
coming slowly towards her through deep waters, his face bent nearer.
There was that fine, quivering touch upon her lips--then their mouths
melted into one....

This kiss was no less marvellous than their first had been. But it held
this difference: With it she yielded herself consciously, though against
her judgment.

They stood there tranced, after this long kiss was over, as they had sat
hand in hand the evening before.

He said shakenly at last:

"'Too young'?... '_Too young_'--am I? God!--I feel as though I had been
from everlasting...."



X


But though Sophy yielded to these first bewildering moments of sudden
glamour, she was not in the least minded to enter into a long, unbroken,
spellbound dalliance. Loring found himself very short of kisses indeed
during the next few weeks.

Sophy, as it were, got her head above those heavy, golden waves. She
gasped deep of the fresh air of reason. She would not sink down to this
strange, love-lighted underworld without a final struggle for freedom,
for the clear daylight of common sense. He had to listen to much plain
speaking. Sometimes he sulked, sometimes fumed; usually he ended by
laughing with that low laughter against which she felt so oddly
helpless. There is nothing in the world more disconcerting than this
low, mocking laughter of love that knows itself stronger than reason. In
vain Sophy pointed out to him the difference in their ages, in their
tastes (this he furiously denied). She sternly bade him listen while she
read aloud from books that were her daily food. He listened with
heroism.

But one evening over Plotinus he actually nodded. They had been hunting.
The geranium-scented warmth of her study, the soft crackle of the fire,
her lulling contralto voice as she read aloud to him the words of the
mystic whom he privately thought "a hipped old Johnny" because he was so
ashamed of having a body that he wouldn't tell his birth-date ... (How
Loring despised him for this denial of ruddy life!)--these things,
together with the deep comfort of the old, leather armchair in which he
sat, caused him to doze pleasantly. He woke with a jerk, at the sudden
stopping of her voice. Her grey eyes were fixed on him over the volume
of Plotinus, cool and smiling.

"You see?" she said. "What rouses my soul puts you to sleep!"

Loring had looked at her sombrely.

"I'll tell you what _I_ think," he had said at last. "I think you fence
yourself about with these old philosopher Johnnies because you're afraid
of love. That's what I think, Beautiful."

Sophy had coloured, which always delighted him. He felt that he had won
when her blood rose at his words.

She pointed out to him the complications that would arise in their life
together, from the fact that Bobby would have to be educated in England.

"I couldn't possibly let him go there alone," she said. "His grandmother
dislikes me, as I've told you. She'd do all in her power to wean him
from me. And it's absolutely right and necessary that he should grow up
an Englishman...."

"He can grow up a Timbuctooan, for all I care," Loring had replied,
unmoved. "I've always wanted to hunt in the 'Shires. We can have a
country place near Melton...."

"You'd expatriate yourself?" Sophy asked severely.

"Nonsense, Diana! You're too Olympian sometimes. Good Americans can live
all over the place and still feel that 'little old New York is good
enough for them.'"

"There's another thing," Sophy had retorted: "I am sure that I shan't
care for New York--and as ... well, as Mrs. Loring, I should have to
live there...."

"Only a bit in the winter. And it would do you good, Beautiful. You like
homage--you know you do. You'd be first and beautifulest there. Thank
God, I'm so rotten rich!... You'll queen it, I can tell you."

"Are you so rich, Morris?"

"I am--rather. Why?"

"Because that's another thing.... I hate this over-richness of some
Americans. I feel as if my throat and eyes were full of gold-dust when
I'm with them. I don't mean I'm such a goose as to despise money--but I
do hate this ... this sort of golden Elephantiasis that deforms so many
Americans...."

Loring gazed up at her with wondering adoration.

"By George!" he said humbly, "it's downright awe-inspiring to feel that
you don't care a hang for my being rich. That you only care ... what
little you _do_ care ... for me, myself."

"'King Midas has the ears of an ass,'" Sophy had laughed, pulling the
one next her.

He had responded only too quickly to this slight caress. She had to put
both hands to her face to shield herself from his eager kisses.

"Ah, dearest--be kind.... Do.... Ah, do!" he had pleaded. But she had
said, "No.... I shall be sensible--if that's being unkind.... I won't be
rushed into elf-land by the hair of my head. I.... I won't be ...
_honeyfuggled_...."

And they had laughed together.

Sophy finally got quite desperate with the fruitless struggle against
him and against herself. She banished him ruthlessly for two weeks. He
rebelled in vain. "I _must_ have this time quite to myself," she told
him. "I _must_ think things out ... alone."

Loring found himself frantic thus exiled to the Macfarlanes, cut off
from his heart's desire by six country miles as by the powers of
darkness. He fled to Florida for a fortnight's tarpon-fishing. Then came
her letters. He thought he should go mad over those letters. She played
on him like the wind on water. Now he was all melting ripples under her
delicate words--now some phrase sent his passion leaping
mountain-high.... In the last letter she said: "Come back to me.... I
miss you as the rose misses the honey from her heart ... as the stem
misses the gathered flower.... I crave you as a sail might crave the
wild wind that gives it life. Dear ... my dearest.... I know now why the
'wisdom of men is foolishness to God.'... God is Love ... my wisdom is
foolishness to Love.... So I give you my foolish wisdom for a carpet
under your feet. And my wise foolishness I give you for a seal upon your
heart.... But myself I cannot give you, for I was yours when Love spread
the foundations of the world...."

For she had found when Loring was far from her that "her heart was
within him." She found the plain, wheaten bread of Philosophy dreary
fare without the honey of romance. Poetry fled from her like a wild, shy
bird, that would only come to one call. With his name she could lure it.
She wrote page after page of love-verse as a sort of bridal offering for
his return. She knew that there was madness in her mood, but it seemed a
high and holy sort of frenzy--like the spiritual dementia that sends
martyrs singing to the pyre. So she sung amid the flames that so
exquisitely consumed her. For this was not a usual passion that she felt
for Loring. She would have preferred that their love-life should be one
long, ecstatic betrothal. She would have liked to give him the flower of
love without its fruit. Yet his love was so different from all other
loves that she had known ... it was so finely winged--so woven with
adoration ... so fresh as with the dews of youth's first dawn; in her
the answering love was so immaculate, veiled with imagination as for a
first communion; all was so beautifully and perfectly harmonious between
them, that she could not imagine discord ever following on this
enchanted symphony.

And granted that their tastes were not always the same ... granted that
she was older, that he seemed but a boy to her at times--must love mean
oneness in all things? Was not oneness of heart and spirit enough? And
was not woman immemorially older than man--the first created, but not
the first conceived?--Did not the Christian faith give even God a
mother, as if Divinity itself must needs be child of the eternal
feminine?

And because the great, tender mother in her cherished Loring, the shy,
wild lover in her only loved him more.



XI


They kept their secret from every one until May.

The greatest pang that Sophy felt at this time (and she had not a few)
was the fact that Bobby was to be left at Sweet-Waters during these
months of absence. They had never been a day, much less a night, apart
since he was born. Now she would leave him, in Charlotte's care, whom he
dearly loved, it is true, but--she would leave him.

Charlotte could not throw off the depression caused by this fulfilment
of her anxious prognostications.

"She may be happy _now_," she told her Joe; "but oh! what will she
feel--say in two years--_when she wakes up_?"

The Judge admitted the possibility of Sophy's present joy suffering a
diminution. He even went so far as to say that very possibly there might
be some disillusionment for her in the soberer future--but he roundly
approved her present joy.

"Doggone it, Charlotte!" he exclaimed, using the one form of oath that
he permitted himself. "The poor girl's seen enough misery. Why shouldn't
she be happy in her own way! This Loring is a nice fellow. He's rich ...
that's not to be sneezed at, let me tell you, old lady. He's
good-tempered: he's a gentleman--he's heels over head in love with
her...."

"And he's four ... nearly five years younger," put in Charlotte sternly.

The Judge rubbed his dusky wreath of hair the wrong way about his fine,
bald poll--a sure sign that he was "up against" a knotty question.

"That's a pity, I admit," he said rather lamely. Like Charlotte, he had
very old-fashioned notions about the desirability--almost the
necessity--of a husband's being the elder of his wife. It shocked his
fixed ideals, when brought face to face with it in this plump manner,
that Sophy should be her lover's senior by four years.

Charlotte's fly-away eyebrows came down and joined.

"It's a tragedy and it's a _shame_!" said she.

"No, no ... no, no," almost coaxed the Judge. "Not a shame, Chartie--a
pity if you like.... Yes ... it certainly is a pity--but...."

Charlotte's very apprehension for her sister made her bitter.

"It's just another of Sophy's tragic mistakes," said she. "I did think
that awful experience had cured her of making mistakes."

Her husband looked at her rather whimsically from under the fluff of
smoky black that he had forgotten to smooth down again.

"Are _you_ so doggone sure of making no more mistakes till you die, old
lady?"

Charlotte jerked a snarled place from her black curls by main force. She
did not even notice the acute pain, so great was her agitation over what
she considered this last dire error of her sister.

"That's not the point," she said firmly. She pinned up the now carded
mass with two long, silver hairpins as she had done every night for
twenty years, then went into her especial dressing-closet to fetch her
night-gown.

It was the evening of the fateful day on which Sophy had announced her
coming marriage to Loring, and husband and wife were preparing for
sleep, in the big, friendly room which they shared together. In this
room were two large, old-fashioned closets, each having its window, its
washstand, and its array of pegs whereon to hang the simple and more
necessary pieces of wearing apparel.

As Charlotte emerged again, attired in her nainsook gown that ended in
decent frills at neck and wrist, the Judge in his turn strode into his
sanctuary. He was in search of one of those old-fashioned garments which
Charlotte had been so reluctant to lend Loring on the occasion of his
first visit.

While she waited for him to appear again, she sat down at a little table
near one of the windows, and began arranging what she called her
"night-basket." She was the most methodical and orderly of souls, and
into this little hamper went her watch, her handkerchief, a bit of
"camphor-ice" for her lips, and a box of matches.

The moon was at its full again, and as she sat, sorting these familiar
articles, she could see the white blur of Sophy's gown in one of the
hammocks, and hear the soft undertone of voices, as she and her lover
talked together.

"Just run along, you and Joe, Charlotte, dear," Sophy had said. "We'll
come in by the time you're ready to put out the lights."

"And here," reflected Charlotte, frowning towards the hammocks, "it's
eleven o'clock, and Joe and I nearly ready for bed, and she isn't even
_thinking_ of coming in!"

Her mood was such as in a vigorous, old-fashioned mother means a sound
spanking for the offending child. And Charlotte felt that in some sort
Sophy _was_ her child, and dearly would she have liked to spank her.

Here Judge Macon came forth again, looking somewhat like the sheeted
dead in the extreme length of his linen garment, and armed with a large,
palmetto fan. He drew up a rocking-chair, and glancing out of the window
towards the culprits, said just a trifle sheepishly, to his wife's acute
ears:

"Let's give 'em as long as we can, old lady. Lovers on an old Virginia
lawn in the moonlight! It's enough to soften the cockles of a stoic's
heart."

Charlotte unbendingly smoothed out a bit of tin-foil and wrapped the
piece of camphor-ice in it.

"The cockles of the heart, and the apple of the eye have always seemed
absurd figures of speech to me," she then remarked, putting the unguent
into her basket.

Judge Macon tried to take one of her hands, but she withdrew it and
firmly wound up her watch before wrapping it in her handkerchief and
laying it beside the camphor-ice.

"Come, old lady," wheedled her softer-natured mate, "what's the matter?
Do you really foresee disaster?"

"Joe," replied Charlotte, clasping her hands over the handle of the
little basket, and looking sternly at him, "can you, a man who has sat
on the Virginia bench for over twenty years, seriously ask me such a
question?"

"Why the _Virginia_ bench, particularly, honey?" asked he, and from
under his shaggy brows came a droll gleam.

But Charlotte was not to be wheedled.

"I merely mentioned your office," said she, "to recall to you that as a
Judge you've had more opportunity than most to realise the rarity of
happy marriages."

The Judge in his unofficial capacity whistled softly at this Addisonian
language, but Charlotte went on undisturbed.

"I ask you," she continued, "_as a Judge_--what chances do you consider
that those two"--she waved one hand towards the hammocks--"have of real
happiness?"

Her husband rocked for a moment before replying, fanning himself with
the round, yellow disk that glistened in the moonlight (Charlotte had
blown out the candle for fear of midges).

At last he said seriously:

"You married me, my dear, and I am sixteen years older than you, yet I
think we've been pretty happy."

"Oh, how like a _man_ that is!" cried Charlotte, jumping up in her
exasperation, so that the carefully packed little hamper was upset, and
the two white-clad figures had to grovel for its contents on all fours
in the moonlight. As Charlotte's curly head came near his during this
operation, the Judge promptly kissed it, and Charlotte, much
disconcerted, scrambled to her feet again, exclaiming: "Joe! how _can_
you be so silly at our time of life?"

But the Judge only laughed, and pulled her down on his linen clad knees,
demure frills, "night-basket" and all.

"See here, madam," he demanded, "what do you mean by saying I'm 'like a
man'?"

Charlotte laughed in spite of herself.

"I meant it was like a man to take the very reverse of Sophy's case as
an example," she said, putting her arm about his neck as they rocked
gently together, and rubbing her cheek against his. "Don't you see? It's
quite, _quite_ different with us. Why _your_ being _my_ elder, by so
many years, only makes me look up to you...."

"'Look up to me!'" echoed he, with a burst of Homeric mirth. Charlotte
clapped her hand over his mouth. "Sssh!" she warned. "They'll hear you.
They'll think we're laughing at them."

"Poor things," said he, sobered. "It seems mighty sad to think of two
lovers being afraid of being laughed at."

"It _is_ sad," said Charlotte. "You think I'm cross about it, Joe, but I
could cry about it this minute."

She dropped her head on his shoulder, and her other arm went round his
neck.

"Don't," said the Judge softly. "Don't you cry, honey, whatever you do."

Charlotte from her refuge in his strong neck spoke passionately. Her
warm breath tickled him almost beyond endurance, but he held her and
suffered in silence with the true martyr spirit of the husband who is
born and not made.

"Oh, Joe," she murmured vehemently; "you're not a woman, so you can't
see it all as I see it. _Now_, perhaps, it's all right, but in a few
years ... just a few years.... Oh, my poor Sophy! The grey hairs ...
will come ... then wrinkles.... Little by little, little by little,
there, under his eyes--his hateful _young_ eyes--she will grow old. She
will look like his mother when she's fifty and he's only forty-five!"

"No, no, lady-bird, really you exaggerate!" slipped in the Judge.

"This _can't_ be exaggerated!" said Charlotte. "It _can't_ be----
_Shakespeare_ couldn't exaggerate it!"

"He's got a right smart gift that way, honey," slipped in the Judge
again.

Charlotte didn't hear him. She sat up, much to his relief, and putting
her hands on his shoulders looked at him solemnly.

"Joe," she said, "you're a man, so you don't know about one of the worst
tragedies in a woman's life--the tragedy of the hand-glass!"

"The _what_?" asked her husband.

"The hand-glass, Joe. That little innocent looking bit of silver-framed
glass that you _think_ I only use to do my hair with. Oh, some great
poet ought to write an ode to a woman with her hand-glass! Talk of
'Familiars,' of 'Devils'--there's no Imp out of Hell...."

"Charlotte!" cried her astounded husband.

"I said out--of--_Hell_," repeated she firmly--"there's no Imp so
cunning, so malicious, so brutal as a woman's hand-glass. First, like
all devils, it begins by flattering her--_when she's young_. Then
suddenly, one day, after long years of cunning flattery--suddenly--like
that!..." She snapped her fingers in his still more surprised face....
"Like that!--the hateful thing tells her the truth--that she _is growing
old_! Oh, just a shadow here--a line there--the first grey hair----
Nothing _really_--only--from that day, on and on and on relentlessly,
the message, the odious message never stops! Oh, if anything ought to be
buried with a woman, like her wedding ring, it ought to be her
hand-glass--for it's been just as much a part of joy and pain as the
ring has!"

She stopped, out of breath, and her husband, rather subdued yet trying
to make light of it, hugged her and said: "Seems to me, Sophy oughtn't
to claim all the laurels. Seems to me you're a right elegant little
poetess yourself!"

Charlotte extricated herself from this frankly marital embrace, and
pushing the curls out of her eyes went on, too excited and in earnest to
heed this funny little compliment.

"_That's_ what I see for Sophy!" she said. "The tragedy of the
hand-glass--the tragedy of love in her case. For that boy can't love her
soul and mind as he ought to--and what soul he's got she's given
him--for the time being. He's just a walking mirror--a reflection of
her. Sophy doesn't dream it--nor he--of course. But I can see it. Love
does that sometimes. Oh, you needn't grin, Joe!--I watch life though I
_do_ live in the country the year round. Sophy's just a woman Narcissus.
She's in love with her own reflection in Morris Loring. And some day
she'll want to draw him from that dream-pool. Then she'll find empty
wetness in her hands ... just tears...."

She broke off almost in tears herself. Suddenly she caught her husband's
head to her breast:

"Oh," she cried, "I do thank God that you are bald, Joe, and sixteen
years older than I am!"

"Lord love us!" exclaimed the Judge, bursting into inextinguishable
mirth this time, "I reckon that's the funniest prayer of thanksgiving
that ever went up to the Throne of Grace!"



XII


In the verandah of her cottage at Nahant, where she always passed the
months of May and June, Mrs. Loring, Morris's mother, sat re-reading the
letter in which he told her of his engagement to Mrs. Chesney.

There had been a storm the night before, and the sea made a marvellous,
heroic music among the rocks. Mrs. Loring laid the open letter on her
knee, and her light, bright blue, short-sighted eyes gazed wistfully
towards the sound. Storms both in Nature and in human passions, when
distant enough, had always possessed a strange charm for her, the charm
of printed perils to minds congenitally timorous. She knew Sophy's
history and had read her poems when they first came out, with that same
sense of one enjoying a tempest in mid-ocean from the staunch deck of a
liner. In her case temperament was the liner--though she had always felt
in some inmost recess of her being, known only to herself and her
Creator, that, given the circumstances, she, too, might have been a
centre of tumult. And sometimes, gazing from the safe, close-curtained
windows of her present personality--the result of many careful,
cautiously repressed years--she wondered if the mistake makers, the
convention breakers, had not the best of it after all? Repentance must
be a wonderful emotion--that upheaving, ecstatic repentance that follows
big sins. So unconsciously and typically New England was Grace Loring,
that she could not think of splendid crime without following it up in
her mind by repentance even more gorgeous.

As Mrs. Loring sat there, with her son's letter on her lap, her sister,
Mrs. Charles Horton, came out of the house with a novel in her hand and
joined her.

"Still brooding over Morry's letter, Grace?" Mrs. Horton asked in a
brusque voice, sitting down beside her.

Mrs. Loring withdrew her vague, handsome eyes from the sea, and looked
quietly and directly at her sister.

"I'm not brooding, Eleanor," she said gently.

"Well, what then?" asked Mrs. Horton.

Mrs. Loring glanced at the letter through her _face-à-main_ as though
consulting it, then said in the same tranquil tone:

"I think I was rather admiring them both."

"What rubbish you talk sometimes, my dear Grace!" exclaimed her sister
explosively.

Mrs. Horton was short, brune, and rather plump. She had small,
chestnut-brown eyes, and rough, strong, crinkly dark hair. She was in
every way the opposite of her tall, distinguished, rather hushed sister.
Her manner of thinking and speaking was blunt and straightforward. Mrs.
Horton had no half-tones--she was like some effective national flag,
all clearly defined blocks of frank, crude colour.

"Are you going to write and remonstrate with that young fool, or are you
going to sit by and see him smash his life like crockery?" she said
abruptly.

Charles Horton had been a Californian and a man of exuberant vitality
and speech. His wife, who had loved him and admired him for every
contrast to the contained people among whom she had been brought up, had
adopted something of his vigorous way of expressing himself.

"Are you?" she repeated.

It was not Mrs. Loring's way to evade things, but she was so really
interested in Eleanor's point of view that instead of answering this
question she said:

"What are your reasons for inferring that Morris is ruining his life?"

Mrs. Horton tossed her book aside, and clasped her crisp, capable
looking little brown hands about one knee.

"'Reasons'!" said she. "Aren't facts enough for you? Isn't a love-sick
boy of twenty-six who marries a woman years older pretty well smashing
things up for himself?"

"Sophy Chesney is only thirty, Eleanor."

"Oh, what a hair-splitter you are, Grace! Four years' difference on the
wrong side--the woman's side, is a big chasm ... say what you will."

"There have been very happy marriages of that sort, Eleanor, and with
far greater difference in age. There was Miss Thackeray's marriage with
Mr. Ritchie----"

"Oh, do go on!" said Mrs. Horton, with an outward snuffing of
contemptuous breath. "Give us some more specimens from
literature--George Eliot and Mr. Cross for example."

Mrs. Loring put up her _face-à-main_ again and looked curiously at her
sister.

"Why are you so vexed, Eleanor?" she asked mildly. "After all, it's a
brilliant marriage for Morris in a way--Sophy Chesney is a very
distinguished woman. Had you ... er ... plans for Morris?"

Mrs. Horton blushed. She _had_ thought that Morris might marry her
step-daughter Belinda some day, but she had never admitted this even to
herself. Grace's random shot hit home. She retorted rather gruffly:

"Can't a woman take an interest in her own nephew, without being accused
of scheming?"

"Oh ... 'scheming'.... My _dear_ Eleanor!" protested her sister.

"The fact is," pursued Mrs. Horton, "I take the common-sense view of the
case and you the sentimental one. Linda!... What on earth have you been
doing to look so hot?"

This last sentence was addressed to her step-daughter, Belinda Horton,
who came racing up the verandah steps, her blowze of red-brown hair
blowing out behind her, and a tennis racquet in her hand. Belinda was a
triumphantly beautiful hoyden of sixteen, despite a slight powdering of
freckles and a tiny silvery scar through one raven black eyebrow, the
result of trying to equal a boy cousin on the trapeze when she was nine
years old. Her great, rich, challenging red-brown eyes, and her defiant
yet sweet-tempered mouth, the up-curve of her round chin, the tilt of
her nose, the way her head sat on her shoulders as though some
artist-god had flung it there with careless mastery, like a flower--her
lovely, long, still-growing body which had never known the "awkward
age"--all these things made even the most collected gasp a little when
Belinda first rushed upon their sight.

She now dropped upon the steps, near Mrs. Loring, pushed the sleeves of
her blouse still higher on her cream-white arms, and flourishing the
racquet at her step-mother, said in the rich, throaty voice of a pigeon
in the sun:

"What do I _look_ as if I'd been doing? Playing the organ?"

"Linda! _Don't_ talk in that slangy way."

Belinda showed her teeth, beautifully white if a trifle too large, in
the frankest grin.

"'Playing the organ' isn't slang, Mater."

Mrs. Horton returned her look severely.

"It's the way you say things that make them sound like slang--isn't it,
Grace?" she ended, appealing to her sister.

Mrs. Loring smiled very kindly.

"It's the fashion to be slangy nowadays, Eleanor."

Belinda's eyes shot garnet sparkles at her mother. She patted Mrs.
Loring's blue batiste skirt approvingly with her racquet.

"That's one for you, Mater!" she cried joyously, then to Mrs. Loring,
"You're always perfectly bully to me, Aunty Grace!"

The idea of applying the term "bully" to that over-refined, softly
majestic figure in its cane chair would have abashed any one less daring
than Belinda. But Mrs. Loring seemed not to mind in the least. She knew
that Belinda was "bad form." Belinda knew it herself. "Some people are
born 'bad form,'" she used to say with her wide, lovely grin. "That's
me."

In tapping her aunt's skirt with her racquet, she had dislodged Morris's
letter. It slipped to the floor beside her, and lifting it to hand it
back, she recognised his writing.

"Hullo!" she cried. "What's Morry writing such a screed about? He hates
writing long letters like the devil."

"_Belinda!_" from Mrs. Horton.

"All right, Mater--not till next time."

Then she turned again to her aunt, frankly curious.

"What _is_ he writing about, Aunt Grace? Not in a scrape, I hope--the
admirable Morry!"

"He wrote to announce his engagement, Belinda," said Mrs. Loring.

Belinda sat stock still for a moment. Then she said:

"Who is it?"

"A Mrs. Chesney--a very unusual woman. She wrote a remarkable book once
under her maiden name, Sophy Taliaferro."

Belinda sprung to her feet.

"Why, I've read some poems by a Sophy Taliaferro," she exclaimed.
"Red-hot stuff they were, too!"

"Linda! I forbid you to speak in that way," said her mother.

"All right, Mater--but they _were_ red-h--.... All right, I won't then.
But, Aunt Grace, it couldn't be _that_ Sophy Taliaferro--she must be a
hundred!"

"No--only thirty," said Mrs. Loring, smiling again.

"My _Gawd_!" cried Belinda, pronouncing the sacred name grotesquely so
as to take off the edge of her irreverence. She dropped back upon the
steps, and sat staring open-mouthed at her aunt. "He's gone nutty!" she
added, closing her lips with a snap. Then she sprang up again and
stamped her foot.

"You've got to save him!" she cried, tears of rage in her eyes. "It
isn't fair!-- She's roped him in!-- Morry is just at the age to do such
rotten foolishness!-- Thank God, this is a Land of Divorce!----"

"Belinda!"

"Yes--thank God for it!-- And I wish trial marriage was here, too!"

"Belinda!"

"Oh, stuff, Mater! Haven't you read Ellen Key--she'd make you sit up!"

Mrs. Horton got up, went to the girl, and grasped her firmly by the
shoulder. She was a determined little woman when roused and Belinda
recognised the expression in her eyes. She looked up at her, sulky but
silent for the moment.

"Listen to me," said her step-mother. "I will not have you talking in
this manner. How dare you read Ellen Key, and--and poems that I've never
given you?"

Belinda's radiant grin shone out again in spite of her.

"Oh, cut it out, Mater," she said amiably. "I hooked Roderick Random and
Boccaccio when I was twelve--but you needn't worry. They made me
sick--what I could understand of them. Yes, Mater--I've naturally got
what they call a 'clean mind'--nastiness never would attract me. But
this is a new age beginning, and a new sort of girl is beginning, too,
and she wants to know what's what about everything, and-- I'm _her_!"
she wound up defiantly.

Mrs. Loring had put up her _face-à-main_, and earnestly regarded the
girl's face during this speech. She had again that sensation of watching
an interesting tempest from safe decks.

"I shall send you to school in France this winter," said Mrs. Horton
grimly. "If you're so bent on acquiring knowledge it shall be given to
you in ordered doses."

"All right, Mater!" said Belinda. Then she flung her racquet viciously
on the steps, and groaned, thrusting her hands in the thick, red-brown
clusters on either side of her face:

"French schools or not, Morry is a damn fool!" said she.

Then Mrs. Horton rose in all the severity of step-motherhood.

"You shall go to bed this instant!" said she, pointing. "You shall have
only soup for dinner. You shall not leave these grounds for a week. Nor
play tennis--nor go sailing."

"I couldn't very well go sailing in the grounds," said Belinda, with
inextinguishable pertness. But she rose, and went upstairs to bed as
the maternal finger indicated, making hideous, gargoylish faces all the
way, which she did not dare turn to deliver.

And once, alone in her bedroom, having slammed the door so that the
cottage jarred with it, she flung herself face down upon the floor, and
sobbed furiously. With one clenched hand she beat the matting near her
head. She strangled with this violent sobbing. Her whole body heaved
with it.

"O God ... punish him!" choked Belinda. "O God ... help me to get even
with him some day ... somehow...."

She rose after a half-hour of this frantic weeping; and, hiccoughing
with spent grief, like a passionate child, went and unlocked a little
drawer. She took out a photograph of Morris. Under it was written in her
black, loopy handwriting, "My Hero and my Love." She gazed a moment at
his face, all distorted and magnified by her tears; then she
deliberately spat upon it, tore it in pieces, and ground them under her
heel. "I hate you.... I hate you.... Beast!... Pig!... Liar!" choked the
little fury. All at once, down she flopped, her skirt making a "cheese"
about her, and gathered the desecrated morsels to her lips.

"Oh ... oh...." she moaned. "My heart is broken ... it's broken...."

Balling the fragments in her fist, and still seated on the floor, she
shook her fist with the rags of love in it, at the empty air.

"I'll get even with you, Morry...." she said between her teeth, as
though he were present in person. "I'll get even with you ... if I have
to wait till _I'm_ thirty!... Oh, _I_ know you!... You dared to kiss me
... _like that_...." Her face flamed at the memory. "And then ... in
less than a year ... oh!... But if you tired of _me_ ... after just
_one_ kiss ... you'll tire of _her_ ... after some hundreds.... _Then_,
Mr. Morry...." Her beautiful face was quite savage--a woman's jealous
face under the childish mop of hair--"then _I'll_ be waiting! In two
years I'll be eighteen.... I'll give you just two years ... then _my_
innings begin...."

Belinda knew well that she was beautiful. She had known it supremely
when she tempted Morris to kiss her--for she had tempted him--but then
she loved him wildly. She was morally a little Oriental--with all her
passions at white heat though she was but a schoolgirl. She had thought
that his kiss meant that he loved her in like wise. He had been sorry
the moment the kiss was over. But then--she had really tempted him
beyond endurance, and he had always thought she had the most kissable
mouth in the world. Besides, just at that psychological moment he
happened to be bored to desperation. He had been spending the two weeks
at Nahant that his mother always exacted from him in the summer. It was
the only thing that she ever did exact from him, but they always seemed
interminable. Then had come Belinda, tempting him with her passionate,
sparkling eyes, and the desireful red fruit of her mouth ... fruit cleft
for kisses....

He had hurried away the next day. He was honestly ashamed of that
sensual kiss laid on a school-girl's lips. She was only fifteen then. He
raged at himself and at her, too. "Kitten Cleopatra," he called her in
his thought. "Amorous little devil-- Jove! I pity her husband...."

For he never realised for an instant that the girl was really in love
with him.



XIII


When Lady Wychcote received Sophy's letter, she was breakfasting at
Dynehurst, alone with Gerald. She went very red under her light, morning
rouge, then pale. After some bitter remarks, through which her son sat
in silence, she said:

"I shall send for James Surtees." Mr. Surtees was the family solicitor.
"I am sure that as the probable heir we have some legal control over the
boy, in a case like this."

Gerald rose decidedly.

"I shouldn't use it if I had it," he said.

His mother rose, too.

"_I_ should," she said curtly.

They were standing face to face. Gerald's eyes wavered first. He looked
out of window over the rolling green of the Park to where the smoke from
the mining town blurred the pale horizon. Then he looked back at his
mother again. It was a gentle but bold look for him.

"I wouldn't if I were you, mother," he said gravely.

"No. There are many things that you leave undone, which would be done if
_you_ were _I_," she said in a harsh voice, turning away. "I shall write
to Surtees this afternoon."

But Lady Wychcote did not find her interview with Mr. Surtees very
consoling. He replied to her most pressing questions by quoting from
that Guardianship of Infants Act, which seemed to her to have been
passed chiefly for her annoyance. The meticulous legal phraseology of
the quoted sentences so got on her nerves that it was all she could do
to refrain from being rude to the solicitor. Mr. Surtees read from slips
that he had brought with him in reply to her urgent letter, asking
whether in such an instance as this the Court might not be willing to
appoint her as co-guardian with her grandson's mother. ".... When no
guardian has been appointed by the father, or if the guardian or
guardians appointed by the father is or are dead, or refuses or refuse
to act, the Court may, if it shall think fit, from time to time appoint
a guardian or guardians to act jointly with the mother."

"Well ... and in such a case as this?... where my grandson will grow up
with an American step-father?" she had asked eagerly.

"But your ladyship told me that Mrs. Chesney agreed to have her son
educated in England?"

"Yes," she admitted impatiently; "but suppose that she should change her
mind?"

"I think that we should have to await that event."

"But my...." (Lady Wychcote had almost said "my good man" in her extreme
irritation.) "But my dear Mr. Surtees, who can tell _what_ influence
this ... this American step-father may have on the child--even in a
year?"

"I venture to suggest that your ladyship is over-apprehensive," said Mr.
Surtees. "From my personal acquaintance with Mrs. Chesney, I feel
assured that she will allow no one to influence her son in any way that
could be harmful. But," he continued, "if by any unfortunate chance ...
er ... difficulties of ... of this kind should occur--the Court will
generally act in the way that it considers most beneficial for the
interest and welfare of the infant."

"Then, in case the mother's guardianship proved to be unsatisfactory,
the Court _would_ interfere?"

"I think there is no doubt about that."

With this, for the present, Lady Wychcote had to be content.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the meantime Sophy's second wedding-day was drawing near. Mrs. Loring
was to come to Sweet-Waters for the marriage, but there were to be no
other guests. She arrived two days before. Every one liked her. And
Bobby approved of her. "I like Mr. Loring's _muvvah_...." he told Sophy.
His tone implied deep reticences on the subject of Mrs. Loring's son.

That evening, as Sophy bent over his crib to kiss him good-night, he
held her face down to his and said:

"Muvvah, do you love Mr. Loring more than me?"

Sophy dropped to her knees and caught him in her arms.

"No, darling! No, _no_! I love you both--not one better than the other."

Bobby clung fast to her. Then he whispered:

"S'posin' you had to choose 'right hand--lef' hand'?"

"My precious! People don't choose other people that way. You know, Bobby
darling, it's with hearts like the sky and the stars. There's room for
all the stars in the sky--there's room for all sorts of different loves
in one heart."

Bobby reflected a moment. Then he sighed.

"I reckon my heart ain't very big," he murmured. "It couldn't hold all
that. I reckon my heart's just fulled up with _you_, muvvah. I reckon
it's only got _one_ star in it."

Sophy crushed him to her. She kissed him in a passion of remorse for his
pathetic jealousy. Tears choked her. She held him until she thought that
he had fallen asleep. As she was stealing from the room, a clear little
voice called after her:

"If it _was_ 'right hand--lef' hand' with _any_body an' _you_--I'd
choose _you_, muvvah!"

She rushed back again, and this time she stayed with him long after he
was really asleep.

       *       *       *       *       *

They were married and gone. Charlotte stood blowing her little nose
fiercely--sustained in her apprehensive grief only by Mammy Nan. The
Judge had driven to the station with Mrs. Loring.

"What do you think _really_, Mammy?" she got out at last. "Do you think
Miss Sophy will be happy?"

Mammy Nan, who was already taking off her gala apron and folding it
neatly for some future occasion, grunted noncommittally. Then she
snuffled sharply. She had been crying, too, but she scorned to blow her
nose openly like "Miss Cha'lt." Finally she said in a colourless voice:

"What Miss _Sophy_ mought call happy, _I_ moughtn't call happy."

"How do you mean, Mammy?"

"Well'um, Miss Chalt," replied the old negress dryly, "I is alluz ben
hev my 'pinion 'bout dat Sary in dee Bible a-honin' a'ter a baby at her
age. Hit sho' wuz a darin' thing tuh do. But hit 'pears like gittin' hit
made _her_ happy. T'ouldn't 'a' made _me_ happy--no, _ma'am_!"

She pinned the folded apron firmly together with her "Sunday" brooch,
taking both it and the unaccustomed collar off at once with a sigh of
relief.

"Now seein' as a young huzbun' is wuss trouble dan a young baby, how I
gwine prophesy 'bout Miss Sophy's happ'ness?" she concluded.

       *       *       *       *       *

The magic spell held beautifully all through those bridal wanderings.
There was a real awe at the base of Loring's love for Sophy. Her
creative gift and the fact of her initiation into life's darker
mysteries, had a strange and subduing charm for him. His bridegroom mood
was still Endymion's. This reverence, as for a being familiar with
worlds unknown to him, lent his passion for her a certain, subtle
restraint which seemed to reveal Eros as the most exquisitely
considerate of all the gods.

On her return Sophy went to Sweet-Waters instead of going direct to
Newport. She could scarcely sleep that night on the train, for thinking
how soon she would hold her boy in her arms again. But Loring was more
keenly jealous of Bobby than ever. Marriage had brought this feeling to
a head.

The first thing Sophy saw as the train slowed down at Sweet-Waters
station was his little face, very pale, upturned to the car windows.
When she sprang off and caught him in her arms, he trembled so that he
could not speak for some moments.

Then he said earnestly, in a faint, beseeching voice:

"Muvvah--please don't leave me any more, for Jesus' sake. Amen."

Sophy, trembling herself, said:

"Never again, my darling. Never, never, as long as we both live."

Afterwards, when they were alone, Loring said to her:

"Don't you think you were mistaken to make the boy such a promise as
that?"

He did not look at her as he said this, but at his tie which he was
fastening before the glass.

"What promise?" said Sophy, not remembering for a moment.

"That you'd never leave him again. Things might happen to make it
necessary."

"Nothing could happen to make it necessary. I promised truly. I wouldn't
leave him again for anything on earth--not for anything...."

"Not even for me?" asked Loring. He was still looking at his tie, which
refused to slip into the right knot.

"That couldn't happen, dear. We shall always be together I hope."

"You can't tell...." said Loring. His voice was stiff.

Sophy came over beside him. She stood watching the reflection of his
nervous fingers in the glass for some minutes. She loved his hands. They
were long and slight, the fine bone-work showing clearly--sensitive,
self-willed hands. She thought how strange it was, that all the men she
had ever cared for had had fine hands. Even Cecil's, huge as they were,
had been well-moulded. Cecil ... how strange to think of Cecil's hands
while she watched these others.... Life was like that. The tangle of
memory made one thread pull another endlessly. She felt very sad all of
a sudden.

Loring did not say anything more. Presently he jerked the tie from about
his neck and threw it on the floor.

"Hell!" he said heartily.

Sophy laughed, then grew grave. His white face looked so
disproportionately furious to the cause of wrath. He snatched up another
tie and set to work again.

After a while Sophy said in a low voice:

"Morris ... don't you like Bobby?"

"Like him?... Of course I like him.... Damn this tie!"

Sophy waited a moment.

"Morris...."

"Well?"

"What is it, dear? What has vexed you?"

"I should think you could see that for yourself," he said impatiently,
raging with the second tie.

He had never been downright cross with her before. But Sophy understood.
She felt almost as tenderly to him as she had to Bobby on a like
occasion. But the sad feeling grew in her heart. They were jealous of
each other. Jealousy was a hideous guest at life's table. She sighed
unconsciously. He darted a swift glance at her. The droop of her head
touched him suddenly. He turned, catching her to him.

"Oh, Selene!" he groaned. "Don't you see? I'm just a low, mortal wretch
and I'm disgustingly, damnably jealous--that's all. Beautiful-- I swear
it.... I quake in my very vitals when I think that you may love that boy
more than me.... The child of another man--more than me." He held her
fiercely.

She put up her hand to his neck as she leaned against him.

"You needn't be afraid," she said softly. "I couldn't love any one more
than I love you, dear."

He had to be satisfied with this. He was afraid to ask if she loved him
more than she loved her son. But this was what he wanted. This was the
only thing that would satisfy him. And he was not only jealous of Bobby.
As he had said once before, he was jealous of the dead man--of Bobby's
father. This is perhaps the bitterest jealousy of all--the jealousy of
the dead who has once been dearest to what is now our dearest.



XIV


It seemed very strange to Sophy, as unreal as this new love in another
way, to find herself once more in the noisy glitter of the world after
her three years of hermitage. "The crackling of thorns under a pot" it
seemed to her--of big gilded thorns under a big gilded pot. The pot
bubbled merrily, boiling over with iridescent froth; its steam was
heady, causing those who tended it to dance blithely like
self-hypnotised Arabs about a brazier. Sophy enjoyed gorgeous foolery as
much as any other, when she was in the mood. But now she was far from
the mood. It was as if Endymion had insisted on presenting Selene at the
court of Elis with "excursions and alarums," and gaudy pageants--as if
he could not feel his goddess wholly his until the curious eyes of the
courtiers approved his choice. For she had found out that it was by his
desire that his mother had so insisted on this visit. Mrs. Loring had
been quite unconscious of betraying motives when she said: "I wouldn't
urge you, my dear, but Morry so wishes it. He thinks you've been too
long in this dear, dreamy old place. Besides," she had added, smiling,
"he naturally wishes the world to see his Faery Queen...."

Sophy had mentioned this to Loring.

"Don't let's go, dear.... I'm sure your mother will understand. And I
really hate the idea," she had said to him.

But Loring had replied:

"You don't know my mother yet, Beautiful. She would feel awfully cut up
if we didn't go to her after we came back. Don't you see?-- It would
look queer to others, too...."

Sophy had yielded in the end. Yet she smiled to herself, a little
wistfully, reflecting on the meaning of the name Endymion, "a being that
gently comes over one." Here she was--to her mind the most pitiable of
trophy-ikons--a bride displayed in new attire, new jewels and new love,
to the eyes of the appraising world.

In all the conviviality poured over him as bridegroom by laughing
friends, Morris was very careful not to go too far that summer. The
friends grinned slyly--"Morry's on the water-wagon of love," the word
went round. Some wag said that the fire-water of matrimony went flat in
the second year--and "Mrs. Morry" might find her consort drinking from
other stills. This would prove a shock.

"Oh, she won't mind," a woman had said easily. "Morry's so perfectly
delightful when he's taken a bit too much. He's _so_ amusing."

But on the first occasion of this kind Sophy had minded very much
indeed. It did not happen until towards the middle of their first winter
in New York. They had given a dinner and some people had stayed on
afterwards until one o'clock. One of the guests, a young Bavarian, had
played rousingly on the piano. The keys seemed to smoke under his long,
vigorous hands. He ended with some frenzied Polish dances. Everybody was
drinking and smoking--Loring drank more than he smoked. A pretty gypsy
looking woman jumped up and began an impromptu dance to the wild music.
Loring began to dance with her. The game of drawing-room romps became
breathless.

Sophy sat amused like the rest. His head looked so oddly Greek with its
short, tossing locks above the ugly cylinders of his modern dress. He
should have had on a leopard's skin. As this thought came to her, some
one cried: "Oh, Morry!--_Do_ give us the 'Reformed Alcibiades'. Do!
_do!_--I haven't seen you do it for a whole year...."

A chorus rose at once about him. He hesitated a moment--glanced at
Sophy. She was smiling. "Shall I?" he said doubtfully.

"Well-- I confess I'm curious to see how a 'reformed Alcibiades' _would_
dance...." she said, still smiling.

Von Hoff, the young man at the piano, began a most enticing, fiery
measure. It went to Loring's head. He tossed off a whiskey and soda,
cried, "Here goes, then!" and ran from the room.

"Haven't you really ever seen him do it, Mrs. Loring?" said the woman
who had asked for the dance.

"No-- I didn't even know he could dance so cleverly----"

"You've a treat before you, then. It's _the_ most delicious thing you
ever saw...."

"Strike up, slave!" came Loring's voice from the next room. Von Hoff
"struck up." Loring had whispered him what to play as he ran out. It was
a voluptuous, half Spanish, half Oriental measure. To its rhythm Loring
danced back into the room. He had set a huge wreath of artificial roses
with flying ribbons on his head. His evening trousers were rolled up,
leaving his legs bare from the knee down. A pair of elaborate
sandals--relics of Harvard days--encased his feet. He had taken off his
coat and collar and rolled back his shirt-sleeves. A wide, white silken
scarf of Sophy's formed his peplum. Under one arm was tucked a big,
stuffed pheasant to represent the pet quail of Alcibiades. In his hand
he held a wine-cup, inverted.

The dance began charmingly. Alcibiades was evidently refusing all
invitations to drink from many invisible comrades.... The first shock of
thus seeing him comically "dressed up"--in a costume which was only
saved from low absurdity by the perfect beauty of his classic head and
slight figure--this first startled recoil having passed, Sophy watched
his amazingly graceful poses with a tolerable pleasure. She could not
really enjoy it--that her husband should prance about so attired for the
amusement of their guests--but she remembered, soberly enough, that he
was very young, and that her distaste was probably the result of maturer
years.

Then came the real shock. The dance grew frankly ludicrous. With
dextrous sleight of hand, Alcibiades made it appear as though his
"quail" were angrily demanding a drink from the inverted goblet. The
fowl finally conquers. The goblet is filled for him again and again.
Alcibiades can no longer resist temptation, thus seeing a mere fowl take
its fill. He, too, begins to drink.... The dance ends in a mad, drunken
whirl, in which Alcibiades crowns the pheasant with his wreath, and they
collapse together upon the floor in a maudlin heap.

The thing was really wonderfully well done. The guests were in ecstasies
of laughter. But Sophy felt cold and sick. It seemed to her that he
could not love her as she had thought. Else how could he turn the body
that she loved into a travesty for others to laugh at? She felt as
though the dignity of their mutual love were lying there on the floor,
sprawled and ruffled and lifeless like the stuffed pheasant....

This feeling was not apparent in her face. Her training had been too
thorough and bitter for her to let the world have even a glimpse of her
chagrin. But though no one else guessed it, Loring was aware instantly
of something wrong. As soon as he had changed back to ordinary dress,
and returned to the drawing-room, where people were now saying
good-night--he felt this. And he, too, was chagrined. He had taken just
enough liquor to make this chagrin of his savour of anger. For the first
time he felt her "superiority" not as that of a goddess, but of a wife.
She "disapproved" of him. To be "disapproved" of had always roused the
ugly side of his nature.

"And she told me herself to go ahead," he thought irefully. "Now she's
got it in for me.... I'll be curtain-lectured I suppose--get a glimpse
of the seamy side of matrimony...."

He reinforced himself with another high-ball.

When the last guest had gone he went up to Sophy. She had turned to get
her fan from a sofa where she had left it. It was the fan of white
peacock feathers that Amaldi had once admired. She thought of him
suddenly as she took it in her hand. How would he have looked had he
seen that dance?-- She reddened. Why did such thoughts come to one? Life
was quite difficult enough without these unbidden, scathing fancies. She
tried to put on a natural, easy expression. As is always the case, this
gave her face a strained look--the look of one "sitting" for a
photograph.

On his side, Loring's had an expression that Sophy was only too familiar
with--but until now, she had never seen it on _his_ face. It was the
pale, black-eyed, fixed expression of a man who has taken too much to
drink, without being in the least "drunk." Sophy could not tell what it
was she felt at that moment. It was like the pang of a strange sickness.
And again it was like a blow on an old wound. The old and new wound
seemed bleeding together in her breast. She tried to pass him with a
smile.

"It's all hours of the night.... I'm simply dropping with sleep...." she
said, her voice, at least, natural enough.

He planted himself in her way. His hands were deep in his pockets. His
white, fixed young face was dropped a little. He looked up at her stilly
from under the beautiful arch of his brows that she so loved.... They
always reminded her of Marlowe's lovely expression "airy brows." Now
they lowered like clouds over the bold, still eyes.

"I say, Selene," he blurted, enunciating his words very clearly. "Let's
have it ... and get done with it...."

"What, Morris?"

"The wigging you've got in pickle for me.... Mixing my metaphors, too,
ain't I?... There's another grievance for you.... Poetess as well as
goddess will take umbrage now...."

Sophy hated being called "poetess." That Morris should call her
"poetess" seemed the last touch of irony. She stood looking at him
gently.

"I haven't got a 'wigging' in store for you," she said. "Why are you
angry?"

"Why are _you_ angry?... But, there, that's poppycock--my asking that. I
know devilish well why you're angry. It's because I danced that
Alcibiades thing.... Well--you told me to, didn't you?"

Sophy hesitated. Then she said frankly:

"It's true I didn't like it, Morris. But that oughtn't to vex you." Her
voice trembled suddenly. "When a woman loves a man as I love you--she
can't bear to ... to see him ... like that."

"Make a fool of himself, you mean?"

Sophy went close and put her hand on his breast.

"Morris...." she said, "are you trying to quarrel ... with _me_, dear?"

Her tone was lovely as she said this. "He's so young ... so young...."
she was telling herself.

But Loring's overstrung mood sensed this maternal indulgence, and it
infuriated him still further.

"You've got me mixed with your dear Bobby, haven't you?" he asked
sneeringly.

"Oh, Morris!"

She drew back, flushing even over her neck and arms. Anger as well as
pain drove her blood.

"Well--you used just the tone you'd use to a youngster who'd been
stealing jam," he said sulkily.

Sophy stood playing with the fan of white feathers. Life seemed a
nightmare to her just then. This rude, sullen boy who was yet her
husband made her feel as if all the gods of Malice were watching her.
She could almost hear the Olympian titter go round the room. She tried
to think of some way of lifting their life out of this horrid,
commonplace quagmire into which it had slipped so suddenly--and it was
as if their life were some huge, smooth, handleless vessel upon which
she could not get a grip.

"He isn't himself--this isn't the real Morris----" her thought sanely
reminded her. "This is Whiskey...."

She lifted her slight figure with a sudden movement of determination.

"Morris, dear," she said, "I'm not going to let you quarrel with me....
Good-night."

She went swiftly by him into her bedroom. He longed to catch her arms
and stop her as she went by, but he did not dare. He turned on his heel
and went back into the drawing-room. The butler was clearing away the
tray of liqueurs and whiskey.

"Hold on a moment, Jennings," said Loring. He took another stiff drink.
As often happens, this lost dram of whiskey wrought a totally different
mood in him. Within five minutes his anger had merged into a wild
impulse of desire. He wondered now that he could have been so curt with
his Selene. He understood as in a flash of revelation why she had
objected to that "rotten dance." He wanted to tell her so with devouring
kisses. He waited until the servants had withdrawn, then went to her
bedroom door.

"Who is it?" came her voice.

"I ... Endymion," he murmured.

He was ablaze with love and repentance and--whiskey, but he was still
not in the least what could be called "drunk."

"Come in," said Sophy. Her heart failed her. Was he coming to have his
quarrel out? She felt quite numb--lifeless--as though made of wood. Her
maid had undressed her and plaited her long hair for the night. She was
sitting before the fire in her white dressing-gown. Her eyes looked very
sad to him in her quiet face. He came and threw himself on his knees
beside her.

"Forgive me ... forgive me, Selene ... forgive me...." he murmured,
unconsciously metrical. At any other time Sophy would have teased him
for it. Now she did not even notice it. She had been thinking: "George
Eliot says somewhere that 'we can endure our worst sorrows but once'....
I am enduring mine twice...."

She put her hand on the bowed head.

"Never mind, dear," she said.

He seized her bare arm in both hot hands, and his lips, still hotter,
ran over it. She shivered, trying to draw it away from him. He thought
that she shivered with love. He sprang to his feet, and, tall woman as
she was, so great was the feverish strength of his desire, he drew her
easily up from the low chair into his arms. His breath reeking of spirit
poured over her half averted face. She could not bear to struggle with
him. That would seem the last degradation.

"I'm tired, dear...." she whispered. "I'm deadly tired...."

And he laughed. And this low exultant laugh, that had once made such
music in her ears, seemed like that silent tittering of malicious gods
grown audible.

"No ... Morris ... no...." she said, bracing herself against him by her
strong, slight arms. He laughed on. He began to whisper incoherently in
her averted ear....

"Oh, moon-woman ... oh, virgin-goddess.... Don't I know all your sweet
reluctances by heart?... Isn't that what made me mad to conquer you?...
You tempted me yourself.... Listen.... I never confessed it.... Now I'll
confess for penance.... Do you know what made me first swear I'd marry
you?... Your own words, Selene!... Your own words!... It was a verse of
yours I read.... Oh, such a cock-sure ... Olympian verse!... Listen: Do
you remember?... Here's how it went...."

He muttered her own words of passionate freedom into her averted,
shrinking ear:

  "I am the Wind's, and the Wind is mine!
    No mortal lover shall me discover;
  Freedom clear is our bridal-wine--
    Oh, lordly Wind! Oh, perfect lover!..."

"There!--That's what made me set my will like steel to conquer you....
_I'll_ be her 'mortal lover' I said.... And see!-- You are in my
arms...."

He stopped aghast. In his arms, heavily drooping, her face thrust from
him against her own shoulder, she was weeping like one broken-hearted.



XV


The situation had solved itself after that. Dismayed and thunderstruck,
Loring had been glad to loose his weeping goddess from his arms. It had
never occurred to him that his Selene could cry frankly, with choking
sobs and great tears like any other woman. It was a most discomfortable
revelation. Like all men he hated tears--but these especial tears in
addition to disconcerting him made him feel a blunderer, a sorry fool.
They set him in a darkness of confused wonder, where he felt like a
chastised child in a cupboard.

But Sophy stopped crying almost at once.

"Morris, dear," she said, "you know I told you I was deadly tired.... I
really am too tired to talk to-night-- I feel almost ill, I'm so weary.
But to-morrow I'll say everything that's in my heart.... Go to bed now,
will you, like a kind darling? I ... I'm better alone when ... when I
feel like this."

Loring looked at her, then down at the hearth-rug. His lips pursed.

"You'll clear this up for me to-morrow?" he asked in a sullen voice.

"Yes, dear-- I promise."

"All right, then. Sorry you feel so seedy."

He went towards the door. Before he reached it his gorge rose with
wounded pride and bewildered indignation. He turned his head as he went
out.

"Sorry I've been guilty of blasphemy...." he said. "Loving a goddess is
rather steep work at times...."

He went out, his eyes hard and resentful.

Sophy sank into her chair again. She sat looking into the fire. She
remembered how they had sat hand in hand, after their first kiss,
looking into another fire only a few months ago.

But this was whiskey, she reminded herself--only whiskey. She must prove
to him and herself that she was stronger than a mere appetite. But as
she sat there staring at the fire, it was Cecil that she thought of,
more than Loring. How terrible and fatal it seemed that, twice over, she
should be the rival of such things with those she loved. For her sake
Cecil had set himself to conquer. Then death had taken him. But before
he had died he had killed her highest love for him....

The next day they had a full talk together. He was in a very gentle,
penitent humour. He said that he understood just how she had felt.

He was on his knees by her chair, in his favourite attitude, holding her
waist with both arms.

She bent towards him. Her heart was very glad within her. She took his
face between her hands and kissed him on the eyes.

"You see, dearest," she said, "I'm a very faithful wife. I'm Morris
Loring's wife and I won't be made love to by"--she looked straight into
the eyes that she had just kissed--"by John Barleycorn," she ended,
smiling, to ease the tense moment for them both.

Loring dropped down his face into her lap. Then he looked up again. A
dance came into his eyes, that had been ashamed for a moment.

"I'll.... I'll kill the adulterous beggar!" he murmured.

Sophy felt a sharp twinge at her heart. Were all men more or less alike,
she wondered? Cecil Chesney himself might have made that remark and in
just that way.

Things went well after that for some months. Loring's friends even
wagged wise heads of grave foreboding over it. "Mrs. Morry's got him too
rankly bitted," they agreed unanimously. "He'll rear and come over
backwards if she don't look out...."

But Sophy was very moderate. She had no prudish objection to his
drinking in reason. She didn't enjoy seeing him in the false high
spirits engendered sometimes by extra "cocktails," but she only
positively objected to the amorousness occasioned by them. He had had
his lesson, however.

And as the winter wore on, and Sophy became more familiar with the
social life of New York, she understood better and better this side of
Loring's character. She found that there were very few young men of his
"set" who did not drink as a matter of course. Very often, nearly always
at balls and dances, many of them would be genially "tight" by the end
of the evening. This only made them extremely noisy and "larky" as a
rule. She found that the women took this state of affairs with indulgent
philosophy. Often they were amused by it.

As a whole the social life of New York, quite apart from this feature,
did not appeal to her. Its mad speed and ostentation resulted in a sort
of golden glare of monotony. Yet there were charming people, both men
and women, caught protesting in the maelstrom. They protested bitterly
as they went whirling round and round. Yet, when the maelstrom spewed
them forth in the spring tide--for the most part, they allowed
themselves to be sucked in by other whirlpools, such as Paris and London
and Newport. Sophy wondered at the nervous constitutions which could
stand such fevered repetition endlessly renewed. She reflected that
Americans were said to be the most nervous people on earth. Yet she
thought their nerves must be of thrice tempered steel to support the
life that they protestingly led from year's end to year's end.

She determined that, since her lot was now cast here, she would temper
her surroundings as much to her own taste as possible. For she had found
out, among other somewhat astonishing things, that Loring was socially
ambitious for her. He was resolved to build an elaborate and sumptuous
house in New York--what American journals call a "mansion." Sophy
pleaded for ample time in which to decide on the architecture and type
of this house. In the meantime they spent their spare hours in hunting
for a temporary abode where they might live during the next three or
four years.

The house of Loring's mother was the usual mass of gilding and marble
that characterised the last quarter of the nineteenth century in New
York. It was Italian. The lower floor looked like an ancient Roman Bath.
On the second floor was a Renaissance fountain. The library
chimney-piece was formed of an entire doorway taken from some tomb in
Italy, and still bearing the Italian family's coat-of-arms.

Sophy found what she wanted at last in a delightful old corner-house in
Washington Square. Every one remonstrated. The tide of fashion was
rushing like an eagre "up to the Park." Sophy did not care for Central
Park. She said that she was sure its Dryads were all made of cast-iron
and went bumping up and down every night between the horrific bronze
colossi in the main avenue. This did not seem a sufficient reason to
Loring's friends for selecting such an out-of-date, deserted spot as
Washington Square in which to live for the next four years.

However, when Sophy had finished furnishing and decorating the old
house, Loring was charmed, and very proud of her. But the house was not
completed until the following autumn.

In the meantime, Loring, without saying anything to Sophy, had leased
one of the Newport "palaces" from an absent owner for five years.

Sophy saw that the world had claimed her again. Now her mind bent itself
to the task of redeeming some months of the year for her own use. She
began to feel afraid. How was such a delicate visitant as Poetry to be
entertained amid all this confusion of tongues and glittering
paraphernalia?

"I must go to Sweet-Waters for May," she told Loring. "I'll open the
house in Newport on the first of June."

"But I'm booked for those polo matches on Long Island in May," said
Loring.

"I'm sorry, dear.... However, you won't miss me when you're playing polo
you know.... And I do long for a May in Virginia."

"Damn Virginia!" said Loring.

Sophy laughed at him.

"You'll love me all the more when I come back to you," she coaxed.
"Don't 'damn' poor Virginia."

"I do damn it.... I'm jealous of it."

"You needn't be."

She was still smiling at his sulky face.

"Yes, I do need ... you put it before me."

"Now, Morris...."

"Yes, 'Now, Morris'.... 'Now, Morris'...." (He mimicked her reproachful
tone.) "It's always 'Now, Morris' when I want what belongs to me...."

"Oh! So I 'belong' to you, do I?" she teased affectionately.

"Yes! By gad, you do! You married me.... You're my wife. A wife should
stay with her husband. You do belong to me."

He had his "Marmion" tone very pronouncedly.

Sophy said prettily:

"I think it would be truer to say we both 'belong.'"

"Well.... _I'm_ not leaving _you_, am I?"

She reached out and took the sulky, cleft chin between her finger and
thumb.

"Poor sing! Did dey 'buse it?" she said, as she addressed Dhu when he
had one of his fits of collie-melancholy. But Loring jerked away his
chin.

"Please don't treat me like a baby," he said stiffly. "I'm very far from
feeling like one."

Sophy pondered a moment. Then she said:

"I hate to remind people of promises ... but you'll remember that you
promised me I should have some time, every year, to myself----"

"You're tired of me already--is that it?"

"Now, dear--how am I to keep from treating you like a baby, when you act
so exactly like one?"

"It's babyish for a man to want his wife with him, is it?"

"Isn't it rather babyish of him not to want her to take one little month
to rest in and see her own people?"

"I thought my people were to be your people like the woman in the
Bible?"

"So they are ... but I've seen them all winter."

"Tired of us all, eh?"

Sophy said nothing in reply to this.

"Oh, well!" he exclaimed angrily, flouncing to the door. "If the new
salt has lost its savour--go to your old salt-lick----"

He bounced out, clapping the door. It was the first coarse thing he had
ever said to her. She felt indignant as well as hurt. But when she
reflected that his ill temper came from jealousy she was sorry for him,
too.

"But I must go all the same," she reflected. "If I give in this time, I
can never call my soul my own again."

She left for Virginia two days later, taking Bobby with her. She and
Loring had not quite "made up" before she left. They were very polite to
each other. Sophy's heart felt sore. This attitude of his was spoiling
her visit home. She thought that he would surely soften before the train
drew out. But he did not.

He lifted his hat as the engine began its hoarse starting cough.

"Well--so long," he said. "A happy May to you!"

Sophy felt a proud impulse to reply in kind. Then the sad influence of
parting, even for so short a time, melted her. She put her head from the
window.

"You'll come down to Virginia to fetch me back, won't you, dear?" she
asked.

"Don't know. Depends on how the games go," he answered curtly.
"I'll----"

The chuff-chuff of the moving engine drowned the rest of the sentence.



XVI


It was on the twenty-fifth of April that Sophy went to Sweet-Waters. But
in spite of all the familiar, springtide loveliness, this month of May
was not what she had dreamed. She missed Loring. His curt letters
wounded her. No--she could not be happy with this shadow between them.

But if she was not altogether content, Bobby was. He came and leaned
against her knee as she was brushing her hair one morning. He was nearly
six now, and spoke much more plainly. He was very fond of "grown up"
words, which assumed quaint forms under his usage.

"Mother," he said, "couldn't we demain here with Uncle Joe and Aunt
Chartie? Are we _'bliged_ to go back to Mr. Loring?"

Sophy laid down her brush and put her arm around him. His seemingly
unconquerable aversion for Loring was a great grief to her.

"Bobby," she answered, looking gravely into his anxious upturned face,
"don't you understand? Mother is Mrs. Loring now. She _must_ go back to
Morris."

Bobby pondered, lowering his eyes. Then he said slowly:

"Won't your last name ever be the same as mine any more at all, mother?"

"No, darling. But names matter very little. What matters is that you're
my own boy, and I'm your own mother, forever and ever."

Bobby was silent. Then it broke from him:

"I _hate_ you to have his name 'stead of mine!... I.... I hate it
renormously, mother!"

She held the boy close and put her cheek to his.

"Yes, dear. Mother understands how you feel about that. That's natural.
But what hurts me is, that you won't be friends with Morris. You won't
even call him 'Morris' and he's asked you to so often. Can't you do that
much to please mother?"

Bobby got very red. He said in a rather strangled voice:

"Mother, please don't ask me to do that."

"Why, dear?"

"'Cause...." He hesitated--then said in a rush, very low:

"'Cause I don't like him 'nuff to do it."

"Oh, Bobby--that hurts mother."

"I'm sorry," he said gravely.

"Then, won't you try to feel differently--for mother's sake?"

Bobby twisted a lock of her loosened hair round and round his finger. He
said presently:

"Tain't any use _tryin'_ to like people, mother."

He thought another moment, then added:

"Mr. Loring don't like me an' I don't like Mr. Loring. I 'spec God fixed
it that way--'cause it's fixed so tight it won't come loose."

       *       *       *       *       *

Loring, on his side, was determined to discipline Sophy a bit. She
shouldn't think that she could desert him for a whim, and he take it
like a good little husband, by Jove!

He went quite wild at times with longing for her, because this absence
only whetted his desire. All his desires throve for being thwarted
sharply. It was only continuous, prolonged denial that wore his very
thin fibred patience to the snapping point. In that case he turned to
new desires. He had never in his life been really patient over but one
thing, and that was his wooing of Sophy. Or no, he had been patient when
stalking deer, or waiting for wild duck. It was the sporting spirit in
him that made him so admirably patient on these like occasions. But
there was no sporting spirit to sustain him in the rôle of husband. A
wife was not game to be stalked. She was a possession to be enjoyed.
Sophy must learn that as Selene she was goddess to his Endymion--but as
Mrs. Morris Loring, she was, well, wife to her husband.

Loring had an astonishing power of sustaining ill temper. He could keep
a grievance alive for months by merely muttering over the heads of the
offense against him--as a lover can thrill himself by murmuring the
beloved's name.

Not since he was a child of three, afraid to go to sleep in the dark,
and obstreperously demanding that both nurse and mother should sit
holding each a hand until oblivion claimed him, had he demanded not to
be forsaken without being obeyed.

Sophy returned to New York, as she had promised, on the twenty-seventh
of May. He was not at the station to meet her. She wondered whether a
match had detained him, or whether she would find him at the house.

She felt very helpless against this unyielding wall of sullen,
consistent anger.

The butler told her that Mr. Loring had been spending the week-end with
some friends on Long Island but had 'phoned that morning to say that he
would return in time for dinner. He had not yet come in.

She went upstairs feeling sad and discouraged. It was very warm and
oppressive in town after the open country. The scent of the hot asphalt
came in through the open windows. The house looked queer and bleak, all
dressed in brown holland for the summer.

The butler had filled the rooms with American Beauty roses. She disliked
these roses. They always suggested to her the idea that they had been
mulched with bank notes. She sat listlessly in the big, ornate room of
the rented house, surrounded by yards of brown holland and acres of the
artificial looking roses.

At a quarter past eight Loring came in. She heard him speak to the
butler. Then he went to his own room. He came down in half an hour. Her
heart swelled when she saw him.

He came over, took her hand loosely, and left a glancing kiss upon her
cheek.

"You look fit.... Had a pleasant time?" he asked politely. Then in the
same breath he added: "Jove! I'm hungry.... There's nothing like a good
go at polo for making a chap keen on his tuck."

"Who won?" asked Sophy politely. She was dreadfully hurt; but she was
proud also.

"Oh, our side.... We've been winning pretty steadily. Nipped the three
last goals from under their noses."

They maintained a laboured conversation in the drawing-room until ten.
Then she rose, saying that she thought as they were to leave for Newport
next day, she would go to bed early. There was so much packing to see
about. He rose, too, and held the door ceremoniously, while she passed
out.

She went to her room with her heart aching and heavy.

Drawing aside one of the light muslin curtains, she stood at the window
in her thin night-dress trying to refresh herself with a breath of
outer air, even though it reeked of asphalt.

The door of her room opened and shut. She turned with a start. Morris
was striding towards her, white of face and black of eyes. He wrapped
her in a fierce hug. She was crushed against him so that it hurt her.
His eyes were eating her face. They were hard, angry, yet burning with
desire. It was almost the glare of hatred.

"I want you ... you're mine! How dare you keep me wanting you like this
... all these damnable weeks?"

Sophy stood rigid in his locked arms. That look in his eyes was awful to
her.

"You hurt me, Morris ... let me go...." she said.

"No, I'll not let you go.... I'm master in this room...."

"Morris!"

"You'll take the consequences of making me hate you and love you at the
same time! By God! you'll take the consequences...."

She felt very strong and cold--very fiercely cold all at once. Their
eyes blazed on each other. They were like two enemies at grips rather
than two lovers. Then his arms dropped. He laughed. He put up one hand
over his face and went on laughing.

As soon as he released her, Sophy drew one or two long breaths. It
really hurt her to breathe at first, so savagely had he crushed her to
him. Then she stood watching him as he laughed. And he laughed and
laughed.

Suddenly she went up to him, stole her two arms tenderly about him, drew
his face with his hand still over it down to her shoulder.

"Oh, Morris ... Morris ... Morris...." she said.

He stopped laughing and began to shake.

"Endymion...." she whispered close to his ear.

He slid to his knees before her, burying his face in her gown.

They forgave each other before they slept. But deep down in Loring's
heart there was resentment, albeit unrealised.



XVII


The next two weeks they spent at Nahant with Loring's mother.

The dream was fading fast--the dream, but not her love for him. That
remained like clear marble from which the purple glamour cast through
stained glass slowly withdraws. And this clear, white love had more and
more of the maternal in it. She could not have forgiven those scenes of
drink-inflamed passion had not there been in her love for him much of
the indulgent tenderness with which she regarded Bobby's outbreaks. She
did not realise this fully--the purple glow still lingered. Love to a
poet is poetry or it is nothing. If she should ever come to read him in
cold prose, love would flee forever--Pteros--the Flyer, he is called, as
well as Eros....

By the nineteenth of June they were in the full swing of the Newport
season.

Sophy did not play tennis herself, but she would go with Morris to the
Casino in the morning. It amused her to watch all these passionately
energetic young women bent on fashionable slimness, violently exercising
in the torrid heat--looking like some new type of odalisque, veiled with
thick brown veils half way up their noses to prevent sunburn. Madly they
would dart to and fro until midday, then rush for the beach. She found
it even more amusing to see these crowds of men and women disporting on
the well-kept beach and in the sea that looked so well-kept also; the
men, of amazingly varied shapes--bereft of all elegance by their scant
attire; the women more elegant than ever, with the décolletage of
charming legs, and wearing fantastic headgear that made them look like
great sea-poppies and bluets blooming on the tawny sand--or flying, as
though wind-blown, in the swing.

The routine was much as she remembered it as a girl--luncheons, dinner
parties with dancing to follow at the hostess's house or some
other--balls, fancy-balls, theatricals at the Casino--the usual
fantastic, highly-coloured, sparkling Masque of Pleasure. It was
agreeable enough for a week or two--but her heart failed when she
thought of the whole summer--and many summers to follow--spent in this
fashion. She was glad when August drew to its close, and nearly all the
women had taken the pose of being tired or even ill, and not going out
any more. Then she had some delightful, real country rides again with
Morris. The Island was charming to explore. The golden-rod was beginning
to blow in the fields. It made her long for Sweet-Waters. But she would
not vex him with such an allusion.

"It's nice to have these quiet days together, isn't it?" she said, as he
tied a great bunch of golden-rod to the dees of her saddle, and another
to his own.

These quiet days at Newport did not last long, however. The Kron Prinz
of Blauethürme arrived suddenly one day, practically unheralded. And
presto!--all the weary and ailing became restored as by magic. The
descent of His Royal Highness into the stagnant social waters was like
the descent of the angel into the pool of Bethesda. He did but trouble
the waters with his princely foot, and straightway all sufferers were
restored to abounding and healthful vigour. The erstwhile exhausted
ladies went scampering about like chipmunks. And the "society" journals,
that had been mournfully pecking here and there for stray grains of
interest, now fluttered triumphant with whole sheaves of "snapshots" and
thrilling items.

Sophy winced to see a photograph of herself as frontispiece of a "smart"
weekly. It had been taken as she crossed the lawn of the Casino with the
Crown Prince. It was headed, "A Famous Beauty and a Foreign Prince."
Underneath was written, "Mrs. Morris Loring walking with H. R. H. the
Crown Prince of Blauethürme. Mrs. Loring is one of our most
distinguished and _chic_ young matrons. She entertains lavishly and
brilliantly both at her unique town house in New York (said to be
decorated by her own fair hands) and at her sumptuous summer palace in
Newport. Mrs. Loring was formerly the wife of the Hon. Cecil Chesney,
younger brother of Viscount Wychcote."

She tossed the paper to Morris with a grimace. "Look at that snobbish
abomination!" she said. "_How_ good Americans would love a King and
Court all their own! It's a pity Washington didn't accept that crown
they offered him...."

But she broke off, rather dismayed at Loring's extreme fury over the
picture. She did not realise that what so enraged him was the allusion
to her as "formerly the wife of the Hon. Cecil Chesney."

"Damn it!" he fumed. "How dare they take liberties with your name! You
are my wife-- I'll teach them to accept that fact for good and all!"

The thing rankled in him for days. Indeed Sophy had cause to remember
the visit of the Crown Prince of Blauethürme in more ways than one; for
there was a "stag dinner" given him towards the end of his stay at
Newport, and Loring was one of the hosts. It is hard to leave a "stag
dinner" in perfect equipoise of mind and body, especially when its chief
guest is a Royalty who chooses to remain until dawn, and shows a truly
regal prowess with the wine-cup. Loring returned at five o'clock and
demanded to enter Sophy's room. She had locked the door. She came to it
when she heard his voice, but refused to open it.

"Damn it! Do you turn me from your door like a beggar?" he called
angrily, rattling the knob.

"Don't talk so loud, Morris.... You'll be dreadfully sorry for losing
your temper like this to-morrow.... You'll be glad I wouldn't let you
in...."

He was quite frantic.

"Some fine day you'll shut me out too often, my lady!" he raged at her.

"Morris! The servants will hear you. Do go!"

"All right. But you won't always be able to whistle me to heel when you
want to.... I give you that straight."

He laughed coarsely. His state showed more in his laughter than in his
speaking voice.

She had never known him as bad as this. Her very soul felt sick and
faint under it. She heard him muttering as he went off along the
corridor to his own room. She went back to bed trembling. She thought
there must be _some_ way to stop it. She sat there in the chill August
dawn, thinking, thinking.



XVIII


Loring's ill humour lasted into the next day. He could not remember
clearly what had caused it, but he knew that he was aggrieved with Sophy
for something. It came to him while he was dressing. He did not get up
until two o'clock that afternoon. His man served him some black coffee
in his bedroom. As he gulped it between phases of his toilet, he
remembered suddenly: "Locked me out of her room, by gad!"

His face burnt. He knew perfectly well that he had deserved to be locked
out, but that did not make the crime any less heinous in his eyes.

He went downstairs in a still, molten frame of mind. The feeling of
physical malaise only added to his mental irritation.

As he reached the hall, Bobby was just coming in from his afternoon walk
with Rosa. He loved this walk with Rosa. She allowed him to do so many
more delightful, interesting things than his French governess. For
instance, Mademoiselle would never in the world have permitted him to
pick up the dear, dirty, lame puppy that he was now squeezing to the
breast of his white coat.

Loring looked down at the clean little boy and the dirty little dog with
a displeased frown. Bobby met this frown with calm defiance, but his
heart began to throb with apprehension for his "sick doggie."

"Where on earth did you get that filthy beast?" asked Loring.

"I found him," said Bobby.

"Well, you can't bring him into the house. In fact, you can't keep him
at all," his step-father remarked grimly. "Put him down. I'll have one
of the men clear him away."

"No," said Bobby.

"Put him down at once! What do you mean by saying 'No' when I tell you
to do a thing?"

"I mean 'no,'" said Bobby.

"You impudent monkey!" said Loring, as peculiarly angry as only a child
can make one. "Here--give me the brute this instant."

He grasped the dog by its nape--Bobby held it tightly about the stomach.
The dog naturally howled.

"Let go, you little imp!" said Loring.

He gave another tug at the dog. It yelped again.

"Leggo my doggie! Leggo--_man_!" cried Bobby furiously.

For reply, Loring wrenched the puppy from him and held it yowling out of
his reach. In a second the boy had thrown himself upon Loring's free
hand, and silently, like a little bull-terrier himself, had set his
small, crimped teeth in it.

Loring gave a savage cry of pain and anger, and dropping the puppy,
which fled under a hall-chair, grabbed the boy. He prized open the
furious little jaws. The child was white and red in patches with the
extremity of his wrath. Loring pinioned him, and started towards the
stairs. He was met by Sophy running down them. She was very pale.

"What's the matter? What are you doing with Bobby?" she asked. She held
out her arms. "Give him to me," she said.

"Excuse me," said Loring. "This is our affair ... between Bobby and me.
I'm going to teach him not to bite like a little cur!"

"Give him to me, Morris," she said, almost breathless. The child was
restraining himself manfully. There was a smear of blood on his mouth
from Loring's bitten hand. This smear turned Sophy's heart to water. She
gasped out: "Oh!... You've hurt him ... his mouth's bleeding!"

"That's not _his_ blood--little devil! It's _my_ blood.... Your son must
resemble his sainted father very closely," he added, with sudden
savagery. "Let me by. It's time he had a lesson--and I'm going to give
it to him, by God!"

But Sophy had her arms round Bobby. He was held fast by the four
determined arms. His little smeared mouth was pressed tight. He was as
white as Sophy now.

"Morris," she was saying in a low, quick voice, "I know how to deal with
him. Let him come to me...."

"No. It's time a man took him in hand. Don't make a scene here in the
hall."

"Give me my son...."

"Don't make a scene, I tell you. I'm not going to let a British brat
stick his teeth in me with impunity. Take your hands off. Let me go!"

"You shall never strike him--never!"

"All this is so good for the boy, ain't it?"

"Do you want me to despise you?"

"I don't care what you do, so long as I give this little beggar a
trouncing."

All this time the boy neither struggled nor uttered a sound. Suddenly
he spoke. The tone was as if Cecil spoke out of the grave. It startled
Sophy with reminiscence. It startled Loring by its sheer, concentrated
maturity of scorn and hatred.

"Mother," came the low voice, "let him beat me. Then maybe _you'll hate
him, too_...."

Loring stood a second, dumfounded, then he withdrew his arms sharply.

"Well I'm damned!" exclaimed the man, staring at the child who had
spoken with all the condensed feeling of a man. Then he laughed
suddenly--the bitter, sneering laugh that Sophy had come to dread. He
turned on his heel.

"Take your little Chesney brute," he said as he turned away. "I guess
he'll prove about as much a comfort as your big Chesney did!"

He sauntered out upon the sea-lawn, whistling.

But Bobby was both punished and brought to reason by his mother. It was
easy to punish him far more effectively and severely than by a whipping.
Bobby had sustained spankings from his earliest infancy with true
British stoicism. What his mother did was to make him give the lame
puppy to the gardener's little girl and provide her with five cents
weekly out of his allowance of ten cents, for the puppy's maintenance.
To induce him to apologise properly to his step-father was another
matter. When Sophy told him that he must go to Loring and say that he
was sorry for the dreadful thing that he had done, Bobby became
mutinous.

"But I am _not_ sorry," he protested. "I 'joyed biting him."

"It hurts mother to hear you say that--but that's not the question. What
I _hope_ my little boy is sorry for is for not having been a
gentleman--for having behaved like a wild animal. Even the poor puppy
behaved better than you did. _He_ didn't bite like a little tiger...."

"I'd a bit bigger if I'd been a tagger," said Bobby thoughtfully. "I'd a
bit his han' off, I reckon."

"That's not the question either. Aren't you sorry that you weren't a
gentleman?"

Bobby pondered this. Finally he said:

"I'm very tangled inside of me, mother. I _am_ sorry I didn't be a
gentleman, but I am _not_ sorry I bited him."

Sophy took a deep breath. She put a hand on either of her son's
shoulders, and held him fixed in front of her.

"Now listen, Bobby," she said. "I won't have any more arguments. You are
to go to Morris, at once, and say this: 'I am sorry I was so naughty and
ungentlemanly. I beg your pardon.' Now go. Morris is out there on the
lawn reading a paper. Go there and say those words straight out like a
man."

Bobby gazed earnestly into her eyes, found something in their grey
depths that always conquered him in the end, and turned soberly away.

He went and stood before Loring, his hands behind his back. His face was
very red. His heart filled up his chest and scorched it so that he could
scarcely speak.

"Hullo, little mad-dog," said Loring, looking at him over his paper.
"Haven't they muzzled you yet? Keep your distance, please."

The boy looked stolidly at him.

"I've come to pollygise," he said.

"Oh, you have, have you? Suppose I don't accept your 'pollygy'?"

"Then I'll jus' have to leave it with you," said the boy haughtily.
"This is it: 'I am sorry I didn't be a gentleman. I beg your
pardon'--but mother made me do it," he added all in the same breath.
Then he turned and walked swiftly away. His red curls were getting a
beautiful copper-beech colour as he grew older. Loring, watching his
retreat, wondered if Chesney had had that colour hair. The firm little
nape with its "duck-tails" of purplish-red curls filled him with
detestation. Bobby was going to be a huge man, like his father. He was
as tall at six as most boys of eight.

"And he gets off with an apology!" thought Loring angrily. He was as
severe in his ideas of the training of children as are most men who have
been badly spoilt themselves. His hands fairly ached to whip Cecil
Chesney's son.

But he was mollified when he found that the boy had been punished, in
what Sophy assured him was a far more painful way than any mere whipping
would have been.



XIX


Loring had got over the first novelty of having the moon descend to his
crying. Selene was now a domesticated planet. They moved in the same
orbit. He felt, without realising it, somewhat as a lover might feel
who, while gazing entranced at the silver disk in mid-heaven, suddenly
finds himself transported among the Mountains of the Moon. The lunar
landscape, thus familiarly envisaged, struck him as a little bleak.
There was nothing "chummy" about Sophy, he decided. He had always
thought it would be great fun to drink wine freely with the woman one
was in love with. A "bully" dinner after hunting, or a cosy supper after
the play, with plenty of champagne to enliven it. Champagne added such
zest to kisses. He felt aggrieved that Sophy did not care for this form
of bliss. She said that wine "blurred" her. Such a rum expression! He
thought her prudish. He told her so on one occasion.

"Look here, Goddess," he said fretfully. "You run your temple-business
in the ground. You treat love-making like a religious ceremony. Hang
it!-- I can't feel like Cupid's high-priest all the year 'round. Love
ought to be just a bully sort of spree sometimes."

Sophy had said, flushing:

"I'm sorry I seem priggish. But I'm afraid I'll never be able to look on
love as 'just a bully sort of spree.'"

Loring had flushed, too.

"Well ... a chap can't go on playing Endymion forever. I suppose there
was an end even to the Moon's honeymoon!"

It was after dinner one evening during the next winter. As usual, he had
been drinking freely. This always made him either amorous or irritable.
As she would not endure the amorousness, irritability invariably
resulted. Sophy was by this time frankly unhappy. But no one guessed
it--not even Loring. She had come to feel the full weight of that family
remark: "Morry has such a strong will!" She had found that this will of
his was far stronger than his love for her. Yet he loved her still. At
times even the old feeling of worship gave him pause for an instant.
But the steady drinking--cocktails before meals, whiskey-and-soda in
between meals--dulled the edge of finer sentiment. And he resented
passionately the disapproval that her very silence on the subject
evinced.

At first she had spoken out to him about it--with affection, honestly,
as one good friend might speak to another--but when she found how
useless it was, she did not "nag." And she was never "superior" in her
manner towards him.

However, no one, living in the close intimacy of marriage with another,
can loathe a thing as Sophy loathed this constant tippling of her
husband, without the offender being aware of that unexpressed
detestation.

He grew quite callous about it as time went by, but during this second
winter of their marriage it made him very ugly with her at times.

And Sophy had a bitter, ironic feeling when she faced the fact of this
sordid, reduced replica of the tragedy of her first marriage. That had
had the dignity of real peril, at least, but this brought her only the
ignominy of acute discomfort and at times humiliation.

She suffered intensely. That he could not have understood this
suffering, even had she explained it, made her sometimes a little
over-proud and cold. He had his full share of the discomfort. In less
exacting hands, he would have made a rather easy-going if utterly
selfish husband. The climate of Olympus did not at all agree with his
constitution. In the legend, it is said that Endymion, after his
marriage with Selene, was cast out of Olympus by the wrathful Zeus, for
making love to Hera. This lapse was probably caused by the too exacting
standard that Selene held up to her earthly spouse.

But they clashed also in other ways. There was a certain strain of
unconventionality in Sophy, that often outraged Loring's extreme
conventionality of outlook. He had found it "swagger" and amusing that
she should choose to embellish an old house in Washington Square, rather
than follow the social bell-wether "up to the Park." That had been a
"swell" attitude in its way. But there were certain unwritten laws of
"smart" propriety, which to break, he felt, was to risk being
ridiculous. He would have chosen death cheerfully at any time, rather
than seem ridiculous. Sophy felt otherwise. As long as she herself did
not consider what she did ridiculous, she did not think at all of the
opinion of "society."



XX


But all these frictions, and changes, and readjustments of vision did
not come in a steady progression. The unfolding of their inner life
followed intricate spirals, returned on itself, coiled outward again.
Sometimes Sophy found herself standing breathless in a glow of the old
glamour, that fell on her as if through a far window in the past,
reflected back from the blank wall of the present. Then she would think
that perhaps the man that he had seemed in their first love-days was the
real man, and this Morris only the result of their hectic, vapid life.
Again, she would wonder if he had really ever been what she had dreamed
him, even then. It was as if some rare spirit had "possessed" him for
the time being. Or was it that love had transfigured him? She could not
bridge with her reason the gulf that lay between his past and his
present personality.

Then as the months passed, and he grew more and more relaxed and
slovenly of spirit under the ease of possession, she came to think that
he had never been Endymion at all. She had loved a wraith, a seeming.
She did not realise that sometimes love works temporary miracles, even
as religion does; that love also makes conversions which are very real
for the moment, but that cannot stand the wear of every day.

But when the final realisation came, Sophy felt as if life were over for
her. Love had seemed the only real life; now love was over. She sat
alone in her bedroom one night, thinking: "Love is over ... love is
over...." She felt such anguish at this thought as drove her to her
feet. She went and stood at her window, looking out at the bare trees in
the Square and the cross of electric lights against the sky, made dark
purple by contrast with the orange glow. She felt as if it were too much
to bear--this second terrible mistake. And yet, what escape was there?
It seemed to her that there was no escape. Her misery was all the more
terrible because life had given her a second chance, as it were--and
for a second time she had built her House of Love upon the sands. Vain
regret stole over her like lava. It spread barrenness. Once more her
creative gift lay strangled under the ashes of her own mistake.

She thought: "This is age--this devastated feeling. I am really old now.
I am only thirty-two, but I could not feel older in spirit if I were
eighty."

Her affection for him only made this death of deeper love more terrible.
As in a pale shadow-play, she saw her shadow-self, repeating the rôle
that she had once enacted in a more vivid drama--the rôle of wife to a
man whom she had ceased to love, but towards whom she felt a
compassionate affection. There is no part in the tragi-comedy of life
that requires such terrific powers of acting.

And to this exigent demand was added the pang of self-ridicule. Life had
given her the talisman of experience to guard her--and this was what she
had done with it. She blushed hot, remembering suddenly the love-songs
that she had written when he was in Florida. It was anguish to think
that what she had believed with all her being was only a love-sick
fancy.

She stood thinking, her eyes on the cross of electric lights. She stared
at it so long that when she looked away it shone green on the purple
dusk--a cross of glow-worms.

She thought of Richard Garnett's words: "Then is Love blessed, when from
the cup of the body he drinks the wine of the soul." This had been her
dream of love--twice over. But from the cup of the body she had drunk
only the gall of the senses. And, again and again, she went back in
wondering memory to that time of beglamourment. The words of the first
sonnet she had ever sent him, painted it clearly. Line by line, the
sonnet came back to her:

  "After long years of slowly starved desire,
    Within this shell of me myself lay sped:
    My life was wrought of birthdays of the dead;
  I slept on graves. You came. My spirit's fire
  Leapt into light and showed Despair a liar:
    You came--and all Death's ashen wine blushed red.
    Your eyes drank mine: I trembled--not with dread,
  But like a lute-string sharply tuned higher.

  "--And I am mocked by wistful dreams of old,
    As winter by a bright mirage of flowers.
      My vanished Spring lives in your eyes' dear blue.
  My maiden faith is by your lips retold--
    Long, long ago drained out my purple hours--
      Lo! in your hand Love's hour-glass brimmed anew!"

Despite all her idealism, however, Sophy had that sort of dogged courage
which sets its teeth and digs in the bed-rock of life for hid lessons.
She did not intend to go dolefully inert like the poor wights in the
Hall of Eblis, with her hand always over the flame of pain in her heart.
"Very well," she addressed Life in her thought. "You have done this to
me. Now what is your meaning? I am not one of those who think your
doings like the 'tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
signifying nothing.' I believe your grimmest practical jokes have an
inner meaning. Why did you cheat me with love a second time? Why, when I
had given up all thought of love, and won a tranquil, clear content of
spirit, did you send love to trample my secret garden like a dark angel
in a whirlwind?"

She came to the conclusion that life means something vaster and more
splendid than a restored Eden, where one man and one woman walk together
guarded in their blissful isolation by the flaming sword of selfishness.
"Come forth of that!" thunders the Voice that is not one love but All
Love. And so Life hales us by the hair, out of our little palaces of
dreams. And we are driven naked into the desert of reality. And when we
have read aright what is written in the desert sands--behold! the desert
blossoms like the rose.

But this writing was not yet clear to Sophy. She toiled through the hot,
clogging sands, and what was traced upon them seemed to her only the
wanton hieroglyphics of the wind ... the wild wind that blew men and
women hither and thither like rootless stalks. Yet she believed in this
vaster and more splendid meaning that Life kept hidden, under all its
dark pranks and sardonic jesting. She imagined Life, in those days, as a
huge, Afrit clown, under whose motley is secreted the Seal of Solomon.
If one could but survive the horrid rough-and-tumble of his sinister
game, one would be able, in the end, to snatch away the magic seal at
whose touch all mysteries open.

That spring brought a new difficulty. Lady Wychcote's letters on the
subject of seeing her grandson had become very pressing of late. In
February she had been quite ill. Now in her convalescence she wrote more
urgently than ever, saying that she felt she had a right to ask that her
only grandchild should not be kept away from her any longer. She asked
(her request was almost in the form of a demand) that Sophy would bring
Cecil's son to England some time during that spring or summer. Sophy
felt the justice of this request. She felt that she owed its fulfilment
to Cecil's mother--that she really had no right to keep Bobby apart from
her indefinitely.

And yet, when she thought of a visit to England and all that it
involved, she winced from it in her most secret fibres.



XXI


The more Sophy thought of this visit to England, the more she shrank
from it and the more obligatory she felt it to be. She dreaded it for
many reasons. The meeting with Lady Wychcote would be painful in the
extreme. She could imagine those hard eyes as though they were already
fastened on her. And then Morris--how would Lady Wychcote behave to
Morris, should they be thrown together? How, indeed, would Morris behave
to Lady Wychcote? Sophy hoped ardently that he would not go with her.
She hoped it, not only on this account, but because it seemed dreadful
to her that she should appear in London again, after five years of
absence, as the wife of another man. She had left England in the dignity
of a great tragedy; she would return to it as the wife of an American
millionaire, "ages younger than she is, my dear." And Morris--how would
Morris seem, thus transplanted? He had been to England before, of
course; but he knew few of the people among whom her lot there had been
cast. His English acquaintances were all of the ultra sporting sort.

She tried to fancy him at lunch or dinner with the Arundels. What would
he make of that political and literary atmosphere?

But what filled her with the keenest dread of all, when facing the
possibility of Morris's going with her, was the fact of his constant
drinking. Here in America it was the custom of his class and set. But
there--no. Some Englishmen were "hard drinkers," certainly--but it was
the exception and not the rule.

But then again--perhaps all this anxiety on her part was quite useless.
Most probably Morris would dislike the idea of spending a month in
England, just when polo on Long Island was at its best. She determined
to put it to him that evening. She did so as they drove home from the
opera.

He lowered at first, then suddenly became amiable. Sophy's heart sank.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed, laughing. "Now that I think of it, I rather
like the idea. It will be bully fun showing you off to those highbrow
Britishers as Mrs. Morris Loring of New York!-- I've had it rubbed in on
the raw often enough, that you were formerly 'the Honourable Mrs. Cecil
Chesney.'"


       *       *       *       *       *

They sailed for England on the last day of April. Loring was in his best
mood. Sophy felt as if in a queer spiritual catalepsy. It was as if
Destiny had clutched her in a numbing grasp and bundled her hither and
thither against her will.

Lady Wychcote was settled in her house in Carlton Gardens for the
Season, and the morning after Sophy's arrival she took Bobby to see his
grandmother. Her ladyship's face had aged somewhat, but her figure was
as young as ever. She came forward with hand extended, and said "How
d'ye do?" as though she and Sophy had parted only yesterday. Then she
sat down and drew Bobby to her knees.

"So you are Robert Chesney, eh?" she asked.

The boy looked up into her face.

"Yes, grandmother," he said gravely.

"And of what are you thinking when you stare at me with such solemn
eyes?" she went on, trying to smile and speak naturally. There was
something in the boy's whole air and appearance so like his father that
she was much shaken by it.

Bobby had one of those direct impulses of childhood that resemble
inspiration.

"I was thinking that you're a quite young lady to be a grandmother," he
replied politely.

This was the beginning of a real friendship between the two, for Lady
Wychcote also had an inspiration. She rose abruptly, went to her
escritoire, and unlocking a little drawer, took out a small parcel
wrapped in silver paper.

"Robert," she said, "I think that what I'm going to give you will please
you very much." And now a very human, kindly smile flickered over her
thin lips as she added: "At least, it would please me if I were a
little boy. It's dangerous, it's real, and it's something a real man has
used."

Bobby took it from her. His face went pale with excitement. His fingers
fumbled over the wrapping in his eagerness.

"Is it ... is it ... a spear?" he managed.

"A good guess," said his grandmother; "but not _quite_ right...."

Then the last layer of paper came away, and in his hands was a little
Arab dagger, in a sheath crusted with coral and turquoise. He went red
now--and when he drew out the blade, and saw that it was indeed real and
dangerous, he had a breathless moment of utter stillness, then turned
and threw himself into Lady Wychcote's arms.

"Oh, thank you ... _thank_ you!" he cried. "I think you must be the most
splendid grandmother in the world!"

"It was your father's, when he was a lad ... like you," she murmured
rather indistinctly. As so often happens in life, the recrudescence of
maternal feeling for this grandson was stronger than what she had
originally felt for her own sons.

Sophy was relieved and glad over the turn that things had taken. She had
feared that the two strong wills might clash in some unfortunate way,
even at first.

When, later, Lady Wychcote suggested that the boy had "_rather_ an
American accent," and that an English tutor would, in her opinion, be
"advisable," Sophy acquiesced at once and said that she intended going
to Oxford to consult Cecil's old tutor, Mr. Greyson, on the subject.

       *       *       *       *       *

That same afternoon, Gerald called at Claridge's to see Sophy and his
nephew. Bobby approved of his Uncle Gerald. Not so Loring, who came in
a few minutes before Lord Wychcote left.

"Great Scott! _What_ a 'lemon'!" he exclaimed, as the door closed. "I
guess Bobby will be a lord some day all right-o."

"Ah, please don't, Morris!" Sophy said. "Gerald is one of the best
friends I've ever had."

"'Friend'!" cried Loring, going into peals of laughter. "'Friend' is
good. Why, he's so gone on you that a blind man could see it.
Lemon-Squash--that's what he is. He's so sweet on you he isn't just
plain lemon."

And from that hour, Loring never alluded to Gerald Wychcote as anything
but "Lemon-Squash."

As soon as she knew that Sophy was in England, Olive Arundel rushed to
see her. She was really fond of Sophy. It made not the slightest
difference that they had exchanged only four or five letters in six
years. The old friendship was taken up exactly where it had been dropped
through force of circumstance. So it was with all of Sophy's other
friendships. English people are like this. It is one of their most
delightful traits.

But Olive was frankly curious about Loring. She was dying to see him,
she said. She was _so_ keen to see the man that had made Sophy forget
her "twagic life with poor, dear Cecil."

Sophy flushed and laughed a little too. And she felt also like weeping.
Olive brought the past to her more vividly than anything had done as
yet--even her meeting with Lady Wychcote. She had changed very little.
Her figure and face were both fuller, but still very lovely. She used as
many gestures, as much perfume, as ever--yet she was every inch a
lady--even a great lady.

Sophy asked about John Arundel and his "career."

"Oh, my _dear_ Sophy!" cried his wife. "Don't mention the word
'_Caweer_' to me.... You American women are _so_ fortunate in not having
to sit up night and day with your husbands' 'Caweers.' Why, even on our
honeymoon Jack carried along those _howid_ red-boxes! For _hours_ he'd
shut himself up alone with them.... But thanks, dear--he's getting along
nicely--he and his 'Caweer.' Ouf! what a dull year this has been in
Parliament! The only interesting things have taken place in foreign
parts, and the House of Commons _never_ takes much interest in foreign
and colonial affairs, you know. It loves to get wrought up over home
questions--party rows, and that sort of thing. Fancy what it's been like
when all they've had to debate over--poor dears!--was Vaccination and
Calf-lymph and the Benefices Bill!"

Oh, how strange it seemed to Sophy, thus to be sitting and listening to
Olive's political "patter"! Before she knew it, a whole world of thought
had risen about her, as at the rubbing of a magic lamp. Olive rose at
last, saying:

"It's really _too_ bad of your Pwince Charming not to come in while I'm
here. But I'll see him at dinner to-morrow. I'm so glad, my Sweet, that
you're happy at last!"

She embraced Sophy twice, kissed her impulsively, and was gone.

"_Happy at last!_"

Sophy stood where Olive had left her--moving her slim shoe slightly from
side to side. She gazed at the hotel carpet which was strewn with little
grey roses. She counted those that lay near her feet. First from left to
right, then from right to left. As long as she counted carefully, she
could not think clearly. She did not want to think clearly. She felt as
though buried alive under a glittering wreck. It was the palace of her
own life that had crumbled about her. She was cramped in a tiny space.
Air came to her through chinks in the shattered fabric. Food was passed
to her through these interstices. But she must crouch very still in one
position till she died....



XXII


The first part of her stay in England was more endurable, however, than
she had thought possible. Loring was rather subdued by the "highbrows,"
though he carried it off in private to her with an air of indulgent
toleration for the "fool ceremoniousness" of an "effete" civilisation.
The greater number of her friends and acquaintances he characterised as
"lemons." He said there was not a "shred of snap or go in the whole
bunch of them," that they made him long to "yowl" and fire off pistols
in Piccadilly. One exception he made, however, in favour of the Premier.
"Fine old boy," he said. "Can't exactly call _him_ a lemon ... but he
leans that way. I guess I'll have to class him as a citron--a rarer
product of the lemon variety, you know."

It is not only the husband who feels a sense of responsibility in
marriage. This feeling of being responsible for Loring as the man whom
she had chosen for her mate out of all the world, after such a dire
first marriage, kept Sophy taut with apprehension. Every time that they
went out together she was in nervous dread lest he should "bust loose,"
as he sometimes threatened, and take some undue liberty of speech with
one of the "highbrows" that so oppressed him. One thing, however, gave
her great comfort: It was that he was careful not to drink too freely.
The "pomp and circumstance" that bored him to extinction had at least
the good effect of restraining him in this respect, and his male-pride
could not but glow pleasantly at the way in which he found his wife
considered. And he was immensely gratified--until one day it occurred to
him that he was being assigned the rôle of "Mrs. Loring's husband." Then
in a burst of inner resentment he determined to shake himself free of
the singular spell which great names and personages had cast over his
usual spirits, and "be himself." His mood became aggressively American.
"Old Glory" seemed to fill his blood with stars. He had had enough of
doing in Britain as the Britons did. He began to take whiskey-and-soda
between meals, just as in New York. When they dined out, he had a
cocktail at the hotel before leaving. But though Sophy saw this with a
quailing heart, he did not go beyond bounds, as at home, only the return
to customary uses made his spirits soar and rendered him rather
garrulous at times. Still, Loring was no fool. The fount of talk thus
loosened had a certain crude and pungent novelty that diverted the
soberer English very much. He found his new rôle vastly diverting
himself. He thought it "bully fun" to "poke up the highbrows." But Sophy
writhed, for she saw clearly what did not even glimmer on his
consciousness--the fact that the "highbrows" oftener laughed at than
with him. She tried on one occasion to make him realise this without
offending him. But she need not have troubled as to how he would regard
her suggestion. He took it with lordly superiority.

"Bless you, Goddess! ... you don't know your own little old British
world a bit! 'Laugh at me'? Why not? I mean 'em to. I bust panes in
their old window-sash of conventions and let in God's outer air! I'm the
cyclone-blast from Columbia's fresh and verdant shore! They like it, you
squeamish dear--they like it! I beard the British lion in his den and he
purrs!"

Sophy had said, laughing helplessly:

"I'm afraid that when a lion 'purrs' it's really a sort of growling."

"Never you fear! Just you leave it to me, Old Thing!" Loring had replied
easily.

This bit of slang endearment which he had picked up of late grated on
Sophy, until it was almost impossible for her to keep from flashing out
at him when he used it. She said nothing, however, reflecting that the
reason she so detested it was probably because she was too "old" to
enjoy being called "old" in fun.

It was during Ascot week which they spent with the Arundels at their
place on the River that Loring surpassed himself in his game of "poking
up the highbrows." It was at luncheon. There were about twenty people
present--some very important Personages among them. Loring was feeling
especially "full of beans." A famous beauty had coaxed him into making
"American drinks" for the whole party before luncheon. She thought them
"ripping"! She was a very sporting beauty, and Loring was enjoying
himself, what with the races and one thing and another, more than he had
believed it possible to enjoy one's self in England away from the
'Shires in the hunting season. The American cocktails had a _succès de
curiosité_. Loring, himself, took two. At luncheon he was in high
feather. The beauty egged him on. He began to give thumb-nail sketches
of the characters of those present. Sophy's sensations were
indescribable. Not a "highbrow" did her husband spare. In pithy,
American slang he set forth, amid the laughter even of the victims
themselves, what he considered their chief characteristics. Nimbly
piling Ossa on Pelion, he capped the whole with Vesuvius, by pointing a
finger at a stern, iron-clad, reserved and venerable member of the
Opposition, and announcing: "You do the benevolent patriarch act to a T;
but deep down--gad!--you're _foxy_!"

The "benevolent patriarch" himself, after a gleam of surprise such as
might have stirred the countenance of Moses, had a gentile youth
suddenly made a _pied de nez_ at him, gazed inscrutably. The table
rocked with suppressed and somewhat scared laughter. Sophy felt bathed
in flame. She knew that Majesty itself would not have adopted a jesting
tone with the Being whom Loring had just called "foxy." That this
Superior Being in all probability _was_ "foxy" did not at all mend
matters.

She had stayed on for Ascot week because Loring had wished it. She now
determined to return to America as soon as possible. She had never
suffered in just this way before. She found it almost as excruciating as
the death of love had been. She marvelled at the endless variety of
pain.

That night Olive came to her bedroom for a private chat. She had slipped
on a dressing-gown and brought her cigarette-case with her, so Sophy
knew that she had "things on her mind" which she meant to unburden.

She lounged in an armchair and smoked while Sophy's maid finished
brushing her hair. When the girl had left the room, Olive looked at her
with affectionate but keen curiosity, and said abruptly:

"Sophy, you must forgive me, because I'm so _vewy_ fond of you--but ...
are you _weally_ as happy as I want you to be?"

Sophy returned her look quietly.

"Who is _really_ happy?" she said.

"Well ... _I_ am ... at times," replied Olive.

Sophy couldn't help smiling. She knew that this "at times" meant when
Olive was deep in some love-affair.

"Is this one of the times, dear?" she asked lightly, hoping to change
the subject.

Olive nodded, making little rings of smoke with the lips that were still
so smooth and fresh--though she had a big girl of sixteen.

"It's because I'm so happy myself that I want _you_ to be happy, too,
darling," she murmured.

"It takes such different things to make different people happy, Olive,
dear."

"Oh, love makes _evwybody_ happy--while it lasts!"

"Yes--while it lasts."

Olive crushed out her cigarette thoughtfully. Then she said in a musing
voice:

"Isn't it _atwocious_ of it not to last?"

Sophy had to laugh out for all her sore heart.

"Very atrocious," she admitted.

"Just suppose one could _contwol_ love," Olive continued, still in that
musing voice. "What a divine place the world would be! _Evwy_body would
be happy _all_ the time, then. Nobody would be bored--nobody would
divorce--nobody would be disagweeable."

"Nobody would need a God or a philosophy," supplemented Sophy.

"But as it is, they are _most_ necessary," said Olive seriously. "Which
is it with you, Sophy?"

"Both," replied Sophy. She was not smiling now.

"With me," said Olive, "it's first one and then the other. I'm afraid
I've a very _fwiv_olous nature, Sophy. I _can't_ seem to keep to one
thing, _all_ the time. But you, now...."

She gazed again at Sophy with that affectionate, meditative curiosity.

"You seem made for a _gwande passion_, Sophy. And yet...." She
hesitated; then went on quickly: "Now _do_ forgive me ... but, somehow,
I don't feel as if you'd found it ... even now."

This "even now" sent the blood to Sophy's face. She sat very still,
looking at the monogram on one of the brushes with which she had been
playing as Olive talked.

"Are you vexed, darling? You mustn't be vexed. It's only because I'm so
_twuly_ fond of you. Now Mr. Loring is awfully nice, and immensely
good-looking, and ... and all that. But...." She hesitated again, then
went on as before: "The _twuth_ is, Sophy--that he's _much_ more the
sort of man I might fancy, than your sort. He's ... he's ... you see, he
_stwikes_ me as too _fwivolous_ for you, you _sewious_ darling!"

Sophy said, in a flat, tired voice:

"Don't you mean he's too--young for me, Olive?"

"Oh, no! _No_, darling! Fancy! How wi_dic_ulous!" Her tone was the acme
of sincerity. "I never had such an absurd thought for one moment! I only
meant that he's ... well ... a bit larky for any one like you. And ...
and ... he's so ... so twe_men_dously Amewican ... and you aren't, you
know...."

"Yes," said Sophy wearily. She wished with all her might that Olive
would go away. She was very fond of her, but she didn't like even those
kindly little fingers fumbling at the latch of her heart. She wanted to
be alone--in the dark.

"Were you _des_perwately in love with him, Sophy?"

This "_were_ you" hurt almost as much as the "even now" had done. Was
her state of mind so apparent, then, that even affectionate but flighty
Olive had divined it?

She got up, and went round the room as though in search of something. As
she moved about, she said casually:

"Dear Olive, do you think I would have married again if I hadn't been
very much in love?"

"No. Of course not," replied the other absently. She had not at all said
what she had come to say. Suddenly she too rose, and went over to Sophy.
She flipped an arm about her shoulders.

"Darling," she said. "You are so _wowwied_.... I can't bear it!... I
know perfectly well what's wowwying you.... The fact is Jack and I
talked it over before I came in here just now.... I'm going to be
perfectly _fwank_.... May I?"

"Yes ... do ... please," said Sophy. She was pale now. She had felt
something of what was coming as soon as Olive mentioned John Arundel.
"Go on, Olive ... please do. I beg you to," she urged, as the other
still hesitated.

"Well, then, my sweet--would you like Jack to speak to Mr. Loring--oh,
_vewy_ tactfully, of course! ... but just make him understand, you know,
that one doesn't ... that it isn't ... _cus_tomawy ... for people to
joke ... er ... in that way ... with ... er ... personages like Mr...."

But Sophy broke in on her. She felt that she could not bear the sound of
the overwhelming name whose owner Loring had called "foxy" to his august
countenance.

"Yes, yes ... do!" she said hurriedly. "I'll take it as an act of the
greatest kindness and friendship on Jack's part. Tell him so from me.
You see, Morris is so young and so ... so 'American,' as you said." She
forced a smile. "The bump of reverence isn't much cultivated in my
native land, you know...."

"I know," said Olive soothingly. "But we _weally_ make allowances for
that, you know. It isn't _at all_ as if an Englishman had called that
old gwandeur 'foxy.' You see, Amewicans think so _vewy_ differently from
what we do." She was rattling on in her affectionate desire to mitigate
Sophy's mortification by showing her a comprehending sympathy. "Why, I
knew the most _charming_ young Amewican girl once ... and she told me,
as a _gweat_ joke, that when she was pwesented to the Pwincess Louise,
she said: 'Hello!'... Now, you see, she _weally_ thought that was
funny--and what Amewicans call 'smart.' You see, it's just the different
point of view, darling. And we _all_ understand _that_. I'm sure that
Mr...."

"Never mind, Olive," Sophy broke in again. "If Jack will make Morris
understand ... that such things aren't done ... I'll be very grateful.
More grateful than I can say."

       *       *       *       *       *

Olive was more thoughtful than ever as she returned to her own room. She
stood in a brown study for some moments when she reached it, then went
and tapped on the door of her husband's dressing-room.

It was nearly one o'clock, and, attired in his pyjamas, he was swinging
a light pair of Indian clubs before going to bed. He put them down as
his wife entered and said:

"How did it come off? Awkward thing to do--eh? Was she huffy?"

"'Huffy'!... She was a _Sewaph_!... Oh, Jack"--she dropped limply upon a
chair-arm--"it's _twagic_!"

"I felt tragic enough at luncheon, that's certain," replied he grimly.
"But what's tragic now?... If Sophy wasn't offended by your suggestion?
You really made it, I suppose?"

"Yes. I did," said Olive curtly. "But I'm not thinking of _that_ any
longer--I'm thinking of Sophy. I'd _so_ hoped she was happy _this_
time!... But she isn't ... she isn't...."

"How could she be ... married to a young bounder like that?" asked
Arundel.

Olive shook her head.

"No, Jack. He's _not_ a bounder ... that's what's so puzzling. There's
_something_ w'ong with him--but he's _weally_ not a bounder...."

"Well, no ... perhaps not," admitted he grudgingly.

"But there's certainly something damned 'wrong' with him."

"Yes. And Sophy knows it as well as we do ... only she has to _pwetend_
not to. Now isn't that _twagic_?"

"Yes. Hard lines ... poor girl!..." said Arundel. He had always been
very fond of Sophy. "First she gets a Bedlamite like Chesney--then this
... this lurid Yankee."

Olive began giggling in spite of her genuine concern. "Lurid Yankee"
seemed to her so exquisitely fitting an epithet. But she stopped as
suddenly as she had begun.

"What _is_ w'ong with him, Jack?" she took it up, deeply pondering once
more. "You're a man ... you ought to be able to say at once."

Arundel pondered also.

"Perhaps it's a form of National swagger," he ventured at last. "That
sort of way they have of implying 'I'm as good as a king, and better,
damn your eyes!' It's odd to me that an American of this type will
condescend to bend his knees in prayer. They'd call up the Lord over a
telephone wire if they could."

"Maybe it's the way they're brought up, Jack."

"Oh, they aren't 'brought up'!"

"Well, then ... maybe it's that."

Olive's heart was sore for her friend. She was as loyal in her
friendships as she was fickle in her loves. She lay long awake as she
had predicted, thinking it all over.

"Sophy ought to have made a _gweat_ match, with her gifts and charm and
beauty," she reflected sadly. "And she goes and mawwies that _howidly_
handsome boy."

Just as she was drowsing off, however, a consoling thought occurred to
her:

"But he must have made _divine_ love!" she reflected, smiling. And this
smile lay prettily on her lips as she slept. To be "made divine love to"
was, in Olive's creed, compensation for most of the ills of life.



XXIII


John Arundel was quite as "tactful" in speaking to Loring as he had
assured his wife that he would be. He merely took advantage of the
first opening and said in a by-the-way-my-dear-chap tone that a certain
guest then at Everstone was accustomed to a rather exaggerated homage,
and might, he feared, take umbrage if too often jested with. He said
that lions, especially aged lions, were not noted for their sense of
humour. He alluded to the fact that no less an one than Huxley had once
ventured to be playful in replying to the Personage in question, and had
received only a thunderous roar in return. That, in fact, the Personage
had never pardoned the Scientist for venturing to use irony in this
discussion. It was all said in the most casual way, and interspersed
with amusing examples of the Personage's unyielding sense of his own
not-to-be-trifled-with dignity. But Loring was very quick at taking
veiled meanings. He himself had feared that he had gone just a bit too
far on that occasion. Now he was sure of it. He gave no sign, but a
mortified resentment smouldered in him. He detested John Arundel. He
would have liked to blurt some rudeness and leave his house on the
instant. This civil, middle-aged Englishman reading him a lesson on
behaviour in the guise of anecdotes that characterised the peculiarities
of the celebrity whom he, Loring, had made too free with, filled him
with fierce indignation. His helpless wrath was trebled by the fact that
John Arundel was in the right, and managing a difficult thing with
consummate good-breeding. He had not been so angry in just such a way
since, when a boy of ten, his youngest uncle had boxed his ears for
speaking impertinently to his grandmother.

Pride kept him from mentioning the matter to Sophy, however. He only
said the next time that he saw her alone that he "guessed he'd had about
enough of the Lemon-groves of England, and would she please get a move
on for 'Home, sweet home.'"

Sophy knew from this speech that John Arundel had uttered the "word"
suggested by Olive. She also knew, from the harsh slang in which Loring
addressed her, that he was deeply incensed. He always used this sort of
language when irritated. But she gave no more sign of her real feeling
to him than he had given of his to Arundel. What was the use? She was
only too glad, too relieved, to be returning to America at short notice.
England seemed strange and distorted to her, viewed through the mental
atmosphere in which she now moved, like a familiar landscape changed by
the alchemy of an evil dream.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sophy found a letter from Mrs. Loring awaiting her in New York. The poor
lady was at Nahant suffering from an acute attack of arthritis, with a
trained nurse in attendance.

As always, Loring was very restless and ill-at-ease in the presence of
sickness. He darted gingerly in and out of the sick-room twice a day,
like a nervous terrier investigating a thorny hedge-row. Mrs. Loring was
sweetly grateful for these flitting visits.

"Morry is always so dear and unselfish about telling me good morning and
good night when I am ill!" she said to Sophy. "He has always had a
horror of illness since his earliest childhood."

Sophy looked at her with wonder, and with a pitying regret. She recalled
Spencer's chapter on "Egoism versus Altruism." She thought how well it
would have been for Mrs. Loring and Morris, had his mother marked,
learned, and inwardly digested that chapter.

Mrs. Loring said that her chief regret at being ill just at present,
however, was that Eleanor and Belinda were arriving from France
to-morrow. "You see, this was to be Belinda's 'coming-out' season at
Newport, and I'm afraid Eleanor won't go to open the house without me.
She is very much attached to me," the poor lady ended, with restrained
pride. "I'm afraid she won't consent to leave me until I'm well again."

"I should think not!" exclaimed Sophy warmly. "And I shan't leave you,
either, until you're far better than you are now."

"Thanks, my dear. That is very, very sweet of you. But," she added
anxiously, "don't let Morry get an idea that I think I've any claim on
you. You know what was said: 'Forsaking father and mother'--I wouldn't
have my boy think that I would take his wife away from him, even for a
day, for my selfish pleasure."

"Oh, _dear_ Mrs. Loring!" cried Sophy. Both affection and exasperation
were in her voice. She put her cheek down against the long, feverish
hands. She wanted to shake and to "cuddle" the suffering lady at one and
the same time.

"You're a very sweet woman, my dear," said Grace Loring faintly. "I
assure you, I appreciate it that Morry has such a wife as you. He was
always so difficult. If only Eleanor would be sensible and take Belinda
to Newport. The child will be so disappointed! I confess this worries me
very much."

"But, dear Mrs. Loring, why should you worry? Even if Mrs. Horton won't
be a selfish pig and leave you here to suffer all by yourself? It's so
perfectly simple. Belinda can come to us."

"Would you?... Really?..."

Mrs. Loring had ventured to hope for this solution once--but the fear
that "Morry" might find it annoying had made her repress it. She now
added quickly:

"But you would have to find out--tactfully, my dear--indirectly, as it
were--whether Morry would object in any way."

"Why should Morris object, if I don't?" asked Sophy, a little brusquely.

"Ah, my dear ... men are very peculiar!" sighed Mrs. Loring, in reply to
this question. This phrase summed up her entire view of sexual
questions. Men were "very peculiar." All her married life had been spent
in adapting herself to the "peculiarities," first of her husband, then
of her son.

Sophy felt that all argument would be quite useless.

"I don't think Morris will mind at all," she said, in another voice.
"It's always gay and pleasant having a beautiful débutante in one's
house. It will make me really feel the 'young matron' that our journals
call me. Have you any photos of Belinda since last year? She was very
handsome then. She must be still prettier now."

"Eleanor sent me one taken of them together, about two weeks ago. It's
there--in my writing-table. The left-hand upper drawer...."

Sophy found the photograph, and took it to the window. Mrs. Horton was
seated, with Belinda standing just behind her. The photo showed how tall
the girl was--as tall as herself, Sophy thought she must be. And it gave
also the buoyant pose of her head, and fine athletic shoulders. But no
photograph could even indicate Belinda's extraordinary colouring or the
vivid mobility of her expression--and her beauty was largely a matter of
colouring and expression. Still, Sophy thought her very handsome
indeed.

When she told Morris that evening about her idea of having Belinda stop
with them in Newport, he looked startled at first, then glum. The fact
was, the memory of that kiss of two years ago "upset" him (as he would
have expressed it) whenever it was recalled to his mind. He had always
thought Belinda "a bit cracked." One never knew what she was going to
say or do next. The prospect of Belinda established upon his hearthstone
did not at all appeal to him.

"Oh, Lord! Why the devil did my mother have to choose the Newport season
for a spell of rheumatics?" he said crossly.

Sophy looked at him with real curiosity in her eyes. Then a desire which
she had long felt and often repressed got the better of her.

"Morris," she said, "has it ever occurred to you that you are very
selfish to your mother?"

"_I?_.... _Selfish_ ... to my _mother_?"

"Yes."

"'_Selfish_'?"

"Yes, really."

Loring exhaled a long breath.

"Well, I like that!" he remarked at last. "You do have the queerest
notions, Goddess. It seems to me I've done nothing for years but hike
down here to this rotten old place, just when I wanted to be doing
something else ... merely to please my mother--and now you calmly
suggest that I'm selfish to her!"

"And how long do you stay?"

"Why, you know as well as I do. A fortnight. A great deal longer than I
_like_ staying, I can assure you!"

"Two weeks out of every year...." said Sophy musingly. "It is a good
deal of time to spare a mother...."

Her eyes were dancing. She could not help it. He looked such a picture
of injured innocence.

Loring was utterly unabashed.

"It's really rather a shame of you, Sophy, to say I'm selfish to my
mother. You'd better not let _her_ hear you say it-- I'll give you
_that_ tip!"

"Don't worry. She'll never, never hear me say it. She'd be just as
astounded and outraged as you are, I'm sure--even more so."

Loring had to let it go at that. He contented himself with growling
sulkily:

"What all this has got to do with that little half-tamed leopardess
being quartered on us at Newport, I'm blessed if _I_ can see...."

"Only that it would please your mother immensely and take a great load
off her mind."

"Suppose you don't like the girl when you see her? She's as wild as a
hawk--or was two years ago."

"A leopardess and a hawk--that sounds interesting. I don't mind anything
but bad-temper."

"Oh, she's good-tempered enough when she's not riled. But a girl like
Belinda's a devilish responsibility. I don't take kindly to the notion,
I'm free to confess."

"Don't _you_ like her?"

"Ye-es," he admitted grudgingly. "It's only that she's such a handful."

"Well--we can but try it," said Sophy thoughtfully. She gave him one of
her warm, friendly smiles. "There's really nothing else for us to do,
Morris," she said. "Mrs. Horton can always be sent for if we can't
manage her. But perhaps she'll like me. Perhaps she won't be wilful and
wrong-headed at all. You see, eighteen is very different from sixteen."

Morris made a remark that was psychologically profounder than he knew.

"The Belinda sort never get 'different'; they only get more so...." he
said. "But I see your mind's made up.... Go ahead.... I only hope we
shan't both regret it."



XXIV


Belinda and her mother arrived at Nahant late in the afternoon of next
day. Sophy had tea waiting for them. When she had greeted Mrs. Horton,
and that lady moved aside to make way for her step-daughter, Sophy
flinched a little just as one does when sunlight is flashed suddenly in
one's eyes from a mirror. There was really a glare of beauty from
Belinda. Her skin and eyes seemed to give out light rather than to
reflect it.

She was dressed in silky, red-brown linen. Under the wide, turnover
collar of her white blouse was a loosely-knotted tie of purple. A purple
toque pressed her autumn-tinted hair against her jet-black eyebrows. Her
skin was like nacre, her lips like petunia petals.

Looking at her, Sophy felt sure that if souls could have colour,
Belinda's soul was a brilliant purple, like stained glass--like the tie
that rose and fell with her splendid young breast as a moth sways with a
flower.

Belinda gave her hand to Sophy in silence. Her eyes were as busy with
Sophy as Sophy's with her. Belinda had peculiar eyes. They could be as
dense and impenetrable under her thick, white lids, as glossy red-brown
nuts shining from between the white lining of their hulls. Again, they
could throw out garnet sparkles and become limpid as wine. They had
their dense, horse-chestnut gloss as they regarded Sophy.

"What an extraordinary-looking girl!" Sophy thought.

Belinda was thinking:

"Yes ... she's beautiful ... but I bet she's an icicle when Morry's
blazing...."

Why she thought this, she could not have said. But she felt sure of it.
And it comforted her. She was so convinced of her "right" to Morris that
she regarded Sophy, not exactly as a wilful thief, but as a receiver of
stolen goods. Morris had stolen himself from her (Belinda), in a manner
of speaking, and Sophy had accepted this gift which he had no right to
make. Belinda was fair-minded. It was not Sophy's fault, because though
she had received stolen goods she had received them unwittingly. Morris
was the culprit. Belinda had long solaced herself with the thought of
how delightful would be the task of meting him his just punishment. Now
she looked at Sophy and wondered. She was wondering how this strain of
coldness that she felt in her rival affected Morry. And she clenched
herself against Sophy's beauty; for she did not belittle it, though she
thought it cold. But she had no real fear of it. Was she not eighteen
and this woman thirty-two--or nearly thirty-two? Belinda felt youth to
her hand like a bright sword. For two years she had been muttering as
she fell asleep, and as she waked: "Morry shall divorce her and marry
me." That kiss had sealed her his, and made him hers. She was unusual in
that she was lawless in method, but worked to law-abiding ends.

She had not the least idea of throwing her cap over the windmill for
Morry. She meant to keep house with him in the windmill and pay all
proper taxes on the grist it ground for them. It would be hard to find a
more determined character than Belinda. She had the sort of will that
decides to accomplish an object without bothering in the least about
ways and means. She had, as it were, the religion of the Will. She would
be inspired, she felt sure, in just the right way at just the right
moment. She had the faith that not only counts on removing mountains
into the sea, but depends on the sea's extinguishing them if they chance
to be volcanoes and their peaks left unsubmerged.

She thought of her own passionate love for Morris as a sea into which
many mountains might be cast and overwhelmed. There would come the
destined moment--the tidal wave would rush gloriously inland. All would
be swept clear--a bare, clean space whereon she would build their palace
of delights.

Belinda was one of the women-children who are born knowing things. She
came of Lilith rather than of Eve. She had no low curiosities, because
from the beginning she seemed to have been aware of everything. A wise
Brahman looking on her would have seen the latest incarnation of some
fearless Courtesan, destined in this particular existence to aspire to
the domestication of her lawlessness. For some past deed of mercy on her
part, the Lords of Karma had decreed that in this life respectability
should be the modest guiding-star of her wayward feet. For though
Belinda would always be in spirit her lover's mistress, she had no
faintest idea of being other than his wife in the eyes of the world.

So she looked at Sophy, and wondered how much she really loved Morry.
She was sorry for her, in a way, but this emotion of indulgent
compassion did not render her a whit less implacable.

And Sophy, observing her closely, tried to analyse the strange effect
that the girl had upon her. She felt a powerful force emanating from
the whole scintillant young figure--yet she felt as strongly that, for
her at least, Belinda had not "charm."

But then Belinda did not have charm for other women. She was
essentially, from her cradle, the type of "man's woman" in one of its
completest forms. Not the Griselda type, but the type that led Antony to
set sail after the fleet of Egypt.

Loring had been right when he called Belinda a "kitten Cleopatra."

She was one of nature's perfectly amoral and shameless triumphs--_la
femme courtisane_ flung out as rounded and complete as a golden bubble
on the wind of destiny.

The three women sat down together, and Sophy poured tea. Loring was out
motoring, but Sophy said that she expected him any minute. He had meant
to be back by the time they should arrive.

Belinda was quite composed at the idea of meeting Morris again. She had
schooled herself for this meeting. An admirable phlegm was hers, as she
sat stirring in the six lumps of sugar that she always put in her tea or
coffee; she loved sweets like a harem woman. Wisdom had come to her with
her eighteen years. She knew now that her "wisdom was to sit
still"--that this is the highest wisdom of a woman in love with a man
who is not in love with her. She was sure that she had subtler means of
"touching" Morris than by any outward show of feeling. That forceful
emanation which flowed like a thrice-rarefied scent from the girl's
personality, and which even Sophy had been aware of, was like the
infinitely volatilised aroma by which the female of the Emperor Moth
calls the males to her. Belinda thought it was her will. But it was the
will of Nature working through her.

Mrs. Horton and Sophy talked about the crossing and Grace's arthritis.
Belinda sat silent. She could be both silent and still at times with
beautiful completeness. Bobby came in. Harold Grey, his English tutor,
came with him. Sophy saw him blink as his eyes caught the shine of
Belinda. "I hope there won't be any nonsense there," Sophy reflected,
her mind already bent to the _chaperon's_ habit. She thought she saw now
why Morris was so apprehensive about having the care of Belinda during
her first season. Bobby made polite bows to the ladies, and shook hands
with them. Then he went and stood at his mother's knee. Harold Grey was
introduced and subsided modestly into the middle distance, but upon a
chair from whence he could observe Belinda's shining profile in a
mirror.

Bobby, meantime, gazed so earnestly at the girl that she spoke to him
about it. She did not care for children. But Bobby had a certain strong
masculinity even at seven that caught her attention.

"Well, young man," said she. "What's wrong with me--eh?"

"Nothing,", said Bobby succinctly.

"Then, why are you staring at me with such round eyes?"

"'Cause, if you don't mind, I like to."

Belinda gave her lovely grin which disclosed both rows of teeth. She had
"grown up to her teeth," as Mrs. Horton put it. And she knew how to
smile as well as grin. She had practised every variety of smile before
her mirror. But on Bobby she turned the full brightness of her old
hoyden grin. He grinned back, delighted.

"I say, youngster, you're beginning young, ain't you?" she asked. "Come
here and tell me why you 'like it.'"

Bobby went, nothing loath. He was not at all a shy child, though he was
very reserved as a rule.

Sophy could not have said why she was surprised and rather disappointed
at the evident fancy which he had taken to Belinda Horton. She did not
divine that even the seven-year-old man vibrated to the spell of
Belinda's surcharged femininity.

Bobby lounged against the girl's knee and stared up into her face out of
sober, dark-grey eyes.

"Well?" said Belinda, taking his chin in her strong fingers and shaking
it slightly. "_Why_ do you like it?"

"'Cause you're beautiful," said he boldly.

Belinda laughed, ran her hand the "wrong way" over his face, and picking
up a lump of sugar, pressed it between his willing lips.

"There!" she said. "If you were older, 'twould be a kiss--but I believe
little boys don't think kisses as sweet as sugar."

"I think _yours_ would be," he returned promptly, having tucked away the
lump of sugar in his cheek.

"Bobby!" called his mother. "Don't be forward...."

"Oh, don't snub him ... please," Belinda said. "He's not 'forward'--but
he's going to be a dreadful flirt. My! young man, but you're going to
lead the girls a dance when you know how--ain't you?"

"I know how to dance now," said Bobby.

"You do, hey? Well, you shall dance with me some time. Would you like
that?"

"Ra-_ther_!"

Sophy, however, didn't at all like this unusual, bold-eyed Bobby who was
lolling against a stranger's knee as though they had been intimate for
years, and "giving her as good as she sent." She cast a meaning glance
at young Grey, who had just finished his cup of tea. He rose obediently,
though he felt the deepest sympathy with Bobby.

"Time for your boxing lesson, Bobby," he said.

Bobby pressed closer to Belinda. He looked at his mother.

"Couldn't I stay a _little_ longer, mother?" he pleaded. "'Cause Cousin
Belinda's just come?"

Sophy didn't want to appear a prig. She glanced again at Harold Grey.

"You must ask Mr. Grey," she said.

"Mr. Grey" was between two fires. He said somewhat lamely:

"I'm sure Miss Horton will excuse you, Bobby. He has his boxing lesson
and his history to prepare for to-morrow," he added, in explanation.

Belinda smiled this time--it was a discreet smile, but disclosed a
dimple in the cheek next "Mr. Grey."

"Hard lines, Bobby!" she murmured. "I think I _must_ be nicer than
boxing and history!"

"I should _think_ so!" he cried with fervour. "Mr. Grey knows it,
too...."

Harold Grey blushed. Belinda laughed delightedly. Sophy rose and took
Bobby by the hand. She was laughing, too, but quite firm.

"Come, Bobby," she said. "You can see your Cousin Belinda as much as you
like to-morrow."

Bobby, thus admonished, resisted no longer. He made his most formal bow
to the company and marched off with his tutor. Belinda rather resented
being thus deprived of her youthful admirer.

She looked smilingly at Sophy.

"My! but you've got him in good training, haven't you?" she said lazily.
"Have you got Morry trained like that, too?"

Mrs. Horton made a nervous movement.

Sophy took it tranquilly.

"You must judge for yourself," she replied, also smiling. To herself she
said: "This girl has a vulgar mind ... and I'm afraid she's taken a
dislike to me."

Loring entered a moment later. He, too, blinked when he saw Belinda. It
was not so much her beauty that made him blink as her full-fledged
"young-ladyhood." He had not realised that the tucking up of her
brilliant mane and the letting down of her skirts would produce so
complete a transformation.

He came forward rather consciously, kissed his aunt perfunctorily, and
said:

"Hello, Linda!"

"Hello, Morry!" she returned, lying back in her armchair and looking
serenely up at him. But into her lazy eyes there had come a glint of
garnet. The talk was general for a few moments. Then Loring said that he
wanted a cup of tea. He rang, and Biggs brought fresh tea-things.

"I'll make it for you," said Belinda. She glanced at Sophy. "If _you_
don't mind?" she said.

"Of course not. Thanks!" said Sophy.

Belinda busied herself with the tea service. She had well-shaped, very
white, very deft hands. The White Cat in the fairy tale must have had
hands like Belinda's--just so velvety and agile.

Morris watched them curiously. It was odd--but Belinda's hands had
"grown up," too. He remembered them tanned and scratched--regular
"paws." Now they were white-cat paws, soft as velvet even to look at.

"How funny!" he said suddenly.

Belinda lifted an eyebrow.

"What's 'funny'?"

"Your sitting there so demurely making tea for me."

"Why shouldn't I sit demurely and make tea for you?"

"Oh, I don't know! You see ... I remember you shinning up trees and ...
and that sort of thing."

This speech rather halted at the end.

Belinda thought correctly that the memory of that kiss had interfered
with the memory of her tree-climbing. Her spirit purred within her.

"I daresay I could 'shin up' a tree quite well nowadays," she remarked.
"It doesn't at all prevent one from making good tea."

As she spoke, she nipped a lump of sugar in two between her strong
little fingers, and dropped one half into the cup she was preparing for
him.

"I say!" exclaimed Morris. "How you do remember things!"

Then he flushed.

"Oh, yes ... I remember things," said Belinda easily.

She poured cream into the cup and pushed it towards him.

"There...." she said. "If you haven't changed ... entirely ... that's
the way you like it."

Sophy and Mrs. Horton were deeply absorbed. Sophy had just told
Belinda's mother about the plan of having Belinda stop with her at
Newport. Mrs. Horton was delighted. They were now discussing the
question of dates. Sophy thought that perhaps she had better arrange a
coming-out ball for Belinda before the girl appeared in society. In that
case, she had better go first to Newport, and Belinda could join her in,
say, ten days. Mrs. Horton called over to her daughter, happily excited:
"Linda, you are certainly the luckiest girl! Just listen to what Sophy's
going to do for you...."

And she explained with enthusiasm.

For some reason, Belinda, who did not colour easily, grew suddenly red.
Then she tossed back her head and looked at Sophy.

"It's _awfully_ good of you...." she said. "I think it's most _awfully_
kind of you...." she repeated. Her voice had real feeling in it, and
yet, queerly enough, Sophy sensed that this feeling included resentment
also. The girl was certainly a very peculiar character. Was it that she
did not like receiving favours which she could not return? She looked a
haughty creature. Yes--doubtless that was it.

"It will be a great pleasure for me to have you," Sophy said. "I shall
love bringing out the beauty of the season."

She said it nicely without a hint of patronage. But now this odd girl
grew quite pale.

"Thanks! That's awfully kind of you," she murmured again. What had
turned her pale was the thought that Sophy should take pleasure in her
own undoing. She was quite relentless, but she had the sort of qualm
that might have stirred a very young Nemesis, when precipitating the
first tragedy on her appointed path.

After this, the talk again became general for a few moments; then Sophy
took Mrs. Horton to see her sister, and the others went to dress for
dinner.



XXV


At dinner-time Loring had another shock. This was the sight of Belinda
in evening dress. It was the full glare of her beauty that now smote
him, together with the sense of her having become suddenly some one
else. This was another person altogether--a new Linda. And yet Belinda
had sought to temper the effect of her first appearance thus attired.
She had a superstitious feeling that her coming-out ball at Newport was
to mark an important crisis in her life. Her gown for that occasion had
been carefully selected in Paris (by her--not by her mother). That is,
she had selected the gown as the one in which she meant to burst upon
Loring in the full splendour of her new womanhood. The ball would
furnish this opportunity.

She was sorry to have to lessen that cherished effect, even by this one
appearance in demi-toilette. So she had chosen the soberest gown in her
wardrobe. It was of dark purple chiffon. The long, _mousquetaire_
sleeves veiled her glinting arms. Her white breast was also veiled. But
nothing could subdue the flame of her ruddy coronal of hair. An oval
mole, black as her eyebrows, lay in the hollow of her white throat--one
of those outrageously perfect imperfections with which Nature loves
sometimes to seal her masterpieces. This mole was the final touch on the
heady lure of Belinda's beauty.

Loring's eyes were drawn to it unwillingly again and again. He marvelled
that he did not remember it. He even wondered if that "little devil!"
had not painted it herself upon the snow of her throat.

And whenever he looked at the soft, jet-black mole on the white throat,
that kiss of two years ago flamed in his blood as it had not flamed at
the time of its bestowal. But he was decent enough to be ashamed of this
feeling. He answered Belinda rather briefly on the few occasions that
she spoke to him. Somehow he did not trust her. Somehow (though this he
did not acknowledge to himself) he dreaded her. And he glanced from her
to Sophy--telling himself how much more really beautiful Sophy was in
her soft grey and pearls than Belinda in her pansy purple and rococo
necklace of amethysts and strass. But for the first time, against his
will, Sophy's beauty struck him as cold. And yet it was not cold,
though, within it, Sophy herself felt chill and numb. She, too, was
obsessed by Belinda. It was not so much the girl's flaring good looks
that obsessed her, but the thrilling, imperial youth of her. Sophy felt
as a wilting, cut rose might feel, looking from its crystal vase upon a
vigorous sister-blossom still rooted in the warm earth. It was a
wretched sensation. Sophy hated herself for feeling it, and yet each
time that she glanced at Belinda it swept over her afresh.

The dinner was rather flat. Only Mrs. Horton was in really good spirits.
She was quite elated and happy over the idea of Belinda's going to stop
with Sophy at Newport. Her "coming out" would be much "smarter" and more
brilliant under Sophy's chaperonage than under poor, dear Grace's.

Belinda, for her part, was rather depressed by Sophy's appearance in the
grey gown that filmed like smoke about her beautiful bare shoulders.
Belinda had not taken in quite how lovely her rival was when she had
first seen her that afternoon in plain white linen. And just as her
youth troubled Sophy, so the mystery of experience in Sophy's dark-grey
eyes troubled Belinda. She had a moment--one bitter, stinging moment--of
feeling not _quite_ so cock-sure about the future.

And Harold Grey, nervously eating far more than he wanted in his effort
not to look too often at Belinda, was thinking how sure he was that his
mother would pronounce her "not quite a lady," and yet how much more she
attracted him than any of the most genuine "ladies" that he had ever
seen. "Don't be an abandoned ass," he kept telling himself. "You're an
infant's tutor with a fat salary paid you to keep your place. Now keep
it--confound you!"

Loring knew that his mother had some old-fashioned prejudice against
having champagne served every day for dinner, and as a rule he
submitted, though grumblingly, while he was at Nahant. But to-night he
felt that he must have the cheering beverage at all costs. Besides, his
mother was ill in bed upstairs. Old Biggs looked like a disapproving,
Methodistic owl when the order was given. It violated his principles as
Mrs. Loring's butler of twenty years' standing, to serve champagne to a
family party of five.

"I'm afraid it will hurt your mother's feelings, Morris," Sophy
ventured, as Biggs left the room with a very rigid gait.

"Pooh! Why need she know? Such a silly notion, at any rate! And we ought
to drink Linda's health--after her two years in foreign parts. You like
champagne, don't you, Linda?"

"You bet!" said Belinda. She flashed both rows of teeth in pleased
anticipation.

"Linda!" expostulated her mother, just as in old days. She turned
appealingly to Sophy:

"Now I ask you _what_ was the use of my sending her to an expensive
Pension school in Paris for two years, if she comes back talking like
this?"

"Oh, for God's sake, let her be natural, Aunt Nelly!" put in Loring. "If
you only knew how refreshing it is to hear one's own lingo after six
weeks or so of England!"

"Didn't you like England, Morry?" asked Belinda.

Loring grinned in the direction of Harold Grey.

"Mr. Grey's presence keeps me from answering with entire candour," he
said, a veiled sneer in his voice. He disliked the presence of Bobby's
tutor in his household extremely. Harold Grey was an acute young man. He
realised this dislike on Loring's part, and returned it with vigour but
discretion. He thought Bobby's step-father "just a bit of a cad." He now
said composedly:

"Pray don't consider me."

But Loring replied: "Oh, there's plenty of time ahead! I'll give you my
sentiments in private, Linda."

Belinda glanced from him to Sophy.

"But _you_ like it, _don't_ you?" she asked.

"Yes. I love England," Sophy answered quietly.

Harold Grey had a "cult" for his pupil's mother. He thought her very
wonderful in every way. Now, when she said in that deep, sweet voice of
hers that she "loved England," he felt that she was really to be
worshipped. And he wondered for the many hundredth time, _how_ she could
have married that "gaudy cub." Dependence of position made Harold even
harder on his employer than Lady Wychcote had been. But then he shrewdly
guessed that it was really the wife and not the husband who employed
him. He was already aware of the antagonism that existed between Loring
and Bobby. "Breakers ahead there, I should say," he told himself.

At Sophy's reply to Belinda, Loring cast an irritated glance at her and
said:

"Oh, Sophy's an out-and-out Anglo-maniac--quite rabid on the subject, in
fact. You can't take _her_ opinion. You wait till _I_ talk to you,
Linda!"

Neither the look nor the tone escaped Belinda. She also saw that Sophy
winced from them--that colour stole into her face and that her lips
tightened a little. Here was a useful sidelight. So Morry was as hotly
American as ever! That was good. Then Sophy must jar on him at times;
for Belinda had decided that she was not very American, not even very
Southern. Belinda thanked her stars that she herself was so aggressively
a daughter of Columbia.

"See how severe Sophy looks at my daring to jest on such a sacred
subject," Loring continued. "By Gad! Sometimes I believe she wishes that
we'd remained a Colony of Great Britain!"

("Blithering brute!... Can't you see she's only annoyed because you're
jawing this way before _me_?" thought Harold Grey wrathfully.)

But the truth was, that Loring had never forgiven Sophy for the off-hand
lesson read him by John Arundel. He half suspected that she had "put him
up to it, by gad!" That visit to England had left a big bruise on his
_amour propre_. And he "took it out" on Sophy now and then in some such
way.

The champagne was served. Belinda's health was drunk. She finished that
glass and began another.

"Be careful, Linda," cautioned her step-mother. "You're not used to
wine, you know."

All Belinda's dimples began to play like a throng of elves.

"Oh, _Mater_!" she cried. She leaned forward and squeezed Mrs. Horton's
dry, brown hand in her velvety white one. "You're too innocent and
guileless to run loose in this wicked old world by yourself ... you
really are!"

"What do you mean by that extraordinary speech, Linda?"

"Why ... as if the girls at the Pension didn't get bottles of fizz
smuggled in to them, any old time! Why, whenever we had a spread on the
sly, _some_body's cousin, or brother, or mash slipped us a quart or so
of champagne...."

Mrs. Horton looked really aghast. Loring roared. Harold Grey couldn't
take his eyes off those twinkling dimples, but in his heart he said: "By
Jove! She's a larky little baggage!"

Sophy was the only one who took it calmly. She had decided all of a
sudden that there was a good deal of "bluff" about Belinda--that she was
of the type that enjoys "shocking people." She said with a smile:

"I don't think you need look so horrified, Eleanor. I believe that
Belinda is taking what she'd call 'a rise' out of us."

Belinda only laughed, but she was vexed that Sophy should have seen
through her. She had not given her credit for such astuteness. The fact
was, that she had never had so much as a sip of champagne while at
Madame de Bruneton's excellent Pension. But she found this family meal
very dull, she hated seeing Loring in the bosom of domesticity.

However, she won more by her impish tarradiddle than she had looked for.
Morris turned to her with something of the old devilment in his eyes and
said:

"By Jove, Linda, I hope it's not all bluff! I hope you _are_ a
good-enough little sport to enjoy a glass of wine. Good cheer loves
company as well as Misery."

Belinda took it in like lightning. Sophy was one of the prigs who do not
care to drink even in reason. Poor Morry!

She smiled at him, letting her eyes turn full on his for the first time.

"Of course I enjoy it!" she said. "I _love_ the funny little
'razzle-dazzle' feeling it gives me! But the greatest part of the fun is
drinking it _with_ some one.... Some one you like, of course."

"By George, you're a little brick, Linda! Have some more...."

"No," said Belinda, still smiling, and putting her hand over her glass.
"'Enough's' _heaps_ better than a feast.... I like to sparkle, but I
don't want to boil over...."

"Oh, Belinda! _Belinda!_" said her step-mother.

Sophy came to the rescue.

"An old negro said the best thing I've ever heard about the way that
champagne makes one feel," she remarked lightly. "I gave him a glass one
Christmas at Sweet-Waters. He'd never tasted champagne before, and I
asked him if he liked it. He said: 'Laws, Miss Sophy--dat I does! I
feels like I'se done hit dee funny-bones all over me!'"

While every one was laughing at this, she rose. Harold Grey excused
himself to "write letters." "Good riddance!" Loring muttered to Belinda,
as Harold disappeared and they followed Sophy and Mrs. Horton towards
the drawing-room.

Loring was in his usual after-dinner state--not tipsy, but over-excited.
He flashed a side-glance of appraisal. "You've bloomed into an
out-and-out beauty, Linda. But I don't suppose you need me to tell you
that."

"I think I rather do, Morry."

"Oh, cut it, Linda! Don't try the 'maiden-modesty' act on me.... You
know as well as I do that you're a dazzler."

They had lingered by the front door, instead of going on into the
drawing-room. A full moon was rising. As Belinda stood in the open
doorway, one side of her face and figure was silver, and one golden from
the hall lamps. She looked like a wonderful figure of mingled fires. In
the strange illumination of her face, her eyes burned dark and full. She
and Loring leaned against the opposite door-jambs, gazing at each other.

"I can't get over your being 'grown up,'" Morris said a little thickly,
as she did not reply to his last remark.

"Yes ... I'm 'grown up,'" she said softly. She kept looking at him. Then
she looked at the sea, then she looked back at him again. "It's nice ...
being a woman," she added, still in that very soft voice.

"'Nice'?" asked Loring, with a short laugh. "You find it 'nice'?"

"_Very_ nice," said Belinda.

She smiled suddenly. Her teeth glistened with a strange silvery lustre
in the moonlight.

"Why?... Don't you?" she asked, her voice slightly shaken as by withheld
laughter. It was going to be easier, after all, than she had thought.
She did not realise that Bacchus had as much to do with it as Venus. She
only knew that Morris was vibrating to her nearness, that his blood was
trembling in him.

As he did not answer, she put out her hand and laid it lightly on his
breast.

"Don't you?" she said again.

"Don't I what?" he asked rather crossly.

That hand was like a white flame to his drink-stirred blood.

"Oh, Morry!... What a fraud you are!..."

She laughed smotheredly like Lorelei through some soft, warm wave. "What
an awful fraud you are, Morry!... You pay me compliments and all the
time you're thinking what a nuisance it's going to be, having me at
Newport this season!"

Loring looked at her oddly. Then he looked down at the white hand which
still lay against his breast.

"Take your hand away, Linda!" he said curtly.

She took it away and turned it about before her in the moonlight, gazing
at it consideringly.

"Poor little old hand!" she breathed pityingly. "You've offended the
king...."

She held it up between them, again laughing.

"Must I cut it off?" she asked teasingly. "Will you cut it off for me
and 'cast it into the fire'?"

Loring said nothing. He leaned there looking at her darkly. He hated her
and desired her. It was the old emotion, under whose stress he had once
kissed her, magnified tenfold.

She straightened suddenly and was close to him.

"Why are you so horrid to me, Morry?" she said, in a vehement whisper.
"What have I done to vex you? I think it's cruel of you ... my first
evening at home ... my first 'grown-up' evening with you...."

He saw her lips trembling. It made him quite breathless to see those
full, rich lips trembling so near his.

"I don't mean to be horrid," he said constrainedly.

"But you are ... you _are_!..." she insisted. Her voice hummed with
passion like a 'cello string. "You _are_!..." she repeated. "What have I
done that you should order me not to touch you--as though my hand were
poisonous?"

"I ... I'm nervous this evening...." he said lamely. He knew that he
should have turned and gone forthwith into the drawing-room. He simply
couldn't. The Purple Emperor aroma--the Belinda magic--held him
thralled. Belinda wanted to fall forward on his breast and have her
laugh out in the dark warmth of his embrace. But the time was not yet.
Some day they would laugh together with love's wild, kiss-broken
laughter over this comic interview. But not now.

"Are you sorry you were so horrid?" she murmured.

"Oh, yes ... naturally!..."

She had her velvety finger-tips against his mouth in a flash.

"Then kiss it ... beg its pardon!" she said.

Loring snatched down her hand and ground it between his.

"Linda! You little devil!... You little _devil_!..." he said.

He pushed her from him, then swung her to him violently. He loosed her
hand and gripped her hard by both shoulders. This grip was brutal and
painful. She found it delicious to be hurt by him. That was her type.

"Let me tell you ... let me tell you," he gasped, and this gasping voice
also filled her with joy, "you'll play with fire once too often, my dear
... just once too often.... Burns don't make becoming scars.... Now
leave me alone!"

He flung her off in good earnest this time, and strode away to the
library. His pulses were racing--his blood pounding. He was scared. He
did not mean to be false to Sophy for a worldful of Belindas. Not that
his love for Sophy was what it had been. The old ardour was clean gone.
He found her cold. He felt cold to her. Yet something in him clung
blindly to what had been--to the revealed self in him that Sophy had
once called forth.



XXVI


According to agreement, Belinda arrived in Newport two weeks later, the
day before the ball. When she came downstairs next evening, dressed for
the occasion, Sophy thought that she had never seen so palpitantly
gorgeous a creature. It was not her gown that was gorgeous, but the
beauty that it illumined like sunlight catching a cloud. Belinda had
told her step-mother that the regular dress of débutantes was "not her
style." "I should look perfectly absurd in white or blue with rosebuds,"
she had said, with acumen. So she had selected a costume of shaded
apricot chiffon. The rich, fruit-coloured stuff made her breast and arms
look white as peeled almonds.

An old necklace of brilliants and topaz lay like flecks of sunlight on
her milky throat. Belinda never wore modern jewelry. She had an
astonishing gift for decking her own rather extravagant beauty in
precisely the right way. A twist of golden tissue was threaded in and
out through her burnished hair, and held in place by a clot of topazes.
These jewels hid one ear, and their brilliant hardness cut against her
cheek. It is impossible to describe the strange allurement of the
glowing, yellow gems, thus pressed against the soft damask of the young
cheek. An Eastern woman gets this effect by wearing heavy bangles that
dent the flesh of the upper arm. Sophy could not explain why this
cluster of topaz over Belinda's ear seemed to savour of perverseness--of
an adroit and cunning perverseness. It was certainly charming--yet it
repelled her. She reminded herself listlessly that Belinda's whole
personality rather repelled her. It was a matter of temperamental
aversion--for she felt sure that she also repelled Belinda.

Perhaps for this reason they were particularly civil to each other. And
Sophy had certainly been kindness itself about this ball and the girl's
visit to her. She had even chosen her gown for the evening with
reference to Belinda's. She was all in black and silver. She looked
pale--not her best. Those warm, dusky stains were too marked under her
eyes. She felt at ebb-tide. But Belinda was like a great, joyous,
sunlit, inrushing wave.

"You are very beautiful in that gown, Belinda," Sophy said. "You look
like sunlight."

"And you look like moonlight--on lilies," said Belinda, who could say
very pretty things when she chose. Yet as she said it she was thinking
how glad she was that she herself was red-rose rather than lily! How
typically a splendid tiger-lily she seemed in her orange gown, she could
not have imagined. The black mole on her throat was just like the mark
on a tiger-lily leaf.

When Loring joined them, he said:

"What the deuce! You look like a mandarin orange in all that yellow,
Linda!..." But his eyes said something else. Belinda was quite
satisfied. When he added fretfully: "Why d'you stick that lump of jewels
over one ear, like that? This isn't Turkey or Hindustan...." she was
more pleased than ever. She knew that the hard glitter against her soft
cheek allured him, and that his pettishness only meant that he didn't
wish to be allured. But his reasoned wishes didn't matter in the least
to her. It was the unreasoning, uncontrollable wish at the depths of his
nature that she meant to call forth. "Love" she named this Wish. The
pride of the eye and the lust of life seemed the true glories of being
to Belinda. Her creed was simple. To love, to enjoy, to laugh with all
the strength of one's body--these were the exhilarating ends of
existence.

The ball went merrily. Belinda had the success that might easily have
been predicted. In contrast with her, the other young girls seemed like
pale-hued flowers on some tapestry at whose centre glows a rich blossom
worked in gold. She danced and danced without getting dishevelled or
red, or pale. She looked the embodied Joy of Living, as she swayed
tirelessly, a faint, secret smile just parting her lips, her head thrown
slightly back. And the young men with whom she danced seemed also washed
out and inadequate beside her--very insufficient twigs to support the
radiant, full-blown blossom of her beauty.

But as the evening wore on, though she still smiled, a little flame of
anger and disappointment began to burn her heart. Morry was evidently
hard-set against her. Not once had he asked her to dance. It was very
shabby of him. It was cowardly. She knew very well that he was afraid of
her. She loved his fear of her, but she hated this dull, "proper," tame
resistance that wouldn't dare even one dance with her. Then suddenly her
spirits leaped. There would be the Cotillion. He would _have_ to dance
with her some time during the Cotillion! Her opportunity came with the
"Mirror figure." She sat on a little gilded chair in the middle of the
ballroom, one gold-shot foot thrust out. She was more than ever like
Lorelei, as she sat there with the little silver mirror in her hand,
coolly touching her tossed hair into place, while she waited for the
swains to kneel foolishly before her.

Sophy, who had not danced this evening, stood near a doorway watching
her. To her, the girl in her apricot draperies, looking at herself in
the silver glass with such perfect _disinvolture_, seemed suddenly like
a beautiful Falsehood who had stolen Truth's mirror and was trying to
see what it revealed. For somehow, as she had watched her during the
evening, the intuitive conviction had come to her that Belinda was very
false. And yet Belinda was perfectly true--to herself. What to Sophy
would have seemed falseness, would have seemed to Belinda "being true to
herself." She really thought it "being true to herself" to take Morris
for herself, if she could, by any means within the limits of
conventional propriety and at any cost to any one--but herself and,
within reason, him.

Young men by the score came and knelt at the golden shoes of Belinda.
She sent them all away, with the most charming effrontery. Then Sophy
saw Loring approach. He looked pale and sulky.

She watched the two curiously. It seemed as if Belinda were going to
flout Morris also. But all at once she laughed, and pressed the mirror
against his upturned face. It was an odd gesture--almost like a caress.
Sophy thought that it displeased her because of something in it that she
could only characterise as "bad form." The next moment, she saw Morris
pull the girl rather roughly up into his arms, and waltz off with her.

A woman standing near by said spontaneously: "What a beautiful couple
they make!"

Yes. Sophy saw that, too. They were really quite wonderful floating
about to the sensuous rhythm in each other's arms. And all at once the
thought flashed to her: "How well they suit each other in every way!"
She stood gazing after them--singling them out from the whirling throng.
And her thought returned to her, enlarged, more distinct: "He ought to
have married her ... not me." The more she watched them, the more this
thought possessed her. Belinda would not have bored him with ideals.
Belinda would not have been bored herself by the "social stunt" as
exacted in New York and Newport. Belinda would have found that visit to
England "bully fun." She would have joined with him in "poking up the
highbrows." Nor would Belinda have objected to wine-bred love--of this,
somehow, Sophy felt particularly sure. Yes; in all things they would
have been fittingly mated. In age, in taste, in habits, in temperament.

Just here Loring himself passed by her on his way out of the room. The
waltz was over. He walked rapidly like a man towards some object. His
face was white and set and his eyes black. Sophy could not know that he
was drunk, not with wine but with Belinda. She slipped out into the hall
after him. Only some servants were standing about--not near them. She
detained him an instant, her hand on his arm. "Morris--don't be
vexed...." she said very low. "But don't take any more--just this
evening. Your cousin's first ball...."

He flung off her hand. His face worked. "For God's sake, go your way,"
he said, in a violent whisper, "and let me go mine! I'm tired of
squatting on the steps of the temple. Let up on me, for God's sake! _I_
don't interfere with _you_!..."

He was gone. And obeying a very natural if reprehensible impulse, he
drank a glass more of champagne than he had intended to before Sophy
spoke.

She turned and went quietly back towards the ballroom. To-morrow she
would think things out more clearly. Certainly they could not continue
as they were now. She had not meant to "nag." Yet she had nagged. Sophy
had rare largenesses in her. She was neither as hurt nor as angered by
Loring's words as most women would have been. She had reached that very
chill room in Love's House, where it is easy to put one's self in
another's place.

"But I can't go on like this ... not _all_ my life," she thought
wearily. Yet she saw no way out. The thought of divorce never occurred
to her. She hated divorce as she hated other vulgarities. Yet,
illogically enough, this view of the matter was only applied to her own
case. She heartily and thoroughly approved of it for others. She even
thought that marriage should be a civil contract, dissolvable by the
mutual consent of both parties, or by the resolution even of one.

A woman of whom she was rather fond--Helen Van Raalt--spoke to her
suddenly, touching her shoulder from behind.

"Sophy, dear, I'm _dreadfully_ sorry to be so late! I had to take May to
Fanny's party first, you know. And we've only _just_ got away. And I've
brought an old friend of yours along with me--my cousin--Marco
Amaldi...."



XXVII


Sophy found herself with her hand in Amaldi's. She wanted to laugh
nervously. She could think of nothing clearly for a moment.

Amaldi noticed how pale she was. She did not seem less beautiful than he
remembered her, but his heart winced, for he thought that she looked
ill.

He had the advantage of Sophy in this sudden meeting, because he had
been prepared for it. However, "preparation" in such a case is something
as if a man imprisoned for years in a dark dungeon should "prepare" to
see the sunlight. As much as he might school himself, he would be sure
to quake to his inmost core when once again it flooded him.

Amaldi had tried hard to forget. If he had not forgotten he had at least
succeeded in dulling the edge of his feeling for her. But it was by time
and work that he had chiefly commanded his love.

He flung himself into all sorts of agricultural and civic reforms and
enterprises. Political life, as an end in itself, did not appeal to him,
but he thought with Cavour in regard to the "need which every worthy man
feels of making himself useful to the society of which he is a part."

Then had come the news of Sophy's marriage to Loring. Amaldi had had
another bitter recrudescence of feeling over that. He was filled with a
contemptuous anger against himself for what seemed to him a
poor-spirited fidelity. He was nothing, had never been anything to this
woman who spread devastation through his life. He had always despised
the love that starves on in faithful submission. He would on every
occasion have altered where he alteration found, and bent with the
remover to remove--only he discovered that it was not in his power to do
so. This emotion which had seized him without his volition or consent,
proved stronger than his will. Even though he succeeded in curbing it,
though it lay in chains, as it were, in the profundity of his being--yet
it stirred and threatened at the idea of any other love. It was like a
jealous, ill-governed prisoner who will not share his cell.

This one, supreme flame had burned out in Amaldi all capacity for loving
any other woman.

As the years passed, however, a calmer temper rose in him. Reflecting on
those early days of his love for Sophy, he realised that he had demanded
much while offering little--that he had been unreasonable in expecting
her to love him under the circumstances. Why, indeed, he asked himself
one day, four years after he had parted from her so stormily--why truly
should she have loved him? His whole effort at that time had been to
repress himself. He had never been truly himself when with her, so much
of his will had been absorbed in trying to restrain his passion. He had
been silent, reserved, conventional. Yet he had expected her to return a
feeling, whose depth and intensity she could not possibly have realised.
Now for the second time she was the wife of another man....

No reasoning, no philosophy, no lapse of time could save Amaldi from
crisping in the furnace of this thought.

But when, two years afterwards, his agricultural interests made a
journey to America seem necessary, he faced the probability of meeting
her again with tolerable coolness. He was nearing forty and he
considered life a discipline to be endured with hardihood. His character
had deepened and strengthened.

The Marchesa, in daily contact with him, found a dear companion, though
his habit of long silences seemed to increase with growing years. To his
inmost self she never attained. She did not know whether any chord of
his former passion for Sophy still vibrated. He never alluded to her.

The situation in regard to his wife was just the same. When the Marchesa
looked at her son's fine, sensitive dark face, grown stronger for
controlled pain, and realised that in all likelihood no compensation
would ever come to him, she felt that incomparable bitterness with which
we watch the suffering of one for whom we would gladly die.

She might die for Marco ten times over, yet he would never really live.
"Two women have seen to that," she told herself bitterly. Yet in her
more rational moods she did not blame Sophy. She had known her too
intimately to blame her. No--that Marco had loved her was not Sophy's
fault. There had been in his love for her that inevitability which
characterises true passion as well as true poetry.

       *       *       *       *       *

And Sophy, standing now with her hand in Amaldi's after all these years,
had at first no thoughts that could properly be called thoughts,--the
memory of the three windows in the room where she had first met him--of
how it had seemed to mean something, and yet had meant nothing, like all
else in her life....

Then with a shock that "brought her to," as it were, she recalled how
she and Amaldi had parted from each other six years ago, and the colour
welled into her face.

He knew what she was thinking of. He, too, was thinking of it.

Mrs. Van Raalt was chattering again. "Just think what an odd thing
Marco's been doing in America!... He's been all over the West studying
the system of agriculture. Isn't that the funniest way for an Italian to
spend his time in America?"

"But you've been in America before, haven't you?" said Sophy
mechanically.

She was thinking what an air of race Amaldi had, and how quiet and
strong he looked standing there against the whirling, parti-coloured
background of the ball. Somehow she did not remember in him this
powerful look of manhood. Then she realised--he _was_ more a man. Those
six intervening years had given him this new look.

"Oh, yes," he said, answering her question. "Twice. Once when I was a
boy--once about nine years ago. My mother gave me many messages for you,
Signora--'_tanti auguri_'...."

The Italian words swept Sophy back, and she paled again. This and the
mention of his mother brought so vividly the memory of Cecil's death.

"Please give her my love ... when you write...." she said, her voice a
little shaken. (Helen Van Raalt had turned away with some one.) "I shall
never forget her kindness to me...." she added. As if she felt her words
too formal, she repeated: "I shall never, never forget all her kindness
to me...."

"She will be very happy to get such a message from you," said Amaldi.
He, too, felt his tone to be formal. Yet what could there be between
them but formalities! His heart shook in his breast. He had been mad,
quite mad--a vain fool, to risk seeing her again. He had even thought
that to see her thus, married for the second time, and happily, would
allay the uneasy ache with which he always thought of her. He realised,
in these very first moments, that it was the contrary which had
happened. That half-numbed ache had sprung into a throb of acute pain at
the first sight of her face. And how delicate she looked! Then leaped
the question: Was she only ill ... or was she unhappy?

This thought of her possible unhappiness had not before occurred to
Amaldi. That a woman with such bitter experience to guide her should
make a second mistake in a question so vital as marriage had not seemed
possible. Now as he observed her it seemed quite possible ... even
probable. It took his breath. He felt that he must look strange and so
began to speak casually. After a few moments Sophy said: "I must
introduce you to some of these pretty girls.... They will be thinking me
very negligent."

He followed her submissively. He had come to this débutante ball just
for the opportunity of seeing her. Now he must pay the penalty.

Sophy led him first to Belinda.

"Belinda, this is my friend, the Marchese Amaldi," she said. "This is
the heroine of the ball, Marchese ... Miss Horton, my...." she almost
stumbled--"my husband's cousin," it came out bravely.

Belinda thought that Amaldi looked "a great swell." She set herself at
once to enthrall him. Amaldi lent himself idly to the old, old game.
Belinda had at times the stupidity of all cock-sureness. She went to
bed that night firmly convinced that Amaldi was her future slave.

She said something of the sort jestingly to Sophy. Sophy looked at her
gravely, then she coloured a little and said:

"I must tell you Belinda that the Marchese Amaldi is married. He is
separated from his wife--but in Italy there is no divorce."

"Pooh!" said Belinda airily. "I don't want to be his marchioness.... I
only want to see how a stately dago like that makes love...."

Sophy had not replied. And Belinda, safe in her bedroom, taking off her
jewels with little pussy-cat yawns of replete pleasure, had thought:

"He must have been in love with _her_ once ... when she was younger.
Just common or garden jealousy--her telling me that!"

Then she looked at a little red mark on her white arm, and forgot all
about Amaldi and Sophy. She lifted her arm and rubbed her cheek softly
to and fro over the mark. It had been left there by a violent kiss.

"Oh, Morry ... Morry...." she purred, caressing her own arm where he had
caressed it, full of voluptuous reminiscence. "As if I care whether all
the dagoes in the world have as many wives as Bluebeard!-- My Jove ...
my _darling_!"

And she kissed and kissed the little red seal of love on her arm that
was white like peeled almonds.



XXVIII


Amaldi had gone to that ball braced for two ordeals--the meeting with
Sophy and the meeting with the man whom she had married. He was
introduced to Loring a few moments before he left. Belinda introduced
him. Loring had come up as they sat together on the terrace. A light
just overhead shone directly on his face.

Amaldi had winced from the beauty of that face, as he had winced from
Sophy's look of fragility. He had not the superficial scorn for male
beauty which is felt by the average Anglo-Saxon. He did not fall into
the common error of thinking that women are indifferent to beauty in
men. On the contrary, he knew that some women are as much affected by it
as men are by the beauty of women.

He looked at the perfect Greek type of Loring's face, enhanced by the
intense pallor that over-stimulation always lent it, and he knew (being
a Latin) the terrific spell that such a face can cast over the
imagination.

At that moment, so strong is the fleshly man in even the most highly
evolved being, he could have wished that she had loved a monster for his
soul, rather than this stripling for his beauty. The power of vivid
visualisation is one of a Latin's chief tortures when unrequited love
mocks him. Amaldi could see the beauty of Sophy and Loring in each
other's arms as plainly as though they had stood enlaced before him.

He had said good-night rather abruptly.

As he walked off along the terrace, Belinda had asked scampishly of
Loring:

"Well, Morry, what d'you think of my dago mash?"

"I don't think of him," had been the surly retort.

"Well, I do. _I_ think he's a peach. He's simply stunning to look at
anyhow. So dark and sort of holding his breath at one. A marquis, too,
let me tell you. Don't you think I'd make a nice marchioness?"

"For God's sake, don't play the fool with me, Linda."

She pouted.

"You won't _let_ me play the fool with you! That's why I'm going to see
if I can with my handsome dago."

Loring's reply to this had been to seize her by one arm and jerk her to
her feet before him.

"My bracelet! You hurt me...." she had murmured. He released her arm,
and she stood nursing it against her breast, thrusting out her red lips
over it, saying, "There! there!" to it as if it had been a baby.

"I don't believe I hurt it an atom.... Let me see," he had demanded. She
made him furious--furious with desire and detestation. He loathed her
roguery and wiles, yet they mastered him just as drink did.

"Let me see," he said again, putting out his hand towards her arm.

She yielded it to him with a languid movement, so that it hung a warm,
white weight in his grasp.

"There...." she said, pressing her forefinger into the soft flesh.

It was then that he had set that violent kiss upon it. His lips clung,
drew at the delicate, supple texture. The girl leaned against him half
swooning with the delight of his hot lips upon the coolness of her bare
arm.

She didn't care in the least when, coming to himself again, he flung
away her arm as though it had been a bit of trash.

"Go to bed," he had said roughly between his teeth. "Go to bed and say
your prayers ... you need 'em...."

She had stood laughing softly, as he strode off after Amaldi, towards
the house. She didn't mind his rudenesses because she knew of old that
reaction was sure to follow. He was too good-tempered and easy-going in
his normal state to keep up this savage mood with her. He was only cross
like this when he'd "had too much." And the more brutal he was at such
times, the more apt he was to make up for it by being "nice" afterwards.
She had had some experience of these moods in him even as a schoolgirl.

In fact, the next day Loring, rather ashamed of the hazy memory that he
retained of that scene on the terrace, was very "nice" to her indeed. He
proposed a ride together. This was the beginning of delightful rides
alone with him.

Sophy had given up both riding and dancing for the past two or three
weeks. The truth was that she had not felt very well of late. The
constant, hopeless sense of defeat, of a wearing situation from which
she could see no means of extricating herself, had begun to affect her
body. This sensation of physical weariness was new to her. Always, until
now, her strong, elastic physique had resisted triumphantly. But
nowadays she felt jaded. Everything seemed an effort. Her grey eyes,
which Amaldi remembered so brilliantly eager, had that subdued, waiting
look which comes from either physical or mental suffering constantly
endured. Which of these causes brought that look into her eyes, he felt
that he must know. He could not bear it that her eyes should have that
look in them. What was wrong? Was it her health or was it that a second
time she had made the mistake most terrible of all to a woman such as
she was? In that case....

Amaldi faced himself squarely. There was no escaping the truth of what
he had brought upon himself by his own act. It had needed but that one
sight of her, that one touch of her hand to rouse in him the old love,
as much stronger for the lapse of years as was his manhood. And now ...
what? There was no danger of his repeating his mistake of six years ago.
A great love always, sooner or later, brings humility--the proud
humility expressed in the fine old Latin phrase of the Romish
ritual--"whom to serve is to be a King." To serve her in her need,
Amaldi felt, would confer kinghood of spirit.

"If she is unhappy ... if love has failed her this second time ... if
she has no love left to give me ... even in years to come ... why, then,
at least I can be her friend...." thought Amaldi.

He had reached this "Station" in the Via Crucis of love. He looked back,
wondering, on the man he had been as contrasted with the man he now was.
Had any one told him at thirty that he would some day feel towards a
woman as he now felt towards Sophy, he would have smiled. Yet, within a
decade he had come to know by experience that the intense, sublimated
passion of the _Vita Nuova_ is no exaggeration.

Those who maintain that Beatrice was for Dante merely a symbol of Divine
and Abstract love, cannot realise the miraculous power of metamorphosis
inherent in a supreme, human love withheld from its natural expression.

Love of this kind is clairvoyant and clairaudient. Though he could not
yet discern causes clearly, Amaldi could both see and hear the shadowy
presences that followed Sophy in those days. The one stared with the
eyes of a virgin at her broken cestus, the other plained softly: "Vanity
of vanities ... all is vanity." Why this was, he did not know, but that
it was, he knew certainly. He set himself to watch, with the
watchfulness of the "_Loyal serviteur._"

Within the next day or two he called about tea-time as Sophy had asked
him to. He found her having tea on the sea-lawn with Bobby and his
tutor. Bobby made friends with him at once.

Then shortly Loring and Belinda came in from a ride. It amused Amaldi
that Belinda appropriated him at once. This Attitude of hers suited him
very well. He could see Sophy often in this way, while being considered
"_le flirt_" of Miss Horton. He would also have opportunities of
observing Loring in his own home. This, just at present, was what he
most desired. He wished to find out what sort of man was behind the
persona of that beautiful mask. Now as he responded with discretion to
Belinda's rather familiar chaffing, he thought that Loring's glance was
slightly hostile. He sat sipping a cup of tea in silence, looking at
them every now and then over its brim.

Belinda thought it "bully fun" to flirt with Amaldi "under Morry's very
nose." What a dog in the manger Morry was! He hadn't the courage to
claim her himself, yet he glowered and sulked because another man
responded to her bewitchment.

Sophy wondered what impression Amaldi was really receiving. She could
not help thinking that the fencing between them was much as if Belinda
wielded a bludgeon and Amaldi a rapier. And as this thought came to her,
she winced, remembering that horrible time when she had seen Amaldi
himself use a stick as a sword.

It was Loring's attitude throughout the scene that chiefly impressed
Amaldi. "It is not possible...." he kept saying to himself. "No ... it's
impossible...."

But the more he noticed those sullen, lowering glances of Loring in
their direction, the more he felt that what he declared "impossible" was
a fact.

Was that, then, the secret of Sophy's tired, subdued eyes? Did she still
love that handsome, sulky boy, while he turned from her to this obvious
young seductress? Amaldi felt hot with pain and anger at the mere
surmise. Yet the situation was most likely. And if it were so, Belinda
was "playing him off" to rouse the other's jealousy. "Little minx!"
thought Amaldi in English. It made him furious to think that she might
be using him in this way in the very presence of the woman he adored.

He went away some moments later with a troubled spirit. What could
friendship avail here? He had not realised that part of his high mood
had come from the conjecture that Sophy no longer loved the man she had
married. What had he or "friendship" to do in a _galère_ already
weighted to the water-line with love and jealousy? Hope is so inevitably
one with love, even the love that has decided on the stony path of
"friendship." He had hoped ... what had he hoped? Down the long vista of
years--what was it that he had glimpsed at the far end, as one glimpses
sunlight at the end of a long, dark tunnel? He sat far into the night
thinking--brooding.

But day brought counsel. He decided that he had jumped to premature
conclusions. He determined to pursue the course that he had at first
planned. At least, in this way, he would arrive at the truth. Now he
only fumbled with conjecture. The first thing must be to win Sophy to a
feeling of confidence in their renewed relations.

And very exquisitely, by fine indirection, he put her at her ease with
him--conveyed the impression that time had done its work-a-day task of
sobering passionate emotion into tranquil esteem.

Life had dealt rather harshly with them both. They had both grasped
Illusion--flower of Maya--and been stung by the serpent coiled beneath.
But a friendship such as this was not illusion. It wore no veils--its
speech was plain and sober--it went clad in honest homespun. Had not
Amaldi himself once told her that he was not a sentimentalist? This
honest, daylight feeling that had now sprung up between them had in it
no sentimentality. She did not want sentiment. She wanted this that
Amaldi gave her--communion and stimulus, clear and bracing as a day of
her Virginian autumn. It was so long--so unbelievably long--since she
had talked pleasantly with a man who was interested in the things that
she found interesting. And they would sit often, over the tea-table on
the sea-lawn, before the others came in from driving or riding,
exchanging ideas on philosophy and religion and poetry and art. She
asked Amaldi about his everyday life. He replied smiling that he had
become as ardent an agriculturist as Cavour had once been. Sophy did not
know about this phase in the great statesman's career. She was deeply
interested. It came out that Amaldi had been asked to give some lectures
on the "Risorgimento" that coming winter at Columbia University. The
idea rather pleased him, he said. He thought of taking Cavour as his
chief subject.

Sophy kindled at the idea. It made her own problems and disappointments
seem insignificant to think of the gigantic odds with which that great
being contended all his life, and to selfless ends.

"How worth while it all was--his struggle and his Victory!" she cried.

Her eyes dilated--grew brilliant as he remembered them in other days.

"Yes," said Amaldi, "he really merged his private self in the self of
humanity. Buddha was not more a Buddhist in that respect than Cavour
was."

"And you will stay here this winter, and tell America something of him?"

"I think so ... yes."

It solved for him the riddle of being longer near her without causing
comment.

"Ah," said Sophy, "that will be something to look forward to."

She was utterly unaware of how much this sentence and the tone in which
she said it revealed to Amaldi.

There was, then, an emptiness in her life. But the more that Amaldi
realised the sort of existence she now led, the more he felt convinced
that even love could not have compensated her for such surroundings. He
knew her latest book of poems almost by heart. Their exaltation of
spirit had made him feel when he read them that he had offered his hot,
human love to one of those women who are by nature Vestals.

He, too, had been stirred by that cry, "I am the Wind's, and the Wind is
mine." But with him it had been the cold thrill of appeased jealousy.
"No mortal lover" would possess what had been denied him. There was a
bleak joy in this thought. Then had come the news of her second
marriage.

But in this marriage he now felt that both the poet and the woman
suffered.



XXIX


Amaldi had not yet seen Loring unduly affected by drink. The latter was
on his guard just at that time. His fear of Belinda made him afraid also
of wine. Wine was the Delilah that delivered him bound hand and foot to
her Philistine sister, Belinda.

Sophy noticed this restraint and a faint hope sprang in her heart. She
felt a sort of sad, maternal yearning over Morris--sad, because the part
of mother-wife was but a melancholy one to take, after having played
Selene to his Endymion. She would have got near him if she could. But
he slammed the door of his heart in her face. What we have ceased to
worship we resent, when it is still a part of our daily existence.

Loring resented Sophy's "superiority" as much as he had once adored it.
He blamed it upon her that Belinda was for him "_l'échanson de
l'amour_," the "_janua diaboli_" of the ancient church. If a wife
repulsed her husband, then she need not wonder when he went elsewhere.
It was plainly her fault. Wives should be mirrors--they should reflect
moods--all moods. The woman who locked out her lawful husband, for such
a high-flown reason as that he had taken a "bit too much," deserved to
have him blown away from her on the four winds of desire. What was
marriage for, if not to bind wives to their duties?

But while Loring had grown _blasé_ in his passion for Sophy, his vanity
in the "ownership" of her was still keen. And also, in the depths of
him, he loved her, though with a flat, habituated sort of affection. All
zest had gone out of it. This was why her refusals angered without
piquing him. This was why he feared Belinda. His nature craved ever new
toys, and Belinda was a gorgeously tempting toy. Yet he knew well that
she was pinchbeck compared with Sophy. He had no idea of exchanging the
real thing for the imitation.

He did not mean to give Sophy any serious cause for resentment. Indeed
he was a little in dread of both women. He could not guess exactly what
either would do if too much exasperated. His feeling for Sophy was a
good deal that of the Collector for a unique jewel which he cannot wear,
but which gives him a standing with other Collectors. His feeling for
Belinda, that of an epicure who longs for a dainty that he knows will
disagree with him. But he was rather fond of Belinda in spite of hating
her cordially at times. He found her a congenial pal. He liked her
dare-deviltry when it was not directed against himself. His will and
Belinda's at this time represented the impenetrable wall and the
irresistible ball of the old hypothesis.

And now the little demon chose to madden him by "carrying on" with that
"dago."... Loring was horribly jealous of Amaldi.

He and Belinda were both very careful when in Sophy's presence. Quick
as she usually was in "feeling" things, the common little drama passed
unnoticed by her; so much of it was played "off stage," in the wings.
And her nature was singularly free from suspicion.

Undoubtedly also, the _amour propre_ natural to a beautiful woman who
has been much loved, blinded her. It simply did not occur to her that
Morris could be in love with Belinda. And to Amaldi it never occurred
that Sophy could be blind to what in his eyes was so plainly evident. He
only marvelled at her self-control, and raged futilely at the
humiliation to which she was subjected. It cut him to the quick that she
should care for a cad who "made love" in secret to a wanton girl under
her very roof.

Now, however, Mrs. Horton had come to Newport for a few days. Surely
she, as the girl's mother, would take steps in the matter, which Sophy's
pride had prevented her from taking.

But to Amaldi's intense amazement, Belinda's mother seemed quite unaware
of anything unusual. It was on the third day after her arrival that a
most extraordinary scene took place. The afternoon was misty. Tea was
served indoors instead of on the lawn. As usual Belinda and Loring came
in from a long ride together.

Belinda still kept up an intermittent coquetry with Amaldi, though he
did not meet her with the complaisance of those first days. Italians
particularly object to being used as cat's-paws, even by a pretty woman.
And in this instance Amaldi's natural aversion from serving such a
purpose was increased by his resentment on behalf of Sophy.

Belinda was very wroth with Morris this afternoon. He had chosen to tell
her, just now, with the brutality of self-defense driven to its limits,
that Sophy's "little finger was worth a shipload of her" (Belinda). She
determined to punish him. She dropped into a low chair near Amaldi, and
leaned forward, chin in hand, her lambent, impish eyes on his.

"_Come sta_, Amaldi?" she said. "I haven't seen you for a month of
Sundays. You're really much better looking than I remembered."

"Accept my humble gratitude," replied Amaldi with ironic exaggeration.

She blinked her eyes slowly, pondering this remark. She thought his
dryness the result of her neglect of him for the past week. Poor dear!
He was jealous of Morry. Well, now Morry should be jealous of him.

"What's on that ring?" she asked suddenly. "I hate men to wear rings as
a rule--but that dark blue is ripping on your hand. I suppose you know
you've got dandy hands?"

"You overwhelm me," said Amaldi as before.

"Not much I don't! I know your jeering way.... But I think you'd be
rather interesting to overwhelm all the same ... to really overwhelm, I
mean."

"But I assure you that is my state at present."

"Pooh!" said Belinda, laughing. She drew her chair a little closer.
"Come, you haven't told me what's on your ring."

"My _stemma_--the coat-of-arms of my family."

He did not offer to show her the ring. She bent nearer, gazing at it.

"What's the motto?" she asked, her face close to his hand.

"'_Che prendo--tengo_,'" said Amaldi.

"And what does it mean?"'

"'What I take--I keep.'"

"I believe you!" she exclaimed boldly. She flashed her eyes to his. "You
look as if you'd know how to keep what you chose to take. You've got
such a very 'Don't-monkey-with-the-buzz-saw' air about you. It rather
fascinates me...."

"You raise me to vertiginous heights," said Amaldi in the same tone.

"Oh, come off!" retorted Belinda with her joyous grin.

Sophy was talking with Mrs. Horton and paid no attention to this
murmured dialogue, but Loring's eyes were fixed angrily upon them, as he
sat smoking on one of the cushioned window-sills.

All at once Belinda put out her hand and touched the sapphire that
Amaldi wore--then held up her finger.

"Lend it to me...." she said. "I've fallen in love with it."

Amaldi flushed. The ring had been his mother's. She had put it on his
finger herself the day that he was twenty.

"Well?" laughed Belinda. "What are you afraid of? I'm not proposing to
you.... I shan't steal it...."

There was no other course left him. Amaldi drew off the ring in silence
and held it towards her. He did not offer to put it on her finger.

"'Fraid-cat!" she mocked. She snatched it from him and slipped it on
herself. The ring that had fitted Amaldi's little finger fitted her
third finger perfectly.

She gazed delighted at the carved sapphire against her white, velvety
skin. Then she jumped up and danced away, holding up her hand before
her, and chanting:

"'What I take--I keep!' 'What I take--I keep!'-- You'll whistle long and
loud before you get this beauty back, Amaldi!"

Amaldi was rather pale, but smiling. He said nothing. Mrs. Horton called
sharply:

"What on earth are you about, Linda?-- What are you making such a noise
for?"

"Oh, nothing ... just a little game I've been playing with Amaldi."

"Well do be quieter ... you're really _too_ noisy."

She went back to her talk with Sophy. But though Sophy listened, her
eyes followed Belinda.

Loring got down from his seat on the window-sill, and sauntered forward.
He met Belinda in the middle of the room.

"Go and give that ring back," he said in a low voice.

"Not much!" laughed Belinda.

"Yes, you will."

"You think so?"

"I know so."

"You'll make me, I suppose?"

"Yes-- I will."

"Pouf! Just try it...."

She pirouetted insolently, and he caught her by one arm. Then began a
most astonishing scuffle. Belinda escaped, and rushed to the farthest
end of the room. Morris bounded after her--caught her again. She turned
and twisted in his grasp. Her red-brown mane came down; she struck at
him, tried to bite his hand where it gripped her.

Amaldi sat like an image watching this, to him, appalling game of romps.
His face was as expressionless as a Chinaman's. He thought he had never
looked on a cruder exhibition of sex-provocation. He thought his ears
deceived him when he heard Mrs. Horton exclaim:

"Did you ever see such a pair of children! Linda! Morry! You'll break
something... _Do_ behave! Can't you make Morry behave, Sophy?... Oh,
dear! What do you _mean_ by behaving like this, Linda?"

Amaldi thought this question most unnecessary. He thought Belinda's
meaning only too painfully lucid. He was astounded to hear Sophy's
sweet, natural laughter.

"Morris!" she called. "Belinda! You really shouldn't romp like this
before Amaldi. He'll think you're demented...."

("'Demented!'" thought Amaldi.)

For the first time it dawned on him that perhaps Sophy did not take in
the situation after all. Then he glanced at Belinda, panting, flushed,
bacchante-like, in the grip of the white-faced, angry-eyed man who was
trying to drag the ring from her finger. No! It was impossible. The
others _must_ see a thing so flagrant, so palpable. But Mrs. Horton
continued to exclaim helplessly at intervals:

"Oh, what _children_! What _babies_!"

While Sophy merely sat resigned, waiting for the hurricane to subside.

Loring conquered, of course. He strode up to Amaldi and dropped the ring
into his hand, while Belinda sank down on a distant sofa, gasping out:

"You're a _brute_, Morry!... I _hate_ you!"

Loring gave a short laugh, and strolled out of the room.

Amaldi also took his leave in a frame of mind that may be described as
bewildered.



XXX


But this occasion, which had led Amaldi to suspect that Sophy did not
realise the state of things between her husband and Belinda, was the
cause of her first awakening to something unusual in their relationship.
It was not their boisterous romping which had done this. Sophy was too
used to the fondness of Young America for indulging in this sort of
"high-jinks" to notice particularly the rough-and-tumble of Belinda's
passage with Loring.

She had been troubled by the disgust which she felt underneath Amaldi's
quiet manner. She winced from what she divined to be his point of
view--the point of view of a cultured Athenian watching the holiday
pranks of barbarians. This mortified and disturbed her. But she had only
regretted the bad taste of the scuffle; it had not revealed to her
anything deeper. No--it was Loring's curt laugh as he turned away from
Belinda's cry of "I _hate_ you!"--it was something in Belinda's voice
and look as she gave this cry that had startled Sophy. In the girl's
voice and look there had been such concentrated, vibrating passion; in
Loring's laugh she had heard an echo of the love-laughs of her own
wooing. There was a certain note of secure mockery in it--a threat as of
something controlled--a suppressed secret triumph, that brought the past
giddily upon her.

She had glanced quickly from him to Belinda. The girl's face was
quivering--but not with anger. Certainly not with anger. For though she
frowned, her red mouth tilted upward. Her downcast eyelids fluttered as
though she, too, were veiling some suppressed, triumphant secret. There
was more than her usual almost insolent cock-sureness in the way that
she twisted up her ruddy mane again, holding the amber hairpins between
her strong, glistening teeth as she did so, and looking down in that
veiled, secretive way. It was the air of the diverted pussy-cat who
says: "All right, my nimble mouse--enjoy your seeming freedom. When I
tire of the game, I know how to stop your friskings."

Sophy did not read the exact meaning of this air of Belinda, but she saw
plainly that it indicated a certain secret understanding between her and
Morris.

From this time she could not help observing Morris and Belinda "with a
difference." If it were merely a flirtation between them it was in
execrable taste. She could not help (being human and having loved him so
well) resenting the idea that he should flirt, even in the most
superficial way, with the girl that she herself had brought into their
home. But supposing that it was more serious--supposing that this
self-willed, violent madcap had a real feeling for Morris--supposing
that in his present mood of anger against her (Sophy) he were to revenge
himself by trifling with Belinda?

Sophy could scarcely bring herself to believe him capable of this--yet
there was the possibility. Morris could be very reckless, especially
when driven by resentment. It did not yet occur to Sophy that the
feeling between the two might be mutual.

Her woman's instinct was to guard the girl temporarily in her care, from
the freakishness of her own wayward, violent nature. She thought with
dismay of Loring's constant drinking. What might he not say and do under
the double stress of wine and Belinda's provocative beauty?

And in the week that followed she saw much that made her uneasy, yet
nothing which she could actually fix upon. Certainly nothing that could
give her an excuse for speaking to Belinda. For she had decided that she
would speak to the girl if it became necessary, rather than to Morris.
She recoiled, in all her being, from speaking to him on such a subject.
Besides, she felt that it would only enrage him further. But Belinda
might listen. She might appreciate it, that Sophy should go direct to
her, instead of to her mother.

And still nothing had happened that made Sophy feel justified in taking
such a course, though _something_ there undoubtedly was--something not
just right, not just clear--a tension, a vibration. It humiliated her to
be thus on the alert. She felt like a spy. Yet she felt also that it was
clearly her duty to be watchful if only for the sake of Belinda.

She knew that Morris was in a very exasperated, cruel mood. He nursed
against her the most passionate grievance. She felt that given the
occasion he might go to excessive lengths in his angry desire to punish
her. She knew how vindictive his present temper was, because although he
had been drinking much less of late, he had not sought a reconciliation
with her. But she did not make any advances to him. She had told him one
night at Nahant that she would never again live with him as his wife,
unless he could show her beyond doubt that he loved her more than drink.
He had stared at her, literally dumb with fury. Then he had flung out of
the room, slamming the door behind him. They had never spoken on the
subject since.

One evening, towards the end of the week, Sophy stayed at home by
herself. She looked forward with relief to these quiet hours. She felt
a craving for solitude and music--to sing out some of the pain that was
oppressing her. She dined early and went to what was called "the little
music-room." This room she had had done over for her especial use. The
walls were tranquil and rather bare, of a soft cream colour. A frieze in
subdued tones after a design by Leonardo ran about it. There was only
one painting, a lovely Luini angel with a viol. The dark, polished floor
reflected jars of blue Hortensias. Two church candles on silver
"prickets" lighted the piano. The windows, flush with the sea-lawn, were
opened wide. Through them floated soft, cloud-tempered moonlight and the
deep breaths of the sea.

The room and the hour fitted her mood to perfection. She sat down at the
piano and began thinking aloud, as it were, in what Chesney had called
her "imperial purple voice."

First Russian folk music came to her. She, too, was isolated on the
_steppe_ of her own nature. The desolate words went voluming out upon
the night, in that hushed, dusky gold of the great contralto:

  "Lord, hear us!... Lord God, hear us!
  We are in bondage:
  Like the Volga, in its chains of ice,
  We are bound in the bitter ice of sorrow.
  Be to us as the springtide that melts the ice,
  Arise! Shine! For we sit in darkness
  And in the shadow of death.
  Lord, hear us! Lord God, hear us!"

She looked up as she ended, to see Amaldi standing in one of the open
windows.

"May I come in?" he said. "I shan't be disturbing you?"

She smiled, holding out her hand.

"No. Do come in, Amaldi. You're just the one person who won't disturb
me. I'm music-thirsty to-night. Now you shall play for me."

"But not until you've sung more--please," he said quickly.

"Very well. I'll sing to you, then you'll play for me. It seems strange
that I've never heard you play. But there were always so many people
about. I can't enjoy music--really, in a crowd."

She sang on for half an hour, first more Russian music, then old
Italian. He sat where he could see her face but did not seem to look at
her. Glancing at him now and then, she knew that the immobility of his
dark profile meant intense feeling, not any lack of it. When she would
have stopped at last, he begged for one more song. "Something very
simple--that you especially care for," he urged.

She thought a moment. Then she said:

"If I can remember the music I'll sing you a Scotch song called
_Ettrick_. I loved it so that I made the music for it myself. But it's
been a long, long time since I've sung it----"

Her hands wandered among the keys, gathering a harmony here, a note or
two of the melody. It was as if she were gathering flowers of sound with
her slow, caressing fingers. She found the right opening chords at last,
ventured them softly, then struck full. It was a royal burst of
sound--those chords and her violet voice together: out leaped the glad
exultant words:

        "When we first rade down Ettrick,
  Our bridles were ringing, our hearts were dancing,
  The waters were singing, the sun was glancing.
  An' blithely our voices rang out thegither,
  As we brushed the dew frae the blooming heather,
        When we first rade down Ettrick."

She paused, drew in a deep breath like sighing. The next chords fell sad
and heavy as earth upon the dead.

        "When we next rade down Ettrick,
  The day was dying, the wild birds calling,
  The wind was sighing, the leaves were falling,
  An' silent an' weary, but closer thegither,
  We urged our steeds thro' the faded heather,
        When we next rade down Ettrick."

Then came wild dissonance, and a minor like the wailing of the
wind--then once more the heavy, disconsolate chords, dirge-like,
apathetic. Her voice sounded like a voice wafting back across the river
of death in those last lines of all--so spent and inconsolable it was:

  "For we never again were to ride thegither
  In sun or storm on the mountain heather."

Amaldi sat very still, but his heart raced. Wonder filled him--wonder
and exultation and great pain. She was so marvellous to him--her beauty
of flesh and of spirit--now this added beauty of music. And this soul of
music in her was one with his. They were one in this at least. He felt
that if chance had been less cruel they might have been one in all
things. It seemed hateful and stupid, that the gross senselessness of
circumstance should have set them so far apart. When she ceased singing
he sprang to his feet, went close to her.

"You are wonderful ... you are wonderful...." he said shakenly. They
were both rather pale. She sat looking up at him in silence. Then she
said in a low voice:

"It is a joy to sing to one who understands as you do."

He repeated as if unable to find more fitting words:

"You are a wonderful, wonderful woman. There is no one like you. No one
... no one...."

"Dear Amaldi ... thank you," she said, much moved; and a little confused
by his impetuousness she rose from the piano, reminding him of his
promise to play for her. He submitted reluctantly. It seemed a pity, he
protested, to play after such singing. And now he flushed with the inner
tension of his thought, then paled again--for he was sure now, quite
sure, that love had failed her a second time; her own love as well as
another's. The passion in her voice had been the passion of
renunciation.

He began with an _étude_ of Bach. It was the nun in her mood that he
played to.

As an instrument the piano resembles a woman who speaks many languages
quite well. She speaks to aliens in their different tongues and people
think "what a clever linguist!" But sometime there comes one who
understands her own native language. To him her soul goes forth; he
draws from her true eloquence, the heart's warmth. Glittering facility
is put aside. Soft, sonorous, velvet-voiced the erstwhile brilliant
chatterer becomes a poet singing forth the riches of her secret self.

With the first tones drawn by Amaldi from the familiar that Sophy
thought she knew so well, she caught in a quick breath and leaned
forward. Was that the voice of her own excellent Steinway, that deep,
liquid, ringing sound that seemed to flow from the white keys without
concussion? She sat almost in tears for the perfect sound, the infinite
plaint of the music, as of a soul crying, "My God, my God, why hast thou
forsaken me?" The change to ineffable exultation--the triumph of the
great, crystal-white major chords that seemed to shout, "Death is
conquered!"

"Go on," she whispered when he paused. "Go on ... play me something of
your own this time...."

Amaldi glanced at her, then away again. A strange look had flashed into
his eyes as they rested on hers. It stirred her oddly. There had been
something half-mystic, half passionate in that fleeting look. She
wondered what it was he had thought of as that expression quickened his
eyes.

"Do you remember those lines in _Die Nord See_?" he asked the next
moment.

  "Dort am hochgewölbten Fenster
  Steht eine schöne kranke Frau
  Zart durchsichtig und marmorblass
  Und sie spielt die Harfe und singt,
  Und der Wind durchwühlt ihre langen Locken
  Und trägt ihr dunkles Lied
  Ueber das weite, stürmende Meer."

"Yes. They always cast a sort of spell over me. But what made you think
of them just now, Amaldi?"

"Because they cast a spell over me, too. In fact they haunted me till I
put the story of that 'lovely, ill woman' into music. I'll play that for
you."

Sophy could not restrain an impulse of curiosity.

"Tell me first ... will you--what you thought her story was?"

Amaldi kept his eyes on the keyboard and spoke rather low and rapidly.

"I fancied," he said, "that love had made her a prisoner in that castle.
Then love had died. But love's ghost haunted the empty halls. I dreamed
that her sickness was a sickness of the heart and soul ... the regret
for love ... the fear of the ghost of love."

He began the opening movement as he finished speaking, a wild,
monotonous, plangent cadence, like the rhythmic beat of surf on a rocky
coast.

There is in the life of every artist, of every sensitive and lover, a
supreme inspirational hour, wherein expression seems simple as
breathing, and inevitable as birth and death. Amaldi, who was really
great in music, played that night as never until then, as it was never
given him to play again. Grief and love, these are the mighty angels
that urge genius to its fullest utterance.

As the music poured over Sophy its splendid and tumultuous mystery, she
felt like one chained upon a rock that the high tide overwhelms ...
drowning, suffocating in that passionate welter of sound. The
composition was in itself a masterpiece, but her knowledge of what it
was intended to express lent it a terrible lucidity. That woman in her
prison-castle, alone with the ghost of love--was she herself. It was her
secret malady--her soul's mortal sickness that he was revealing in that
dæmonic candour of superb harmony.

She put up one hand over her eyes, as she sat gathered in upon herself.
She felt as if some barrier were too completely down between them, as
if, in some well-nigh insufferable way he touched the open wound in her
heart.

"He knows ... he knows...." she kept thinking. "He is telling me in this
way that he knows...."

And she could not be sure whether she shrank from his knowing, or
whether it was a relief to her.

There flashed silence. The exquisite, intolerable music ceased, went out
like flame. The dead silence was like a darkness.

Then Sophy forced herself to speak.

"You are very great, Amaldi," she said uncertainly, her hand still over
her eyes. "You ... you should give all your life to music."

He answered in a voice as strange as his look had been just now:

"All my life is not mine to give to music."

She could not think of any fitting response to this. Silence fell again.
She broke it nervously by asking him to play more for her, "something
not quite so despairing." She smiled as she said this, but Amaldi
thought: "She knows now that I know." This gave him a feeling of curious
satisfaction and relief. It seemed, somehow, the beginning of something,
the beginning of a new phase in their relations. Hope had stirred in
him. The future seemed to him vague yet promising like an uncharted sea.

He played for her an hour longer, all the music that she loved best.

They said good-night gravely, avoiding each other's eyes.



XXXI


It was about this time that Belinda came to a momentous resolution. She
said to herself: "I've made Morry feel that he wants me. Now I've got to
show him _how much_ he wants me. I'll just clear out and let him see
what it feels like to miss me."

The process of "clearing out" was accomplished by the acceptance of an
invitation to cruise for a week with an aunt of May Van Raalt. There was
to be a gay party of young people aboard. It was the most natural thing
in the world for Belinda to wish to go.

When, however, she told Morris, during their afternoon ride, that Sophy
had consented to this outing, he seemed to regard it as not only a
highly absurd idea but as a personal affront. In fact he was so
outrageously ill-tempered about it that Belinda was in inner ecstasies
at the sureness of her "inspiration." "If he's like this before I even
start, what _will_ he be like by the time I come back?" she thought
gleefully.

She set off on the day appointed, in high spirits, all the higher
because Morris had refused to shake hands at parting and called her a
"shallow gad-about."

But he was shortly to rest in amazement before the fact of how
excessively he cared. Everything seemed strangely flat without her. He
missed her provocative teasing ... the singing of his blood at her look
and touch. The constant, thrilling struggle with temptation. One
certainly "lived" every atom of the time that one spent near Linda. She
kept existence at high-pressure. One could almost _see_ the little
"nigger squat on the safety-valve" of her pleasure-craft, by George! But
then, too, she was such bully fun to ride with and romp with. Nothing
highbrow about Linda. All the same he wasn't going to let her make a
fool of him. But, by George! she was the sort one missed--confound
her!----

The day after Belinda's departure he was again in the full swing of his
old tippling habit. To do without the stimulants both of drink and
Belinda he found beyond him. But even this remedy proved vain. The
flatness left by her absence was not to be dispelled so easily. The
thought of her dogged him night and day.

With Sophy his intercourse was very restricted. On the occasions that
the conventional exigencies of their life brought them together he
treated her with an aloof and ceremonious politeness. But this manner
was not now so much the result of displeasure as of a growing
indifference.

The thought of Belinda was such an obsessing flame that all other facts
of his existence had become like shadows, Sophy among them. He craved
the girl's return so fiercely that he had no coolness of imagination
left with which to regard anything but that desired and immediate
future. What was to be the result of their reckless, hot-blooded drawing
each to each did not seem to him to matter much just then. All that
mattered was that this hateful, gnawing emptiness should be filled. He
was not used to that hungry cramp of "wanting." Even his want for
Sophy--which had for a time given him the wholesome discipline of the
seemingly unattainable--had been only too soon assuaged. In some way,
somehow ... he was lordly in his vagueness ... this horrid vacuum
created by Belinda must be filled by her.

He rushed into the day's pleasures like one hag-ridden. His play at polo
was maniacal rather than brilliant.

Belinda came back one afternoon towards twilight. She was on tiptoe with
delicious anticipation and curiosity. There was in her mood, also, an
exasperated craving, for in disciplining Morris she had subjected her
own heart to the rod.

The butler said that "Mrs. Loring was out, but Mr. Loring had just come
in." Where was Mr. Grey? Mr. Grey was having tea in his private study
with Master Bobby. Belinda's heart sent up a glad little tongue of
flame. The coast was clear, then. She pulled off her gloves carelessly.
No. She wouldn't have any tea. Did Simms know where Mr. Loring was?
Simms thought that Mr. Loring was in the library. He would go and see.

"Never mind," Belinda said indifferently. "I want a book to take
upstairs anyway. Just see after my trunks, Simms. They'll be here in a
few minutes...."

She went lightly towards the library, through the long drawing-room that
opened into it. Her soft, quick steps in her yachting shoes made no
sound. She stopped mid-way the long room and leaned forward from her
supple waist, peering between the folds of tapestry that veiled the
communicating doorway. Yes. He was there. The lights had not yet been
turned on. He was slouched in an armchair smoking moodily. Whiskey and
soda stood on a tray beside him.

Belinda thought she knew well what he was brooding on as he lounged
there in the deep chair, with the cigarette burning out in his dropped
hand. If she had really known all that he was thinking, her triumph
would have been complete.

She stole up behind him--leaned over. Close to his ear, so that her
warm, musky breath flowed with the words, she murmured: "Have you missed
me?"

Ah ... it was worth that week and many more away from him--this crushing
clasp of all herself against him. She had not known he was so
beautifully strong. It assuaged the fever of her breast to be so
bruised. And that kiss--that endless kiss--she had dreamed of kisses
such as this through a hundred wakeful nights....

Sophy had returned within ten minutes of Belinda's coming. She, too, had
asked Simms where Mr. Loring was, and to her also Simms had replied that
Mr. Loring was in the library, he believed--that Miss Horton had just
arrived and joined him there.

Sophy, too, had gone down the long room towards the library. It was
barely dusk. She could see into the further apartment as plainly as
Belinda had done. What she saw was the girl in Loring's arms, and his
head just lifting from that prolonged kiss. She stopped, transfixed, her
breath inheld.

"You imp ... you witch...." Loring was muttering unsteadily.

"But a '_white_ witch'?" cooed the girl.

Sophy heard him laugh low--that exultant, soft laugh which had once so
charmed and disturbed her in the days of their love. "No, by God! ... a
red witch ... colour of blood ... colour of my heart ... flame-colour
... little devil's colour...."

The passion-broken words fell about Sophy like drifting sparks, as she
hurried away from them in an anguish of panic lest she should be
glimpsed by one or the other of those oblivious, hot lovers.

When she reached her bedroom she was breathless mentally and physically.
Reality had fallen upon her like some clumsy, overtaking Titaness. Its
great bulk, heavy and hot and panting, weighed her down. She felt that
she must drag herself from under that dense weight, or suffocate. She
turned the key in the lock--went and stood by the open window--took off
her hat, her cloak, her gloves, mechanically, with quiet deliberation.
Her movements were all quiet and deliberate. She was saying to herself,
"Let me think.... Let me think ..." as though some one were keeping back
thought from her.

It is one thing to suspect--to surmise. It is quite another to see with
bodily vision. Seeing is believing, they say, yet Sophy felt herself,
her inmost self, refusing to believe what she had seen--and heard. This
was just at first, before she succeeded in freeing herself from that
leaden smothering sense of stupefaction.

Within ten minutes her mind was working with lightning speed and
clarity. Now in contrast to her former state, she had a sense of being
giddily light and uplifted above the situation. It was as if her part in
it did not count at all, as if she were nowhere. Or as if being
somewhere, she was conscious on another plane. She had the mental poise
of a Sylphide, surveying from the cool balcony of a cloud the doings of
two Salamanders in their grotto of flames. This feeling also passed
quickly. She found herself realising that she was Sophy Loring--just
simply and painfully a woman who had seen her husband holding another
woman in his arms.

As she faced this realisation, all of pride in her rose to announce, "I
do not care." But no sooner had one part of her said this, than another
part cried out that she did care--intensely, vehemently. She struggled
to clear her mood. She asked herself harshly whether she had any love
left for Morris. The reply came with mortifying promptness. Whether she
loved him or not, she passionately resented another woman's loving him
and being loved by him. She felt humiliated by the crass, primitive
fibres that this wound had exposed in the substance of her nature. Was
she then capable of a blind, instinctive, mean jealousy, when there was
no real love left to excuse it? She did not know that the jealousy for
what has been is sometimes even more bitter if less keen than that for
what actually exists. She was jealous for all the beautiful, unsullied
past that this present act of his defaced beyond retrieval. But then
there was also the angry fire of wounded pride--of hurt womanly vanity
in her flame of resentment against Belinda. She knew this. It humiliated
her to the core. Then her feeling veered again. She experienced a throe
of such scorn for Loring as sickened her. This in turn reacted into a
sort of wild, impersonal regret for the whole thing--for all concerned
in it--Morris, the girl, herself. It was Othello's cry of unspeakable,
confused anguish that echoed in her heart: "But yet the pity of it,
Iago! O Iago--the pity of it, Iago!"...

She rose suddenly with a quick, determined movement and looked at her
watch. Seven o'clock. She and Loring were dining out at half-past eight.
She must have time to think, to reflect. There must not be a sign of
what she knew in face or voice or manner, until she had thoroughly
determined how to act. She must go to this dinner as if nothing had
happened. She must meet Belinda as she had parted from her. She was
deeply thankful that she and the girl were not in the habit of
exchanging kisses. Sophy had strength of will, but not enough to have
allowed her to kiss Belinda or receive her kiss that evening. And as she
thought of the girl's brilliant, sensual mouth, and of that other mouth
to which it had lately clung--she blushed hot, then cold--for that icy
tingle through all her blood was like a cold and bitter blush.

She spent unusual thought in selecting her toilette for that evening.
She desired to look the antithesis of Belinda, so she chose a gown of
dead white embroidered in crystal. She wished to sign herself to
herself, as no longer belonging to Morris--so she wore with it a circlet
of little diamond flames, one of Gerald's gifts to her.

But little by little her mood of lofty disdain passed finally into
still, hot anger. This flashed its fire into her eyes and cheeks. As
Louise set the diadem of frosty-flames in place, she remarked with
conviction:

"_Madame n'a pas été aussi en beauté depuis longtemps_...."

Sophy had the strangest sense of triumph in defeat, of dark exultation
as she went slowly downstairs towards the drawing-room--the age-old
exultation of the deposed queen who feels that her beauty is greater
than that of her supplanter.



XXXII


Belinda and Loring were already in the drawing-room when she entered.
Belinda stood by a table fingering a vase of Hortensias. She broke one
off just then and twirled it nervously. Loring was lighting a cigarette.
It seemed troublesome to light. His hand shook a little.

Sophy paused just within the door, drawing on her gloves, her eyes on
Belinda. The pale, mauve-blue flower against the girl's flame-coloured
gown made an odd, decadent note. She was all in red chiffon--a silver
girdle about her waist--poppies with silver hearts over one ear.
"'Colour of blood ... colour of my heart...." Sophy thought, and it was
hard to keep her lip from curling to the sneer in her thought.

She spoke while still busied with her gloves. She said that she hoped
Belinda's trip had been pleasant. Belinda said, Thanks, that it had been
"bully." Sophy then glanced at the clock. It was only a quarter to
eight.

"How very punctual we all are to-night...." she said.

Loring said, as if surprised: "By Jove! Yes ... so we are."

He, too, looked earnestly at the clock. A self-conscious laugh followed
his words.

Belinda remarked that as her dinner was at eight _she_ wasn't so very
early. "I ought to be going now...." she concluded.

Sophy finished fastening her gloves and came forward. One of the side
lights caught her full as she did so, and her white figure sprang out
against the shadows of the room beyond with the glitter of snow-spray in
sunlight.

She saw Loring glance at her, then look away. Belinda, her chin a little
down, gazed steadily. Sophy came still nearer. She had been so pale and
listless of late that the delicate, soft fire of her cheeks, and the
dark, bright fire of her eyes was doubly striking. The little tongues of
flame that lit her hair dazzled with iridescence. Her gown, the jewels
in her hair, the light in her dark eyes--all were quivering, glinting.
But she herself was very still. This intense, composed stillness of hers
seemed to make the others restless. They fidgeted--Belinda with the blue
flowers, Loring with another cigarette.

Suddenly Belinda said spasmodically:

"You _are_ gorgeous to-night, ain't you?"

"You like my gown?" asked Sophy, smiling.

"Ripping," said Belinda.

"I rather like it myself," said Sophy. "I hope you like it, too,
Morris?"

"Awfully smart ... you look awfully well...." he murmured.

Belinda left off fingering the flowers.

"I really ought to be going," she said.

"Yes. It's about time for you to go now," assented Sophy.

Her tone was quite even, yet at something in it those two winced.

Sophy had a cruel moment.

"Do you know," she said, "you and Morris both seem rather overstrung to
me. What's the matter? You haven't been quarrelling again already, have
you?"

Neither answered. Sophy repeated it. "Have you?" she said again.

"No," said Loring.

Belinda had taken up her wrap from a chair and was going towards the
door.

"I think the carriage _must_ be there...." she said in a high,
artificially anxious voice as she went. She almost ran into the arms of
Simms, who had come to announce the brougham.

Sophy stood smiling and looking after her. Then, still smiling, she
turned to Loring. It was a peculiar smile.

"Will _you_ tell me what has happened, Morris?" she said, and he thought
her tone also very peculiar.

"'Happened'?... Why, nothing," he stammered.

He was appalled to hear himself stammering. He wondered with panic what
his expression was like. It was in fact so puerile in its look of
nervous guilt that Sophy was wrung with sudden shame for them both--for
the man who looked at her with that weak, apprehensive smirk that sat so
oddly on his pale face--for herself who had stooped to bring it there.
She turned away, saying: "We'd better be going, too, I think."

There was a biting acid of pain at work on her heart now. To have seen
that look on his face--to have brought it there! She, who had once been
"Selene" to him.

Loring stood gazing after her as she walked from him into the hall. Her
beauty struck him as startling. But it struck him as the beauty of the
Snow Queen struck Rudi. It left a sliver of ice in his heart. He was
rather scared by something in her whole look and air. He wondered if
Linda had noticed it. He'd have to talk things out with Linda
to-morrow--take her for a long walk--off on the rocks somewhere. Things
must be got into shape somehow. He had a spasm of sheer terror when he
thought that Sophy might suspect something. Yet he couldn't give up
Belinda. Yet he did not want to give up Sophy. Here again was the
impenetrable wall and the irresistible ball. He had not yet realised
that he alone was not the arbiter of their three destinies. He thought
that it still remained with him to say what the future should or should
not be for himself, for Belinda, for Sophy.

A dance followed the dinner to which they went that night. And Sophy
danced for the first time in several weeks.

As soon as Amaldi saw her, with that tense, bright fever of beauty upon
her, he knew that she was at some crisis. Something of this look she had
had that night in London when he first met her. What was it? What had
brought this strange, "fatal" look to her? Love and apprehension strung
him to the utmost pitch. For he had seen agony under her bright cloak of
exaltation. He feared now that he must have been mistaken. That her love
for Loring still survived.... That this crisis at which she was came
probably from the sudden discovery of how matters stood between her
husband and Belinda Horton.

       *       *       *       *       *

To Sophy that night was horrible. She did not even try to sleep. She
rushed to and fro among throngs of turbulent thoughts, like a lost child
in a Carnival--like one seeking a friend among frenzied revellers. Now
she would think that she had found it--the thought that would befriend
her. Then the mask would slip, and she would see the evil leer of
revenge, or hatred, or personal malice, or self-centred wrath--not once
the kind face of a thought worthy of her. But towards morning it came to
her of its own will. She lay afterwards with closed eyes, spent and
lifeless. That mental travail had been terrible. Now her good thought
lay weakly on her heart like a babe outworn also by the fierce struggle
of birth. It seemed scarcely to live. She had conceived it and brought
it forth, but it was as though there were no strength in it. She lay
there saying: "God ... help ... help...." as she had said so long ago,
in that other dreadful time at Dynehurst. And as then, little by little,
she became aware as it were of a vast Presence, and from this Presence
there seemed to flow the help for which she had cried.

       *       *       *       *       *

Belinda and Loring met very early in the lower hall as though by
appointment. Neither had they slept well, but while Loring looked pale
and rather haggard, the girl's face was fresh and beautifully ruddy with
sea-water and defiant passion. She had come up from her morning dip in
the sea, all tingling with love like Anadyomene.

They had fruit and coffee together, then went for that "long walk to the
rocks." When they were safely out of reach of prying eyes, Belinda
turned, expecting a repetition of yesterday's wild embrace.

But Loring sat with his arms about his knees. He looked harassed and
rather glum. He was staring at the sea. Belinda kept her eyes on him.
She had one of her admirable silences. She half knew what was coming,
but she wanted Morry to "begin it."

"Linda," he said at last, still scowling at the milky-blue of the sea,
"I rather think we're up against it--you and I...."

Belinda's eyes narrowed shrewdly.

"What's 'it,' Morry?" she asked.

He gave a jarring little laugh.

"'It' is ... Sophy."

"Mh!" said Belinda.

"Did it strike you last evening," he went on, "that she was ... well ...
er ... that she was a bit on to things?"

"Yes ... it did."

"Well ... er ... have you any notion why she was like that ... all at
once ... so suddenly?"

Belinda dropped a pebble into a little pool in the rocks just below her.
She leaned over looking after it. Then she dropped in another. She was
smiling secretly. Morris turned his head, as she did not answer. This
smile nettled him somehow.

"Well...? Speak up, can't you?" he said sharply.

Belinda dusted her fingers daintily on her handkerchief, then laced them
behind her head. This gesture drew the thin silk of her blouse tight
over her round breasts. The little hollow behind her waist as she leaned
against the dark rock was just large enough for a man's arm. She looked
down sideways at him from under her thick, white lids and the garnet
sparkles came into her eyes.

She passed it to him coolly.

"Yesterday ... when we were in the library together," she said, "I ...
heard a chair move ... in the next room...."

"What?" cried Loring.

He sat erect. His face went scarlet, then white.

"_What?_" he said again.

Belinda nodded.

"Just that ... a chair ... scraped, you know, as if some one had brushed
against it ... in a hurry."

Loring had his lip between his teeth. His eyes looked black as when he
had been drinking heavily.

"You think ... it was ... Sophy?" he said at last.

"Yes," said Belinda.

"Great God!" groaned Loring.

Belinda's face changed. She took down her arms, and bent forward.

"Look here, Morry," said she in a low, concentrated voice. "_You've got
to play square with me._"

Loring gave her a decidedly unloverlike glare.

"Oh, confound you, Linda," he growled, "don't turn heroics on me at this
hour of the morning. I tell you we're in a hell of a mess."

"_I'm_ not," said Belinda.

Loring couldn't help a grin.

"You're not, hey? Well, I like your colossal cheek," he said.

Belinda shot out her hand, and grasped him firmly by the arm with her
white, soft fingers in which the little bones were strong as steel.

"You look at me, Morry," she commanded. "You look me right in the eyes."

He did so, unwillingly.

"Well?" he said.

"I want you to understand," said Belinda, "that when you took me in
your arms yesterday and kissed me ... like that ... _you took me for
good_."

"Oh, go to the devil, Linda! I tell you I'm not in the mood for
high-mucky-muck talk."

"I don't care what mood you're in, and my talk's plain English," said
Belinda. "You played with me two years ago, but you can't play with me
now. I belong to the man who kissed me as you kissed me yesterday, and
_that man belongs to me_."

"Oh, for God's sake, cut it out!" said Morris, with exasperation. "Who
do you think you're talking to?..."

"The man that belongs to me," retorted Belinda fiercely, gritting her
white teeth at him. "The man that belongs to me ... that has always
belonged to me ... ever since that first time he kissed me ... two years
ago--when I was only a child...."

"I don't believe you ever _were_ a child," put in Loring moodily. "I'll
bet you cast some unholy spell in your cradle...."

"Well ... whatever I was or wasn't-- I'm a woman _now_," said Belinda.
"A woman who loves--who's been loved back--who'll die ... who'll _kill_
before she sees that love wrenched from her."

All blazing, she threw herself suddenly upon his breast. Her soft mouth
offered itself--like a flower--fluttered its honeyed, crimson petals
close to his. Tears of rage and love magnified her ardent eyes. The
pulse of her reckless young breast against his was like the pulse of the
sea against the rock. Loring was no rock. He hesitated--was lost--kissed
her greedily. Grew mad with those intemperate kisses intemperately
returned. Drank and drank of the honeyed, flower-scented mouth.

"We 'belong' ... oh, Morry! say we belong...." Belinda kept sobbing
without tears, the quick dry sobs of passion. "_I_ belong to _you_ body
and soul ... _you_ belong to _me_ body and soul ... don't you? don't you
... body and soul?..."

"Well ... chiefly body," said Loring thickly, with that short,
unpleasant laugh.



XXXIII


They were very quiet for some time after that storm of kisses had spent
itself. Morris leaned back languidly in a smooth hollow of the rocks.
Belinda leaned against him. Her head was on his breast, her arm clinging
close about him under his coat. The buckle of his waistcoat cut into her
arm, but she loved the bite of the little piece of metal that was warm
with his body. It amused and thrilled her both, to feel the everyday
intimacy of his clothing in this sharp pressure of the buckle that
nipped her soft forearm. And she loved the feeling of his strong, lean
waist breathing in the living girdle of her arm. She lay in a daze of
happiness, not thinking of the past or future, or even of the present
clearly. She was _being_ fully--she had no need of thought.

Morris's voice roused her with a start.

"See here, Linda," he was saying. "This is all very fine-- I'd be an
ungrateful beggar to complain if we'd only the present to consider. But
we've jolly well got to consider a good deal else."

"Oh, it'll all come straight of itself, Morry," she murmured drowsily.
"_Don't_ bother ... not now at any rate...."

"'_Now_' is just what's got to be bothered about, you reckless witch....
We'll have the house about our ears if we go on like this...."

"I don't care _what_ comes about my ears.... Your heart's under my ear
now--that's all I care about...."

"Linda! You really _are_ a reckless devilkin, aren't you?"

"Well ... isn't it nice to have me reckless about you?"

Loring gave his short laugh.

"Oh, it's 'nice' enough, I grant you. But nice things have a rather
cussed way of ending nastily, my dear."

"_This_ won't----"

"Come, Linda. Show a little gumption. You say you think Sophy probably
... er ... was probably in the next room ... yesterday. Well, granting
that, do you think things are going calmly on the way we like 'em?"

"Of course you'll have to have a plain talk with her," said Belinda, her
voice taking a practical note.

Morris gave her a little shake as she lay within his arm. She laughed
softly.

"My God! but you're a cool proposition," he said, half laughing, too,
half exasperated again.

"I'm not cool to _you_," wooed Belinda.

"No, you're not," he answered shortly. "And that's just the devil of it
for both of us!"

"Do you _want_ me to be cool?" teased Belinda.

"No, I don't. And that's the devil again."

"Well, what _do_ you want?"

He might have replied truthfully that what he wanted was for Lawlessness
and Law to kiss each other and abide in a beautiful serenity together.
But he had not formulated his own state of mind clearly enough to put it
thus. The worst part of his distress was that it was so "muddled." The
Son of Sirach could have explained it sternly to him. "Woe to the sinner
that goeth two ways," would have been his comment.

"See here, Linda," said Loring again. "You talk confoundedly chipper
about my 'having a plain talk' with Sophy. Have you thought what this
plain talk may lead to?"

"Divorce," said Belinda calmly.

Loring sprang up so violently that she was tilted from his side. He
clutched her just in time to keep her from rolling on to the pebbles.

"Look here," he said, very white. "I've been rather a cad to make love
to you as I've done ... but I'm not an out and out scoundrel."

Belinda faced him, as white as he, brow and hands clenched.

"You _will_ be," she said through her locked teeth, "if you don't
divorce and marry me."

"My God...." breathed Loring, actually bewildered by her utter disregard
of all principle. "Where'd you come from?... _What_ are you?..." He went
close and caught her fiercely by both arms. "_What_ are you, you little,
lawless wildfire?" he repeated.

"I'm your heart's desire ... your heart's desire...." she crooned, half
mocking, half cajoling.

He dropped her arms and turned away. The touch of her had set him in a
fever again. Nothing would come clearly to him. He raged against her in
his heart, but the tide of his blood set resistlessly towards her. He
stood with his back to her, biting his knuckles, glowering out at the
bright sea.

Belinda waited, with her little secret smile. She loved the aching of
her arms where his fierce grip had bruised her. She was very sure of
him. She waited for him to come back as patiently as a fisherman waits
for the up-rush of a pike that is sulking under the boat. Belinda rocked
gently in the boat of her own love, and waited with smiling patience for
her sulky lover to rejoin her.

But when Loring did finally turn to her again, his mood was not at all
the lover's. He spoke with hard, deliberate precision, biting off the
words at her, as it were.

"If you expect me to insult a woman like Sophy and ruin her life to
please you, you're rather thoroughly mistaken," he said.

Belinda eyed him curiously. Then she made a great mistake. Instinct had
kept her from making it before. Now self-will smothered instinct. She
was so bent on making Morris see this question as she saw it, and
without further loss of time, that she had recourse to an heroic method.

"Are you _really_ as blind as you seem to be, Morry?" she asked.

"'Blind'?" said Loring, rather taken aback.

"Exactly--stone blind."

He said with stiffness:

"I don't catch your meaning."

"Well ... do you _really_ think that Sophy will mind divorcing?"

Loring stared at her blankly. Then he flushed.

"Are you insinuating that she doesn't care for me?" he demanded.

Belinda eyed him again in that sly, incredulous way. Then she said:

"And do you mean to tell me that you haven't noticed a thing of what's
going on between her and the dago?"

"What the devil are you after?" he cried angrily. "I'll thank you not to
hint things about Sophy. She's as high above you as the stars--that's
what!"

"Oh--a kite's high above me, too," said Belinda airily. "What I'm
'hinting' as you call it is only what any one with eyes in his head
couldn't help seeing."

"Come ... speak out!" said Loring roughly.

Belinda gave a sharp sigh, as of disgusted patience.

"Why any _baby_ can see that she and Amaldi are in love with each
other," she flung at him. "Now why do you gape at me like that? I dare
say it began years ago--in Italy, where she saw so much of him...."

Loring could not articulate.

"_Amaldi!_" he stammered at last. "Why, the fellow's sweet on _you_!"

"Pooh!" said Belinda. "He only flirted about with me a bit to make her
jealous...."

"To make ... _Sophy_ ... jealous?"

Loring was talking like a sleep-walker, slowly, with thick utterance.

Belinda began to feel a little uneasy at the very potent effect of her
disclosure. This was a queer, new Morris staring at her. She might have
been a phonograph that contained some record important to him, for all
the consciousness of her personality in his blank stare. He looked at
her a good deal as a man looks at the nearest object when coming to
after a severe blow on the head. This stare of his irritated Belinda and
rather scared her at the same time. Had she gone too far? What was there
in it so shocking for Morry, since he loved _her_, Belinda? She had
thought that he would jump at the easy solution of their problem that it
afforded.

She went up to him, and laid her hand on his breast.

"Wake up, Morry...." she said. "Why in the world should you take it like
this? You look positively doped...."

Morris caught her hand in a grip that was too painful, even for
Belinda's amorous temperament. She gave an angry little miaul of pain.

"Linda ... you little fiend!..." he was saying hoarsely. "You've made
this up.... I know you ... all the tricks of the trade.... What d'you
mean by it, eh? What do you mean by slandering my wife?..." He shook her
to and fro. "Eh?... Tell me that.... What d'you mean?... How d'you
dare?... Eh?... Tell me that...."

Belinda gave him back his savage looks full measure.

"You're a fool...." she sobbed, raging. "You're just a common or garden
fool, Morry! I can't help that, can I? Let me go!... It's not my fault
if you're a fool ... a fool ... a fool...."

He flung her from him so that she stumbled. He saw red ... black ... red
again. He felt choking--murderous. Mere sensual love runs like this,
from desire to hate and back again, to and fro, "swifter than a weaver's
shuttle." At the present moment he had only hate for Belinda. She
herself had lashed awake his jealousy for another woman by her
miscalculated cunning. Sophy was his--_his_. How dare she so much as
look at another man? And this little devil dared to say that she
loved.... He was really transfigured by rage. Even Belinda the dauntless
shrank from him. She had unstopped a very small vessel of malice and out
of it had arisen a black smoke obscuring all her golden heaven of love,
and congealing before her into this fierce, wry-faced Afrit of a man.
She had never seen the male in the grip of real jealousy before--the
man-tiger sensing the defection of his mate. It horrified her,
infuriated her, filled her with a curiously helpless sense of dismay.

He turned suddenly and strode away from her. Then she found her voice
again.

"Morry!" she called. "Morry!"

He paid not the slightest heed. She ran after him, caught him up,
panting.

"_Don't_ go off half-cocked like this," she gasped, running at his side,
for he was literally running himself now over the rough shingle. "I
never meant to hint anything really _wrong_ you know."

She might have been the waves that babbled along the shore.

"What are you going to do?... Don't do anything now.... You'll be
sorry...."

He ran on. She kept up with him. They looked quite splendid, running
shoulder to shoulder through the fresh morning air, against the
background of glinting water.

"Morry ... _answer_ me...."

She was less to him than the air; he had to breathe the air--he had no
need for Belinda just then, in any way. But when they had reached the
levels where other people passed to and fro, he turned on her. He really
looked dangerous. All the brute was up in him--all in him that a man at
Polo had once called "howling cad." This cad now howled at Belinda. She
cowered under it.

"I guess even _you_ know when a man's had enough of you," he flung in
her white face. She dropped back as though she had been spat upon. He
strode on, exulting to be rid of her.



XXXIV


As he reached the house, he met Amaldi coming from it. It was only
eleven o'clock in the morning, an odd hour to call, but Amaldi had not
been to call, he had only stopped by for a moment to leave some music
that he had promised Sophy. He was most anxious to have news of her
after his anxiety about her last evening. So he took this excuse to stop
in.

The butler said that Mrs. Loring had breakfasted but had not come down
yet. It was only when the man told him that Sophy had breakfasted that
Amaldi realised how anxious he really had been. Then he turned away and
was face to face with Loring.

The young man gave him the barest, surly nod. His expression was
singularly hateful. Amaldi could not quite make it out. Loring had
always been perfectly negative in his manner to him, except when goaded
to a passing jealousy by Belinda. On those occasions he had usually
flung out of the room. Now Amaldi felt hatred in the fleeting insolence
of the look that brushed across his face as Loring passed. Was this
unaccountable, moody being going to take sudden umbrage at his
friendship with Sophy? He went on his way heavy of heart, anxious and
disquieted again.

Loring was met by Simms with a message. Mrs. Loring would like to see
Mr. Loring as soon as he came in. Mrs. Loring was upstairs in her
writing-room.

So she had not seen that "damned dago"! His anger dropped slightly.
Perhaps it was only some of Belinda's deviltry after all. He went
quickly towards the stairway, then slowed down a bit. It had just come
over him what was probably Sophy's reason for desiring this interview.
What if she had really been in the next room as Belinda thought? What
if she had seen and heard? And if she taxed him with it how should he
act? What should he answer? His thoughts whirled like the thoughts of
one coming out of chloroform.

He went doggedly on, after two pauses, and knocked at the door of
Sophy's study.

"Come in, Morris," she said at once.

He entered and, closing the door, remained near it an instant, looking
at her. Then he came slowly forward.

She had been writing. She put aside her portfolio as he came in. Her
figure in its white muslin gown lay sunk in the green hollow of her
chair, very listless. All the feverish light of the past evening had
faded from her face. Her eyes looked soft, grey and tired in their deep
shadows. They rested on his face with a sad depth of maternity that he
could not at all fathom. He was uneasy under this look, yet it had no
reproach in it. It was the look most terrible to Love. Hatred does not
wither him like that look. It comes from the heart that, comprehending
all, has forgiven all. To forgive all, one must detach oneself, become
impersonal. Sophy was now regarding Loring from this standpoint of
absolute detachment. Even the maternity in her look and feeling was
impersonal--the abstract sense of motherhood with which Eve, leaning
from the ramparts of her regained Paradise, might regard mankind. Loring
was not a man to Sophy that morning--he was mankind--a symbol. She, the
woman, symbolised the Mother.

It was this in her look that made Loring ill at ease, vaguely
apprehensive. But it was a look, to his mind, so out of keeping with
what he had feared might be the reason of her sending for him, that he
decided with intense relief that his conjecture must have been a
mistaken one.

"Hope you're not feeling very seedy," he said constrainedly. "You look a
bit done, you know."

"Yes-- I'm tired. Won't you sit in that other chair? It's more
comfortable."

He shifted to the other chair, feeling more and more ill at ease. As she
did not speak at once, he said nervously:

"You sent for me, didn't you?"

"Yes," she said. "I was only thinking how to begin."

Then she looked into his eyes with a clear, direct look.

"Morris," she said. "I am ashamed of something I did last night. I don't
make any excuse--but I'm very, very much ashamed.... It was the way
that I spoke to you and Belinda, when I came down to the
drawing-room--just before we went out to dinner...."

"Now, really, Sophy----" he began. He thought she was at some of her
"highbrow" subtleties. "I assure you that neither of us...."

Sophy broke in hastily.

"Wait, Morris.... I haven't done. I'm ashamed because I pretended not to
know--how things were between you two--and I did know."

As she said these words she flushed as deeply as Loring did in hearing
them. But she kept right on--she forced her eyes to remain on his.

"I was in the next room ... yesterday. I ... I ... saw...."

"For God's sake! ... don't!" exclaimed Loring, jumping up. He was white
now.

Sophy took away her eyes from that white face. For all her impersonality
of mood, that white, aghast face of his hurt her cruelly. The shame on
it hurt her. It made her feel desperately ashamed, too.

He went to the window and stood looking out, his back towards her. And
in the very lines of his back there was shame. And this shame wrung her,
struck to her inmost self. Oh, how humiliating it all was! ... for them
both! How she felt as though they were groping towards each other
through mire.

She caught at all her force of will.

"It's no use, Morris...." she said very low. "We _must_ talk frankly....
I hate it as much as you do.... Oh, I hate it.... I loathe it!" she
ended with an irrepressible cry from her sick heart.

He turned at that, his head down.

"Why must we?" he said thickly.

"Because it's _got_ to be clear ... it's _got_ to be straight between
us," she returned passionately. Her breast was heaving. She put up her
arm across it as though to hold it quiet by force. She had felt so calm,
had been so sure of her calmness. Now her heart was bounding as though
it would leap from her body. He turned again to the window, and she sat
silent until something of calmness had come back to her.

"Don't stand so far away," she then said hurriedly, and half under her
breath. "Come nearer. I ... I am not ... angry. I don't want to speak
loud.... Some one might hear."

He came nearer. He could not find any words. He had no thoughts which
words would have expressed. But Sophy was regaining control of herself.
Some of the oft-rehearsed sentences were coming back to her. Now they
were more or less in order. She uttered one, speaking clearly, in a
rather expressionless voice.

"Morris...." she said, "how much do you care for Belinda?"

He stared gloomily at the carpet.

"I rather think I hate her," he said.

Scorn choked Sophy. She could not speak again, either, for a moment.
Then she said:

"The person you have got to consider chiefly in all this is Belinda."

Now he stared at her.

"_Belinda?_" he stammered.

Sophy's face and voice grew hot. It seemed as though even Fate's
bludgeonings couldn't drub impulse out of her. She wrestled now with
this impulse for a moment. It got the better of her.

"For shame!" she cried. "Oh ... for shame! for _shame_! A young girl ...
in your own house ... you treat her like that ... your own kinswoman....
Oh, yes! I know.... But by bringing-up she is your kinswoman.... You do
this ... you do this...." She was stammering with the heavy heart-beats
that again suffocated her. "And then ... to _me_ ... you speak.... Oh,
let me breathe!" she cried, and stood up as if throwing off some
intolerable weight.

Loring stood changing from red to white, from white to red. His eyes
shone sullenly. His head was lowered in that way she knew. He looked up
at her defiantly from under the beautiful arch of the brows that she had
once loved. "Well?... And what course has your superiority mapped out
for me?" he sneered finally.

She said in a cold voice:

"I have 'mapped out' nothing. But there seems only one way to me.... To
be quite truthful about it all. Then ... to act truly."

He gave his ugly little laugh.

"Perhaps you'll favour me with your ideas on 'acting truly'?"

"I will. You love this girl...."

"Damn it! I've told you I hate her!" he broke out violently.

She tried hard to keep the contempt out of her voice. "You can hardly
expect me to accept that, Morris," she said gravely.

"Why not? You're so precious anxious for the truth. That's the truth.
Now you say you won't 'accept' it...."

Sophy sank wearily into her chair again. She found that it made her
giddy to stand. Her hands were damp and cold. She felt physically ill.
She covered her eyes for a moment, and in the momentary darkness her
truest self whispered to her.

She uncovered her face and looked at him with that first gentle, quiet,
to him inexplicable, look.

"Morris," she said softly, "don't you see? I want to be your
friend--really your friend in all this. I ... I understand how it has
happened. Yes ... better than you do perhaps. We ... we have drifted
apart. Oh, don't think I'm reproaching you----" she interrupted herself
proudly. "If you'll look back ... to ... to ... that time ... in
Virginia. When...."

She couldn't go on for a moment.

"When that glamour was on us both," she continued. "You'll remember that
I told you.... I warned you ... that it _was_ glamour ... that some day
... some day...."

No. She could not go on. Love--when it has been real, if only for an
hour--is always sacred. She sat very white, her chin in her hand, her
eyes downcast.

There was all about her the atmosphere of that wild, windy night when,
as she sat alone in the old house, he had rushed in to her like the very
Magic of Youth....

Still looking down, she said presently:

"Won't you even let me be your true friend, Morris?"

Very huskily he said:

"Well.... I ought to be grateful for that much...."

It was all horribly sad. She felt faint with the wasteful, useless
sadness of it all.

"What did you think of ... of proposing?" he asked, still in that husky,
beaten voice.

Sophy's own voice trembled a little when she spoke.

"I think this, Morris," she said. "I think your life ought to be free
... to offer to Belinda."

"'Free'? ... to offer ... '_free_'?" he gasped.

"I am willing to set you free...." she said.

There was silence. It lasted so long that she lifted her eyes to his
face. The look on it appalled her ... a sort of blasted look, as though
rage had struck like lightning.

"Are you ... are _you_...." he tried to get out his question. Choked on
it. He tore it out finally. "Are _you_ suggesting _divorce_ to me?"

"It is the only straight, honest way out of this ... this tangle,
Morris."

"You ... _you_ ... suggest divorce? Like that? Coolly ... _damned_
coolly ... as you might suggest a drive ... a walk...? Divorce?...
_You?_"

He jumped up, his face all distorted. He seized the chair in which he
had been sitting and dashed it with all his might against the wall. It
fell in splinters.

"Hell!" he almost sobbed at her. "Do you too take me for a fool?... 'A
common or garden fool'?... Do you, I say?... Now, then! Out with it! I'm
a soft fool you think. Hey?-- The sort of little, tame husband-fool that
never feels his budding antlers, till he sheds 'em in the divorce court?
Hey? That's what ... is it? You think so?..."

He was so incoherent with fury, that she could scarcely understand half
of what he said. The saliva churned at the corners of his mouth in the
frenzy of his sudden madness of jealous rage and suspicion. He'd show
her he saw through her noble unselfishness. She and her dago!

Sophy stared at him in horror. She thought that his brain had given way.

"Morris ... Morris...." she kept murmuring.

"O _God_...." he choked. "God ... God that you should take me for a
sucking fool--you and your dago ... you and your little Lombard
mucker.... You!--To _me_!... for _my_ sake!... 'Divorce'!... Set _me_
free!..."

He dropped across a table, hugging himself, shivering with stridulant,
choked laughter. He shook with it--was convulsed with it as with throes
of nausea. Long, steady drinking had its meet effect. He was hysterical
bedlamite--unmanned man--raging tiger of jealousy ... all these things
in one ... dreadful to see ... to hear....

Sophy stood gathered up and back from him. She looked dead--as though
she had died standing.

With Loring, the paroxysm passed. He clung to the table as to the
taffrail of a reeling ship. The whole world seemed waving like a flag.

Then suddenly, in a high, clear, toneless voice, Sophy said:

"I do not now offer to set you free.... I demand to be set free
myself...."

She went swiftly into the next room. He heard the key turn in the lock.
He went on clinging to the table which seemed to swing him to and fro.
He remembered hearing that rage kills sometimes. He thought for long
moments that he was dying.

For some days after he was, indeed, seriously ill.



XXXV


When Sophy had realised the full meaning of Loring's confused, frenzied
words, she had felt in addition to her unspeakable indignation and
disgust, a strange sensation as of something withering and falling away
from her. At the same time, in the depths of her, there was a quick
clench like the snap of a vise. And she knew that this gin had set upon
the past--upon her long forbearance; that inevitably, implacably her
whole being had revolted, had set itself in that vise-like lock against
all future temporising. It was over--done with. Her life with Morris
Loring was as past as though they had lived it in another age, on
another planet. She knew that she would be inflexible. Her mood might
soften, pity might rise murmuring. She, herself--her very self of
self--would never change--could not change indeed. It was her inmost
being--her realest self--that had locked thus vise-like.

Had she desired to with all her might she could not have dragged it
open. One may not love, or hate, or even be wroth at will. Here her will
was powerless, or rather, this _was_ her will, the irresistible law of
her nature acting with a sort of divine mechanism--as undefiable as the
law of gravitation.

Under this revelation of personality acting in utter disregard of the
person--of any wish or will of the ratiocinating individual--she rested
breathless. Quite independently of her reason or her conscious will,
this inmost, vital nature had solved all, come to an immutable
resolution. "I will be free. I _am_ free," it had announced. "I have a
supreme right to be myself. I refuse further humiliation. I repudiate
further self-sacrifice."

In the vigorous reaction of her whole being, she wondered at her past
meekness, as at the unworthy subservience of another. How had she borne
it all so long? _Why_ had she borne it? She had behaved towards Morris
just as his parents and relatives had behaved from his childhood. She
had criticised them unsparingly in her thought, and all the time, she,
too, had been victimising herself that he might be content, untroubled,
indulged, easy in his boundless egotism.

When she thought of her long patience in certain matters, she shrivelled
with shame. Reaction is a terrible exaggerater. Under its influence
Sophy saw herself as a wretched puppet sewn together of rags of
sentiment. If at the first she had been courageous, if she had said to
him fearlessly: "Either things must be different or we must part," how
much better it would have been than this long-suffering condonement of
what she despised!

What was it in her nature, what hidden spring that had led her to act
Griselda to two such men as Chesney and Loring? She knew herself
fundamentally imperious, impulsive, not to be commandeered. Why, then,
had she coerced herself to sit meekly in two houses of bondage, and for
long, long years?

She wondered and wondered over it. Yet the answer was very simple. She
was tender-hearted, and she was one of the women who watch long by the
sepulchre of Love, lest perchance he may be not dead but sleeping, and
she not there to roll away the stone.

She gave up trying to solve the riddle of her own state at last, and set
to work to put her thoughts in order.

First of all, then, she must be free again.

To be free she must be true--quite truthful. This made her shrink. But
the pain would be only temporary. His nature could not long sustain any
emotion. Besides, such pain as he would feel would come from wounded
pride and jealousy, not from love.

She must go away. She would write Charlotte a letter asking her to send
a telegram requiring her (Sophy) to come at once to Sweet-Waters, "on a
matter of importance." Harold Grey, Bobby, and Rosa should go with her.
Then her mind checked again. She must have an interview with Belinda.
This was an odious necessity, but unescapable. Sophy had certain things
to say to Belinda. That done, she would leave at once for Virginia.

Suddenly a new thought halted her. She remembered Amaldi. She could not
leave like this, without even a good-by. Should she write? But what then
could she write? Perhaps it would be best to see him for a few moments.
Yes. That would be best. And yet her heart swelled painfully at the
thought. Amaldi was too near her with his idealising friendship for her
to treat him with absolute convention. And she could not speak out to
him.... Or, _could_ she? No, that was impossible. Still, it would be
better to see him. She owed him and herself that much.

It was the day after Loring's outbreak. His fever was high. Sophy had
sent for James Griffeth, the family physician of the Lorings. He had
been quite frank. "A collapse from alcohol and over-excitement," he
pronounced it.

She shivered uncontrollably. Griffeth begged her to go and rest. She
said that she would, and when he had left went thoughtfully upstairs.
She had to pass Loring's door on the way to her own room. She paused,
startled, just before reaching it. Belinda was standing close to it, the
knob in her hand. The door was open on a crack. Evidently some one also
had hold of the knob on the other side. The door swayed to and fro in
little jerks. Belinda was speaking in a hoarse, passionate whisper.

"I _will_ come in.... Let me in this minute--you impertinent woman!" she
was saying.

Sophy came forward. She could now see the white cap and flushed face of
the trained nurse. She heard her answer:

"You can't come in.... It's the doctor's orders.... Nobody but Mrs.
Loring can come in.... Please let go the door...."

"Belinda...." said Sophy, now close to her.

She wheeled like an angry cat.

"Come with me, please, for a moment," said Sophy.

The nurse had shut the door. Belinda, after a side-glance at it, jerked
up her chin and followed Sophy, defiance in every vigorous line of her.

Sophy led the way into her writing-room and closed the door. She stood,
and Belinda stood facing her. The girl was scarlet and Sophy very pale.

"Belinda...." she began.

Words leaped like flames from Belinda.

"Oh, I know you saw us!" she said. "He loves me.... What are you going
to do about it?"

Sophy's eyes were so almost smilingly scornful that the girl's bravado
failed her. She began changing colour. Her black brows scowled, but she
held her tongue.

"I wished to speak to you about ... your mother," said Sophy quietly.

Belinda scowled on without a word.

"I think, that for ... every one concerned ... it will be better for
your mother to know nothing of all this ... at present."

Belinda kept silence.

"So I am going to ask you to go back to Nahant to-morrow. As soon as
Morris is better, I shall have to go to Virginia on an important matter.
You cannot remain here alone. If you go quietly, there will not be any
need of my speaking to your mother. Tell her that your visit has been
shortened by my leaving for Virginia."

Now Belinda burst forth again:

"Oh, I see!... Morry may be dying and you want him all to yourself!...
You don't want us to be together ... even if he's dying.... You...."

"Not another word...." said Sophy.

Her eyes sobered Belinda. Grey eyes are the most terrible of all when
utter wrath lights them. Belinda glared into those burning eyes and was
silent again. Sophy went to the door and held it open.

"That is all I wished to say. Do as you choose. If you do not go, I
shall send for your mother."

Belinda gave her one look of wild hatred, and went out. The next day she
left for Nahant. She was quite desperate with rage and grief, but she
dared not do otherwise. She dared not risk being separated from Morris
by some distance far greater than that between Nahant and Newport. If
her mother knew what had happened, she might whisk her off to the ends
of the earth. Rage, pain, doubt, fear, jealousy--all these swarmed
stinging in her heart.

The next day Morris was much better, but still too weak to talk. Sophy
went in and out of the room at stated intervals. He always closed his
eyes and feigned sleep when she was there. He could not face her or
himself. He tried not to think. But thoughts, sharp and burning, clotted
in his mind like sparks against the dark side of a chimney.

On the fourth day came the telegram from Charlotte. Loring was now
sitting up in his bedroom. Griffeth said that on the morrow he could go
out. Sophy gave orders to have some necessary things packed. She had
decided to leave the next night by boat. How was she to see Amaldi? More
and more she felt that she must say farewell to him. People had been
coming to inquire about Loring. She had not seen any callers since his
illness, but to-day she decided to receive them--and in the morning she
sent a note to Amaldi. She told him that she had to leave suddenly for
an indefinite period. "I am seeing my friends to-day," she wrote. "If
you will come about half-past six this afternoon we can have a quiet
talk."

Then she took Charlotte's telegram in her hand and went to Loring's
rooms.



XXXVI


She knocked at his dressing-room door, and Miss Webb, the trained nurse,
opened it. When she saw Sophy, she stepped aside, smiling, for her to
enter.

"My patient's doing _fine_, to-day," she said. "He's eat half a chicken,
and wants more. So I'm giving him the other half."

Sophy showed her the telegram, and asked if she thought Mr. Loring were
well enough to be consulted about a matter of importance. Something that
might perhaps agitate him. Miss Webb asked _how_ important it was. Sophy
replied that it was of the utmost importance. Miss Webb considered a
moment, then said:

"Well, if he's got to know it, morning's the best time. I guess he's
well enough not to have important things kept from him."

She held open the door and Sophy went through the dressing-room to
Loring's bedroom. Miss Webb opened that door also and called out in the
tone of artificial good cheer with which one addresses convalescents:

"Here's Mrs. Loring come to see you eat that other half, Mr. Loring!"

She withdrew, closing the door, and Sophy went over to where Loring sat
in an armchair with a tray on a little table before him.

He had swallowed a mouthful of broiled fowl with undue haste when he
heard Miss Webb's announcement, and now as Sophy advanced he gulped some
White Rock, partly to clear his throat, partly to cover his
embarrassment.

His face, pale and chastened by his recent attack, went to her heart.
There was in it something so boyish, so irresponsible. That mother-pity
welled in her. What she had determined on was going to hurt more even
than she had dreaded. Yet she knew that she would go through with it to
the end, no matter how it hurt. The pain of freeing herself from this
coil would be as nothing to the pain of remaining stifled and loathing
in it.

She drew up a chair and sat down on the other side of the little table.

"I'm so glad to see you so much better!" she said. "Please don't stop.
You make me feel that I've spoiled your appetite."

"No. I've finished," he said, pushing the plate from him.

He touched a little bell. Miss Webb appeared.

"Please take these things away," he said.

"Oh!..." she exclaimed, disappointed, as she lifted the tray. "You said
you could eat it all, and now you've left a whole drumstick!"

Loring reddened. Fool of a woman! She made him ridiculous with her
nursery expressions and concern as for a sick little boy who wouldn't
eat enough.

"Take it away!" he repeated sharply. "I'll ring again when I need you."

Miss Webb retreated, her eyes fixed regretfully on the neglected
"drumstick." When the door had closed again, he lifted his moody glance
with an effort to Sophy's face.

"It's rather good of you to come, I must say," he observed. "I thought
I'd be taboo for a long while...."

Sophy held out the telegram.

"It's from Charlotte," she said. "I shall have to go to Virginia
to-morrow."

He looked startled--glanced through the telegram. "What's up? What is
it?" he then asked. "It strikes me as rather high-handed to send you a
wire like this--without a word of explanation."

"I asked her to send it," said Sophy.

"You _asked_ her...."

"Yes--so that my going suddenly wouldn't be commented on."

He remained dumfounded, staring at her. Sophy returned his gaze steadily
and very gravely.

"Morris," she said, "has it really not occurred to you that I wouldn't
remain longer in this house than I could help?"

His stare grew quite bewildered, a little frightened.

"In ... _this_ house...?" he stammered.

"In any house of yours, Morris."

Now his lips whitened. Sophy felt sick. But she had to go through with
it--she _had_ to....

"What am I to understand by that?" he asked at last, his voice husky.

"Ah! I'm sorry...." she said, her own voice quivering. "But ... it's the
end.... It's all ... over...."

"What is?" he asked; but he knew already.

"Our life together," she answered.

He said nothing, just sat there looking down at the bit of yellow paper
in his hands, which he folded and refolded with the utmost nicety. Then
he asked:

"Do you suppose that I'll take this seriously?"

"I hope you will."

"Well, I don't, and I won't, by God!" he retorted, in a sort of fierce
whisper, and the violent words sounded strange uttered in that
whispering voice.

Sophy sat still, her eyes on his.

"Morris," she said, "do you think that I will ever be your wife again,
after what you said to me the other day? After what you accused me of?"

The blood rushed into his face, up to the very roots of his hair.

"I was mad.... I didn't know what I was saying----"

"You knew well what you were saying.... You were only mad with rage....
I can never forgive those words--never really forgive them. There's some
part of me that _cannot_ forgive them."

He looked at her doggedly. His face was a mask of obstinacy.

"What did I say?" he demanded. "I've forgotten.... I was beside myself,
I tell you.... What were those unforgivable words?"

Sophy did not reply at once; then she said softly, on a deep breath:

"Oh ... _Morris!_..."

He flared red again, set his jaw. All at once he relaxed. There came a
kind of hopeful bravado into his voice.

"It's no use," he said. "You can't get me to believe any such thing as
this. But you've given me a bad jolt--if that's any satisfaction. I
suppose what you're after is to discipline me a bit. That's why you've
rounded on me like this.... Well, I'll admit I've deserved it. But if
you only knew how that little demon worked on me ... damn her!"

He brought his fist down on the arm of his chair several times.

"Damn her! Damn her!" he kept repeating back of his locked teeth.

Now Sophy reddened.

"Don't...." she exclaimed, in revolt. "Don't lay the blame on a woman
... a girl...."

"Why shouldn't I lay it where it belongs?"

"Then lay it on yourself," she retorted, with passion. "Take the blame
like a man ... let me remember you as acting like a man ... not like a
spoiled child...."

"A 'spoiled child,' am I?"

"Yes, Morris, yes.... And that makes me patient with you. You haven't
had half a chance--no, not from boyhood. And I ... I've helped.... Oh,
do you think ... do you _dream_ ... that if it hadn't been for that, I'd
have stayed one moment under your roof after you said those vile,
unspeakable things to me? Don't you understand?... It is over.... I am
going back to my own home. I will never live with you again....
Never.... Never!"

Still he did not believe her--he could not. He said sullenly at last:

"Well--go to your precious Virginia. I'll come there later when you've
simmered down a bit. Then we can talk of things rationally." He stopped,
and added with surly but genuine feeling: "I suppose you know I'm
damnably sorry and all that.... I apologise ... humbly. I ... I ...
acted like a cad to you, and that's a fact...."

He paused, as if waiting for her to say something. She said nothing. He
blustered on:

".... But when you mentioned divorce to me in that cool way.... By
God!... I _did_ go crazy.... I'll swear I did.... And that little fiend
had...."

"Don't, Morris...." she said again.

"But I tell you I was a lunatic for the moment...."

"No, Morris ... it's no use ... it's no use...."

"And that cursed Italian chap!..."

Sophy's eyes grew hard.

"The Marchese Amaldi is an old and dear friend of mine," she said;
"please don't vilify him to me."

Loring had a flash of rage; then controlled himself.

"Well--I guess that subject _had_ better be dropped between us," he
admitted shamefacedly.

Sophy, looking at him quietly, said:

"Another thing that I have to tell you is that Amaldi is coming here
this afternoon. He will come about half-past six. I wish to see him
before I go to Virginia. I asked him to come."

"Oh, all right ... all right ... of course," Loring replied, in a rather
foolish voice.

"I shall take Bobby and Rosa with me to Sweet-Waters," Sophy continued.
"Mr. Grey will follow in a day or two after he has seen that the
household and accounts are all in order. We went over the accounts
together this morning. I am also leaving directions with him about a few
other things. He will hand you certain keys. You had better have the
jewels taken to the bank at once."

Loring looked rather staggered. He forced a smile.

"I say...." he protested. "You _are_ laying it on a bit thick, you
know...."

He had again that boyish look which so hurt her--there was in his
forced smile the sort of timid, ingratiating air that a dog has when it
knows that it is muddy and yet wishes to jump up on the most cherished
chair.

She said hurriedly:

"I shall have to dress now. I've told Simms that I'm at home this
afternoon...."

She went out.

Loring stood a moment, looking at the telegram which he still pinched
and twisted in his cold fingers. All at once he sank down, laying his
face on his arm and his arm on the little table. His hands were
tight-clenched.

"Oh, Lord, what a fool I've been!..." he groaned. "What a double-damned
fool!..."

But he did not believe for one instant that Sophy's words were final. He
did not for the most fleeting atom of time give credence to the idea
that she meant to break with him entirely and for good.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sophy waited for Amaldi in the "little music-room." It was nearly
September. In the last two days the mornings and evenings had grown
chilly, so she had had a log fire kindled in the big chimney-place. The
shadows leaped elfishly upon the bare, clear walls, as though shaken
with silent laughter. The fire-gleams flickered over the glossy case of
the piano until it glowed like a black opal. White chrysanthemums thrust
their pretty dishevelled heads into the dance of gloom and shine. The
room was fresh with their bitter-sweet, autumn scent.

Sophy loved this room. She looked around it with regret, as she stood
waiting for Amaldi. Bit by bit she had thought it out. She had spent
many hours alone in it. Here Amaldi had made that wonderful music for
her. She tried to recall it as she waited for him. Phrases came ...
melted away. It was like trying to hold snow-crystals in one's hands.
Then his words came back to her:

".... By the window of a Castle on the North Sea, sits a beautiful, ill
woman.... Love brought her to the Castle ... then Love died ... but
Love's ghost wanders through the empty halls...."

Had Amaldi really guessed?... Did he know?... Had he known when he said
those words--when he played that music to her? She stood gazing into the
spark-broidered violet of the flames from the driftwood fire. How much
had he divined? Somehow, she felt that he knew.

And she did not mind his knowing. It would make him understand all that
was to follow.... How strange that, after all her passionate, wild
dreams, friendship and not love should be what life had to give her!

As Amaldi came towards her through the firelight, she thought that his
face looked set and rather strange. She said as she gave him her hand:

"I sent for you because I didn't want to write 'good-by.' It may be a
long time before we see each other again."

"May I know how long?" he asked, in a low voice.

"I don't know that myself," she answered. "Perhaps a year ... perhaps
longer. It ... it depends. But ... afterwards, I shall be in England
with Bobby."

"Ah!" said Amaldi.

They stood silent, looking into the fire. Then he said abruptly:

"May I write to you?"

"Of course, Amaldi." Her lip quivered suddenly. She added in a rather
uncertain voice:

"I haven't so many real friends that I could be indifferent about
hearing from one of them."

Amaldi said slowly without looking at her:

"I shall try to be your friend.... I shall try not to fail you."

"As if you could fail any one!"

Now he looked at her with a very curious expression--as he had looked at
her the evening he played for her. He hesitated a moment; then the words
rushed:

"Forgive me ... but it's not an easy thing to be the friend of the woman
one has loved.... Are you very angry with me?"

It came like a real shock to Sophy. Her absorption in her own troubles
had blinded her to this possibility. She could not think of the right
word to say--murmured nervously: "No ... no. I'm not angry ... only...."

"'Only'?" he took it up.

With tears in her eyes, she said:

"Oh, Amaldi ... your friendship meant so much to me!... It meant so
much!..."

This cut him cruelly. He exclaimed with passion:

"How can you speak as if it were past ... over?... I'm honest with you.
I confess that it is a struggle for me ... to feel ... to act only as
your friend. But I tell you that I shall try ... and you turn from
me...."

"No, Amaldi.... No.... That isn't just ... it isn't fair...."

"You said 'meant' ... that my friendship meant much to you ... as if it
were over...."

"No, no. But I...."

She broke off, and they stood in unhappy silence. Then all at once she
turned to him.

"Listen, Amaldi," she said impetuously. "I can't tell you ... but if you
knew...."

"I do know," he said.

They stood silent again. At last she said, under her breath:

"Then ... if you know ... you must feel that everything is over for me
... but friendship.... You must feel that.... The mere idea of ...
'love'...."

She broke off again, shivering.

Amaldi said in a constrained voice:

"I was not speaking of you, but of myself. I don't think that you can
imagine how intensely I want to be a real friend to you. As I said, not
to fail you...."

"And you think," she returned, her lips again quivering, "that I would
take your friendship at such cost to you? You think I'm as selfish ...
as unfeeling as that?"

Amaldi looked at her almost indignantly. "You know I think nothing but
the highest of you," he said. Then his voice shook, the look in his eyes
changed. "Forgive me...." he said. "It's I who am selfish."

But Sophy couldn't speak. She put up one hand to shield her face from
him, and he saw that her wedding ring was gone. He flushed, struggled
with himself; then, going close to her, he said in a vehement whisper:

"I will be what you want ... only what you want. And if the time comes
when ... when I find I can't hold out ... I will tell you, and go away."

Still she could not speak. She held out her other hand to him in
silence. The tears were running over down her face.

He took her hand, hesitated a moment; then lifted it to his lips.

"I swear that I will be your true friend," he said.

She put up the hand that he had kissed with the other, over her face.

"Go now...." she managed to whisper.

"But you believe me? You will still call me your friend?"

"Yes ... my dear, dear friend."

He went quickly from the room. He vowed to himself that he would be her
true friend at no matter what cost to his own feelings. But he had never
loved her as he loved her in that hour. And underneath it all there was
hope, hope, hope---- He could wait. Yes, he could wait long years more,
if need be.



XXXVII


Sophy stood by the open window of her old nursery bedroom at
Sweet-Waters. It was only ten o'clock, but she had come up early this
first evening. She wanted to be alone. Now that she had told Charlotte
and the Judge how things were with her, it was a strain to live up to
their pained conception of the situation. She felt it a reproach that in
spite of all, such an irrepressible fount of glee bubbled within her. It
was not happiness certainly, yet too much akin to it not to be out of
keeping with her present outward state. Her heart would sing in spite of
her. It was like a naughty, overexuberant child shouting week-a-day
songs at a funeral. It sang: "I am free! I am free! I am free!" The sky
was spread with clouds. Behind these clouds was a hidden moon. Its rays
filtered through, and this soft, grey moonlight was eerily
lovely--elfin-like.

From this pale fleece of cloud fell a light shower, trilling on the roof
of the east wing beneath her window. And from field and wood and hill
went up another trilling, exquisitely musical and plaintive--the clear,
sweet, myriad flutes of autumn crickets. So that heaven and earth seemed
doubly woven together by this interlacing of lovely sound, the one
descending, the other ascending.

The rain came softly in her face. She held up her face to it, loving the
delicate, cool touch upon her lips and eyelids.

As usual, Sweet-Waters had given her to herself again. She was just
Sophy Taliaferro once more. Sophy Chesney and Sophy Loring were poor,
wind-driven waifs, somewhere far away in the outer deserts of her mind.
To-morrow Charlotte and Joe wished "to talk _very_ seriously with her."
This had been Charlotte's parting word that night. Well--to-morrow was
twelve hours away. Now she would just be Sophy Taliaferro.

       *       *       *       *       *

But she waked up next morning to find herself unmistakably Sophy Loring
once more.

Her heart was very heavy. Life had no taste. The future rose before her
like a cyclopean wall, which could not be scaled or dug under and in
which there was no door.

Her heart winced and shrank from the long, painful scenes with Morris
that she apprehended. She was quite sure that he had no real love left
for her, yet she knew his nature. She feared that the very fact of
finding himself about to lose her would kindle in him a fictitious
ardour. It might well be that, as the unattainable, she would once more
seem his heart's desire.

After breakfast she went with Joe and Charlotte to Joe's study. Bobby
and Winks were having a gorgeous time playing "Indians" all over the
place. As she sat in the open window, Sophy could hear the voices of the
two "Braves," rising in shrill, ecstatic warwhoops from the straw-stack
near the stables. She smiled. At least Bobby was thoroughly happy in the
new state of things.

She was seated on the low window-ledge, Charlotte opposite her. The
Judge had established himself in the revolving chair before his desk. He
felt the need of some strong, dignified background during the coming
interview. His sombre, official-looking desk, with its piles of legal
documents and tomes, afforded him this spiritual sustainment. He was
very nervous. Sophy was so "hard to tackle" sometimes. "Rash" was the
disconcerting adjective that kept rising in his mind. Sophy was so
"almighty rash"! He thanked his stars that rashness was not Charlotte's
characteristic. "Firmness" described his helpmeet. He felt that this
firmness would indeed make her a true helpmeet in the present case.
There was certainly no help coming from Sophy herself. She was (they
both thought) most inconsiderately waiting for them to "begin."

The day was exquisitely temperate and golden after last night's showers.
She had put on one of her old duck skirts and thin white blouses. Her
hair was "clubbed" and fastened with a black bow as of old. She was,
outwardly at least, even defiantly Sophy Taliaferro. Charlotte felt that
it was almost improper of Sophy to look so like her former self, so
"unmarried," as it were, "after all she had been through." But Sophy was
Sophy. The most that they could hope was by great "tactfulness" to
persuade her to be "reasonable" on certain points.

The Judge cleared his throat. Sophy had her hands clasped about her
knee, one slim, brown-shod foot was dangling. It was a disconcertingly
"unmatronly" attitude. The Judge glanced nervously at Charlotte. Her
eyebrows said: "Go on." He cleared his throat a second time:

"_A-rrrum!_"

Sophy turned her head and looked inquiringly at him.

"Yes?" she said.

The Judge flushed as his eyes met hers. Good man ... it embarrassed him
to meet the eyes of one of his own womenkind whose wedded husband had
actually embraced an "abandoned minx" under their own roof. Charlotte
had termed Belinda Horton an "abandoned minx." The Judge considered the
term apposite. So Belinda figured thus in their thoughts from that
moment. But all this came too perilously near to mentioning the seventh
commandment in "the presence of a lady" not to cause the dear,
old-fashioned man acute discomfort.

"Well, Joe?" said Sophy again, as he hesitated.

"It's ... it's all ... mighty involved, Sophy," he stammered, looking
down at the snowstorm paper-weight which he had picked up and was
turning nervously round and round.

"Yes, Joe. I know that," she said gravely. "That's what I want you to
help me about."

"Divorce is a mighty serious--er--ugly thing...."

"But not as ugly as marriage that is no marriage, Joe."

The Judge rumpled his smoky wreath the wrong way.

"Yes ... I know how you must feel...." he admitted unhappily.

"No, Joe. Nobody but a woman can know how she feels," put in Charlotte,
reddening in her turn.

"Well ... I reckon I can give a mighty shrewd guess at it," said the
Judge.

"It's very simple," Sophy said. "I want to be free. I don't think I've
any false vanity about it. I did have at first. But then, you see, _I_
was mistaken, as well as Morris. I don't feel hard to Morris. It really
isn't all his fault...."

"Oh!" said Charlotte. She was quite crimson now.

"No, Chartie, it is not," Sophy persisted. "But I can't enter into all
that...."

"I should think not!"

"I only want to get free and to set him free, as soon as possible."

"_He_ oughtn't to be free--the idea!" cried Charlotte indignantly.

Sophy shook her head at her, smiling.

"Oh, Chartie," she said, "we aren't in the 'dark backward' of the
Victorian era! Why shouldn't he be free to live his life as he wants to,
as well as I?"

"That's downright irreligious, Sophy!" cried her sister with passion.

"I don't think so," said Sophy mildly.

The Judge intervened.

"Come," he said nervously, "don't let's squabble over side-issues."

"'Side-issues'! _Joe!_" exclaimed his wife.

"Oh, well ... don't let's squabble, at any rate," he said huntedly. "The
main point, what we're here to discuss, is Sophy's wish to be divorced."

"And I think she's perfectly justified!" snapped Charlotte.

The Judge resumed, addressing Sophy:

"Now, the question is, what will be ... er ... Mr. Loring's attitude in
the matter?"

"I think he'll oppose it ... at first," said Sophy.

The Judge looked curious.

"Why only 'at first'?" he asked.

Sophy said quietly and rather sadly:

"Because it isn't in his nature to keep up anything for long."

"Mh!" said the Judge.

He took up the paper-weight which he had laid aside and turned it so
vigorously that the little cottage and figures within the glass-ball
were almost blotted from sight by the mimic snowstorm.

"Divorce is a slow affair in Virginia," he said at last.

"Then I'd rather get mine in the West," said Sophy.

Charlotte looked at her in horror.

"Oh, Sophy!" she cried. "No! ... you _wouldn't_!... It's ... it's so
_vulgar_!"

"Life is vulgar," said Sophy.

"Oh, my _dear_!"

"I mean it in the big sense. Vulgar means common to all--to all people.
So I say life is vulgar ... and the longing for freedom is vulgar. No
one has ever longed for freedom as slaves have, I suppose. Well, I am a
slave ... and I long for freedom. I long for it so that I want it
quickly. I want it as one wants water when one's famishing, and bread
when one's starving. I'm not so aristocratic in my hunger and thirst
that I prefer to wait through dignified years for a bit of stale bread.
I want my loaf _now_ ... and I want the whole loaf ... not half...."

Sophy was indeed speaking with "vulgar" intensity. She "let herself go"
because she wanted Joe and Charlotte to understand once for all that
there was no use in trying to make her behave "reasonably."

Charlotte's small mouth was tight shut. The Judge looked rather pale.
Just as he had thought, Sophy was evincing rashness in its most
aggravated form.



XXXVIII


Sophy slipped down from her perch on the window-sill, and came and stood
between them.

"Oh, Chartie ... Joe...." she said, turning from one to the other, "why
do you look so? Surely you don't want me to waste long years of my life,
clanking this chain after me, wherever I go?... Not free ... not a wife
... not _anything_ really--and Morris in the same plight!... And
Belinda.... Think of that wild, self-willed girl...."

"You're crazy, Sophy!... You really talk as if you were crazy!..." broke
in Charlotte, suffocated. "How can you _mention_ that ... that...."
Propriety prevented Charlotte from expressing herself fully. ".... That
_creature_?" she ended, breathing very short. "How can you care _what_
becomes of her?"

Sophy looked tired all at once. She dropped into a chair near the desk.

"I suppose you'll think I'm crazier than ever," she said. "But while I
don't like Belinda, I don't think she's _quite_ a 'creature' ... not
yet, anyway. And her one chance is to.... Well ... my setting Morris
free quickly ... as soon as possible, will give her her chance."

Charlotte stared at her; her little mouth unlocked by sheer amazement.

Then she said in a faint voice:

"To _think_ of my living to hear _you_ speak like that!"

"I can't help it, Chartie. That's the way I feel. I must be perfectly
honest with you and Joe, or what's the use of my talking with you at
all? Do you think I _like_ doing it?" she asked, her own voice suddenly
trembling. "Never, never have I hated anything so much!" she ended
vehemently.

She got up, went over to the window again, and stood leaning against it,
her back to them.

The Judge looked miserably at Charlotte, and her eyebrows said: "Wait a
while. She'll calm down."

So all three waited in an uncomfortable silence.

Presently Sophy turned round. There were tears in her eyes, but she was
smiling. "My poor _dear_ dears!" she said, in such an affectionate,
sorry voice that their hearts jumped towards her. "It was horrid of me
to burst out at you like that...."

Charlotte went up and put a brisk, muscular little arm hard about her
sister's shoulders.

"Come, now, darling ... let's talk _sense_," said she.

"I've got a friend in the West...." the Judge began, fidgeting a little.

Charlotte could not help it.

"Oh, Joe! _Not_ ... Sioux Falls!" she pleaded, as who should say: "At
_least_ let the headsman's axe be _clean_."

Sophy interrupted:

"If the gods give me freedom, Chartie, why should I care whether the
oracle speaks from Sioux Falls or Athens?"

"Well, _I_ care!" said Charlotte.

"It's _not_ Sioux Falls," said the Judge.

"Go on, Joe," said Sophy.

"I'll write to him. He's a very able lawyer--upon ... er ... these
questions...."

"Thank you, dear Joe," said Sophy softly.

The Judge replied mechanically: "Not at all." He was fingering the
paper-weight again. He looked uncomfortable ... with a new sort of
discomfort. He cleared his throat. Regarding Sophy with doubt in his
worried eyes, he said:

"Er ... Sophy ... er ... in case ... what about the question of
alimony?"

Like lightning, she replied as he had feared she would:

"Not a penny ... not a cent of alimony, Joe!"

"But in such a case, the Court...."

"I wouldn't accept it."

"Perhaps, dear...." began Charlotte, in a "sense-of-duty" tone. Though
she considered her sister unwise, yet she sympathised ardently with this
unwisdom.

"No--never!" Sophy said again.

The Judge looked more and more uncomfortable. The snowstorm in the
paper-weight became a blizzard. At last he jumped into the midst of
things, with all the jerky suddenness of a man who has at last
determined to break through the ice-skim on his morning tub.

"Sophy," he blurted, "I must tell you--there was a settlement ... at the
time of your marriage with Mr. Loring...."

(He had "Mistered" Loring punctiliously ever since Sophy's disclosure.)

"A settlement?" said Sophy blankly.

"Just so. Yes. A-rrrm!... I ... er ... am responsible for the ... er ...
arrangement ... a marriage settlement, you know.... It gives you ten
thousand a year, in your own right."

"Gives _me_...? Ten thousand...? My own right?" stammered Sophy. "Oh,
you must be mistaken, Joe!" she added, colouring deeply.

Then the Judge explained unhappily. He had stood _in loco parentis_....
The future was always uncertain.... He should have felt himself culpable
towards her, _et cetera, et cetera_. And fearing that she might raise
objections against her own interests, he had accepted a
power-of-attorney to administer the property for her. This was the
reason of her ignorance on the subject.

Sophy stood transfixed. Then she took it in. She went up to him, put her
arm about his neck, and kissed his harassed face. "You're a dear, kind,
_real_ brother," she murmured; "but you're a lawyer, too--so you can
just arrange to unsettle that settlement."

"Now, Sophy ... now, Sophy...." he pleaded. "There's nothing undignified
... or ... or...."

"I couldn't, Joe! It's impossible ... utterly...."

"Think of Bobby...."

She coloured deeper than ever.

"I should never maintain my son on Morris's money," she said proudly.

"But, Sophy!... Oh, dog my buttons!..." groaned the harried man. "You've
got to _live_...."

"You forget what you saved for me, Joe ... and my thousand a year."

"Saved! About twenty thousand. How will you eat and clothe yourself and
the boy and educate him on the income of such a sum? I'm not talking
high sentiment; I'm talking hard facts," wound up the Judge, much
excited.

Charlotte sat motionless, looking at them. Sophy's eyes had gone black.

"I'll ... I'll ... sing for my living and Bobby's first," she said.

"Pooh!" said the Judge.

He was quite reckless. He, like Charlotte, sympathised too much in one
way with this quixotic attitude of hers not to feel called on to
remonstrate vigorously in another. He kept telling himself that Sophy
was being hifalutin in addition to being rash. He must save her from
hifalutiness at least.

"Pooh!" he said again hardily. "As Chartie said, let's talk sense. What
about Bobby's education?... Eton--Oxford ... this tutor who's coming in
a day or two? Do you think you're going to get divorced and established
at the Metropolitan in time to pay for all that?"

"_Joe!_" cried Charlotte.

"Never mind.... I like him to speak out," said Sophy bravely, a scarlet
spot on either cheek. Then an inspiration came to her.

"Gerald will educate Bobby for me," she said. "I know he will! I shall
write to Gerald and tell him the whole truth. He has always been like a
true brother to me."

The Judge was thinking hard and quickly.

"Yes--and suppose he dies suddenly--what then?"

"How 'what then'?" asked Sophy, bewildered.

"Why, what about the property? Is it all entailed--or only partly!"

"I ... I ... don't know," faltered Sophy.

"Very well. If Lord Wychcote dies suddenly, Bobby will inherit ... as I
understand it. But if the property is all entailed, your brother-in-law
can't leave _you_ anything. The property would be in trust for Bobby
until he came of age legally. It would depend entirely on the Court what
you had as his mother. Suppose you found yourself more or less at the
mercy of the old lady--Bobby getting his education in England--as you've
promised he should, mind you--and you without the means to live near
him---- Eh? What then?"

"I ... I will write to Mr. Surtees," said Sophy, very white.

"Who's he?"

"The family solicitor."

"Well, do.... I advise you to, by all means."

Here Charlotte stepped forward. She put her arm about her white,
suddenly subdued sister, and looked sternly at her husband.

"Joe.... I'm _surprised_ at you!" she said. "A Virginia gentleman being
so cruel to a woman!"

"Pooh!" said the Judge a third time. He was in a state of flagrant
rebellion. "Stuff!... I'm being a Virginia lawyer and a mighty good
friend. If I wasn't darned fond of Sophy, I wouldn't go on like this,
you may be sure. Whew!"

He wiped his brow and looked at his handkerchief as though expecting to
see it incarnadined. It really _was_ like sweating blood to try to talk
reason into one so hopelessly unpractical and hifalutin as Sophy.

"I'll look forward to reading Mr. Surtees's letter with great interest,"
he remarked grimly.

Sophy had a flash of spirit.

"No matter what he says, I shan't accept alimony!" she retorted.

"And the...."

"Or that settlement either."

The Judge glowered at her for a second. Then he reached out, drew her to
him, and kissed her.

"Well ... God bless you for a sweet fool!" was his strange remark.

Sophy laughed faintly, and the sisters went out with their arms about
each other. The Judge sank exhausted into his chair.

"Dog my buttons!..." he murmured, as the two disappeared. "The Lord
probably thought Adam out more or less carefully, but I reckon He made
Eve on impulse...."



XXXIX


But Sophy did not write to Mr. Surtees, as she had said so boldly that
she would do. All that was finest in her rebelled at the idea when she
came to think it over clearly. It was quite impossible for her to write
thus cold-bloodedly and ask the old solicitor what would be her
prospects as Bobby's mother, in the event of the sudden death of the man
who had really been to her like the kindest, most indulgent of brothers.

Instead, she wrote to Gerald himself, telling him of her proposed
divorce and her determination not to accept alimony or avail herself of
the marriage settlement arranged by her sister's husband without her
knowledge. She asked him not to tell Lady Wychcote of this matter until
it should be accomplished. She said simply: "So you see, dear Gerald, as
things will be, I shall not have the means to educate Bobby as his
father wished. Will you do it for Cecil's son, dear Gerald? Somehow, I
don't mind asking you this at all. I feel, indeed, that you would be
hurt if I did _not_ ask it."

Gerald's answer came with the name of a steamer written on the envelope
to insure promptness. Sophy cried when she read that letter.

"Dear Sophy," he wrote, "I am more touched than I can express by your
confidence in me. I beg you not to give another thought to the matter.
All shall be just as before your present marriage. I only hope that you
will resume Cecil's name again when you are at liberty to do so. As
Bobby's mother, it seems to me that it would be more fitting. I am very
happy to think of your being in England again. Don't make it too long,
and don't think, 'There's that poor, hipped old rotter Gerald, mooning
about himself--but sometimes I have a beastly feeling that I mayn't see
you again. And as you know, I'm rather fond of you, old girl. Love to
the little chap. G."

One thing in his letter, however, seemed odd to them all. It was his
suggestion that she should take Chesney's name again, after her divorce.
About this, on the Judge's advice, she did write to Mr. Surtees. She
herself, as Bobby's mother, would have much preferred to be called Mrs.
Chesney. She did not wish to go on calling herself "Mrs. Morris Loring."
She felt very sure that within a short time after the divorce there
would be another "Mrs. Morris Loring." She awaited Mr. Surtees's reply
with some anxiety. It was quite satisfactory. He expressed himself as of
the opinion that it would be "quite natural, fitting, and possible for
Mrs. Loring to resume the name of her first husband." He quoted the case
of Cowley v. Cowley, decided in the House of Lords in 1901: "Lady Violet
Neville, after becoming Countess Cowley, obtained a divorce from her
husband on the ground of his misconduct. She then married a commoner, a
Mr. Biddulph, but nevertheless continued to call herself Countess
Cowley. The Earl brought proceedings to restrain her from using the
name, but the House of Lords, on appeal, refused to grant an injunction.
Lord Macnaughton, in giving judgment, said: 'Everybody knows that it is
a very common practice for peeresses (not being peeresses in their own
right) after marrying Commoners to retain the title lost by such
marriage. It is not a matter of right. It is merely a matter of
courtesy, and allowed by the usages of society.'"

And all this time (it was nearly October) never a word came from Loring.
Sophy corresponded with his mother, who knew nothing of the strained
relations between them, and through her she learned that Morris had gone
to Canada with some friends. A sporting expedition. Mrs. Loring
mentioned it casually, of course, supposing that Sophy knew already.
Mrs. Horton and Belinda were still at Nahant. Morry had been _so_
thoughtful! He had come down to say good-by to her before starting for
Canada--but had not stopped the night. Didn't Sophy think he looked
rather thin? She herself was much better, _et cetera, et cetera_.

When Sophy read this letter, she wondered what had passed between Morris
and Belinda during that flying visit to Nahant. He was evidently
"disciplining" her (Sophy). Silence and absence were to bring her to a
right frame of mind.

She began to get desperately restless and impatient. She felt that she
must come to a definite understanding with him. She would have written,
but she did not wish such a letter to follow him from place to place at
the risk of getting lost.

Judge Macon had heard from his "friend in the West." If Mrs. Loring
wished to institute divorce proceedings, the sooner she came to Ontowega
herself the better. So wrote the Western lawyer. He wished to interview
Mrs. Loring personally.

Yet Sophy felt that it would be impossible for her to go until she had
come to a definite understanding with Morris.

All her philosophy, drawn sound and sweet from the sodden husk of
experience, could not keep her from fretting inwardly. Her first
irrepressible joy over the mere idea of freedom died flatly down. She
was unhappy--even very unhappy. Memories stung her day and night. Vain
regret.... It was like the feeling of homesickness for a home that has
been burned down. As she walked and rode, as she sat in her study, with
its perfume of rose-geraniums and cedar wood, her collie at her
feet--these memories came teasing, teasing, like wan-eyed, persistent
beggars when one's purse is empty. Sophy's heart was empty of the coin
of love--but it brimmed with pity--the heavy, leaden currency of pity.

The only real pleasure that she had in these days was from Amaldi's
letters. The first one had been sent from the steamer in which he had
sailed for Italy a few days after she had left Newport. It was rather
short, rather shy. "You must forbear with my English, please," he had
said. "I find it much more hard to write than in speaking." But the
little quaintnesses of construction only made his letter seem more
charming to her. He had not alluded to their last meeting except
indirectly. He wrote: "There is much mist this morning. I see the last
of America, dim as dreams through this mist. But above rises the great
goddess, she that is to America what Pallas was to Athens. She lifts
high her torch--and it seems I see it shine upon your face. I remember
her name and the meaning of this light that she is holding so high above
the mist. For you I repeat her name many times in my heart. It is with a
feeling of religion that I say this name over and over--linking it to
yours. And I feel that for you, high above all mist, is that pure flame
shining."

Sophy loved this letter, for among other things, it reassured her about
their friendship. It made her feel in many ways that he was too fine not
to have realized that there could be no more love in her life and too
strong to sacrifice their beautiful friendship to a vain desire
something that could never be. She spent a solacing hour in writing him
a letter such as she felt he would love to receive--all about her home,
herself, her daily doings, her dog, her horse ... some of her inmost
thoughts that she felt he would understand and share with her.

The end of September had been chilly, but October came in with soft,
spring-like showers again, very mild--real May weather--rather like
Indian Spring than Indian Summer. On the second day the showers held
about noon. Harold Grey set off with the whole "bunch" of boys for a
long-promised jaunt. They were to ride up to the top of Laurel Mountain
and spend the night there in an old rubble hut, sleeping on pine boughs.
There was to be a camp-fire, they were to cook their own meals. Off they
went, all on horseback, laughing and singing:

  "_Ole ark a-movin', movin', chillun!_"

Sophy watched Bobby as he rode off on the old Shelty, his face a-shine,
and again she felt that it was all worth while if Bobby were so
blissfully content. He had never worn that shining face in Newport or
New York. That afternoon she went out to look for mushrooms. This was
surely ideal mushroom weather. She put on an old corduroy skirt, and
stout boots, and borrowed a little basket from Mammy Nan.

A great west wind had suddenly sprung up. Wild tatters of cloud were
blown across the sky. Now they veiled, now they revealed the sun. The
box hedges glittered darkly, waving their sombre plumes to and fro, up
and down. The grass glinted like yellow crystal as the sun caught it.
Leaves scurried in flocks through the air. The wet clay was just the
colour of a sweating sorrel horse.

Sophy went down to the pasture behind the stable. There were cattle
grazing there--a fine black Angus bull, and his harem of forty young
heifers. But she was not afraid of them--they were all very gentle, the
black Pasha as well as his wives.

The field hollowed in the middle, and a little dark-red path coiled
through the soaked green. Sophy dipped under the pasture-bars, and went
slowly forward, looking to right and left, for the cool, fleshlike
glisten of fungi.

The bull was grazing on a hill at the far end of the field. His
splendid, black silhouette stood out against the grey wrack of cloud.
Half of his harem grazed near. The other half had discreetly withdrawn
to that part of the field where Sophy was now walking. One lovely little
heifer, black and soft of pelt as a black Angora cat, regarded her
musingly out of lustrous, still eyes that were heavy as with sorrow.
Sophy went up to her ... put out her hand, saying: "Coo ... co-o-o...."

The heifer let her stroke her forehead, her ears--let the slim, quick
hand run along her sides, play with her glossy pelt. "You
sweetheart!..." said Sophy.

She was more like a calm, friendly dog than a cow. Sophy finally gave
her a kiss between her tranquil, melancholy eyes, and continued on her
quest for mushrooms.

The wind was higher than ever now. It blew in squally gusts. Clouds were
sagging dark in the southwest. The sun winked in and out like the light
of a great pharos.

Sophy found her first mushroom--small, but a beauty. It nestled low in
the grass on its plump, naked leg. Its round, white top was faintly
browned like a well-cooked meringue. Then she found another, enormous--a
real prize, it seemed. But something about it was _too_ perfect--_too_
white. She nipped it out of its green bed, and looked at the gills. They
were snowy white. Its slender leg was cased in a fine, white-silk
stocking that was "coming down."

"Oh," said Sophy, looking queerly at the too-lovely creature, "how very
like you are to some other mistakes of mine!... And yet ... if I ate you
... you would cure them all," she ended quizzically.

She threw the false mushroom away. It lay, pale and corpse-like, in the
wet grass. It was so like damp, dead flesh that Sophy shivered.

Now the wind began really to tussle with her. It blew in wild,
_whoorooshing_ blasts. The thickets seethed. The old orchard on the hill
above made a harsh rattling with its gnarled boughs. She could see the
tree-tops on the lawn, bowing, twisting, lashing wildly, as though
trying to wrench their roots free from the grip of earth, as though
possessed to follow their flying leaves into the sky. Now came a spat of
rain. She ducked her head and began to run.

The bull was proceeding with majestic leisureliness towards his shed. He
booed from bass to treble, several times. "My sultanas," said this
booing, "I advise you to seek, with me, the shelter of my palace."

All the heifers began moving after him towards the shed. Now the rain
came in earnest--big, cold drops. Sophy ran faster and faster. The
mushrooms in her basket bounced plumply. She was afraid they would be
smashed. She took off her brown velvet cap and pressed it over them as
she ran. The rain rather blinded her. She ran full-tilt into some one
who emerged suddenly from behind a thicket near the pasture-bars.

"By Jove!... You're soaked!..." said a voice she knew. It was Loring.



XL


Sophy let him take the basket from her and kiss her rain-wet cheek. She
was glad that the rain came between her and that kiss. She could not say
anything just at first--her quick running and the suddenness of his
appearance had quite taken her breath for the moment.

"But you're sopping ... _sopping!_..." he kept repeating. He, too, could
not think of anything more fitting to say. And Sophy began to murmur
back:

"But you're getting wet, too ... what a shame!..."

They ran together towards the house. But now the rain ceased, and again
the wind came--vicious, blatant. The big hedge of box just in front of
them was a dark fury of tossing boughs.

"Oh, the trees!... I'm so afraid some of the trees will go down!..."
said Sophy.

They ran on under the dark tunnel of box, and out upon the lawn. As they
did so, Sophy gave a cry and halted.

"Look!" she gasped. "The big locust ... oh!... It's going ... it's
going...."

She ran towards the middle of the lawn. Loring followed--caught her
firmly by the arm.

"Wait...." he said. "Don't go any nearer...."

They stood dumbly watching the giant tree. It was fully a hundred feet
high--a monarch shaft crowned with massive branches--wrapped python-like
by a huge trumpet-vine. It was the last of its splendid generation--a
royal tree. Now it rocked heavily--to and fro--farther and farther each
way, each time--a groaning sound came from it. This sound splintered
suddenly. It was like the bursting of a human groan into a shriek. The
noble crown swept forward--majestically--as it were, deliberately at
first--then faster, faster, in a sort of suicidal frenzy. The huge tree
toppled, split at its middle fork--went crashing down, ripping loose the
snaky folds of vine, shattering the trees next it. Their splintered tops
shone suddenly raw and yellow against the grey sky. The remaining half
of the fallen locust had a great "blaze" all down one side, as though it
had been stripped by lightning. The inner wood, thus disclosed, all torn
and riven, had something ghastly, like the revelation of a wound in
living flesh.

For a second longer Sophy stood quite still. Then she ran forward again.
She was pale as at an accident to a dear friend.

The locust stretched across the gravel driveway. Its crown lay among the
crushed branches of a huge box-shrub. The poor box-shrub had a piteous,
feminine look, as though it had tried in vain to support the stricken
giant on its soft breast. The boughs and leaves of the prone tree still
quivered slightly as in a death-throe. The big vine swung its loose,
snaky folds over the ruin. The grass was strewn with leaves and broken
limbs. Sophy went up and put her hand on the rough trunk in silence. Her
lips quivered.

"What an infernal shame!" said Loring.

He stared all about, then at the wrecked tree again.

"Isn't this where the hammocks used to hang?" he asked.

"Yes," said Sophy.

They stood silent again. Both were thinking of how they had swung day
after day in those hammocks in their love-time. Then the scarlet bells
of the trumpet-vine had hung above them. It had been like their
flowering passion swinging scarlet bells above them. Both felt something
sad and ominous in the fall of the great tree just as Loring had
arrived.

"I'll send the gardener to see about it," Sophy said at last, turning
away. They went together to the house.

"When can I see you ... for a long talk?" asked Loring, as they reached
the door.

"As soon as I've changed. You'll want to change, too. Is your luggage
here?"

"Yes. A darkey drove me up from Sweet-Waters."

"Has Mammy Nan seen to your room?"

"Thanks. Yes. Everything's quite right."

"Then ... in half an hour ... in my study."

Loring told himself that he'd forgotten how beautiful she was. And that
black bow on her hair!... He had not seen her wear that black bow
since.... Oh, what a fool he'd been! ... what a superlative ass!... That
black bow had a queer magic for him. It made the past seem only
yesterday. Oddly it set her back where she had been when he first saw
her wear it. It shook his lordly sense of possession. She had not
belonged to him then. Somehow she did not seem to belong to him now. He
felt doubtful ... apprehensive. What if...? Yes. What if...?

He changed hurriedly and went down to her study. A clear fire of
apple-boughs and cedar burned on the hearth. The warmth drew their
sweetest scent from the rose-geraniums. There were no fuchsias on the
green steps now. It irritated Charlotte that Sophy would not have her
splendid fuchsias in this room. But Sophy could not endure the fantastic
flowers near her. They were too potent with wild memories.

Before the fire Dhu was lying. He eyed Loring from golden, white-rimmed
eyes without moving at first. Then he rose and wagged a languidly
polite tail. He had never quite approved of the young man.

Loring sat down and tried to beguile the dog into friendship. Dhu was
civil but distant. Sophy came in, and he rushed and reared upon her,
putting a paw on either shoulder.

She looked very tall in her black satin tea-gown. The collie was
beautifully golden against the black, shining stuff. And this gown
Loring recognised as he had recognised the black bow. It was a gown of
old days. It had some yellow lace at the throat, and queer, carved
silver buttons. How that lace smelt sweet of her! How often he had
kissed it in kissing her throat! And those silver buttons ... how cold
and hard they had felt to his cheek upon the warmth of her breast!

She came up and sat down in her own low chair on the other side of the
hearth.

"Quite Darby and Joan we look...." said Loring, with a nervous laugh.
Sophy smiled, but this smile was enigmatic.

"Why didn't you write to me? Why didn't you tell me you were coming,
Morris?" she asked gently.

"Oh ... well...." said Loring.

He went red, and fussed with a piece of cedar that had fallen on the
hearth. The fragrant smoke got into his eyes--and made them smart.

"You see...." he went on with more assurance, as he hammered the log
into place again, "I knew this was the sort of thing that would have to
be talked out...."

"Well, then...?" said Sophy.

He glanced at her rather sheepishly.

"Oh, hang it all, Sophy!" he said. "Don't make it _too_ hard. What do
you want?... Probation?... Kow-towing? What?"

"No. I don't want anything like that, Morris. What I want is for us both
to act like good, sensible friends, and...."

"_Friends!_" he exclaimed.

"Yes ... friends," said she firmly.

"Now look here, Sophy," he protested, red again. "You surely aren't
nursing that grievance still? After all these weeks?"

"What 'grievance' do you allude to, Morris?"

He grew redder and redder.

"Why ... you know," he muttered shamefacedly.

"No, Morris. I don't. I really haven't any 'grievance.' You did a thing
that seems to me final. It isn't a grievance ... it's just an end."

"Now, Sophy! If you think my ... my ... a ... my idiocy with that
girl...."

"Morris ... don't! But while that is one reason of my feeling as I do
... it isn't the thing I mean."

"Then in God's name ... _what_ is?"

He was standing now, looking excited and angry. He came over in front of
her.

"_What_ is?" he repeated.

Sophy looked up at him and her nostrils spread a little.

"Have you really forgotten?" she said, in a clear voice. "You accused me
of having a lover...."

"Oh, for God's sake!" cried Loring. His chest laboured with his strong
excitement. "Haven't I told you I was damned sorry! Haven't I
apologised--humbly? Haven't I explained I was out of my wits? Haven't I?
Haven't I?"

He stood waiting for her to answer. All up in arms--white now--quite
outraged by her unkind obstinacy.

She answered without apparent emotion:

"All that doesn't change what you said then. Of course you apologise--of
course you say you were out of your wits. What else could you say?
But---- Well, you see, Morris--it happens to be one of those facts that
can't be wiped out by apologies and regrets. Some words can't be wiped
out by other words," she ended, with a flash of bitterness.

He gazed at her sullenly.

"Can't you make allowances for a man's being mad with jealousy?" he
said.

"No. Jealousy--of that kind--is always an insult."

He stood silent for a while. Then suddenly he dropped to his knees
beside her. He felt inspired.

"Sophy...." he said very low, a sort of wheedling cunning in his voice.
"I wonder ... if _you_ aren't ... just a bit ... jealous, yourself?"

"I?"

"Yes. You. Of ... oh, you know who I mean! But, Sophy ... listen ... I
swear to you a man can be ... like that ... about another woman--and
yet love his wife ... _really_ love only her ... I swear it to you."

Sophy smiled again.

"Yes. So I've heard," she said.

He was eager in a moment.

"Well, then ... don't you see?... It was only a ... a flash in the
pan--as one might say.... Really, you know, it's true. That one can
fancy a woman for a bit like that, yet never dream of loving her as one
loves one's wife...."

"Morris...." said Sophy seriously. She leaned her chin on her hand, and
looked gravely at him.

"Well?" he said expectantly.

"What would you think of an American who had himself naturalised a
German, or a Russian, or a Spaniard ... yet declared that he really
loved America best of all!"

"I don't see...." stammered Loring.

"Yes, you do see," smiled Sophy. "And I want to take this opportunity of
assuring you that I'm not jealous of Belinda. Only--please don't try to
make your love for her a proof of your still greater love for me."

"Sophy...!"

"I'm not one of those people who cut up love into sections--vivisect it
... for it dies, I can tell you, when it's hacked to bits like that!...
This part ignoble--that part noble. Love is a whole--a whole--or it is
nothing. What you gave to Belinda you could not have given her if you'd
loved me really. I don't say _would_ not ... I say _could_ not...."

"But I swear to you...."

".... _Could_ not!" repeated Sophy inflexibly.

He had got to his feet again, and was looking at her with a disturbed,
baffled look.

"I _do_ love you, Sophy," he said at last. "Don't you believe I love
you?"

"In a way ... yes," said Sophy.

"What do you mean by 'in a way'?".

"Well--in a way that doesn't allow me to interfere with greater
pleasures."

He went crimson.

"Oh, I say!" he said. "How unkind ... how awfully hard and unkind of
you!"

"There mustn't be anything but truth in this talk between us, Morris.
I'm sorry to seem unkind. I only said what I feel and believe."

"God! I didn't know you could be so cruel...." he muttered, staring at
the fire.

"It isn't I that am cruel; it's the truth that's cruel," she said.

"You call that 'the truth'? ... God!" he said again.

"Then tell me...." she said. "What pleasure have you ever put second to
me?"

"What ... pleasure?" he stammered.

She looked at him steadily.

"Yes ... what pleasure?" she repeated.

"I.... I...."

He was frankly at a loss. She had such a queer, upsetting way of putting
things. He stood ruffled, resentful, aggrieved, helpless. Not a pleasure
could he think of that he had not put before her. His head buzzed with
the effort to recall some small sacrifice that he had made in her
behalf. She was speaking in a different voice now--softer, more feeling.

"Ah, Morris," she said, "it is all so sad ... so horribly sad! Though I
may seem unkind--my heart aches with it. But this has not come suddenly.
A long, long time it's been coming. It began ... yes ... that night ...
do you remember?--that night over two years ago ... when you came to my
room...."--she hesitated, caught her lip hard for a second, went on in a
lower voice--"when you came to me--not yourself ... for drink...."

He had put up one hand over his eyes as he leaned with his elbow on the
mantelpiece. He said in a choked voice:

"I've been a beast ... sometimes ... I admit."

She hesitated again; then said, whispering:

"_That_ was a pleasure you always put before me."

"Don't!" he said.

"I won't, then," she answered pityingly.

Her eyes scalded with tears. Her hands, locked hard together, were
trembling.

There was a long pause.

"Sophy," he said presently, very low, his hand still over his eyes, "how
if I take an oath to you never to drink again?"

She looked with a tender, wise look at his hidden face.

"You would come to hate me for it in the end, dear."

"Oh ... Sophy...."

"Yes, dear. You would."

"I know.... You think I couldn't keep it," he said miserably.

"No. But if you kept it, you would be hating me all the time."

A gush of bitterness rose in him.

"So _that's_ what you think of me?" he said.

"It's what I think your nature would make you feel--bound by such an
oath."

There came another pause.

He broke out rather vehemently again:

"At least do me the justice to admit that I was dead set against having
Linda visit us...."

"Yes. I remember. But it would have come sooner or later. You would have
been thrown with her in other ways."

"You really think I ... a ... care for her?"

Sophy didn't answer for a second or two; then she said:

"Morris ... that morning at Newport ... when you said those words to me
... you told me afterwards--that it was Belinda who had made you ...
suspect me."

"Ah ... don't put it that way!..."

"What other way can I put it? You did tell me it was Belinda, didn't
you?"

"Yes. And a more...."

"Wait, Morris. I want to ask you something. Whether you answer it or
not, I must ask it. It's this: You had been with Belinda--before you
came to me. Had you been together--like lovers?"

He dropped his face into his two hands. She could see the hot flush on
it between his fingers.

"Oh ... but you're hard ..." he groaned.

Now Sophy had her moment of bitterness.

"I know," she said, "that the perfect wife is supposed to be motherly
when her husband's fancy strays--and lover-like when it turns home
again. But I am not perfect in any way. And I don't think I'm hard when
I ask for truth between us."

Loring dropped his hands and uncovered eyes ablaze with a helpless fury
of regret and vindictiveness.

"I wish to God the girl had never been born!" he cried.

"You haven't answered me yet," said Sophy.

He gazed at her with a sort of braggadocio of defiance for an instant,
then dropped his face into his hands again.

"Oh ... it's no use!..." he lamented. "We are low brutes ... men are low
brutes.... Passion is a low thing...."

"No--real passion is not low," Sophy broke in on him.

"You know what I mean...." he muttered.

"Yes. I do. But don't call mere sensuality passion. Real passion is like
a great, flowering tree. Its roots strike deep into the earth ... its
crown is among the stars. Do you call a red rose 'low' because it
springs from the earth?"

"How you catch one up!" protested Loring moodily.

She rushed on:

"I do hate so to hear that word misused--abused! Sensual fancies are low
because they have no soul ... no flowering. They are like truffles ...
all of the earth earthy. Yes ... there are truffle-loves," she ended
bitterly.

"And men, you think, are like swine rooting for truffles!" he muttered.

"Sometimes ... when Circe is about...." she admitted.

Morris got up and leaned again upon the mantelpiece. He heaved a
disconsolate sigh.

"Oh, Lord!... What a talk for a man to have with his wife!" he said
heavily.



XLI


Sophy sat watching him, and her heart yearned over him. In spite of her
flash of bitterness, she did feel truly mother-like towards him. He
seemed to her so young--so very, touchingly young as he leaned there
against the old, smoke-toned ivory of the carved mantelpiece, grasping
the ledge, his forehead on the back of his hand. She knew how crushingly
he was realising that he had "made a mess of things." But then--he _had_
made a mess of things. She was powerless to comfort him there. If she
could only show him how much better it would be not to try to rearrange
this tangle--but to step free of it, and begin over ... that there was
no real adjustment of their two lives--their two utterly different
natures, possible.... Could she show him? Well ... she could at least
try....

"Morris," she said softly. "Suppose we try to look at it all from
another angle? Suppose we try to see it all as though _we_ weren't
concerned in it--as if some one had asked our impartial advice? Don't
you think that would be a good way to get at it?"

"But what is it you want to 'get at,' Sophy? What is it you want me to
do? God knows I'm ready to do anything...."

"Anything?"

"Yes ... anything in reason," he hedged nervously.

"Would you call it reasonable for us both to be free?"

He started--eyed her suspiciously.

"How 'free'? Free in what way?"

"Quite, quite free, Morris."

He paled.

"Divorce...?" he said.

"Yes."

"You want to divorce me?"

"I want us both to have our own lives wholly in our own hands
again--that is the only way."

He stared at her, whiter and whiter.

"Didn't you ever ... love me ... at all?" he managed, at last.

"Ah!--you know whether I loved you...."

"You ... you mean ... I ... I've killed it?"

"Yes, dear."

"Oh, you are cruel ... you are cruel!..." he burst out. He stared at
her, his face working. "You're the crudest woman God ever made!" he said
huskily.

Sophy was white too. She, too, stammered a little.

"I ... I think ... that truth ... is nearly always cruel," she said.
"But it's only truth that will make us free----"

His hands were gripping the sides of the chair into which he had sunk
again, so that his arms trembled.

"Damn the truth, then...!" he said slowly and thickly.

"You'd want to keep a wife who doesn't love you as a wife should?"

"Yes, I want to keep you.... I want to keep you if you _hate_ me!...
Yes. Yes."

"_That_ is cruelty...."

"Is it? Then I'm cruel, too."

Sophy sat with her eyes on his suffused, lowering face. Her hand went to
and fro over the collie's head. She sat so long thus, without speaking,
that he said gruffly:

"Well? What now? Why do you stare so?"

"I'm trying to imagine how it would be to feel like that. I'm trying to
get your point of view."

"How ... my point of view?"

"The wanting to hold a woman against her will. But I can't understand
it. I never understood how a man or woman could want to hold another
when love had gone ... the love that is the only reason for marriage."

"You rub it in, don't you?"

She said sadly:

"Why do you speak so roughly and bitterly to me--as if it were my love
only that had failed? Do you think I didn't know when first your love
began to wane?"

He tried to brave it out.

"And why did it 'wane,' as you call it? Can a man be snubbed day in, day
out, and yet keep at concert pitch forever?"

"You mean that I would not respond to you when you had been drinking?"

"Well--put it that way."

Sophy gave a tired sigh.

"Why must we go over it and over it?" she asked. "It is not me that you
want, Morris--it is your own way. You never want what is yours--only
what is out of reach. You have turned on Belinda now, only because she
came to you too easily. If I came back to you--you would not want me any
longer."

He sneered.

"It's easy to say what I would or wouldn't do. It's easy to arraign me.
But what of yourself? I thought you were so great on unselfishness!
Where's the unselfishness in all this, I'd like to know?"

"I'm not trying to be unselfish, Morris. I've been unselfish so long
that I've nearly lost my best self. I find it's better to keep one's
best self than to be selfless."

He looked startled at this heresy against the great Credo of
Man's-Ideal-Woman.

"Good Lord!... You _have_ changed!" he said, in blank dismay. "It
doesn't seem to be you talking...."

"It's a 'me' that you don't know, perhaps...."

"I certainly don't know this side of you."

"It isn't a side of me--it's the core of me."

They were both silent again. Loring was the first to take it up.

"Look here ... have you spoken to Judge Macon and your sister about all
this?"

"Yes."

He reddened angrily.

"A pleasant position for me, isn't it?"

"It's odious for both of us, Morris," she said, with feeling.

"Did you tell them about ... about...?"

He couldn't bring it out.

"I told them about you and Belinda. I didn't tell them ... that other
thing. I couldn't tell any one that...."

"Oh ... thanks!" he sneered.

Sophy flashed out:

"It wasn't for your sake I didn't tell them--it was for my own!"

He looked staggered. He was so used to her forbearance and gentleness
that he could almost have believed in the old tales of "possession." It
was as though Sophy's body had become "possessed" by a strange, heretic
spirit that denied all her former religion of abnegation in one strange
speech after the other. He was humiliatingly at a loss in dealing with
this new, essential Sophy. He felt something as the Miltonian Adam might
have felt if his docile Eve had announced her intention of leaving him
and Eden in the companionship of the serpent. Indeed, these new ideas of
hers hissed like a whole nestful of serpents. And all the time, just
because--in spite of his angry denials--she seemed slipping farther and
farther from him--he desired her as he had never desired her. Not
beautifully, as of old--but desperately, bitterly, blindly!

He sprang up suddenly, and took a few turns about the room. He went and
stood at the window, gazing out into the twilight. The fire reflected in
the window-panes seemed flickering among the dark leaves of the
magnolia.

Joycie came in with the tea things. He sat sullenly nursing one leg upon
the other while Sophy made tea. He wouldn't have any.

They could hear Charlotte's voice here and there about the house. The
Judge rode past the window on Silvernose. But no one interrupted them.
Only Joycie came in after a little, to clear away the tea things. She
went out with the tray, Dhu following her, and they were alone, once
more. Sophy rose as Joycie went out, and herself lighted the lamp on her
writing-table.

"Why didn't you ask me to do that?" he said irritably.

"I didn't think," she answered.

Now in the lamplight he could see how very white and tired she looked.
His heart softened. He went over impulsively and stood close to her.

"Sophy," he said, "what is it you really want?"

Her answer gushed quick and hot like heart's blood:

"My freedom, Morris!... My freedom ... my freedom!" It was like the
breaking of the waters. It poured in a cataract of passionate,
breathless words. "Oh, be kind ... be generous, let me go, without
haggling ... without bitterness.... We owe it to the past to part as
friends. We should be big in this big thing ... get above littleness of
every sort. Just because we have made a heart-rending mistake ... why
should we be like enemies?... Give me this one memory of you ... clear,
great. Something I can remember all beautiful. You owe it to our love,
Morris. You owe it to that wonderful dream we dreamt together...."

"Stop ... stop!..." he gasped. "It's like death.... It's worse than
death...."

"Oh, my dear!..." she said. "I know.... It's horrible! To me, too, it's
horrible.... But let me go ... ah, let me go, and I'll love you with a
new love!... It will last ... it will bless you all your life.... Let me
go, dear, let me go!..."

He stood shaking. His breath came quick and hard. He was dreadfully near
to tears.

"I can't," he got out at last.

"Yes. Yes. You can ... you will...."

"No," he stuttered, "no ... no...."

She turned away, sank down again, her face in her hands. For a second or
two he stood watching her. Then he went and flung himself on his knees
before her as he had done that wild, windy night, three years ago. He
grasped either side of her chair as he had done then, prisoning yet not
touching her with his arms.

"Beautiful...." he whispered. "Beautiful...."

She cowered back as though he had struck her, her face still hidden.

"Don't you remember...." the husky voice went on. "That night ... the
wind ... the wild moon!... Oh, Selene! Selene!... I've blasphemed ...
but I still worship.... I still worship...."

She began to sob, desperately, helplessly, like a child.

"Forgive me ... take me back, Selene.... Only try me once more.... This
one time.... You'll see.... You'll see you can trust me ... give me your
love again ... this once ... this once...."

She struggled to speak. The big sobs choked her. At last, between them,
the words came. "It's ... all ... emptiness," she said, "here...." She
put one hand to her breast. "There's nothing...." The sobs broke in
again. ".... To give...." she ended.

He knelt staring at the slight hand that still hid her face from him.
Suddenly he noticed, as Amaldi had done, that her wedding ring was not
on it. He dropped his head upon her knees. That broke his manhood to see
that she had put aside even the symbol of their union. He felt her hand
upon his hair. He wept and wept, wishing, as he had wished about
Belinda--that he had never been born.

And over Sophy came the old feeling of nightmare--the sensation of
having lived twice over her fatal marriage with Chesney. Just so Cecil
had once clung weeping to her knees. But then she still had some
hope--some love to give. Now she was beggared of all but pity. And even
this pity was not strong enough to make her return once more to the
unspeakable sacrifice of loveless marriage.

A sudden rattling at the door sent him to his