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Title: The Dull Miss Archinard
Author: Sedgwick, Anne Douglas, 1873-1935
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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The

Dull Miss Archinard

By

Anne Douglas Sedgwick

New York
Charles Scribner's Sons
1898

Copyright, 1898, by
Charles Scribner's Sons

_All rights reserved_

_TO_

MY GRANDMOTHER

H. M. D.



Prologue

PETER ODD



The Dull Miss Archinard



CHAPTER I.


Peter Odd was fishing. He stood knee-deep in a placid bend of stream,
whipping the water deftly, his eyes peacefully intent on the floating
fly, his mind in the musing, impersonal mood of fisherman reverie, no
definite thought forming from the appreciative impressions of sunlit
meadows, cool stretches of shade beneath old trees, gleaming curves of
river. For a tired man, fishing is an occupation particularly soothing,
and Peter Odd was tired, tired and sad. His pleasure was now, perhaps,
more that of the lover of nature than of the true sportsman, the
pastoral feast of the landscape with its blue distance of wooded hill,
more to him than the expected flashing leap of a scarlet-spotted beauty;
yet the attitude of receptive intentness was pleasant in all its phases,
no one weary thought could become dominant while the eyes rested on the
water, or were raised to such loveliness of quiet English country. So
much of what he saw his own too; the sense of proprietorship is, under
such circumstances, an intimately pleasant thing, and although, where
Odd stood at a wide curve of water, a line of hedge and tall
beech-trees sloping down to the river marked the confines of his
property just here, the woods and meadows before him were all his--to
the blue hills on the sky almost, the park behind him stretched widely
about Allersley Manor, and to the left the river ran for a very
respectable number of miles through woods and meadows as beautiful. The
sense of proprietorship was still new enough to give a little thrill,
for the old squire had died only two years before, and the sorrow of
loss had only recently roused itself to the realization of bequeathed
responsibilities, to the realization that energies so called forth may
perhaps make of life a thing well worth living. A life of quiet utility;
to feel oneself of some earthly use; what more could one ask? The duties
of a landowner in our strenuous days may well fill a man's horizon, and
Odd was well content that they should do so; for the present at least;
and he did not look beyond the present.

In his tweeds and waterproof knee-breeches and boots, a sun-burnt straw
hat shading his thin brown face, his hand steady and dexterous, as brown
and thin, he was a pleasing example of the English country-gentleman
type. He was tall, with the flavor of easy strength and elegance that an
athletic youth gives to the most awkwardly made man. His face was at
once humorous and sad; it is strange how a humorous character shows
itself through the saddest set of feature. Odd's long, rather acquiline
nose and Vandyke beard made a decidedly melancholy silhouette on the
sunlit water, yet all the lines of the face told of a kindly
contemplation of the world's pathetic follies; the mouth was sternly
cut yet very good-tempered, and its firm line held evident suggestions
of quiet smiling.

Poor Peter Odd had himself committed a pathetic folly, and, as a result,
smiles might be tinged with bitterness.

A captured trout presently demanded concentrated attention. The vigorous
fish required long playing until worn out, when he was deftly secured in
the landing-net and despatched with merciful promptitude; indeed, a
little look of nervous distaste might have roused in an unsympathetic
looker-on conjectures as to a rather weak strain--a foolish width of
pity in Peter Odd's character.

"A beauty," he mentally ejaculated. He sat down in the shade. It was
hot; the long, thick grass invited a lolling rest.

On the other side of the hedge was a rustic bathing-cabin, and from it
Odd heard the laughing chatter of young voices. The adjoining property
was a small one belonging to a Captain Archinard. Odd had seen little of
him; his wife was understood to be something of an invalid, and he had
two girls--these their voices, no doubt. Odd took off his hat and mopped
his forehead, looking at the little landing-wharf which he could just
see beyond the hedge, and where one could moor boats or dive off into
the deepness of the water. The latter form of aquatic exercise was
probably about to take place, for Odd heard--

"I can swim beautifully already, papa," in a confident young voice--a
gay voice, quiet, and yet excited too by the prospect of a display of
prowess.

A tall, thin girl of about fourteen stepped out on to the landing. A
bathing-dress is not as a rule a very graceful thing, yet this child,
her skirt to her knee, a black silk sash knotted around her waist, with
her slim white legs and charming feet, was as graceful as a young Amazon
on a Grecian frieze. A heavy mass of braids, coiled up to avoid a
wetting, crowned her small head. She was not pretty; Odd saw that
immediately, even while admiring the well-poised figure, its gallantly
held little torso and light energy. Her profile showed a short nose and
prominent chin, inharmoniously accentuated. She seemed really ugly when
her sister joined her; the sister was beautiful. Odd roused himself a
little from his half recumbency to look at the sister appreciatively.
Her slimness was exaggerated to an extreme--an almost fluttering
lightness; her long arms and legs seemed to flash their whiteness on the
green; she had an exquisite profile, and her soft black hair swept up
into the same coronet of coils. Captain Archinard joined them as they
stood side by side.

"You had better race," he said, looking down into the water, and then
away to the next band of shadow. "Dive in, and race to that clump of
aspens. This is a jolly bit for diving."

"But, papa, we shall wet our hair fearfully," said the elder girl--the
ugly one--for so Odd already ungallantly designated her. "We usually get
in on this shallower side and swim off. We have never tried diving, for
it takes so long to dry our hair. Taylor would not like it at all."

"It is so deep, too," said the beauty in rather a faltering
voice--unfortunately faltering, for her father turned sharply on her.

"Afraid, hey? You mustn't be a coward, Hilda."

"I am not afraid," said the elder girl; "but I never tried it. What must
I do? Put my arms so, and jump head first?"

"There is nothing to do at all," said the Captain, with some acidity of
tone. "Keep your mouth shut and strike out as you come up. You'll do it,
Katherine, first try. Hilda is in a funk, I see."

"Poor Hilda," Odd ejaculated mentally. She was evidently in a funk.
Standing on the edge of the landing, one slim foot advanced in a
tentative effort, she looked down shrinking into the water--very deeply
black at this spot--and then, half entreatingly, half helplessly, at her
father.

"Oh, papa, it is so deep," she repeated.

The Captain's neatly made face showed signs of peevish irritation.

"Well, deep or not, in you go. I must break you of that craven spirit.
What are you afraid of? What could happen to you?"

"I--don't like water over my head--I might strike--on something."

Tears were near the surface.

What asses people made of themselves, thought Odd, with their silly
shows of authority. The more the father insisted, the more frightened
the child became; couldn't the idiot see that? The tear-filled eyes and
looks that showed a struggle between fear of her father's anger and fear
of the deep, black pool, moved Odd to a sudden though half-amused
resentment, for the little girl was certainly somewhat of a coward.

"Let me go in first, papa, and show her. Hilda, dear, it's nothing;
being frightened will make it something, though, so don't be frightened,
and watch me."

"Yes, go in first, Katherine; show her that I have a girl who isn't a
coward--and how one of my daughters came to be a coward I don't
understand. I am ashamed of you, Hilda."

Hilda evidently only controlled her sobs by a violent effort; her
caught-in under-lip, wide eyes, and heaving little chest affected Odd
painfully. He frowned, sat up, put his hat on, and watched Miss
Katherine with a lack of sympathy that was certainly unfair, for the
plucky little person went through the performance most creditably,
stretched out and up her thin pretty arms, curved forward her pretty
body, and made the plunge with a lithe elegance that left her father
gazing with complacent approval after the white flash of her feet.

"Bravo! First-rate! There, Hilda, you see what can be done. Come on,
little white feather." He spoke more kindly; the elder sister's prowess
put him more in humor with his less creditable offspring.

"Oh, papa!" The child shrank on the edge of the platform--she would go
bundling in, and hurt herself. "But, papa," and her voice held a sharp
accent of distress, "where is Katherine?"

Indeed Katherine had not reappeared. Only a moment had passed, but a
moment under water is long. Captain Archinard's eyes searched the
surface of the river.

"But she can swim?"

"Papa! papa! She is drowned, _drowned_!" Hilda's voice rose to a scream.
With a wild look of resolve she sprang into the river just as Odd dashed
in, knee-deep, and as Katherine's head appeared at some distance down
the current--an angry little head, half choked, and gasping. Katherine
swam and waded to the shore, falling on her knees upon the bank, while
Odd dived into the hole--very bad hole, deep and weedy--after Hilda.

He groped for the child among a tangle of roots, touched her hair,
grasped her round the waist, and came to the surface with some
difficulty, his strokes impeded by sinuous cord-like weeds. Captain
Archinard was too much astonished by the whole matter to do more than
exclaim, "Upon my word!" as his younger daughter was deposited at his
feet.

"A nasty hole that. The weeds have probably grown since any one has
dived."

Odd spoke shortly, having lost his breath, and severely; the child
looked half drowned, and Katherine was still gasping.

"Why, Mr. Odd! Upon my word!"--the Captain recognized his neighbor--"I
don't know how to thank you."

The Captain had not recovered from his astonishment, and repeated with
some vehemence: "Upon my word!"

"Well, papa, you nearly drowned me!" Katherine was struggling between
pride and anger. She would not let the tears come, but they were near
the surface. "Those horrible snaky things got hold of me and I almost
screamed, only I remembered that I mustn't open my mouth, and I thought
I would _never_ come to the top." The self-pitying retrospect brought
the tears to her eyes, but she held up her head and looked and spoke her
resentment, "I think you might have gone in first yourself. And Hilda!
Why didn't you wait until I came to the surface before you made her do
it?"

Captain Archinard looked more vague under these reproaches than one
would have expected after his exhibition of rather fretful autocracy.

"Made her!" he repeated, seizing with a rather mean haste at the error;
"made her? She went in herself! Like a rocket, after you. By Jove! she
showed her blood after all."

"Hilda! you tried to save my life!"

Odd still held the younger girl on his arm, supporting her while she
choked and panted, for she had evidently had not shown her sister's
_aplomb_ and had opened her mouth. Katherine took her into her arms and
kissed her with a warmth quite dramatic.

"Darling Hilda! And you were so frightened, too. I would have gone in
after _her_," she added, looking up at Odd with a bright, quick glance,
"but there would have been nothing to my credit in that."

"And _I_ would have gone in after her, it goes without saying, Mr. Odd,"
said the Captain, when Katherine had led away to the bathing-cabin her
still dazed sister, "but you seemed to drop from the clouds. Really, you
have put me under a great obligation."

"Not at all. I have spent most of the day in the river. I merely went
in a bit deeper to fish out that plucky little girl."

"I've dived off that spot a hundred times. I'd no idea there were weeds.
I've never known weeds to be there. I'll send down one of the men
directly after lunch and have it seen to. Really I feel a sense of
responsibility." The Captain went on with an air of added
self-justification, "Though, of course, I'm not responsible. I couldn't
have known about the weeds."

Weeds or no weeds, Odd could not forgive him for the child's fright,
though he replied good-humoredly to the invitation to the house.

"Mrs. Archinard would have called on Mrs. Odd before this, but my wife
is an invalid--never leaves the house or grounds. She sees a good deal
of Miss Odd. I knew your father myself as well as one may know such a
recluse; spent some pleasant hours in his library--magnificent library
you've got. Peculiarly satisfactory it must be, as you go in for that
sort of thing. Won't you come in to tea this afternoon? And Mrs. Odd?
Miss Odd? I was sorry to find them out when I called the other day. I
haven't seen Mrs. Odd. I don't see her at church."

"No; we have hardly settled down to our duties yet, and my wife only got
back from the Riviera a few weeks ago."

"Well, I hope we shall keep you at Allersley now that your _wanderjahre_
are over, and that you are married. I was wandering myself during your
boyhood. My brother bought the place, you know; liked the country here
immensely. Poor old Jack! Only lived ten years to enjoy it--and died a
bachelor--luckily for me. But we've missed one another, haven't we?
Neighbors too. I have seen Mrs. Odd--at a dance in London, Lady
Bartlebury's, I remember; and I remember that she was the prettiest girl
in the room. Miss Castleton--the beautiful Alicia Castleton."

Miss Castleton's fame had indeed been so wide that the title was quite
public property, and the Captain's reminiscent tone of admiration most
natural and allowable. Odd accepted the invitation to tea, waded back
round the hedge, gathered up his basket and rod, and made his way up
through the park to Allersley Manor.



CHAPTER II


Mrs. Odd and Miss Odd, Peter's eldest and unmarried sister, were having
an only half-veiled altercation when Odd, after putting on dry clothes,
came into the morning-room just before lunch. Miss Odd sat by the open
French window cutting the leaves of a review. There were several more
reviews on the table beside her, and with her eyeglasses and fine,
severe profile, she gave one the impression of a woman who would pass
her mornings over reviews and disagree with most of them for reasons not
frivolous.

Mrs. Odd lay back in an easy-chair. She was very remarkable looking. The
adjective is usually employed in a sense rather derogatory to beauty
pure and simple, yet Mrs. Odd's dominant characteristic was beauty, pure
and simple; beauty triumphantly certain of remark, and remarkable in the
sense that no one could fail to notice her, as when one had noticed her
it was impossible not to find her beautiful. It was not a loveliness
that admitted of discussion. In desperate rebellion against an almost
tame conformity, a rash person might assert that to him her type did not
appeal; but the type was resplendent. Perhaps too resplendent; in this
extreme lay the only hope of escape from conformity. The long figure in
the uniform-like commonplace of blue serge and shirt-waist was almost
too uncommonplace in elegance of outline; the white hand too slender,
too pink as to finger-tips and polished as to nails; the delicate
scarlet splendor of her mouth, the big wine-colored eyes, too dazzling.

Mrs. Odd's red-brown hair was a glory, a burnished, well-coiffed,
well-brushed glory; it rippled, coiled, and curved about her head. Her
profile was bewildering--lazily, sweetly petulant. "Is this the face?" a
man might murmur on first seeing Alicia.

Odd had so murmured when she had flashed upon his vision over a year
ago. He was still young and literary, and, as he was swept out of
himself, had still had time for a vague grasp at self-expression.

Mrs. Odd was speaking as he entered the room.

"I don't really see, Mary, what duty has got to do with it." Without
turning her head, she turned her eyes on Odd: "How wet your hair is,
Peter!"

Mary Odd looked up from the review she was cutting rather grimly, and
her cold face was irradiated with a sudden smile.

"Well, Peter," she said quietly.

"I fished a little girl out of the river," said Odd, taking a seat near
Alicia, and smiling responsively at his sister. "Captain Archinard's
little girl." He told the story.

"An interesting contrast of physical and moral courage."

"I have seen the children. They are noticeable children. They always
ride to hounds." Hunting had been Miss Odd's favorite diversion during
her father's lifetime. "But the pretty one, as I remember, has not the
pluck of her sister--physical, as you say, Peter, no doubt."

"What sort of a person is Mrs. Archinard?"

"Very pretty, very lazy, very selfish. She is an American, and was rich,
I believe. Captain Archinard left the army when he married her, and
immediately spent her money. Luckily for him poor Mr. Archinard
died--Jack Archinard; you remember him, Peter? A nice man. I go to see
Mrs. Archinard now and then. I don't care for her."

"You don't care much for any one, Mary," said Mrs. Odd, smiling. "Your
remarks on your Allersley neighbors are very pungent and very true, no
doubt. People are so rarely perfect, and you only tolerate perfection."

"Yet I have many friends, Alicia."

"Not near Allersley?"

"Yes; I think I count Mrs. Hartley-Fox, Mrs. Maynard, Lady Mainwaring,
and Miss Hibbard among my friends."

"Mrs. Maynard is the old lady with the caps, isn't she? What big caps
she does wear! Lady Mainwaring I remember in London, trying to marry off
her eighth daughter. You told me, I recollect, that she was an
inveterate matchmaker."

"She has no selfish eagerness, if that is what you understood me to
mean."

"But she does interfere a great deal with the course of events, when
events are marriageable young men, doesn't she?"

"Does she?"

"Well, you said she was a matchmaker, Mary. There was no disloyalty in
saying so, for it is known by every one who knows Lady Mainwaring."

"And, therefore, my friends are not, and need not be, perfect."

During this little conversation, Odd sat with the unhappy, helpless look
men wear when their women-kind are engaged in such contests.

"I am awfully hungry. Isn't it almost lunch-time?" he said, as they
paused.

Mrs. Odd looked at her watch. "It only wants five minutes."

Odd walked to the window and looked out at the sweep of lawn, with its
lime-trees and copper beeches. The flower-beds were in all their glory.

"How well the mignonette is getting on, Mary," he said, looking down at
the fragrant greenness that came to the window. Alicia got up and joined
her husband, putting her arm through his.

"Let us take a turn in the garden, Peter," she smiled at him; and
although he understood, with the fatal clearness that one year of life
with Alicia had given him, that the walk was only proposed as a slight
to Mary, he felt the old pleasure in her beauty--a rather sickly, pallid
pleasure--and an inner qualm was dispersed by the realization that he
and Mary understood one another so well that there need be no fear of
hurting her.

After one year of married life, he and Mary knew the nearness of the
sympathy that allows itself no words.

There seemed to Odd a perverse pathos in Alicia's lonely complacency--a
pathos emphasized by her indifferent unconsciousness.

"Mary is so disagreeable to-day," said Alicia, as they walked slowly
across the lawn. "She has such a strong sense of her own worth and of
other people's worthlessness."

Odd made no reply. He never said a harsh word to his wife. He had chosen
to marry her. The man who would wreak his own disillusion on the woman
he had made his wife must, thought Odd, be a sorry wretch. He met the
revealment of Alicia's shallow selfishness with humorous gentleness. She
had been shallow and selfish when he had married her, and he had not
found it out--had not cared to find it out. He contemplated these
characteristics now with philosophic, even scientific charity. She was
born so.

"It will be dull enough here, at all events," Alicia went on, pressing
her slim patent-leather shoe into the turf with lazy emphasis as she
walked, for Alicia was not bad-tempered, and took things easily; "but if
Mary is going to be disagreeable--"

"You know, Alicia, that Mary has always lived here. It is in a truer
sense her home than mine, but she would go directly if either you or she
found it disagreeable. Had you not assented so cordially she would never
have stayed."

"Don't imply extravagant things, Peter. Who thinks of her going?"

"She would--if _you_ made it disagreeable."

"I? I do nothing. Surely Mary won't want to go because she scolds me."

"Come, Ally, surely you don't get scolded--more than is good for you."
Odd smiled down at her. Her burnished head was on a level with his
eyes. "Like everybody else, you are not perfection, and, as Mary is
somewhat of a disciplinarian, you ought to take her lectures in a humble
spirit, and be thankful. I do. Mary is so much nearer perfection than I
am."

"I am afraid I shall be bored here, Peter." Alicia left the subject of
Mary for a still more intimate grievance.

"The art of not being bored requires patience, not to say genius. It can
be learned though. And there are worse things than being bored."

"I think I could bear anything better."

"What would you like, Ally?" Odd's voice held a certain hopefulness.
"I'll do anything I can, you know. I believe in a woman's individuality
and all that. Does your life down here crush your individuality,
Alicia?"

Again Odd smiled down at her, conscious of an inward bitterness.

"Joke away, Peter. You know how much I care for all that woman
business--rights and movements and individualities and all that; a silly
claiming of more duties that do no good when they're done. I am an
absolutely banal person, Peter; my mind to me isn't a kingdom. I like
outside things. I like gayety, change, diversion. I don't like days one
after the other--like sheep--and I don't like sheep!"

They had passed through the shrubbery, and before them were meadows
dotted with the harmless animals that had suggested Mrs. Odd's simile.

"Well, we won't look at the sheep. I own that they savor strongly of
bucolic immutability. You've had plenty of London for the past year,
Ally, and Nice and Monte Carlo. The sheep are really the change."

"You had better go in for a seat in Parliament, Peter."

"Longings for a political salon, Ally? I have hardly time for my
scribbling and landlording as it is."

"A salon! Nothing would bore me so much as being clever and keeping it
up. No, I like seeing people and being seen, and dancing and all that. I
am absolutely banal, as I tell you."

"Well, you shall have London next year. We'll go up for the season."

"You took me for what I was, Peter," Mrs. Odd remarked as they retraced
their steps towards the house. "I have never pretended, have I? You knew
that I was a society beauty and that only. I am a very shallow person, I
suppose, Peter; I certainly can't pretend to have depths--even to give
Mary satisfaction. It would be too uncomfortable. Why did you fall in
love with me, Peter? It wasn't _en caractère_ a bit, you know."

"Oh yes, it was, Ally. I fell in love with you because you were
beautiful. Why did you fall in love with me?"

The mockery with which Alicia's smile was tinged deepened into a
good-humored laugh at her own expense.

"Well, Peter, I don't think any one before made me feel that they
thought me so beautiful. I am vain, you know. Your enthusiasm was
awfully flattering. I am very sorry you idealized me, Peter. I am sure
you idealized me. Shall we go in? Lunch must be ready, and you must be
hungrier than ever."



CHAPTER III


At four that afternoon Odd, his wife, and Mary started for the
Archinards' house. Mary had offered to join her brother; the prospect of
the walk together was very pleasant. She could not object when Alicia,
at the last moment, announced her intention of going too.

"I have never been to see her. I should like the walk, and Mary will
approve of the fulfilment of my duty towards my neighbor."

Mary's prospects were decidedly nipped in the bud, as Alicia perhaps
intended that they should be; but Alicia's avowed motive was so
praiseworthy that Mary allowed herself only an inner discontent, and,
what with her good-humored demeanor, Odd's placid chat of crops and
tenantry, and Alicia's acquiescent beauty, the trio seemed to enjoy the
mile of beechwood and country road and the short sweep of prettily
wooded drive that led to Allersley Priory, a square stone house covered
with vines of magnolia and wisteria, and incorporating in its walls,
according to tradition, portions of the old Priory which once occupied
the site. From the back of the house sloped a wide expanse of lawn and
shrubberies, and past it ran the river that half a mile further on
flowed out of Captain Archinard's little property into Odd's. The
drawing-room was on the ground-floor, and its windows opened on this
view.

Mrs. Archinard and the Captain were talking to young Lord Allan Hope,
eldest son of Lord Mainwaring. Mrs. Archinard's invalidism was evidently
not altogether fictitious. She had a look of at once extreme fragility
and fading beauty. One knew at the first glance that she was a woman to
have cushions behind her and her back to the light. There was no
character in the delicate head, unless one can call a passive
determination to do or feel nothing that required energy, character.

The two little girls came in while Odd talked to their father. They were
dressed alike in white muslins. Katherine's gown reached her ankles;
Hilda's was still at the _mi-jambe_ stage. Their long hair fell about
their faces in childlike fashion. Katherine's was brown and strongly
rippled; Hilda's softly, duskily, almost bluely black; it grew in
charming curves and eddies about her forehead, and framed her little
face and long slim neck in straightly falling lines.

Katherine gave Odd her hand with a little air that reminded him of a
Velasquez Infanta holding out a flower.

"You were splendid this morning, Mr. Odd. That hole was no joke, and
Hilda swallowed lots of water as it was. She might easily have been
drowned."

Katherine was certainly not pretty, but her deeply set black eyes had a
dominant directness. She held her head up, and her smile was charming--a
little girl's smile, yet touched with the conscious power of a clever
woman. Odd felt that the child was clever, and that the woman would be
cleverer. He felt, too, that the black eyes were lit with just a spice
of fun as they looked into his as though she knew that he knew, and they
both knew together, that Hilda had not been in much danger, and that his
ducking had been only conventionally "splendid."

"Hilda wants to thank you herself, don't you, Hilda? She had such a
horrid time altogether; you were a sort of Perseus to her, and papa the
sea monster!" Then Katherine, having, as it were, introduced and paved
the way for her sister, went back across the room again, and stood by
young Allan Hope while he talked to the beautiful Mrs. Odd.

Hilda seemed really in no need of an introduction. She was not shy,
though she evidently had not her sister's ready mastery of what to say,
and how to say it. Odd was rather glad of this; he had found Katherine's
_aplomb_ almost disconcerting.

"I do thank you very much." She put her hand into Odd's as he spoke, and
left it there; the confiding little action emphasized her childlikeness.

"What did you think of as you went down?" he asked her.

"In the river?" A shade of retrospective terror crossed her face.

"No, no! we won't talk about the river, will we?" Odd said quickly.
However funny Katherine's greater common sense had found the incident,
it had not been funny to Hilda. "Have you lived here long?" he asked.
Captain Archinard had joined Mrs. Odd, and with an admirer on either
side, Alicia was enjoying herself. "I have never seen you before, you
know."

"We have lived here since my uncle died; about eight years ago, I
think."

"Yes, just about the time that I left Allersley."

"Didn't you like Allersley?" Hilda asked, with some wonder.

"Oh, very much; and my father was here, so I often came back; but I
lived in London and Paris, where I could work at things that interested
me."

"I have been twice in London; I went to the National Gallery."

"You liked that?"

"Oh, very much." She was a quiet little girl, and spoke quietly, her
wide gentle gaze on Odd.

"And what else did you like in London?"

Hilda smiled a little, as if conscious that she was being put through
the proper routine of questions, but a trustful smile, quite willing to
give all information asked for.

"The Three Fates."

"You mean the Elgin Marbles?"

"Yes, with no heads; but one is rather glad they haven't."

"Why?" asked Odd, as she paused. Hilda did not seem sure of her own
reason.

"Perhaps they would be _too_ beautiful with heads," she suggested. "Do
you like dogs?" she added, suddenly turning the tables on him.

"Yes, I love dogs," Odd replied, with sincere enthusiasm.

"Three of our dogs are out there on the verandah, if you would care to
know them?"

"I should very much. Perhaps you'll show me the garden too; it looks
very jolly."

It was a pleasure to look at his extraordinarily pretty little
Andromeda, and he was quite willing to spend the rest of his visit with
her. They went out on the verandah, where, in the awning's shade, lay
two very nice fox terriers. A dachshund sat gazing out upon the sunlit
lawn in a dog's dignified reverie.

"Jack and Vic," Hilda said, pointing out the two fox terriers. "They
just belong to the whole family, you know. And this dear old fellow is
Palamon; Arcite is somewhere about; they are mine."

"Who named yours?"

"I did--after I read it; they had other names when they were given to
me, but as I had never called them by them, I thought I had a right to
change them. I wanted names with associations, like Katherine's setters;
they are called Darwin and Spencer, because Katherine is very fond of
science."

"Oh, is she?" said Odd, rather stupefied. "You seem to have a great many
dogs in couples."

"The others are not; they are more general dogs, like Jack and Vic."

Hilda still held Odd's hand: she stooped to stroke Arcite's pensive
head, giving the fox terriers a pat as they passed them.

"So you are fond of Chaucer?" Odd said. They crossed the gravel path and
stepped on the lawn.

"Yes, indeed, he is my favorite poet. I have not read all, you know, but
especially the Knight's Tale."

"That's your favorite?"

"Yes."

"And what is your favorite part of the Knight's Tale?"

"The part where Arcite dies."

"You like that?"

"Oh! so much; don't you?"

"Very much; as much, perhaps, as anything ever written. There never was
a more perfect piece of pathos. Perhaps you remember it." He was rather
curious to know how deep was this love for Chaucer.

"I learnt it by heart; I haven't a good memory, but I liked it so much."

"Perhaps you would say it to me."

Hilda looked up a little shyly.

"Oh, I can't!" she exclaimed timidly.

"_Can't_ you?" and Odd looked down at her a humorously pleading
interrogation.

"I can't say things well; and it is too sad to say--one can just bear to
read it."

"Just bear to say it--this once," Odd entreated.

They had reached the edge of the lawn, and stood on the grassy brink of
the river. Hilda looked down into the clear running of the water.

"Isn't it pretty? I don't like deep water, where one can't see the
bottom; here the grasses and the pebbles are as distinct as possible,
and the minnows--don't you like to see them?"

"Yes, but Arcite. Don't make me tease you."

Hilda evidently determined not to play the coward a second time. The
quiet pressure of Odd's hand was encouraging, and in a gentle,
monotonous little voice that, with the soft breeze, the quickly running
sunlit river, went into Odd's consciousness as a quaint, ineffaceable
impression of sweetness and sadness, she recited:--

    "Allas the wo! allas the peynes stronge,
     That I for you have suffered, and so longe!
     Allas the deth! allas myn Emelye!
     Allas departing of our companye!
     Allas myn hertes quene! allas, my wyf!
     Myn hertes lady, endere of my lyf!
     What is this world? What asketh man to have?
     Now with his love, now in his colde grave
     Allone, withouten any companye."

Odd's artistic sensibilities were very keen. He felt that painfully
delicious constriction of the throat that the beautiful in art can give,
especially the beautiful in tragic art. The far-away tale; the far-away
tongue; the nearness of the pathos, poignant in its "white simplicity."
And how well the monotonous little voice suited its melancholy.

    "Allone, withouten any companye,"

he repeated. He looked down at Hilda; he had tactfully avoided looking
at her while she spoke, fearing to embarrass her; her eyes were full of
tears.

"Thanks, Hilda," he said. It struck him that this highly strung little
girl had best not be allowed to dwell too long on Arcite and, after a
sympathetic pause (Odd was a very sympathetic person), he added:

"Now are you going to take me into the garden?"

"Yes." Hilda turned from the river. "You know he had just gained her,
that made it all the worse. If he had not loved her he would not have
minded dying so much, and being alone. One can hardly bear it," Hilda
repeated.

"It is intensely sad. I don't think you ought to have learned it by
heart, Hilda. That's ungrateful of me, isn't it? But I am old enough to
take an impersonal pleasure in sad things; I am afraid they make you
sad."

Hilda's half-wondering smile was reassuringly childlike.

"Oh, but it's _nice_ being sad like that."

Odd reflected, as they went into the garden, that she had put herself
into his category.

After the shadow of the shrubberies through which they passed, the
fragrant sunlight was dazzling. Rows of sweet peas, their mauves and
pinks and whites like exquisite musical motives, ran across the
delicious old garden. A border of deep purple pansies struck a
beautifully meditative chord. Flowers always affected Odd musically; he
half closed his eyes to look at the sweeps of sun-flooded color. A
medley of Schumann and Beethoven sang through his head as he glanced
down, smiling at Hilda Archinard; her gently responsive little smile was
funnily comprehensive; one might imagine that tunes were going through
her head too.

"Isn't it jolly, Hilda?"

"Very jolly," she laughed, and, as they walked between the pansy borders
she kept her gentle smile and her gentle stare up at his appreciative
face.

She thought his smile so nice; his teeth, which crowded forward a
little, lent it perhaps its peculiar sweetness; his eyelids, drooping at
the outer corners, gave the curious look of humorous sadness to the
expression of his brown eyes. His moustache was cut shortly on his upper
lip, and showed the rather quizzical line of his mouth. Hilda,
unconsciously, enumerated this catalogue of impressions.

"What fine strawberries," said Odd. "I like the fragrance almost more
than the flavor."

"But won't you taste them?" Hilda dropped his hand to skip lightly into
the strawberry bed. "They are ripe, lots of them," she announced, and
she came running back, her outstretched hands full of the summer fruit,
red, but for the tips, still untinted. The sunlit white frock, the long
curves of black hair, the white face, slim black legs, and the spots of
crimson color made a picture--a sunshiny Whistler.

Odd accepted the strawberries gratefully; they were very fine.

"I don't think you can have them better at Allersley Manor," said Hilda,
smiling.

"I don't think mine are as good. Won't you come some day to Allersley
Manor and compare?"

"I should like to very much."

"Then you and Miss Katherine shall be formally invited to tea, with the
understanding that afterwards the strawberry beds are to be invaded."

"I should like to very much," Hilda repeated.

"Hullo! Don't make me feel a pig! Eat some yourself," said Odd, who had
finished one handful.

"No, no, I picked them for you."

Odd took her disengaged hand in his as they walked on again, Hilda
resisting at first.

"It is so sticky."

"I don't mind that: it is very generous." She laughed at the
extravagance.

"And what do you do all day besides swimming?" Odd asked.

"We have lessons with our governess. She is strict, but a splendid
teacher. Katherine is quite a first-rate Latin scholar."

"Is Katherine fond of Chaucer?"

"Katherine cares more for science and--and philosophy." Hilda spoke with
a respectful gravity. "That's why she called her dogs Darwin and
Spencer. She hasn't read any of Spencer yet, but of course he is a great
philosopher. She knows that, and she has read a good deal of a big book
by Darwin, 'The Origin of Species,' you know."

"Yes, I know." Odd found Katherine even more startling than her sister.

"I tried to read it, but it was so confusing--about selection and
cabbages--I don't see how cabbages _can_ select, do you?" Hilda's voice
held a reminiscent vagueness. "Katherine says that she did not care for
it _much_, but she thought she ought to look through it if she wanted a
foundation; she is very keen on foundations, and she says Darwin is the
foundation-key--or corner-stone--no, keystone to the arch of modern
science--at least she did not say so, but she read me that from her
journal."

"Oh! Katherine wrote that, did she?"

"Yes; but you mustn't think that Katherine is a blue-stocking."
Something in Odd's tone made Hilda fear misunderstanding. "She loves
sports of all kinds, and fun. She goes across country as well as any
woman--that is what Lord Mainwaring said of her last winter during
fox-hunting. She isn't afraid of anything."

"And what else do you do besides lessons?"

"Well, I read and walk; there are such famous walks all about here,
walks in woods and on hills. I don't care for roads, do you? And I stay
with mamma and read to her when she is tired."

"And Katherine?"

"She is more with papa." In her heart Hilda said: "He loves her best,"
but of that she could not speak, even to this new friend who seemed
already so near; to no one could she hint of that ache in her heart of
which jealousy formed no part, for it was natural that papa should love
Katherine best, that every one should; she was so gay and courageous;
but though it was natural that Katherine should be loved best, it was
hard to be loved least.

"You are by yourself a good deal, then?" said Odd. "Do you walk by
yourself, too?"

"Yes, with the dogs. I used to have grandmamma, you know; she died a
year ago."

"Oh, yes! Mrs. Archinard's mother."

Hilda nodded; her grasp on Odd's hand tightened and they walked in
silence. Odd remembered the fine portrait of a lady in the drawing-room;
he had noticed its likeness and unlikeness to Mrs. Archinard; a delicate
face, but with an Emersonian expression of self-reliance, a puritan look
of stanchness and responsibility.



CHAPTER IV


On the way home, cool evening shadows slanting across the road, Alicia
declared that she had really enjoyed herself.

"Captain Archinard is quite jolly. He has seen everybody and everything
under the sun. He is most entertaining, and Lord Allan is remarkably
uncallow."

"He thinks of standing for Parliament next year. A nice, steady, honest
young fellow. How do you like the Archinards, Peter?"

"The child--Hilda--is a dear child."

"She is awfully pretty," said Alicia, who could afford to be generous;
"I like that colorless type."

"She is delicate, I am afraid," said Mary.

"She has the mouth of a Botticelli Madonna and the eyes of a
Gainsborough; you know the portrait of Sheridan's wife at Dulwich?"

Alicia had never been to Dulwich. Mary assented.

"The other one--the ugly one--is very clever," Alicia went on; she was
in a good temper evidently. Not that Alicia was ever exactly
bad-tempered. "She said some very clever things and looked more."

"She is too clever perhaps," Mary remarked. "As for Mrs. Archinard, I
should like to slap her. I think that my conventionality is of a
tolerant order, but Mrs. Archinard's efforts at æsthetic originality
make me feel grimly conventional."

"Mary! Mary! how delightful to hear such uncharitable remarks from you.
_I_ should rather like to slap her too, though she struck me as awfully
conventional."

"Oh, she is, practically. It is the artistic _argot_ that bores one so
much."

"She is awfully self-satisfied too. Dear me, Peter, I wish we had driven
after all. I hate the next half-mile. It is just uphill enough to be
irritating--fatigue without realizing exactly the cause of it. Why
didn't we drive, Peter?"

"I thought we all preferred walking. You are a very energetic young
person as a rule."

"Not for tiresome country roads. They should be got over as quickly as
possible."

"Well, we will cut through the beech-woods as we came."

"Oh dear," Alicia yawned, "how tired I am already of those tiresome
beech-woods. I wish it were autumn and that the hunting had begun.
Captain Archinard gives me glowing accounts, and promises me a lead for
the first good run. We must fill the house with people then, Peter."

"The house shall be filled to overflowing. Perhaps you would like some
one now. Mrs. Laughton and her girls; you like them, don't you?"

Alicia wrinkled up her charming nose.

"Can't say I do. I've stopped with them too much perhaps. They bore me.
I am afraid no one would come just now, everything is so gay in London.
I wish I were there."

Alicia was not there because the doctor had strongly advised country air
and the simple inaction of country life. Alicia had lost her baby only
three weeks after its birth--two months ago--and had herself been very
ill.

"But I think I shall write to some people and ask them to take pity on
me," she added, as they walked slowly through the woods. "Sir John, and
Mr. and Mrs. Damian, Gladys le Breton, and Lord Calverly."

"Well!" Peter spoke in his usual tone of easy acquiescence.

Mary walked on a little ahead. What good did it do to trouble her
brother uselessly by her impatient look? But how could Peter yield so
placidly? Mary respected him too much to allow herself an evil thought
of his wife; but Alicia was a person to be talked about. Mary did not
doubt that she had been talked about already, and would be more so if
she were not careful.

Lord Calverly and Sir John dangling attendance would infallibly cause
comment on any woman--let alone the beautiful Mrs. Odd. Yet Peter said,
"Well!"



CHAPTER V


The evening did not pass pleasantly at the Priory. Captain Archinard's
jolliness did not extend to family relationships; he often found family
relationships a bore, and the contrasted stodginess of his own
surroundings seemed greater after Mrs. Odd's departure.

He muttered and fumed about the drawing-room after dinner.

He was confoundedly pinched for money, and upon his word he would not be
surprised if he should have to sell the horses. "And what my life will
be stuck down here without the hunting, I can't imagine. Damnable!"

The Captain growled out the last word under his breath in consideration
of Katherine and Hilda, who had joined their father and mother after
their own tea and a game of lawn-tennis. But Mrs. Archinard was not the
woman to allow to pass unnoticed such a well-founded cause of grievance.

With a look of delicate disgust she laid down the volume of Turgenieff
that she was reading.

"Shall I send the children away, Charles? Either they or you had best
go, if you are going to talk like that."

"Beg pardon," said the Captain shortly. "No, of course they don't go."

"I am sure I have few enough enjoyments without being made to suffer
because you are to lose one of yours."

"Who asks you to suffer, Kate? But you don't wait for the asking. You're
only too willing to offer yourself as a _souffre-douleur_ on all
occasions."

Then Mrs. Archinard retired behind her book in scornful resignation and,
after twenty minutes of silence, the little girls were very glad to get
away to bed.

Hilda was just undressed when Mrs. Archinard sent for her to come to her
room. Her head ached, and Hilda must brush her hair; it was early yet.
This was a customary task, and one that Hilda prided herself upon
accomplishing with sovereign beneficence. Taylor's touch irritated Mrs.
Archinard; Hilda only was soothing.

In dressing-gown and slippers she ran to her mother's room.

Mrs. Archinard's long hair--as black and as fine as Hilda's--fell over
the back of the large arm-chair in which she reclined.

"Such a headache!" she sighed, as Hilda took up the brush and began to
pass it slowly and gently down the length of hair. "It is really brutal
of your father to forget my head as he does."

Hilda's heart sank. The unideal attitude of her father and mother toward
one another was one of her great sorrows. Papa was certainly fond of his
pretty wife, but he was so fretful and impatient, and mamma so
continually grieved. It was all wrong. Hilda had already begun to pass
judgment, unconsciously, on her father; but her almost maternal
tenderness for her mother as yet knew no doubt.

"It would be very dreadful if the horses had to go, wouldn't it?" she
said. Her father's bad temper might be touching if its cause were
suggested.

"Of course it would; and so are most things dreadful. I am sure that
life is nothing but dreadfulness in every form." Yet Mrs. Archinard was
not at all an unhappy woman. Her life was delicately epicurean. She had
few wants, but those few were never thwarted. From the early cup of
exquisite tea brought to her bedside, through all the day of dilettante
lounging over a clever book--a day relieved from monotony by pleasant
episodes--dainty dishes especially prepared, visits from acquaintances,
with whom she had a reputation for languid cynicism and quite awesome
literary and artistic cleverness--to this hour of hair-brushing, few of
her moments were not consciously appreciative of the most finely
flavored mental and physical enjoyment. But the causes for enjoyment
certainly seemed so slight that Mrs. Archinard's graceful pessimism
usually met with universal sympathy. Hilda was very sorry for her
mother. To lie all day reading dreary books; condemned to an inaction
that cut her off from all the delights of outdoor life, seemed to her
tragic. Mrs. Archinard did not undeceive her; indeed, perhaps, the most
fascinating of Mrs. Archinard's artistic occupations was to fancy
herself very tragic. Hilda went back to her room much depressed.

The girls slept together, and Katherine was sitting up in her night-gown
writing her journal by candlelight and enjoying a sense of talent
flowing at all costs--for writing by candlelight was strictly
forbidden--as she dotted down what she felt to be a very original and
pungent account of the day and the people it had introduced.

When, however, she heard the patter of Hilda's heedless slippers in the
corridor, she blew out the candle in a hurry, pinched the glowing wick,
and skipped into bed. She might take an artistic pleasure in braving
rules, but Katherine knew that Hilda would have shown an almost dull
amazement at her occupation; and although Katherine characterized it as
dull, she did not care to arouse it. She wished to stand well in Hilda's
eyes in all things. Hilda must find nothing to criticise in her either
mentally or morally.

"What shall we do if the horses are sold?" she exclaimed, as Hilda got
into the little bed beside hers. "Only imagine! no hunting next winter!
at least, none for us!"

"Poor papa," Hilda sighed.

"Oh, you may be sure that he will keep one hunter at least, but of
course he will be dreadfully cut off from it with only one, and of
course our horses will have to go if the worst comes to the worst. You
won't miss it as much as I will, Hilda; the riding, yes, no doubt, but
not the hunting. Still Lord Mainwaring will give us a mount, and now
that Mr. Odd is here, he will be sure to have a lot of horses. The old
squire let everything of that sort run down so, Miss Odd had only two
hunters. Well, Hilda, and what do you think of Mr. Odd?"

"Oh, I love him, Katherine!" Hilda lay looking with wide eyes into the
soft darkness of the room. The windows were open, and the drawn chintz
curtains flapped gently against the sills.

"I wouldn't say that if I were you, Hilda," Katherine remarked, with
some disapproval.

"Why not?" Hilda's voice held an alarmed note. Katherine was, to a great
extent, her mentor.

"It doesn't sound very--dignified. Of course you are only a little girl,
but still--one doesn't say such things."

"But I do love him; how can one help loving a person who treats one so
kindly. And then--anyway--even if he had not been kind to me I should
love him, I think."

Hilda would have liked to be able properly to analyze her sensations and
win her sister's approval; but how explain clearly?

"That would be rather foolish," Katherine said, in a tone of kind but
restraining wisdom; "one shouldn't let one's feelings run away with one
like that. Shall I tell you what _I_ think about Mr. Odd?"

"Oh yes, please."

"I think he is like the river where we jumped in to-day--ripples on the
top, kindness and smiles, you know--but somewhere in his heart a big
hole--a hole with stones and weeds in it." Katherine was quoting from
her journal, but Hilda might as well think the simile improvised:
Katherine felt some pride in it; it certainly justified, she thought,
the conventionally illicit act of the candle.

Hilda lay in silent admiration.

"Oh, Katherine, I never know how I feel things till you tell me like
that," she said at last. "How beautiful! Yes, I am sure he has a hole in
his heart." And tears came into Hilda's eyes and into her mind the
line:--

    "Allone, withouten any companye."

"As for Mrs. Odd," Katherine continued, pleased with the success of her
psychology, "she has no heart to make a hole in."

"Katherine, do you think so? How dreadful!"

"She is a thorough egotist. She doesn't know much either, Hilda, for
when Darwin came in she laughed a lot at the name and said she wouldn't
be paid to read him--the real Darwin."

"Perhaps she likes other things best."

"Herself," said Katherine decisively. "Miss Odd of course we have had
time to make up our minds about."

"I like her; don't you? She has such a clear, trustful face."

"She is rather rigid; about as hard on other people as she would be on
herself. She could never do anything wrong."

"I don't quite like _that_; being hard on other people, I mean. One
could be quite sure about one's own wrongness, but how can one about
other people's? It is rather uncharitable, isn't it, Katherine?"

"She isn't very charitable, but she is very just. As for Lord Allan, he
is a sort of type, and, therefore, not very entertaining."

"A type of what?"

"Oh, just the eldest son type; very handsome, very honest, very good,
with a strong sense of responsibility. Jimmy Hope is just like him,
which is a great pity, as one expects a difference in the younger
son--more interest."

Katharine went to sleep with a warmly comfortable sense of competence.
She doubted whether many people saw things as clearly as she did.

She was wakened by an unpleasant dreaming scream from Hilda.

"What is the matter, Hilda?" She spoke crossly. "How you startled me."

"Oh, such a horrid dream!" Hilda half sobbed. "How glad I am that it
isn't so!"

"What was it?" Katherine asked, still crossly; severity she thought the
best attitude towards Hilda's fright.

"About the river, down in the hole; I was choking, and my legs and arms
were all tangled in roots."

"Well, go to sleep now," Katherine advised.

Hilda was obediently silent, but presently a small, supplicating voice
was heard.

"Katherine--I'm so sorry--don't be angry--might I come to you? I'm so
frightened."

"Come along," said Katherine, still severely, but she put her arms very
fondly around her shivering sister, snuggled her consolingly and kissed
her.

"Silly little Hilda," she said.



CHAPTER VI


Three days before the arrival of Gladys le Breton, Mrs. Marchant, Lord
Calverly, and Sir John (the Damians only did not accept Alicia's
invitation), Mary Odd astonished her brother.

She came into the library early one morning before breakfast. Odd was
there, writing.

"Peter," she said, "last night, before going to bed, I wrote to Mr.
Apswith and accepted him."

Mary always spoke to the point. Peter wheeled round his chair in
amazement.

"Accepted Mr. Apswith, Mary?"

"Yes. I always intended to at some time, and I felt that the time had
come."

Mr. Apswith, a clever, wealthy M. P., had for years been in love with
Miss Odd. Mary was now one-and-thirty, two years older than her brother,
and people said that Mr. Apswith had fallen in love when she first came
out twelve years ago. Mr. Apswith's patience, perseverance, and fidelity
were certainly admirable, but Peter, like most people, had thought that
as Mary had, so far, found no difficulty in maintaining her severe
independence, it would, in all probability, never yield to Mr. Apswith's
ardor.

Mary, however, was a person to keep her own counsel. During her father's
lifetime, when much responsibility and many duties had claimed her, she
had certainly doubted more than once the possibility of Mr. Apswith's
ultimate success; there was a touch of the Diana in Mary, and a great
deal of the Minerva. But, since her father's death, since Peter's bridal
home-coming, Mary often found herself thinking of Mr. Apswith, her
fundamental sympathy with him on all things, her real loneliness and his
devotion. They had corresponded for years, and often saw one another.
Familiarity had not bred contempt, but rather strengthened mutual trust
and dependence. A certain tone of late in Mary's letters had called
forth from Mr. Apswith a most domineering and determined love-letter.
Mary had yielded to it--gladly, as she now realized. Yet her heart
yearned over Peter. He got up now, and kissed her.

"Mary, my dear girl"--he could hardly find words--"may you be very, very
happy. You deserve it; so does he."

Neither touched, as they talked of the wonderful decision, on the fact
that by it Peter would be left to the solitary companionship of his
wife; it was not a fact to be touched on. Mary longed to fling her arms
around his neck and cry on his shoulder. Her happiness made his missing
it so apparent, but she shrank from emphasizing their mutual knowledge.

"We must ask Apswith down at once," said Odd. "It's a busy session, but
he can manage a few days."

"Well, Peter, that is hardly necessary. I shall go up to London within
the week. Lady Mainwaring asked me to go to Paris with her on the 20th.
She stops in London for three days. I shall see Mr. Apswith there, get
my trousseau in Paris, and be married in July, in about six weeks' time.
Delay would be rather silly--he has waited so long."

"You take my breath away, Mary. I am selfish, I own. I don't like to
lose you."

"It isn't losing me, Peter dear. We shall see a lot of one another. I
shall be married from here, of course. Mr. Apswith will stop with the
Mainwarings."

When Mary left him, Peter resumed his seat, and even went on writing for
a few moments. Then he put down the pen and stretched himself, as one
does when summoning courage. He did not lack courage, yet he owned to
himself that Mary's prospective departure sickened him. Her grave, even
character had given him a sense of supporting sympathy; he needed a
sympathetic atmosphere; and Alicia's influence was a very air-pump. Poor
Alicia, thought Odd. The sense of his own despair struck him as rather
unmanly. He looked out of the open window at the lawn, its cool, green
stretches whitened with the dew; the rooks were cawing in the trees, and
his thoughts went back suddenly to a certain morning in London, not two
months ago, just after the baby's death and just before Alicia's
departure for the Riviera.

Alicia was lying on the sofa--Peter staring at the distant trees, did
not see them but that scene--her magnificent health had made lying on
sofas very uncharacteristic, and Odd had been struck with a gentle sort
of compunction at the sight of the bronze head on the pillow, the thin
white cheek. His heart was very heavy. The paternal instincts are not
said to be strong; Odd had not credited himself with possessing them in
any elevated form. Yet, now that the poor baby was dead, he realized how
keen had been his interest in the little face, how keen the half-animal
pleasure in the clinging of the tiny fingers, and as he looked at the
baby in its small white coffin, he had realized, too, with a pang of
longing that the little white face, like a flower among the flowers
about it, was that of his child--dead.

On that morning he bent over Alicia with something of the lover's
tenderness in his heart, though Alicia had very nearly wrung all
tenderness out of it.

"My dear girl, my poor, dear girl," he said, kissing her; and he sat
down beside her on the sofa and smoothed back her hair. Alicia looked up
at him with those wonderful eyes--looked up with a smile.

"Oh, I shall be all right soon enough, Peter."

Peter put his arm under her head and looked hard at her--her beauty
entranced him as it had done from the beginning.

"Alicia, Alicia, do you love me?" His earnestness pleased her; she felt
in it her own power.

"What a thing to ask, Peter. Did you ever imagine I didn't?"

"Shall it bring us together, my wife, the death of our child? Will you
feel for my sorrow as I feel for yours, my poor darling?"

"Feel for you, Peter? Why, of course I do. It is especially hard on you,
too, losing your heir."

Her look, her words crushed all the sudden impulse of resolve, hope,
love even.

"My heir?" Peter repeated, in a stumbling tone. "That has nothing to do
with it. I wasn't thinking of that."

"Weren't you?" said Alicia, rather wearily. She felt her weakness, it
irked her, and her next words were more fretfully uttered--

"Of course I know you feel for me. Such a lot to go through, too, and
for nothing." She saw the pain setting her husband's lips sternly. "I
suppose now, Peter, that you are imagining I care nothing about baby,"
she remarked.

"I hope I am not a brute," said Peter gloomily.

"You hope _I'm_ not, too, no doubt."

"Don't, don't, Alicia."

"I felt awfully about it; simply awfully," Alicia declared.

Odd, retracing the sorry little scene as he looked from his library
windows, found that from it unconsciously he had dated an epoch, an
epoch of resignation that had donned good-humor as its shield. Alicia
could disappoint him no longer.

In the first month of their married life, each revelation of emptiness
had been an agony. Alicia was still mysterious to him, as must be a
nature centered in its own shallowness to one at touch on all points
with life in all its manifestations; her mind still remained as much a
thing for conjecture as the mind of some animals. But Alicia's
perceptions were subtle, and he only asked now to keep from her all
consciousness of his own marred life; for he had marred it, not she. He
was carefully just to Alicia.

Mary remained at the Manor until all Alicia's guests had arrived. Mrs.
Marchant, an ugly, "smart," vivacious widow, splendid horsewoman, and
good singer; Gladys le Breton, who was very blonde and fluffy as to
head, just a bit made-up as to skin, harmless, pretty, silly, and
supposed to be clever.

"Clever, I suppose," Mary said to Lady Mainwaring, "because she has the
reputation of doing foolish things badly--dancing on dinner-tables and
thoroughly _bête_ things like that. She has not danced on Peter's table
as yet."

Miss le Breton skirt-danced in the drawing-room, however, very prettily,
and Peter's placid contemplation of her coyness irritated Mary. Miss le
Breton's coyness was too mechanical, too well worn to afford even a
charitable point of view.

"Poor little girl," said Peter, when she expressed her disapproval with
some severity; "it is her nature. Each man after his own manner; hers is
to make a fool of herself," and with this rather unexpected piece of
opinion Mary was fully satisfied. As for Lord Calverly, she cordially
hated the big man with the good manners and the coarse laugh. His
cynical observation of Miss le Breton aroused quite a feeling of
protecting partisanship in Mary's breast, and his looks at Alicia made
her blood boil. They were not cynical. Sir John Fleetinge was hardly
more tolerable; far younger, with a bonnie look of devil-may-care and a
reputation for recklessness that made Mary uneasy. Peter was indifferent
good-humor itself, but she thought the time might come when Peter's
good-humor might fail.

The thought of Mr. Apswith was cheering; but she hated to leave Peter
_dans cette galère_.

Peter, however, did not much mind the _galère_. His duties as host lay
lightly on him. He did not mind Calverly at billiards, nor Fleetinge at
the river, where they spent several mornings fishing silently and
pleasantly together. Fleetinge had only met him casually in London clubs
and drawing-rooms, but at close quarters he realized that literary
tastes, which might have indicated a queer twist according to Sir John
and an air of easy confidence in Mrs. Odd, would not make a definite
falling in love with Mrs. Odd one whit the safer; he rather renounced
definiteness therefore, and rather liked Peter.

Mary departed for London with Lady Mainwaring, and Alicia, as if to show
that she needed no chaperonage, conducted herself with a little less
gayety than when Mary was there.

She rode in the mornings with Lord Calverly and Captain Archinard--who
had not, as yet, put into execution the hideous economy of selling his
horses. In the evening she played billiards in a manly manner, and at
odd hours she flirted, but not too forcibly, with Lord Calverly, Sir
John, and with Captain Archinard in the beech-woods, or by lamplight
effects in the drawing-room.

Peter had not forgotten Hilda and the strawberry beds, and one day
Captain Archinard, who spent many of his hours at the Manor, was asked
to bring his girls to tea.

Hilda and Katherine found Lord Calverly and Mrs. Marchant in the
drawing-room with Mrs. Odd, and their father, after a cursory
introduction, left them to sit, side by side, on two tall chairs, while
he joined the trio. Mrs. Marchant moved away to a sofa, the Captain
followed her, and Alicia and Lord Calverly were left alone near the two
children. Katherine was already making sarcastic mental notes as to the
hospitality meted out to Hilda and herself, and Hilda stared hard at
Mrs. Odd. Mrs. Odd was more beautiful than ever this afternoon in a
white dress; Hilda wondered with dismay if Katherine could be right
about her. Alicia, turning her head presently, met the wide absorbed
gaze, and, with her charming smile, asked if they had brought their
dogs--

"I saw such a lot of them about at your place the other day."

"We didn't know that you expected them to tea. We should have liked to
bring them," said Katherine, and Hilda murmured with an echo-like
effect: "We _should_ have liked to; Palamon howled dreadfully."

That Palamon's despair had been unnecessary made regret doubly keen.

"Hey! What's that?" Lord Calverly had been staring at Hilda and heard
the faint ejaculation; "what is your dog called?"

"Palamon." Hilda's voice was reserved; she had already thought that she
did not like Lord Calverly, and now that he looked at her, spoke to her,
she was sure of it.

"What funny names you give your dogs," said Alicia. "The other is called
Darwin," she added, looking at Lord Calverly with a laugh; "but Palamon
is pretty--prettier than the monkey gentleman. What made you call him
that?"

"It is out of 'The Knight's Tale,'" said Katherine; "Hilda is very fond
of it, and called her dogs after the two heroes, Palamon and Arcite."

Lord Calverly had been trying to tease Hilda by the open admiration of
his monocled gaze; the fixed gravity of her stare, like a pretty baby's,
hugely amused him.

"So you like Chaucer?" Hilda averted her eyes, feeling very
uncomfortable. "Strong meat that for babes," Lord Calverly added,
looking at Alicia, who contemplated the children with pleasant
vagueness.

"Never read it," she replied briskly; "not to remember. If I had had
literary tastes in my infancy I might have read all the improper books
without understanding them; now I am too old to read them innocently."

Katherine listened to this dialogue with scorn for the speakers (she did
not care for Chaucer, but she knew very well that to dispose of him as
"improper" showed depths of Philistinism), and Hilda listened in alarm
and wonder. Alicia's expressive eyebrows and gayly languid eyes made her
even more uncomfortable than Lord Calverly's appreciative monocle--the
monocle turning on her more than once while its wearer lounged with
abrupt, lazy laughs near Alicia. Hilda wondered if Mrs. Odd liked a man
who could so laugh and lounge, and a vague disquiet and trouble, a
child's quick but ignorant sense of sadness stirred within her, for if
Katherine had been right, then Mr. Odd must be unhappy. She sprang up
with a long breath of relief and eagerness when he came in. Odd, with a
half-humorous, half-cynical glance, took in the situation of his two
little guests; Alicia was evidently taking no trouble to claim them
hers. He appreciated, too, Hilda's glad face.

"I'm sorry I have kept you waiting; are you ready for strawberries?"

He shook hands, smiling at them.

"Don't, please, put yourself out, Odd, in looking after my offspring,"
called the Captain; "they can find their way to the garden without an
escort."

"But it won't put me out to take them; it would put me out very much if
I couldn't," and Odd smiled his kindliest at Hilda, who stood dubious
and hesitating.

Katherine thought it rather babyish to go into the garden for
strawberries. She preferred to await tea in this atmosphere of
unconscious inferiority; these grown-up people who did not talk to her,
and who were yet so much duller than she and Hilda. When Hilda went out
with Mr. Odd she picked up some magazines, and divided her attention
between the pictures and the couples. Papa and Mrs. Marchant did not
interest her, but she found Alicia's low, musical laughter, and the
enjoyment with which she listened to Lord Calverly's half-muffled
utterances, full of psychological suggestions that would read very well
in her journal.

"He is probably flattering her," thought Katherine; "that is what she
likes best."

Meanwhile Hilda had forgotten Lord Calverly's stare and Alicia's
frivolity; she was so glad, so glad to be with her big friend again. He
took her first to the picture gallery--having noticed as they went
through a room that her eyes swerved to a Turner water-color with
evident delight. Hilda was silent before the great Velasquez, the
Holbein drawings, the Chardin and the Corot; but as they went from
picture to picture, she would look up at Odd with her confident, gentle
smile, so that, after the half-hour in the fine gallery, he felt sure
that the child cared for the pictures as much as he did; her silence was
singularly sympathetic. As they went into the garden she confessed, in
answer to his questions, that she would love to paint, to draw.

"All the beautiful, beautiful things to do!" she said; "almost
everything would be beautiful, wouldn't it, if one were great enough?"

The strawberry beds were visited, and--

"Shall we go down to the river and have a look at the scene of our first
acquaintance?" asked Peter; "we have plenty of time before tea." But,
seeing the half-ashamed reluctance in Hilda's eyes, "Well, not there,
then, but to the river; there are even prettier places. Our
boating-house is a mile from yours, and I'll give you a paddle in my
Canadian canoe,--such a pretty thing. You must sit very still, you know,
or you'll spill us both into the river."

"I shouldn't mind, as you would be there," laughed Hilda; and so they
went through the sunlit golden green of the beechwoods, and Hilda made
the acquaintance of the Canadian canoe and of a mile or so of river that
she had never seen before, and she and Peter talked together like the
best and oldest of friends.



CHAPTER VII


Odd's life of melancholy and good-humored resignation was cut short with
an abruptness so startling that the needlessness of further resignation
deepened the melancholy to a lasting habit of mind.

The melancholy that lies in the resignation to a ruinous mistake, the
acceptance of ruin, and the nerving oneself to years of self-control and
kindly endurance may well become a fine and bracing stoicism, but the
shock of the irretrievably lost opportunity, the eternally irremediable
mistake, gave a sensitive mind a morbid faculty of self-questioning and
self-doubt that sapped the very springs of energy and confidence.

Mary's wedding came off in July, and when Mr. and Mrs. Apswith were gone
for two months' cruising in a friend's yacht about the North Sea, Peter
set to work with vigor. "The Sonnet" was in a year's time to make him
famous in the world of letters. In September, Mary and her husband went
to their house in Surrey, and there Peter paid her a visit. Alicia found
a trip to Carlsbad with friends more desirable. The friends were
thoroughly irreproachable--a middle-aged peer and his young and pretty
but very sensible wife.

Peter, in allowing her to enjoy herself after her own fashion, felt no
weight of warning responsibility. But Alicia died suddenly at Carlsbad,
and the horror of self-reproach, of bitter regret, that fell upon Odd
when the news reached him at his sister's, was as unjust as it was
poignant. At Allersley the general verdict was that Mrs. Odd's death had
broken her husband's heart, and Allersley, though arguing from false
premises, was not far wrong. Odd was nearly heart-broken. That Alicia's
death should have lifted the weight of a fatal mistake from his life was
a fact that tortured and filled him with remorse. Doubts and conjectures
haunted him. Alicia might have dumbly longed for a sympathy for which
she was unable to plead, and he to guess her longing. She had died away
from him, without one word of mutual understanding, without one look of
the love he once had felt and she accepted; and bitterest of all came
the horrid realism of the thought that his absence had not made death
more bitter to her. He shut himself up in the Manor for three weeks,
seeing no one, and then, in sudden rebellion against this passive
suffering, determined to go to India. He had a second sister married
there. The voyage would distract him, and change, movement, he must
have. The news spread quickly over Allersley, and Allersley approved of
the wisdom of the decision.

At the Priory little Hilda Archinard was suffering in her way--the
dreary suffering of childhood, with its sense of hopeless finality, of
helpless inexperience. Chasms of desolation deepened within her as she
heard that her friend was going away.

The sudden blossoming of her devotion to Odd had widened her
capabilities for conscious loneliness. Her loneliness became apparent to
her, and the immense place his smile, his kindness, her confident sense
of his goodness had filled in her dreaming little life. Her aching pity
for him was confused by a vague terror for herself. She could hardly
bear the thought of his departure. Every day she walked all along the
hedges and walls that divided the Priory from the Manor estate; but she
never saw him. The thought of not seeing him again, which at first had
seemed impossible, now fixed upon her as a haunting obsession.

"Odd goes to-morrow," the Captain announced one evening in the
drawing-room. Katherine was playing, not very conscientiously but rather
cleverly, a little air by Grieg. Hilda had a book on her lap, but she
was not reading, and her father's words seemed to stop her heart in its
heavy beating.

"I met Thompson"--Mr. Thompson was Peter's land-agent--"and everything
is settled. Poor chap! Thompson says he's badly broken up."

"How futile to mourn over death," Mrs. Archinard sighed from her sofa.
"Tangled as we are in the webs of temperament, and environment, and
circumstance, should we not rather rejoice at the release from the great
illusion?" Mrs. Archinard laid down a dreary French novel and vaguely
yawned, while the Captain muttered something about talking "rot" before
the children.

"Move this lamp away, Hilda," said Mrs. Archinard. "I think I can take a
nap now, if Katherine will put on the soft pedal."

It was a warm autumn night, and the windows were open. Hilda slipped
out when she had moved the lamp away.

She could not go by the country road, nor scramble through the hedge,
but to climb over the wall would be an easy matter. Hilda ran over the
lawn, across the meadows, and through the woods. In the uncanny darkness
her white dress glimmered like the flitting wings of a moth. As she came
to the wall the moon seemed to slide from behind a cloud. Hilda's heart
stood still with a sudden terror at her loneliness there in the wood at
night. The boy-like vault over the wall gave her an impetus of courage,
and she began to run, feeling, as she ran, that the courage was only
mechanical, that the moon, the mystery of a dimly seen infinity of tree
trunks, the sorrow holding her heart as if in a physical pressure, were
all terrible and terrifying. But Hilda, on occasions, could show an
indomitable moral courage even while her body quaked, and she ran all
the half-mile from the boundary wall to Allersley Manor without
stopping. There was a light in the library window; even at a distance
she had seen it glowing between the trees. She ran more slowly over the
lawn, and paused on the gravel path outside the library to get her
breath. Yes, _he_ was there alone. She looked into the dignified quiet
of the fine old room. A tall lamp threw a strong light on the pages of
the book he held, and his head was in shadow. The window was ajar, and
Hilda pushed it open and went in.

At the sound Odd glanced up, and his face took on a look of half
incredulous stupefaction. Hilda's white face, tossed hair, the
lamentable condition of her muslin frock, made of her indeed a
startling apparition.

"My dear Hilda!" he exclaimed.

Hilda pressed her palms together, and stared silently at him. Mr. Odd's
face looked so much older; its gravity made her heart stand still with
an altogether new sense of calamity. She stood helplessly before him,
tears brimming to her eyes.

"My dear child, what is the matter? You positively frightened me."

"I came to say 'Good-bye,'" said Hilda brokenly.

Peter's gravity was mere astonishment and sympathetic dismay. The
tear-brimmed eyes, after his weeks of solitary brooding, filled him with
a most exquisite rush of pity and tenderness.

"Come here, you dear child," he said, holding out his arms to her; "you
came to say 'Good-bye?' I am very grateful to you."

Hilda leaned her head against his shoulder and wept. After the frozen
nightmare moment, the old kindness was a delicious contrast; she almost
forgot the purport of her journey, though she knew that she was crying.
Odd stroked her long hair; her tears slightly amused and slightly
alarmed him, even while the pathos of the affection they revealed
touched him deeply.

"Did you come alone?" he asked.

Hilda nodded.

"That was a very plucky thing to do. I thank you for it. There, can't
you smile at me? Don't cry."

"Oh, I love you _so_ much, I can hardly bear it." Peter felt
uncomfortable. The capacity for suffering revealed in these words gave
him a sense of responsibility. Poor child! Would her lot in life be to
cry over people who were not worth it?

"I shall come back some day, Hilda." Hilda stopped crying, and Peter was
relieved by the sobs' cessation. "I have a wandering fit on me just now;
you understand that, don't you?"

She held his hand tightly. She could not speak; her heart swelled so at
his tone of mutual understanding.

"I am going to see my sister. I haven't seen her for five years; but
long before another five years are passed I shall be here again, and the
thing I shall most want to see when I get back will be your little
face."

"But you will be different then, I will be different, we will both be
changed." Hilda put her hands before her face and sobbed again. Peter
was silent for a moment, rather aghast at the child's apprehension of
the world's deepest tragedy. He could not tell her that they would be
unchanged--he the man of thirty-five, she the girl of seventeen. Poor
little Hilda! Her grief was but too well founded, and his thoughts
wandered for a moment with Hilda's words far away from Hilda herself.
Hilda wiped her eyes and sat upright. Odd looked at her. He had a keen
sense of the unconventional in beauty, and her tears had not disfigured
her small face--had only made it strange. He patted her cheek and smiled
at her.

"Cheer up, little one!" She evidently tried to smile back.

"I am afraid you have idealized me, my child--it's a dangerous faculty.
I am a very ordinary sort of person, Hilda; you must not imagine fine
things about me nor care so much. I'm not worth one of those tears, poor
little girl!"

It was difficult to feel amused before her solemn gaze; a sage prophecy
of inevitable recovery would be brutal; to show too much sympathy
equally cruel. But the reality of her feeling dignified her grief, and
he found himself looking gravely into her large eyes.

"You're not worth it?" she repeated.

"No, really."

"I don't imagine things about you."

"Well, I am glad of that," said Peter, feeling rather at a loss.

"I love you dearly," said Hilda, with a certain air of dreary dignity;
"you are you. I don't have to imagine anything."

Odd put her hand to his lips and kissed it gently.

"Thank you, my dear child. I love you too, and certainly I don't have to
imagine anything."

Hilda's eyes, with their effect of wide, almost unseeing expansion,
rested on his for a moment longer. She drew herself up, and a look of
resolution, self-control, and fidelity hardened her young face. Odd
still felt somewhat disconcerted, somewhat at a loss.

"I must go now; they don't know that I am here."

"They didn't know that you were coming, I suppose?"

"No; they wouldn't have let me come if I had told them before, but I
will tell them now."

"Well, we will tell them together."

"Are you going to take me home?"

"Did you imagine that I would let you go alone?"

"You are very kind."

"And what are you, then? Your shoes are wringing wet, my child. Your
dress is thin, too, for this time of year. Wrap this coat of mine around
you. There! and put on this hat."

Peter laughed as he coiffed her in the soft felt hat that came down over
her ears; she looked charming and quaint in the grotesque costume. Hilda
responded with a quiet, patient little smile, gathering together the
wide sleeves of the covert coat. Odd lit a cigar, put on his own hat,
took her hand, and they sallied forth.

"You came across, I suppose?"

"Yes, by the woods."

"And you weren't frightened?"

He felt the patient little smile in the darkness as she replied--

"You know already that I am a coward."

"I know, on the contrary, that you are amazingly courageous. The flesh
may be weak, but the spirit is willing with a vengeance. Eh, Hilda?"

"Yes," said Hilda vaguely.

They walked in silence through the woods. Clouds hid the moon, and the
wind had risen.

Peter had dreary thoughts. He felt like a ghost in the ghost-like
unreality of existence. The walk through the melancholy dimness seemed
symbolical of a wandering, aimless life. The touch of Hilda Archinard's
little hand in his was comforting. When they had passed through the
Priory shrubbery and were nearing the house, Hilda's step beside him
paused.

"Will you kiss me 'Good-bye' here, not before them all?"

"What beastly things 'Good-byes' are," Odd said, looking down at the
glimmering oval of her uplifted face; "what thoroughly beastly things."
He took the little face between his hands and kissed her: "Good-bye,
dear little Hilda."

"Thank you so much--for everything," she said.

"Thank you, my child. I shall not forget you."

"Don't be different. _Try_ not to change."

"Ah, Hilda! Hilda!"

That she, not he, would change was the inevitable thing. He stooped and
kissed again the child beside him.



Part I

KATHERINE



CHAPTER I


Odd knew that he was late as he drove down the Champs Elysées in a
rattling, closed _fiacre_. He and Besseint had talked so late into the
evening that he had barely had time to get to his hotel in the
Marboeuf quarter and dress.

Besseint was one of the cleverest French writers of the day; he and
Peter had battled royally and delightfully over the art of writing, and
as Besseint was certainly more interesting than would be the dinner at
the Embassy, Peter felt himself excusable.

Lady---- welcomed him unresentfully--

"Just, only just in time. I am going to send you down with Miss
Archinard--over there talking to my husband--she is such a clever girl."

Peter was conscious of a shock of surprise; a shock so strong that
Lady---- saw a really striking change come over his face. Peter himself
was startled by his own pleasure and eagerness.

"Evidently you know her; and evidently you _were_ going to be bored and
are _not_ going to be now! Your change of expression is really
unflattering!" Lady---- laughed good humoredly.

"I haven't seen her for ten years; we were the greatest chums. Oh! it
isn't Hilda, then!" Odd caught sight of the young lady.

"I am _very_ sorry it isn't 'Hilda.' Hilda is the beauty; she is,
unfortunately, almost an unknown quantity; but Katherine will be a
stepping-stone, and I assure you that she is worth cultivation on her
own account."

Yes, Katherine was a stepping-stone; that atoned somewhat for the
disappointment that Odd felt as he followed his hostess across the room.

"Miss Archinard--an old friend. Mr. Odd tells me he has not seen you for
ten years."

"Mr. Odd!" cried Miss Archinard. She was evidently very glad to see him.

"It is astonishing, isn't it?" said Peter. "Ten years does mean
something, doesn't it?"

"So much and yet so little. It hasn't changed you a bit," said
Katherine. "And here is papa. Papa, isn't this nice? Mr. Odd, do you
remember the day you fished Hilda out of the river? Poor Hilda! And her
romantic farewell escapade?"

Captain Archinard was changed; his hair had become very white, and his
good looks well worn, but his greeting had the cordiality of old
friendship.

"And Hilda?" Peter questioned, as he and Katherine went into the
dining-room together. "Hilda is well? And as lovely as ever?"

"Well, and as lovely as ever," Katherine assured him. "She is not here
because she rarely goes out. Papa and I are the frivolous members of the
family. Mamma goes in for culture, and Hilda for art." Peter had a good
look at her as they sat side by side.

Katherine was no more beautiful than in childhood, but she was
distinctly interesting and--yes--distinctly charming. Her black eyes,
deeply set under broad eyebrows, held the same dominant significance;
humorous, cynical, clever eyes. Her white teeth gave a brilliant gayety
to her smile. There was distinction in her coiffure--the thick deeply
rippled hair parted on one side, and coiled smoothly from crown to neck;
and Peter recognized in her dress a personal taste as distinctive--the
long unbroken lines of her nasturtium velvet gown were untinged by any
hint of so-called artistic dowdiness, and yet the dress wrinkled about
her waist as she moved with a daring elegance far removed from the
moulded conventionality of the other women's bodices. This glowing gown
was cut off the shoulders; Katherine's shoulders were beautiful, and
they were triumphantly displayed.

"And now, please tell me," said Peter, "how it comes that I haven't seen
you for ten years?"

"How comes it that we have not seen _you_? You have been everywhere, and
so have we; really it is odd that we should never have met. Of course
you know that we left the Priory only a year after you went to India?"

Peter nodded.

"I was dismayed to find you gone when I got back. I heard vague rumors
of Florence, and when I went there one winter you had disappeared."

"We must have been in Dresden. How I hated it! All the shabby
second-rate culture of the world seems to gravitate to Dresden. We had
to let the Priory, you know. We are so horribly poor."

Katherine's smiling assertion was not carried out in her appearance, yet
the statement put a bond of familiarity between them; Katherine spoke as
to an old friend who had a right to know.

"Then we had a year or two at Dinard--loathsome place I think it! Then
Florence again, and at last Paris, and here we have been for over three
years, and here we shall probably stick for who knows how long! Hilda's
painting gives us a reasonable background; at least as reasonable as
such exiles can hope for."

"But you don't mean to say that your exile is indefinite?"

Katherine nodded, with eyebrows lifted and a suggestion of shrug in the
creamy expanse of shoulder.

"And Hilda paints? Well?"

"Hilda paints really well. She has always painted, and her work is
really individual, unaffectedly individual, and that's the rare thing,
you know. Over four years of atelier work didn't scotch Hilda's
originality, and she has a studio of her own now, and is never happy out
of it."

"What kind of work does she go in for?" Peter was conscious of a vague
uneasiness about Hilda. "Portraits?"

"No; Hilda is not very good at likenesses. Her things are very
decorative--not Japanese either--except in their air of choice and
selection; well, you must see them, they really are original, and, in
their own little way, quite delightful; they are, perhaps, a wee bit
like baby Whistlers--not that I intimate any real resemblance--but the
sense of color, the harmony; but you must see them," Katherine repeated.

"And Mrs. Archinard?" Peter felt some remorse at having forgotten that
rather effaced personality.

"Mamma is just the same, only stronger than she used to be in England.
I think the Continent suits her better. And now _you_, Mr. Odd. The idea
of talking about such nobodies as we are when you have become such a
personage! You have become rather cynical too, haven't you? As a child
you did not make a cynical impression on me, and your 'Dialogues' did. I
think you are even more cynical than Renan. Some stupid person spoke to
me of a _rapport_ between your 'Dialogues' and his 'Dialogues
Philosophiques.' I don't imply that, except that you are both sceptical
and both smiling, only your smile is more bitter, your scepticism less
frivolous."

"I'm sceptical as to people, not as to principles," said Peter, smiling
not bitterly.

"Yet you are not a misanthrope, you do not hate people."

"I don't admire them."

"You would like to help them to become more admirable. Ah! The
Anglo-Saxon is strong within you. You are not at all like Renan. And
then you went in for Parliamentary honors too; three years ago, wasn't
it? Why didn't you keep on?"

"Because I didn't keep my seat when my party went out. The honors were
dubious, Miss Archinard. I cut a very ineffective figure."

"I remember meeting a man here at the time who said you weren't
'practical,' and I liked you for it too. If only you had kept in we
should surely have met. Hilda and I were in London this spring."

"Were you? And I was in Japan. I only got back three weeks ago."

"How you do dash about the globe. But you have been to Allersley since
getting back?"

"Only for a day or two. But tell me about your spring in London."

"We were with Lady Mainwaring."

"Ah, I did not see her when I was at Allersley. That accounts for my
having had no news of you. You did not see my sister in London; she has
been in the country all this year. You went to Court, I suppose?"

"Yes, Lady Mainwaring presented us."

"And Hilda enjoyed herself?"

Katherine smiled: "How glad you will be to see Hilda. Yes, enjoyed
herself after a fashion, I think. She only stopped a month. She doesn't
care much for that sort of thing really."

Katherine did not say, hardly knew perhaps, that the reproachful
complaint of Mrs. Archinard's weekly letter had cut short Hilda's
season, and brought her back to the little room in the little
_appartement, 3ième au dessus de l'entresol_, where Mrs. Archinard spent
her days as she had spent them at Allersley, at Dresden, at Dinard, at
Florence. Change of surroundings made no change in Mrs. Archinard's
lace-frilled recumbency, nor in the air of passive long-suffering that
went with so much appreciation of her own merits and other people's
deficiencies.

"But Hilda's month meant more than other girls' years," Katherine went
on; "you may imagine the havoc she played, all unconsciously, poor
Hilda! Hilda is the most unconscious person. She fixes one with those
big vague eyes of hers. She fixed, among other people, another old
friend," and Katherine smiled, adding with lowered tone, "Allan Hope."

Peter was not enough conscious of a certain inner irritation to attempt
its concealment.

"Allan Hope?" he repeated. "It is impossible for me to imagine little
Hilda with lovers; and Allan Hope one of them!"

"Allan Hope is very nice," Katherine said lightly.

"Nice? Oh, thoroughly nice. But to think that Hilda is grown up, not a
child."

Odd looked with a certain tired playfulness at Katherine.

"And you are grown up too; have lovers too. What a pity it is."

"That depends." Katherine laughed. "But regrets of that kind are
unnecessary as far as Hilda is concerned. I don't think little Hilda is
much less the child than when you last saw her. Having lovers doesn't
imply that one is ready for them, and I don't think that Hilda is
ready."

Odd had looked away from her again, and Katherine's black eyes rested on
him with a sort of musing curiosity. She had not spoken quite truthfully
in saying that the ten years had left him unchanged. A good deal of
white in the brown hair, a good many lines about eyes and mouth might
not constitute change, but Katherine had seen, in her first keen clear
glance at the old friend, that these badges of time were not all.

There had been something still boyish about the Mr. Odd of ten years
ago; the lines at the eye corners were still smiling lines, the quiet
mouth still kind; but the whole face wore the weary, almost heavy look
of middle age.

"His Parliamentary experience probably knocked the remaining illusions
out of him," Katherine reflected. "He was certainly very unsuccessful,
he tried for such a lot too, sought obstacles. He should mellow a bit
now (that smile of his is bitter) into resignation, give up the windmill
hunt (I think all nice men go through the Quixotic phase), stop at home
and write homilies. And he certainly, certainly ought to marry; marry a
woman who would be nice to him." And it was characteristic of Katherine
that already she was turning over in her mind the question as to whether
it would be feasible, or rather desirable--for Katherine intended to
please herself, and had not many doubts as to possibilities if once she
could make up her mind--to contemplate that rôle for herself. Miss
Archinard was certainly the last woman in the world to be suspected of
matrimonial projects; her frank, almost manly bonhomie, and her apparent
indifference to ineligibility had combined to make her doubly
attractive; and indeed Katherine was no husband-hunter. She would
choose, not seek. She certainly intended to get married, and to a
husband who would make life definitely pleasant, definitely successful;
and she was very keenly conscious of the eligibility or unfitness of
every man she met; only as the majority had struck her as unfit, Miss
Archinard was still unmarried. Now she said to herself that Peter Odd
would certainly be nice to his wife, that his position was
excellent--not glittering--Katherine would have liked glitter, and the
more the better; and yet with that long line of gentlefolk ancestry,
that old Elizabethan house and estate, far above the shallow splendor of
modern dukedoms or modern wealth, fit only to impress ignorance or
vulgarity. He had money too, a great deal. Money was a necessity if one
wanted a life free for highest flights; and she added very calmly that
she might herself, after consideration, find it possible to be nice to
him. Rather amusing, Katherine thought it, to meet a man whom one could
at once docket as eligible, and find him preoccupied with a dreamy
memory of such slight importance as Hilda's child friendship; but
Katherine's certainty of the slightness--and this man of forty looked
anything but sentimental--left her very tolerant of his preoccupation.

Hilda was a milestone, a very tiny milestone in his life, and it was to
the distant epoch her good-bye on that autumn night had marked as ended,
rather than to the little closing chapter itself, that he was looking.
Indeed his next words showed as much.

"How many changes--forgive the truism, of course--in ten years! Did you
know that my sister, Mrs. Apswith, had half-a-dozen babies? I find
myself an uncle with a vengeance."

"I haven't seen Mrs. Apswith since she was married. It does seem ages
ago, that wedding."

"Mary has drawn a lucky number in life," said Odd absently.

"She expects you to settle down definitely now, I suppose; in England,
at Allersley?"

"Yes, I shall. I shall go back to Allersley in a few months. It is
rather lonely."

"Why don't you fill it with people?"

"You forget that I don't like people," said Odd.

"You prefer loneliness, with your principles for company. There will be
something of martyrdom, then, when you at last settle down to your duty
as landowner and country gentleman."

"Oh, I shall do it without any self-glorification. Perhaps you will come
back to the Priory. That would mitigate the loneliness."

"The sense of our nearness. Of course you wouldn't care to see us! No, I
think I prefer Paris to the Priory."

"What do you do with yourself in Paris?"

"Very little that amounts to anything," Katherine owned; "one can't very
well when one is poor and not a genius. If one isn't born with them, one
must buy weapons before one can fight. I feel I should be a pretty good
fighter if I had my weapons!" and Katherine's dark eye, as it flashed
round on him in a smile, held the same suggestion of gallant daring with
which she had impressed him on that morning by the river ten years ago.
He looked at her contemplatively; the dark eyes pleased him.

"Yes," he said, "I think you would be a good fighter. What would you
fight?"

"The world, of course: and one only can with its own weapons, more's the
pity."

"And the flesh and the devil," Odd suggested; "is this to be a moral
crusade?"

"I'm afraid I can't claim that. I only want to conquer for the fun of
conquering; 'to ride in triumph through Persepolis,' like Tamburlaine,
chain up people I don't like in cages! Oh, of course, Persepolis would
be a much nicer place when once I held it, I should be delightful to the
people I liked."

"And all the others would be in cages!"

"They would deserve it if I put them there! I'm very kind-hearted, very
tolerant."

"And when you have conquered the world, what then? As life is not all
marching and caging."

"I shall live in it after my own fashion. I am ambitious, Mr. Odd, but
not meanly so, I assure you."

"No; not meanly so, I am sure." Odd's eyes were quietly scrutinizing,
as, another sign of the ten years, he adjusted a pair of eyeglasses and
looked at her, but not, as Katherine felt, unsympathetic.

"And meanwhile? you will find your weapons in time, no doubt, but,
meanwhile, what do you do with yourself?"

"Meanwhile I study my _milieu_. I go out a good deal, if one can call it
going out in this dubious Parisian, Anglo-American _mélange_; I read a
bit, and I bicycle in the Bois with papa in the morning. It sounds like
sentimentality, but I do feel that there is an element of tragedy in
papa and myself bicycling. Oh, for a ride across country!"

"You rode so well, too, Mary told me."

"Yes, I rode well, otherwise I shouldn't regret it." Katherine smiled
with even more assurance under the added intensity of the _pince-nez_.

"You enjoy the excelling, then, more than the feeling."

"That sounds vain; I certainly shouldn't feel pleasure if I were
conscious of playing second fiddle to anybody."

"A very vain young lady," Odd's smile was quite alertly interested, "and
a self-conscious young lady, too."

"Yes, rather, I think," Katherine owned; frankness became her, "but I am
very conscious of everything, myself included. I am merely one among the
many phenomena that come under my notice, and, as I am the nearest of
them all, naturally the most intimately interesting. Every one is
self-conscious, Mr. Odd, if they have any personality at all."

"And you are clever," Peter pursued, in a tone of enumeration, his smile
becoming definitely humorous as he added: "And I am very impudent."

Katherine was not sure that she had made just the effect she had aimed
for, but certainly Mr. Odd would give her credit for frankness.

It was agreed that he should come for tea the next afternoon.

"After five," Katherine said; "Hilda doesn't get in till so late; and I
know that Hilda is the _clou_ of the occasion."

"Does Hilda take her painting so seriously as all that?"

"She doesn't care about anything, _anything_ else," Katherine said
gravely, adding, still gravely, "Hilda is very, very lovely."

"I hope you weren't too much disappointed," Lady---- said to Odd, just
before he was going; "is she not a charming girl?"

"She really is; the disappointment was only comparative. It was Hilda
whom I knew so well. The dearest little girl."

"I have not seen much of her," Lady---- said, with some vagueness of
tone. "I have called on Mrs. Archinard, a very sweet woman, clever,
too; but the other girl was never there. I don't fancy she is much help
to her mother, you know, as Katherine is. Katherine goes about, brings
people to see her mother, makes a _milieu_ for her; such a sad invalid
she is, poor dear! But Hilda is wrapt up in her work, I believe. Rather
a pity, don't you think, for a girl to go in so seriously for a fad like
that? She paints very nicely, to be sure; I fancy it all goes into that,
you know."

"What goes into that?" Odd asked, conscious of a little temper; all
seemed combined to push Hilda more and more into a slightly derogatory
and very mysterious background.

"Well, she is not so clever as her sister. Katherine can entertain a
roomful of people. Grace, tact, sympathy, the impalpable something that
makes success of the best kind, Katherine has it."

Katherine's friendly, breezy frankness had certainly amused and
interested Odd at the dinner-table, but Lady ----'s remarks now produced
in him one of those quick and unreasoning little revulsions of feeling
by which the judgments of a half-hour before are suddenly reversed.
Katherine's cleverness was that of the majority of the girls he took
down to dinner, rather _voulu_, banal, tiresome. Odd felt that he was
unjust, also that he was a little cross.

"There are some clevernesses above entertaining a roomful of people.
After all, success isn't the test, is it?"

Lady---- smiled, an unconvinced smile--

"You should be the last person to say that."

"I?" Odd made no attempt to contradict the evident flattery of his
hostess' tones, but his ejaculation meant to himself a volume of
negatives. If success were the test, he was a sorry failure.

He was making his way out of the room when Captain Archinard stopped
him.

"I have hardly had one word with you, Odd," said the Captain, whose
high-bridged nose and finely set eyes no longer saved his face from its
fundamental look of peevish pettiness. "Mrs. Brooke is going to take
Katherine home. It's a fine night, won't you walk?"

Odd accepted the invitation with no great satisfaction; he had never
found the Captain sympathetic. After lifting their hats to Mrs. Brooke
and Katherine as they drove out of the Embassy Courtyard, the two men
turned into the Rue du Faubourg St. Honoré together.

"We are not far from you, you know," the Captain said--"Rue Pierre
Charron; you said you were in the Marboeuf quarter, didn't you? We are
rather near the Trocadero, uphill, so I'll leave you at the door of your
hotel."

They lit cigars and walked on rather silently. The late October night
was pleasantly fresh, and the Champs Elysées, as they turned into it,
almost empty between the upward sweep of its line of lights.

"Ten years is a jolly long time," remarked Captain Archinard, "and a
jolly lot of disagreeable things may happen in ten years. You knew we'd
left the Priory, of course?"

"I was very sorry to hear it."

"Devilish hard luck. It wasn't a choice of evils, though, if that is
any consolation; it was that or starvation."

"As bad as that?"

"Just as bad; the horses went first, and then some speculations--safe
enough they seemed, and, sure enough, went wrong. So that, with one
thing and another, I hardly knew which way to turn. To tell the truth, I
simply can't go back to England. I have a vague idea of a perfect fog of
creditors. I have been able to let the Priory, but the place is
mortgaged up to the hilt; and devilish hard work it is to pay the
interest; and hard luck it is altogether," the Captain repeated.
"Especially hard on a man like me. My wife is perfectly happy. I keep
all worry from her; she doesn't know anything about my troubles; she
lives as she has always lived. I make that a point, sacrifice myself
rather than deprive her of one luxury." The tone in which the Captain
alluded to his privations rather made Peter doubt their reality. "And
the two children live as they enjoy it most; a very jolly time they have
of it. But what is my life, I ask you?" The Captain's voice was very
resentful. Odd almost felt that he in some way was to blame for the good
gentleman's unhappy situation. "What is my life, I ask you? I go
dragging from post to pillar with stale politics in the morning, and
five o'clock tea in grass widows' drawing-rooms for all distraction.
Paris is full of grass widows," he added, with an even deepened
resentment of tone; "and I never cared much about the play, and French
actresses are so deuced ugly, at least I find them so, even if I cared
about that sort of thing, which I never did--much," and the Captain
drew disconsolately at his cigar, taking it from his lips to look at the
tip as they passed beneath a lamp.

"I can hardly afford myself tobacco any longer," he declared, "smokable
tobacco. Thought I'd economize on these, and they're beastly, like all
economical things!" And the Captain cast away the cigar with a look of
disgust.

Peter offered him a substitute.

"You are a lucky dog, Odd, to come to contrasts," the Captain paused to
shield his lighted match as he applied it to the fresh cigar; "I don't
see why things should be so deuced uneven in this world. One fellow born
with a silver spoon in his mouth--and you've got a turn for writing,
too; once one's popular, that's the best paying thing going, I
suppose--and the other hunted all over Europe, through no fault of his
own either. Rather hard, I think, that the man who doesn't need money
should be born with a talent for making it."

"It certainly isn't just."

"Damned unjust."

Odd felt that he was decidedly a culprit, and smiled as he smoked and
walked beside the rebellious Captain. He was rather sorry for him. Odd
had wide sympathies, and found whining, feeble futility pathetic,
especially as there was a certain amount of truth in the Captain's
diatribes, the old eternal truth that things are not evenly divided in
this badly managed world. It would be kinder to immediately offer the
loan for which the Captain was evidently paving the way to a request.
But he reflected that the display of such quickness of comprehension
might make the request too easy; and in the future the Captain might
profit by a discovered weakness a little too freely. He would let him
ask. And the Captain was not long in coming to the point. He was in a
devilish tight place, positively couldn't afford a pair of boots
(Peter's eyes involuntarily sought the Captain's feet, neatly shod in
social patent-leather), could Odd let him have one hundred pounds? (The
Captain was frank enough to make no mention of repayment) etc., etc.

Peter cut short the explanation with a rather unwise manifestation of
sympathetic comprehension; the Captain went upstairs with him to his
room when the hotel was reached, and left it with a check for 3000
francs in his pocket; the extra 500 francs were the price of Peter's
readiness.



CHAPTER II


It rained next day, and Peter took a _fiacre_ from the Bibliothèque
Nationale, where he had spent the afternoon diligently, and drove
through the gray evening to the Rue Pierre Charron. It was just five
when he got there, and already almost dark. There were four flights to
be ascended before one reached the Archinards' apartment; four steep and
rather narrow flights, for the house was not one of the larger newer
ones, and there was no lift. Wilson, whom Odd remembered at Allersley,
opened the door to him. Captain Archinard had evidently not denuded
himself of a valet when he had parted with his horses; that sacrifice
had probably seemed too monstrous, but Peter wondered rather whether
Wilson's wages were ever paid, and thought it more probable that a
mistaken fidelity attached him to his master. In view of year-long
arrears, he might have found it safer to stay with a future possibility
of payment than, by leaving, put an end forever to even the hope of
compensation.

The little entrance was very pretty, and the drawing-room, into which
Peter was immediately ushered, even prettier. Evidently the Archinards
had brought their own furniture, and the Archinards had very good taste.
The pale gray-greens of the room were charming. Peter noticed
appreciatively the Copenhagen vases filled with white flowers; he could
find time for appreciation as he passed to Mrs. Archinard's sofa, for no
one else was in the room, a fact of which he was immediately and
disappointedly aware. Mrs. Archinard was really improved. Her husband's
monetary embarrassments had made even less impression on her than upon
the surroundings, for though the little salon was very pretty, it was
not the Priory drawing-room, and Mrs. Archinard was, if anything,
plumper and prettier than when Peter had last seen her.

"This is really quite too delightful! Quite too delightful, Mr. Odd!"
Mrs. Archinard's slender hand pressed his with seemingly affectionate
warmth. "Katherine told us this morning about the _rencontre_. I was
expecting you, as you see. Ten years! It seems impossible, really
impossible!" Still holding his hand, she scanned his face with her sad
and pretty smile. "I could hardly realize it, were it not that your
books lie here beside me, living symbols of the years."

Peter indeed saw, on the little table by the sofa, the familiar
bindings.

"I asked Katherine to get them out, so that I might look over them
again; strengthen my impression of your personality, join all the links
before meeting you again. Dear, dear little books!" Mrs. Archinard laid
her hand, with its one great emerald ring, on the "Dialogues," which was
uppermost. "Sit down, Mr. Odd; no, on this chair. The light falls on
your face so. Yes, your books are to me among the most exquisite art
productions of our age. Pater is more _étincellant_--a style too
jewelled perhaps--one wearies of the chain of rather heartless beauty;
but in your books one feels the heart, the aroma of life--a chain of
flowers, flowers do not weary. Your personality is to me very
sympathetic, Mr. Odd, very sympathetic."

Peter was conscious of being sorry for it.

"I think we are both of us tired." Mrs. Archinard's smile grew even more
sadly sweet; "both tired, both hopeless, both a little indifferent too.
How few things one finds to care about! Things crumble so, once touched,
do they not? Everything crumbles." Mrs. Archinard sighed, and, as Peter
found nothing to say ("How dull a man who writes quite clever books can
be!" thought Mrs. Archinard), she went on in a more commonplace tone--

"And you talked with dear Katherine last night; you pleased her. She
told Hilda and me this morning that you really pleased her immensely.
Katherine is hard to please. I am proud of my girl, Mr. Odd, very, very
proud. Did you not find her quite distinctive? Quite significant? I
always think of Katherine as significant, many facetted, meaning much."
The murmuring modulations of Mrs. Archinard's voice irritated Odd to
such a pitch of ill-temper that he found it difficult to keep his own
pleasant as he replied--

"Significant is most applicable. She is a charming girl."

"Yes, charming; that too applies, and oh, what a misapplied word it is!
Every woman nowadays is called charming. The daintily distinctive term
is flung at the veriest schoolroom hoyden, as at the hard, mechanical
woman of the world."

Peter now said to himself that Mrs. Archinard was an ass--very
unjustly--Mrs. Archinard was far from being an ass. She felt the
atmosphere with unerring promptitude. Her effects were not to be made
upon _ce type là_. She welcomed Katherine's entrance as a diversion from
looming boredom. Katherine seemed to go in for a regal simplicity in
dress. Her gown was again of velvet, a deep amethyst color. The high
collar and the long sleeves that came over her white hands in points
were edged with a narrow line of sable. A necklace of amethysts lightly
set in gold encircled the base of her throat. Peter liked to see a
well-dressed woman, and Katherine was more than well dressed. In the
pearly tints of the room she made a picture with her purple gleams and
shadows.

"I _am_ glad to see you. Sit down. It is nice to have you in our little
diggings. You are like a bit of England sitting there--a big bit!"

"And you are a perfectly delightful condensation of everything
delightfully Parisian."

"The heart is British. True oak!" laughed Katherine; "don't judge me by
the foliage."

"Ah, but it needs a good deal of Gallic genius to choose such foliage."

"No, no. I give the credit to my American blood, to mamma. But thanks,
very much. I am glad you are appreciative." Katherine smiled so gayly,
and looked so charmingly in the amethyst velvet, that Peter forgot for a
moment to wonder where Hilda was, but Katherine did not forget.

"I expect Hilda every moment. I have told them to wait tea until she
comes, poor dear! 'Them' is Wilson, whom you saw, I suppose; Taylor, our
old maid; and the cook! The cook is French, otherwise our staff is
shrunken, but of the same elements. One doesn't mind having no servants
in a little box like this. Yes, mamma, I have paid _all_ the calls, and
only two people were out; so I deserve petting and tea. I hope Hilda
will hurry." Mrs. Archinard's face took on a look of ill-used
resignation.

"We all pay dearly for Hilda's egotism," she remarked, and for a moment
there was a rather uncomfortable silence. Odd felt a queer indignation
and a queerer melancholy rising within him.

The Hilda of to-day seemed far further away than the Hilda of ten years
ago. They talked in a rather desultory fashion for some time. Mrs.
Archinard's presence was damping, and even Katherine's smile was like a
flower seen through rain. The little clock on the mantelpiece struck the
quarter.

"Almost six!" exclaimed Katherine; "we must have tea."

"Yes, we may sacrifice ourselves, but we must not sacrifice Mr. Odd,"
said Mrs. Archinard with distinct fretfulness. Taylor answered the bell,
and Peter, with a quickness of combination that surprised himself,
surmised that Hilda was out alone. Had she become emancipated? Bohemian?
His melancholy grew stronger. Tea was brought, a charming set of
daintiest white and a little silver teapot of a quaint and delicate
design.

"Hilda designed it in Florence," said Katherine, seeing him looking at
it; "an Italian friend had it made for her after her own model and
drawings. Yes, Hilda goes in for decorative work a good deal. People who
know about it have admired that teapot, as you do, I see."

"It's a lovely thing," said Peter, as Katherine turned it before him;
"the simplicity of the outline and the delicate bas-relief"--he bent his
head to look more closely--"exquisite." And he thought it rather rough
on Hilda; to pour the tea from her own teapot without waiting for her.

Still, he owned, when at last the door-bell rang at fully half-past six,
that he might have been asking for too much patience.

"There she is," said Katherine; "I must go and tell her that you are
here." Katherine went out, and Odd heard a murmured colloquy in the
entrance. He was conscious of feeling excited, and unconsciously rose to
his feet and looked eagerly toward the door. But only Katherine came in.

"I don't believe I shall ever see Hilda!" he exclaimed, with an
assumption of exasperation that hid some real nervousness. Katherine
laughed.

"Oh yes, you shall, in five minutes. She had to wash her face and hands.
Artists are untidy people, you know," and Odd, with that same strange
acuteness of perception with which he seemed dowered this afternoon,
felt that Hilda had been coming in in all her artistic untidiness, and
that Katherine had seen to a more respectable _entrée_.

It rather irritated him with Katherine, and that tactful young lady
probably guessed at his disappointment, for she went to the piano and
began to play a sad aria from one of Schumann's Sonatas that sighed and
pled and sobbed. She played very well, with the same perfect taste that
she showed in her gowns, and Peter was too fond of music, too fond of
Schumann especially, not to listen to her.

In the middle of the aria Hilda came in. It was over in a moment, the
meeting, as the most exciting things in life are. Peter had not realized
till the moment came how much it would excite him.

Hilda came in and walked up to him. She put her hand in his with all the
pretty gravity he remembered in the child. Odd took the other hand too
and stared at her. He was conscious then of being very much excited, and
conscious that she was not.

Her eyes were "big and vague," but they were the most beautiful eyes he
had ever seen, and the vagueness was only in a certain lack of
expression, for they looked straight into his. Carried along by that
first impulse of excitement, despite the little shock of half-felt
disappointment, Peter bent his head and kissed her on each cheek.

"Bravo!" said Katherine, still striking soft chords at the piano,
"Bravo, Mr. Odd! considering your first meeting and your last parting,
you have a right to that!" And Katherine laughed pleasantly, though she
was a trifle displeased.

"Yes, I have, haven't I?" said Peter, smiling. He still held Hilda's
hands. The little flush that had come to her cheeks when he had kissed
her was gone, and she looked very white.

"Are you glad to see me, Hilda?" he asked; "I beg your pardon, but it
comes naturally to call you that."

"I am very glad to see you, Mr. Odd," Hilda smiled. Her voice was very
like the child's voice saying, "I thank you very much," ten years ago.
The same voice, grave and gentle. Odd had expected some little warmth,
some little embarrassment even, in the girl, considering the parting
from the child. But Hilda did not show any warmth, neither did she seem
at all embarrassed, and Odd felt rather as one does when an unnecessary
downward stride reveals level ground where one expected another step. He
had stumbled a little, and now, half ruefully, half humorously, he
considered the child Hilda grown up. She sat down near her mother.

"I am so sorry. I am afraid you waited for me," she said, bending
towards her; "I really couldn't help it, mamma."

"No, I think it kindest to consider you irresponsible; there is
certainly an element of insanity in your exaggerated devotion to your
work." Mrs. Archinard smiled acidly, and Hilda, Odd thought, did look a
little embarrassed now. He had adjusted himself to the reality of the
present, and was able to study her. The same Botticelli Madonna mouth,
the same Gainsborough eyes; the skin of dazzling whiteness--an almost
unnatural white--but she was evidently tired.

Certainly her black gown looked strangely beside Katherine's velvet,
Mrs. Archinard's silk and laces. Odd saw that there was mud on the
skirt, a very short skirt, and Hilda's legs were very long. She had
walked, then. His own paternal solicitude struck him as amusing, and
rather touching, as he glanced at her slim feet, to see with
satisfaction that wet boots had been replaced by patent-leather
shoes--heelless little shoes.

"I am afraid you work too much, you tire yourself," he said, for after
her mother's rebuff she had sunk back in her chair with a weary
lassitude of pose. Hilda immediately sat up straightly, giving him an
almost frightened glance. How unchanged the little face, though the
cloud of her hair no longer framed it. Hilda's hair was as smooth as her
sister's, only it was brushed straight back, and the soft blue-black
coils were massed from ear to ear, and showed, in a coronet-like effect
above her head, almost too much hair; it emphasized the pale fragility
of her look.

"Oh no, I am not tired," she said, "not particularly. I walked home, you
see. I am very fond of walking."

"Hilda is fond of such funny things," said Katherine, coming from the
piano, "of walking in the mud and rain for instance. She is the most
persistently, consistently energetic person I ever knew." Katherine
paused pleasantly as though for Hilda to speak, but Hilda said nothing
and looked even more vague than before, almost dull in fact.

"Well, she has had no tea," said Odd, "and after mud and rain that is
rather cruel, even as a punishment."

Again Hilda gave him the alarmed quick glance; his eyes were humorously
kind, and she smiled a slight little smile.

"Some tea!" Katherine cried; "my poor Hilda, I'm afraid it is
hard-boiled by this time"--she laid her hand on the teapot--"and
_almost_ cold. Shall I heat some more water, dear?"

"Oh! don't think of it, Katherine, it is almost dinner-time."

"Must I be off?" asked Odd, laughing.

"How absurd; we don't dine till eight," Katherine said.

"It wasn't a hint to me, then, Hilda?" Hilda looked helplessly
distressed.

"A hint? Oh no, no. How could you think that?"

"I was only joking. I didn't really believe you so anxious to get rid of
an old friend." Odd, with some determination, crossed the room and sat
down beside her.

"I want to see a great deal of you if you will let me."

"No one sees much of Hilda, not even her own mother," said Mrs.
Archinard from her sofa. "It is terrible indeed to feel oneself a
cumberer of the earth, unable to suffice to oneself, far less to others.
With my failing eyesight I simply cannot read by lamplight, and there
are three or four hours at this season when I am absolutely without
resources. Yet even those hours Hilda cannot give me."

Hilda now looked so painfully embarrassed that Odd was perforce obliged,
for very pity's sake, to avert his eyes from her face.

"Ah, Mr. Odd," Mrs. Archinard went on, "you do not know what that is. To
lie in the gray dusk and watch one's own gray, gray thoughts."

"It must be very unpleasant," Odd owned unwillingly, feeling that his
character of old friend was being rather imposed upon; this degree of
intimacy was certainly unwarranted.

"Now, mamma, you usually have friends every afternoon," said Katherine,
in her pleasant, even voice. She was preparing some fresh tea. "You make
me as well as Hilda feel a culprit."

"No, my dear." Mrs. Archinard's deep sense of accumulated injury
evidently got quite the better of her manners. "No, my dear, you never
_could_ read aloud and never _did_. I never asked it of you. You are
really occupied as a girl should be. At all events you fulfil your
social duties. You see that people come to see me. As I cannot go out,
as Hilda will not, I really don't know what I should do were it not for
you. And, as it is, no one came this afternoon until Mr. Odd made his
welcome appearance."

"But Mr. Odd came at five, and you always read till then." Katherine's
voice was gently playful. Hilda had not said one word, and her
expression seemed now absolutely dogged.

"At this season, Katherine! You forget that it is night by four! And how
a girl with any regard for her mother's wishes can walk about the
streets of Paris alone after that hour it passes my comprehension to
understand."

"Do you care about bicycling, Mr. Odd?" The change was abrupt but
welcome. "Because I am going to the Bois to-morrow morning, and alone
for once." Katherine smiled at him over the kettle which she was
lifting. "Papa has deserted me."

"I should enjoy it immensely. And you," he looked at Hilda, "won't you
come?"

"Oh, I can't," said Hilda, with a troubled look. "Thanks so much."

"Oh no, Hilda can't," laughed Mrs. Archinard.

"And where is the Captain off to?" queried Peter hastily. He felt that
he would like to shake Mrs. Archinard. Hilda's stubborn silence might
certainly be irritating, and Odd had sympathy for parental claims and
wishes, especially concerning the advisability of a beautiful girl
walking in the streets at night unescorted, sacrificed to youthful
conceit; but Mrs. Archinard's personality certainly weakened all claims,
and her taste was as certainly atrocious.

"Papa," said Katherine, pouring out the tea, "is going to-morrow morning
to the Riviera. Lucky papa!" Odd thought with some amusement of the £120
that constituted papa's "luck." "I have only been once to Monte Carlo,
and I won such a lot. Only imagine how forty pounds turned my head. I
revelled in hats and gloves for a whole year. Then we go to-morrow, Mr.
Odd? I have my own bicycle. I have kept it near the Porte Dauphine, and
you can hire a very nice one at the same place."

"May I call for you here at ten, then? Will that suit you?"

"Very well." Odd watched Katherine as she carried the tea and cake to
her sister. Hilda gave a little start.

"O Katherine, how good of you! I didn't realize what you were doing."

"It is you who are good, my pet," said Katherine in a low, gentle voice.
Peter thought it a pretty little scene.

"A great deal of latitude must be granted to the young person who
invented that teapot," he said to Hilda. "One must work hard to do
anything in art, mustn't one? A most lovely teapot, Hilda."

"I am glad you like it." Hilda smiled her thanks, but her eyes still
expressed that distance and reserve that showed no consciousness of the
past, no intention of admitting it as a link to the present. She did not
seem exactly shy, but her whole manner was passive--negative. Katherine
probably thought that Mr. Odd had by this time realized the futility of
an attempt to draw out the unresponsive artist, for she seated herself
between Odd and the sofa, thus protecting Hilda from Mrs. Archinard's
severities and Odd from the ineffectual necessity for talking to Hilda.
Odd thought that were Katherine and Mrs. Archinard not there he might
have "come at" Hilda, but the sense of ease Katherine brought with her
was undeniable. She was charmingly mistress of herself, made him talk,
appealed prettily to her mother, who even gave more than one melancholy
laugh, and, with a tactful give and take, yet kept the reins of
conversation well within her own hands.

Odd found her a nice girl, but the undercurrent of his thought dwelt on
Hilda, and at every gayety of Katherine's, his eyes sought her sister's
face; Hilda's eyes were always fixed on Katherine, and she smiled a
certain dumbly admiring smile. As he sat near her, he could see that the
little black dress was very shabby. He could not have associated Hilda
with real untidiness, and indeed the dress with its white linen cuffs
and collar, its inevitable grace of severely simple outline, was neat to
an almost painful degree. Hilda's artistic proclivities perhaps showed
themselves in shiny seams and careful darns and patches.

When he rose to go he took her hands again; he hoped that his
persistency did not make him appear rather foolish.

"I am sorry you won't come to-morrow. May I hope for another day?"

"I can't come to-morrow"--there was a touch of self-defence in Hilda's
smile--"but perhaps some other day. I should love to," she finished
rather abruptly.

"But you will be different--I will be different. We will both be
changed," repeated itself in Odd's mind as he walked down the Rue Pierre
Charron. Poor little child-voice! how sadly it sounded. How true had
been the prophecy.



CHAPTER III


Peter Odd, at this epoch of his life, felt that he was resting on his
oars and drifting. He had spent his life in strenuous rowing. He had
seen much, thought much, done much; yet he had made for no goal, and had
won no race; how should he, when he had not yet made up his mind that
racing for anything was worth while?

Perhaps the two years in Parliament had most closely savored of
consciously applied contest, and in that contest Odd considered himself
beaten, and its efforts as though they had never been. Every one had
told him that to bring the student's ideals into the political arena was
to insure defeat; one's friends would consider a carefully
discriminating honesty and broad-mindedness mere disloyal luke-warmness,
foolish hair-splitting feebleness; one's enemies would rejoice and
triumph in the impartiality of an opponent. Certainly he had been
defeated, and he could not see that his example had in any way been
effectual. At all events, he had held to the ideals.

His fine critical taste found even his own books but crude and partial
expressions of still groping thoughts. His unexpressed intention, good
indeed, if one might so call its indefiniteness, had been to make the
world better for having lived in it; better, or at least wiser. But he
doubted the saving power of his own sceptical utterances; the world
could not be saved by the balancings of a mind that saw the tolerant
point of view of every question, a mind itself so unassured of results.
A strong dash of fanaticism is necessary for success, and Odd had not
the slightest flavor of fanaticism. Perhaps he had given a little
pleasure in his more purely literary studies, and Peter thought that he
would stick to them in the future, but he had put the future away from
him just now. He had only returned from the great passivity of the
Orient a few weeks ago, and its example seemed to denote drifting as the
supreme wisdom. No effort, no desire; a peaceful receptivity, a peaceful
acceptance of the smiles or buffets of fate; that was Odd's ideal--for
the present. He was a little sick of everything. The Occidental's energy
for combat was lulled within him, and the Occidental's individualistic
tendencies seemed to stretch themselves in a long yawn expressive of an
amused and tolerant observation free from striving; and, for an
Occidental, this mood is dangerous. Odd also did a good deal of
listening to very modern and very clever French talk. He knew many
clever Frenchmen. He did not agree with all of them, but, as he was not
sure of his own grounds for disagreement, he held his peace and listened
smilingly. Certainly the exclusively artistic standpoint was a most
comforting and absorbing plaything to fall back on.

Peter's friends talked of the amusing and touching spectacle of the
universe. The representation of each man's illusion on the subject, and
the manner of that representation, were never-ceasing sources of
interest. Peter also read a little at the Bibliothèque Nationale, paid a
few calls, dined out pretty constantly, and bicycled a great deal in the
mornings with Katherine Archinard. She understood things well, and her
taste was as sure and as delicate as even Odd could ask. Katherine had
absorbed a great deal of culture during her wanderings, and it would
have taken a long time for any one to find out that it was of a rather
second-hand quality, and sought more for attainment than for enjoyment.
Katherine talked with clever people and read clever reviews, and being
clever herself, with a very acute critical taste, she knew with the
utmost refinement of perception just what to like and just what to
dislike; and as she tolerated only the very best, her liking gave value.
Yet _au fond_ Katherine did not really care even for the very very best.
Her appreciation was negative. She excelled in a finely smiling,
superior scorn, and could pick flaws in almost any one's enjoyment, if
she chose to do so. Katherine, however, was kind-hearted and tactful,
and did not arouse dislike by displaying her cleverness except to people
who would like it. Enthusiasm was banal, and Katherine was not often
required to feign where she did not feel it; her very rigor and
exclusiveness of taste implied an appreciation too high for expression;
but Katherine had no enthusiasm.

Her rebellious and iconoclastic young energy amused Odd. He thought her
rather pathetic in a way. There was a look of daring and revolt in her
eye that pleased his lazy spirit. Meanwhile Hilda troubled him.

Would she never bicycle? Katherine, wheeling lightly erect beside him,
gave the little shake of the head and shrug of the shoulders
characteristic of her. She evidently found no fault with Hilda. Others
might do so--the shrug implied that, implied as well that Katherine
herself perhaps owned that her sister's impracticable unreason gave
grounds for fault-finding--but Hilda was near her heart.

When could he see her? That, too, seemed wrapped in the general cloud of
vagueness, unaccountableness that surrounded Hilda. Odd called twice in
the evening; once to be received by Katherine alone, Hilda was already
in _dèshabille_ it seemed, and once to find not even Katherine; she was
dining out, and Miss Hilda in bed. In bed at nine! "Was she ill?" he
asked of Taylor. Wilson had evidently accompanied the Captain.

"No wonder if she were, sir," Taylor had replied, with a touch of the
grievance in her tone that Hilda always seemed to arouse in those about
her; "but no, she's only that tired!" and Odd departed with a deepened
sense of Hilda's wilful immolation. Katherine brought him home to lunch
on several occasions after the bicycling, but Hilda was never there. She
lunched at her studio.

On a third call Hilda appeared, but only as he was on the point of
going. She wore the same black dress, and the same look of unnatural
pallor.

"Hilda," said Odd, for amid these unfamiliar conditions he still used
the familiar appellation, "I must see the cause of all this."

"Of what?" Her smile was certainly the sweet smile he remembered.

"Of this unearthly devotion; these white cheeks."

"Hilda is naturally pale," put in Mrs Archinard; "she has my skin. But,
of course, now she is a ghost."

"Well, I want to see the haunted studio. I want to see the
masterpieces." Odd spoke with a touch of gentle irony that did not seem
to offend Hilda.

"You will see nothing either uncanny or unusual."

"Well, at all events, when can I come to see you in your studio?" The
vague look crossed Hilda's smile.

"You see--I work very hard;" she hesitated, seemed even to cast a
beseeching glance at Katherine, standing near. Katherine was watching
her.

"She is getting ready her pictures for the Champs de Mars. But, Hilda,
Mr. Odd may come some morning."

"Oh yes. Some morning. I thought you always bicycled in the morning. I
wish you _would_ come, it would be so nice to see you there!" she spoke
with a gay and sudden warmth; "only you must tell me when to expect you.
My studio must be looking nicely and my model presentable."

"I will take Mr. Odd to-morrow," said Katherine, "he would never find
his way."

"Thanks, that will be very jolly," said Odd, conscious that an
unescorted visit would have been more so, yet wondering whether Hilda
alone might not be more disconcerting than Hilda aided and abetted by
her sister.

So the next morning he called for Katherine, and they walked to a
veritable nest of _ateliers_ near the Place des Ternes, where they
climbed interminable stairs to the very highest studio of all, and here,
in very bare and business-like surroundings, they found Hilda. She left
her easel to open the door to them. A red-haired woman was lying on a
sofa in a far, dim corner, a vase of white flowers at her head. There
was a big linen apron of butcher's blue over the black dress, and Hilda
looked very neat, less pallid, too, than Odd had seen her look as yet.
Her skin had blue shadows under the chin and nose, and a blue shadow
made a mystery beneath the long sweep of her eyebrows and about her
beautiful eyes. But when she turned her head to the light, Odd saw that
the lips were red and the cheeks freshly and faintly tinted.

He was surprised by the picture on the big easel; the teapot had not
prepared him for it. A rather small picture, the figure flung to its
graceful, lazy length, only a fourth life-size. It was a picture of
elusive shadows, touched with warmer lights in its grays and greens. The
woman's half-hidden face was exquisite in color. The sweep of her pale
gown, half lost in demi-tint, lay over her like the folded wings of a
tired moth. The white flowers stood like dreams in the dreamy
atmosphere.

"Hilda, I can almost forgive you." Odd stood staring before the canvas;
he had put on his eye-glass. "Really this atones."

"Isn't it wonderfully simple, wonderfully decorative?" said Katherine,
"all those long, sleepy lines. My clever little Hilda!"

"My clever, clever little Hilda!" Odd repeated, turning to look at the
young artist. Her eyes met his with their wide, sweet gaze that said
nothing. Hilda was evidently only capable of saying things on canvas.

"It is lovely."

"You like it really?"

"I really think it is about as charming a picture as I have seen a woman
do. So womanly too." Odd turned to Katherine, it was difficult not to
merge Hilda in her art, not to talk about her talent as a thing apart
from her personality: "She expresses herself, she doesn't imitate."

"Perhaps that is rather unwomanly," laughed Katherine: "a crawling
imitativeness seems unfortunately characteristic. Certainly Hilda has
none of it. She has inspired me with hopes for my sex."

"Really cleverer than Madame Morisot," said Odd, looking back to the
canvas, "delightful as she is! She could touch a few notes surely,
gracefully; Hilda has got hold of a chord. Yes, Hilda, you are an
artist. Have you any others?"

Hilda brought forward two. One was a small study of a branch of pink
blossoms in a white porcelain vase; the other a woman in white standing
at a window and looking out at the twilight. This last was, perhaps, the
cleverest of the three; the lines of the woman's back, shoulder, _profil
perdu_, astonishingly beautiful.

"You are fond of dreams and shadows, aren't you?"

"I haven't a very wide range, but one can only try to do the things one
is fitted for. I like all sorts of pictures, but I like to paint
demi-tints and twilights and soft lamplight effects."

    "'Car nous voulons la nuance encor--
     pas la couleur, rien que la nuance,'"

chanted Katharine. "Hilda lives in dreams and shadows, I think, Mr. Odd,
so naturally she paints them. '_L'art c'est la nature, vue à travers un
temperament_.' Excuse my spouting."

"So your temperament is a stuff that dreams are made of. Well, Hilda,
make as many as you can. Hello! is that another old friend I see?" On
turning to Hilda he had caught sight of a dachshund--rather white about
the muzzle, but very luminous and gentle of eye--stretching himself from
a nap behind the little stove in the corner. He came toward them with a
kindly wag of the tail.

"Is this Palamon or Arcite?"

A change came over Hilda's face.

"That is Palamon; poor old Palamon. Arcite fulfilled his character by
dying first."

"And Darwin and Spencer?"

"Dead, too; Spencer was run over."

"Poor old Palamon! Poor old dog!" Odd had lifted the dog in his arms,
and was scratching the silky smooth ears as only a dog-lover knows how.
Palamon's head slowly turned to one side in an ecstasy of appreciation.
Odd looked down at Hilda. Katherine was behind him. "Poor Palamon,
'allone, withouten any companye.'" Hilda's eyes met his in a sad,
startled look, then she dropped them to Palamon, who was now putting out
his tongue towards Odd's face with grateful emotion.

"Yes," she said gently, putting her hand caressingly on the dog's head;
her slim, cold fingers just brushed Odd's; "yes, poor Palamon." She was
silent, and there was silence behind them, for Katherine, with her usual
good-humored tact, was examining the picture. The model on the sofa
stretched her arms and yawned a long, scraping yawn. Palamon gave a
short, brisk bark, and looked quickly and suspiciously round the studio.
Both Odd and Hilda laughed.

"But not 'allone,' after all," said Odd. "Is he a great deal with you?
That is a different kind of company, but Palamon is the gainer."

"We mustn't judge Palamon by our own standards," smiled Hilda, "though
highly civilized dogs like him don't show many social instincts towards
their own kind. He did miss Arcite though, at first, I am sure; but he
certainly is not lonely. I bring him here with me, and when I am at home
he is always in my room. I think all the walking he gets is good for
him. You see in what good condition he is."

Palamon still showing signs of restlessness over the yawn, Odd put him
down. He was evidently on cordial terms with the model, for he trotted
affably toward her, standing with a lazy, smiling wave of the tail
before her, while she addressed him with discreetly low-toned,
whispering warmth as "_Mon chou! Mon bijou! Mon petit lapin à la sauce
blanche!_"

"Don't you get very tired working here all day?" Odd asked.

"Sometimes. But anything worth doing makes one tired, doesn't it?"

"You take your art very seriously, Hilda?"

"Sometimes--yes--I take it seriously." Hilda smiled her slight, reserved
smile.

"Well, I can't blame you; you really have something to say."

"Hilda, I am afraid we are becoming _de trop_. I must carry you off, Mr.
Odd. Hilda's moments are golden."

"That is a sisterly exaggeration," said Hilda. Had all her personality
gone into her pictures? was she a self-centred little egotist? Odd
wondered, as he and Katherine walked away together. Katherine's warmly
human qualities seemed particularly consoling after the chill of the
abstract one felt in Hilda's studio.



CHAPTER IV


"Peter, she is a nice, a clever, a delightful girl," said Mary Apswith.

Mrs. Apswith sat in a bright little salon overlooking the Rue de la
Paix. For her holiday week of shopping Peter's hotel was not central
enough, but Peter himself was at her command from morning till night. He
stood before her now, his back to the flaming logs in the fireplace,
looking alternately down at his boots and up at his sister. Peter's face
wore an amused but pleasant smile. Katherine must certainly be nice,
clever, and delightful, to have won Mary, usually so slow in friendship.

"Whether she is deep--deeply good, I mean--I don't know; one can't tell.
But, at all events, she is sincere to the core." Mary had called on the
Archinards some days ago, and had seen Katherine every day since then.

Mary's stateliness had not become buxom. The fine lines of her face had
lost their former touch of heaviness. Her gray hair--grayer than
Peter's--and fresh skin gave her a look of merely perfected maturity.
Life had gone well with her; everybody said that; yet Mary knew the
sadness of life. She had lost two of her babies, and sorrow had
softened, ripened her. The Mary of ten years ago had not had that tender
look in her eyes, those lines of sympathetic sensibility about the
lips. Her decisively friendly sentence was followed by a little sigh of
disapprobation.

"As for Hilda!"

"As for Hilda?"

"I am disappointed, Peter. Yes; we went to her studio this morning;
Katherine took me there; Katherine's pride in her is pretty. Yes; I
suppose the pictures are very clever, if one likes those rather misty
things. They look as though they were painted in the back drawing-room
behind the sofa!" Peter laughed. "I don't pretend to know. I suppose _au
fond_ I am a Philistine, with a craving for a story on the canvas. I
don't really appreciate Whistler, so of course I haven't a right to an
opinion at all. But however clever they may be, I don't think those
pictures should fill her life to the exclusion of _everything_. The girl
owes a duty to herself; I don't speak of her duty to others. I have no
patience with Mrs. Archinard, she is simply insufferable! Katherine's
patience with her is admirable; but Hilda is completely one-sided, and
she is not great enough for that. But she will fancy herself great
before long. Lady---- told me that she was never seen with her
sister--there is that cut off, you see--how natural that they should go
out together! Of course she will grow morbidly egotistic, people who
never meet other people always do; they fancy themselves grandly
misunderstood. So unhealthy, too! She looked like a ghost."

"Poor little Hilda! She probably fancies an artist's mission the
highest. Perhaps it is, Mary."

"Not in a woman's case"--Mrs. Apswith spoke with a vigorous decision
that would have stamped her with ignominy in the eyes of the perhaps
mythical New Woman; "woman's art is never serious enough for heroics."

"Perhaps it would be, if they would show a consistent heroism for it."
Peter opposed Mary for the sake of the argument, and for the sake of an
old loyalty. _Au fond_ he agreed with her.

"A female Palissy would revolutionize our ideas of woman's art."

"A pleasant creature she would be! Tearing up the flooring and breaking
the chairs for firewood! An abominable desecration of the housewifely
instincts! I don't know what Allan Hope will do about it," Mary pursued.

"Ah! That is an accepted fact, then?"

"Dear me, yes. Lady Mainwaring is very anxious for it. It shows what
Allan's steady persistency has accomplished. The child hasn't a penny,
you know."

"You think she'd have him?"

"Of course she will have him. And a lucky girl she is for the chance!
But, before the definite acceptance, she will, of course, lead him the
usual dance; it's quite the thing now among girls of that type.
Individuality; their own life to be lived, their Art--in capitals--to be
lived for; home, husband, children, degrading impediments. Such tiresome
rubbish! I am very sorry for poor Allan." Peter studied his boots.

"Allan probably accounts for that general absent-mindedness I observed
in her; perhaps Allan accounts for more than we give her credit for;
this desperate devotion to her painting, her last struggle to hold to
her ideal. Really the theory that she is badly in love explains
everything. Poor child!"

"Why poor, Peter? Allan Hope is certainly the very nicest man I know,
barring yourself and Jack. He has done more than creditably in the
House, and now that he is already on the Treasury Bench, has only to
wait for indefinite promotion. He is clever, kind, honest as the day. He
will be an earl when the dear old earl dies, and that that is a pretty
frame to the picture no one can deny. What more can a girl ask?"

"This girl probably asks some impossible dream. I'm sorry for people who
haven't done dreaming."

"Between you and me, Peter, I don't think Hilda is really clever enough
to do much dreaming--of the pathetic sort. Her eyes are clever; she sees
things prettily, and puts them down prettily; but there is nothing more.
She struck me as a trifle stupid--really dull, you know."

Odd shifted his position uncomfortably.

"That may be shyness, reserve, inability for self-expression." He leaned
his arm on the mantelpiece and studied the fire with a puzzled frown.
"That exquisite face must _mean_ something."

"I don't know. By the law of compensation Katherine has the brains, the
heart, and Hilda the beauty. _I_ didn't find her shy. She seemed
perfectly mistress of herself. It may be a case of absorption in her
love affair, as you say. I am not sure that he has asked her yet. He is
a most modest lover."

Mary saw a great deal of Katherine during her stay, and her first
impression was strengthened.

Katherine shopped with her; they considered gowns together. Katherine's
taste was exquisite, and the bonnets of her choice the most becoming
Mrs. Apswith had ever worn. The girl was not above liking pretty
things--that was already nice in her--for the girl was clever enough to
pose indifference. Mary saw at once that she was clever. Katherine was
very independent, but very attentive. Her sincerity was charmingly gay,
and not priggish. She said just what she thought; but she thought things
that were worth saying. She made little display of learning, but one
felt it--like the silk lining in a plain serge gown. She did not talk
too much; she made Mrs. Apswith feel like talking. Mary took her twice
to the play with Peter and herself. Hilda was once invited and came. Odd
sat in the back of the box and watched for the effect on her face of the
clever play interpreted by the best talent of the Théâtre Français. The
quiet absorption of her look might imply much intelligent appreciation;
but Katherine's little ripples of glad enjoyment, clever little thrusts
of criticism, made Hilda's silence seem peculiarly impassive, and while
between the acts Katherine analyzed keenly, woke a scintillating sense
of intellectual enjoyment about her in flashes of gay discussion, Hilda
sat listening with that same smile of admiration that almost irritated
Odd by its seeming acceptance of inability--inferiority.

The smile, from its very lack of all self-reference, was rather
touching; and Mary owned that Hilda was "sweet," but the adjective did
not mitigate the former severity of judgment--that was definite.

When Mary went, she begged Katherine to accept the prettiest gown Doucet
could make her, and Katherine accepted with graceful ease and frankness.
The gown was exquisite. Mary sent to Hilda a fine Braun photograph,
which Hilda received with surprised delight, for she had done nothing to
make Mrs. Apswith's stay in Paris pleasant. She thought such kindness
touching, and Katherine's gown the loveliest she had ever seen.



CHAPTER V


Mary gone, the bicycling tête-à-têtes were resumed, and Odd, too, began
to call more frequently at the houses where he met Katherine. They were
bon camarades in the best sense of the term, and Peter found it a very
pleasant sense. He realized that he had been lonely, and loneliness in
his present désoeuvrée condition would have been intolerable. The
melancholy of laziness could not creep to him while this girl laughed
beside him. The frank, sympathetic relation--almost that of man to
man--was untouched by the faintest infusion of sentiment; delicious
breeziness and freedom of intercourse was the result. Peter listened to
Katherine, laughed at her sometimes, and liked her to laugh at him. He
told her a good many of his thoughts; she criticised them, approved of
them, encouraged him to action. But Odd felt his present
contemplativeness too wide to be limited by any affirmation. He had
never felt so little sure of anything nor so conscious of everything in
general. Writing in such a mood seemed folly, and he continued to drift.
He still read in an objectless way at the Bibliothèque, hunting out old
references, pleasing himself by a circuit through the points of view of
all times. Katherine offered to help him, and in the morning he would
bring her his notes to look over; her quick comprehension formed
another link. He was very sorry for Katherine too. She had no taste for
drifting. In her eye he read a dissatisfaction, a thirst for wider
vision, wider action, a restless impatience with the narrowness, the
ineffectiveness of her lot, that made him muse on her probable future
with a sense of pathos. Hilda's wide gaze showed no such rebellion with
the actual; her art had filled it with a distant content that shut
strife and the defeat of yearnings from her: or was it merely the placid
consciousness of Allan Hope--a future assured and fully satisfactory?
Under Katherine's gayety there was a fierce beating of caged wings, and
Odd fancied at times that, freed, the imprisoned birds might be strong
and beautiful. He fancied this especially when she played to him; she
played well, with surprising sureness of taste, and, as the winter came
and it grew too cold for bicycling, Peter often spent the morning in
listening to her. Mrs. Archinard did not appear until the afternoon in
the drawing-room, and in the evenings he usually met her dining out or
at some reception; their intimacy once noticed, they were invited
together. Lady---- was especially anxious that Odd should have every
opportunity for meeting her favorite.

But with all this intimacy, to Peter's consciousness thoroughly,
paternally platonic, under all its daily interests and quiet pleasure
lay a half-felt hurt, a sense of injury and loss. The little voice,
seldom thought of during the last ten years, now repeated often: "But
you will be different; I will be different; we will both be changed."

Captain Archinard returned from the Riviera in a temper that could mean
but one thing; he had gambled at Monte Carlo, and he had lost. He did
not mention the fact in the family circle; indeed, by a tacit agreement,
money matters were never alluded to before Mrs. Archinard. Her years of
successful invalidism had compelled even her husband's acquiescence in
the decision early arrived at by Hilda and Katherine: mamma must be
spared the torments to which they had grown accustomed. But to Katherine
the Captain freed his querulous soul, never to Hilda. There was a look
in Hilda's eyes that made the Captain very uncomfortable, very angry;
conscious of those cases of wonderful champagne, the races, the clubs,
the boxes at the play, and all the infinite array of his wardrobe--a
sad, wondering look. Katherine's scoldings were far preferable, for
Katherine was not so devilish superior to human weaknesses; she had
plenty of unpaid bills on her own conscience, and understood the
necessities of an aristocratic taste. He and Katherine had their little
secrets, and were mutually on the defensive. Hilda never criticised, to
be sure, but her very difference was a daily criticism. The Captain
thought his younger daughter rather dull; Katherine, of finer calibre
than her father, admired such dulness, and found some difficulty in
stilling self-reproachful comparisons; temperament, circumstance, made a
comforting philosophy. And then Hilda's art made things easy for Hilda;
with such a refuge, would she, Katherine, ask for more? Katherine rather
wondered now, after her father's exasperated recountal of ill-luck,
where papa had got the money to lose; but papa on this point was
prudently reticent, and borrowed two one-hundred-franc notes from Peter
while the latter waited in the drawing-room for Katherine one morning.

Katherine and her father were making a round of calls one day, and the
Captain stopped at his bank to cash a check. Katherine stood beside him,
and, although he manoeuvred concealment with hand and shoulder, her
keen eyes read the name.

Her mouth was stern as they walked away--the Captain had folded the
notes and put them in his pocket.

"A good deal of money that, papa."

"I suppose I owe twice as much to my tailor," Captain Archinard replied,
with irritation.

"Has Mr. Odd lent you money before this?"

"I really don't know that Mr. Odd's affairs--or mine--are any business
of yours, Katherine."

"Yours certainly are, papa. When a father puts his daughter in a false
position, his affairs decidedly become her business."

"What rubbish, Katherine. Better men than Odd have been glad to give me
a lift. I can't see that Odd has been ill-used. He is rolling in money."

"I don't quite believe that, papa. Allersley is not such a rich
property. But it is not of Mr. Odd's ill-usage I complain, it is of
mine; for if this borrowing goes on, I hardly think I can continue my
relations with Mr. Odd. It would rather look like--decoying."

The Captain stopped and fixed a look of futile dignity on his daughter.

"That's a strange word for you to use, Katherine. I would horsewhip the
man who would suggest it. Odd is a gentleman."

"Decidedly. I did not speak of his point of view but of mine. All
frankness of intercourse between us is impossible if you are going to
sponge on him."

"Katherine! I can't allow such impertinence! Outrageous! It really is!
Sponge! Can't a man borrow a few paltry hundreds from another without
exposing himself to such insulting language?--especially as Odd is to
become my son-in-law, I suppose. He is always hanging about you."

"That is what I meant, papa." Katherine's tone was icy. "Your
suppositions were apparent to me, you drain Mr. Odd on the strength of
them. Borrow from any one else you like as much as you can get, but, if
you have any self-respect, you won't borrow from Mr. Odd in the hope
that I will marry him."

"Devilish impertinent! Upon my word, devilish impertinent!" the Captain
muttered. He drew out his cigar-case with a hand that trembled.
Katherine's bitter look was very unpleasant.

Katherine expected Odd the next morning; he was reading a manuscript to
her, and would come early.

She was waiting for him at ten. She had put on her oldest dress. The
severe black lines, a silk sash, knotted at the side, suggested a
soutane--the slim buckled shoes with their square tips carried out the
monastic effect, and Katherine's strong young face was cold and stern.

"Shall we put off our work for a little while? I want to speak to you,"
she said, after Odd had come, and greetings had passed between them.

"Shall we? You have been too patient all along, Miss Archinard." Odd
smiled down at her as he held her hand. "You make me feel that I have
been driving you--arrantly egotistic."

"No; I like our work immensely, as you know." Katherine remained
standing by the fireplace. She leaned her arm on the mantelpiece, and
turned her head to look directly at him. "I am not at all happy this
morning, Mr. Odd." Odd's kind eyes showed an almost boyish dismay.

"What is it? Can I help you?" His tone was all sympathetic anxiety and
friendly warmth.

"No; just the contrary. Mr. Odd, I am ashamed that you should have seen
the depths of our poverty. It is not a poverty one can be proud of.
Poverty to be honorable must work, and must not borrow."

Odd flushed.

"You exaggerate," he said, but he liked her for the exaggeration.

"I did not know till yesterday that papa owed to you his Riviera trip."

"Really, Katherine"--he had not used her name before, it came now most
naturally with this new sense of intimacy--"you mustn't misunderstand,
misjudge your father. He couldn't work; his life has unfitted him for
it; it would be a false pride that would make him hesitate to ask an old
friend for a loan; an old friend so well able to lend as I am. You women
judge these things far too loftily." And Peter liked her for the
loftiness.

"Would you mind telling me how much you lent him last time? I was with
him when he cashed the check. I saw the name, not the amount."

"It was nothing of any importance," said Odd shortly. He exaggerated
now. The Captain had told him that the furniture would be seized unless
some creditors were satisfied, and, with a very decided hint as to the
inadvisability of another trip for retrievement to the Riviera, Peter
had given him the money, ten thousand francs; a sum certainly of
importance, for Odd was no millionaire.

Katherine looked hard at him.

"You won't tell me because you want to spare me."

"My dear Katherine, I certainly want to spare you anything that would
add a straw's weight to your distress; you have no need, no right to
shoulder this. It is your father's affair--and mine. You must not give
it another thought."

"That is so easy!" Katherine clenched her hand on the mantelpiece. She
was not given to vehemence of demonstration; the little gesture showed a
concentration of bitter rebellion. Odd, standing beside her, put his own
hand over hers; patted it soothingly.

"It's rather hard on me, you know, a slur on my friendship, that you
should take a merely conventional obligation so to heart."

Katherine now looked down into the fire.

"Take it to heart? What else have I had on my heart for years and years?
It is a mere variation on the same theme, a little more poignantly
painful than usual, that is all! What a life to lead. What a future to
look forward to. I wonder what else I shall have to endure." Odd had
never seen her before in this mood of fierce hopelessness.

"Our poverty has poisoned everything, everything. I have had no youth,
no happiness. Every moment of forgetfulness means redoubled keenness of
gnawing anxiety. Debts! Duns! harassing, sordid cares that drag one
down. Mr. Odd, I have had to coax butchers and bakers; I have had to
plead with horrible men with documents of all varieties! I have had to
pawn my trinkets, and all with surface gayety; everything must be kept
from mamma, and papa's extravagance is incorrigible."

Odd was all grave amazement, grave pity, and admiration.

"You are a brave woman, Katherine."

"No, no; I am not brave. I am frightened--frightened to death sometimes.
I see before me either a hideous struggle with want or--a _mariage de
convenance_. I have none of the classified, pigeon-holed knowledge one
needs nowadays to become a teaching drudge, and I can't make up my mind
to sell myself, though, in spite of my lack of beauty and lack of money,
that means of escape has often presented itself. I have had many offers
of marriage. Only I _can't_."

Odd was silent under the stress of a new thought, an entirely new
thought.

"For Hilda I have no fear," Katherine continued, still speaking with the
same steady quiet voice, still looking into the fire. "In the past her
art has absorbed and protected her, and her future is assured. She will
marry a good husband." A flash as of Hilda's beauty crossed the growing
definiteness of Peter's new thought. That old undoing, that mirage of
beauty; he put it aside with some self-disgust, feeling, as he did so,
a queer sense of impersonality as though putting away himself as he put
away his weakness. He seemed to contemplate himself from an outside
aloofness of observation. The trance-like feeling of the illusion of all
things which he had felt more than once of late made him hold more
firmly to the tonic thought of a fine common-sense.

"Of course, mamma will be safe when Hilda is Lady Hope," Katherine said;
"perhaps I shall be forced to accept the same charity." Her voice broke
a little, and she turned the sombre revolt of her look on Peter; her
eyes were full of tears.

"Katherine," he said, "will you marry me?"

Odd, five minutes before, had not had the remotest idea that he would
ask Katherine Archinard to be his wife. Yet one could hardly call the
sudden decision that had brought the words to his lips, impulsive. While
Katherine spoke, the bitter struggle of the fine young life, surely
meant for highest things; the courage of the cheerfulness she never
before had failed in; the pride of that repulsion for the often offered
solution to her difficulties--a solution many women would have accepted
with a sense of the inevitable--became admirably apparent to Odd. Their
mutual sympathy and good-fellowship and, almost unconsciously, Hilda's
assured future--Allan Hope--had defined the thought. He felt none of
that passion which, now that he looked back on it, made of the miserable
year of married life that followed but the logical retribution of its
reckless and wilful blindness. The very lack of passion now seemed an
added surety of better things. His life with Katherine could count on
all that his life with Alicia had failed in. He did not reason on that
unexcited sense of impersonality and detachment. He would like her to
accept him. He would like to help this fine, proud young creature; he
would like sympathetic companionship. He was sure of that. He had not
surprised Katherine; she had seen, as clearly as he now saw, what Peter
Odd would do. She had not exactly intended to bring him to a realization
of this by the morning's confession, for on the whole Katherine had been
perfectly sincere in all that she had said, but she felt that she could
rely on no better opportunity. Now she only turned her head towards him,
without moving from her position before the fireplace. Katherine never
took the trouble to act. She merely aimed at the most advantageous line
of conduct and let taste and instinct lead her. Her taste now told her
that quiet sincerity was very suitable; she felt, too, a most sincere
little dash of proud hesitation.

"Are you generously offering me another form of charity, Mr. Odd? My
distress was not conscious of an appeal."

"You know your own value too well, Katherine, to ask me that. _I_
appeal."

"Yet the apropos of your offer makes me smart. Another joy of poverty.
One can't trust."

"It was apropos because a man who loves you would not see you suffer
needlessly." Peter, too, was sincere; he did not say "loved."

"Shall I let you suffer needlessly?" asked Katherine, smiling a little.
"I sha'n't, if that implies that you love me."

"Suppose I do. And suppose I stand on my dignity. Pretend to distrust
your motives. Refuse to be married out of pity?"

"That sort of false dignity wouldn't suit you; you have too much of the
real."

"Would you be good to me, Mr. Odd?"

"Very, very good, Katherine."

Odd took her hand and kissed it, and Katherine's smile shone out in all
its frank gayety. "I think I can make you happy, dear."

"I think you can, Mr. Odd."

"You must manage 'Peter' now."

"I think you can, Peter," Katherine said obediently.

"And Katherine--I would not have dared say this before, you would have
flung it back at me as bribery--but I can give you weapons."

"Yes, I shall be able to fight now." She looked up at him with her
charming smile. "And you will help me, you must fight too. You must be
great, Peter, great, _great!_"

"With such a fiery little engine throbbing beside my laggard bulk, I
shall probably be towed into all sorts of combats and come off
victorious."

They sat down side by side on the sofa. Katherine was a delightfully
comfortable person; no change, but a pleasant development of relation
seemed to have occurred.

"You won't expect any flaming protestations, will you, Katherine," said
Peter; "I was never good at that sort of thing."

"Did you never flame, then?"

"I fancy I flamed out in about two months--a long time ago; that is
about the natural life of the feeling."

"And you bring me ashes," said Katherine, rallying him with her smile.

"You mustn't tease me, Katherine," said Peter. He found her very dear,
and kissed her hand again.



Part II

HILDA.



CHAPTER I


"Well, Hilda, we have some news for you!" With these words, spoken in
the triumphant tone of the news-breaker, the Captain greeted his
daughter as she came into the drawing-room at half-past six. Odd had
been paying his respects to his future parents-in-law, and was sitting
near Mrs. Archinard's sofa. He rose to his feet as Hilda entered and
looked at her, smiling a trifle nervously.

"Guess what has happened, my dear," said the Captain, whose good humor
was apparent, while Mrs. Archinard murmured, "_She_ would never guess.
Hilda, only look at your hat in the mirror." It was windy, and Hilda's
shabby little hat was on the back of her head.

"What must I guess? Is it about you?" she asked, turning her sweet
bewildered eyes from Odd to her father, to her mother, and back to Odd
again.

"Yes, about me and another person."

"You are going to marry Katherine!" Her eyes dilated and their sweetness
deepened to a smile; "you are going to marry Katherine, that _must_ be
it."

"That is it, Hilda. Congratulate me." He took her hands in his and
kissed her. "Welcome me, and tell me you are glad."

"Oh! I am very glad. I welcome you. I congratulate you!"

"You will like your brother?"

"A brother is dearer than a friend, and you have always been a friend,
haven't you, Mr. Odd?"

"Always, always, Hilda; I didn't know that you realized it."

"Did _you_ realize it?"

"_Did_ I, my dear Hilda! I did, I do, I always will." Hilda's face
seemed subtly irradiated. Her listless look of pallor had brightened
wonderfully. No one could have said that the lovely face was dull with
this sudden change upon it. Peter felt that he himself was grave in
comparison.

"And I am going to claim all a brother's rights immediately, Hilda."

"What are a brother's rights?"

"I am going to look after you, to scold you, to see you don't overwork
yourself."

"I give you leave, but you mustn't presume _too_ much on the new
rights."

"Ah! but I have old ones as well."

"You mustn't be tyrannical!" she still laughed gently as she withdrew
her hands; "I must go and see Katherine."

"Yes, go and dress now, Hilda." Mrs. Archinard spoke from the sofa,
having watched the scene with a slight air of injury; Hilda's unwonted
gayety constituted a certain grievance. "Mr. Odd dines with us, and I
really can't bear to see you in that costume. The skirt especially is
really ludicrous, my dear. I am glad that I don't see you walking
through the streets in it."

"Hilda knows that her feet bear showing," remarked the Captain, crossing
his own with complacency; "she has her mother's foot in size and mine
in make--the Archinard foot; narrow, arched instep, and small heel.

"Really, Charles, I think the Maxwells will bear the comparison!" Mrs.
Archinard, though she smiled, looked distinctly distressed.

Hilda found her sister before the long mirror in her room, Taylor
fastening the nasturtium velvet. Katherine always had a commanding air,
and it was quite regally apparent to-night; all things seemed made to
serve her, and Taylor's crouching attitude symbolic.

Hilda put her arms around her neck.

"My dear, dear Kathy, I am so glad! To think that good things _do_ come
true!"

"You like my choice, pet?"

"_No_ one else would have done," cried Hilda; "he is the only man I ever
saw whom I could have thought of for you. Why, Katherine, from that
first day when you told me you had met him at the dinner, I _knew_ it
would happen."

"Yes, I certainly felt a prophetic sense of proprietorship from the
first," Katherine owned musingly. She looked over her sister's shoulder
at the fine outline of her own head and neck in the glass.

"Aren't you rather splashed and muddy, pet? Poor people can't afford an
affection that puts their velvet gowns in danger. There, I mustn't
rumple my lace."

"I haven't hurt, have I?" Hilda stood back hastily. "I forgot, I _am_
rather muddy. And, Katherine, you will help one another so much; that
makes it so ideal."

"Idealistic little Hilda!"

"But that is evident, isn't it? You with all your energy and cleverness
and general _sanity_, and he so widely sympathetic that he is a bit
impersonal. I mean that he doubts himself because he doubts everything
rather; he sees how relative everything is; he probably thinks too much;
I am sure that is dangerous. You will make him act."

"I am to be the concrete to his abstract. He certainly does lack energy.
I wonder if even I shall be able to prod him into initiative."

Katherine patted down the fine old lace that edged her bodice, and
looked a smiling question from her own reflection in the mirror to her
sister. "Suppose I fail to arouse him."

"You will understand him. He will have something to live for; that is
what he needs. He won't be able to say, 'Is it worth while?' about
_your_ happiness. As for initiative, you will probably have to have that
for both. After all, he has made his name and place. He has the nicest
kind of fame; the more apparent sort made up by the admiration of
mediocrities isn't half as nice."

"Ah, pet, you are an intellectual aristocrat. My _pâte_ is coarser. I
like the real thing; the donkey's brayings make a noise, and one must
take the whole world with all its donkeys conscious of one, to be
famous. I like noise." Katherine smiled as she spoke, and Hilda smiled,
too, a little smile of humorous comprehension, for she did not take
Katherine in this mood at all seriously. She was as stanch in her belief
of Katherine's ideals as she was in sticking to her own.

"We will be married in March," said Katherine, pausing before her
dressing-table to put on her rings--a fine antique engraved gem and a
splendid opal. "You may go, Taylor; and Taylor, you may put out my
opera-cloak after dinner. I think, Hilda, I will go to the opera; papa
has a box. He and I and Peter might care about dropping in for the last
two acts. You don't care to come, do you?"

"Well, mamma expects me to read to her; it's a charming book, too,"
added Hilda, with tactful delicacy.

"Well, I shall envy you your quiet evening. I can't ask Peter to spend
his here in the bosom of my family. Yes, March, I think, unless I decide
on making that round of visits in England; that would put it off for a
month. I hope the ravens will fetch me a trousseau--for I don't know who
else will."

"I shall have quite a lot by that time, Katherine. I haven't heard from
the dealer in London yet, but those two pictures will sell, I hope. And,
at all events, with the other things, you know, I shall have about a
hundred pounds."

Katherine flushed a little when Hilda spoke of "other things," and
looked round at her sister.

"I _hate_ to think of taking the money, Hilda."

"My dear, why should you? Except, of course--the debts," Hilda sighed
deeply: "but I think on _this_ occasion you have a right to forget
them." Katherine's flush perhaps showed a consciousness of having
forgotten the debts on many occasions less pressing.

"I meant, in particular, taking the money from you."

Hilda opened her wide eyes to their widest.

"Kathy! as if it were not my pleasure! my joy! I am lucky to be able to
get it for you. _Can_ you get a trousseau for that much, Kathy?"

"Well, linen, yes. I don't care how little I get, but it must be
good--good lace. I shall manage; I don't care about gowns, I can get
them afterwards. Peter, I know, will be an indulgent husband." A
pleasant little smile flickered across Katherine's lips. "He _is_ a
dear! I only hope, pet, that you will be able to hold on to the money.
Don't let the duns worry it out of you!" The weary, pallid look came to
Hilda's face.

"I'll try, Kathy dear. I'll do my very best."

"My precious Hilda! You need not tell me _that!_ Run quickly and dress,
dear, it must be almost dinner-time. What _have_ you to wear? Shall I
lend you anything?"

"Why, you forgot my gray silk! My fichu! Insulting Kathy!"

"So I did! And you look deliciously pretty in that dress, though she
_did_ make a fiasco of the back; let the fichu come well down over it.
You really shouldn't indulge your passion for _petites couturières_,
child. It doesn't pay."



CHAPTER II


Odd climbed the long flight of stairs that led to Hilda's studio. The
concièrge below at the entrance to the court had looked at him with the
sourness common to her class, as she stood spaciously in her door. The
gentleman had, evidently, definite intentions, for he had asked her no
questions, and Madame Prinet felt his independence as a slur upon her
Cerberus qualifications.

Odd was putting into practice his brotherly principles. He had spent the
morning with Katherine--the fifth morning since their engagement--and
time hanging unemployed and heavy on his hands this afternoon, a visit
to Hilda seemed altogether desirable. It really behoved him to solve
Hilda's dubious position and, if possible, help her to a more normal
outlook; he felt the task far more feasible since that glimpse of gayety
and confidence. Indeed he was quite unconscious of Madame Prinet's
suspicious observation as he crossed the court, and the absorption in
his pleasant duty held his mind while he wound up the interminable
staircase.

His knock at Hilda's door--there was no mistaking it, for a card bearing
her name was neatly nailed thereon--was promptly answered, and Odd found
himself face to face with a middle-aged maiden of the artistic type
with which Paris swarms; thin, gray-haired, energetic eyes behind
eyeglasses, and a huge palette on her arm, so huge that it gave Odd the
impression of a misshapen table and blocked the distance out with its
brave array of color. Over the lady's shoulder, Odd caught sight of a
canvas of heroic proportions.

"Oh! I thought it was the concièrge," said the artist, evidently
disappointed; "have you come to the right door? I don't think I know
you."

"No; I don't know you," Odd replied, smiling and casting a futile glance
around the studio, now fully revealed by the shifting of the palette to
a horizontal position.

"I expected to find Miss Archinard. Are you working with her? Will she
be back presently?"

The gray-haired lady smiled an answering and explanatory smile.

"Miss Archinard rents me her studio in the afternoon. She only uses it
in the morning; she is never here in the afternoon."

Odd felt a huge astonishment.

"Never here?"

"No; can I give her any message? I shall probably see her tomorrow if I
come early enough."

"Oh no, thanks. Thanks very much." He realized that to reveal his dismay
would stamp Hilda with an unpleasantly mysterious character.

"I shall see her this evening--at her mother's. I am sorry to have
interrupted you."

"Oh! Don't mention it!" The gray-haired lady still smiled kindly; Peter
touched his hat and descended the stairs. Perhaps she worked in a large
atelier in the afternoon; strange that she had never mentioned it.

Madame Prinet, who had followed the visitor to the foot of the staircase
and had located his errand, now stood in her door and surveyed his
retreat with a fine air of impartiality; people who consulted her need
not mount staircases for nothing.

"Monsieur did not find Mademoiselle."

Odd paused; he certainly would ask no questions of the concièrge, but
she might, of her own accord, throw some light on Hilda's devious ways.

"No; I had hoped to find her. Mademoiselle was in when I last called
with her sister. I did not know that she went out every afternoon."

Odd thought this tactful, implying, as it did, that Miss Archinard's
friends were not in ignorance of her habits.

"Every afternoon, monsieur; _elle et son chien_."

"Ah, indeed!" Odd wished her good day and walked off. He had stumbled
upon a mystery only Hilda herself might divulge: it might be very
simple, and yet a sense of anxiety weighed upon him.

At five he went to call on a pleasant and pretty woman, an American, who
lived in the Boulevard Haussmann. He was to dine with the Archinards,
and Katherine had said she might meet him at Mrs. Pope's; if she were
not there by five he need not wait for her. She was not there, and Mr.
Pope took possession of him on his entrance and led him into the library
to show him some new acquisitions in bindings. Mrs. Pope was not a grass
widow, and her husband, a desultory dilettante, was always in evidence
in her graceful, crowded salon. He was a very tall, thin man, with
white hair and a mild, almost timid manner, dashed with the collector's
eagerness.

"Now, Mr. Odd, I have a treasure here; really a perfect treasure. A
genuine Grolier; I captured it at the La Hire sale. Just look here,
please; come to the light. Isn't that a beauty?"

Mrs. Pope, after a time, came and captured Peter; she did not approve of
the hiding of her lion in the library. She took him into the
drawing-room, where a great many people were drinking tea and talking,
and he was passed dexterously from group to group; Mrs. Pope, gay and
stout, shuffling the pack and generously giving every one a glimpse of
her trump. It was a fatiguing process, and he was glad to find himself
at last in Mrs. Pope's undivided possession. He was sitting on a sofa
beside her, talking and drinking a well-concocted cup of tea, when a
picture on the opposite wall attracted his attention. He put down the
cup of tea and put up his eyeglasses to look at it. A woman in a dress
of Japanese blue, holding a paper fan; pink azaleas in the foreground.
The decorative outline and the peculiar tonality made it unmistakable.
He got up to look more closely. Yes, there was the delicate flowing
signature: "Hilda Archinard."

He turned to Mrs. Pope in pleased surprise.

"I didn't know that Hilda had reached this degree of popularity. You are
very lucky. Did she give it to you?"

Katherine's engagement was generally known, and Mrs. Pope reproached
herself for having failed to draw Mr. Odd's attention before this to the
work of his future sister.

"Oh no; she is altogether too distinguished a little person to give away
her pictures. That was in the Champs de Mars last year. I bought it. The
two others sold as well. I believe she sells most of her things; for
high prices, too. Always the way, you know; a starving genius is allowed
to starve, but material success comes to a pretty girl who doesn't need
it. Katherine is so well known in Paris that Hilda's public was already
made for her; there was no waiting for the appreciation that is her due.
Her work is certainly charming."

Peter felt a growing sense of anxiety. He could not share Mrs. Pope's
feeling of easy pleasantness. Hilda _did_ need it. Certainly there was
nothing pathetic in doing what she liked best and making money at it.
Yet he wondered just how far Hilda's earnings helped the family; kept
the butcher and baker at bay. With a new keenness of conjecture he
thought of the black serge dress; somewhere about Hilda's artistic
indifference there might well lurk a tragic element. Did she not really
care to wear the amethyst velvets that her earnings perhaps went to
provide? The vague distress that had never left him since his first
disappointment at the Embassy dinner, that the afternoon's discovery at
the atelier had sharpened, now became acute.

"I always think it such a pretty compensation of Providence," said Mrs.
Pope, gracefully anxious to please, "that all the talent that Hilda
Archinard expresses, puts on her canvas, is more personal in Katherine;
is part of herself as it were, like a perfume about her."

"Yes," said Odd rather dully, not particularly pleased with the
comparison.

"She is such a brilliant girl," Mrs. Pope added, "such a splendid
character. I can't tell you how it delighted me to hear that Katherine
had at last found the rare some one who could really appreciate her. It
strengthened my pet theory of the fundamental fitness of things."

"Yes," Odd repeated, so vaguely that Mrs. Pope hurriedly wondered if she
had been guilty of bad taste, and changed the subject.

When Peter reached the Archinards' at half-past six that evening, he
found the Captain and Mrs. Archinard alone in the drawing-room.

"Hilda not in yet?" he asked. His anxiety was so oppressive that he
really could not forbear opening the old subject of grievance. Indeed,
Odd fancied that in Mrs. Archinard's jeremiads there was an element of
maternal solicitude. That Hilda should voluntarily immolate herself,
have no pretty dresses, show herself nowhere--these facts perhaps moved
Mrs. Archinard as much as her own neglected condition. At least, so
Peter charitably hoped, feeling almost cruel as he deliberately broached
the painful subject.

Mrs. Archinard now gave a dismal sigh, and the Captain shook his head
impatiently as he put down _Le Temps_.

Odd went on quite doggedly--

"I didn't know that Hilda sold her pictures. I saw one of them at Mrs.
Pope's this afternoon."

There could certainly be no indiscretion in the statement, for Mrs.
Pope herself had mentioned the fact of Hilda's success as well known.
Indeed, although the Captain's face showed an uneasy little change, Mrs.
Archinard's retained its undisturbed pathos.

"Yes," she said, "oh yes, Hilda has sold several things, I believe. She
certainly needs the money. We are not _rich_ people, Peter." Mrs.
Archinard had immediately adopted the affectionate intimacy of the
Christian name. "And we could hardly indulge Hilda in her artistic
career if, to some extent, she did not help herself. I fancy that Hilda
makes few demands on her papa's purse, and she must have many expenses.
Models are expensive things, I hear. I cannot say that I rejoice in her
success. It seems to justify her obstinacy--makes her independent of our
desires--our requests."

Odd felt that there was a depth of selfish ignorance in these remarks.
The Captain's purse he knew by experience to be very nearly mythical,
and the Captain's expression at this moment showed to Peter's sharpened
apprehension an uncomfortable consciousness. Peter was convinced that,
far from making demands on papa's purse, Hilda had replenished it, and
further conjectures as to Hilda's egotistic one-sidedness began to shape
themselves.

"And a very lucky girl she is to be able to make money so easily," the
Captain remarked, after a pause. "By Jove! I wish that doing what
pleased me most would give me a large income!" and the Captain, who
certainly had made most conscientious efforts to fulfil his nature, and
had, at least, tried to do what most pleased him all his life long, and
with the utmost energy, looked resentfully at his narrow well-kept
finger-nails.

"Does she work all day long at her studio?" Peter asked, conscious of a
certain hesitation in his voice. The mystery of Hilda's afternoon
absences would now be either solved or determined. It was
determined--definitely. There was no shade of suspicion in Mrs.
Archinard's sighing, "Dear me, yes!" or in the Captain's, "From morning
till night. Wears herself out."

Hilda, all too evidently, had a secret.

"She ought to go to two studios, it would tire her less. Her own half
the day, and a large atelier the other." Assurance might as well be made
doubly sure.

"Hilda left Julian's a long time ago. She has lived in her own place
since then, really lived there. I haven't seen it; of course I could not
attempt the stairs. Katherine tells me there are terrible stairs. Most
shockingly unhealthy life she leads, I think, and most, _most_
inconsiderate."

At the dinner-table Odd knew that Hilda had only him to thank for the
thorough "heckling" she received at the hands of both her parents. Her
silence, with its element of vacant dulness, now admitted many
interpretations. It hedged round a secret unknown to either father or
mother. Unknown to Katherine? Her grave air of aloofness might imply as
much, or might mean only a natural disapproval of the scolding process
carried on before her lover, a loyalty to Hilda that would ask no
question and make no reproach.

"Any one would tell you, Hilda, that it is positively not _decent_ in
Paris for a young girl to be out alone after dusk," said the Captain.
"Odd will tell you so; he was speaking about it only this evening. You
must come home earlier; I insist upon it."

Odd sat opposite to her, and Hilda raised her eyes and met his.

He smiled gravely at her, and shook his head.

"Naughty little Hilda!" but his voice expressed all the tender sympathy
the very sight of her roused in him, and Hilda smiled back faintly.



CHAPTER III


Peter brought Katherine the engagement ring a few days afterward. The
drifting had ceased abruptly, and he felt the new sense of reality as
most salutary. His personality and hers now filled the horizon; their
relations demanded a healthy condensation of thoughts before expanded in
wandering infinity, and he was thankful for the consciousness of
definite duty and responsibility that made past years seem the
refinement of egotism.

Katherine looked almost roguishly gay that afternoon, and, even after
the ring was exclaimed over, put on, and Peter duly kissed for it, he
felt that there was still an expression of happy knowingness not yet
accounted for.

"The ring wasn't a surprise, but you have one for me, Katherine."

Katherine laughed out at his acuteness.

"The ring is lovely; clever, sensitive Peter!"

"You have quite convinced me of your pleasure and my own good taste.
What is the news?"

"Well, Peter, a delightful thing has happened, or is _going_ to happen,
rather. Allan Hope is coming to Paris next week! Peter, we may have a
double wedding!"

"Hilda has accepted him?"

"Oh, we have not openly discussed it, you know. Mamma got his letter
this morning; very short. He hoped to see us all by Wednesday. Of
course, mamma is charmed. Hilda said nothing, and went off to the studio
as usual; but Hilda never _does_ say anything if she is really feeling."

"Doesn't she?" There was a musing quality in Odd's voice.

"_I_ think the child is in love with him; I thought so from the first.
Wednesday! A week from to-morrow! Oh, of course she will have him!"
Katherine said jubilantly.

"Allan isn't the man to fail in anything. He has a great deal of
determination."

"Yes, he seems the very embodiment of success, doesn't he? That is
because he doesn't try to see everything at once, like some people I
know." And Katherine nodded her head laughingly at her _fiancé_.
"Intellectual epicureanism is fatal. Allan Hope has no unmanageable
opinions. His party can always count on him. He is always there,
unchanged--unless they change! He pins his faith to his party, and
verily he shall have his reward! By mere force of honest mediocrity he
will mount to the highest places!"

"Venomous little Katherine! What are you trying to insinuate?"

"Why, that Lord Allan isn't particularly clever, nor particularly
anything, except particularly useful to men who can be clever for him.
He is the bricks they build with."

"Allan is as honest as the day," said Peter, a little shortly.

"Honest? Who's a denygin' of it, pray? His honesty is part of his
supreme utility. My simile holds good; he is a brick; a dishonest man is
a mere tool, fit only to be cast away, once used."

"How rhetorical we are!" said Odd, smiling at her with a touch of
friendly mockery.

"Lord Allan most devoutly believes that in his party lies the salvation
of his country," Katherine pursued. "Oh, I have talked to him!"

"You have, have you? Poor chap!" ejaculated Peter. "Will you ever serve
me up in this neatly dissected way, as a result of our confidential
conversations?"

"Willingly! but only to yourself. Don't be afraid, Peter. I could
dissect myself far more neatly, far more unpleasantly. I have a genius
for the scalpel! And I have said nothing in the least derogatory to
Allan Hope. He couldn't disagree with his party, any more than a pious
Catholic could disagree with his church. It is a matter of faith, and of
shutting the eyes."

If Hilda was so soon to pass to the supreme authority of an accepted
lover, Peter felt that for his own satisfaction he must make the most of
the time left him, and solve the riddle of her occupations. That
delicate sense of loyal reticence had held him from a hinted question to
even Katherine. If Katherine were as ignorant as he, a question would
arouse and imply suspicion. Odd could suspect Hilda of nothing worse
than a silly disobedience founded on a foolish idea of her own artistic
worth; a dull self-absorption, unsaved by a touch of humor. Yet this
very suspicion irritated Odd profoundly; it seemed logical and yet
impossible. He felt, in his very revulsion from it, a justification for
a storming of her barriers.

That very evening, while Katherine played Schumann, the Captain having
gone out and Mrs. Archinard dozing on the sofa, he determined to have
the truth if possible.

Hilda stood behind her sister, listening. Her tall slenderness looked
well in anything that fell in long lines, even if made by the most
_petite_ of _petite couturières_, as the gray silk had been. The white
fichu covered deficiencies of fit, and left free the exquisite line of
her throat. Her head, in its attitude of quiet listening, struck Odd
with the old sense of a beauty significant, not the lovely mask of
emptiness.

"Come and sit by me, Hilda," he said from his place on the sofa, "you
can hear better at this distance."

The quick turn of her head, her pretty look of willingness were
charming, he thought.

"I like to see you in that dress," he said, as she sat down beside him
on the sofa, "there isn't a whiff of paint or palette about it, except
that, in it, you look like a picture, and a prettier one than even you
could paint."

"That is a very subtle insult!" Hilda's smile showed a most encouraging
continuation of the pretty willingness.

"You see," said Odd, "you are not fair to your friends. You should paint
fewer pictures, and be more constantly a picture in yourself." She
showed a little uneasy doubtfulness of look.

"I am afraid I don't understand you. I am afraid I am stupid."

"You should _be_ a little more, and _act_ a little less."

"But to act is to be," said Hilda, with a sudden laugh. "We are not
listening to Schumann," she added, a trifle maliciously. Her face turned
toward him in a soft shadow, a line of light just defining the cheek's
young oval, the lovely slimness of the throat affected Odd with a really
rapturously artistic appreciation. The shape of her small head, too,
with its high curves of hair, was elegant with an intimate elegance
peculiarly characteristic. An inner gentle dignity, a voluntary
submission to exterior facts of existence resulting in a higher freedom,
a more perfect self-possession, seemed to emanate from her; the very
poise of her head suggested it, and so strong and so sudden was the
suggestion that Odd felt his curiosity intolerable, and those groping
suspicions outrageously at sea.

"Hilda," he said abruptly, "I went to your studio the other afternoon.
You were not there."

Her finger flashed warningly to her lip, and her glance towards her
mother turned again to him, pained and beseeching.

"She--they can't hear," said Odd, in a still lower voice.

"No, I was not there," Hilda repeated.

"And your father, your mother, Katherine, think you are there when you
are not. Is that wise? Don't be angry with me, my dear Hilda. You may
have confidence in me. Tell me, do you work somewhere else?"

"_No._ I am not angry. You startled me." Her look was indeed shaken,
but sweet, touched even. "Yes, I work somewhere else."

"And you keep it a secret?"

She nodded.

"Is it safe to keep secrets from your father and mother? Or is it a
secret kept for their sakes, Hilda?" Peter had made mental combinations,
yet he suspected that in this one he was shooting rather far from the
mark. No matter. Hilda looked away, and seemed revolving some inner
doubt. Her hesitation surprised him; he was more surprised when, half
unwillingly, she whispered, "Yes," still not looking at him.

"For their sakes," repeated Odd, his curiosity redoubled. "Come, Hilda,
please tell me all about it. For _their_ sakes?"

"In one way." Hilda spoke with the same air of half-unwilling
confidence. But that she should confide, that she should not lock
herself in stubborn silence, was much.

"And as you need not keep it for my sake, you may tell me," he urged; "I
may be able to help you."

"Oh! I don't need help." She turned a slightly challenging look upon
him. "It is no hardship to me, no trouble to keep my little secret."

"You are really unkind now, Hilda."

"No,"--her smile dwelt on him meditatively; "but I see no reason, no
necessity for telling you. I have nothing naughty to confess!" and there
was a touch of pride in her laugh.

"Yes, you are unkind, for you turn my real anxiety to a jest."

"You must not be anxious." Her eyes still rested on his, sweetly and
gently.

"Not when I see you surrounded by an atmosphere of carping criticism?
When I see you coming home, night after night, worn out, too fatigued to
speak? When I see that you are thin and white and sad?"

Hilda drew herself up a little.

"Oh, you are mistaken. But--how _kind_ of you!" and again the irradiated
look lit up her face.

"Does _that_ surprise you? Hilda, Katherine is in the dark about this
too?"

"Katherine knows; but please don't ask her about it."

"She doesn't approve, then?"

"Not exactly. Besides, it might hurt her. Please don't ask me either. It
really isn't worth any mystery, and yet I must keep it a secret."

Odd was silent for a moment, a baffling sense of pitfalls and
hiding-places upon him.

"But Katherine ought to tell me," he said at last, smiling.

"Now you are pushing an unfair advantage. She thinks, probably, that it
might hurt _me_. Really, _really_," she added urgently, "it isn't so
serious as all this seems to make it. The one serious thing is that it
_would_ hurt mamma, and that is why I make such a mountain out of my
mole-hill. How mystery does magnify the tiniest things!"

"Tell me, at least, where you go in the afternoon. I mean to what part
of Paris, to what street."

"I go to several streets," said Hilda, smiling resignedly, "since you
_will_ be so curious."

"Where are you going to-morrow? Give me just an idea of your prowess."

"I go to-morrow to the Rue d'Assas."

"Near the Luxembourg Gardens?"

"Yes."

"I fancied you were walking yourself to death. And next day?"

"Next day--the Rue Poulletier."

"And where may that be? I fancied I knew my Paris well."

"It is a little street in the Île St. Louis. That is my favorite walk;
home along the quays. I get the view of Notre Dame from the back, with
all the flying buttresses, and the sunset beyond."

"No wonder you are tired every night. You always walk?"

"Usually. I have Palamon with me, and they would not take him in a 'bus.
But from the Île St. Louis I often take the boat, and that is one of the
treats of Paris, I think, especially when the lights are lit. And on
some days I go to the Boulevard St. Germain. There; now you shall ask me
no more questions."

Odd made no further comment on the information he had received, but he
resolved to be in the Rue d'Assas to-morrow. He did not intend to spy,
but he did intend to walk home with Hilda, and to make her understand
that one of the brotherly offices he claimed was the right to protecting
companionship. He revolved the _rôle_ and its possibilities, as he lay
back in the sofa watching Hilda's profile, and listening to Schumann--a
_rôle_ that could, at all events, not last long, since Allan Hope
arrived on Wednesday. Allan's arrival would put an end to mysteries, to
a need for brotherly protection. Odd felt a certain curiosity on this
point; indeed his attitude towards Hilda was one of continual curiosity.

"So Allan Hope turns up Wednesday week," he said. "I shall be glad to
see Allan again."

Hilda's silence might imply displeasure, but Odd, in an attitude of
manly laziness, one leg crossed over the other, one hand holding an
ankle, thought a little gentle teasing quite allowable.

"Will you go bicycling with him, unkind Hilda?" He was not prepared for
the startled look she turned on him.

"When I would not go with _you_?" Her own vehemence seemed to embarrass
her. "I hardly know how to bicycle at all," she added lamely; "I would
have gone with you if I had had time." She looked away again, and then,
taking a book from the table beside her--

"Have you seen the last volume of _décadent_ poetry? Isn't the binding
nice?" Odd felt himself justly, but rather severely, reproved; yet the
gentle candor of her eyes was kind and soothing. Katherine was playing
the "Chopin" from Schumann's "Carnaval," and Peter, still holding his
ankle and feeling rather like a naughty little boy forgiven, did not
look at the fantastic volume she held, but at Hilda herself. How blue
the shadows were on the milky whiteness of her skin. Odd's eyes followed
the thick, soft eddies of hair about her forehead.

"Aren't the margins generous?" said Hilda, turning the pages; "a mere
trickle of print through the whiteness. Some of the verses are really
very pretty," and she talked gayly, in her gentle way, as they went
through the pages together.



CHAPTER IV


It was just past four when Peter walked up the Rue Bonaparte and
stationed himself at the corner of the Rue Vavin and the Rue d'Assas,
opposite the Luxembourg Gardens.

From this point of vantage he could look up and down the street, and
there would be no chance of missing her. She rarely reached home till
past six, and, even allowing for very slow walking, he was if anything
too early.

He felt, as he opened his umbrella--it had begun to rain--that his
present position might look foolish, but was certainly justifiable. He
would ask Hilda no questions, force in no way her confidence, but really
on the gray dreariness of such a day she ought not to reject but rather
to be glad for his proffered and unexpected companionship. The combined
dreariness of the afternoon with its cold rain, the gray street, the
desolate-looking branches of the trees in the Luxembourg Gardens,
inspired him with a painful sympathy for Hilda's pursuits. She was,
probably, working in one of these tall, severe houses; perhaps with some
atelier chum fallen beneath the ban of Mrs. Archinard's disapproval, and
clung to with a girl's enthusiasm. Disobedient of Hilda, very. The chum
might be masculine. This was a new and disagreeable supposition; a Marie
Bashkirtseff, Bastien Lepage affair; Bohemia gloried in such
audacities; it was difficult to associate Hilda with such feats of
independence. There was a mystery somewhere, however, and if not
mountainous, it must be more than mere mole-hill. It was very windy, and
the rain blew slantingly. Katherine would find the situation amusing. A
vision of the sympathetic amusement was followed by the realization that
to betray his Quixotism might be to betray Hilda's confidence. Yet Hilda
had made no confidence. Peter rebelled at the mere suggestion of
concealment. Knowing all, Katherine could surely know that he had been
admitted into the outer courts of the mystery. He had ample time for
every variety of reflection, for he had been standing in the rain for
over an hour, when Hilda appeared not far from him, stepping from the
door of one of the largest and most dignified of the gray houses. She
paused on the wet pavement to open her umbrella, and Peter had a glimpse
of the wide red lips and small black beard of an unpleasant-looking
French youth, who seemed to loiter behind her with a certain air of
expectancy. It was impossible to connect his commonplace vulgarity of
aspect with Bohemian friendships or with Hilda, and, indeed, she gave
him a mere nod, not looking at him at all, and came walking up the
street, her skirt raised in one hand, showing slim feet and ankles. Odd,
as he contemplated her advance, was reminded of the light poise of a
Jean Goujon nymph. Her umbrella, lowered against the wind, hid him from
her.

"Well, Hilda," he said amicably, when she was almost beside him--the
umbrella tilted back over her shoulder, and the rain fell on her
startled face--"Here I am."

Her stare of utmost amazement was very amusing, but she looked white and
tired.

"I must get a _fiacre_, I haven't your taste for plodding through rain
and mud, and you'll be kind enough to forgo the enjoyment for one day,
won't you?" Her stupefaction at last resolved itself into one word:
"Well!" she exclaimed with emphasis, and then she laughed outright.

"By Jove, child, you look done up. I'm glad you're not angry, though.
You wouldn't laugh if you were angry, would you? Here is a _fiacre_." He
hailed the approaching vehicle; the _cocher's_ hat and cape, the roof of
the cab, the horse's waterproof covering glistened with rain in the
dying light.

"You are very, very kind," Hilda said, rather gravely now, as they stood
side by side on the curb while the _fiacre_ rattled up to them.

"I always intend to be kind, Hilda, if you will let me. Jump in." He
followed her, slamming the door with relief, and depositing the two
dripping umbrellas in a corner.

"You must be drenched," said Hilda solemnly.

"Imitation is the sincerest flattery, I believe; your fondness for
drenchings inspired me. You are not one bit angry, then? You see I ask
you no questions."

"Angry? It was too good of you!" Her voice was still meditative.

"I am much relieved that you should say so. I was only conscious of
guilt."

"How long did you wait?"

"About an hour."

"And it was _pouring_!"

"Oh no, not pouring. I have suffered far worse drenchings for far less
pleasure. One has no umbrella in Scotland on the moors."

"One has, at least, the scenery." Hilda smiled.

"Yes; the Rue d'Assas isn't particularly inspiring. I don't disclaim
honor; that corner was most wearing. Only the irritation of waiting for
my mysterious little truant kept me from finding it dreary."

"Don't call me mysterious, please."

"But you are mysterious, Hilda; very. However, I promised myself, and I
promise you, to say no more about it, to ask no questions."

"You are so kind, so good." There was deep feeling in her voice; she
looked at him with a certain wistful eagerness. "You really do care,
don't you? Shall I tell you? I should like to. It seems silly not to
tell you, and I think you have a right to know--after to-day."

"I really care a great deal, Hilda; but--I don't want to take an unfair
advantage, you know; I really have no right whatsoever. Wait till this
impulse of unmerited gratitude has passed."

"But it is nothing to tell, really nothing. You see--I make money. I
have to--I teach. There; that is all."

Peter looked at her, at the white oval of her face, at the unfashionable
little hat, at the shabby coat and skirt. A lily of the field who toiled
and spun. And a hot resentment rose within him as he thought of the
father, the mother, the sister.

"Why _have_ you to?" he asked, in a hard voice.

"We are so dreadfully poor, and we are so dreadfully in debt."

"But why you alone? What can _you_ do?"

"I can do a good deal. I have been very lucky. I love my work too, and I
make money by it, so it is natural. Mamma, of course, would think it
terrible, degrading even; but I can't agree with mamma's point of view;
I think it is quite wrong. I see nothing terrible or degrading."

"No; nothing terrible or degrading, I grant you."

"You think I am right, don't you?"

"Yes; quite right, dear, quite right."

Odd paused before adding: "It is the incongruity that is shocking."

"The incongruity?" Hilda's voice was vague.

"Between your life and theirs; yes."

"Oh, you don't understand. I love my work; it is my pleasure. Besides,
they don't know; they don't realize the necessity either."

"Why the teaching? I thought your pictures sold well."

"And so they do, often; but I took up the teaching some years ago,
before I had any hope of selling my pictures; it is very _sure_, very
well paid, and I really find it a rest after five hours of studio work;
after five hours I don't feel a picture any longer."

"Yet they must know that the money comes from somewhere?"

Hilda's voice in replying held a pained quality; this attack on her
family very evidently perplexed her.

"Mamma thinks it comes from papa, and papa, I suppose, doesn't think
about it at all; he knows, too, that I sell my pictures. You mustn't
imagine," she added, with a touch of pride and resentment, "that they
would let me teach if they knew; you mustn't imagine that for one
moment. And I don't mean to let them know, for then I couldn't help
them; as it is, my help is limited. The money goes, for the most part,
towards _guarding_ mamma. She could not bear shocks and anxiety."

Odd said nothing for some moments.

"How did it begin? how did you come to think of it?" he asked.

"It began some years ago, at the studio where I worked when I first came
to Paris. There was a kind, dull French girl there; she had no talent,
and she was very rich. She heard my work praised a good deal, and one
day, after I had got a picture into the Salon for the first time, she
came and asked me if I would give her lessons. Fifteen francs an hour."
Hilda paused in a way which showed Odd that the recollection was painful
to her.

"It seemed a _very_ strange thing to me at first, that she should ask
me. I had, I'm afraid, rather silly ideas about Katherine and myself; as
though we were very elevated young persons, above all the unpleasant
realities of life. But my common sense soon got the better of my pride;
or rather, I should say, the false pride made way for the honest. We
were _awfully_ poor just then. Papa, of course, never could, never even
tried to make money; but that winter he went in for exasperated
speculation, and really Katherine and I did not know what was to become
of us. To keep it from mamma was the great thing. Katherine was just
beginning to go out, and no money for gowns and cabs; no money, even,
for mamma's books. Keeping up with current literature is expensive, you
know, and mamma has a horror of circulating libraries. The thought of
poor mamma's empty life soon decided me. I remember she had asked one
day for John Addington Symonds's last book, and Katherine and I looked
at one another, knowing that it could not be bought. I realized then,
that at all events I could make enough to keep mamma in books and
Katherine in gloves. You can't think how nasty, how egotistic my vulgar
hesitation seemed to me. My life so full, so happy, and theirs on the
verge of ruin. There is something very selfish about art, you know; it
shuts one off so much from real life, makes one so indifferent to
scrapings and pinchings. I realized that, with my shabby clothes and
apparent talent, it was most natural for the French girl to think I
should be glad of her offer; and indeed I was. It was soothing, too, to
have her so eager. She wanted me very much, so I yielded gracefully."
Hilda gave a little smile of self-mockery. "I have taught her ever
since. She lives in that house in the Rue d'Assas; rich, bourgeois
people, common, but kind. She has no talent"--Hilda's matter-of-fact
manner of knowledge was really impressive--"but I don't feel unfair in
going on with her, for she really does see things now, and that is the
greatest pleasure next to seeing and accomplishing; and, indeed, how
rarely one accomplishes. Through her I have a great many pupils, for
other girls at the studio heard of her progress with me, and wanted
private lessons too. All my afternoons are taken up, and, with fifteen
francs an hour, you can see what a lot I make. It rather annoys me to
think of people far cleverer than I am who can make nothing, and I, just
because I have had luck, making so much. But among my pupils, I really
have quite a _vogue_; and I _am_ a good teacher, I really think I am."

"I am sure your pupils are very lucky. You have a great many, you say?"

"Yes, quite a lot. Sometimes I give three lessons in an afternoon. With
Mademoiselle Lebon, my first pupil, I spend all the afternoon twice a
week. She has a gorgeous studio." Hilda smiled again. "It is very nice
working there. To-morrow I go for two hours to an old lady; she lives in
the Boulevard St. Germain; she is a dear, and a great deal of talent
too; she does flowers exquisitely; not the dreadful feminine vulgarities
one usually associates with women's flower-painting; why all the
incompetents should fall back on those loveliest and most difficult
things, I never could understand. But my pupil really sees and selects.
Only think how funny! Katherine met her son at a dance one night--the
Comte de Chalons--insignificant but nice, she said; how little he could
have connected Katherine with his mother's teacher! Indeed, he never saw
me," and Hilda's smile became decidedly clever. "I suppose the
comtesse--she really is a dear, too--thinks that for a penniless young
teacher I am too pretty. Well, I make on an average thirty francs an
afternoon. I give Mademoiselle Lebon and Madame de Chalons double time
for their money, as old pupils. It would be easier to have a class in
my studio, of course, but I would lose many of my most interesting
pupils, who don't care about going out; then, too, it would be almost
impossible to keep my misdoings undiscovered. And there is all the
mystery!" She leaned forward in the dusk of the cab to smile at him
playfully. "I am glad to get it off my mind; glad, too, that you should
know why I am so often cross and dull; by the time I reach home I am
tired. I always bring Palamon, unless it is as rainy as to-day, and of
course he puts omnibuses out of the question; omnibuses mount up, too,
when one takes them every day. Excuse these sordid details."

"I should think that a young lady who earns thirty francs an afternoon
might afford a cab." Odd found it rather difficult to speak. She was
mercifully unaware of the aspect in which her drudging, crushed young
life appeared to him.

"And then, what would Palamon and I do for exercise!" said Hilda
lightly; "it is the walking that keeps me well, I am sure."

His silence seemed to depress her gayety, for after a moment she added:
"And really you don't know how poor we are. I have no right to cabs,
really. As it is, it often seems wrong to me spending the money as I do
when we owe so much, so terribly much. Thirty francs is a lot, but we
need every penny of it, for mere everyday life. I have paid off some of
the smaller debts by instalments, but the weekly bills seem to swallow
up everything."

His realization of this silent struggle--the whole weight of her
selfish family on her frail shoulders--made Odd afraid of his own
indignation. The remembrance of Mrs. Archinard's whines, the Captain's
taunts, yes, and worst of all, Katherine's gowns and gayety, almost
overcame him. He took her hand in his and held it as they rolled along
through the wetly shining streets. His continued silence rather alarmed
Hilda. The relief of full confidence was so great that she could not
bear it impaired by any misinterpretation.

"You do understand," she said; "you do think I am right? My success
seems unmerited to you, perhaps? But I try to give my best. I seem very
selfish and unkind to mamma, I know, but I really am kind--don't you
think so?--in keeping the truth from her and letting her misjudge me. I
know you have thought of me that I was one of those selfish idiots who
neglect their real duties for their art; but I can do more for mamma
outside our home. And I read to her in the evening. Oh, how conceited,
egotistic, all that sounds! But I do want you to believe that I try to
do what seems best and wisest."

"Hilda! Hilda!" he put her hand to his lips and kissed the worn glove.

"You simply astound me," he said, after a moment; "your little life
facing this great Paris."

"Oh, I am very careful, very wise," Hilda said quickly.

"Careful? You mean that if you were not you might encounter
unpleasantnesses?"

She looked at him with a look of knowledge that went strangely with her
delicate face.

"Of course one must be careful. I am young--and pretty. I have learned
that."

"My child, what other things have you learned?" And Odd's hold tightened
on her hand.

"That terrifying things might happen if one were not brave. Don't
exaggerate, please. I really have found so few lions in my path, and a
girl of dignity cannot be really annoyed beyond a certain point. Lions
are very much magnified in popular and conventional estimation. A girl
can, practically, do anything she likes here in Paris if she is quiet
and self-reliant."

Odd stared at her.

"Of course I have always been a coward, after a fashion; I was
frightened at first," said Hilda. He understood now the look of moral
courage that had haunted him; natural timidity steeled to endurance.
"The greatest trouble with me is that I am too noticeable, too pretty."
She spoke of her beauty in a tone of matter-of-fact experience; "it is a
pity for a working woman."

"My child," Odd repeated. He felt dazed.

"Please don't exaggerate," Hilda reiterated.

"Exaggerate? Tell me about these lions. How have you vanquished them?"

"I have merely walked past them."

His evident dismay gave her a merry little moment of superior wisdom.

"They frightened me and that was all. One was the husband of a person I
taught. He used to lie in wait for me in the dining-room." Hilda gave
Odd a rather meditative glance. "You won't be angry? Angry with _me_
for keeping on in my path of independence?"

"No; I won't be angry with you." Odd felt that his very lips were white.

"Well, he gave me a letter one day." Hilda paused. "What a despicable
man!" she said reflectively; "I taught his wife! I tore the letter in
two, gave it back to him, and walked out. Naturally, I never went back
again." Her voice suddenly broke. "Oh! it was horrible! I felt--"

"What did you feel?"

"I felt as though I were for evermore set apart from _my_ kind of girl,
from girls like Katherine. I felt smirched, as though some one had
thrown mud at me. That was morbid. I got over it."

"Heavens!" Odd ejaculated. "Katherine knows this too?" he asked
bitingly.

"Oh no, no! Mr. Odd, you are the only person. Never speak of it, will
you? Never, never! Poor Kathy! It would drive her mad!"

"And she knows of your work?"

"Yes; I had to tell her of that. She felt dreadfully about it. She
wanted me to go out with her, and have pretty dresses, and meet the
clever people she meets. You should have seen how happy she was in
London last spring! To have me with her! Wrenched away from my paint! Of
course I could not give up my work, even if there had been money enough.
I made her see that, and I can't say I made her agree, but I made her
yield. She takes a false view of it still, and worries over it. She
wants me to give up the teaching and paint pictures only; but that would
be too risky, they don't sell so surely. I have several on my hands.
But Katherine knows nothing of lions and unpleasantness. I must keep
such things secret, or I should not be allowed to go on."

"You think I am safe. I must allow you, I suppose?"

"Yes, you must." She smiled a very decided little smile, adding gravely,
"I have confided in you."

"Trust me." There was silence in the cab for some moments. The tall
trees of the Cours la Reine dripped in a misty mass on one side; on the
other was the Seine with its lights.

"And the young man I saw at the door as you came out to-day?" said Odd.

"Oh, that is nothing, I hope. He is Mademoiselle Lebon's brother. A
harmlessly disagreeable creature, I fancy." Odd resumed his brooding
silence. "What are you thinking of so solemnly?" she asked.

"Of you."

"Why so solemnly? I am afraid you are laboring under all sorts of false
impressions. I have told my story stupidly."

"The true impression has stupefied me. Good heavens! Theoretically I
believe in the development of character at all costs, and you have
certainly developed a _rara avis_ in the line; but practically,
practically, my dear little girl, I would have you taken care of in
cotton-wool, guarded, protected; you would always be lovely, and you
would have been happy. You have been very unhappy."

Hilda was looking at him with that rather vague look of impersonal
contemplation characteristic of her.

"How you exaggerate things," she said, smiling; "I have not been
unhappy."

"The pity of it! The pathos!" Odd pursued, not heeding her comment.
Hilda looked at him rather sadly.

"You mean that I should have lost my ignorance? Yes, that made me feel
badly," she assented. "That is the worst of it. One becomes so
suspicious. But, Mr. Odd, that is merely a sentimental regret. I have
not lost my self-respect. I am not ignorant of things I should like to
ignore; but one may know a great many things, and be unharmed."

"My dear child, you are probably innocent of things familiar to many
modern girls. No knowledge could harm you. You have a right to more than
self-respect. You are a little heroine. Your unrewarded, unrecognized
fight fills me with amazement and reverence. I did not know that such
self-forgetful devotion existed."

"Oh, please don't talk like that! It is quite ridiculous! We must have
money, and I can make it easily. I would be quite a monster if I sat
idly at home, and saw mamma in squalid misery. I merely do my duty."
Hilda spoke quite sharply and decisively.

"Merely!" Odd ejaculated.

A thought of the near future, of Allan Hope, kept him silent, otherwise
he might have indulged in reckless invective. He still held her hand,
and again he raised it to his lips.

"That is a very stubborn and unconvinced salute, I am afraid," Hilda
said good-humoredly.

"May I come and get you now and then?" he asked.

"You think it would be wise?"

"How do you mean wise, Hilda?"

"I might be found out. I have given you my secret. You must help me to
keep it."

"I may speak of it to Katharine--since she knows?"

"Oh, of course, to Katherine. But don't _egg_ her on to worry me!"
laughed Hilda; "and speak to her with _reservations_--there are things
she must not know."

Peter wondered if the child-friendship, the brotherly relations,
entitled him to seal the compact with a kiss upon her lips. He looked at
her with a sudden quickening of breath. Her dimly seen face was very
beautiful. This realization of her beauty's attraction at that moment
struck him with a sense of abasement before her. Surely no such poor tie
held him to this lovely soul. And, at the turn of his own thoughts, Odd
felt a vague stir of fear.



CHAPTER V


Odd was to take a walk in the Bois with Katherine the next morning, and
he found her waiting for him in hat and coat and furs, a delightfully
smart and wintry little figure. Katherine never failed in elegance, in
well-groomed finish--her low-heeled little boots, her irreproachable
snowy gloves, bore the same unmistakable stamp of the _cachet_ that
costs, that is not to be procured ready made. Odd, as a rich man, had
given very little thought to the power of money, and little thought to
Katherine's garments except as charmingly characteristic symbols of good
taste; but to-day his eye noted the black fur that fell about her
shoulders and trailed lustrous ends to her very feet, more for its
richness than its becomingness.

Her bright though slightly grave smile failed to restore him to his
usual attitude of _bon camaraderie_. He smiled and kissed her, but he
was conscious of underlying soreness, conscious, too, that he might lose
his temper with Katherine; he had never lost it with Alicia. Katherine's
very superiority made it imperative to have things out with her. Kindly
resignation was an impossibility. He realized that not to admire
Katherine would make life with her intolerable. She would immediately
perceive reservations and she would revolt against them. He wondered
whether he should be the one to broach the subject of Hilda's
ill-treatment, and was amazed at a certain embarrassed shrinking, as
from a feeling too deep for words, that kept him silent as they walked
along, taking a short cut to the Place de l'Etoile, where the Arc stood
in almost cardboard clearness on the pale cold sky. It was Katherine who
spoke--

"Hilda told me of your kindness yesterday. It touched her very much."

In some subtle way it irritated Odd to hear Katherine vouch for Hilda's
feeling.

"And Hilda told you that I had been admitted into the mystery of the
Archinard family?" His voice was even enough, but it held a certain
keenness that Katherine was quick to recognize.

"You don't think their mystery creditable, do you? Nor do I, Peter. But
mamma knows nothing of it, nor papa; and I have tried to dissuade Hilda
from the first."

"My dear Katherine, the child has worked like a galley-slave for you
all! Your necessities were more potent facts than your dissuasions, I
fancy!"

Katherine gave a look at the fine severity of the profile beside her.
She felt herself arraigned, and her impulse was towards rebellion.
However, her voice was gentle, submissive even, as she answered him--

"I know it must look badly to you--cruel even. But, Peter, don't you
know--you do know--how things _grow_ around one? One can hardly tell
where the definite wrongdoing comes in, or rather the definite
submission to a wrong situation." This was so true, that Katherine felt
immediately the mollified quality of his voice as he answered--

"I know. I know submission was forced upon you, no doubt. But I had
rather you had not submitted when once the situation grew definite. And
I wish, Katherine, that you had helped her in making the situation
easier. Granting that you could give her no material aid--granting that
her faculty is good luck--still the actual burden might have been
lightened."

Odd paused; he could not say his thoughts outright--tell her that the
comparative luxury of her life and her mother's was outrageous, shocking
to him now that he understood its source.

"It is part of Hilda's good luck that her pleasures are not costly, or
rather that she can herself defray their cost," said Katherine quietly.
"She has always lived in her art--seemed to care for nothing else. My
life would indeed have been dreadful had I not accepted the interests
that came into it. I have always felt, too, that in following the
natural bent of my own character, I was laying foundations that might
some day repay Hilda for everything. If she has friends--a public--it is
owing to me. It was I who persuaded her to come to London last spring.
I, therefore, who assured her future, in a sense, for there Allan Hope
fell in love with her. I have felt that I have been doing my duty, in my
own far less conventionally fine way, but doing it nevertheless. I make
a circle for mamma; I brighten her life and my own and Hilda's, as far
as she will let me. Certain _tools_ are necessary--Hilda needs brushes
and canvases and studios; I, a few gowns, a few cabs, and a supply of
neat boots and gloves. Still the contrast is uncomplimentary to me, I
own; but when Hilda proposed this work of hers, I entreated her to give
up the idea--I said we would all starve together rather. She insisted,
and how can I interfere?"

"I can understand, Katherine, that everything you say is most convincing
to yourself; I see the perfect honesty of your own point of view. But,
my dear girl, it is slightly sophistical honesty. Hilda denies herself
the commonest comforts of life, not only to give you the luxuries, but
because her high sense of honor rebels against spending on herself money
that is owed to others. Don't misunderstand me; I don't ask any such
perhaps overstrained sense of responsibility from you. You have, no
doubt, been fully justified in living your own life; but could it not
have been lived with a little less elegance? I am sure that you would be
welcomed everywhere, Katherine, with even fewer gowns and fewer gloves."

Katherine flushed lightly; her flushes were never deep, and always
becoming. It certainly cut her now to hear his almost unconscious
implication--that from her he expected a less perfect sense of honor
than from her sister. She swallowed a certain wrathful mortification
that welled up, and answered with some apparent cheerfulness--

"You don't know your world, Peter, if you fancy that even Katherine
Archinard would be welcome in darned and dirty gloves!"

Odd walked on silently.

"And might she not be forced into taking some girlish distraction?" he
said presently. "It came out yesterday, with that astounding air of
_excusing_ herself she has, that she reads to her mother in the evening!
Could not you do that, Katherine, and let Hilda profit now and then by
the _entourage_ you have created for her?"

Katherine's flush deepened.

"Mamma doesn't care for my reading, and Hilda won't go out; she goes to
bed too early."

"And then," Odd continued, ignoring her comment in a way most irritating
to Katherine's smarting susceptibility, "you might have gone with her
now and again to these houses where she teaches. You would have stood
for protection. You would have seen for yourself if, in this drudgery,
there lurked any unpleasantness, any danger. A girl of her extreme
beauty is--exposed to insult."

Katherine gave him a stare of frank astonishment.

"Oh, you must not give way to unpleasant romancing of that sort! Things
like that only happen in novels of the silliest sort--even to beauties!
And Hilda would have told _me_. She tells me _everything_. Really,
Peter, she must have given you a wrong impression; she enjoys her life!"

"So she tried to convince me," said Odd, with a good deal of sharpness;
"there was no hint of complaint, regret, reproach, in Hilda's recountal;
don't imagine it, Katherine."

Katherine was telling herself that never in all her life had she
experienced so many rebuffs. She contemplated her own good temper with
some amazement; she also wondered how long it would last. By this time
they were half-way down the Avenue du Bois; the day was fine and clear,
and the wintry trees were sharply definite against the sky.

"I have never even seen her in a well-made gown," said Odd.

"Hilda scorns the fashion-plate garment, as I do. We are both original
in that respect."

"Your originality takes different forms."

"Because it must adapt itself to different conditions, Peter. I won't be
scolded about my dresses. Men like you imagine that, because a woman
looks well, she must spend a lot. It isn't so with me. My dresses last
forever, and, to go into details, Hilda by no means clothes me. Papa has
money--now and then. Even Hilda could not support the family, and her
money mainly goes for mamma's books and oysters and hot-house grapes. If
she will not spend it on herself, and if, now and then, I accept some of
it, I cannot consent to feel unduly humiliated."

There was a decisiveness in Katherine's tone that warned Peter to
self-control. Indeed the situation had been created for her. She had
owned up frankly to her distaste for it, her realization of its wrong.

"I am not going to ask undue humiliation of you, my dear Katherine.
Don't think me such a priggish brute; but I am going to ask you to help
me to put an end to this." Katherine's smiles had returned.

"Allan Hope will."

Peter walked on, looking gloomy.

"You won't realize that Hilda's life is the one that gives her the
greatest enjoyment. I have always envied Hilda till _you_ came; and even
now"--Katherine's smile was playful--"Allan Hope is very nice! Take
patience, Peter, till Wednesday."

"Yes; we must wait."

"I have waited for so long! Hilda could not have minded what you call
the 'drudgery.' She had only to lift her finger to end it."

"Hilda would not be the girl to lift her finger."

"You appreciate my Hilda, Peter; I am glad." Katherine gave his
abstracted countenance another of her bright contemplative glances.
There was nothing sly in Katherine's glances, and yet underlying this
one was a world of kindly, though very keen analysis; disappointment,
rebellion, and level-headed tolerance. This was decidedly not the man to
be fitted to her frame. He could not be moulded to a clever woman's
liking, for all his indefiniteness. On certain points of the conduct of
life, Katherine felt that she would meet an opposition sharply definite.
Katherine understood and was perfectly tolerant of criticism, but she
did not like it; nor did she like being put in the wrong. That Peter now
considered her very much in the wrong was evident. She was also aware
that the sophistry of her explanation had deceived herself even less
than it had deceived him. That Hilda spent her life in drudgery, and
that she spent hers in pleasure-seeking, were facts most palpable to
Katherine's very impartial vision. She knew she was wrong, and she knew
that only frank avowal would meet Peter's severity and touch his
tenderness and humor. If she heaped shame on her own head, he would be
the first to cry out against the injustice.

Yet Katherine hesitated to own herself wrong. She was not sure that she
cared to place her lover in the sheltering and leading attitude of the
Love in the "Love and Life." The meek, trembling look of Life had
always irritated her in the picture. Katherine felt herself quite strong
enough to stand alone, and felt that she would like to lead in all
things. It was with a deep inner sense of humiliation that she said--

"Please don't be cross with me, Peter. Please don't scold me. I have
been naughty--far naughtier than I dreamed of--you have made me realize
it, though you are not quite just. But you must comfort me for my own
misdoings."

As Katherine went on she felt an artistic impulsiveness, almost real,
and which sounded so real that Peter met the sweet pleading of her eyes
with a start of self-disgust.

Peter was very tender-hearted, very sympathetic, very prone to
self-doubt. Katherine's look made him feel a very prig of pompous
righteousness.

"Why, Katherine!" he said, pausing in his walk. "My dear Katherine! as
if I could not appreciate the slow growth of necessity! I only hope you
may never have to comfort me for far worse sins!"

This was satisfactory. But Katherine's pride still squirmed.

Odd went to meet Hilda on Thursday, Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday. The
distances were always great, and he insisted on cabs for the return
trip. Palamon must be tired, even if Hilda were not. He was too old for
such journeyings; and Hilda had smilingly to submit. Wednesday would end
it all definitely; Peter thought that he saw the end with unmixed
satisfaction, and yet when Allan Hope walked into his rooms early on
Wednesday morning, this Perseus of Hilda's womanhood gave the Perseus
of her childhood a really unpleasant turn of the blood. There was
something irritating in Allan Hope's absolute fitness for the _rôle_,
emphasizing, as it did, Peter's own unfitness, his forty years, and his
desultory life.

Active energy, the go-ahead perseverance that knows no doubts, the
honest and loyal convictions which were all arranged for him from his
cradle, and which he would bequeath to his children unaltered, all
things that make for order and well-being, looked at one from Lord
Allan's clear, light eyes. Odd suddenly felt himself to be an uncertain
cumberer of the earth; failure personified beside the other's air of
inevitable success. He was fond of Hope and Hope fond of him, and they
talked as old friends talk, with the intimacy that time brings; an
intimacy far removed from the strong knittings of sympathy that an hour
may accomplish; for, though Odd understood Allan very well, Allan did
not muddle his direct views of things by a comprehension that implied
condonation. He thought it rather a pity that Odd had not made more of
his life. Odd's books weren't much good that he could see; better do
something than write about the things other men have done. Odd felt that
Allan was probably quite right. They hardly spoke of Hilda, but in
Hope's congratulations on Peter's engagement there was a ring of
heartfelt brotherly warmth that implied much, and left Peter in a gloomy
rage with himself for feeling miserable. Peter had not analyzed the
darks and glooms of the last few days.

Growth does not admit of much self-contemplation. One wakes suddenly to
the accomplished change. If Peter was conscious of developments, he
defined them as morbid enlargements of that self-doubt which would
naturally thrill under the stress of new responsibilities.

Only from the force of newly formed habit did he go to the Rue
Poulletier that afternoon, hardly expecting to meet Hilda. But Hilda
had, as yet, not interrupted her usual avocations. She emerged from the
gloomy portals of one of the old dismantled-looking _hôtels_ that line
the Rue Poulletier with a certain dignity, and she looked toward the
corner where he stood with a confident glance. It was the second time he
had met her there, twice in the Rue d'Assas too.

"It is so kind of you," she said, as she joined him and they turned into
the _quai_; "only you mustn't think that you _must_, you know."

"_May_ I think that I _must_? Give me the assurance of necessity. I am
always a little afraid of seeming officious."

Hilda smiled round at him.

"Who is fishing? You know I love to have you come. You can't think how I
look forward to it." She was walking beside him along the _quai_. The
unobtrusive squareness of the "Doric little Morgue" was on their left,
as they faced the keen wind and the dying sunset. Notre Dame stood gray
upon a chilly evening sky of palest yellow. "I know now that I _was_
lonely."

"That implies the kindest compliment."

"More than _implies_, I hope."

"You really like to have me come?"

"You know I do. I am only afraid that you will rob yourself--of other
things for me."

The candor of her eyes was childlike.

"My little friend." Odd felt that he could not quite trust himself, and
took refuge in the convenient assertion.

The cold, clear wind blew against their faces; it ruffled the water, and
the gray waves showed sharp steely lights. The leafless trees made an
arabesque of tracery on the river and the sky. Hilda looked up at the
kind, melancholy face beside her, a faint touch of cynicism in her sad
smile; but the cynicism was all for herself, and it was not excessive.
She accepted this renaissance gratefully, though the disillusions of the
past were unforgettable.

"Tell me, Hilda, that you will be my friend whatever happens--to you or
to me."

"I have always been your friend, have I not?"

"Have you, Hilda, always?"

"I am dully faithful." Hilda's smile was a little baffling; it gave no
warrant for the sudden quickening of the breath that he had experienced
more than once of late.

"I feel as if I had _found_ you, Hilda."

"Did you _look_ for me, then?"

The smile was now decidedly baffling and yet very sweet.

"You know," she added, "I liked you from that first moment when you
fished me out of the river. It seems that you are fated to act always
the chivalrous part toward me."

"I would ask no better fate. Hilda, you have seen Allan Hope? Not yet?"

"No; not yet." Hilda's face grew serious. "He is coming to tea this
afternoon."

"But you must be there."

"Yes, I suppose I must." This affectation of girlish indifference seemed
to Odd more significant than noticeable shyness.

"We must take a cab," he said, trying to keep his voice level.

"Oh, it makes no difference. Cabs, you see, are never reckoned with in
my arrivals. I am warranted to be late."

"But you must not be late."

"But if I want to?" There was certainly a touch of roguery in her eyes.

"If you want to and if I want you to, it shows that you are cruel and I
conscienceless. Here is a cab. Away with you, Hilda. _Au revoir_."

"Aren't you coming too?" asked Hilda, pausing in the act of lifting
Palamon.

"Not to-day; I can't." Odd knew that he was cowardly. "I shall see you
to-morrow? I suppose not."

"Why, yes, if you come to the Boulevard St. Germain." Hilda had
deposited Palamon on the floor of the cab and still stood by the open
door looking rather dismayed.

"Really!"

"I shall go there."

"I too, then. Remember our vow of friendship, Hilda. I wish you
everything that is good and happy."

There was seemingly a slightly hurt look on Hilda's face as she drove
away. In spite of the vow, Peter feared that this was the last of Hilda,
of even this rather shadowy second edition of friendship.

He had done his duty; to hurt oneself badly seems a surety of having
done one's duty thoroughly.



CHAPTER VI


Hilda drove home, with Palamon leaning his warm body against her feet as
he sat on the floor of the cab. She put out her hand now and then and
laid it on his head, but absently. She leaned back presently and closed
her eyes, only rousing herself with a little start when the cab drew up
with a jerk in the Rue Pierre Charron. Palamon stood dully on the
pavement while she spoke to the cabman--but the _monsieur_ had paid him,
as Hilda had forgotten for the moment. Palamon was evidently tired too,
and with a little turn of dread she wondered if the time would come when
she must leave Palamon to a lonely day in the apartment. Mrs. Archinard
did not like dogs near her. Katherine was always out, and although
Rosalie the cook was devoted to the _tou-tou_, Hilda would miss him
terribly and he would miss her.

She said to herself that if it came to that she would allow herself a
daily cab-fare rather than leave Palamon, and she toiled up the steep
stairs carrying him. Taylor opened the door to her.

"Give me the dog, Miss Hilda; you do look that tired. You are to go at
once into the drawing-room, Miss. Lord Allan Hope has been waiting for
some time."

Hilda was surprised to find that she had been thinking of Palamon
rather than of the ordeal before her. She felt calm now, perfectly, as
she walked into the drawing-room, a little taken aback, however, to find
Lord Allan there waiting for her and alone.

Katherine was in the next room, her own pretty room, a rather perplexed
smile of expectancy on her face. Taylor brought in Palamon, and
Katherine gave him a drink and patted him kindly. Palamon would go with
Hilda to her new home--dear old Palamon! The thought of Hilda's new home
and homes--of the castle in Somersetshire and the shooting-lodge in
Scotland, and the big house in Grosvenor Square, deepened the look of
perplexity on Katherine's brow.

While Palamon lapped the water, she watched him with an expression of
absent-minded concentration. She could hear nothing in the drawing-room,
except now and then the slightly raised quiet of Allan Hope's fine
voice. Presently there was a long silence, and Katherine paused near the
door.

The quizzical lift of her eyebrows spoke her amused inquiry. She could
hardly imagine Hilda allowing herself to be kissed, and as the silence
continued, Katherine felt a touch of impatience color her sisterly
sympathy. Lord Allan's voice, pitched on a deep note of pain, startled
her. There followed quite a burst of ardent eloquence. With a little
_moue_ of self-disapproval Katherine bent her ear to the door. She heard
Lord Allan quite distinctly. He was pleading in more desperate accents
than she could have imagined possible from him, and Katherine caught,
too, the half frightened reiteration of Hilda's voice: "I can't, I
can't; really I can't. I am so--_so_ sorry, so sorry--" The
childishness of this helpless repetition brought a quick frown to
Katherine's brow.

"Little idiot! Baby!"

She straightened herself and stood staring at the gray houses across the
way. Then, at renewed silence in the drawing-room, she walked to the
mirror and looked at her amethyst-robed reflection.

Her eyes lingered on the contour of her waist, the supple elegance of
the line that fell gleaming from her hip. She met the half-shamed,
half-daring glance of her deeply set eyes. The silence continued, and
Katherine walked out through the entrance and into the drawing-room.

Hilda was sitting upright on a tall chair, looking at the floor with an
expression of painful endurance, and Lord Allan stood looking at her.

He turned his eyes almost unseeingly on Katherine and remained silent,
while Hilda rose and put out her hand to him. Hilda had no variety of
metaphor; "I am so sorry," she repeated.

She left her hand in his for one moment and then passed swiftly out of
the room. Katherine was left facing the unfortunate lover. Katherine
showed great tact.

"Lord Allan, don't mind me. Sit down for a moment. Perhaps then you may
be able to tell me. Perhaps I can help you."

"No good, Miss Archinard; it's all up with me."

Her gentle voice evidently turned aside the current of his frank
despair. Instead of rushing out, he dropped on the sofa and looked at
the carpet over his locked hands.

"I am not going to talk to you for a little while."

The lamps were lighted and the tea-things all in readiness on the little
table. Katherine lit the kettle and turned a log on the fire. Lord
Allan's silence implied a dull acquiescence. He did not move until
Katherine came and sat down on the chair beside him.

"_I_ am so sorry, too," she said, with a sad little smile. "Lord Allan,
I thought she cared for you."

"I hoped so."

"And have you no more hope?"

"None--absolutely none. I tell you it's rough on a fellow, Miss
Archinard. I--I _adore_ that child."

"Poor Lord Allan," Katherine gently breathed. She stretched out her slim
hand and laid it almost tenderly on his. Katherine was rather surprised
at herself, and to herself her motives were rather confused. "I should
have liked you as a brother, Lord Allan."

"You are awfully kind." He lifted his dreary eyes and surveyed her
absently, but with some gratitude. "I suppose I had best be going," he
added suddenly, as if struck by the anti-climax of his position.

"No, no; not unless you feel you must." Katherine put out her hand again
and detained his rising. "I can't bear to think of you going out alone
like that into the cold. Just wait. You are bruised. Get back your
breath. I am not going to be tiresome."

Lord Allan leaned back in the sofa with a long sigh, relapsing into the
same half stunned silence, while Katherine moved about the tea-table,
measuring out the tea from the caddy to the teapot, pouring on the
boiling water, and pausing to wait for the tea to steep. Presently Lord
Allan was startled by a proffered steaming cup.

"Will you?" she said. "I made it for you. It is such a chilly evening."

"Oh, how awfully kind of you," he started from his crushed recumbency of
attitude, "but you know I really _can't!_" But at the grieved gentleness
of Katherine's eyes he took the cup. "It is too awfully kind of you. I
do feel abominably chilly." He gulped down the tea, and gave a half
shame-faced smile as she took the cup for replenishment.

"No, don't get up," she urged, as he made an effort to collect his
courtesy; "let me wait on you," and she returned with a discreetly
tempting plate of the thinnest bread and butter. She sat down beside him
again, looking into the fire with kind, sad eyes as she stirred her tea.
She asked him presently, in the same quietly gentle voice, some little
question about the most recent debate in the House. Lord Allan had
rather distinguished himself in that debate; it was on the crest of that
wave of triumph that he had come to Hilda. From monosyllabic replies he
was led on to a rather doleful recitation of his own prowess; it seemed
that Katherine had followed it all in the newspapers, so tactfully
intelligent were her comments. He found himself sipping his third cup of
tea, enjoying in a dreary way the expounding of his favorite political
theories to the quiet, purple-robed figure beside him. He remembered
that Miss Archinard had always been interested in his career; she, of
course, was the intellectual one, though Hilda's beauty sent a sharp
stab of pain through him as he made the comparison; he appreciated now
Miss Archinard's kindness and sympathy with a brotherly warmth of
gratitude. When he at last rose to go, he was dejected; but no longer
the crushed individual of an hour before.

"You have been too good to a beaten man," he said, taking her hand.

"Oh, Lord Allan, by the laws of compensation you must lose _sometimes_.
Hilda, poor child, doesn't know what she has done; she cannot know. Her
little achievements bound the world for her. She doesn't see outside her
studio walls. _Your_ great world of action, true beneficent action,
would stun her. Do you leave Paris directly, Lord Allan? Yes! Then won't
you write to me now and then? I am interested in you. I won't relinquish
the claim of 'it might have been.' May I keep in touch with you--as a
sister would?"

"You are too good, Miss Archinard."

"To an old friend? A man I have followed and admired as I have you? Lord
Allan, I respect you from the bottom of my heart for the way in which
you have borne this knock-down from fate. You are strong, it won't hurt
you in the end. Let me know how you get on."

Katherine's eyes were compelling in their candid kindness. Lord Allan
said that he would, with emphasis. As he went down the long staircase,
the purple-robed figure filled his thoughts with a reviving
beneficence. He felt that the blow was perhaps not so bad as he had
imagined--might even be for the best; better for him, for his career.
Katherine's words enveloped him in an atmosphere that was soothing.

Left alone, Katherine finished her second cup of tea, and made, as she
looked thoughtfully into the fire, a second little _moue_ of
self-disapprobation.



CHAPTER VII


Odd, as usual, found Katherine in the drawing-room when he called next
morning. The Captain and Mrs. Archinard had assumed almost the aspect of
illusions of late; for the regularity of his daily routine--the morning
spent with Katherine, and the afternoon with Hilda--excluded the hours
of their appearance, and Odd was rather glad of the discovered immunity.

Katherine was reading beside the fire, one slim sole tilted towards the
blaze, and she looked round at Odd as he came in, without moving. Odd's
face wore a curiously strained expression, and, under it, seemed
thinner, older than usual. He looked even haggard, Katherine thought.
She liked his thin face. It satisfied perfectly her sense of fitness, as
Odd did indeed. It offered no stupidities, no pretences of any kind for
mockery to fasten on. The clever feminine eye is quick to remark the
subtlest signs of fatuity or complacency. Katherine's eye was very
clever, and this morning, in looking at Odd, she was conscious of a
little inner sigh. Katherine had asked herself more than once of late
whether a husband, not only too superior for success, but morally her
superior, might not make life a little wearing. Some such thought
crossed her mind now as she met his eyes, and she realized that through
Allan Hope's discomfiture she herself was as wrongly placed as ever, and
Hilda's drudgery as binding.

Indeed, several thoughts mingled with that general sense of _malaise_.

One was that Allan Hope's smooth, handsome face was rather fatuous; the
face that knows no doubts is in danger of seeming fatuous to a
Katherine.

Another thought held a keen conjecture on Peter's haggard looks.

She put out her hand to him, and, stooping over her, he kissed her with
more tenderness than he always showed. Their engagement had left almost
untouched the easy unsentimental attitude of earlier days.

"Well," he said, and Katherine understood and resented somewhat the
quick attack of the absorbing subject. She shook her head.

"Bad news, Peter. Bad and very unexpected."

Odd stood upright and looked at her.

"Bad!" he repeated.

"She refused him," Katherine said tersely, and her glance turned once
more from the fire to Peter's face. He looked at her silently.

"She is a foolish baby," added Katherine.

"She refused him--definitely?"

"Quite. She had to face the music last night, of course. Mamma and papa
were rather--shabby--let us say, in their disinterested disappointment."
Odd flushed a little at the cool cynicism of Katherine's tone. "She told
me, when I removed her from the battlefield, that she doesn't love him
and never will. So, of course, from every high and mighty point of view
she is right, quite right."

Katherine's eyes returned contemplatively to the fire. Odd was still
silent.

"She ought to love him, of course; that is where she is so foolish. I am
afraid she has ruined her life. I love you, Peter, and he is every bit
as good-looking as you are." Katherine glanced at him with a sad and
whimsical smile. Peter, certainly, was looking rather dazed. He stooped
once more and kissed her.

"Thank you for loving me, Katherine."

"You are welcome. It _is_ a pity, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is"--Peter seated himself on the sofa, where Allan had sat the
night before--"an awful pity," he added. "I am astonished. I thought she
cared for him."

"So did I."

"She cares for some one else, perhaps." Odd locked his hands behind his
head, and he too stared at the fire.

"There is no one else she could care for. I know Hilda's outlook too
well."

"And she refused him," he repeated musingly.

"Really, Peter, that sounds a little dull--not like you." Katherine
smiled at him.

"I feel dulled. I am awfully sorry. It would have been so satisfactory.
And what's to be done now?"

"That is for you to suggest, Peter. My power over Hilda is very limited.
You may have more influence."

"She might come and live with us."

"That would be very nice," Katherine assented, "and it is very dear of
you to suggest it."

Peter was conscious of sudden terrors that prompted him to add with
self-scorn--

"What would your mother do?"

"Without her? I don't know."

"Of course," Peter hastened to add, "as far as money goes, you know; you
understand, dear, that your mother shall want nothing. But to rob her of
the companionship of both daughters?" Peter rose and walked to the
window. It needed some heroism, he thought, to put aside the idea of
Hilda living with them; he tried to pride himself on the renunciation,
while under the poor crust of self-approbation lurked jibing depths of
consciousness. Heroism would not lie in renunciation, but in living with
her. The cowardice of his own retreat left him horribly shaken.

Katherine watched him from her chair, calmly.

"But Hilda's work must cease at once," he said presently, finding a
certain relief in decisive measures. "She won't show any false pride, I
hope, about allowing me to put an end to it."

"It would be like her," said Katherine, sliding a sympathetic gloom of
voice over the hard reality of her conclusions; conclusions half angry,
half sarcastic. Peter was dull after all. Katherine felt alarmed,
humiliated, and amused, but she steeled herself inwardly to a calm
contemplation of facts. She joined him at the window. "What a burden you
have taken on your poor shoulders, Peter." Peter immediately put his arm
around her waist, and, though Katherine felt a deeper humiliation, she
saw that alarm was needless; a proof of Peter's superiority, a proof,
too, of his stupidity; as her own most original and clever superiority
was proved by the fact of her calm under humiliation. Could she accept
that humiliation as the bitter drop in the cup of good things Peter had
to offer her? Katherine asked herself the question; it was answered by
another. Just how far did the humiliation go? Peter's infidelity might
be mere shallow passion, _passagère;_ the fine part might be to feign
blindness and help him out of it. _Attendons_ summed up Katherine's
mental attitude at the moment.

"Don't talk to me of burdens, dear Katherine," said Peter. "Don't try to
spoil my humble little pleasure. If I can make you and yours happier,
what more can I ask?" He looked at her with kind, tired eyes.

"I won't thwart you, but Hilda will."

"Hilda will find it difficult when we are married. That must be soon,
Katherine."

Katherine looked pensively out of the window.

"We will see," she replied, with a pretty evasiveness.

It was fine and cold as Odd walked down the Boulevard St. Germain that
afternoon. He walked at a tremendous pace, for human nature hopes to
cheat thought by physical effort. Indeed, Peter did not think much, and
was convinced that his mind was a comparatively happy blank as he paused
before the tall house where Hilda was pursuing her avocations. If he
made any definite reflections while he walked up and down between the
doorway and the next corner, they were on his last few conversations
with Hilda; and then on rather abstract points merely. He had drawn the
child out. He had penetrated the reserved mind that acquired for
enjoyment, not for display. He had found out that Hilda knew Italian
literature, from Dante to Leopardi, almost as well as he himself did,
and loved it just as well. The fiction of Russia and Scandinavia was
deeply appreciated by her, and the essayists of France. Her tastes were
as delicately discriminative as Katherine's, but lacked that metallic
assurance of which lately Peter had become rather uncomfortably aware.
As for the English tongue, from the old meeting-ground of Chaucer they
could range with delightful sympathy to Stevenson's sweet radiance.

Peter thought quite intently of this literary survey and evaded any
trespassing beyond its limits. His reticence was not put to a prolonged
test. Hilda met him before half-a-dozen trips to the corner were
accomplished. She showed no signs of conscious guilt, though Peter was
not sure that she was not a "foolish baby."

"Let us walk," she said, "it is such a lovely day."

"We will walk at least till the sun goes. We will just have time to
catch the sunset on the Seine."

"Yes; what a _lovely_ day! I wish I were ten, with short skirts, and a
hoop, that I could run and roll."

"You would like a bicycle ride. Come to-morrow with Katherine and me."

"I can't. Don't think me a prig, but my model is due and I am finishing
my picture. Thanks so much; and this walk is almost as good."

"If Palamon is tired I will carry him, Hilda."

"Oh, he isn't tired. See how he pulls at his cord. The sunlight is
getting into his veins. What delicious air."

"The sunlight is getting into your veins too, Hilda. You are looking a
little as you should look."

Hilda did not ask him how she should look. It was an original
characteristic of Hilda's that she did not seem at all anxious to talk
about herself, and Odd continued, looking down at her profile--

"That's what you ought to have--sunlight. You are a little white flower
that has grown in a shadow." Hilda did not glance up at him; she smiled
rather distantly.

"What a sad simile!"

"Is it a true one, Hilda?"

"I don't think so. I never thought of myself in that sentimental light.
I suppose to friendly eyes every life has a certain pathos."

"No; some lives are too evidently and merely flaunting in the sunlight
for even friendly eyes to poetize--to sentimentalize, as you rather
unkindly said."

"Sunlight is poetic, too."

"Success and selfishness, and all the commonplaces that make up a happy
life, are not poetic."

"That is rather morbid, you know--_décadent_."

"I don't imply a fondness for illness and wrongness. Rather the
contrary. It is a very beautiful rightness that keeps in the shade to
give others the sunshine."

Hilda's eyes were downcast, and in her look a certain pale reserve that
implied no liking for these personalities--personalities that glanced
from her to others, as Odd realized.

He paused, and it was only after quite a little silence that Hilda said,
with all her gentle quiet--

"You must not imagine that I am unhappy, or that my life has been an
unhappy life. It is very good of you to trouble about it, but I can't
claim the rather self-righteously heroic _rôle_ you give me. I think it
is others who live in the shadow. I think that any work, however feebly
done, is a happy thing. I find so much pleasure in things other people
don't care about."

"A very nicely delivered little snub, Hilda. You couldn't have told me
to mind my own business more kindly." Odd's humorous look met her glance
of astonished self-reproach. He hastened on, "Will you try to find
pleasure in a thing most girls _do_ care for? Will you go to the
Meltons' dance on Monday? Katherine told me I must go, this morning, and
I said I would try to persuade you."

"I _didn't_ mean to snub you."

"Very well; convince me of it by saying you will come to the dance."

The girlish pleasure of her face was evident.

"Do you really want me to?"

"It would make me very happy."

"It is against my rules, you know. I can't get up at six and go out in
the evening besides. But I will make an exception for this once, to show
you I wasn't snubbing you! And, besides, I should love to." The gayety
of her look suddenly fell to hesitation. "Only I am afraid I can't. I
remember I haven't any dress."

"_Any_ dress will do, Hilda."

"But I haven't any dress. The gray silk is impossible."

Peter's mind made a most unmasculine excursion into the position.

"But you were in London last year. You went to court. You must have had
dresses."

"Yes, but I gave them to Katherine when I came back. I had no need for
them. Her own wore out, and mine fit her very well--a little too long
and narrow, but that was easily altered. Perhaps the white satin would
do, if it wasn't cut at the bottom; it could be let down again, if it
was only turned up. It is trimmed with _mousseline de soie_, and the
flounce would hide the line."

Peter stared at her look of thoughtful perplexity; he found it horribly
touching. "It might do."

"It must do. If it doesn't, another of Katherine's can be
metamorphosized."

"And you will dance with me? I love dancing, and I don't know many
people. Of course Katherine will see that I am not neglected, but I
should like to _depend_ on you; and if I am left sitting alone in a
corner, I shall beckon to you. Will you be responsible for me?" Her
smiling eyes met the badly controlled emotion of his look.

"Hilda, you are quite frivolous." Terms of reckless endearment were on
his lips; he hardly knew how he kept them down. "How shall I manoeuvre
that you be left sitting alone in corners? Remember that if the miracle
occurs I shall come, whether you beckon or no."



CHAPTER VIII


Odd was subtly glad of a cold that kept him in bed and indoors for
several days. He wrote of his sorry plight to Katherine, and said he
would see her at the Meltons' on Monday. Hilda was to come; that had
been decided on the very evening of their last walk. He had been a
witness of the merry colloquy over the lengthened dress, a colloquy that
might, Odd felt, have held an embarrassing consciousness for Katherine
had she not treated it with such whole-hearted gayety.

The Archinards had not yet arrived when Odd reached Mrs. Melton's
apartment--one of the most magnificent in the houses that line the
Avenue du Bois de Boulogne--and after greeting his hostess, he waited
for half-an-hour in a condition of feverish restlessness, painfully
apparent to himself, before he saw in the sparkling distance Katherine's
smooth dark head, the Captain's correctly impassive good looks, and
Hilda's loveliness for once in a setting that displayed it. Peter
thrilled with a delicious and ridiculous pride as, with a susceptibility
as acute as a fond mother's, he saw--felt, even--the stir, the ripple of
inevitable conquest spread about her entry. The involuntary attention of
a concourse of people certainly constitutes homage, however unconscious
of aim be the conqueror. To Odd, the admiration, like the scent of a
bed of heliotrope in the turning of a garden path, seemed to fill the
very air with sudden perfume. "Her dear little head," "Her lovely little
head," he was saying to himself as he advanced to meet her. He naturally
spoke first to Katherine, and received her condolences on his cold,
which she feared, by his jaded and feverish air, he had not got rid of.
Then, turning to Hilda--

"The white satin _does_," he said, smiling down at her. Katherine did
not depend on beauty, and need fear no comparison even beside her
sister. She was talking with her usual quiet gayety to half-a-dozen
people already.

"See that Hilda, in her _embarras de choix_, doesn't become too much
embarrassed," she said to Peter. "Exercise for her a brotherly
discretion."

The Captain was talking to Mrs. Melton--a pretty little woman with
languid airs. She had lived for years in Paris, and considered herself
there a most necessary element of careful conservatism. Her
exclusiveness, which she took _au grand serieux_, highly amused
Katherine. Katherine knew her world; it was wider than Mrs. Melton's.
She walked with a kindly ignoring of barriers, did not trouble herself
at all how people arrived as long as they were there. She was as
tolerant of a millionaire _parvenu_ as might be a duchess with a
political _entourage_ to manipulate; and she found Mrs. Melton's anxious
social self-satisfaction humorous--a fact of which Mrs. Melton was
unaware, although she, like other people, thought Katherine subtly
impressive. Mrs. Melton was rather dull too, and a few grievances
whispered behind her fan in Katherine's ear _en passant_--for subject,
the unfortunate and eternal _nouveau riche_--made pleasant gravity
difficult; but Katherine did not let Mrs. Melton know that she found her
dull and funny.

Hilda for the moment was left alone with Odd, and he seized the
opportunity for inscribing himself for five waltzes.

"I will be greedy. I wrest these from the hungry horde I see advancing,
led by your father and Mrs. Melton."

He had not claimed the first waltz, and watched her while she danced
it--charmingly and happily as a girl should. She was beautiful,
surprisingly beautiful. A loveliness in the carriage of the little head,
with its heightened coils of hair, seemed new to Odd. No one else's hair
was done like that, nor grew so about the forehead. The white satin was
a trifle too big for her. A lace sash held it loosely to her waist, and
floated and curved with the curves of her long flowing skirt. His waltz
came, and he would not let his wonder at the significance of his
felicity carry him too far into conjecture.

"Are you enjoying yourself?" he asked, as they joined the eddy circling
around Mrs. Melton's ballroom.

"So much; thanks to you." Her parted lips smiled, half at him, half at
the joy of dancing. "I had almost forgotten how delicious it was."

"More delicious than the studio, isn't it?"

"You shall not tempt me to disloyalty. How pretty, too! De la Touche
could do it--all light and movement and color. I should like to come
out of my demi-tints and have a try myself! What pretty blue shadows
everywhere with the golden lights. See on the girls' throats. There is
the good of the studio! One sees lovely lights and shadows on ugly
heads! Isn't that worth while?"

Odd's eyes involuntarily dropped to the blue shadow on Hilda's throat.

"Everything you do is worth while--from painting to dancing. You dance
very well."

The white fragility of her neck and shoulders, in the generous display
of which he recognized the gown's quondam possessor, gave him a little
pang of fear. She looked extremely delicate, and the youthfulness of
cheek and lip pathetic. That wretched drudgery! For, even through the
happy candor of her eyes, he saw a deep fatigue--the long fatigue of a
weary monotony of days. But in neither eyes nor voice was there a tinge
of the aloofness--the reserve that had formerly chilled him. To-night
Hilda seemed near once more; almost the little friend of ten years ago.

"You dance well, too, Mr. Odd," she said.

"I very seldom waltz."

"In _my_ honor then?"

"Solely in your honor. I haven't waltzed five times in one evening with
one young woman--for ages!"

"You haven't waltzed five times with me yet. I may wear you out!"

"What an implied reflection on my forty years! Do I seem so old to you,
Hilda?"

"No; I don't think of you as old."

"But I think of you as young, very young, deliciously young."

"Deliciously?" she repeated. "That is a fallacy, I think. Youth is sad;
doesn't see things in _value_; everything is blacker or whiter than
reality, so that one is disappointed or desperate all the time."

"And you, Hilda?"

Her eyes swept his with a sweet, half-playful defiance.

"Don't be personal."

"But you were. And, after the other day--your declaration of
contentment."

"Everything is comparative. I was generalizing. I hate people who talk
about themselves," Hilda added; "it's the worst kind of immodesty.
Material and mental braggarts are far more endurable than the people who
go round telling about their souls."

"Severe, rigid child!" Odd laughed, and, after a little pause, laughed
again. "You are horribly reserved, Hilda."

"Very sage when one has nothing to show. Silence covers such a multitude
of sins. If one is consistently silent, people may even imagine that one
isn't dull," said Hilda maliciously.

"You are dull and silent, then?"

"I have few opinions; that is, perhaps, dulness."

"It may be a very wide cleverness."

"Yes; it may be. Now, Mr. Odd, the next waltz is yours too, you know.
You have quite a cluster here. Let us sit out the next. I should like an
ice."

Odd fetched the ice and sat down beside her on a small sofa in a corner
of the ballroom. Katherine passed, dancing; her dark eyes flashed upon
them a glance that might have been one of amusement. Odd was conscious
of a painful effort in his answering smile.

Hilda's eyes, as she ate her ice, followed her sister with a fond
contemplation.

"Isn't that dress becoming to her? The shade of deepening, changing
rose."

"Your dress, too, Hilda, is lovely."

"Do you notice dresses, care about them?"

"I think I do, sometimes; not in detail as a woman would, but in the
blended effect of dress and wearer."

"I love beautiful dresses. I think this dress is beautiful. Have you
noticed the line it makes from breast to hem, that long, unbroken line?
I think that line the secret of elegance. In some gowns one sees one has
visions of crushed ribs, don't you think?"

Odd listened respectfully, his mouth twisted a little by that same smile
that he still felt to be painful. "And is not this lace gathered around
the shoulders pretty too?" Hilda turned to him for inspection.

"You will talk about your clothes, but you will not talk about yourself,
Hilda." Odd had put on his eyeglasses and was obediently studying her
gown.

"The lace is mamma's. Poor mamma; I know she is lonely. It does seem
hard to be left alone when other people are enjoying themselves. She has
Meredith's last novel, however. I began it with her. Mr. Odd, I am doing
all the talking. _You_ talk now."

"About Meredith, your dress, or you?"

"About yourself, if you please."

"It has seemed to me, Hilda, that you were even less interested in me
than you were in yourself."

Hilda looked round at him quickly, and he felt that his eyes held hers
with a force which almost compelled her--

"No; I am very much interested in you." Odd was silent, studying her
face with much the same expression that he had studied her gown--the
expression of painfully controlled emotion.

"There is nothing comparably interesting in me," he said; "I have had my
story, or at least I have missed my chance to have a story."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I mean that I might have made a mark in the world and didn't."

"And your books?"

"They are as negative as I am."

"Yet they have helped me to live." Hilda looked hard at him while she
spoke, and a sudden color swept into her face; no confusion, but the
emotion of impulsive resolution. Odd, however, turned white.

"Helped you to live, Hilda!" he almost stammered; "my gropings!"

"You may call them gropings, but they led me. Perhaps you were like
Virgil to Statius, in Dante. You know? You bore your light behind and
lit my path!" She smiled, adding: "I suppose you think you have failed
because you have reached no dogmatic absolute conclusion. But you
yourself praise noble failure and scorn cheap success."

"I didn't even know you read my books."

"I know your books very well; much better than I know you."

"Don't say that. I hope that any worth in me is in them."

"One would have to survey your life as a whole to be sure of that.
Perhaps you _do_ even better than you write."

"Ah, no, no; I can praise the books by that comparison." His voice
stumbled a little incoherently, and Hilda, rising, said with a smile--

"Shall we dance?"

In the terribly disquieting whirl of his thoughts, which shared the
dance's circling propensities, Odd held fast to one fixed kernel of
desire; he must hear from Hilda's lips why she had refused Allan Hope.

An uneasy consciousness of Katherine crossed his mind once and again
with a dull ache of self-reproach, all the more insistent from his
realization that its cause was not so much the infidelity to Katherine
as that Hilda would think him a sorry villain.

Katherine seemed to be dancing and enjoying herself. She knew that his
energy this evening was on Hilda's account; he had claimed the
responsibility for Hilda. Katherine would not consider herself
neglected, of that Peter felt sure, relying, with perhaps a display of
the dulness she had discovered in him, upon her confidence and common
sense. Outwardly, at least, he would never betray that confidence; there
was some rather dislocated consolation in that.

Hilda was a little breathless when he came to claim her for the second
cluster of waltzes. It was near the end of the evening.

"I have been dancing _steadily_," she announced, "and twice down to
supper! Did you try any of the narrow little sandwiches? So good!"

"And you still don't grudge me my waltzes?"

"I like yours _best_!" she said, smiling at him as she laid her hand on
his shoulder. They took a few turns around the room and then Hilda owned
that she was a little tired. They sat down again on the sofa.

"Hilda!" said Odd suddenly, "will you think me very rude if I ask you
why you refused Allan Hope?"

Hilda turned a startled glance upon him.

"No; perhaps not," she answered, though the voice was rather frigid.

"You don't think I have a right to ask, do you?"

"Well, the answer is so evident."

"Is it?" Hilda had looked away at the dancers; she turned her head now
half unwillingly and glanced at him, smiling.

"I would not have refused him if I had loved him, would I? You know
that. It doesn't seem quite fair, quite kind, to talk of, does it?"

"Not to me even? I have been interested in it for a long time. Katherine
told me, and Mary."

"I don't know why they should have been so sure," said Hilda, with some
hardness of tone. "I never encouraged him. I avoided him." She looked at
Odd again. "But I am not angry with you; if any one has a right, you
have."

"Thanks; thanks, dear. You understand, you know my interest, my
anxiety. It seemed so--happy for both. And you care for no one else?"

"No one else." Hilda's eyes rested on his with clear sincerity.

"Don't you ever intend to marry, Hilda?" Odd was leaning forward, his
elbows on his knees, and looking at the floor. There was certainly a
tension in his voice, and he felt that Hilda was scanning him with some
wonder.

"Does a refusal to take one person imply that? I have made no vows."

"I don't see--" Odd paused; "I don't see why you shouldn't care for
Hope."

"Are you going to plead his cause?" she asked lightly.

"Would it not be for your happiness?" Odd sat upright now, putting on
his eyeglasses and looking at her with a certain air of resolution.

"I don't love him." Hilda returned the look sweetly and frankly.

"What do you know of love, you child? Why not have given him a chance,
put him on trial? Nothing wins a woman like wooing."

"How didactic we are becoming. I am afraid I should really get to loathe
poor Lord Allan if I had given him leave to woo me."

"I suppose you think him too unindividual, too much of a pattern with
other healthy and hearty young men. Don't you know, foolish child, that
a good man, a man who would love you as he would, make you the husband
he would, is a rarity and very individual?"

Odd found a perverse pleasure in his own paternally admonishing
attitude. Hilda's lightly amused but touched look implied a confidence
so charming that he found the attitude sublimely courageous.

"I suppose so," she said, and she added, "I haven't one word to say
against Lord Allan, except--" She paused meditatively.

"Except what?" Odd asked rather breathlessly.

"He doesn't really _need_ me."

"Doesn't _need_ you! Why, the man is desperately in love with you!"

"He needs a wife, but he doesn't need _me_."

"You are subtle, Hilda."

"I don't think I am _that_."

"You are waiting, then, for some one who can satisfy you as to his
_need_ of you?"

"I shall only marry that person."

Hilda jumped up. "But I'm not waiting at all, you know. _Dansons
maintenant!_ Your task is nearly over!"

It was very late when Odd gave Hilda up to her last partner, and joined
Katherine in a small antechamber, where she was sitting among flowers,
talking to an appreciative Frenchman. This gentleman, with the
ceremonious bow of his race, made away when Miss Archinard's _fiancé_
appeared, and Odd dropped into the vacated seat with a horrible sinking
of the heart. The dull self-reproach was now acute, he felt meanly
guilty. Katherine looked at him funnily--very good-humoredly.

"I didn't know you had it in you to dance so well and so persistently,
Peter. You have done honor to Hilda's ball."

"I hope I wasn't too selfishly monopolizing."

"Oh, you had a right to a certain monopoly since, owing to you only, she
came," and Katherine added, smiling still more good-humoredly, "I am
_not_ jealous, Peter."

He turned to look at her. The words, the playful tone in which they were
uttered, struck him like a blow. His guilty consciousness of his own
feeling gave them a supreme nobility. She was _not_ jealous. What a cur
he would be if ever he gave her apparent cause for jealousy. The cause
was there; his task must be to keep it hidden.

"But suppose _I_ am?" he said; "you haven't given me a single dance."

Katherine's smile was placid; she did not say that he had not asked for
one. Indeed they had rarely danced together.

"I think of going to England in a day or two, Peter," she observed. "The
Devreuxs have asked me to spend a month with them."

Peter sat very still.

"A sudden decision, Kathy?"

"No, not so sudden. Our _tête-à-tête_ can't be prolonged forever."

"Until our wedding day, you mean? Well, the wedding day must be fixed
before you go."

"I yield. The first part of May."

"Three months! Let it be April at least, Kathy."

"No, I am for May."

"It's an unlucky month."

"Oh, _we_ can defy bad luck, can't we?" Katherine smiled.

"If you go away, I shall," said Odd, after a moment's silence.

"Why, I thought you would stay here and look after mamma--and Hilda,"
said Katherine slowly, and with a wondering thought for this revealment
of poor Peter's folly. Peter then intended to heroically sacrifice his
infidelity. That he should think she did not see it!

"I am not over this beastly cold yet. A trip through Provence would set
me right. I should come back through Touraine just at the season of
lilacs. I am afraid I should be useless here in Paris. I see so little
of your mother--and Hilda. Arrange that Taylor shall go for her after
her lessons."

"I am afraid that mamma can't spare Taylor."

Peter moved impatiently.

"Katherine, may I give you some money? She would take it from you.
Persuade her to give up that work. You could do it delicately."

"As I have told you, you exaggerate my influence. She would suspect the
donor. She would not take the money."

"I could speak to your father; lend him a sum."

Katherine flushed.

"It would make him very angry with her if he knew. And the lessons are a
fixed sum; only a steady income would be the equivalent."

"Oh dear!" sighed Peter. He suddenly realized that of late he had talked
of little else but Hilda in his conversations with Katherine.

"When do you go to London, dear?" he asked.

"The day after to-morrow." Katherine, above the waving of her fan,
smiled slightly at his change of tone. "Will you miss me, Peter?"

"All the more for being cross with you. It is very wrong of you to play
truant like this."

"It will be good for both of us." Katherine's voice was playful, and
showed no trace of the bitterness she was feeling. "I might get tired of
you, Peter, if I allowed myself no interludes. Absence is the best fuel
to appreciation. I shall come back realizing more fully than ever your
perfection."

"What a sage little person it is! Sarcastic as well! May I write to you
very often?"

"As often as you feel like it; but don't force feeling."

"May I describe châteaux and churches? And will you read my descriptions
if I do?"

"With pleasure--and profit. Let me know, too, how the book gets on. Can
I do anything for you at the British Museum?"

It struck Katherine that the change in their relation which she now
contemplated as very probably definite might well allow of a return to
the first phase of their companionship. A letter from Allan Hope which
she had received that morning, though satisfactory in many respects, was
not quite so from an intellectual standpoint. An intellectual friendship
with Peter Odd was a pleasant possession for any woman, and Katherine
perhaps, with an excusable malice, rather anticipated the time when
Peter might have regrets, and find in that friendship the solace of
certain disappointments from which Katherine had almost decided not to
withhold him.

"I shall try to keep you profitably yoked, then, even in London, shall
I?" said Odd, in reply to an offer more generous than he could have
divined. "Discipline is good for a rebellious spirit like yours. Don't
be frightened, Kathy. Go and look at the Elgin Marbles if you like. I
shall set you no heavier task."

"They are so profoundly melancholy in their cellared respectable abode,
poor dears! I know they would have preferred dropping to pieces under a
Greek sky. A cruel kindness to preserve them in an insulting
immortality. The frieze especially, stretched round the ugly wall like a
butterfly under a glass case!" Odd laughed with more light-heartedness
than he had felt for some time. It rejoiced him to feel that he still
found Katherine charming. There must certainly be safety in that
affectionate admiration.

"I won't even ask you to harrow your susceptibility by a look at the
insulted frieze, then; you must know it well, to enter with such
sympathy into its feelings. Only you must write, Katherine. I shall be
lonely down there. A daily letter would be none too many."

"I can't quite see why you are exiling yourself. Of course, the weather
here is nasty just now. I have noticed your cough all the evening. Come
and say good-bye to-morrow. I shall be very busy, so fix your hour."

"Our usual hour? In the morning?"

"You will not see Hilda then."

"Hilda has had enough of me to-night, I am sure. You will kiss her _au
revoir_ for me."

Odd felt a certain triumph.

Katherine's departure could be taken as a merciful opportunity for
makeshift flight. After a month or two of solitary wrestling and
wandering, he might find that the dubiously directed forces of
Providence were willing to help one who helped himself.

His mind fastened persistently on the details of the suddenly
entertained idea of escape from the madness he felt closing round him.
The disclosure of his passion for Hilda stared him in the face. And how
face the truth? A man may fight a dishonoring weakness, but how fight
the realization that a love founded on highest things, stirring highest
emotions in him, had, for the first time, come into his life, and too
late? A love as far removed from the wrecking passion of his youth as it
was from the affectionate rationality of his feeling toward Katherine;
and yet, because of that tie, drifted into from a lazy indifference and
kindness for which he cursed himself, capable of bringing him to a more
fearful shipwreck.

Hilda's selflessness was rather awful to the man who loved her, and gave
her a power of clear perception that made sinking in her eyes more to be
dreaded than any hurt to himself.

And Peter departed for the South without seeing her again.



CHAPTER IX


An April sky smiled over Paris on the day of Odd's return. A rather
prolonged tour had tanned his face, and completely cured his lungs.

He expected to find Katherine already in Paris; her last letters had
announced her departure from a Surrey country house, and had implied
some anxiety in regard to a prolonged illness of Mrs. Archinard's.
Katherine had written him very soon after their parting, that the
Captain had gone on a yachting trip in the Mediterranean, and that she
knew that he had left Hilda with money, so Peter need not worry. Peter
had seen to this matter before leaving Paris, and had approved of the
Captain's projected jaunt. He surmised that her father's absence would
lighten Hilda's load, and hoped that the sum he placed in the Captain's
hands--on the understanding that most of it was to be given to
Hilda--but _from_ her father, would relieve her from the necessity for
teaching. Peter called at the Rue Pierre Charron early in the afternoon,
but the servant (neither Taylor nor Wilson, but a more hybrid-looking
individual with unmistakable culinary traces upon her countenance) told
him that Mademoiselle Archinard had not yet arrived. Madame still in bed
"_toujours souffrante_," and "Mademoiselle 'Ilda"--Odd had hesitated
uncomfortably before asking for her--was out. "_Pas bien non plus,
celle-là_," she volunteered, with a kindly French familiarity that still
more strongly emphasized the contrast with Taylor and Wilson; "_Elle
s'éreinte, voyez-vous monsieur, la pauvre demoiselle_." With a sick
sense of calamity and helplessness upon him, Odd asked at what hours she
might be found. All the morning, it seemed "_Il faut bien qu'elle soigne
madame, et puis elle m'aide. Je suis seule et la besogne serait par trop
lourde_," and Rosalie also volunteered the remark that "_Madame est
très, mais très exigeante, nuit et jour; pas moyen de dormir avec une
damê comme celle-là_."

Odd looked at his watch; it was almost five. If Hilda had kept to her
days he should probably find her in the Rue d'Assas, and, with the
angriest feelings for himself and for the whole Archinard family, Hilda
excepted, he was driven there through a sudden shower that scudded in
fretful clouds across the blue above. He was none too soon, for he
caught sight of Hilda half-way up the street as they turned the corner.
The sight of him, as he jumped out of the cab and waylaid her, half
dazed her evidently.

"You? I can hardly believe it!" she gasped, smiling, but in a voice that
plainly showed over-wrought mental and physical conditions. She was
wofully white and thin; the hollowed line of her cheek gave to her lips
a prominence pathetically, heartrendingly childlike; her clothes had
reached a pitch of shabbiness that could hardly claim gentility; the
slits in her umbrella and the battered shapelessness of her miserable
little hat symbolized a biting poverty.

"Hilda! Hilda!" was all Odd found to say as he put her into the cab. He
was aghast.

"I _am_ glad to see you," she said, and her voice had a forced gayety
over its real weakness; "I haven't seen any of my people for so long,
except mamma. An illness seems to put years between things, doesn't it?
Poor mamma has been so really ill. It has troubled me horribly, for I
could not tell whether it were grave enough to bring back papa and
Katherine; but Katherine is coming. I expected her a day or two ago, and
mamma is much, _much_ better. As for papa, the last time I heard from
him he was in Greece and going on to Constantinople. I am glad now that
he hasn't been needlessly frightened, for he will get all my last
letters together, and will hear that she is almost well again. And you
are here! And Kathy coming! I feel that all my clouds are breaking."

Odd could trust his voice now; her courage, strung as he felt it to be
over depths of dreadful suffering, nerved him to a greater self-control.

"If I had known I would have come sooner," he said; "you would have let
me help you, wouldn't you?"

"I am afraid you couldn't have _helped_ me. That is the worst of
illness, one can only wait; but you would have cheered me up."

"My poor child!" Odd inwardly cursed himself. "If I had known! What have
you been doing to yourself, Hilda? You look--"

"Fagged, don't I? It is the anxiety; I have given up half my work since
you left; my pictures are accepted at the Champs de Mars. We'll all go
to the _vernissage_ together. And, as they were done, I let Miss Latimer
have the studio for the whole day. That left me my mornings free for
mamma."

"Taylor helped you, I suppose?"

"Taylor is with Katherine. She went before mamma was at all ill, and
indeed mamma insisted that Katherine must have her maid. I was glad that
she should go, for she has worked hard without a rest for so long, and,
of course, travelling about as she has been doing, Katherine needed
her." There was an explanatory note in Hilda's voice; indeed Odd's
silence, big with comment, gave it a touch of defiance. "It made double
duty for Rosalie, but she is a good, willing creature, and has not
minded."

"And Wilson?"

"He went with papa. I don't think papa could live without Wilson."

"Oh, indeed. I begin to solve the problem of your ghastly little face.
You have been housemaid, _garde-malade_, and bread-winner. Had you no
money at all?" Hilda flushed--the quick flush of physical weakness.

"Yes, at first," she replied; "papa gave me quite a lot before going,
and that has paid part of the doctor's bills, and my lessons brought in
the usual amount."

"Could you not have given up the lessons for the time being?"

"I know you think it dreadful in me to have left mamma for all those
afternoons." Her acceptation of a blame infinitely removed from his
thoughts stupefied Odd. "And mamma has thought it heartless, most
naturally. But Rosalie is trustworthy and kind. The doctor came three
times a day and I can explain to _you_"--Hilda hesitated--"the money
papa gave me went almost immediately--some unpaid bills."

"What bills?" Odd spoke sternly.

"Why, we owe bills right and left!" said Hilda.

"But what bills were these?"

"There was the rent of the apartment for one thing; we should have had
to go had that not been paid; and then, some tailors, a dressmaker; they
threatened to seize the furniture."

"Katherine's dressmaker?"

"Yes; Katherine, I know, never dreamed that she would be so impatient;
but I suppose, on hearing that Katherine had gone to England, the woman
became frightened." Peter controlled himself to silence. The very
fulness of Hilda's confidence showed the strain that had been put upon
her. "And then," she went on, as he did not speak, "some of the money
had to go to Katherine in England. Poor Kathy! To be pinched like that!
She wrote, that at one place it took her last shilling to tip the
servants and get her railway ticket to Surrey."

"Why did she not write to me? Considering all things--"

"Oh!" said Hilda--her tone needed no comment--"we have not quite come to
that." She added presently and gently, "I had money for her."

Odd took her hand and kissed it; the glove was loose upon it.

"And now," said Hilda, leaning forward and smiling at him, "you have
heard me _filer mon chapelet_. Tell me what you have been doing."

"My lazy wanderings in the sun would sound too grossly egotistic after
your story."

"Has my story sounded so dismal? _I_ have been egotistic, then. I had
hoped that perhaps you would write to me," she added, and a delicately
malicious little smile lit her face. Odd looked hard at her, with a
half-dreamy stare.

"I thought of you," he said; "I should have liked to write."

"Well, in the future do, please, when you feel like it."

Mrs. Archinard was extended on the sofa in the drawing-room when they
reached the Rue Pierre Charron. The crisp daintiness of
pseudo-invalidism had withered to a look of sickly convalescence. She
was much faded, and her little air of melancholy affectation pitifully
fretful.

"You come before my own daughter, Peter," she said; "I don't _blame_
Katherine, since Hilda tells me that she did not let her know of my
dangerous condition."

"Not _dangerous_, mamma," Hilda said, with a patient firmness not
untouched by resentment, a touch to Odd most new and pleasing. "The
doctor had perfect confidence in me, and would have told me. I should
have sent for papa and Katherine the moment he thought it advisable.
Under the circumstances they could have done nothing for you that I did
not do." Hilda had, indeed, rather distorted facts to shield Katherine.
What would Mrs. Archinard have said had she known that Katherine, in
answer to a letter begging her to return, had replied that she _could_
not? Even in Hilda's charitable heart that "_could_ not" had rankled.
Odd's despairing gloom discerned something of this truth, as he realized
that the uncharacteristic self-justification was prompted by a rebellion
against misinterpretation before _him_. Mrs. Archinard showed some
nervous surprise.

"Very well, very well, Hilda," she said, "I am sure I ask no sacrifices
on _my_ account. One may die alone as one has lived--alone. My life has
trained me in stoicism. You had better wash your face, Hilda. There is a
great smudge of charcoal on your cheek," and, as Hilda turned and walked
out, "I have looked on the face of the King of Terrors, Peter. Peter!
dear old homely name! the faithful ring in it! It is easy for Hilda to
talk! I make no complaint. She has nursed me excellently well--as far as
her nursing went. But she has a _hard_ soul! no tenderness! no sympathy!
To leave her dying mother every afternoon! To sacrifice me to her
_painting_! At such a time! Ah me!" Large tears rolled down Mrs.
Archinard's cheeks, and her voice trembled with weakness and self-pity.
Odd, in his raging resentment, could have exploded the truth upon her;
the tears arrested his impulse, and he sat moodily gazing at the floor.
Mrs. Archinard raised her lace-edged handkerchief and delicately touched
away the tears.

"I have given my whole life, my whole life, Peter, for my girls! I have
borne this long exile from my home for their sakes!" At Allersley Mrs.
Archinard had never ceased complaining of her restricted lot, and had
characterized her neighbors as "yokels and Philistines." Speaking with
her handkerchief pressed by her finger-tips upon her eyelids, she
continued, "I have asked nothing of them but sympathy; _that_ I have
craved! And in my hour of need--" Mrs. Archinard's _point de Venise_
bosom heaved once more. Odd took her hand with the unwilling yet pitying
kindness one would show towards a silly and unpleasant child.

"I don't think you are quite fair," he said; "Hilda looks as badly as
you do. She has had a heavy load to carry."

"I told her again and again to get a _garde-malade_, two if necessary."
Mrs. Archinard's voice rose to a higher key. "She has chosen to ruin her
appearance by sitting up to all hours of the night, and by working all
day in that futile studio."

"_Garde-malades_ are expensive." Odd could not restrain his voice's
edge.

"Expensive! For a dying mother! And with all that is lavished on her
studio--canvases, paints, models!"

The depths of misconception were too hopelessly great, and, as Mrs.
Archinard's voice had now become shrilly emphatic, he kept silence, his
heart shaken with misery and with pity, despairing pity for Hilda. She
re-entered presently, wearing on her face too evident signs of
contrition. She spoke to her mother in tones of gentle entreaty, humored
her sweetly, gayly even, while she made tea.

"You know I cannot touch cake, Hilda."

"There are buttered _brioches_, mamma, piping hot."

"Properly buttered, I hope. Rosalie usually places a great clot in the
centre, leaving the edges uneatable."

"Mamma is like the princess who felt the pea through all the dozens of
mattresses, isn't she?" said Hilda, smiling at Odd. "But _I_ buttered
these with scientific exactitude."

"Exactitude! Ah! the mirage of science! More milk, more milk!" Mrs.
Archinard raised herself on one elbow to watch with expectant
disapproval the concoction of her tea, and, relapsing on her cushions as
the tea was brought to her, "I suppose it _is_ milk, though I prefer
cream."

"No, it's cream." Hilda should know, as she had herself just darted
round the corner to the _crêmerie_. Odd sprang up to take his cup from
her. He thought she looked in danger of falling to the ground.

"Do sit down," he said in a low voice; "you look very, very badly."

"Have you read Meredith's last?" asked Mrs. Archinard from the sofa.
"Hilda is reading it to me in the evenings. We began it, ah! long, long
ago. I have sympathy for Meredith, an _intimité!_ It is so I feel, see
things--super-subtly. Strange how coarsely objective some minds are! Did
you order the oysters for my dinner, Hilda, and the ice from
Gagé's--_pistache?_ I hope you impressed _pistache_. You will dine with
Hilda, of course, Peter; I have my dinner here; I am not yet strong
enough to sit through a meal. And then you must talk to me about
Meredith. I always find you most suggestive--such new lights on old
things. And Verhaeren, too; do you care for Verhaeren? Morbid? Yes,
perhaps, but that is a truism--not like you, Peter. '_Les apparus dans
mes chemins_,' poor, modern, broken, bleeding soul! We must talk of
Verhaeren. Just now I feel very sleepy. You will excuse me if I simply
_sans gêne_ turn over and take a nap? I can often sleep at this hour.
Hilda, show Peter the Burne-Jones Chaucer over there. Hilda doesn't find
him limpid, sweet, healthy enough for Chaucer; but _nous sommes tous les
enfants malades_ nowadays. There is a beauty, you know, in that. Talk it
over."

Hilda and Peter sat down obediently side by side on the distant little
_canapé_ before the Burne-Jones Chaucer. They went over the pages, not
paying much attention to the woodcuts, but looking down favorite
passages together. The description of "my swete" in "The Book of the
Duchess," the complaint of poor Troilus, and, once more, Arcite's death.
The quiet room was very quiet, and they looked up from the pages now and
then to smile, perhaps a little sadly, at one another. When the dinner
was announced Hilda said, as they went into the dining-room--

"If your courage fails you, just say so frankly. I have very childish
tastes and childish fare."

Indeed, half a cold chicken and a dish of rice constituted the repast. A
bottle of claret stood by Odd's place, and there was a white jar filled
with buttercups on the table; but even Rosalie seemed depressed by the
air of meagreness, and gave them a rather _effaré_ glance as they sat
down. Odd suspected that the cold chicken was in his honor. He had come
to the conclusion that Hilda was capable of dining off rice alone.

"Delightful!" he said. The chicken and rice were indeed very good, but
Hilda saw that he ate very little.

"I make no further apologies," she said, smiling at him over the
buttercups; "your hunger be upon your own head."

"I am not hungry, dear."

Hilda had to do most of the talking, but they were both rather silent.
It was a happy silence to Hilda, full of a loving trust.

When he spoke, it was in a voice of the same gentle fatigue that his
eyes showed; but as the eyes rested upon her she felt that the past and
the present had surely joined hands.



CHAPTER X


Odd went in the same half-dreamy condition through the morning of the
next day. He walked and read, but where he walked and what he read he
could hardly have told.

He was to fetch Hilda from the Rue d'Assas and go home to tea and dinner
with her. His love for Hilda had now reached such solemn heights that
his late flight seemed degrading.

So loving her, he could not be base.

The Rue d'Assas was dreary in a fine drizzling rain. In the Luxembourg
Gardens the first young green made a mist upon the trees.

It was only half-past four when Odd reached his accustomed post, but
hardly had he taken a turn up and down the street when he saw Hilda come
quickly from the Lebon abode. She was fully half-an-hour early, but Odd
had merely time to note the fact before seeing in a flash that Hilda was
in trouble. She looked, she almost ran toward him; and he met her
half-way with outstretched hands.

"O Peter!" It was the first time she had used his name, and Odd's heart
leaped as her hands caught his with a sort of desperate relief. "Come,
come," she said, taking his arm. "Let us go quickly." Peter's heart
after its leap began to thump fast. The white distress of her face gave
him a dizzy shock of anger. What, who had distressed her? He asked the
question as they crossed the road and entered the gardens. Tears now
streamed down her face.

He had only once before seen Hilda weep, and as she hung shaken with
sobs on his arm, the past child, the present Hilda merged into one; his
one, his only love.

"Let us walk here, dear," he said; "you will be quieter."

The little path down which they turned was empty, and the fine rain
enveloped but hardly wet them. They came to a bench under a tree,
circled by an unwet area of sanded path. Odd led the weeping girl to it
and they sat down. She still held his arm tightly.

"Now, what is it?"

"O Peter! I can hardly tell you! The brother, the horrible brother."

"Yes?" Peter felt the accumulations of rage that had been gathering for
months hurrying forward to spring upon, to pulverize "the brother."

"He made love to me, said awful things!" Odd whitened to the lips.

"Tell me all you can."

"I wish I were dead!" sobbed Hilda, "I am so unhappy."

Peter did not trust himself to speak; he took her hand and held it to
his lips.

"Yes; you care," said Hilda. She drew herself up and wiped her eyes. "I
never thought he would be unpleasant. At times I fancied that he came a
good deal into the studio where we worked and, behind his sister's
back, looked silly. But he never really annoyed me. I thought myself
unkindly suspicious. To-day Mademoiselle Lebon was called away and he
came in. I went on painting. I did not dream--! When, suddenly he put
his arms around me--and tried to kiss me!" Hilda gave an hysterical
laugh. "Do you know, I had my palette on my hand, and I gave him a great
blow with it! You should have seen his head! Oh, to think that I can
find that funny now! His ear was covered with cobalt!" Hilda sobbed
again, even while she laughed. "He was very angry and horrible. I said I
would call his mother and sister if he did not leave me at once, and
then--and then"--Hilda dropped her face into her hands--"he jeered at
me; 'You mustn't play the prude,' he said."

Odd clenched his teeth.

"Hilda, dear," he said, in a voice cold to severity, "you must go home;
I will put you in a cab. I will come to you as soon as I have punished
that dog."

"Peter, don't! I beg of you to come _with_ me. You can do nothing. I
must bury it, forget it." She had risen as he rose.

"Yes, bury it, forget it, Hilda. He, at least, shall never forget it."

Odd's fixed look as he led her into the street forced her to helpless
silence.

"Peter, _please!_" she breathed, clasping her hands together and gazing
at him as he hailed a _fiacre_.

"I will come to you soon. Good-bye."

And so Hilda was driven away.

It was past six when Odd reached the Rue Pierre Charron. Rosalie opened
the door. Madame was in bed, she had had a bad day. Mademoiselle? she is
lying down. She seemed ill. "_Et bien malade même,_" and had said that
she wanted no dinner.

"I should like to see her, if only for a moment; she will see me, I
think," said Odd, walking into the drawing-room. Hilda entered almost
immediately.

She had been crying, and the disorder of her hair suggested that she had
cried with her head buried in a pillow, after the stifled feminine
fashion. Her face was most pathetically disfigured by tears; the
disfigurement almost charming of youth and loveliness; but she looked
ill, too. The white cheek and the heavy eyelids, the unsteady sweetness
of her lips showed that an extreme of physical exhaustion, as well as
the tempest of grief, had swept her beyond all thought of self-control,
beyond all wish for it. The afternoon's unpleasantness had been merely
the last straw. The long endurance of the past month--the past months
indeed--that had asked no pity, had been hardly conscious of a claim on
pity--was transformed by her knowledge of near love and sympathy to a
quivering sensibility. There was no reticence in her glance. He was the
one she turned to, the one she trusted, the only one who understood and
loved her in the whole world. Odd saw all this as the supreme confidence
of a supremely reserved nature looked at him from her eyes.

He met her, stooping his head to hers, and, like a child, she put up her
face to be kissed. When he had kissed her, he drew back. A sudden
horrible weakness almost overcame him.

"Sit down, dear; no, I will walk about a bit. I have been playing the
fiery _jeune premier_ to such an extent this afternoon that dramatic
restlessness is in keeping."

Hilda smiled faintly, and her eyes followed him as he took a few turns
up and down the room.

"You look so badly," he said, pausing before her; "how do you feel?"

"Not myself; or, perhaps, too much myself." Hilda tried to smile,
stretching out her arms with a long shaken sigh. "I feel weak and
foolish," she added, clasping her hands on her knee.

"It is all right, you know. He apologized profusely."

"How did you make him do that?"

"I told him the truth, including the fact of his own despicableness."

"And he believed it?"

"I helped him to the belief by a pretty thorough thrashing."

"Oh!" cried Hilda.

"He deserved it, dear."

"But--I had exposed myself to it; he thought himself justified."

"I had to disabuse him of that thought. He bawled out something like a
challenge under the salutary lesson, but when I promptly seconded the
suggestion--insisted on the extreme satisfaction it would give me to
have a shot at him--the bourgeois strain came out. He fairly whined. I
was disappointed. I had bloodthirsty desires."

"Oh, I am very glad he whined then! Don't speak of such horrors. You
know I am hysterical."

Odd still stood before her, and Hilda put out her hand.

"How can I thank you?" He put her hand to his lips, not looking at her
but down at the heavy folds of her white dress; it had a shroud-like
look that gave him a shudder. Hilda's life seemed shroud-like, shutting
her out from all brightness, from all love--love hers by right, and only
hers.

"You know, you know that I would do anything for you," he said.

The hand he kissed drew him down beside her, hardly consciously, and he
yielded to the longing he felt in her for comforting kindness and
nearness; yielded, too, to his own growing weakness; but he still held
the hand to his lips, not daring to look at her. This childlike trust,
this dependence, were dreadful. The long kiss seemed to his troubled
soul a momentary shield. He found her eyes on him when he raised his
own.

"I never thought it would come true--in this way," she said.

"What come true?"

"That you would really care for me."

Her pure look seemed to flutter to him, to fold peaceful wings on his
breast; its very contentment constituted a caress. The child was still a
child, and yet in the look there were worlds of ignorant revelation. A
shock of possibilities made Odd dizzy, and the certain strain of
weakness in him made it impossible for him to warn and protect her
ignorance.

He was conscious of a quick grasp at the transcendental friendship of
which alone she was aware.

"My little friend, I care for you dearly, dearly." But with the words,
his hold on the transcendental friendship slipped, fundamental truths
surged up; he took both her hands, and clasping them on his breast,
said, hardly conscious of his words--

"Sweetest, noblest--dearest," with an emotion only too contagious, for
Hilda's eyes filled with tears. The sight of these tears, her weakness,
the horrible unfairness of her position, appealed, even at this moment,
to all his manliness. He controlled himself from taking her into his
arms, and his grasp on her hands held her from him.

"I understand, Hilda, I understand it all--all you have suffered; the
loneliness, the injustice, the dreary drudgery. I know, dear, I know
that you have been unhappy."

"Oh yes! I have been unhappy! so unhappy!" The tears rolled down her
cheeks while she spoke, fell on Odd's hands clasping hers. "No one ever
cared for me, no one. Papa, mamma, Katherine even, not really; isn't it
cruel, cruel?" This self-pity, so uncharacteristic, showing as it did
the revulsion in her whole nature, filled Odd with a sort of helpless
terror. "That is what I wanted; some one to care; I thought it must be
my fault." The words came in sighing breaths, incoherent: "I have been
so lonely."

"My child! My poor, poor child!"

"Let me tell you everything. I _must_ tell you now since you care for
me. I have been so fond of you--always. You remember when I was a
child?" Odd held her hands tightly and mechanically. Poor little hands;
they gave him the feeling of light spars clung to in a whirling
shipwreck. "Even then I was lonely, I see that now; and even then it
weighed upon me, that thought that I was not to the people I loved what
they were to me. I felt no injustice. I must be unworthy. It seems to me
that all my life I have struggled to make people love me, to make them
take me near to them. But you! You were near at once. Do I explain? It
sounds morbid, doesn't it? But it isn't, for my loneliness was almost
unconscious, and I merely felt that with you I was happy, that things
were clear, that you understood everything. You did, didn't you? Only I
don't think you ever quite understood my gratitude, my utter devotion to
you." Hilda's tears had ceased as she went on speaking, and she smiled
now at Odd, a quivering smile.

"And then you went away, and I never saw you again. Ah! I can't tell you
what I suffered."

Odd bent his head upon the hands clasped in his.

"But how could you have known?" said Hilda tenderly; "I was really very
silly and very unreasonable. I thought you would come back _because_ I
needed you. I needed the sunshine. Perhaps you were right about the
shadow. But for years I waited for you. I felt sure you knew I was
waiting. You said you would come back you know; I never forgot that."
She paused a moment: "It all ended in Florence," she went on sadly;
"such a bleak, bitter day, just the day for burying an illusion. I see
the cold emptiness of the big room now; oh! the melancholy of it! where
I was sitting alone. All came upon me suddenly, the reality. You know
those crumbling shocks of reality. I realized that I had waited for
something that could never come; that you had never really understood,
and that it would have been impossible for you to understand. I was a
pretty, touching little incident to you, and you were everything to me.
I realized, too, how silly it would all seem to any one; how it would be
misinterpreted and smiled at as a case of puppy-love perhaps. A sort of
cold shame crept through me, and I felt really alone then. Do you know
what that feeling is?" Her hand under his forehead lifted his head a
little as though to question his face, but putting both her hands over
his eyes he would not look at her.

"You are so sorry?" Odd nodded. "But you have had that feeling?
Imprisoned in oneself; looking, longing for a voice, a smile,--and
silence, always, always silence. A thing quite apart from the surface
intercourse of everyday life, not touched by it. You have so many
friends, so many windows in your prison, you can't know."

"I know."

"Really?"

"Yes, yes."

"And you call out for help and no one hears. Oh, I can't explain
properly; do you understand?"

"I understand, dear."

"Well, after that day in Florence, the last cranny of my prison seemed
walled up. And--oh, then our troubles came, worse and worse.
Responsibilities braced me up--far healthier, of course. And your
books! Their strength; their philosophy--don't tell me I might find it
all in Marcus Aurelius; your way of saying it went more deeply in me.
Just to do one's duty; to love people and be sorry for them, and not
snivel over oneself. Ah! if you knew all your books had been to me!
Would you like it, I wonder?" Again the tenderness, almost playful, in
her voice. Odd raised his head and looked at her.

"And when I came at last, what did you think?"

The loving candor of her eyes dwelt on him.

"When you came?" she repeated. "Then I saw at once that you were
Katherine's friend, and that your books were the nearest I should ever
get to you." Hilda's voice hesitated a little; a doubt of the exactitude
of her perceptions from this point showed itself in a certain perplexity
of tone. "And--I don't quite understand myself, for I didn't plan
anything--but just because I felt so much I was afraid that you would
imagine I made claims on you. I was resolved that you should see that I
had reached your standpoint--that I had forgotten--that the present had
no connection with the past."

"But I had not forgotten," Odd groaned.

"No?" Hilda smiled rather lightly; "it would have been very strange if
you hadn't. Besides, as I say, I saw at once that you were Katherine's,
and that it was right and natural. Your books taught me, too, the true
peace of renunciation, you see! Not that this called for renunciation
exactly," and again Hilda paused with the faint look of perplexity.
"There was nothing to renounce since you were hers, except I must have
felt a certain disappointment. I felt a little frozen. Such dull
egotism!" She turned her eyes away, looking vaguely out into the dusky
room. "But even on that first day I meant that you should see, and that
she should see, that I knew that the past made no bond: in my heart it
might, not in yours, I knew, for all your kindness."

"Go on, Hilda," said Odd, as she paused.

"Well, you know all the rest. When you were engaged and she more than
friend, I had hoped for it, and I saw that my turn might come; that I
might step into Kathy's vacated shoes, so to speak; that we might be
friends, and all my dreams be fulfilled after all. I began then to let
myself know that I did care, for I had tried to help myself before by
pretending that I didn't. I wouldn't do anything to make you like me. If
you were to like me, you would of yourself; all the joy of having you
care for me would be in having made no effort. And the dream did come
true. I saw more and more that you cared. To-day I feel it, like
sunshine." Odd still stared at her, and again through sudden tears she
smiled at him. "Only--isn't it strange?--things are always so; it must
be, too, that I am weak, overwrought, for I feel so sad, as though I
were at the bottom of the sea, and looking up through it at the sun."

"Great heavens!" muttered Odd. He looked at her for a silent moment,
then suddenly putting his arm around her neck, he drew her to him.

He did not kiss her, but he said, leaning his head against hers--

"And I--so unworthy!"

"No, no," said Hilda, and with a little sigh, "not unworthy, dear
Peter."

"I, dully stumbling about your exquisite soul," Peter went on, pressing
her head more closely to his. "Ah, Hilda! Hilda!"

"What, dear friend?"

"I cannot tell you."

"Unkind; I tell you everything."

"You can tell me everything. You can tell me how much you have cared for
me, how much you care. I cannot tell you how much I care. I cannot tell
you how infinitely dear you are to me." He had spoken, her face hidden
from him in its nearness; now, turning his head he kissed her hair, and
frowning, he looked at her and kissed her on the lips. Hilda drew back
and rose to her feet. A subtle change, perplexity deepened, crossed her
face, but, standing before him, she looked down at him and he saw that
her trust rose as to a test. She put her hands out as though from an
impulse to lay them on his shoulders; then, as an instinct within the
impulse seemed to warn her, though leaving her clear look untouched, she
clasped them together and said gravely--

"You may tell me. You are infinitely dear to _me_."

Odd still frowned. Her terrible innocence gave him a sense of helpless
baseness.

"I may tell you how much I love you?" and he too rose and stood before
her.

"I have always loved you," said Hilda, with her grave look. "I love you
now as much as I did when I was a child."

The impossible height where she placed him beside her made Odd's head
swim. He felt himself caught up for a moment into the purity of her
eyes, and looking into them he came close to her.

"My angel! My angel!" he hardly breathed.

"Dear Peter," and the tears came into the pure eyes. And, at the sight,
the heaven brimmed with loveliest human weakness, the love unconscious
but all revealed, Odd was conscious only of a dizzy descent from
impossibility, the crash of the inevitable.

One step and he had taken her into his arms, seeing as he did so, in a
flash, the white wonder of her face; he could almost have smiled at
it--divinely dull creature! Holding her closely, the white folds of the
shroud-like dress crushed against his breast, his cheek upon her hair,
he could not kiss her and he could not speak, and in a silence as
unmistakable as word or kiss, his long embrace forgot the past and
defied the future.

The painful image of a bird he had once seen, wings broken, dying of a
shot and feebly fluttering, came to him as he felt her stir; her hands
pushing him away.

"Dearest--dearest--dearest."

Her effort faltered to resistless helplessness.

Stooping his head he looked at her face; it wore an almost tranquil, a
corpse-like look. Her eyes were closed and the eyebrows drawn up a
little in a faint, fixed frown; but the childlike line of her mouth had
all the sad passivity of death. Odd tremblingly kissed the gentle
sternness of the lips.

She loved him, but how cruel he was.

"Oh, my precious," he said, "look at me. Forgive me; I love you."

He had freed her hands, and she raised them and bent her face upon them.

"You don't hate me for telling you the truth?" And as she made no sign:
"No, no, you don't hate me; you love me and I love you. I have loved you
from the beginning. Oh, my child, my child, why did you let me think you
did not care? Look at me, dearest."

"What have I done?" said Hilda. She still kept her face hidden in her
hands.

"You have done nothing; it is I, I who have done it!"

"I never could have believed it of you," she said, and he felt it to be
the simple statement of a fact.

"O Hilda--I have only told you the truth, that is my crime."

"You told me because of what I said? You love me because of what I
said?"

"Good God! I have been madly in love with you for months!"

"For months?" she repeated dully.

"For years, perhaps, who knows!"

"I did not know that I--that you--"

"You knew nothing, my poor angel."

He enfolded her again. Her look seemed to stumble and grope for an
entreaty; her very powerlessness in the grasp of her realized love
enchanted him.

"How base! how base!" she moaned.

"Am I a cruel brute? Ah! Hilda, you love me, and I cannot help myself."

"No--you cannot help yourself. I love you and I told you so."

"You did not mean _this_."

"I did not mean it. Oh, I trusted you. I did not doubt myself. I am
wicked." The strange revulsion from her long selflessness had reached
its height in poor Hilda; but, in her eyes, the discovered self was
indeed wicked, a terrible revelation.

Her head fell helplessly against his shoulder.

"O Peter, Peter!"

"What, my darling child?"

"That we should be so base!"

"Not _we_, Hilda. Not _you_!"

"Yes, I--for I am happy--think of it, happy! Peter, I love you so much."
She wept, her head upon his shoulder. "Keep me for a moment, only a
moment longer. As I am wicked, let me have the good of it. I am glad
that you love me. No; don't kiss me. Tell me again that you have loved
me for a long time."

"From the moment I saw you again, I think. I knew it when I began
meeting you after your lessons. Do you remember that first day in the
rain? I do; and your little hat with the bow on it, the hole in your
little glove, your white little face. I went away to the South because I
could not trust myself with you. I did not dream that you loved me, but
I felt--ah! I felt--that I could have made you love me!"

"And yet--you loved Katherine!"

The anguish of the broken words pierced him.

"Hilda, you cannot find me baser than I find myself. I did not love
her."

"Peter! Peter!"

"Believe me, my precious child, when I tell you that you are the only
one--my only love!"

"O Peter!"

"I never thought that I loved Katherine, but I had no fear of injustice
to her, for I never thought that love would come into my life; and,
hardly was the cruel stupidity consummated, when the truth crept upon
me. Friendly comradeship on the one hand, and on the other--O Hilda!--a
passion that has transformed my life. The truth fell upon you like a
thunderbolt; my love for you crashed in upon your heavenly dreaming; but
you see--be brave enough to acknowledge what it all means, your dream
and my love that needed no thunderbolt to wake it,--be brave enough to
own that it is inevitable, that from the time that you put your hand in
mine ten years ago, dated that rarest, that divinest thing, a love, a
sympathy infinite. Dear child, be brave enough to own that before it,
mistakes may be put aside without dishonor."

"Peter, Peter, let me go. Without dishonor! We are both already
dishonorable, and oh! it is that that breaks my heart; that you, that
you who should have helped me, protected me from the folly of my
ignorance, that you should be dishonorable!"

"O Hilda!"

"Yes," she said wildly, "yes, yes, Peter; and I am wicked--wicked, for I
love you. Yes--kiss me; there, now I am thoroughly wicked. Now let me
go."

Odd, white and shaken, still locked his arms about her.

"I was base if you will, too base for your loveliness; but you, my
darling, have not a shadow on you; you were impossibly noble. Remember,
that if there is dishonor, I am dishonored, not you; remember that _I_
have done this!"

As he spoke, holding Hilda in his arms, the door opened and Katherine
entered.



CHAPTER XI


Katherine closed the door swiftly behind her and looked at them, not
with a horror of surprise for the betrayal, but a strange, stiffened
look. She had on her travelling hat and coat, a wrap on her arm, and the
thumping of her boxes was heard outside on the stairs.

Katherine had schemed and success was hers, but this unlooked-for
achievement struck her like a dagger and made triumph bitter.

Fate had played for her; Fate and not she was the heroine. Katherine
felt herself struck down from her masterly eminence, saw herself reduced
to a miserable position, a tool with the other tools--Peter and Hilda.

To see Hilda thus was an undreamed-of shattering of ideals and pierced
even her own humiliation, for Katherine almost unconsciously had looked
up to Hilda. She was to use her, play her game with her, but for Hilda's
own advantage; she, not Fate, was to put her in Peter's arms, unspotted
and innocent of the combinations that had led her there. All Katherine's
plans in England had prospered and, in Paris, a nobly frank part awaited
her. Avowal to Peter of incompatibility, her generous perception of his
love for Hilda--a brave, manlike part--to which she had looked forward
as to an atonement for the ulterior motives. And Katherine had almost
persuaded herself that there would be little acting needed. Had she not
seen, guessed, the truth? Had the truth not pained her, humiliated her?
Had she not risen finely above her pain and wished them happiness? In
moments of self-scorn, the ulterior motives, her own cautious look
before leaping, had filled her with impatient scorchings, and Katherine
could scorch herself as well as others in the pitiless flame of
clear-sighted analysis. But was her own rebellion from the irksome
standards of a higher nature--a rebellion that had carried her into such
opposition as to fall below herself to a hard matter-of-fact ambition,
touched with a sense of revenge upon her own disappointment,--was that
rebellion, that ambition, so base, so pitiful?

Perhaps even the clearest analysis becomes sophistical if carried too
far, and Katherine found excuses that explained for herself. But now all
was base, all pitiful, and she, in contrast with Hilda's fall, had
risen. On this lowered platform, the advantage was hers, terribly hers,
and it was good, good to lose self-scorn in her scorn for them.

She laid down her wrap on a table and began to slowly draw off her
gloves.

"My return was inopportune." The icy steadiness of her voice pleased her
own sense of fitness. "Or opportune?" She directed her eyes upon Odd,
and indeed his attitude assumed all the ignobility of the situation. He
welcomed responsibility; to heap shame upon his own head was all he
prayed for. With a kind of desperate sincerity he kept his arm around
Hilda, and almost defiantly he had placed himself before her; he felt
that Hilda's look of frozen horror gave him the advantage.

"Opportune, Katherine," he said; "now at least I shall not have to lie
to you. You can see the whole extent of my baseness."

"Such sudden baseness too. How long have we been engaged?"

It was good to turn on him those daggers of her own humiliation; to feel
his disloyalty justify hers, nay, more than justify, give absolution,
for she had not been disloyal, thinking he loved her.

"Katherine," said Odd, "I can only beg you to believe that I have
struggled--for your sake, for her sake. Until this evening I thought
that neither of you would ever know the truth."

This bracketing of Hilda's injury with hers stank in Katherine's
nostrils. She controlled a quivering rage that ran through her, and,
speaking a little more slowly for the tension she put upon herself--

"I can imagine no greater humiliation than the one you were so
chivalrously preparing for me," she said. "Marriage with an unloving
man! I can imagine nothing more insulting. I deserved the truth from
you, and how dared you think of degrading me by withholding it?" The
white indignation of her own words almost impressed Katherine with their
sincerity. She had seen the truth, and Peter's futile efforts to
withhold it from her had filled her with an almost kindly scorn for his
stupidity. But in the light of his present relapse from fidelity, the
retrospect grew lurid.

"Katherine," said Odd gloomily, "I would not so have insulted you after
this. As long as I kept my secret there would have been no insult."

"I think I should have preferred the jilting before. You might have
waited, Peter."

Until now Katherine had steadily kept her eyes on Odd, and there had
been growing in her a certain sense of loss, most illogical, most
painful. Hilda had won, and she had never gained. Katherine hardly knew
for jealousy the sudden desire for vengeance as she turned her eyes upon
her sister.

"So at last your long fidelity has been rewarded, Hilda," she said.

Hilda's wild wide gaze, her parted lips of mute agony, gave her the
stricken look of a miserable animal with the fangs of a pack of hounds
at its throat. Odd sickened at the sight; it maddened him too, and long
resentments, long kept under, sprang up fierce and indifferent to
cruelty.

"Katherine, say anything--anything you will to me," and Odd's voice
broke a little as he spoke, "but not one word to her! Not one word! It
comes badly from you, Katherine, badly; for you have played the vampire
with the rest of them! This child has given you all her very life." He
held Hilda to him as he spoke; his look, his gesture those of a man
driven to fury by the hint of an attack on his best beloved; and
Katherine, her head bent, looked at them both from under her straight
eyebrows, breathing quickly.

"Her life has been one long self-immolation. It was too much for me this
evening. I realized what she had never told me, the past years and this
past month of drudgery and loneliness and insult! She nursed your
mother; she did the work of the servants you and your father took with
you; she earned the money for the bare necessaries of life--you and your
father having the luxuries; she bore insult, as I said. And once, and
once only, I saw her crushed, and like the brute I am, like the dastard
I am, I too joined the ranks of the egotists, I too heaped misery upon
her; I told her I loved her, and I took her into my arms as you saw us."

"Yes; as I see you." Katharine's very lips were white.

Hilda gave a sudden start and almost roughly she thrust Odd away; the
terror on her face had hardened to that look of resolution; Odd
remembered it. From the very extremity of anguish she passed to the
extremity of self-control.

"Katherine," she said, "he is trying to shield me. It did not happen
like that. I told him that I loved him. I told him that I had always
loved him."

"Oh! did you?" said Katherine, with a withered little laugh.

"My child!" cried poor Odd, a horrid sense of helplessness before this
assumption of incredible humiliation half paralyzing him--"my child,
what are you saying? What madness!"

"I am not mad, I am saying the truth. I told you that I loved you."

"In reply to an avowal of love on my part, a love you misunderstood. You
know, as I knew when you spoke, that the affection you owned so finely,
so nobly, so purely, was the child's love, the love of the loyal sister
for her friend, the love of an angel."

"I am not sure," said Hilda.

"Oh!" cried Odd, looking at her with savage tenderness, "this is
unbearable."

It was as if they had forgotten, each in the mutual justification of the
other, Katherine standing there a silent spectator.

But Odd was conscious of that outraging contemplation.

"Hilda," he said appealingly and yet sternly, "at the very height of
your trust in me I betrayed it. Your nobility had reached its climax. I
had kissed you and you retreated, but without a shadow of doubt; and I,
from the base wish to try your trust to the utmost, said that I loved
you. You never faltered from your innocent outlook in replying; it was I
who saw the truth, not you."

"Katherine," Hilda repeated, "he is trying to shield me. We are both
base, yes; but I forced him to baseness. I longed for him to love me,
and when he took me in his arms, I was glad."

"Good God!" cried Peter.

Katherine averted her eyes from her sister's face.

"I must own, Peter," she said, "that your position was difficult. Hilda
evidently painted the pathos of her life to you in most touching
colors--she herself very white on the background of our black depravity.
That in itself is enough to shake a rather emotional heart like yours.
And then, Hilda being very beautiful, and you not a Galahad I fear, she
confesses her love for you, retreating delicately before your kisses. Of
course those kisses she received as platonic pledges--from the man
engaged to her sister. Trying for the man, very; I quite recognize it.
Under such tempting circumstances the struggle for loyalty and honor
must have been difficult. As you could hardly solve the difficulty, she
solved it for you, very effectually, very courageously. When you took
her in your arms--how often we repeat that phrase--the 'truth' at last
flashed upon you. Even devoted friendship could hardly account for such
yielding unconventionality, and Hilda's hidden love won the day."

During these remarks, Odd felt himself shaking with rage. If Katherine
had been a man he would have knocked her down; as it was, his voice was
the equivalent of a blow as he said, clenching his hand on the back of a
chair--

"You despicable creature!"

He and Katherine glared at one another.

"Only the higher nature can put itself so hideously in the power of the
lower," Odd went on; "and you dare!"

"No, no; all she says may be true!" moaned Hilda. She dropped upon the
sofa and hid her face in her hands, adding brokenly: "And how can you be
so cruel? so cruel to her? She loves you too!"

Katherine turned savagely upon her sister, and then, impulse nipped by
quick reflection--

"You need not allow for a woman's jealousy, Mr. Odd. Don't, no indeed
you must not, flatter yourself with my broken heart. I don't like
humiliation for myself or for others. I don't like to scorn my sister
whom I trusted, whom I loved. I could have killed the person who had
told me this of her! My humiliation, my scorn, make me too bitter for
charity. But I give you back your word without one regret for myself.
You have killed my love very effectually."

"Was there ever much to kill, Katherine?"

"That is ignoble, quite as ignoble as I could predict of you. Hilda's
lesson must necessarily make the past look pale."

"I can only hope that you do yourself an injustice by such base
speeches, Katherine."

"Your example has been contagious."

"Let me think so by proving yourself more worthy than you seem. Ask your
sister's forgiveness--as I ask yours--humbly. She has not feared
humiliation."

"I do not find myself in a position to fear or accept it. I found Hilda
in the dust, and I cannot forgive her for having fallen there. Her poor
confession was no atonement. And now, Mr. Odd, I make an exit more
apropos than my entrance, and leave you with her." Katherine took up her
wrap and walked out without looking again at Hilda.

"And I have done this," said Odd. Hilda lay motionless, her face upon
her arms, and he approached her. There was a strange effect of no Hilda
at all under the heavy folds of the gown; in the dark it glimmered with
a vacant whiteness; it was as though the cruel words had beaten away her
body and her soul.

"Hilda!" said Odd, broken-heartedly, hesitating as he paused beside her,
not daring to touch the still figure. "Hilda!" he repeated; "if only you
will forgive me; if only you will own that it is I, I only who need
forgiveness, and unsay those mad words that gave her the power! Oh! that
she should have had the power! She has made remorse impossible!" Odd
added, addressing himself rather than Hilda, whose silence offered no
hint of sympathy.

"Why did you put yourself under her feet and make me powerless?" he
asked; "you know that your gentle reticence had for months kept my love
in check; you knew that had I kept at your level, you would have never
realized that you loved me." He bent above her and kissed her hand.
"Precious one! Dearest, dearest child."

"Oh, don't!" said Hilda. She drew her hand away, not lifting her head.
"Her heart is broken. I am all that she said."

"Her heart is not broken!" cried Odd, in rather desperate accents. "I
could swear to it! She is a cruel, heartless girl!"

"What would you have asked of her? You were cruel to her."

"I am glad of it." And as Hilda made no reply to this statement, he
stooped to her again, imploring: "Will you not look at me? Look up,
dearest; tell me again that you love me."

"I am already in the dust," said Hilda, after a pause.

"You shall not sink to a morbid acceptance of that venom!" cried Odd; he
took her by the shoulders with almost a suggestion of shaking her. "Sit
up. Listen to me," he said, raising her and looking down at her stricken
face, his hands on her shoulders. "I have loved you passionately for
months. She was right in one thing; I had better have told her, not have
fumbled with that fatally misplaced idea of honor. You may have loved
me, but I was as unconscious of it as you were. To-day you were worn
out, terrified, miserable. Just see it with one grain of common charity,
of common sense, psychology, physiology if you will, for you are ill,
wretchedly weak and off balance, my darling child!" Odd added, sitting
down beside her; and he would have drawn her to him, but Hilda
repeated--

"Don't."

"You felt my pity, my sympathy," Odd went on, holding her hands. "You
felt my love, poor little one, unconsciously. You turned to me like the
child you were and are. You were starving for kindness, consolation--for
love--you came to your friend, the friend you trusted, and you found
more than a friend. The love you owned so beautifully was a truth too
high for the hearer."

"Oh! I did not dream that you loved me. I did not dream that I _loved_
you!" Hilda wailed suddenly.

"Thank God that you own to that!" Odd ejaculated.

"That does not clear me," she retorted. "No, no; I was a fool. You, the
man engaged to my sister! I should have felt the danger, the disloyalty
of your interest. I was a fool not to feel it! And that appeal I made to
you--it was no more or less that sickening self-pity, that dastardly
whine over my own pathos, that morbid sentimentality! I see it all, all!
I was trying to make you care for me, love me. I suppose crimes are
usually committed by people off balance physically, but crimes are
crimes, and I am wicked. I hate myself!" she sobbed, bending again her
face upon her hands.

"Hilda," said Odd, trying to speak calmly and reasonably, "you could not
have tried to make me fond of you, since I had plainly proved to you for
months that I adored you. You complain! You gain pity! When your cold
little air of impersonality blinded even my eyes; when only my love for
you gave me the instinctive uneasiness that led me, step by step--you
retreating before me--to the final realizations; and final they are not,
I could swear to it! Ah! some day, Hilda, some day I shall get at the
real truth. I shall worm it from you. You shall be forced to tell me all
that you have suffered." Hilda interrupted him with an "Oh!" from
between clenched teeth.

"Katherine was right," she said, "I have painted myself in pathetic
colors. What a prig! What an egotist!" Her voice trembled on its low
note of passionate self-scorn.

"An egotist!" Odd burst into a loud laugh. "That caps the climax. Come,
Hilda," he added, "don't be too utterly ridiculous. Facts are, happily,
still facts; your toiling youth and utter sacrifice among them. As I
say, I haven't yet sounded the depths of your self-renunciation, and, as
I say, some day you will tell me, my Hilda; my brave, splendid,
unconscious little child." Odd put his arms around her as he spoke, but
Hilda's swift uprising from them had a lightning-like decision.

"You dare speak so to me! After this! After our baseness! You dare to
speak of some day? There will never be any day for us--together."

"I say there will be, Hilda."

"You think that I could ever forget my sister's misery; my shame and
yours?"

"You are raving, my poor child. I think that common sense will win the
day."

"That is a placid term for such degradation."

"I see no degradation in a love that can rise above a hideous mistake."

"You will find that hideous mistakes are things that cling. You can't
mend a broken heart by marching over it."

"One may avoid breaking another."

"You make me scorn you. I am ashamed of loving you. Yes; there is the
bitterest shame of all. I love you and I despise you. You are nothing
that I thought you. You are weak, and cruel, and mean."

"You, Hilda, are only cruel--unutterably cruel," said Odd brokenly.

"I never wish to see you again." Hilda stared with dilated eyes into his
eyes of pitiful appeal. "You have robbed my life of the little it had;
you have robbed me of self-respect."

"Shall I leave you, Hilda?"

"You have broken her heart, and you have broken mine. Yes, leave me."

"Good-bye," said Odd. He walked towards the door like a man stabbed to
the heart, and half-unconscious.

"Peter!" cried Hilda, in a hard voice. He turned towards her. She was
standing in the middle of the room looking at him with the same fixed
and dilated eyes.

"What is it, my child?" Odd asked gently.

"Kiss me good-bye!"

He came to her, and she held out her arms. They clasped one another.

"Must I leave you?" he asked, in a stammering voice.

"Yes, yes, yes. Kiss me."

He bent his head and their lips met. Hilda unclasped her arms and moved
away from him, and he made no attempt to keep her. Looking at her with a
characteristic mingling of suffering and rather grimly emphatic humor,
he said--

"I will wait."

And turning away, he walked out of the room.



CHAPTER XII


For two whole weeks--strange cataclysm in the Archinard household--Hilda
stayed in bed really ill. Taylor waited on her with an indignant
devotion that implied, by contrast, worlds of repressed antagonism; for
Taylor had highly disapproved of her trip with Katherine, and when she
announced to Hilda on the day after the great catastrophe that Katherine
had returned to England, she added with emphasis--

"But I don't go this time, Miss Hilda. It's your turn to have a maid
now."

The news took a weight of dread from Hilda's heart. She shrank from
again seeing her own guilt looking at her from Katherine's tragic eyes.
She did not need Katherine to impress it; during long days and dim, half
delirious nights it haunted her, the awful sense of irremediable wrong,
of everlasting responsibility for her sister's misery. With all the
capability for self-torture, only possessed by the most finely tempered
natures, she scourged her memory again and again through that blighting
hour when she had appealed for and confessed a love that had dishonored
her. She dwelt with sickening on the moment when she had said: "I love
you, too!" Her conscience, fanatically unbalanced, distorted it with
cruellest self-injustice. Indeed, such moments in life are difficult of
analysis; the unconsciously spoken words followed by a consciousness so
swift that in perspective they merge. In periods of clearer moral
visions she could place her barrier, but only for mere flashes of
relief, turned from with agony, as the dreadful fact of Katherine's
ruined love surged over all and made of day and night one blackness.

Hilda's love for Odd now told her that for months past it had been
growing from the child's devotion, and, with the new torture of a
hopeless longing upon her--for which she despised herself--she saw in
the whole scene with him the base self-betrayal of a lovesick heart.

Only a few days after Katherine's departure, the Captain returned.

Hilda felt, as he would come in and look at her lying there with that
weird sense of distance upon her, that her father was changed. He walked
carefully in and out on the tips of the Archinard toes, and, outside the
door, she could hear him talking in tones of fretful anxiety on her
behalf.

He hardly mentioned Katherine's broken engagement, and, for once in her
life, Hilda was an object of consideration for her family. Even Mrs.
Archinard rose from her sofa on more than one occasion to sit
plaintively beside her daughter's bed; and it was from her that Hilda
learned that they were going back to Allersley.

Her father, then, must have enough money to pay mortgages and debts, and
Hilda lay with closed eyes while her forebodings leaped to possibilities
and to probabilities. The Captain's good fortune showed to her in a
dismal light of material dependence, and she could guess miserably at
its source. She could guess who encompassed her feeble life with care,
and who it was that shielded her from even a feather's weight of
gratitude--for the Captain made no mention of his good luck.

"Yes, we are going back to the Priory," Mrs. Archinard said, her
melancholy eyes resting almost reproachfully upon her daughter's wasted
face. "It would be pleasant were it not that fate takes care to
compensate for any sweet by an engulfing bitter. Katherine to jilt Mr.
Odd, and you so dangerously ill, Hilda. I do not wonder at it, I
predicted it rather. You have killed yourself _tout simplement_; I
consider it a simple case of suicide. Ah, yes, indeed! The doctor thinks
it very, very serious. No vitality, complete exhaustion. I said to him,
'_Docteur, elle s'est tuée._' I said it frankly."

Mrs. Archinard found another invalid rather confusing. She had for so
long contemplated one only, that, insensibly, she adopted the same tones
of pathos and pity on Hilda's behalf, hardly realizing their objective
nature.

By the beginning of May they were once more in Allersley. It was like
returning to a prior state of existence, and Hilda, lying in a wicker
chair on the lawn, looked at the strange familiarity of the trees, the
meadows, the river between its sloping banks of smooth green turf, and
felt like a ghost among the unchanged scenes of her childhood.

Mrs. Archinard found out, bit by bit, that it was tiresome to keep her
sofa now that there was an opposition faction on the lawn; she realized,
too, to a certain extent, what it was that Hilda had been to that sofa
existence; without the background of Hilda's quiet servitude, it became
flat and flavorless, and Mrs. Archinard arose and actually walked, and
for longer periods every day, drifting about the house and garden in
pensive contemplation of tenants' havoc. She sighed over the Priory and
said it had changed very much, but, characteristically, she did not
think of asking how the Priory had come to them again. The Captain
vouchsafed no hint. He went rather sulkily through his day, fished a
little--the Captain had no taste for a pleasure as inexpensive as
fishing--and read the newspapers with ejaculations of disgust at
political follies.

When Hilda sat in the sunshine near the river, her father often walked
aimlessly in her neighborhood, eyeing her with almost embarrassed
glances, always averted hastily if her eyes met his. Hilda had submitted
passively to all the material changes of her life; she saw them only
vaguely, concentrated on that restless inner torture. But one day, as
her father lingered indeterminately around her, switching his
fishing-rod, looking hastily into his fishing-basket, and showing
evident signs of perplexity and indecision very clumsily concealed, a
sudden thought of her own egotistic self-absorption struck her, and a
sudden sense of method underlying the Captain's manoeuvres.

"Papa, come and sit down by me a little while. I am sure the fish will
be glad of a respite. Isn't it a little sunny to-day for first-class
fishing?" Hilda pointed to the chair near hers, and the Captain came up
to her with shy alacrity.

"Even first-class fishing is a bore, _I_ think," he observed, not
taking the chair, but laying his rod upon it, and looking at his
daughter and then at the river.

"Feeling better to-day, aren't you? You might take a stroll with me,
perhaps; but no, you're not strong enough for that, are you? Fine day,
isn't it?"

Now that the moment looked forward to, yet dreaded, might be coming, the
Captain vaguely tried to avert it after the procrastinating manner of
weak people. Hilda did not seem to have anything particular to say, and
the absent-minded smile on her face reassured him as to immediate
issues.

"How are _you_ feeling?" she asked; "I have been looking at the trees
and grass for so long that I had almost forgotten that there are human
beings in the world."

"Oh, I'm very well; very well indeed." The Captain was again feeling
uncomfortable. An inner coercion seemed to be forcing him to speak just
because speaking was not really imperative at the moment. A little glow
of self-approbation suddenly prompted him to add: "You know, I know
about it now. That is to say, I wasn't exactly to speak of it, if it
might pain you; but I don't see why it should do _that_. Upon my word,"
said the Captain, feeling warmly self-righteous now that the ice was
broken, "it's more likely to pain me, isn't it? Rather to my discredit,
you know; though, intrinsically, I was as innocent as a babe unborn. Of
course you helped me over a tight place now and then, but I thought the
money came to you with a mere turn of the hand, so to speak; and, as for
your teaching--wearing yourself out--well, I don't know which I was
angrier with first, you or myself. I never dreamed of it, it never
entered into my head. And then, _my_ daughter and low French cads! Well,
_he_ saw to that, and so did I. I saw the fellow too; thought it best,
you know; for, naturally, Odd couldn't have my weight and authority. I
was simply stupefied, you know. It quite knocked me over when he told
me. Odd told me--"

The Captain took up his rod, examined the reel, and then switched its
limber length tentatively through the air. It was embarrassing, after
all, this recognition of his daughter's life.

"Now your mother doesn't know," he pursued; "Odd seemed rather anxious
that she should; rather unfeeling of him too, I thought it. There was no
necessity for that, was there? It would have quite killed her, wouldn't
it? Quite."

"You need neither of you have known." All she was wondering about,
trying to grasp, made Hilda pale. "It came about most naturally; and, if
mamma's illness and that other unpleasant episode had not broken me
down, my modest business might have come to an end--no one the wiser for
it. Mr. Odd exaggerated the whole thing no doubt."

"Well, I don't know." The Captain now sat down on the chair with a sigh
of some relief. "It's off my mind at all events. I wanted to express
my--pain, you know, and my gratitude--and to say what a jolly trump I
thought you; that kind of thing."

"Dear papa, I don't deserve it."

"Ah, well, Odd isn't the man to make misstatements, you know. A bit of
dreamer, unpractical, no doubt. But he sees facts as clearly as any one,
you know. He showed it all clearly. Rather cutting, to tell you the
truth. Of course he's very fond of you; that's natural. This sad affair
of Katherine's; if it hadn't been for that, you and he would be brother
and sister by this time."

It was Hilda's turn now to draw in a little breath of relief. At all
events her father was no ally. No other secret had been told, and she
saw, now that the dread had gone, that any cause for it would have
involved an indelicacy towards Katherine of which she knew Odd to be
incapable.

"Where is he--Mr. Odd?" she asked, steeling herself to the question.

The look of gloom which touched the Captain's face anew, confirmed Hilda
in her certainty of infinite pecuniary obligation.

"Not at home. Travelling again, I believe. A man can't sit down quietly
under a blow like that."

A flush came over Hilda's face. Part of her punishment was evident. She
must hear Katherine spoken of as the fickle, shallow-hearted, while she,
guilt-stained, answerable for all, went undiscovered and crowned with
praises. Yet Katherine herself--any woman--would choose the part Odd had
given her--the part of jilt rather than jilted; and she, Hilda, was
helpless.

"Papa," she asked, driving in the dagger up to the hilt--she could at
least punish herself, if no one else could punish her--"where is
Katherine? Is she not coming to stay with us?" The Captain swung one leg
over the other with impatience.

"I've hardly heard from her; she is with the Leonards in London. Odd
spoke very highly of her; seemed to think she had acted honorably; but,
naturally, Katherine must feel that she has behaved badly."

"I am sure she has not done that, papa. She found that she would not be
happy with him."

"Pshaw! That's all feminine folly, you know. She probably saw some one
she liked better, some bigger match. Katherine isn't the girl to throw
over a man like Odd for a whim."

Hilda's flush was now as much for her father as for herself. She felt
her cheeks burning as she said, her voice trembling--

"Papa, papa! How can you say such a thing of Katherine! How can you! I
know it is not true. I know it!"

"Oh, very well, if you are in her secrets. I know Katherine pretty well
though, and it's not unimaginable. I don't imply anything vulgar." The
Captain rose as he spoke and swung his basket into place; "that's not
conceivable in my daughter. But Katherine's ambitious, very ambitious.
As for you, Hilda--and all that, you know--I am awfully sorry, you
understand." The Captain walked away briskly, satisfied at having eased
his conscience. Odd had made it feel uncomfortably swollen and unwieldy,
and the Captain's conscience was, by nature, slim and flexible.

Hilda lay in her chair, and looked at the river running brightly beyond
the branches of the lime-tree under which she sat. The flush of misery
that her father's cool suppositions on Katherine's conduct had seemed
to strike into her face, only died slowly. She had to turn from that
shame resolutely, contemplation would only deepen its helplessness. She
looked at the river, and thought of the time when she had stood beside
it with Odd and recited Chaucer to him. She thought of the humorous
droop of his eyelids, the kind, comprehensive clasp of his hand on hers;
the look of the hand too, long, brown, delicate, the finger-tips too
dainty for a man, and the dark green seal on his finger. Hilda turned
her head away from the river and closed her eyes.

"Allone, withouten any companye," that was the fated motto of her life.



CHAPTER XIII


By the end of June, returning physical strength gave Hilda the wish to
seek self-forgetful effort of some kind. She tried to busy herself with
something--with anything--and experienced the odd sensation of a person
upon whom duty has always pressed and crowded, in a futile search for
duty. The stern, sweet helper eluded her, the unreality of manufactured,
unnecessary activity appalled her. She regretted the strenuous days of
labor that meant something. Taking herself to task for a weak submission
to circumstance, she fitted up a large room at the top of the house with
artistic apparatus; nice models were easily lured from the village; she
told herself that art at least remained, and tried to absorb herself in
her painting; but the savor of keen interest was gone; the pink cheeks
and staring eyes of her village girl were annoying. Hilda felt more like
crying than trying to select from and modify her buxom charms.

Mrs. Archinard had suddenly assumed an active _rôle_ in life most
confusing to her daughter. Even mamma did not need her. Mrs. Archinard
drove out in the pony-cart to see people; she held quite a little
_côterie_ of callers every afternoon. Mrs. Archinard's little _Causeries
de Mardi_, her society for little weekly dinners--only six chosen
members--_les Élites_--stirred Allersley to the quick with æsthetic
thrills and heart-burnings. Mrs. Archinard laughed prettily and lightly
at her own feats, but Allersley was awestricken, and got down its
Sainte-Beuve trembling, resolved on firm foundations.

Hilda was not one of _les Élites_. "Just for us old people, trying to
amuse ourselves," Mrs. Archinard said, and at the _Causeries_ Hilda was
an anomalous and silent onlooker; indeed the _Causeries_ were quite
Sainte-Beuvian in their monologic form, Mrs. Archinard _causant_ and
Allersley attentive, but discreetly reticent, no one caring to risk a
revelation of ignorance. The Captain carefully avoided both the _élites_
and the _mardis_, and devoted himself to more commonplace
individualities whose dinners were good, and then one wasn't required to
strain one's temper by listening to fine talk.

Mary Apswith spent a week at the Manor, and one fresh sunny morning she
came to see Hilda. She found her in the garden standing between the rows
of sweet-peas, and filling with their fragrant loveliness the basket on
her arm. Mary's mind had been given over to a commotion of conjecture
since Peter's flying visit to her in London. He had told her much and
yet not enough; though what he had told insured sympathy for Hilda. Mary
was generous, and the sight of Hilda's white sunlit face completed
Peter's work. She found that she had kissed Hilda--she, so
undemonstrative--and standing with her arms around the girl's slight
shoulders, she said, looking at her with a grave smile, in which the
slight touch of playfulness reminded poor Hilda of Peter--

"You will see _me_, won't you?"

Hilda still held in her hands the last long sprays she had cut--palest
pink and palest purple, "on tiptoe for a flight."

"How kind of you to come," she said.

"Kind of you to say so, since I come from the enemy's camp. That
reckless brother of mine!"

"Did he send you?" Hilda asked, fright in her eyes.

"Send me? Oh no, he didn't send me; but after what he has told me, I
came naturally of my own free will." Hilda smiled faintly in reply to
Mary's smile.

"What has he told you?"

"Why, simply that he had been in love with you almost from the day he
proposed to Katherine; indeed he implied an even remoter origin. Really
Peter ought to be whipped! He almost deserves the sacking you are giving
him!"

Hilda winced at the humorous tone.

"That he had made love to you most cruelly; that Katherine had come in
upon the love scene; that she, too, was cruel--natural, though, wasn't
it? Peter is rather hard on Katherine. And, to sum up, that you had been
badly treated by the world in general, by himself in particular, and
that he was very desperate and you painfully perfect, and--oh, a great
many things."

"Did he tell you that I loved him?" Hilda asked, looking down at her
sweet-peas with, if that were possible, an added pallor. She wondered if
it was demanded of her that she should humiliate herself before Peter's
sister--tell her that she had made love to him.

"My dear child," Mary's voice dropped to a graver key, "Peter trusts me,
you know, and he ought to trust me. He told me that when he made love to
you, you and he together found out that fact."

Even Hilda's morbid self-doubt could not deny the essential truth of
this point of view.

"And now you won't marry him," Mary added, but in a matter-of-fact
manner, and as if the subject were folded up and put away by that
conclusive statement.

"Let us walk along the path, my dear Hilda. What a delightful garden
this is. I must have a pansy border like that in mine. Tell me, Hilda,
why have you always so persistently and doggedly effaced yourself? Why
did you never let anybody know you, and subside passively into the
background _rôle_? I never knew you, I am sure, and if it hadn't been
for Peter I shouldn't have known you now. He made me see things very
clearly. The poor little caryatid cowering in a dark corner, and holding
up a whole edifice on its shoulders."

"How could he! Why will he always see things so? It makes me miserable."

"Well, well; perhaps Peter's point of view would seem to you
exaggerated. But, as I say, why did you never let me get a glimpse of
you?"

"I never tried to hide. Circumstances kept me apart. I loved my work."

"Yes; it must have been charming work, in all its branches." Mary gave
her a gravely gay glance. "When you did emerge from your shadows, why
did you never talk--make an effect, like Katherine?"

"Katherine makes effects without trying. She is effective, and people
like her for herself. I was fitted for the dark corner. That is why I
stayed there."

"No, my dear, one can't explain the injustices of fortune by that
comfortably, or uncomfortably, fatalistic philosophy. Noble natures get
oddly jumped on in this world," Mary added reflectively. "The tragedy,
of course, lies in being too noble for one's milieu, for then, not only
does one renounce, but one is expected to, as a matter of course.
Forgive me, Hilda, if I am a little coarsely frank. I am speaking, for
the moment, with gloves off; I know the truth, and you may as well face
it. It's a pity to be too noble; one should have just a spice of
egotistic rebellion, else one is squashed flat to one's corner."

"Peter found me," said Hilda, with a sad smile that evaded the "coarse"
frankness.

They walked silently along the little path under the sunlit shade of the
fruit-trees. Mary stopped at a turning.

"Yes; that is encouraging. Reminds one of Emerson and optimism. Peter
did find you." Her large clear eyes looked an exhortation into Hilda's.
"Peter found you, my dear child; let Peter keep you, then."

"He always will keep--what he found," said Hilda, trembling. "I love
him. I shall always love him."

"My dear Hilda!"

"But I cannot marry him. I cannot."

"You are a foolish little Hilda."

"We made Katherine miserable."

"And therefore all three must be miserable. For Peter to have kept faith
with Katherine--loving you--might have called down a far worse tragedy."

Hilda gazed widely at her--

"Yes; I deserve that suspicion."

"Oh, you foolish, foolish child!" cried Mary, laughing; and she kissed
her. "Come, come; say that you will be good to my poor brother?"

"I love him, but I cannot ground my happiness on a wrong."

"Your happiness would be grounded on a right; the wrong was a mere
incidental. Peter must wait, I see. Perhaps you will own some day that
that was ample expiation."



CHAPTER XIV


One October day Hilda received a queer little note from Katherine. That
Katherine had spent a month in Scotland and was now on a yacht with a
party of friends, Hilda knew, and the note was dated from Amalfi.

"Why don't you marry Peter, you little goose?" was all it said.

Hilda trembled as she read. Katherine's scorn and Katherine's nobility
seemed to breathe from it.

"I am not as base as you think," was her answer.

Katherine received this answer in Amalfi. She had come in from a walk
with Allan Hope along the road that runs above the sea between Amalfi
and Sorrento, and one of the yachting party, a girl who much admired
Katherine, was waiting for her before the hotel holding the letter, an
excuse for the excited whisper with which she gave it to her.

"Dear Miss Archinard, _he_ is here!"

"What 'he,' Nelly?" asked Katherine; she looked down at the writing on
the envelope of her letter, and the becoming flush that her walk through
the warm evening had brought to her cheeks faded a little.

Allan Hope had gone on into the hotel, and Nelly's excited eyes followed
him till he was safely out of sight.

"Mr. Odd," she said with dramatic emphasis. "Of course he didn't know."

"Oh, he is here!" Katherine's eyes were still on the writing. "No, of
course he didn't know."

"You aren't afraid of his meeting Allan?" Nelly was Allan Hope's cousin.
"Is there no danger, Miss Archinard? He must be feeling so--dreadfully!"

"What a romantic little pate it is! I really believe you were looking
forward to a duel. No, no, Nelly, there is nothing of an exciting nature
to hope for!"

"But won't it be terrible for you to meet him? The first time, you know!
And engaged to Allan!" said Nelly.

"We are not at all afraid of one another. Don't tremble, Nelly."

Katherine read her letter standing on the terrace before the hotel. The
dying evening seemed to throb softly in the southern sky, arching
solemnly to the horizon line. Katherine looked out at the sea--it was
characteristic of her deeply set eyes to look straight out and seldom
up. She stood still, holding the letter quietly; Katherine had none of
the weakness that seeks an outlet for the stress of resolution in
nervous gesture. She did not even walk up and down; indeed the
resolution was made and meditation needless. Turning after a moment, she
went into the hotel and asked at the office whether Mr. Odd were to be
found.

"Yes, he was in his room; he had only arrived an hour ago."

Katherine requested the man to tell Mr. Odd that Miss Archinard was on
the terrace and would like to see him. In two minutes Peter was walking
out to meet her.

Peter's eyes, as they shook hands, were rather sternly steady;
Katherine's steady, but more humorous.

"_Sans rancune?_" she inquired, with some lightness, and then, sparing
him the necessity for a reply that might be embarrassing for both of
them--

"I want to ask you a question; pardon abruptness; why don't you marry
Hilda? Won't she? There are two questions!"

"I don't marry her because she won't. And there is the evident reply,
Katherine."

"Do you despair?" she asked.

"I can't say that. Time may wear out her resistance."

"I know Hilda better than you do--perhaps. You see I have got over my
jealousy." Katherine's smile had all its charm. "She won't if she said
she wouldn't; if she has ideals on the subject."

"Then I must resign myself to hopeless wretchedness."

"No; you must not. _I_ am going to help you. Don't look so gloomily
unimpressed. I am going to help you. I am going to do penance, and I
don't believe you will consider it an expiation either! Just encourage
me by a little appreciation of my dubious nobility." Odd looked
questioningly at her.

"Peter, when I came back that night I was engaged to Allan Hope."

"Oh!" said Peter. They looked at one another through the almost palpable
dusk of the evening.

"I'll give you the facts--draw your own conclusions. I'll give you
facts, but don't ask self-abasement put into words. You really haven't
the right, have you, Peter?"

"No; I suppose not. No, _I_ haven't the right."

"You put yourself in the wrong, you see. You must allow me to flaunt
that ragged superiority. Peter, very soon after our engagement you began
to dissatisfy me because I realized that I should never satisfy you. The
more you knew me the more you would disapprove, and your nature could
never understand mine to the extent of pardoning. Once I'd seen that,
everything was up. It wouldn't do; and the knowledge grew upon me that
the impossibility was emphasized by the fact that Hilda _would_ do. _I_
saw that you loved her, Peter; stupid, stupid Peter! And poor little
Hilda! She was ground between two stones, wasn't she? your ignorance and
my knowledge. I give you leave to offer me up as a burnt sacrifice at
her altar, only don't let me hear myself crackling. Yes; I saw that you
were in love with her, and that she would be in love with you if it
could come--as it should have come--as I intended it to come--foolish,
hasty Peter! No; no comments, please! I know everything you can say. I
took precious good care of myself, no doubt; my generosity wasn't very
spontaneous; perhaps I thought you'd get over it; perhaps I wanted you
to get over it; perhaps even while seeing that Allan Hope would do--for
I satisfy him most thoroughly--I kept a tiny indefinite corner in my
motives for possible reactions; I give you leave to draw your
inferences, but don't ask me to dot my i's and cross my t's too
cold-bloodedly. I accepted Allan Hope on the understanding that the
engagement was to be kept secret for a few months. I told Allan that you
did not love me; that I did not love you; that our engagement was
broken. I told him that when I saw his love for me struggling with his
loyalty to you. It was the truth from my point of view; but from his,
from yours, it was a lie--and own that at least I am generous in telling
you! Too generous perhaps. I came back to Paris to tell you that I had
discovered it wouldn't do, and to make you and Hilda happy. And, when I
saw you together, both as bad as I was--at least I thought so at the
time--both disloyal--I forgot my own self-scorn; I felt a right to a
position I had repudiated. I _had_ to be cruel, for, Peter, I was
jealous; I hated her for being the one who would satisfy you thoroughly
and forever."

There was silence between them. If she had satisfied him as only Hilda
could satisfy him, she would not have gone to Allan perhaps. Odd with a
quick throb of sympathy understood the intimation, understood both her
courage and her reticence. He had seen her at her noblest, yet there was
much not touched upon, far from noble.

The half avowal of a disappointed love flawed her loyalty to Allan. Such
love deserved disappointment and was of a doubtful quality. Peter
respected her frankness but was not deceived by it. His manliness was
touched by the possibility she had hinted at. He understood Katherine
and he forgave her--with reservations.

There seemed to be nothing to say, and he did not seek words. He and
Katherine walked slowly to the end of the terrace.

Then Katherine told him of her note to Hilda and handed him Hilda's
reply.

"I shall go to England to-morrow, Katherine," said Odd, when he had read
it.

"You will have to fight, you know. She will say that my wrong did not
excuse hers. She will say that nothing excused you. She _is_ a little
goose."

"I'll fight."

They had walked back to the entrance of the hotel and here they paused;
there was a fitness in farewell.

"Katherine," said Odd, "it would have been very base in you to have kept
silence, and yet, in spite of that, you have been very courageous this
evening."

"You are a hideously truthful person, Peter. Why put in that damaging
clause? Have I merely escaped baseness?"

"No, for you have never been finer."

"That is true. I'll never reach the same heights again," and Katherine
laughed.

"Understand that _I_ understand. Your story has not absolved _me_."

"There is the danger with Hilda. You must make my holocaust avail."

"I hope that a good thing is never lost," Peter replied.



CHAPTER XV


The October day was deliciously warm at Allersley, a fragrant autumnal
warmth, limpid with sunshine, and the woods all golden.

Odd was walking through the woods, the sunshine of home and hope in his
blood, his mood of resolute success tempered by no more than just a
touch of trembling.

In the distance lay the river, a glitter here and there beyond the tree
trunks; the little landing-wharf where he had first seen Hilda was no
doubt still unchanged and worth a pilgrimage on some later day, but now
he must take the most direct way to the Priory; he had only arrived an
hour before, but a minute's further delay would be unbearable. This day
must atone for all the past failure of his life, and make his autumn
golden. He walked quickly, following, he remembered, almost the same
path among the trees that he and Hilda had gone by that night, ten years
ago; the memory emphasized the touch of trembling. To dwell on her
dearness made fear tread closely. The gray stone wall wound among the
woods, Peter caught sight of it, and, at the same moment, of the
fluttering white of a dress beyond it that made his heart stand still.

He could not have hoped to find Hilda here with no teasing
preliminaries, no languid mother or sulky father to mar the fine rush of
his onslaught.

Such good luck augured well, for--yes, it was Hilda walking slowly among
the trees--and at the clear sight of her, Peter wondered if the
breathing space of a conventional preliminary would not have been
better, and felt that he had exaggerated his own courage in picturing
that conquering impetuosity.

She wore no hat, and her head drooped with an air of patient sadness.
Her hands clasped behind her, she walked aimlessly over the falling
leaves and seemed absently to listen to their rustling crispness as her
footsteps passed through them. There was a black bow in the ruffled
bodice, and with her black hair she made on the gold and gray a
colorless silhouette.

Odd jumped over the wall, and, as he approached her, the rustling leaves
under his feet, their falling patter from the trees, seemed to fill the
air with loud whisperings. Hilda turned at this echo of her own
footfalls, and Odd could almost have smiled at the weary unexpectancy of
her look transformed to a wide gaze of recognition. But his heart was in
a flame of indignant tenderness, for, all chivalrous comprehension
conceded, Katherine's confession had been cruelly tardy and Hilda's face
was pitiful. She stood silent and motionless looking at him, and Odd, as
he joined her, said the first words that came to his lips.

"My child! How ill you look!"

The self-forgetful devotion of his voice, his eyes, sent a quiver across
her face, but Odd, seeing only its frozen pain, remembered those
stabbing words: "You are cruel and weak and mean," which she had spoken
with just such a look, and any lingering thought of a fine onslaught was
nipped in the bud.

"I may speak to you?" he asked.

Hilda, for her own part, found it almost impossible to speak; she wanted
to throw herself on his breast and weep away all the gnawing loneliness,
all the cruel doubts and bitter sense of guilt. The sight of him gave
her such joy that everything was already half forgotten--even Katherine;
even Katherine--she realized it and steeled herself to say with cold
faintness--

"Oh, yes;" adding, "you startled me."

"So thin, so pale, such woful eyes!" He stood staring at her.

"You--don't look well either," she said, still in the soft cold voice.

"I should be very sorry to look well."

Peter was adapting himself to reality; but if the impetuous dream was
abandoned, the courage of humbler methods was growing, and he could
smile a little at her.

"Hilda, I have a great deal to tell you. Will you walk with me for a
little while? It is a lovely day for walking. How beautiful the woods
are looking."

"Beautiful. I walk here a great deal." She looked away from him and into
the golden distance.

"And you will walk here now with me?" he asked, adding, as the pale
hesitation of her face again turned to him, "Don't be frightened, dear,
I am not going to force any solution upon you; I am not going to try to
make you think well of me in spite of your conscience."

Think well of him! As if, good or bad, he was not everything to her, and
the rest of the world nowhere! Hilda now looked down at the leaves.

"And here is Palamon," said Peter, as that delightful beast came at a
sort of abrupt and ploughing gallop, necessitated by the extreme
shortness of his crumpled legs, through the heaped and fallen foliage.
"He remembers me, too, the dear old boy," and Palamon, whose very
absorbed and business-like manner gave way to sudden and smiling
demonstration, was patted and rubbed cordially in answer to his cordial
welcome.

"It must seem strange to you being here again after such a time," said
Odd, when he and Hilda turned towards the river, Palamon, with an air of
happy sympathy, at their heels. The river was invisible, a good
half-mile away, and the whispering hush of the woods surrounded them.

"It doesn't seem strange, no," Hilda replied; "it seems very peaceful."

"And are you peaceful with it?" All the implied reserves of her tone
made Peter wonder, as he had often wondered, at the strength of this
fragile creature; for, although that conviction of having wronged
another was accountable for her haggard young face, the crushed anguish
of her love for him was no less apparent in the very aloofness of her
glance.

"I feel merely very useless," she said with a vague smile.

"I have seen Katherine, Hilda." Odd waited during a few moments of
silent walking before making the announcement, and Hilda stopped short
and turned wondering eyes on him.

"It was at Amalfi. She had just received your letter, and she sent for
me; she had something to say to me." Hilda kept silence, and Odd added,
"You knew that she was on a yachting trip?" Hilda bowed assent. "And
that Allan Hope is of the party?"

"I heard that; yes."

"And that he and Katherine are to be married?"

Here Hilda gave a little gasp.

"She doesn't love him," she cried. Odd considered her with a disturbed
look.

"You mustn't say that, you know. I fancy she does--love him."

"She did it desperately after you had failed her; after I had robbed
her."

Odd was too conscious of the possibility of a subtle half-truth in this
to assert the bold unvarnished whole truth of a negative.

Hilda's loyalty lent a dignity to Katharine's most doubtful motives, a
dignity that Katherine would probably contemplate with surprise, but
accept with philosophic pleasure.

Had Hilda indeed robbed her unwittingly? Had he failed her long before
her deliberate breach of faith? He had, she said, shown his love for
Hilda, and would she have turned to Lord Allan's more facile contentment
had she been sure of Peter's?

Delicate problem, without doubt. His mind dwelt on its vexatious
tragic-comic aspect, while he stared almost absently at Hilda.

Certainly his disloyalty had been unintentional, guiltless of plot or
falsehood; and Katherine's was intentional, deceitful, ignoble. It would
be possible to shock every chord of honor in Hilda with the bold
announcement that Katherine had been engaged when she came to Paris, and
that her cruel triumph had been won under a lying standard.

And that shock might shatter forever, not the sense of personal
wrong-doing, but all responsibility towards one so base, all that
brooding consciousness of having spoiled another's life. Katherine had
abandoned the position, and poor Hilda had merely stumbled on its vacant
lie.

Yet Odd felt that there might be some ignoble self-interest in showing
the ugly fact with no softening circumstances; circumstances might
indeed soften the ugliness into a dangerously tragic resemblance to
despairing disappointment. Hilda would be horribly apt to think more of
the circumstances than of the fact. Odd was consciously inclined to
think the fact simply ugly, inclined to believe that the irksomeness of
his growing disapproval, rather than the loss of his love, had led
Katherine to seek a more amenable substitute; but with a sense of honor
so acute as to be hardly honest, Peter put aside his own advantageous
surmises, and prepared to give Katherine's story from a most delicate
and selected standpoint. Strict adherence to Katherine's words, and yet
such artistic chivalry in their setting that even Katherine would find
her sacrifice at Hilda's altar painless.

"You shall have her own words," he said, after a long pause. He felt
that the inner trembling had grown to a great terror. He became pale
before the compelling necessity for exaggerated magnanimity.

To lose his own cause in pleading Katherine's loomed a black
probability, yet in his very defeat he would prove himself not unworthy
of Hilda's love; neither cruel nor mean nor weak. Ah! piercing words! At
least he could now draw them from their rankling. And as they walked
together he told Katherine's story, lending to it every charitable
possibility with which she herself could not honestly have invested it.

When he had done, taking off his hat, for his temples were throbbing
with the stress of the recital, and looking at Hilda with an almost
pitifully boyish look, he had emphasized his own unconscious revelation
of his love for Hilda, emphasized that hint of broken-hearted generosity
in Katherine, he had hardly touched on her lie to Allan or on the
glaring fact that she had made sure of him before giving Peter his
freedom. The soreness that the revelation of Katherine's selfishness had
made between them so soon after their engagement, he had not mentioned.

Hilda walked along, looking steadily down. Once or twice during the
story she had clutched her clasped hands more tightly, and once or twice
her step had faltered and she had paused as though to listen more
intently, but the white profile with its framing eddies of hair crossed
the pale gold background, its attitude of intense quiet unchanged.

The silence that followed his last words seemed cruelly long to Odd, but
at last she lifted her eyes, and meeting the solemn, pitiful, boyish
look, her own look broke suddenly into passionate sympathy and emotion.

"Peter," she said, standing still before him, "she didn't love you."

"I don't think she did." Odd's voice was shaken but non-committal.

"Perhaps she loved you more than she could love any one else," said
Hilda.

"Yes; perhaps."

Hilda's hands were still clasped behind her, and she looked hard into
his face as she added with a certain stern deliberateness--

"I don't believe she ever loved anybody."

Odd was silent. He had not dared to hope for such a clear perception.

"She was very cruel to me," said Hilda, after a little pause, and her
eyes, turning from his, looked far away as if following the fading of a
lost illusion.

"I don't think she ever cared much for me either," she added.

"Not much; not as you interpret caring."

Peter kept the balance with difficulty, for over him rushed that
indignant realization of Katherine's intrinsic selfishness.

"No; I could not have been so cruel to her, not even if she had robbed
me of you." It was the most self-assertive speech he had ever heard her
utter.

"No; you could not have been so cruel to her," he repeated, "not even
loving me as you did and as she did not."

There was a pause, a pause in which it seemed to Odd that the very trees
stretched out their branches in breathless listening, and Hilda said
slowly--

"But that doesn't make what I did less wrong. I was as weak, as
disloyal, as though Katherine had loved us both as much as I thought she
did."

"And I as cruel, as weak, as mean?" Odd asked.

"Ah, don't!" she said, with a look of pain. "You have redeemed
yourself," she added, "and have made me more ashamed."

"Then I have made a miserable failure of my attempt."

"No, no; you have not."

The river was before them now, and the woods sloped down to its curving
band of silver. They both stood still and looked at it, and beyond it at
the gentle stretches of autumnal hill and meadow.

"Dear Peter," said Hilda gently. He looked down at her and she up at
him, putting her hand in his, but so gravely and quietly that the tender
little action conveyed nothing but a reminiscence of the child of ten
years ago.

So, holding hands, they were both still silent, and again they looked at
the river, the meadows, and the blue distance of the hills. Palamon,
after running here and there, with rather assumed interest, his nose to
the ground, came and sat down before them with an air of dignified
acquiescence and appreciative contemplation. In the woods the sudden,
sad-sweet twitter of a bird seemed to embroider the silence with
unconscious pathos.

"O Peter!" said Hilda suddenly, on a note as impulsive and as
inevitable as the bird's. He looked at her and put his arms around her,
saying nothing.

"Oh!" said Hilda, "I cannot help it. I love you too much, dear Peter.
Everything else may have been wrong, but it is right to love you."

He took her face between his hands and looked at her.

"Everything else would be wrong."

"Then kiss me, Peter."

He gave himself the joy of a delicious postponement.

"Not till you tell me that you see that everything else would be wrong."
But the kiss was given before her answer.

"I trust you, and you must know."

THE END.

       *       *       *       *       *

Typographical errors corrected by the etext transcriber:

you remem-him=> you remember him {pg 19}

the coèncirge=> the concièrge {pg 139}

to forego the enjoyment=> to forgo the enjoyment {pg 158}

unforgetable=> unforgettable {pg 181}





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